SCOTT, MENDELSSOHN, AND TURNER AT STAFFA
Where Nature herself, it seemed, would raise
A Minster to her Maker’s praise!
Not for a meaner use ascend
Her columns or her arches bend;
Nor of a theme less solemn tells
That mighty surge that ebbs and swells.
And still, between each awful pause
From the high vault an answer draws.
- From Sir Walter Scott, The Lord of the Isles, 1815
A strong wind … prevented us making Staffa until too late to go on to Iona. After scrambling over the rocks on the lee side of the island, some got into Fingal’s Cave, others would not. It is not very pleasant or safe when the wave rolls right in. One hour was given to meet on the rock we landed on. Such a rainy and bad-looking night coming on, a vote was proposed to the passengers: “Iona at all hazards, or back to Tobermory.” Majority against proceeding. To allay the displeased, the Captain promised to steam thrice round the island in the last trip. The sun getting towards the horizon, burst through the rain cloud angry, and for wind; and so it proved, for we were driven for shelter into Loch Ulver, and did not get back to Tobermory before midnight.
- J.M.W. Turner to James Lenox (date?)
Staffa, with its strange basalt pillars and caverns, is in all the picture-books. We were all put into skiffs [small boats] and bounced over the seething water up the pillar stumps to the famous Fingal’s Cave. A greener roar of waves has surely never rushed into a stranger cavern - its many pillars making it look like the inside of an immense organ, black and resounding, and absolutely without purpose, and quite alone, the wide gray sea within and without …
The crew of the steamship breakfasted nearly alone, for few others could keep hold of a teacup, and altogether the Ladies were falling like flies, followed by an occasional Gentleman; I wish that my traveling brother-in-misfortune [Mendelssohn] had not been among these; but he is on better terms with the sea as an artist than as a man or a stomach.
- Karl Klingemann, on his visit to Staffa with Mendelssohn, letter of 10 August 1829
The idea of this work was suggested to the author while he was in the most northern part of Scotland, on a wild, desolate coast, where nothing is heard but the howling of the wind and roaring of the waves; and nothing living seen, except the sea-bird, whose reign is there uninterrupted by the human intruder. So far as music is capable of imitating, the composer has succeeded in his design; the images impressed on his mind he certainly excited, in a general way, in ours; we may even be said to have heard the sounds of winds and waves, for music is capable of imitating these in a direct manner; and, by means of association, we find solitude, and an all-pervading gloom.
- Anonymous review of the London performance of 14 May 1832, in the journal Harmonicon
Sir Walter Scott, The Lord of the Isles, (London: Longman, 1815)
John Gage, ed., The Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), 209-210
Karl Klingemann, letter of 10 August 1829, in Sebastian Hensel, Die Familie Mendelssohn, 1729-1847 (1882), translation adapted from Thomas S. Grey, ‘Fingal’s Cave and Ossian’s Dream’ in Marsha L Morton and Peter L Schmunk, The Arts Entwined: Music and Painting in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Garland, 2000), pp. 63-64.
Harmonicon, vol.10, 1832, p. 142, quoted R. Larry Todd, Mendelssohn: The Hebrides and other overtures (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p.35.