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James Geikie
Chapter V. Marriage and Life at Perth, 1875-77

In the spring of 1874 James Geikie returned from Edinburgh to the Cheviot region. Before starting his field-work he made a brief visit to the Continent, in regard to which his diary only contains records of dates and places. The motive of the visit is of interest as throwing light on his strong family feeling. At his instigation his youngest sister had gone to Germany to improve herself in the language. On arriving in the place arranged, however, she found herself very uncomfortable and unhappy, and informed her brother of the fact. With characteristic energy "he set off at once, met his sister, arranged for her transference to more congenial surroundings, and in a little more than a week was back to work again.

Shortly afterwards he went off to Jedburgh to take up again his survey in the Cheviots. Here he made many friends, and during his stay in the region acquired an intense love for the scenery of the hills, whose long gentle slopes and soft melancholy always appealed to him more than the stern grandeur of the Highlands. This feeling was perhaps not wholly aesthetic, however, for the district soon acquired associations for him which are briefly hinted at in the diary for the year. This—of somewhat unusual form—is adorned, oddly enough, with a portrait of John Stuart Mill as frontispiece. The philosopher's serious, intellectual countenance has, it is to be feared in derision, been decorated by the owner of the diary with a long pipe. It would indeed be difficult to imagine two men of more different type; for James Geikie, the utilitarian's long years of waiting and longing would have been as intolerable as the brief fever of the last days.

The entries in the diary are as usual short in the extreme, but under 12th August, which it is carefully noted was a wet day, the diarist was at a picnic in the Cheviots. He adds the word "lost"? to the laconic entry. Later entries record calls made to Crailing Hall with brief comments. About this time James Geikie was writing to his friend Mr Home, saying :—" John Home—come to the Cheviots. . . . I'll do what I can in the way of introductions." Much of the letter is occupied with geological matters, and the writer goes on to express a hope that he won't be asked to give a course of lectures to working-men during the coming winter:—"I want all my time for literary work this winter, seeing that I have agreed to write two books—one for a London house, the other for an Edinburgh one. Besides, I have at last made up my mind to go and get married, and as soon as I come across a likely girl, will lose no time in taking the grand header. I hope never to see another autumn as a bachelor. So what with hunting libraries for notes, and hunting up families for a nice wife, I have my winter's work laid out before me."

It will appear from this letter that James Geikie did not keep his heart on his sleeve. The letter is not perhaps wholly candid, but candour was doubtless not to be expected at such a time.

A few details may be added to make the story clear. None of the towns or hamlets at the foot of the Cheviots was near enough to form a good centre of work, and the region being given up to large sheep farms, habitations of any kind among the hills are few and scattered. Among James Geikie's acquaintances in the Jedburgh district was Mr Simson, Oxnam Row, to whose farm on the lower slopes were added the hill grazings higher up the Kale Water. Here, right among the hills, was the old farmhouse of Buchtrig, in the occupation of a shepherd and his wife, but with some rooms so furnished as to permit of the family making occasional visits to the region. Through Mr Simson James Geikie was able to arrange for accommodation here in the early spring of 1874 to facilitate his work. A few notes of his visit 'are left in his own handwriting, in what he styles a "Copy of a Fragment of some very ancient Manuscript." This opens as follows:—

It happened once upon a time that a certain youth, who dreamed strange dreams and wandered about the hill-tops and sojourned in lonely places, came unto a lonely dwelling among the mountains and there abode for many days. And an old woman ministered unto his wants with fear and trembling, for she looked upon him as one that was beside himself. "Verily," said she unto herself, "he looketh for some hidden treasure, and is a magician who smiteth the rocks with a hammer and writeth strange incantations and evil words in a book." And she looked, and behold he brought with him from the mountains pieces of stone which he treasured and laid in safe places. . . . Now after many days the old woman, who was called Katie, put away her fear, for the young man seemed not to hold communication with the Evil One, neither was the smell of brimstone perceived in the place. And so she showed him much kindness, and baked cakes of flour upon the girdle and brought these to him, and eggs, yea, and much fine butter.

