The complete stillness of the scene, except the low plashing of the waves; the fitful gleams of light thrown first on the walls and ceiling, as the men moved to and fro along the side of the stupendous cave; the appearance of the varied roof, where different stalactites or petrifactions are visible; the vastness and perfect art or semblance of art of the whole, altogether formed a scene the most sublime, grand, and impressive ever witnessed.
The Cathedral of Iona sank into insignificance before this great temple of nature, reared, as if in mockery of the temples of man, by the Almighty Power who laid the beams of his chambers on the waters, and who walketh upon the wings of the wind. Macculloch says that it is with the morning sun only that the great face of Staffa can be seen in perfection; as the general surface is undulating and uneven, large masses of light or shadow are thus produced. We can believe, also, that the interior of the cave, with its broken pillars and variety of tints, and with the green sea rolling over a dark red or violet-coloured rock, must be seen to more advantage in the full light of day. Yet we question whether we could have been more deeply sensible of the beauty and grandeur of the scene than we were under the unusual circumstances we have described. The boatmen sang a Gaelic joram or boat-song in the cave, striking their oars very violently in time with the music, which resounded finely through the vault, and was echoed back by roof and pillar. One of them, also, fired a gun, with the view of producing a still stronger effect of the same kind. When we had fairly satisfied ourselves with contemplating the cave, we all entered the boat and sailed round by the Clamshell Cave (where the basaltic columns are bent like the ribs of a ship), and the Rock of the Bouchaille, or the herdsman, formed of small columns, as regular and as interesting as the larger productions. We all clambered to the top of the rock, which affords grazing for sheep and cattle, and is said to yield a rent of L20 per annum to the proprietor. Nothing but the wide surface of the ocean was visible from our mountain eminence, and after a few minutes’ survey we descended, returned to the boat, and after regaining the steam-vessel, took our farewell look of Staffa, and steered on for Tobermory.
[Illustration: FINGAL’S CAVE, STAFFA.]
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[Illustration: Letter I.]
I have always preferred cheerfulness to mirth. The latter I consider as an act, the former as a habit of the mind. Mirth is short and transient, cheerfulness fixed and permanent. Those are often raised into the greatest transports of mirth, who are subject to the greatest depressions of melancholy: on the contrary, cheerfulness, though it does not give the mind such an exquisite gladness, prevents us from falling into any depths of sorrow. Mirth is like a flash of lightning, that breaks through a gloom of clouds, and glitters for a moment; cheerfulness keeps up a kind of daylight in the mind, and fills it with a steady and perpetual serenity.