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Conducted by ALEXANDER MACKENZIE, F.S.A. Scot.
REV. ALEX. STEWART, F.S.A. SCOT.
- -THE Rev. Alexander Stewart, better and widely known as the “NetherLochaber” correspondent of the Inverness Courier, is, to those who know his surroundings and disadvantages, one of the miracles of literature. Some twenty years ago, the late Robert Carruthers, LL.D., for more than fifty years editor of that paper, picked out the Rev. Alexander Stewart from among his country correspondents—as he had previously done in the case of the Cromarty mason, Hugh Miller-and became his literary godfather. During that period he regularly contributed a “ Nether-Lochaber” letter to the columns of the leading provincial paper in Scotland once a fortnight of a column and a-half to two columns, which has for many years been one of the most attractive features of the paper, even when Dr Carruthers was at the head of it, and it still continues to be so. Indeed, a recent writer has said of him with substantial accuracy, that the Courier of the present day is only looked upon by many as the vehicle for the issue of Mr Stewart's letters, “although the journal in question is undoubtedly one of the best conducted and ablest in the Provinces." Mr Stewart is, in fact, the Prince of Provincial newspaper correspondents -a Prince without a peer.
He lives completely out of the world. The only sound of civilization, in the shape of steam locomotion, which is heard within miles of his hermitage is that of Mr Macbrayne's Royal Route steamers as they pass up and down in the distance on the beautiful Loch Linnle, plying from Oban to Fort-William and Inverness. The railway whistle has not yet penetrated within fifty miles of his oasis in the literary desert of Lochaber. Though he may, through his glass, see the Ballachulish Hotel, and the stage coach going and coming, the sound is too far away to reach his ear. There is not a library within miles, no reading room ; no learned or literary friends within reach to suggest ideas or supply inspiration, yet from his lonely manse pours forth the most delightful and the most learned disquisitions on all conceivable subjects, from the smallest and most insignificant creature in the sea to the most abstruse problem in Nature; of which he is a careful and keen observer in her various moods, delighting his readers with that boyish enthusiasm and sympathetic soul which guides the master hand and delicatu brush by which he holds forth the mirror, and presents her vagaries to his astonished constituents. How such a flow of science in popular form can quanate, as it were, from the desert wilderness of Lochaber, in such a torrent of prose-poetry is the wonder of all who read the “Nether-Lochaber" letter of the Inverness Courier.
And the most wonderful thing, and perhaps the highest tribute that can be paid to him as a writer, is that after twenty years of regular correspondence on his favourite themes, he is as fresh and interesting today as ever he was. He has a charming and inimitable literary style, possessing a fascinating grace and colour entirely his own. Indeed the reader feels disposed to say of Mr Stewart what Lord Jeffrey said of Macaulay, “ The more I think the less I can conceive where you picked up that style." At the same time it may be said that no form of literary expression could be more unlike that of the great essayist and historian than that of “ Nether-Lochaber's." It is varied, musical, and flowing; rich and rotund, but not redundant; abounding in happy descriptive phrases, which fit into the sentence with perfect art, yet with the utmost apparent artlessness. Indeed, the chief characteristic of Mr Stewart's style is that it is always apparently artless. Whether he is telling a Highland story-in which he stands unrivalled-or recording his observations of a sea-bird-whether he is criticising a poem or describing a glorious western sun-set--in either case, he says, with the most charming grace and simplicity what he has to say, filling in every detail, and employing every suitable epithet and adjective; yet never conveying any sense of effort or exaggeration.
