I had previously sent my baggage, and was happily unincumbered with a servant, for the fastidious delicacy of Monsieur Laval would never
have been adequate to the fatigues of a pedestrian tour through a country wild and mountainous as his own native Savoy. But to me every difficulty was an effort of some good genius chasing the demon of lethargy from the usurpations of my mind's empire: Every obstacle that called for exertion was a temporary revival of latent energy ; and every unforced effort worth an age of indolent indulgence.
To him who derives gratification from the embellished labours of art, rather than the simple
but sublime operation of nature, Irish scenery will afford little interest ; but the bold features
of its varying landscape, the stupendous attitude of its "cloud capt" mountains, the impervious
gloom of its deep embosomed glens, the savage desolation of its uncultivated heaths, and boundless bogs, with those rich veins of a picturesque
champaigne, thrown at intervals into gay expansion by the hand of nature, awaken in the mind
of the poetic or pictoral traveller, all the pleasures of tasteful enjoyment, all the sublime emotions of a rapt imagination. And if the glowing fancy of
Claude Loraine would have dwelt enraptured on the paradisial charms of English landscape, the
superior genius of Salvator Rosa would have reposed its eagle wing amidst those scenes of mysterious sublimity, with which the wildly magnificent landscape of Ireland abounds. But the liberality of nature appears to me to be here but frugally assisted by the donations of art. Here
agriculture appears in the least felicitous of her aspects. The rich treasures of Ceres seldom wave their golden heads over the earth's fertile
bosom ; the verdant drapery of young plantations rarely skreens out the coarser features of a rigid soil, the cheerless aspect of a gloomy bog ; while
the unvaried surface of the perpetual pasturage which satisfies the eye of the interested grazier, disappoints the glance of the tasteful spectator.
Within twenty miles of Bally---- I was literally dropt by the stage at the foot of a mountain,
to which your native Wrekin is but a hillock. The dawn was just risen, and flung its gray and reserved tints on a scene of which the mountain-
ous region of Capel Cerig will give you the most adequate idea.
Mountain rising over mountain, swelled like an amphitheatre to those clouds which, faintly tinged with the sun's prelusive beams, and rising from
the earthly summits where they had reposed, incorporated with the kindling aether of a purer atmosphere.
All was silent and solitary — a tranquility tinged with terror, a sort of "delightful horror," breathed on every side. — I was alone, and felt like the
presiding genius of desolation!
As I had previously learned my route, after a minute's contemplation of the scene before me, I
pursued my solitary ramble along a steep and trackless path, which wound gradually down towards a great lake, an almost miniature sea, that
lay embosomed amidst those stupendous heights whose rugged forms, now bare, desolate, and
barren, now clothed with yellow furze and creeping underwood, or crowned with misnic forests, appeared towering above my head in endless variety. The progress of the sun convinced me that mine must have been slow, as it was perpetually interrupted by pauses of curiosity and admiration, and by long and many lapses of thoughtful reverie ; and fearing that I had lost my way (as I had not yet caught a view of the village, in which,
seven miles distant from the spot where I had left the stage, I was assured I should find an excellent breakfast,) I ascended that part of the mountain where, on one of its vivid points, a something like a human habitation hung suspended, and where I hoped to obtain a carte du pays: the exterior of this hut, or cabin, as it is called, like the few I had seen which were not built of mud, resembled in one instance the magic palace of
Chaucer, and was erected with loose stones,
"Which, cunningly, were without mortar laid."
thinly thatched with straw ; an aperture in the roof served rather to admit the air than emit the smoke, a circumstance to which the wretched inhabitants of those wretched hovels seem so perfectly naturalized, that they live in a constant state
of fumigation; and a fracture in the side wall (meant I suppose as a substitute for a casement)
was stuffed with straw, while the door, off its hinges, was laid across the threshhold, as a barrier to a little crying boy, who sitting within, bemoaned his captivity in a tone of voice not quite so mellifluous as that which Mons. Sanctyon
ascribes to the crying children of a certain district in Persia, but perfectly in unison with the
vocal exertions of the companion of his imprisonment, a large sow. I approached — removed the barrier : the boy and the animal escaped together,
and I found myself alone in the centre of this miserable asylum of human wretchedness — the
residence of an Irish peasant. To those who have only contemplated this useful order of society in England, "where every rood of ground
maintains its man," and where the peasant liberally enjoys the comforts as well as the necessaries
of life, the wretched picture which the interior of an Irish cabin presents, would be at once an object of compassion and disgust.*
Almost suffocated, and not surprised that it was
deserted pro tempo, I hastened away, and was attracted towards a ruinous barn by a full chorus of
female voices — where a group of young females were seated round an old hag who formed the
centre of the circle ; they were all busily employed at their wheels, which I observed went
merrily round in exact time with their song, and so intently were they engaged by both, that my proximity was unperceived. At last the song
ceased — the wheel stood still — and every eye was fixed on the old primum mobile of the circle,
who, after a short pause, began a solo that gave much satisfaction to her young auditors, and taking
up the strain, they again turned their wheels round in unison. — The whole was sung in Irish, and as soon as I was observed, suddenly ceased ;
the girls looked down and tittered — and the old woman addressed me sans ceremonie, and in a
language I now heard for the first time.
Supposing that some one among the number must understand English, I explained with all
possible politeness the cause of my intrusion on this little harmonic society. The old woman
looked up in my face and shook her head ; I thought contemptuously— while the young ones, stifling their smiles, exchanged looks of compassion doubtlessly at my ignorance of their language.
* Sometimes excavated from a hill, sometimes erected with loose stones, but most generally built of mud, the
cabin is divided into two apartments, the one littered with straw and coarse rugs, and sometimes, (but very rarely)
furnished with the luxury of a chaff bed, serves as a dormitory not only to the family of both sexes, but in general
to any animal they are so fortunate as to possess ; the other chamber answers for every purpose of domesticity, though
almost destitute of every domestic implement, except the iron pot in which the potatoes are boiled, and the stool on
which they are flung. From those wretched hovels (which often appears amidst scenes that might furnish the
richest models to poetic imitation) it is common to behold a group of children rush forth at the sound of a horse's
foot, or carriage wheel, regardless of the season's rigours, in a perfect state of nudity, or covered with the drapery
of wretchedness, which gives to their appearance a still stronger character of poverty ; yet even in these miserable huts you will seldom find the spirit of urbanity absent —the genius of hospitality never. I remember meeting with an instance of both, that made a deep impression on
my heart; in the autumn of 1804, in the course of a morning ramble with a charming Englishwoman, in the county of Sligo, I stopped to rest myself in a cabin, while she proceeded to pay a visit to the respectable family of the O'H-----s, of Nymph's Field: when I entered I found it occupied by an old woman and her three granddaughters ; two of the young women were employed scutching flax, the other in some domestic employment. I was instantly
hailed with the most cordial welcome ; the hearth was cleared, the old woman's seat forced on me, eggs and potatoes roasted, and an apology for the deficiency of bread politely made, while the manners or my hostesses betrayed a courtesy that almost amounted to adulation. They had
all laid by their work on my entrance, and when I requested I might not interrupt their avocations, one of them replied "I hope we know better — we can work any day, but we cannot any day have such a body as you under our roof." Surely this was not the manners of a cabin but a court.