Striking and Picturesque Delineations of the Grand, Beautiful, Wonderful, and Interesting Scenery Around Loch-Earn

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Striking and Picturesque Delineations of the Grand, Beautiful, Wonderful, and Interesting Scenery Around Loch-Earn
Author Angus McDiarmid
Country Scotland
Language English
Subject Southern Scottish Highlands
Genre Description and travel
Publisher John Moir
Publication date
1815
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 28 (main text)
OCLC 29627181

Striking and Picturesque Delineations of the Grand, Beautiful, Wonderful, and Interesting Scenery Around Loch-Earn, also published as A Description of the Beauties of Edinample and Lochearnhead, is a short book by the Scotsman Angus McDiarmid (1770?–1820?) that led the local-history populariser Archie McKerracher to call him "the world's worst author".[1]

Synopsis[edit]

The book begins with a dedication to the Earl of Breadalbane (presumably John Campbell, the fourth Earl, as the book was first published in 1815). Its "grovelling and abject" tone was unusual by that time.[2] Then an anonymous preface recounts how an unnamed "Gentleman", on a grouse-shooting visit to the earl's estate in the Lochearnhead region, met Angus McDiarmid, a ground-officer (or ghillie, a gamekeeper and hunting-guide) of the earl's. Struck by McDiarmid's eloquent descriptions of the scenery and associated legends, the gentleman learned that McDiarmid had written a manuscript, which McDiarmid entrusted to him to be published. The preface assures the reader that visitors to Lochearnhead could confirm McDiarmid's existence and his sole authorship of the book. It then praises the "unparalleled sublimity" of the book's style, which it connects with the rugged Highland landscape and offers as the reason that McDiarmid's sentences "overleap the mounds and impediments of grammar".[3]

Lochearnhead and Glen Ogle (the valley at left) in May 2007.

The main text is 28 pages about the region near Lochearnhead. There are three sections:

  • "Sketch of the Following Descriptions" covers scenery including the nearby mountains of Ben Vorlich and Stùc a' Chroin, wild and domestic animals, and local history and legend.
  • "Sketch of an Ancient History Deserves To Be Inserted" adds fairly recent local history and animal stories.

McDiarmid's dedication is in grammatical English, but the main text is not, and is full of obscure and misused words. The paragraph about an earthquake in the Grampian Mountains may give an idea:

It merits the trouble to exhibit a description of a part of Glenogle's Grampian mountains, disjointed in the time of the generations past ; which event happen about the twilight, that the dread of the horrible sight seized the beholders with fear, ultera the comprehension of the individual, discernible to their sight. The pillars of fire rising from the parting of the rock, where there was a cement, the stones forcibly dashing one against another, that the melancholy sight was similar to a corner of mountain set wholly on fire, also overhearing such a loud noise of the stones break at juncture ; which vociferous might reach the ears of the people living at great distant. This place perceptible to view of the beholders that passes by.[4]

Reaction[edit]

Starting with the book's own preface,[5] it has been classified as a "literary curiosity".[6] As the publisher intended, it seems to have succeeded as unintentional humour. One "J. Ss.", answering a question in Notes and Queries, describes buying a copy of the book from McDiarmid two or three years after its publication and having McDiarmid read it to him and his companions, amusing not only J. Ss. but also McDiarmid's fellow ghillies.[7] A later bookseller called it "a most amusing specimen of Gaelic-English."[8] In an unusually favourable opinion, "R. S. A.", another commentator in Notes and Queries, refers to McDiarmid's "rough eloquence", and despite "[w]hatever may be thought of M'Diarmid's style as a writer of English," praises his perception of natural beauty and his "generous ardour" in narrating feats of heroism.[9]

Probably the best-known phrase in the book is "incoherent transactions", apparently referring to theft, which occurs three times. Robert Southey used it twice (with credit to McDiarmid) in his Life of Cowper to describe William Hayley's eccentricities[10] and used it in at least three letters.[11][12][13] Dr. John Brown cited it as well and took it to apply to Rob Roy[14] (possibly identifying as Rob Roy a robber McDiarmid described, "a barbarous man... who was notoriously for savageness of manner").[15] A more recent mention of the phrase is in Vladimir Nabokov's novel Pale Fire; the narrator sees McDiarmid's prose as a precursor to Finnegans Wake,[16] a comparison Nabokov also made in a draft note.[17]

A folklorist quotes McDiarmid's story of a kelpie and called the book "one of the most astonishing books ever written in 'English'".[18]

To account for McDiarmid's style, "J. Ss." said that McDiarmid's native language was Scottish Gaelic, and in translating his writings into English, he used a dictionary extensively, choosing the most impressive word without regard to its part of speech.[7] McKerracher says that McDiarmid's minister read in church some Gaelic translations from Samuel Johnson, and McDiarmid tried to emulate or surpass Johnson's orotund expression.[1]

The author[edit]

Beyond what has been stated above, little is known about Angus McDiarmid. "R. S. A." says that in 1815 he was introduced to McDiarmid, "a fine athletic young man", enthusiastic but modest.[9] McKerracher suggests a birth year around 1770,[1] which does not agree well with "young" in 1815. "J. Ss." mentions meeting McDiarmid a few years later and describes him as dressing more poorly than the other ghillies, in a black coat and a hat instead of like them "in the highland fashion" (presumably the Scottish kilt and associated clothing).[7]

An antiquarian notes that although most accept the book as authentic, one may doubt whether McDiarmid existed.[6] If he did not, "J. Ss." and "R. S. A." must have joined in the hoax, fifty years later.