From his choice of language and expression it is, however, quite clear that he must be a careful writer, and he has acquired an ease and flexibility that are truly marvellous. According to Pope
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
And so Mr Stewart must have acquired that perfection which conceals art,
Do not let it be supposed that we are extolling too highly the merits of his style. Its varied qualities, its melody and strength, its purity and expressiveness, its musical rhythm and poetical suggestiveness have been fully recognised and admired by the most cultivated literary tastes. In virtue of his letters, and we may almost say, his letters alone, “NetherLochaber," as his admirers delight to call him, has earned a high reputation in literary circles, not only in Scotland but wherever Scotsmen are located throughout the world. He is not only acknowledged as an authority on Natural history but on literary questions and points of scholarship. The position he has attained is quite unique, but it is quite intelligible to every one who is in the smallest degree acquainted with his inimitable letters; and who is not at least among Scotsmen?
With all his qualifications, it will be considered remarkable that Mr Stewart should have done so little literary work of a permanent character, apart from his epistolary correspondence. In 1876 he edited a new edition of Logan's “ Scottish Gael," but this cannot be said to have added much to his reputation. For this he is not, however, much to blame. To bring that work up to the requirements of the present day, when so much new light has been thrown on the subject of which it treats, it would require to be almost entirely re-cast and extended, but the facilities ilud space placed at Mr Stewart's disposal did not admit of more than the addition of a few foot-notes-many of them exceedingly interesting, but, to those ignorant of the circumstances, scarcely worthy of “ Nether-Lochaber's” reputation and special knowledge of the subject. Perhaps the mistake was to have had anything to do with it, except on such terms as would have enabled him to do it full justice.
He has contributed more or less to the periodical literature of the day, among those more indebted to his versatile pen in recent years being the Celtic Magazine, the Gael, and, since Principal Tulloch took the helm of Fraser's, he has become a member of the staff of that once famous magazine. He is a Fellow of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries ; of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh; of the Geological and of the Natural Societies of Glasgow; Honorary Bard of the Celtic Society of St Andrews; as well as a corresponding member of several of the learned societies of the continent. He received several calls to ministerial charges of greater importance and higher remuneration than that to which he has been presented by the Government in 1850 on the unanimous petition of the parishioners, and in which he has continued ever since. Unlike most of his cloth, who almost invariably accept the call of duty to charges where the amount of the stipend is greater, Mr Stewart adheres to his first love, though the emoluments are by no means liberal-indeed the very reverse. He has, however, the full confidence and warm affection of his people, which, to a man of his character, is infinitely more valuable than mere pence. He is, at the same time, an intellectual and popular preacher, with no clerical starch or stiffness; a thoroughly social being; a most agreeable, and, sometimes, brilliant conversationalist-one of those who leaven the Established Church of Scotland with cultured tolerance, learning, and liberality.
Mr Stewart is a thorough Highlander by birth, education, and natural inclination. He is a great admirer of the language, literature, and music of his native land, and has done perhaps more than any other living man to keep the Celtic lamp flickering, if not very brilliantly burning, for the last quarter of a century. The flow of Highland story, Gaelic proverbs, genial criticism of everything calculated to advance the Celtic cause; and his own original contributions in the “Nether-Lochaber” columns of the Courier, kept the question alive and attracted the attention of scholars to the richness and beauty of the Gaelic language and its treasures, long before his redoubtable friend Professor Blackie volunteered to carry the ramparts of narrow-minded ignorance by his determined perseverance and eloquence, and succeeded in establishing a Celtic Professorship in the University of Edinburgh. In this respect, as well as in many others, not only Highlanders, but scholars and philologists throughout the world are much indebted to the Rev. Mr Stewart. He is in request at the leading Celtic gatherings throughout the North, and when he does attend he makes a very good appearance on the platform, and manages to please and carry his audience along with him. His hermitage in “ wild Lochaber" has become a centre of attraction for all the literary and scientific dons who may chance to pass in that direction, and his isolated home is the centre of learned correspondence from men of letters in every quarter of the globe.
His parish being a very wide one, cut up here and there by long arms of the sea, he is a perfect sailor, and an equally good horseman. He is passionately fond of animals, kind and considerate to the poor, tolerant of others, and possessing a keen and generous sympathy with all around him from the meanest to the highest.
