Daniell's Scotland: A Voyage Round the Coast of Scotland and the Adjacent Isles, 1815‐1822: A Series of Views, Illustrative of the Character and Prominent Features of the Coast: in Two Volumes

Stuart Hannabuss (Gray's School of Art, Aberdeen, UK)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 27 June 2008




Hannabuss, S. (2008), "Daniell's Scotland: A Voyage Round the Coast of Scotland and the Adjacent Isles, 1815‐1822: A Series of Views, Illustrative of the Character and Prominent Features of the Coast: in Two Volumes", Library Review, Vol. 57 No. 6, pp. 464-467. https://doi.org/10.1108/00242530810886760



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

It is a joy – and a surprise – to see this work. The original work is held by The National Library of Scotland (as MS.6140/ii‐vi) and was scanned for this modern facsimile reprint. Financial assistance for the project was given by the Russell Trust. An earlier fascimile edition is noted by Elizabeth Bray in her foreword, an edition of 300 copies with monochrome illustrations form the Tate Gallery Scolar Press, London, 1978. Bray's own study of travellers to the Western Isles between 1745 and 1883 merits examination. William Daniell (1769‐1837) was an English painter and aquatint specialist. With his uncle Thomas (1749‐1840), also an artist, William voyaged through China and India in the 1780s and this led eventually to an illustrated book called A Picturesque Voyage to India by Way of China, published in 1819. William was also known for his landscape scenes of nature and for his pictures of ships, and became a Royal Academician in 1822.

Between 1813 and 1822 William was engaged summer (the travels) and winter (the aquatint work and writing the text) on his A Voyage Round Great Britain. It was a journey that would start at Land's End in Cornwall and extend round the entire British coastline, a project on a scale that today resembles the BBBC television series Coast with Nicholas Crane and others. Four volumes of the original eight included Scotland – volumes III to VI. Birlinn, whose publishing contribution to Scottish culture, like that of Canongate, has been exceptional, joined forces with The National Library of Scotland to produce this two‐volume folio facsimile edition, devoted only to Scotland.

The first volume consists of Bray's foreword, and introduction by Iain Gordon Brown (curator of manuscripts at the NLS, a piece that argues for direct involvement of Sir Walter Scott in the project by providing advice), and the text (322 pages plus prelims). This text began in an interesting way: William saw himself as the artist but needed someone to help with the text. Brown suggests that it might even have been Scott himself had things turned out differently, but in actuality it was a writer and traveller called Richard Ayton (1786‐1832). William and Ayton collaborated in the text for volumes I and II, but then they fell out (over the costs of producing the edition and how best to balance text and pictures for what subscribers said they wanted). After that, from volume III onwards, William wrote the text as well as creating the illustrations that he turned into aquatints.

William was business‐like enough to see that the pictures were most popular: this has proved ironically true in the light of history as original versions were broken up and used as quarries for aquatints that could be sold independently and framed as pictures. Textually the collaboration is of particular interest because Ayton's stance was not merely to provide a topographical guide but also to make quite trenchant political and social observations about what the two of the saw on their travels (the authorial “I” disguises the fact that early on there were two of them). Descriptions of the squalor of peasant life in Scottish cottages, of Scottish drinking, and the “absolute piggishness of domestic life”, of scenes of degradation in the gaols of Annan and on the streets of Dumfries are striking even today.

From volume III onwards, William went solo with the text, and, although this contains much of interest from a social history point of view, things read more like a more conventional travelogue after that. William shows his own distinctive interest in the geology of the cliffs and coasts he sees in Scotland, and in the castles and ruins and lighthouses on the coasts, and in the history of the clans and families who live there, his main interest consists in providing a supportive commentary to the aquatints. In fact in volumes V and VI, he often lets the pictures do the talking and so the text turns into a mixture of a travelogue and a gallery catalogue. This is not to undervalue the content there, however, which remains, and will remain, of permanent interest to anyway reading the book.

Social historians, historians of tourism, students of landscape painting and illustration, students of aesthetics and the sublime and the picturesque, local history buffs, those interested in Scottish heritage, and anyone interested in the impact of Sir Walter Scott (and indeed of Boswell who with Johnson went around Scotland earlier): all these constituencies will have an interest in reading and consulting this book. The direct implication for libraries is that, although at first sight this is exclusively a book for the special collections and antiquarian market, the relevance of the book both to Scottish history and literature and to illustration and topography makes it a (for what it is) well‐priced addition. That said, the format will ask you to treat and house it carefully, and, as the past confirms, to protect the aquatints themselves (the second volume) most diligently.

