002Glasgow Cathedral. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, Licence:, resized, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0). Also compare the image of the Cathedral from Sunny Memories with a recent photo).

Having arrived in Glasgow the night before, Harriet Beecher Stowe awoke in Scotland for the first time on April 14, 1853. In Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands, Vol. I (1854), she describes her breakfast:

The next morning I awoke worn and weary, and scarce could the charms of the social Scotch breakfast restore me. I say Scotch, for we had many viands peculiarly national. The smoking porridge, or parritch, of oatmeal, which is the great staple dish throughout Scotland. Then there was the bannock, a thin, wafer-like cake of the same material. My friend laughingly said when he passed it, “You are in the ‘land o’ cakes,’ remember.” There was also some herring, as nice a Scottish fish as ever wore scales, besides dainties innumerable which were not national.

Later that day, she and her entourage visited Glasgow Cathedral. She again references a novel by Sir Walter Scott, in this case Rob Roy, published in 1817. She mentions Bailie Nicol Jarvie and Andrew Fairservice, both characters in the novel. As she describes her visit in Sunny Memories:

As I saw the way to the cathedral blocked up by a throng of people, who had come out to see me, I could not help saying, “What went ye out for to see? a reed shaken with the wind?” In fact, I was so worn out, that I could hardly walk through the building.

It is in this cathedral that part of the scene of Rob Roy is laid. This was my first experience in cathedrals. It was a new thing to me altogether, and as I walked along under the old buttresses and battlements without, and looked into the bewildering labyrinths of architecture within, I saw that, with silence and solitude to help the impression, the old building might become a strong part of one’s inner life. A grave yard crowded with flat stones lies all around it. A deep ravine separates it from another cemetery on an opposite eminence, rustling with dark pines. A little brook murmurs with its slender voice between.

On this opposite eminence the statue of John Knox, grim and strong, stands with its arm uplifted, as if shaking his fist at the old cathedral which in life he vainly endeavored to battle down.

Knox was very different from Luther, in that he had no conservative element in him, but warred equally against accessories and essentials.

At the time when the churches of Scotland were being pulled down in a general iconoclastic crusade, the tradesmen of Glasgow stood for the defence of their cathedral, and forced the reformers to content themselves with having the idolatrous images of saints pulled down from their niches and thrown into the brook, while, as Andrew Fairservice hath it, “The auld kirk stood as crouse as a cat when the fleas are caimed aff her, and a’ body was alike pleased.”

We went all through the cathedral, which is fitted up as a Protestant place of worship, and has a simple and massive grandeur about it. In fact, to quote again from our friend Andrew, we could truly say, “Ah, it’s a brave kirk, nane o’ yere whig-malceries, and curliewurlies, and opensteek hems about it—a’ solid, weel-jointed mason wark, that will stand as lang as the warld, keep hands and gun-powther aff it.”

I was disappointed in one thing: the painted glass, if there has ever been any, is almost all gone, and the glare of light through the immense windows is altogether too great, revealing many defects and rudenesses in the architecture, which would have quite another appearance in the colored rays through painted windows—an emblem, perhaps, of the cold, definite, intellectual rationalism, which has taken the place of the many-colored, gorgeous mysticism of former times.

Harriet was exhausted by her visit to the cathedral, as she explains:

I will say, by the way, that I have found out since, that nothing is so utterly hazardous to a person’s strength as looking at cathedrals. The strain upon the head and eyes in looking up through these immense arches, and then the sepulchral chill which abides from generation to generation in them, their great extent, and the variety which tempts you to fatigue which you are not at all aware of, have overcome, as I was told, many before me.

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In Rob Roy, the character of Bailie Nicol lives on the “Saut Market” or Saltmarket, a notable thoroughfare in the City of Glasgow. As described in Volume III of Francis H Groome’s Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1883):

Saltmarket, extending about 2 furlongs S in a line with High Street to the river and to the South Prison at Albert Bridge, was once the place of residence of the magnates of Glasgow-the Bailie Nicol Jarvies of their time, and gave lodging to James, Duke of York (afterwards James VII.), when he visited Glasgow. It became the rag fair of the city, and, with some of the streets leading from it, was the abode of people in a condition of the most squalid poverty. Prior to 1822 it contained some old houses, but in that year extensive reconstruction took place with a view to the improvement of the condition of the inhabitants. The effort failed, and no improvement was effected till the operations of the Improvement Trust and the Union railway cut off many of its closes, and almost revolutionised it.

As Stowe relates in Sunny Memories: “After having been over the church, we requested, out of respect to Baillie Nicol Jarvie’s memory, to be driven through the Saut Market. I, however, was so thoroughly tired that I cannot remember any thing about it.” Unsurprisingly, she spent the next morning in bed, although she went for a ride with her brother Charles Beecher (as he noted in his diary[see Harriet Beecher Stowe in Europe (1986), ed. by Joseph S. Van Why and Earl French, p. 35) and had to go out that evening because she “had engaged to drink tea with two thousand people,” admirers and antislavery activists.