Tuesday, August 23rd.
A cold morning. Walked to the bleaching-ground, a large field bordering on the Clyde, the banks of which are perfectly flat, and the general face of the country is nearly so in the neighbourhood of Glasgow. This field, the whole summer through, is covered with women of all ages, children, and young girls spreading out their linen, and watching it while it bleaches. The scene must be very cheerful on a fine day, but it rained when we were there, and though there was linen spread out in all parts, and great numbers of women and girls were at work, yet there would have been many more on a fine day, and they would have appeared happy, instead of stupid and cheerless.
In the middle of the field is a wash-house, whither the inhabitants of this large town, rich and poor, send or carry their linen to be washed. There are two very large rooms, with each a cistern in the middle for hot water; and all round the rooms are benches for the women to set their tubs upon. Both the rooms were crowded with washers; there might be a hundred, or two, or even three; for it is not easy to form an accurate notion of so great a number; however, the rooms were large, and they were both full. It was amusing to see so many women, arms, head, and face all in motion, all busy in an ordinary household employment, in which we are accustomed to see, at the most, only three or four women employed in one place. The women were very civil. I learnt from them the regulations of the house; but I have forgotten the particulars. The substance of them is, that 'so much' is to be paid for each tub of water, 'so much' for a tub, and the privilege of washing for a day, and, 'so much' to the general overlookers of the linen, when it is left to be bleached. An old man and woman have this office, who were walking about, two melancholy figures.
The shops at Glasgow are large, and like London shops, and we passed by the largest coffee-room I ever saw. You look across the piazza of the Exchange, and see to the end of the coffee-room, where there is a circular window, the width of the room. Perhaps there might be thirty gentlemen sitting on the circular bench of the window, each reading a newspaper. They had the appearance of figures in a fantoccine, or men seen at the extremity of the opera-house, diminished into puppets.
I am sorry I did not see the High Church: both William and I were tired, and it rained very hard after we had left the bleaching-ground; besides, I am less eager to walk in a large town than anywhere else; so we put it off, and I have since repented of my irresolution.
Dined, and left Glasgow at about three o'clock, in a heavy rain. We were obliged to ride through the streets to keep our feet dry, and, in spite of the rain, every person as we went along stayed his steps to look at us; indeed, we had the pleasure of spreading smiles from one end of Glasgow to the other - for we travelled the whole length of the town. A set of schoolboys, perhaps there might he eight, with satchels over their shoulders, and, except one or two, without shoes and stockings, yet very well dressed in jackets and trousers, like gentlemen's children, followed us in great delight, admiring the car and longing to jump up.
At last, though we were seated, they made several attempts to get on behind; and they looked so pretty and wild, and at the same time so modest, that we wished to give them a ride, and there being a little hill near the end of the town, we got off, and four of them who still remained, the rest having dropped into their homes by the way, took our places; and indeed I would have walked two miles willingly, to have had the pleasure of seeing them so happy. When they were to ride no longer, they scampered away, laughing and rejoicing. New houses are rising up in great numbers round Glasgow, citizen-like houses, and new plantations, chiefly of fir; the fields are frequently enclosed by hedgerows, but there is no richness, nor any particular beauty for some miles.
The first object that interested us was a gentleman's house upon a green plain or holm, almost close to the Clyde, sheltered by tall trees, a quiet modest mansion, and, though white-washed, being an old building, and no other house near it, or in connexion with it, and standing upon the level field, which belonged to it, its own domain, the whole scene together brought to our minds an image of the retiredness and sober elegance of a nunnery; but this might be owing to the greyness of the afternoon, and our having come immediately from Glasgow, and through a country which, till now, had either had a townish taint, or at best little of rural beauty.
While we were looking at the house we overtook a foot-traveller, who, like many others, began to talk about our car. We alighted to walk up a hill, and, continuing the conversation, the man told us, with something like a national pride, that it belonged to a Scotch Lord, Lord Semple; he added, that a little further on we should see a much finer prospect, as fine a one as ever we had seen in our lives. Accordingly, when we came to the top of the hill, it opened upon us most magnificently. We saw the Clyde, now a stately sea-river, winding away mile after mile, spotted with boats and ships, each side of the river hilly, the right populous with single houses and villages - Dunglass Castle upon a promontory, the whole view terminated by the rock of Dumbarton, at five or six miles distance, which stands by itself, without any hills near it, like a sea-rock.
We travelled for some time near the river, passing through clusters of houses which seemed to owe their existence rather to the wealth of the river than the land, for the banks were mostly bare, and the soil appeared poor, even near the water. The left side of the river was generally uninhabited and moorish, yet there are some beautiful spots: for instance, a nobleman's house, where the fields and trees were rich, and, in combination with the river, looked very lovely. As we went along William and I were reminded of the views upon the Thames in Kent, which, though greatly superior in richness and softness, are much inferior in grandeur.
Not far from Dumbarton, we passed under some rocky, copse-covered hills, which were so like some of the hills near Grasmere that we could have half believed they were the same. Arrived at Dumbarton before it was dark, having pushed on briskly that we might have start of a traveller at the inn, who was following us as fast as he could in a gig. Every front room was full, and we were afraid we should not have been admitted. They put us into a little parlour, dirty, and smelling of liquors, the table uncleaned, and not a chair in its place; we were glad, however, of our sorry accommodations.
While tea was preparing we lolled at our ease, and though the room-window overlooked the stable-yard, and at our entrance there appeared to be nothing but gloom and unloveliness, yet while I lay stretched upon the carriage cushions on three chairs, I discovered a little side peep which was enough to set the mind at work. It was no more than a smoky vessel lying at anchor, with its bare masts, a clay hut and the shelving bank of the river, with a green pasture above. Perhaps you will think that there is not much in this, as I describe it: it is true; but the effect produced by these simple objects, as they happened to be combined, together with the gloom of the evening, was exceedingly wild. Our room was parted by a slender partition from a large dining-room, in which were a number of officers and their wives, who, after the first hour, never ceased singing, dancing, laughing, or loud talking. The ladies sang some pretty songs, a great relief to us. We went early to bed; but poor Coleridge could not sleep for the noise at the street door; he lay in the parlour below stairs. It is no uncommon thing in the best inns of Scotland to have shutting-up beds in the sitting-rooms.
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