In the early summer of the same year James Geikie went for his holiday to Skye and Lewis. Not long after his return he was invited to the picnic already mentioned, which, owing to the weather, was adjourned to Buchtrig farmhouse. The picnic was given by Mr Simson, and included his sister, Mrs Johnston, Crailing Hall, and her three daughters, with two of whom James Geikie was already acquainted. The MS. may be allowed to take up the story at this point:—

And so the days passed away, and the young man went into a far country, yea unto the furthermost isles of the sea. But in the fullness of time he returned, and found the place which had been a desert now filled with the hum of voices and laughter of damsels. And he looked, and behold there were chariots and a wagon filled with good things. And he entered into the house where he had sojourned aforetime, and lo! a fair damsel met him and bade him welcome. And she said unto him, "Enter now, and embrace my sisters and my mother, yea and my mother's brother's wife and her daughter." And it was so. And when the young man entered into an upper room, behold a maiden stood near the window. . . . And his eyes followed her whithersoever she went—and he spoke unto her presently as one speaketh unto an old friend. And the sound of her voice was like the music of the birds in spring, and the heart of the young man began to sing a new song. Listen and ye shall hear what the young man sang: Here ends the Manuscript.

This happened in August, and before Christmas James Geikie was engaged to Mary, youngest daughter of Mr Johnston, Crailing Hall, to whom he was married on 8th July 1875.

But in addition to what we may call the major associations with the Cheviot region due to these incidents, he had many minor ones of a pleasurable nature. He came into contact with all sorts of people in the course of his wanderings, and in that sparsely peopled district it was easy to make acquaintances. Among his temporary dwelling-places in the hills was the little inn, called Carter Bar, which then stood on the slopes of Carter Fell, and was but little more than a rest-house for drovers going over the border into England with their sheep. On one stormy day in spring James Geikie was returning to this poor shelter over the moor, when he encountered an old lady, somewhat oddly dressed, drenched with rain, and struggling against the wind. He went to her assistance, and she was glad to accept the offer of his arm to help her back to the inn. Here she borrowed dry garments from the hostess, and sat and talked over the fire with her new-found friend, who found her full of Border lore, while he no doubt contributed his full share to the conversation. Eventually, her own garments being dry, and she herself refreshed, the old lady drove off in a waiting carriage, urging James Geikie to come to see her. She proved to be Lady John Scott, a well-known Border personage, famous for her antiquarian tastes, her Scotch songs, and her great individuality of character.

Another similar meeting which led to a long friendship, though it took place several years later, may fitly find a place here. This was with Sir George Douglas, of Springwood Park, Kelso, the author of The New Border Tales, Poems, and a number of other works, many referring to the Border region. Sir George has kindly supplied the following notes upon the subject:—

I owed my acquaintance with the late Prof. Geikie to a chance meeting. Starting on a solitary walking-tour, in the summer vacation of the year 1878, I called at the Collingwood Arms, Cornhill, for tea, and found him there. He was not yet professor at that date, but was a member of H.M. Geological Survey, the work of which had brought him to Cornhill, where he was waiting for a train to Tweedmouth. He was then in the early prime of manhood, and his work being of a more active nature and taking him more into the open air, the cheery vigour which at all times characterised him was more pleasantly noticeable than ever. I remember that his beard, which he afterwards wore close-cropped, at that time descended over his chest and was of a golden colour. I believe that we began by talking of inns, for I remember that he poked some good-natured fun at the commercial travellers of those days (" bagmen," as he perversely preferred to call them), and told me two or three amusing stories of experiences with them. But, ere long, we were talking of literature, and especially of poetry—the poetry of the day. Here was a delight for me! I was at the poetry-reading age, and had just left Cambridge, where I had primed myself with Swinburne, William Morris, the Rossettis—that is, with such of their works as had at that date appeared; and not only with these, but with such poems as the "Angel in the House," "White Rose and Red," "The Human Tragedy": the works of lesser masters, then on their probation, and now, it may be, seldom heard of. Well, here in a wayside inn at the extremity of Northumberland, I had chanced upon an unknown traveller who had all these authors and books, so to speak, at his fingers' ends. One would have liked, at that age, to pose him, to make some pedantical allusion, as to a matter of common knowledge, to something of which he had not happened to hear. But it was vain to hope to go beyond him. And, if we were fairly evenly matched in our discussion, it must be borne in mind that I was, as it were, staking my all in it, whilst he was merely gambling with his small change. For of course he never professed literature, but merely turned to it for a change of idea in hours that were not occupied by science. What was really remarkable in this conversation, I should say, was the readiness and whole-heartedness with which he threw himself into it, the stimulus given by his never-failing interest and occasional enthusiasm, the fine good-nature with which he unquestioningly put himself on equal terms with one who was many years younger than himself, and whose opinions, however confidently expressed, must often have been crude and immature. Neither then, nor at any subsequent time, was there anything whatever that was pedantic or academic about Geikie. When I met him next, I was approaching the middle term of life, but the recollection of that single conversation suffices to make quite clear to me the power which he wielded over his students and the popularity which he enjoyed among them. I doubt if the very best that was in him really made itself felt upon the lecture-platform. It was in the give-and-take of life —in his Saturday geological tramps and other more informal relations with his students, if I may hazard a guess—that the man really stood revealed. He could impart life and glow to his subject, as perhaps few can. But he did so best, if I may pretend to judge, when he was talking rather than lecturing.

