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".
The book begins with a dedication to the Earl of Breadalbane
(presumably John Campbell, the fourth Earl). Its "grovelling and abject" tone was unusual by that time. 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 McDiarmid's sentences "overleap the mounds and impediments of grammar".
The main text is 28 pages about the region near Lochearnhead. There are three sections. "Sketch of the scenery at Loch-Earn" describes the cataract at Edinample; Edinample Castle; two trees knocked down by the wind that later grew straight (the trees were gone by the time the book was written, but the place could still be seen); unusual concave landforms in a moor; an unusual concave landform on a mountain opposite the castle; Glen Ogle; and Loch Earn with two of its islands, one a crannog or prehistoric artificial island.
"Sketch of the following descriptions" describes the nearby mountains of Ben Vorlich, Craig-na-Gaur, Stùc a' Chroin, and Ben Each; some wild animals of the hills; the sheep and black cattle formerly pastured in Glen Ample; "Glen of the Piper", named after a bagpiper who warned the local people of an approaching band of marauders; the beauty of Glen Beich with its cataract; a lake in Glen Ogle where legend says a kelpie killed nine children; one robber who saved another from an arrow wound; some kind of earthquake in the Grampian Mountains; and Edinchip, named after a Roman soldier's hiding from a battle there.
"Sketch of an Ancient History deserves to be Inserted" describes a cattle-raid on the region and the defense by a local man, "Major Roy of Hens"; a sheep-robber; a strong man named Envie; a wolf that entered a cottage; and a remarkable bull attacked by two remarkable "wolfs".
McDiarmid's dedication is in grammatical English, but the main text is not, and is full of obscure and misused words. The paragraph about the earthquake 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.
Starting with the book's own preface, it has been classified as a "literary curiosity". 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. A later bookseller called it "a most amusing specimen of Gaelic
-English" In an unusually favourable opinion, "R. S. A.", another commentator in Notes and Queries
, explicitly refrains from comment on the writing but praises McDiarmid's perception of natural beauty and "generous ardour" in narrating feats of heroism.
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 and in at least two letters. Dr. John Brown cited it as well and took it to apply to Rob Roy (possibly identifying as Rob Roy a robber McDiarmid described, "a barbarous man... who was notoriously for savageness of manner").
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, a comparison Nabokov also made in a draft note.
A folklorist quotes McDiarmid's kelpie story and called the book "one of the most astonishing books ever written in 'English'".
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. 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.
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. McKerracher suggests a birth year around 1770, which does not agree well with "young" in 1815. "J. Ss." mentions meeting McDiarmid a few years later and describes him as dressing in a black coat and a hat instead "in the highland fashion" (presumably the Scottish kilt
and associated clothing) like the other ghillies and as being more poorly dressed than they were.
An antiquarian notes that although most accept the book as authentic, one may doubt whether McDiarmid existed. If he did not, "J. Ss." and "R. S. A." must have joined in the hoax, fifty years later.
"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.
- McDiarmid, Angus, ground-officer on the Earl of Breadalbane's estate of Edinample (1815). Striking and Picturesque Delineations of the Grand, Beautiful, Wonderful, and Interesting Scenery Around Loch-Earn. Edinburgh: John Moir. Bound in morocco, with the top edge gilt.
- 1816. Second Edition, with Important additions. Edinburgh: John Moir.
- 1841. As A Description of the Beauties of Edinample and Lochearnhead. Aberfeldy: D. Cameron. Bound in half-calf, with the top edge gilt.
- MacDiarmid, Angus (1875). Cunntas ar Boidhecheadan Ceann-Lochearn agus Edinapolis le Aonghas Mac Dhiarmid. An treas clo-bhualadh le mineachadh agus Soilleireachd. Or a Description of the Beauties of Edinample and Lochearnhead. Third Edition, with Notes and Illustrations. Edited by Fear Gall. Edinburgh. Includes eight plates. Only the title is in Gaelic.
- McDiarmid, Angus (1876). A Description of the Beauties of Edinample and Lochearnhead Aberfeldy: D. Cameron. Retrieved on 2008-09-30.
In 1888 an uncut first edition sold at auction for £5 10 shillings, equivalent to £439.26 in 2007 currency by the retail-price index.