The text here is broken into five parts, emanating, respectively, from volume II (the section from the Solway Firth to Creetown), from volume III (the section from Wigton to Loch Alsh), from volume IV (from Kintale to Dunnet Head), from volume V (from Orkney to Cullen), and from volume VI (from Banff to Eyemouth). The 157 plates in volume two run in parallel to this narrative. The narrative or text is most entertaining and revealing: much on castles and ruins, history and ruins, harbours and ships and tides and fishing, bird life and the manners of the people (this last particular early on when Ayton was writing).

Across the piece we find highlights of Scottish history, like the Glencoe massacre and tales of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and highlights of Scottish coastal landscape – Fingal's Cave and Staffa, the Old Man of Hoy and the coast beside it, Slanes and Dunottar castles with their brooding presence, Culzean and Dunvegan in their glory, crags and promontories with swirling seas, and more bucolic scenes with flocks of sheep. William celebrates geology in a way that Hugh Miller was to later, often quoting scientific sources from his day. Students of aesthetics looking for the sublime and the picturesque in such landscape and seascape will find the references to beauty and atmosphere, wild beauty, ruins (and occasional vandalism) of particular interest, although it is not a major theme in the work (except pervasively in the design and quality of every plate). William draws on more sources as the work progresses, including the work of Scott himself, several times quoting stories from the author of works like The Lord of the Isles (1815) which shaped popular sentiment about things Scottish.

The aquatints themselves are particularly fine, reproduced here in facsimile in full colour with admirable fidelity. William is remembered as a master of this difficult technique by which copper plates were coated with wax, a sketch drawn in reverse on to it, areas to stay blank being stopped out with acid‐resistant materials, and then the rest of the plate covered with resin. Immersed in acid that etched out those areas where it reacted to the metal, and repeated many times, the resulting image consisted of thousands of small cavities. The prints were then produced in one colour or two and then hand coloured after that. No surprise, then, that William took most of the winter preparing them nor that the books, when they appeared, cost a great deal of money for subscribers. Copies today are priceless and virtually unobtainable, a factor worth considering by any librarian or curator determined to have access to at least some of Daniell's work.

The aquatints offer an astonishing range of visual experience, with the delicacy of the technique but less shiny than steel engraving and certainly less crass than chromolithography (both popular later in the century for topographical and landscape scenes). William's technical abilities were matches by his artistic sensibilities and skill: the viewpoints, the composition, and the atmosphere of each image captures not only the original in factual terms but superimposes an artistic interpretation on it both characteristic of his time and distinctively original. They bring out the wide range of castles on the Scottish coast, many grand like Dunrobin, some remote like Mey, and some gothic like Tantallon (on dark cliffs above surging waves). Many are “Scottish scenes” like Leith harbour with people strolling on the quayside or Glenvargle bridge near Portree in Skye with kilted figures conferring on the bridge and the scene extending off mistily into the distance. Many are images of places – Edinburgh's Calton Hill, for instance, or Kirkwall or Inverness – of real importance for local studies. Ruins and mountains and caves and ships all play their part too.

All these features help to explain why Daniell's original material is irretrievably dispersed or secure in special collections. Birlinn's new edition comes, then, in a timely way to show a new generation of readers, researchers and collectors just how good Daniell's work was, how it stood out from his time but was also very much part of it, and how what it is and what is says offer hitherto‐hidden evidence for many different kinds of historical and artistic research. As William himself self‐deprecatingly said (p. 272) – he did his best but “English feelings cannot divest themselves of … prejudice, if it be one. In truth, what is an Englishman without his prepossessions and his prejudices? a mere cosmopolite, unsusceptible of patriotism either towards his mother country, or any other which may choose for a time to adopt”. The Scottish part of William's voyage around Great Britain certainly confirms that he was able to capture something unique as an artist and a traveller that, for all his pragmatism in commerce (after all he wrote and drew to earn a living), remains a permanent monument to his name.

Further reading

Addey, D. (1997), A Voyage Round Great Britain: Volume Two: Land's End to the Clyde in the Footsteps of William Daniell RA. (1769‐1837), Spellmount, Staplehurst.

Bray, E. (1996), The Discovery of the Hebrides: Voyagers to the Western Isles, 1745‐1883, Birlinn, Edinburgh.

Glendening, J. (1997), The High Road: Romantic Tourism, Scotland, and Literature, 1720‐1820, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.

Grenier, K.H. (2005), Tourism and Identity in Scotland, 1770‐1914, Ashgate, Aldershot and Burlington VT.

Watson, N.J. (2006), The Literary Tourist: Readers and Places in Romantic & Victorian Britain, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke and New York, NY.

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