Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXXIV.: AN AUTUMN'S RELAXATIONS. 1862. Æt. 42. - An Autobiography, vol. 2
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CHAPTER XXXIV.: AN AUTUMN’S RELAXATIONS. 1862. Æt. 42. - Herbert Spencer, An Autobiography, vol. 2 
An Autobiography by Herbert Spencer. Illustrated in Two Volumes. Vol. 2 (New York: D. Appleton and Company 1904).
Part of: An Autobiography
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AN AUTUMN’S RELAXATIONS.
“Well, it is a great satisfaction to think that the doctrine is now safely set forth, whatever happens to me,” I remarked to a friend after First Principles was published; and I doubt not that this satisfaction, partly personal but largely impersonal, added to the zest with which I entered upon the relaxations of the summer and autumn.
I say advisedly the summer and autumn. The year 1862 was the year of the second International Exhibition; and of course, as soon as I was at leisure, I devoted a good deal of attention to it. My father, and afterwards my mother, came up to town; and days were spent there in showing them the things of chief interest. Then there arrived the Lotts and other country friends, to whom also I occasionally played the part of guide. Naturally the pleasures given were not so keen as those given by the first Exhibition; but still they were great.
On the 10th of July I was at Llandudno with the Lotts. We made a fortnight’s stay there, during which we one day picnic’d at the Aber Falls. On the left hand, the falls are flanked by a spur of Carned David (or is it Carned Llewellyn?); and this, in the course of the afternoon, Lott and I climbed. The climb had a sequence, as witness the following passage of a letter of 16th July.
“We made a mountain ramble two days ago, and I found it did me more good than anything since I have been here. So I propose to have a course of mountain rambles. I am moderately well but not brilliant in condition.”
The result was that, on our return to Derby, I shortly started on a pedestrian fishing tour in Scotland.
As far as Oban and the lower part of the Caledonian Canal, I kept to familiar routes; but at Invergarry I left the steam-boat, having decided to explore the west and north of Ross.
The remainder of my first day, during which I stopped here and there to make a few casts for trout in the Garry, brought me to Tomdoun Inn; and on the next day, Sunday, walking up the rest of Glengarry and down Glen Quoich, I reached Loch Hourn-head. Loch Hourn is the grandest of the Scotch lochs; and though the part seen in this descent to it is not the best, it delighted me so much that my pleasure became vocal. Perhaps it would not have done so had I known what awaited me. To the name Loch Hourn-head was joined on my map one of the little circles which usually implies at least a village having an inn, if not a larger place. I found, however, that besides some tumble-down fishermen’s cottages the only house was a keeper’s lodge. Here I was taken in by favour, and had to put up with meagre fare and rude accommodation: a damp bed being part of it. Fortunately I had provided myself with a pocket-waterproof, and here, as at various places stopped at in my tour, this befriended me: on some occasions keeping off the rain by day, it, on other occasions, served, when used as a sheet, to keep off the damp by night.
In the course of the evening I said that on the morrow I intended to cross over into Glen Shiel. My host expressed his fear that he would be unable to give me a guide, as they were busy with the hay. I slighted the notion that I needed a guide: saying that I was accustomed to Scotch mountains. Next morning proved fine; and the keeper, admitting that I should perhaps be able to find my way, directed me where to ford the stream which drains Glen Quoich. In an hour or so, I reached the top of the mountain-ridge whence I expected to look down on Glen Shiel and the high road running through it. To my astonishment I found below me a bare valley with no trace of road or human habitation. The map, which showed a single range of mountains between Glen Quoich and Glen Shiel, had deceived me: there were two ranges. Had the summits of the hills become clouded I should not have known where I was, on descending. Fortunately the day continued fine. Keeping my bearings pretty accurately, I ascended the second ridge, and then, as I expected, saw Glen Shiel. During my scramble down a steep hill side covered with heather so deep that I could not see my footing, I twice slipped one of my legs into a crevice between rocks and might readily have broken it. Had I done so, I should most likely have died there. When I got safely on to the high road I became conscious of the risk that is run by one who, leaving a place to which he will not return, traverses alone a wild tract of country on the way to a place where no one expects him. In case of accident he is not missed, and no search is made. Another thing struck me. Joining my experiences in Switzerland with the experience I had just had, I was impressed with the heavy responsibility which rests on the makers and publishers of guide-books. I suspect that from time to time lives are lost, and every year many illnesses caused, in consequence of their misdirections.