I had evidence of this later. On parting after our two or three hours' talk at Cornhill, we had exchanged cards, and when I heard that, in order to be near Mrs Geikie's relations, he was renting Kalemouth on Teviot, four or five miles from my house, during one summer vacation, I hastened to renew acquaintance with him. Since our former meeting ten or twelve years had passed, and though it had remained delightfully memorable to me, I did not presume to suppose that he would remember it, nor was any allusion made to it. Being such near neighbours throughout that summer we met often, and it was then that I really got to know the character and qualities which had been merely suggested at Cornhill. From the geological point of view, Prof. Geikie knew the Borderland as no one else knew it; but he had also a remarkable knowledge, not only of its scenery, history, and tradition, but also of its people, collectively and individually; and this gave us a strong interest in common.

Some other moorland experiences were of a more humorous nature. Thus one Sunday night he was walking back from Crailing Hall to his lodgings at Morebattle, and came in the dusk past the hamlet of Cess ford. He was carrying a small handbag, and as he passed the cottages a woman ran out and called out in a loud whisper:—"Man, man, can ye gie me half a pound o' tea ?" She had mistaken him for a pedlar, perhaps not unwilling to earn an ungodly penny. The situation appealed strongly to his sense of humour, and he rated the woman severely for tempting an honest man on the "Sawbath" day, and told her to go home and make porridge. For him the jest was doubtless seasoned by the fact that rigid "Sabbath-keeping" did not appeal to his tastes, and ,that he was an inveterate tea-drinker—making up for enforced abstinence while out on the hills by copious draughts at night. Thus to bring down, as it were, two birds with one stone—the rigid Sabbatarians, and those who trace the degeneracy of the Scottish people to the substitution of tea for the ancestral porridge—must have been a real joy to him. The occasion perhaps permits of the comment that though a Scotsman, he was a Scotsman with a difference, and had wandered too far, alike in mind and in body, to have any intense attachment to the pattern of the parish pump.

The spring of 1875, which saw him still working in the Cheviots, brought him his first great honour—the fellowship of the Royal Society of London. A note, undated, written from Morebattle to his future wife, immediately after he had received the news, is full of justifiable pride and joy:—"I suppose I am the youngest F.R.S. on the roll . . . you will believe me, I know, when I say that I am pleased as much for your sake as my own, that my work is recognised. It is no small honour to be elected F.R.S. out of 57 candidates for the 15 vacancies."

The note encloses two letters, one from his old friend and honoured chief, Prof. Ramsay, saying:—

"You came in triumphantly yesterday for the Royal Society, having the largest number of votes of any candidate," and another from Mr H. W. Bristow, the Director of the Geological Survey of England and Wales, which shows clearly with what friendly feeling James Geikie was regarded by his English colleagues:—

28 Jermyn St., S.W., 17th April 1875.

My dear James Geikie,—It gladdens my heart as one of your "Royal" sponsors, to congratulate you upon your election into the Society, which I hope you may live long to adorn. Etheridgel is also very full of rejoicing, and I only regret that the earliest announcement of the glad tidings did not reach you from one of us.—Believe me, your faithful confrere,

H. W. Bristow.

As the Survey work in the Cheviot region was finished in the year that James Geikie married, his friend Prof. Ramsay so arranged matters that it was possible for him to take a house at Perth, which remained his headquarters for six years after his marriage, that is until he went to Edinburgh to take the Chair of Geology.

