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TITLE
'The Highland Emigrant'
EXTERNAL ID
AB_LL_ALEXANDER_SMITH_11
DISTRICT
Skye
OLD COUNTY/PARISH
INVERNESS
DATE OF RECORDING
2008
PERIOD
2000s
CREATOR
Alexander Smith
SOURCE
Am Baile
ASSET ID
1239
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.

'When the Landlord had ceased speaking, a boy brought the post-bag and laid it on the gravel. It was opened and we got our letters - the Landlord a number of Indian ones. These he put into his coat pocket. One he tore open and read.

'Hillo, Pen!' he cried, when he got to the end, 'my emigrants are to be at Skeabost on Thursday; we must go over to see them.'

Then he marched into the house and in a little time thereafter our smoking parliament dissolved, but I sat alone, musing on emigration and how it is viewed.

The English emigrant is prosaic; Highland and Irish emigrants are poetical. How is this? The wild-rose lanes of England, I would think, are as bitter to part from and as worthy to be remembered at the antipodes, as the wild coasts of Skye or the green hills of Ireland. Yet poet and painter turn a cold shoulder on the English emigrant, while they expend infinite pathos on the emigrants from Erin or the Highlands. The Highlander has his 'Lochaber-no-more' and the Irishman has the Countess of Gifford's pretty song. The ship in the offing and the parting of Highland emigrants on the sea-shore, have been made the subject of innumerable paintings; and yet there is a sufficient reason for it all.

Rightly or wrongly, it is popularly understood that the English emigrant is not mightily moved by regret when he beholds the shores that gave him birth withdrawing themselves into the dimness of the far horizon - although, if true, why should it be so? and, if false, how has it crept into the common belief? are questions not easy to answer. If the Englishman is obtuse and indifferent in this respect, the Highlander is not. He finds it as difficult to part from the faces of the familiar hills as from the faces of his neighbours. In the land of his adoption he cherishes the language, the games and the songs of his childhood; and he thinks with a continual sadness of the gray-green slopes of Lochaber and the thousand leagues of dim, heart-breaking sea tossing between them and him.

The Celt clings to his birthplace, as the ivy nestles lovingly to its wall; the Saxon is like the arrowy seeds of the dandelion, that travel on the wind and strike root afar. Emigration is more painful to the Highlander than it is to the Englishman - this, poet and painter have instinctively felt - and in wandering up and down Skye - come into contact with this pain, either fresh or in reminiscence, not unfrequently. Although the member of his family be years removed, the Skyeman lives in him imaginatively - just as the man who has endured an operation is for ever conscious of the removed limb.

And this horror of emigration - common to the entire Highlands - has been increased by the fact that it has not unfrequently been a forceful matter, that potent landlords have torn down houses and turned out the inhabitants, have authorised evictions, have deported the dwellers of entire glens. That the landlords so acting have not been without grounds of justification may, in all probability, be true. The deported villagers may have been cumberers of the ground, they may have been unable to pay rent, they may have been slowly but surely sinking into pauperism, their prospect of securing a comfortable subsistence in the colonies may be considerable, while in their own glens it may be nil - all this may be true: but to have your house unroofed before your eyes and made to go on board a ship bound for Canada, even lthough the passage-money be paid for you, is not pleasant. An obscure sense of wrong is kindled in heart and brain. It is just possible that what is for the landlord's interest may be for yours also in the long run; but you feel that the landlord has looked after his own interest in the first place. He wished you away and he has got you away; whether you will succeed in Canada is a matter of dubiety. The human gorge rises at this kind of forceful banishment - more particularly the gorge of the banished!'

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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'The Highland Emigrant'

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 /> 'When the Landlord had ceased speaking, a boy brought the post-bag and laid it on the gravel. It was opened and we got our letters - the Landlord a number of Indian ones. These he put into his coat pocket. One he tore open and read.<br /> <br /> 'Hillo, Pen!' he cried, when he got to the end, 'my emigrants are to be at Skeabost on Thursday; we must go over to see them.'<br /> <br /> Then he marched into the house and in a little time thereafter our smoking parliament dissolved, but I sat alone, musing on emigration and how it is viewed.<br /> <br /> The English emigrant is prosaic; Highland and Irish emigrants are poetical. How is this? The wild-rose lanes of England, I would think, are as bitter to part from and as worthy to be remembered at the antipodes, as the wild coasts of Skye or the green hills of Ireland. Yet poet and painter turn a cold shoulder on the English emigrant, while they expend infinite pathos on the emigrants from Erin or the Highlands. The Highlander has his 'Lochaber-no-more' and the Irishman has the Countess of Gifford's pretty song. The ship in the offing and the parting of Highland emigrants on the sea-shore, have been made the subject of innumerable paintings; and yet there is a sufficient reason for it all.<br /> <br /> Rightly or wrongly, it is popularly understood that the English emigrant is not mightily moved by regret when he beholds the shores that gave him birth withdrawing themselves into the dimness of the far horizon - although, if true, why should it be so? and, if false, how has it crept into the common belief? are questions not easy to answer. If the Englishman is obtuse and indifferent in this respect, the Highlander is not. He finds it as difficult to part from the faces of the familiar hills as from the faces of his neighbours. In the land of his adoption he cherishes the language, the games and the songs of his childhood; and he thinks with a continual sadness of the gray-green slopes of Lochaber and the thousand leagues of dim, heart-breaking sea tossing between them and him.<br /> <br /> The Celt clings to his birthplace, as the ivy nestles lovingly to its wall; the Saxon is like the arrowy seeds of the dandelion, that travel on the wind and strike root afar. Emigration is more painful to the Highlander than it is to the Englishman - this, poet and painter have instinctively felt - and in wandering up and down Skye - come into contact with this pain, either fresh or in reminiscence, not unfrequently. Although the member of his family be years removed, the Skyeman lives in him imaginatively - just as the man who has endured an operation is for ever conscious of the removed limb.<br /> <br /> And this horror of emigration - common to the entire Highlands - has been increased by the fact that it has not unfrequently been a forceful matter, that potent landlords have torn down houses and turned out the inhabitants, have authorised evictions, have deported the dwellers of entire glens. That the landlords so acting have not been without grounds of justification may, in all probability, be true. The deported villagers may have been cumberers of the ground, they may have been unable to pay rent, they may have been slowly but surely sinking into pauperism, their prospect of securing a comfortable subsistence in the colonies may be considerable, while in their own glens it may be nil - all this may be true: but to have your house unroofed before your eyes and made to go on board a ship bound for Canada, even lthough the passage-money be paid for you, is not pleasant. An obscure sense of wrong is kindled in heart and brain. It is just possible that what is for the landlord's interest may be for yours also in the long run; but you feel that the landlord has looked after his own interest in the first place. He wished you away and he has got you away; whether you will succeed in Canada is a matter of dubiety. The human gorge rises at this kind of forceful banishment - more particularly the gorge of the banished!'<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.