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TITLE
'A Summer in Skye' (5)
EXTERNAL ID
AB_LL_ALEXANDER_SMITH_05
DISTRICT
Skye
OLD COUNTY/PARISH
INVERNESS
DATE OF RECORDING
2008
PERIOD
2000s
CREATOR
Alexander Smith
SOURCE
Am Baile
ASSET ID
1232
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.

'The Quirang is one of the wonderful sights of Skye and if you once visit it you will believe ever afterwards the misty and spectral Ossian to be authentic. The Quirang is a nightmare of nature; 'tis a huge spire or cathedral of rock some thousand feet in height, with rocky spires or needles sticking out of it. It stands in a region as wild as itself; the country around is strange and abnormal, rising into rocky ridges here, like the spine of some huge animal, sinking into hollow there, with pools in the hollows - glimmering almost always through drifts of misty rain. On a clear day, with a bright sun above, the ascent of Quirang may be pleasant enough; but a clear day is seldom found, for on spectral precipices and sharp-pointed rocky needles, the weeping clouds of the Atlantic have made their chosen home.

I have climbed it in rain and wind, with every ledge and block slippery, every runnel a torrent, the wind taking liberties with my cap and making my plaid stream like a meteor to the troubled air, white tormented mists boiling up from black chasms and cauldrons, rain making disastrous twilight of noon-day - horror shot through my pulse, my brain swam on the giddy pathway and the thought of my room in the vapoury underworld rushed across my soul like the fallen Adam's remembrance of his paradise.

Then I learned, as perhaps I never learned before, that nature is not always gracious; that not always does she out-stretch herself and heavy-uddered cattle low: but that she has fierce hysterical moods in which she congeals into grantie precipice and peak and draws around herself and her companions the winds that moan and bluster, veils of livid rains. An Englishman habitually knows her in her gracious, a Skye man in her fiercer moods.'

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' (5)

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 /> 'The Quirang is one of the wonderful sights of Skye and if you once visit it you will believe ever afterwards the misty and spectral Ossian to be authentic. The Quirang is a nightmare of nature; 'tis a huge spire or cathedral of rock some thousand feet in height, with rocky spires or needles sticking out of it. It stands in a region as wild as itself; the country around is strange and abnormal, rising into rocky ridges here, like the spine of some huge animal, sinking into hollow there, with pools in the hollows - glimmering almost always through drifts of misty rain. On a clear day, with a bright sun above, the ascent of Quirang may be pleasant enough; but a clear day is seldom found, for on spectral precipices and sharp-pointed rocky needles, the weeping clouds of the Atlantic have made their chosen home. <br /> <br /> I have climbed it in rain and wind, with every ledge and block slippery, every runnel a torrent, the wind taking liberties with my cap and making my plaid stream like a meteor to the troubled air, white tormented mists boiling up from black chasms and cauldrons, rain making disastrous twilight of noon-day - horror shot through my pulse, my brain swam on the giddy pathway and the thought of my room in the vapoury underworld rushed across my soul like the fallen Adam's remembrance of his paradise. <br /> <br /> Then I learned, as perhaps I never learned before, that nature is not always gracious; that not always does she out-stretch herself and heavy-uddered cattle low: but that she has fierce hysterical moods in which she congeals into grantie precipice and peak and draws around herself and her companions the winds that moan and bluster, veils of livid rains. An Englishman habitually knows her in her gracious, a Skye man in her fiercer moods.'<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.