At Perth Mr and Mrs Geikie made many friends, and the former threw himself actively into the life of the place, taking especially a great interest in the Perthshire Society of Natural Science, of which he became president later. This brought him into contact with Sir Thomas Moncrieffe, also at one time president of the Society ; Mr Andrew Coates, who took a very great interest in the establishment of the excellent Perth Museum ; Dr Buchanan White, and others. James Geikie also gave courses of lectures to ladies on geology during his stay in Perth, and generally did not a little to stimulate an interest in natural science in the town.

The year 1876 was a very full one. In spring he paid a short visit to Norfolk and Suffolk to study some interesting glacial results which his colleague Mr Skertchly had obtained there. At the same time he was working at The Great Ice Age, which had done so well that a second edition was required. Under date 27th June he writes to Mr Home:— "My new edition will be out, I expect, in October— the first of the season! It is in the printers' hands now, and we are settling about the size of page and type. Printed the same size of type as last, the volume would be 900 pages, which shows that I have made some additions!"

At the beginning of July Prof. Ramsay wrote to ask him if he would be willing to go to Gibraltar to assist in an investigation of the water-supply there, the work to count as a piece of Survey duty. The invitation was promptly accepted, and on nth September James Geikie left Perth on his long journey to the South. He stopped a couple of days in London, and did not finally reach Gibraltar till 19th September. Here he remained till 25th October, much longer than he had expected, and in addition to doing a large amount of geological work, in what both he and Prof. Ramsay found most oppressive heat, received much kindness and hospitality from the civil and military officials, and made many interesting excursions. It was apparently the first time he had seen subtropical vegetation, and his letters to his wife are filled with accounts of all he saw, written in a spirit of almost boyish glee, and accompanied by much groaning over the heat, and the resultant thirst. Even bathing afforded little refreshment, for he says ruefully:—"Even in the water one has much the feeling that a herring must have when it is newly put into a pot upon the fire. All the springs," he adds, "yield half-warm water—everything indeed is baked, blistered, and boiled.":

The abundant hospitality, delightful though it was, naturally took up much time, the hosts perhaps not fully realising that the two geologists had a fairly heavy piece of work on hand, and James Geikie complains that it was difficult even to find time to write letters to his wife, in the midst of the ceaseless round of work and pleasure. An interesting fact, which he does not fail to record, is that at a Mess dinner at which he and Prof. Ramsay were the guests of honour, the military band played Scotch music in compliment to their nationality, and among the airs James Geikie recognised a selection arranged by his father for a Scotch regiment many years before.

Among the excursions was included one to the African coast, where the two made a short stay in Tangier: the diary, with characteristic orderliness, records the purchases made here for the people at home. But in addition to making these, the two found time to study the geology of the coast between Ceuta and Cape Spartel.

A letter to Mr Home, written from Perth on 18th November, not long after his return home, makes some mention of the tour, and of the other events of a crowded summer.

I heard all about your Shetland work. It did my heart good, and right glad I am that it has been done by a Survey man. . . . You would hear about Skertchly's find. I was down there again ten days ago at Ramsay's request, to see the evidence again. . . . In my new edition, which is out (and selling well!), I go much more fully into the English Drifts. I got to-day a long letter from Darwin, along with a copy of his new edition of Geological Observatiotis. His letter is very complimentary, and of course that is gratifying to me, for I look upon Darwin as a real genius.

I enjoyed my Gibraltar trip very much. Ramsay was very jolly and in excellent spirits all the time. We did have some fun, I can tell you. Also we crossed over to Africa and had a run amongst the Moors. The result of our Survey was so far satisfactory as it enables us to say very positively what is best to be done in the matter of the water-supply.

There are two letters from Darwin about this date. One has been already quoted (p. 27). In the other, which is taken up largely with a geological discussion, he says:—"Allow me to tell you with what extreme pleasure and admiration I have just finished reading your Great Ice Age. It seems to me admirably done and most clear. Interesting as many chapters are in the history of the world, I do not think that any one comes nearly to the glacial period or periods. Though I have steadily read much on the subject, your book makes the whole appear almost new to me."

In this month of November also another sign of appreciation of his work reached James Geikie in the offer by the University of St Andrews of its LL.D. degree, which was conferred the following year. About the same time he was approached informally to know whether he would care to have a knighthood. This was at this date a much rarer honour than it became later, and the young couple decided that their income was not large enough to support it. Very many years later, after his retirement, James Geikie's friends again urged his claims to the title, but the matter was dropped at the outbreak of the war, and death came not long after.