A night passed at Shiel Inn was followed by a day passed in fishing the river which runs down the Glen. Half a dozen or more sea-trout rewarded my efforts; but the water was far too low for good fishing and the inn was uncomfortable, so that I was not tempted to stay. A delightful sunny walk along the picturesque shore of Loch Duich carried me the following morning as far as Loch Alsh Ferry, and thence to Balmacarra. A fishing ramble filled the next day. On the morrow a pleasant walk over the intervening hills brought me to Loch Carron ferry, and a further walk to Jeantown. The morning after found me on the other side of the ridge dividing Loch Carron from the valley which skirts the Applecross mountains—strange looking, and one of them especially remarkable: a mountain situated in the centre of an amphitheatre of precipices, from which it has evidently been cut out by glacier-action. That evening I reached Shieldag, a dreary little fishing hamlet on the shore of Loch Torridon. The western side of Ross is not much frequented by tourists, and probably I was the first that season who had stopped at the miserable little inn. They gave me a bedroom so damp that the paper hung from the walls in festoons. “A sabbath day’s journey” to Kinloch Ewe was instructive, as well as picturesque in scenery. The doctrine of denudation receives in these regions striking confirmations. On all sides the mountains, consisting the greater part of the way up of, I think, dull red sandstone, are capped with quartz rock. Evidently quartz rock once extended over the whole district; and these islands of quartz on the mountain tops, have been left there by the eroding agencies which cut out the wide and deep valleys between. Then, among further objects of geological interest is “the valley of a thousand hills”: such being, it is said, the literal meaning of the Gaelic name. It contains a vast moraine. An ancient glacier, bearing on its surface many separate lines of débris, must have paused from time to time in the course of its slow retreat, so as to deliver each line of débris for a long interval on the same spot: thus forming a heap.
A day at Kinlochewe was passed in trying to take some sea-trout out of Loch Maree; but as I lacked a boat, the attempt failed entirely. Next day left behind it two memories. The road to Gairloch runs along the shore of Loch Maree; and, keeping in view the imposing Ben Sleoch on the right, passes on the left, after two or three miles, the mouth of a valley which runs away inland. Some miles down this valley stands a mountain of subconical shape, the sides of which are channeled by water-courses. If, imagining these water-courses, deeply cut into the rock, to have originally run straight down, it be supposed that some power adequately great gave the whole mountain a twist round its vertical axis, so as to change these straight water-courses into spiral ones, an idea will be gained of its structure. A sketch of this mountain still exists among my papers. Some miles further on, where there lies between the road and the side of the loch a low bit of rough land, some adjacent cottagers, while digging out peat, had brought into view a large surface of granite, not simply rounded, but retaining the polish given to it by the glacier that once filled the basin of Loch Maree—a polish which had been preserved by the overlying peat for—how long shall we say? perhaps 50,000 years.
At the end of one of those days, common in mountainous countries, during which one is frequently tempted by a gleam of sunshine to take off one’s waterproof, and then, ten minutes after, by a sudden shower compelled to put it on again, I reached the Gairloch Hotel; and thence, the morning after, departed for Poolewe, there to await, in a dreary little inn, the expedition of the next day—the most serious in the course of my tour. Ullapool on Loch Broom was the nearest stopping place on the northern coast of Ross. Between it and Poolewe was a wild country traversed by a bad road, with no place where rest or refreshment could be had. But I had either to go on to Ullapool or to return the way I came, which I was reluctant to do.
Hiring a boat down Loch Ewe as far as the point at which my route diverged from its shore, and bidding good morning to the boatmen, I commenced my solitary walk of, I suppose, over thirty miles: stopping after some hours to take my meagre mid-day meal of boiled herrings and bread which I had brought with me. The monotony of the day was beguiled somewhat by the scenery, or perhaps I should say rather by the striking geological traits it presented: especially those of immense glacier-action. I passed over a ridge of hills, probably some four or five hundred feet high, on the top of which all the rocks were rounded; showing that in ancient times the glaciers which had filled the adjacent valleys had also covered this ridge, to a depth, probably, of some hundreds of feet. Late in the afternoon I reached the shore of Little Loch Broom. Here, to cut off a portion of the road, I paid one of the fishermen to row me across: first, however, having an experience of Celtic indolence. The boat was lying on the beach half full of water. The man took out the plug, and he and his daughter stood idly by, waiting until, by a stream the thickness of one’s finger, the water should escape. He seemed quite unconcerned when I, in a fit of exasperation, seized the baler and began to empty the boat myself. Shortly after came what might have ended in disaster. By the people of some dilapidated cottages on the opposite shore, I was directed into a path which went over the high moor to Loch Broom. This path continued fairly visible for a time; but, as I got on to the flat top of the moor or mountain bog (for it was entirely formed of deep peat), I found it traversed in all directions by large fissures which the water had made in draining away—fissures three or four feet wide and as deep or deeper, over which I had continually to leap. It was in short a bog full of crevasses, with bottoms of soft-peat mud, out of which I should not easily have got had I fallen in. As the evening was coming down rapidly and the path was no longer discernible, I became somewhat fearful of the result; but fortunately I got across before it became dark, and descended to Loch Broom and to Ullapool.
