Reading the Collections, Week 34: Kellie Law
This small manuscript, entitled Kellie Law, was chosen by the winner of the JD Forbes book collecting prize as her choice to join the collections (read the full version here). It forms a eulogy on the beauty of the East Neuk of Fife (neuk meaning nook, corner or hidden out of the way spot in Scots), and on friendship, loss and memory.
It was written by Hugh Hutchinson at Belliston in September 1848. Belliston is a small farm just below Kellie Law so it would have been a short climb up from there. We don’t know much about Hugh, just that he seems to have written other works under the pseudonym of Hibernicus. I’m not sure if he was friends with one of the local landowners or just renting Belliston for a holiday.
The first part in a neat italic hand is a descriptive piece on the landmarks to be seen from the summit of Kellie Law, in the style of a gazetteer, while the second is a poem on the same subject, elaborating on the merits of the views and on his reasons for his fond memories of the hill.
It is that old friends who then were near
Whose memory ever will be dear
Did climb with me its steep ascent
And round its summit straying went”
I can empathise with his purple prose about Kellie Law and the wonderful views over the East Neuk. I was lucky enough to look out on Kellie Law every day for 10 years from my bedroom window when I lived in St Monans.
I too have climbed it, discovering the first false peak followed by the valley where the wild-eyed cattle lurk:
But when you seem to gain its height
And gaze around to view the sight
Another hill above is seen
With valley deep that lies between”
Then carrying on to the real top of Kellie Law, to look down on the magnificence of the Firth of Forth and across to the Lammermuirs.
Hugh enumerates the distinguished gentlemen whose estates are spread out below him: Sir Ralph Anstruther of Balcaskie, Lord William Douglas of Grangemuir, Sir Henry Bethune of Kilconquhar, Sir Wyndham Anstruther of Elie estate, Colonel Lindsay of Balcarres, the Simsons of Pitcorthie. Many of their estate records are here in Special Collections.
The villages and landmarks are little changed since 1848:
‘Kilconquhar Loch & Church – Balcarres Tower – St Monance Church – and old Kellie Castle’.
The quote about the charms of nature on the front page, attributed to Thomson, is in fact from the 18th century poet Mark Akenside’s Pleasures of the Imagination. It was widely quoted but rarely attributed in various improving magazines of the day, so no wonder Hugh wasn’t sure where it was from. He revels in the glory of nature as seen from the top of the Law, “Whether rolling on the wave or toiling in the field”, and praises the views of the landscape both north and south.
The general landscape, fair and grand,
Diversified by sea and land,
Which warmest admiration draw,
From all that stand on Kellie Law!”
However beautiful the view though, I was not moved to write poetry about it. Hugh felt he must give way to his artistic muse, and left a legacy of some rather florid verses, a little sentimental for me, but very much in the vein of his contemporaries – there are works in a similar style in commonplace books, scrapbooks and volumes of homemade poetry amongst the estate and private papers. His feelings are heartfelt, remembering happy times with friends now gone, missing them as well as the landscape.
And now, sweet Kellie Law, no more
O’er thee perhaps, I’ll ever stray,
Yet were I on a foreign shore,
Thy visioned scenes I’ll oft portray.
I’ll think of friends that once were near,
And all thy beauties fair surveyed;
I’ll dream of those that still are dear
Whose memory fresh shall never fade.”