Other letters of the same autumn refer to the "Ice Age," and to the report upon the Gibraltar work. In addition to the Memoir upon the question of the water-supply, a general article on the geology of the region was contributed to the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society. Rather curiously, even at Gibraltar Geikie found evidence of use to him in connection with his glacial work.

In the early spring of 1877 his eldest son was born, and the summer saw him wandering about the Hebrides, of which he sends so racy a description to his wife that large extracts from the letters may be given:—

Obbe, Harris, 7th July 1877.

This is written out on the hill-side—I will tell you „ why presently. Yesterday we walked from Tarbert, twenty-three miles, by a wild and lonely track-road, through a desolate and dreary region—nothing but bare rock, and a little heather and grass growing in rocks and crevices. It was all very interesting to me, however, as every square yard of rock was marked and scored and smoothed by the great ice-sheet that flowed out from the mainland. We took our time by the way, making notes and sketches. Every now and then we passed standing stones and ruins of Picts houses. At each bend in the track there were always two or three cairns of stones, which mark the spots where coffins have been rested. When the Harris folk bury anyone they have to carry the body often for many miles, as there is only one burial-place for the island. The poor people must rest by the way, therefore, for refreshment. Much whisky and kebbocks of cheese and scones go down, and then they raise a cairn to mark the spot. We met no one all the way for fourteen miles. . . . The road wound along the sea coast, across which we had lovely views to the islets that dot the horizon. You have no idea of the lovely shades of blue and green and saffron and orange and gold that streak and flush the sea—the water is so clear and crystalline, too, that one feels as if he should like to throw his knapsack down and take a header! There are few or no houses. We passed the ruins of several villages, but the poor people were driven out some forty years ago, and most of them emigrated to Canada. I believe they were very unwilling to clear out, and the soldiers had to be marched upon them. It is very sad to see their poor huts, all roofless, and grass and nettles growing over them. As we had much to look at on the road it was nearly ten o'clock. before we came to Obbe, and we passed the inn—not knowing it. Losh keep us a', what an inn! It was a mere hut—just like that used by the " natives." There are only two rooms—a kitchen and a double-bedded room. The peat-reek circulates freely through the whole cottage, and the walls are mouldy and damp. We had a peat fire in our room, and did what we could to make ourselves jolly. But salt ham is not good to feed on after a long walk. However, we were satisfied, and after a while got to bed.

To-day we started to climb Roneval, the highest mountain in South Harris. It has been polished by ice all over, a splendid confirmation of what I had already described in my book. What a magnificent view I had from the top! Far away to the west was St Kilda and the little island of Berneray. Southwards stretched the various islands of the Outer Hebrides—North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, and Barra. How plainly seen they all were—high mountains with broad plains at their feet, over which were dotted lakes innumerable. In the east, Skye with its wonderful Coolins lay spread out before us; and north of Skye I could see our old friend Ben Slioch, and the mountains of Loch Maree and Loch Torridon. Harris, of course, lay under our feet: and you can form no idea of its sterile desolation. Endless round-backed hills and rocks, scraped bare of any soil, and supporting hardly a vestige of vegetation; great rocky mountains, smoothed and polished all over and equally bare and desolate, with blue lakelets scattered in hundreds among the hollows and depressions of the land—such is the appearance of Harris. Then there lay the great blue sea shining like sapphire in the sun, and flecked with tiny sails where the fishermen are busy at their calling.—I began this letter outside to escape the peat-reek, but the midges have driven me in again!

Tuesday, 10th July 1877.

We got here yesterday, after a long and very tedious sail in an open boat. With a good wind we should have crossed the Sound of Harris in two hours—instead of which we were nine hours. We kept dodging about from islet to islet, sighing for a breeze, but no breeze would come—what little wind there was being in the wrong direction. We landed hungry as hawks, or any other animal of prey, and found a very comfortable inn. Of course we were offered the usual ham and eggs, but prevailed upon the landlady to give us fish instead. This place is like the sweepings of creation. It is made up of irregular bits of land, all jumbled about in a shallow sea—or of bits of sea running into the flat land in all directions— so that to get to a place one mile in direct distance you may have to walk five or six or even ten miles, if you can't get a boat. It is a land of desolation and dreariness. Bare rocky hills form the eastern coast, and from the foot of these the low undulating rocky and peaty land stretches for some ten or twelve miles to the Atlantic. The land, as I have said, is everywhere intersected by the sea, and sprinkled with innumerable lakes and peaty tarns. Along the flat Atlantic coast there are dreary stretches of blown yellow sands that form hills like those of Barry, near Carnoustie. Near these are a few huts and a kirk and manse! Not a tree, not even a bush higher than heather is anywhere to be seen—peat and rock and water—water and rock and peat—that is North Uist. . . . I have been vastly pleased with what I have seen, and will have a lot to tell geologists that is new.