Letters show that I had intended to go as far north as Loch Assynt in Sutherlandshire; but my companionless excursion, though enjoyable at the beginning, was getting wearisome, and I doubt whether I should have fulfilled my intention even had nothing occurred to prevent me. But something did occur. A letter which I found waiting for me at Ullapool made me turn my face south, and travel as fast as coach, railway, and steamboat would carry me.
The contents of the letter which so precipitately changed my course, may be inferred from the following few lines written home, dated Glasgow, August 17th:—
“Mr. and Mrs. Youmans are come. I am just starting off with them for a few days. You will probably see me early next week.”
Professor Youmans, who from the outset became so ardent an adherent of mine, and then, as always, was prepared for any amount of labour on my behalf, had come over to England with his wife (being then recently married), partly as he told me to see the Great Exhibition of 1862, and partly to consult with me concerning the management of my affairs in the United States.
Our conversations were carried on in the course of three days spent in taking these new friends round to the chief places of interest that were easily accessible. Edinburgh, of course, came in for immediate attention: the chief streets, Calton Hill, The Castle, and Holyrood being visited. I was but a poor ciccrone for them, however, as measured by ordinary standards; for I could tell them nothing about the historical associations. I have a vague recollection of amusing Professor Youmans by my response to some remark or question coming from our guide at Holyrood—“I am happy to say I don’t know.” Probably the remark or question referred to Queen Mary. On this, as on kindred occasions, I thus implied my satisfaction, partly in having used time and brain-space for knowledge better worth having, and partly in expressing my small respect for gossip about people of no intrinsic worth, whether dead or living.
Of course something of Scottish scenery had to be shown; and as my friends could not spare time for anything more distant, I carried them over the ordinary tourists’ round—by Callander to Loch Katrine; thence to Inversnaid; across Loch Lomond to Tarbet; and from that place to Arrochar on Loch Long. The night being passed there, we went by steamboat next morning to Greenock, where we parted; they for London on their way to the continent and I, in the course of the day, for Derby.
After a fortnight at home and a few days spent with the Brays at Coventry, I returned to London—not indeed to my previous abode; for I found there no fit accommodation. A letter dated 15 Sept. shows that I was settled in Gloucester Square, Hyde Park. A few weeks’ experience, however, so dissatisfied me with the management of the house that I decided upon migrating. Before I had found another suitable place Mr. Silsbee, an American gentleman named in a preceding chapter, who was about to spend the winter in the south of France, pressed me to go as far as Paris with him. Being under obligation to him, and having work enough to occupy me in revising while away, I consented, and we departed on the 17 Oct.
Of incidents during this visit to Paris I recall but one. This was a discussion with Mr. Silsbee in the Louvre before a landscape by Rubens (I think), rendered partly by time, and partly by the artist, unlike anything ever seen—especially in atmospheric effect; while it was also extremely unpicturesque in composition. To me it seemed a picture to be glanced at and passed by; but from Mr. Silsbee it called forth much admiration. Even more than ourselves the Americans are affected by the appearance of antiquity: so much so, in some cases, that I heard an American lady declare that a country without ruins of old castles and abbeys is not worth living in. And in still greater degrees than ourselves, they are thus led to confound those extrinsic traits of objects which show antiquity with those intrinsic traits which characterize them as works of art.
Little given to mental analysis, most people fail to discriminate among the causes of their pleasures—or rather, never try to distinguish; and hence ascribe to an ancient work of art itself, the reverential sentiments which its age and its traditional repute arouse in them. But judgments swayed by these sentiments are anything but trustworthy. The one case in which something like measure is possible—that of relative strength—shows clearly how untrue are men’s estimates of the past compared with the present. And doubtless the bias which has so conspicuously perverted current opinion in a matter concerning which there ought to have been the least liability to mistake, has perverted it in other matters, and among them in matters of art.
One may say with some approach to truth that on art questions men’s judgments have been paralyzed by authority and tradition as they have been on religious questions. There is reason for hoping, however, that as the paralysis is diminishing in respect of the last it will presently diminish in respect of the first.