Publication history[edit]

"J. Ss." recalled that the man who first had the manuscript published was a Colonel O'Reilly, and that O'Reilly gave the print run to McDiarmid to sell for his own benefit.[7]

In 1888 an uncut first edition sold at auction for £5 10 shillings,[19] equivalent to £439 in 2007 currency by the retail-price index.[22]

See also[edit]

  • English as She is Spoke, a 19th-century English-Portuguese dictionary whose wild inaccuracy made it another example of unintentional humour.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c McKerracher, Archie (1988). Perthshire in History and Legend. Edinburgh: John Donald Publishing. p. 89. ISBN 0-85976-223-8. 
  2. ^ Walsh, William S. (1893). Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company. p. 224. ISBN 0-7426-4152-X. Retrieved 2008-10-03. 
  3. ^ McDiarmid, Angus (1815). Striking and Picturesque Delineations of the Grand, Beautiful, Wonderful, and Interesting Scenery Around Loch-Earn. Edinburgh: John Moir. p. viii. Retrieved 2008-09-30. 
  4. ^ McDiarmid. Striking and Picturesque, pp. 16–17.
  5. ^ Anonymous, in McDiarmid, Striking and Picturesque, p. viii.
  6. ^ a b c Mitchell, Arthur (1901). "A List of Travels, Tours, Etc., Relating to Scotland". Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Ser. 3, Vol. 11: 546. Retrieved 2008-10-03. 
  7. ^ a b c d "J. Ss." (April 15, 1865). "Angus M'Diarmid". Notes and Queries. 3rd. S. VII: 305–306. Retrieved 2008-10-02. 
  8. ^ a b Johnston, George P (1881). Catalogue of Rare, Curious, and Valuable Books in Poetry, the Drama, Shakesperiana, Antiquities, Fine Arts, Early Printing, Ana, Etc., and Scottish Literature, on Sale by George P. Johnston, 21 South Hanover Street, Edinburgh. Edinburgh: Commercial Printing Company. p. 8. Retrieved 2008-10-02. 
  9. ^ a b c "R. S. A." (Jan 14, 1865). "Angus M'Diarmid". Notes and Queries. 3rd. S. VIII: 43. Retrieved 2008-09-30. 
  10. ^ Southey, Robert (1853). "Life of Cowper". In Cowper, William. The Works of William Cowper. Comprising His Poems, Correspondence, and Translations. With a Life of the Author by the Editor, Robert Southey, LL.D., Poet Laureate, Etc. Volume II. London: H. G. Bohn. pp. 110, 141. Retrieved 2008-10-02. 
  11. ^ Southey, Robert (1856). "Letter to John Rickman, March 13, 1832". In Warter, John Wood. Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, Vol. IV. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts. pp. 263–265. Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  12. ^ Southey, Robert (1965). "Letter to Edith May Southey, April 3, 1834". In Curry, Robert and Kenneth. New Letters of Robert Southey, Vol. 2. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 406. 
  13. ^ Southey, Robert (1881). "Letter to Caroline Bowles, May 29, 1836". In Dowden, Edward. The Correspondence of Robert Southey with Caroline Bowles. Dublin: Hodges, Figgis, & Co. pp. 339–340. ISBN 0-548-16880-6. Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  14. ^ Brown, John (1858). Horæ Subsecivæ (1897 ed.). London: Adam and Charles Black. p. xxxvi. Retrieved 2008-10-02.  The phrase Brown quotes as following "incoherent transactions", namely "specially in general", is not in the first edition.
  15. ^ McDiarmid Striking and Picturesque, p. 23.
  16. ^ Nabokov, Vladimir (1962). Pale Fire (1989 ed.). Vintage International. p. 76. ISBN 0-679-72342-0. 
  17. ^ Vladimir Nabokov. Quoted by Boyd, Brian (1996). "Notes". In Vladimir Nabokov. Novels 1955–1962: Lolita / Pnin / Pale Fire. Library of America. p. 893. ISBN 1-883011-19-1. 
  18. ^ Nicholson, Edward W. B. (1897). Golspie: Contributions to its Folklore. London: David Nutt. p. 24. ISBN 0-88305-458-2. Retrieved 2008-10-02. 
  19. ^ a b c Slater, J. H., ed. (1889). Book-prices Current, Volume II. London: Elliot Stock. p. 119. Retrieved 2008-10-03. 
  20. ^ "Encore" (library-search result). University of Glasgow. Retrieved on 2008-10-04.
  21. ^ Maclean, Donald. Typographica Scoto-Gadelica; or, Books Printed in the Gaelic of Scotland from the Year 1567 to the Year 1914, with Bibliographical and Biographical Notes. Edinburgh: John Grant. pp. 186–187. Retrieved 2008-10-04.  pdf
  22. ^ "Measuring Worth - Relative Value of UK Pounds". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 2008-10-03. 

External links[edit]