Cairnish, North Uist,
11th July 1877.

This place is still further out of the world than Lochmaddy. We walked to it to-day accompanied by one of the Inland Revenue officers, a very good intelligent fellow, who is quite an antiquarian and takes an intelligent interest in geology. He knew of me quite well and had read my "great work." The road lay for twelve miles through bogs, morasses, rocks, and lakes, and passed over as dreary a stretch of country as I ever set eyes on. The sky was cold grey, and the wind too was none of the kindest. Here we found a wretched inn, where we were waited on by a great hulking Heeland lassie with a back as broad as a barn door, and bare feet which haven't been in a tub since the day she saw the light of this weary world. She is shy, the dear creature, and has not one word of English. When I ring for her with the bell that lies on the table, she looks into the room with a grin on her face. I want salt, so I take up a bit of the Australian meat and dab it on the side of the plate. She twigs at once what I want, makes a guttural sound, and in half-an-hour or so returns with a soap-dish full of dirty salt. However, she gives us good scones and not bad tea, and strong peat-reekie whisky. The landlord has been a soldier, I think, for he speaks of Hyderabad. Fancy a man coming from the sunny plains of India to this fearful howling wilderness. It would make a fine penal settlement. You see poor, ragged, dirty women bending under their creels of peat, and men digging the mosses as for dear life. It is hard living for them, poor devils. There is no shelter in the land, even the heather is low and stunted, and the wind howls in from the Atlantic with a long melancholy sough that is depressing in the extreme. No sportsman ever comes here, for there is nothing to shoot. It is said that there are fine trout in the lakes. It may be so; but the man who could fish such peaty holes and feel happy in the occupation, could only be an escaped convict or downright lunatic. The inn at Lochmaddy was snug, if the country was miserable. Here everything is in keeping. . . . Most of the houses are mere stone-and-mud huts with mud floors and heather roofs. Cattle enter them freely and mingle with the family. I was amused with an old man who came up to us and asked our friend the Inland Revenue man what we were doing. He took us for drovers come to buy cattle. When he heard that we had come to look at rocks and stones he said—"We were great fools, and must be very idle, and light in the head." And indeed when I looked round the miserable dreary wildnerness I was half inclined to agree with him. Who but a geologist would ever think of visiting such a land. Well, it won't be my fault if I ever revisit the place.

Loch Boisdale, 15th July 1877.

