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TITLE
'A Summer in Skye' (4)
EXTERNAL ID
AB_LL_ALEXANDER_SMITH_04
DISTRICT
Skye
OLD COUNTY/PARISH
INVERNESS
DATE OF RECORDING
2008
PERIOD
2000s
CREATOR
Alexander Smith
SOURCE
Am Baile
ASSET ID
1230
KEYWORDS
audio
literary landscapes

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This audio extract is from 'A Summer in Skye' by Alexander Smith, first published in 1865. It is read here by Norman Newton.

'Father M'Crimmon was a tall man, being in height considerably above six feet. He was thin, like his own island, where the soil is washed away by the rain, leaving bare the rock. His face was mountainously bony, with great pits and hollows in it. His eyes were gray and had that depth of melancholy in them which is so often observed in men of his order. In heart he was simple as a child; in discourse slow, measured and stately. There was something in his appearance that suggested the silence and solitude of the wilderness; of hours lonely to the heart and bare spaces lonely to the eye.

Although of another and - as I think, else I should not profess it - a purer faith, I respected him at first and loved him almost when I came to know him. Was it wonderful that his aspect was sorrowful, that it wore a wistful look, as if he had lost something which could never be regained and that for evermore the sunshine was stolen from his smile? He was by his profession cut off from all the sweet ties of human nature, from all love of wife or child. His people were widely scattered: across the black moor, far up the hollow glens, blustering with winds or dimmed with the rain-cloud. Thither the grim man followed them, officiating on rare festival occasions of marriage and christening; more frequently engaged dispensing alms, giving advice in disaster, waiting by the low pallets of the fever-stricken, listening to the confession of long-hoarded guilt, comforting the dark spirit as it passed to its audit.

Yet cold and cheerless as may be his life, he has his reward; for in his wanderings through the glens there is not an eye but brightens at his approach, not a mourner but feels he has a sharer in his sorrow; and when the tall, bony, seldom-smiling man is borne at last to his grave, round many a fireside will tears fall and prayers be said for the good priest M'Crimmon.'

Alexander Smith was a prolific mid-Victorian poet and essayist, who worked hard at his literary trade without ever quite attaining the success to which he aspired.

Smith was born in Edinburgh on 31st December 1829 and was self-educated, following his father in the textile trade until, in 1853, a collection of poems originally appearing in 'The Critic' periodical as 'A Life Drama' was published to much acclaim from the Scottish literati and gained him the post of Secretary of the University of Edinburgh in 1854.

After the publication of 'Poems' (1853) Smith collaborated with Sydney Dobell on a jingoistic contribution on the Crimean War, 'Sonnets on the War' (1855). This attracted further criticism and in 'City Poems' (1857) Smith tried to lighten his tone, producing some of his best work. Unfortunately accusations of plagiarism produced further negative reviews.

Alexander Smith married Flora Macdonald at Ord House in Skye in 1857 - she was distantly related to Bonnie Prince Charlie's rescuer. They returned to Skye every August for the next nine years, until Smith's death from typhus on 5th January 1867. He suffered from poor health for the last two years of his life and was in a debilitated state when struck down by typhus.

Simon Berry, in the 'Oxford Dictionary of National Biography' (2004), says that:

The annual month's retreat on Skye allowed his psychological defences
against urban pressures to be lowered. His creative, dionysian side fed
on the unpredictable and irrational features of the island: the sudden
contrasts of storm and calm, the semi-surrealistic mountain shapes and
colours, the superstitions and fantastic tales of its inhabitants. All these
went into 'A Summer in Skye', making it a fascinating hotchpotch of
travelogue and speculation with no obvious models. In the same way
as Scott's poetry had drawn visitors to Perthshire earlier in the century,
so Smith's work (allied to the growth in the railway network) benefited
the west highland tourist trade.

'A Summer in Skye' has been twice reprinted in recent times in an edited and much abridged edition, but Alexander Smith's poetry remains to be rediscovered by modern readers.

There is a useful introduction in the abridged 1983 reprint of 'A Summer in Skye' by William F. Laughlan. Smith's father-in-law Charles Macdonald is identified as 'M'Ian of Ord' and Kenneth Macleod of Greshornish is 'the Landlord', but other characters mentioned remain to be identified.

