Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 59

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Letter LIX



If I was disposed to be critical, I should say this house of Cameron is too near the lake, which approaches, on one side, to within six or seven yards of the window. It might have been placed in a higher site, which would have afforded a more extensive prospect and a drier atmosphere; but this imperfection is not chargeable on the present proprietor, who purchased it ready built, rather than be at the trouble of repairing his own family-house of Bonhill, which stands two miles from hence on the Leven, so surrounded with plantation, that it used to be known by the name of the Mavis (or thrush) Nest. Above that house is a romantic glen or clift of a mountain, covered with hanging woods having at bottom a stream of fine water that forms a number of cascades in its descent to join the Leven; so that the scene is quite enchanting. A captain of a man of war, who had made the circuit of the globe with Mr Anson, being conducted to this glen, exclaimed, 'Juan Fernandez, by God!'

Indeed, this country would be a perfect paradise, if it was not, like Wales, cursed with a weeping climate, owing to the same cause in both, the neighbourhood of high mountains, and a westerly situation, exposed to the vapours of the Atlantic ocean. This air, however, notwithstanding its humidity, is so healthy, that the natives are scarce ever visited by any other disease than the smallpox, and certain cutaneous evils, which are the effects of dirty living, the great and general reproach of the commonalty of this kingdom. Here are a great many living monuments of longaevity; and among the rest a person, whom I treat with singular respect, as a venerable druid, who has lived near ninety years, without pain or sickness, among oaks of his own planting. — He was once proprietor of these lands; but being of a projecting spirit, some of his schemes miscarried, and he was obliged to part with his possession, which hath shifted hands two or three times since that period; but every succeeding proprietor hath done every thing in his power, to make his old age easy and comfortable. He has a sufficiency to procure the necessaries of life; and he and his old woman reside in a small convenient farm-house, having a little garden which he cultivates with his own hands. This ancient couple live in great health, peace, and harmony, and, knowing no wants, enjoy the perfection of content. Mr Smollet calls him the admiral, because he insists upon steering his pleasure-boat upon the lake; and he spends most of his time in ranging through the woods, which he declares he enjoys as much as if they were still his own property — I asked him the other day, if he was never sick, and he answered, Yes; he had a slight fever the year before the union. If he was not deaf, I should take much pleasure in his conversation; for he is very intelligent, and his memory is surprisingly retentive — These are the happy effects of temperance, exercise, and good nature — Notwithstanding all his innocence, however, he was the cause of great perturbation to my man Clinker, whose natural superstition has been much injured, by the histories of witches, fairies, ghosts, and goblins, which he has heard in this country — On the evening after our arrival, Humphry strolled into the wood, in the course of his meditation, and all at once the admiral stood before him, under the shadow of a spreading oak. Though the fellow is far from being timorous in cases that are not supposed preternatural, he could not stand the sight of this apparition, but ran into the kitchen, with his hair standing on end, staring wildly, and deprived of utterance. Mrs Jenkins, seeing him in this condition, screamed aloud, 'Lord have mercy upon us, he has seen something!' Mrs Tabitha was alarmed, and the whole house in confusion. When he was recruited with a dram, I desired him to explain the meaning of all this agitation; and, with some reluctance, he owned he had seen a spirit, in the shape of an old man with a white beard, a black cap, and a plaid night-gown. He was undeceived by the admiral in person, who, coming in at this juncture, appeared to be a creature of real flesh and blood.