Some days have passed since I last had an opportunity of writing to you. We have had much walking and no time to write since we left Cairnish in South Uist. We started from Cairnish about twelve o'clock on the nth in a broken-down gig with a one-eyed horse, which was led or rather pulled along by a native named Angus Macrlougall. . . . North Uist and Benbecula are separated by an arm of the sea which is some five miles in breadth, but is so shallow that at low water it can be forded. What a peculiar scene it was! A long stretch of mud-flats and sand-banks broken here and there with reefs of tangle-covered rocks and low green islets on which a few black cattle were grazing. Men and women were busy cutting the tangle for kelp-burning, the smoke of the fires rising here and there from various points of the dry land on the Benbecula coast. Heavy drizzle wetted me through and through, and it was most cheerless. At the opposite side of the ford we reached a little inn, as dirty and clarty as all the inns are. We now got out of the trap to walk, as we wished to save the poor horse as much as possible, for the weary tramp before us. At the pace we went we calculated we should reach Loch Boisdale about two or three in the morning. Benbecula is about eight or nine miles in length, and is perhaps the dreariest bit of land I ever traversed. It is nothing but a big peat-moss, with a lot of lakes or boggy holes running through it in all directions. Indeed there is about as much water as land. Cultivation is a mere parody, everything bespeaks poverty. The people are as usual haggard and ill-clad, and dirty in the extreme. Things looked a little better as we got near the shore at Creagorry. Here our friend Mr Carmichael met us and took us into his house.  . . It was pleasant to get into a real house again and to sleep in a clean comfortable bed. Next morning we were up at three o'clock in order to catch the early ford between Benbecula and South Uist. . . . The ford between Benbecula and South Uist is not nearly so broad as the North Ford, but it is deeper. We got across about half-past four, and then I got out to walk so that I might make observations as I went along. It rained heavily for the first six miles and then cleared off, so that I had time to dry again. The road goes through much the same kind of scenery as Benbecula, but there are fine mountains immediately to the left, and these we gradually neared, and skirted the base of them for many miles. I saw so much glacial geology that I did not feel in the least degree fatigued. ... As we took our time by the way, stopping to look at this, that, and t'other thing, it was nearly eight o'clock when we reached a place called Askernish about six miles or so from Loch Boisdale. ... At five we set off again, and loitering by the way to chat and smoke and do geology, we did not get into Loch Boisdale until nine o'clock at night, having been out since four o'clock in the morning. So off to bed somewhat fagged. Next morning we were astir by six o'clock and set off in a boat for a sixteen-miles sail up the east coast to Loch Eynort, intending to land there and climb Ben More, the highest hill in South Uist. It was wet and cold, but we determined to go on. The cliffs are wild and dreary, and fearful places to be wrecked upon, for deep water runs up to the very rocks. We landed at a place where Prince Charlie lay in hiding while the King's cruisers sailed past. It was a picturesque spot. Wild bare mountains cleft by mountain-torrents surrounded the small glen, down which leapt a noisy stream, on the bank of which were one or two thatched cots. The shepherd came out and asked us to drink milk. It was a picturesque interior that we were introduced to. There was the peat fire in the centre, dogs, cocks and hens, cats, and a small pig crowded round the fire, and the wife and lassies were bustling about. The spinning-jenny stood in a corner. None of the women looked well. They were all white and haggard. Carmichael told me afterwards that they wanted me to prescribe for them, as they had imagined I was a medical man! Poor things! I could not help thinking they were consumptive. Yet they all seemed happy enough, and certainly though I have seen much poverty all through these islands, yet I have not noticed any of that squalid misery which is so common in our large towns. The people are poor, but they always have something to eat. Their wardrobe can't cost much, for they make everything themselves, and what they make seems to last half a lifetime. But to return to the shepherd's house, we got our milk and after sitting for a while rose to go. They are very polite these Highlanders, much more so than most country folks in the mainland of Scotland. I was only sorry I could not speak Gaelic, for few of them had more than one or two words of English. The shepherd told us it had been a bad year for the sheep, but not so bad, he thought, as it seems to have been on the mainland. We bade good-bye and sailed into Loch Eynort at a wild part of the coast, where we landed and dismissed the boatmen and boat. But mists hung heavy on all the hills, and after much climbing we were compelled much against our will to give up all hope of getting to the top of Ben More. However, we managed to see a good deal, and then struck right across the mountain tract to the flat ground of the east coast, along which we had walked the day before. Just before we got down to the road, the mists cleared away, and the mountain-peak shone brilliantly forth; but it was now too late to think of climbing Ben More. We had been tramping over rock and bog and hill and dale for six hours, and we had still some twelve miles to walk before reaching Loch Boisdale, and were reluctantly obliged to abandon Ben More. But I was able nevertheless to make out all the main geological points that were important—so that, after all, we did not lose much. ... I shall be right glad when my face is homeward turned. It is so wet and dismal it makes one dull whether he will or no. But I have very much enjoyed my visit, and have gathered material for a great geological paper, which will bring me much credit, I know.

The rest of the year 1877 was occupied with the writing of the Hebrides paper, published in the following year, and in various geological controversies, especially in regard to the superficial deposits of Norfolk and Suffolk. These years at Perth were thus a period of severe and productive work, for after long days in the field he would sit and write far into the night. He kept himself also carefully abreast of all recent work in his own subject, and with the help of grammars and dictionaries, read in the original the papers of all his foreign confreres, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, etc. The Norwegian geologist, Dr Amund Helland, afterwards professor at Christiania, it may be noted, paid a visit to the house at Perth in 1877, and James Geikie and he became great friends. A couple of years later they paid a visit together, an enjoyable and profitable one, to the Faroe Islands.

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