“Scotland is the home of romance because it is the home of Scott, Burns, Black, Macdonald, Stevenson, and Barrie—and of thousands of men like that old Highlander in kilts on the tow-path, who loves what they have written. I would wager he has a copy of Burns in his sporran, and has quoted him half a dozen times to the grim Celt who is walking with him. Those old boys don’t read for excitement or knowledge, but because they love their land and their people and their religion—and their great writers simply express their emotions for them in words they can understand. You and I come over here, with thousands of our countrymen, to borrow their emotions.”—Robert bridges: Overheard in Arcady.
My friend the Triumphant Democrat, fiercest of radicals and kindest of men, expresses his scorn for monarchical institutions (and his invincible love for his native Scotland) by tenanting, summer after summer, a famous castle among the heathery Highlands. There he proclaims the most uncompromising Americanism in a speech that grows more broadly Scotch with every week of his emancipation from the influence of the clipped, commercial accent of New York, and casts contempt on feudalism by playing the part of lord of the manor to such a perfection of high-handed beneficence that the people of the glen are all become his clansmen, and his gentle lady would be the patron saint of the district—if the republican theology of Scotland could only admit saints among the elect.
Every year he sends trophies of game to his friends across the sea—birds that are as toothsome and wild-flavoured as if they had not been hatched under the tyranny of the game-laws. He has a pleasant trick of making them grateful to the imagination as well as to the palate by packing them in heather. I’ll warrant that Aaron’s rod bore no bonnier blossoms than these stiff little bushes—and none more magical. For every time I take up a handful of them they transport me to the Highlands, and send me tramping once more, with knapsack and fishing-rod, over the braes and down the burns.
Some of my happiest meanderings in Scotland have been taken under the lead of a book. Indeed, for travel in a strange country there can be no better courier. Not a guide-book, I mean, but a real book, and, by preference, a novel.
Fiction, like wine, tastes best in the place where it was grown. And the scenery of a foreign land (including architecture, which is artificial landscape) grows less dreamlike and unreal to our perception when we people it with familiar characters from our favourite novels. Even on a first journey we feel ourselves among old friends. Thus to read Romola in Florence, and Les Miserables in Paris, and Lorna Doone on Exmoor, and The Heart of Midlothian in Edinburgh, and David Balfour in the Pass of Glencoe, and The Pirate in the Shetland Isles, is to get a new sense of the possibilities of life. All these things have I done with much inward contentment; and other things of like quality have I yet in store; as, for example, the conjunction of The Bonnie Brier-Bush with Drumtochty, and The Little Minister with Thrums, and The Raiders with Galloway. But I never expect to pass pleasanter days than those I spent with A Princess of Thule among the Hebrides.