Mr Stewart was born in the Island of Benbecula, Outer Hebrides, in 1829, where his father held an appointment in the Inland Revenue Department of the Civil Service. The family soon after removed to Oban. Before entering the University of St Andrews, Mr Stewart attended the School of Kirkmichael, in the Highlands of Perthshire. Entering the University in 1843, he made rapid progress and highly distinguished himself, especially in literature and Belles Lettres. “Nothing in this," a recent writer says, “to point to him as a future Edwards, dragging hidden secrets from Nature with the passionate eagerness of a Suker. No! there are woers of Nature of various kinds, and 'Nether. Lochaber' is a Literary Naturalist. His the great merit of placing before an extended constituency, in the most pleasing forms, garnered fruits from various gardens, and teaching them to take an interest in the world around them, to look beyond the coarse working apron of Nature and see the elegant texture of her garment, to dig gems from the common speech of his fellows-dirt-begrimed perhaps—and set them in silver sentences before their astonished owners.”
He traces high descent from the Stewarts of Invernahyle and Glenbuckie. In 1852 he married Miss Morrison, Sallachan House, Ardgour, eldest daughter of Captain Morrison, R.N., by whom he has a family of one son and two daughters,
ON SEEING A LARK'S NEST ON A GRAVE.
Songster of Heaven! Oh! be not thus distrest;
'Mid mournful grasses which in sorrow wave. SUNDERLAND.
WINDING through the valleys, ascending the hills, scaling height after height, like a huge snake creeping its sinuous way along, appears the old military road made by the celebrated General Wade. Once, the highway from the south to the wild regions of Badenoch, but now seldom used, except by drovers or an occasional tourist, whose curiosity has induced him to explore the old road and the varied scenery it passes through. It is in some places little better than a narrow track, and as it crawls up the side of Corryarrick it gets rougher and more broken. The traveller finds the air get colder and colder as he advances higher up the mountain. Probably snow lies in the sheltered hollows of the rocks. Here and there he may notice rude cairns of stones hurriedly thrown together to mark the last resting place of poor unfortunate wanderers who have from time to time been overcome by fatigue and the severity of the weather, and have sunk down in that fatal sleep from which there is no awakening.
Just as the road reaches the last long ascent, it sweeps round a green hill and enters Lagan a' Bhainne, when there bursts on the vision of the delighted tourist a scene of fertility and beauty he little expected to meet with. This lovely glen is sheltered from the rude north wind, while it lies open to the rays of the sun. A clear stream meanders through the bottom of the valley. The mountain ash, the trembling aspen, and the beautiful birch adorn this favoured spot; under foot is a soft carpet of blooming purple heather; around the air is laden with the sweet scent of wild flowers ; and above, melodious with the songs of birds, who feed on the cranberries growing so plentifully on every hand, while the musical humming of bees falls pleasantly on the ear. Though this beautiful glen is now desolate, and all its loveliness and fertility monopolised by grouse and wild animals, yet there was a time when it presented a very different appearance. When the road-making General first saw Lagan a' Bhainne it was thickly populated by a kindly, industrious people. The strath yielded excellent corn, and the higher ground produced the rich pasture on which the cows throve, whose wonderful milk-giving qualities gave the place the name of the Milky Dell. This was the great cause of the prosperity of the inhabitants. In other districts the people might be equally industrious, the spinning wheel might revolve as quickly, the clacking noise of the shuttle might be as often heard, the churn might be as often used, and the quern might be as dexterously handled, yet still in no other part of the Highlands was there such plenty. Nowhere else was there such delicious milk, such thick cream, such sweet butter, such rich cheese. There seemed to be a charm about the place; none of the milky mothers ever fell sick, and no matter how poor or out of condition a cow may be when bought, as soon as she arrived in Lagan a' Bhainne she began to grow sleek, fat, and productive.
All these manifold advantages were secured to this favoured spot by the courage and presence of mind of one of the natives. Centuries ago, about the time when the brave Sir William Wallace was fighting for his