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'A Summer in Skye' (4)

INVERNESS

2000s

audio; literary landscapes

Am Baile

Literary Landscapes: Alexander Smith

This audio extract is from 'A Summer in Skye' by Alexander Smith, first published in 1865. It is read here by Norman Newton.<br /> <br /> 'Father M'Crimmon was a tall man, being in height considerably above six feet. He was thin, like his own island, where the soil is washed away by the rain, leaving bare the rock. His face was mountainously bony, with great pits and hollows in it. His eyes were gray and had that depth of melancholy in them which is so often observed in men of his order. In heart he was simple as a child; in discourse slow, measured and stately. There was something in his appearance that suggested the silence and solitude of the wilderness; of hours lonely to the heart and bare spaces lonely to the eye. <br /> <br /> Although of another and - as I think, else I should not profess it - a purer faith, I respected him at first and loved him almost when I came to know him. Was it wonderful that his aspect was sorrowful, that it wore a wistful look, as if he had lost something which could never be regained and that for evermore the sunshine was stolen from his smile? He was by his profession cut off from all the sweet ties of human nature, from all love of wife or child. His people were widely scattered: across the black moor, far up the hollow glens, blustering with winds or dimmed with the rain-cloud. Thither the grim man followed them, officiating on rare festival occasions of marriage and christening; more frequently engaged dispensing alms, giving advice in disaster, waiting by the low pallets of the fever-stricken, listening to the confession of long-hoarded guilt, comforting the dark spirit as it passed to its audit. <br /> <br /> Yet cold and cheerless as may be his life, he has his reward; for in his wanderings through the glens there is not an eye but brightens at his approach, not a mourner but feels he has a sharer in his sorrow; and when the tall, bony, seldom-smiling man is borne at last to his grave, round many a fireside will tears fall and prayers be said for the good priest M'Crimmon.'<br /> <br /> Alexander Smith was a prolific mid-Victorian poet and essayist, who worked hard at his literary trade without ever quite attaining the success to which he aspired.<br /> <br /> Smith was born in Edinburgh on 31st December 1829 and was self-educated, following his father in the textile trade until, in 1853, a collection of poems originally appearing in 'The Critic' periodical as 'A Life Drama' was published to much acclaim from the Scottish literati and gained him the post of Secretary of the University of Edinburgh in 1854.<br /> <br /> After the publication of 'Poems' (1853) Smith collaborated with Sydney Dobell on a jingoistic contribution on the Crimean War, 'Sonnets on the War' (1855). This attracted further criticism and in 'City Poems' (1857) Smith tried to lighten his tone, producing some of his best work. Unfortunately accusations of plagiarism produced further negative reviews.<br /> <br /> Alexander Smith married Flora Macdonald at Ord House in Skye in 1857 - she was distantly related to Bonnie Prince Charlie's rescuer. They returned to Skye every August for the next nine years, until Smith's death from typhus on 5th January 1867. He suffered from poor health for the last two years of his life and was in a debilitated state when struck down by typhus.<br /> <br /> Simon Berry, in the 'Oxford Dictionary of National Biography' (2004), says that:<br /> <br /> The annual month's retreat on Skye allowed his psychological defences<br /> against urban pressures to be lowered. His creative, dionysian side fed<br /> on the unpredictable and irrational features of the island: the sudden<br /> contrasts of storm and calm, the semi-surrealistic mountain shapes and<br /> colours, the superstitions and fantastic tales of its inhabitants. All these<br /> went into 'A Summer in Skye', making it a fascinating hotchpotch of<br /> travelogue and speculation with no obvious models. In the same way<br /> as Scott's poetry had drawn visitors to Perthshire earlier in the century,<br /> so Smith's work (allied to the growth in the railway network) benefited<br /> the west highland tourist trade.<br /> <br /> 'A Summer in Skye' has been twice reprinted in recent times in an edited and much abridged edition, but Alexander Smith's poetry remains to be rediscovered by modern readers.<br /> <br /> There is a useful introduction in the abridged 1983 reprint of 'A Summer in Skye' by William F. Laughlan. Smith's father-in-law Charles Macdonald is identified as 'M'Ian of Ord' and Kenneth Macleod of Greshornish is 'the Landlord', but other characters mentioned remain to be identified.