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TITLE
'A Summer in Skye' (8)
EXTERNAL ID
AB_LL_ALEXANDER_SMITH_08
DISTRICT
Skye
OLD COUNTY/PARISH
INVERNESS
DATE OF RECORDING
2008
PERIOD
2000s
CREATOR
Alexander Smith
SOURCE
Am Baile
ASSET ID
1236
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.

'To the Isles-man the dial face of the year is not artificially divided, as in cities, by parliamentary session and recess, college terms, vacation short and long, by the rising and sitting of courts of justice; nor yet, as in more fortunate soils, by imperceptible gradations of coloured light - the green flowery year deepening into the sunset of the October hollyhock; the slow reddening of burdened orchards; the slow yellowing of wheaten plains. Not by any of these.

To the Isles-man the year rises into interest when the hills, yet wet with melted snows, are pathetic with newly-weaned lambs and it completes itself through the successive steps of weaning, fleecing, sorting, fattening, sale, final departure and cash in pocket. The shepherd life is more interesting than the agricultural, inasmuch as it deals with a higher order of being; for I suppose a couchant ewe, with her young one at her side, or a ram cropping the herbage, is a more pleasing object to the aesthetic sense than a field of mangel-wurzel, flourishing ever so gloriously.

The shepherd inhabits a mountain country, lives more completely in the open air and is acquainted with all the phenomena of storm and calm, the thunder-smoke coiling in the wind, the hawk hanging stationary in the breathless blue. He knows the faces of hills, recognises the voices of the torrents as if they were children of his own, can unknit their intricate melody as he lies with his dog beside him on the warm slope at noon, separating tone from tone and giving this to rude crag, that to pebbly bottom. Every member of his flock wears to his eye its special individuality and he recognises the countenance of a 'wether' as he would the face of a human acquaintance. Sheep-farming is a picturesque occupation: and I think a multitude of sheep descending a hillside, now outspreading in bleating leisure, now huddling together in the haste of fear - the dogs, urged more by sagacity than by the shepherd's voice, flying along the edges, turning, guiding, changing the shape of the mass - one of the prettiest sights in the world.'

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' (8)

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 /> 'To the Isles-man the dial face of the year is not artificially divided, as in cities, by parliamentary session and recess, college terms, vacation short and long, by the rising and sitting of courts of justice; nor yet, as in more fortunate soils, by imperceptible gradations of coloured light - the green flowery year deepening into the sunset of the October hollyhock; the slow reddening of burdened orchards; the slow yellowing of wheaten plains. Not by any of these. <br /> <br /> To the Isles-man the year rises into interest when the hills, yet wet with melted snows, are pathetic with newly-weaned lambs and it completes itself through the successive steps of weaning, fleecing, sorting, fattening, sale, final departure and cash in pocket. The shepherd life is more interesting than the agricultural, inasmuch as it deals with a higher order of being; for I suppose a couchant ewe, with her young one at her side, or a ram cropping the herbage, is a more pleasing object to the aesthetic sense than a field of mangel-wurzel, flourishing ever so gloriously. <br /> <br /> The shepherd inhabits a mountain country, lives more completely in the open air and is acquainted with all the phenomena of storm and calm, the thunder-smoke coiling in the wind, the hawk hanging stationary in the breathless blue. He knows the faces of hills, recognises the voices of the torrents as if they were children of his own, can unknit their intricate melody as he lies with his dog beside him on the warm slope at noon, separating tone from tone and giving this to rude crag, that to pebbly bottom. Every member of his flock wears to his eye its special individuality and he recognises the countenance of a 'wether' as he would the face of a human acquaintance. Sheep-farming is a picturesque occupation: and I think a multitude of sheep descending a hillside, now outspreading in bleating leisure, now huddling together in the haste of fear - the dogs, urged more by sagacity than by the shepherd's voice, flying along the edges, turning, guiding, changing the shape of the mass - one of the prettiest sights in the world.'<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.