14 SEPTEMBER 1872, Page 11


CLIFE Scenery on a moderate scale is, in islands like ours, comparatively so easy to reach, that it hardly ranks as high as it intrinsically deserves to rank in the esteem of modern lovers of the beautiful in Nature. Probably few people who know the great white cliffs of Dover, and who have admired them both from the sea and the land, have ever indulged the desire to see still finer specimens of the same kind of grand island wall battling with even wilder seas. Yet there is no kind of scenery which contains contrasts so broad and effects so impressive and simple as this, for not in the Alps themselves can you find anything like so sharp a line of intersection between two worlds ot force of an absolutely opposite kind,—the force of inert mass and the force of incessant motion,—the fixed resisting force of solid earth in its hugest shapes, and the restless besetting force of the yielding, receding, scatter- ing, but surely regathering, returning, overwhelming sea. On the heights of the Alps you have the same boundless horizons, the same great sweeps of sky, and much huger masses of mountain strewn beneath you on every side, to say nothing of the fields of ice and snow—those startling invasions of the temperate by the Arctic world. But you have seldom any striking embodiment of such force as the ocean's, which is intermediate between the solidity of earth and the mobility of the air, though with many of the attributes of both,—the penetrating fluidity of the air, for instance, in combination with the visible massiveness of the earth ; and again, the spiritual transparency and softness of the atmosphere, in combination with much of the weight and battering-power of the solid rock. Again, for rich colours in perfect graduation, and for telling signifi- cance of outline, there is no scenery like the grander cliff scenery, even though the cliffs' height above the sea is relatively in- significant. A lake may add liquid effects and lovely reflections to a mountain landscape, but it is always seen as part of it, as a beauty contained in and enhancing it, not as the rival and anta- gonist of the mountains, not as the aggressive realm beyond, which at once circumscribes and threatens the very stronghold on which you stand. Cliffs jutting into a great ocean seem the end of one realm, and a defiance to the realm beyond. There stability ends and instability begins, and from the strong tower of the one you can peer down into the fickle bosom of the other. And when, in addition to this, you have all the colours of a shoaling sea before you, from the deepest green and deepest blue to the dazzling white of the breaking foam, it is no wonder if you some- times think that even forests of peaks and the serpentine curves of the hugest and cruelest glaciers can produce no effect so sub- lime as the double contrast between the wall of precipice which has for centuries beaten off the incessant waves, the tranquil sky into which it towers, and the restless sea into which it drops.

The Cliff scenery of England is both grand and various. You can hardly find anywhere lovelier coves, more picturesque arches, bridges, and windows in the cliffs, or more richly stained and stratified sea-walls, than on the Dorsetahire coast, for instance, where, however, the scale of things is not great, since neither the perpendicular heights, nor what is even more impressive, the stretches of high cliff visible at one glance, are at all startling.

Indeed it is only where the coast is exposed to the full force of tremendous seas that you can expect to find such scenery, for it is only there that all the weaker and poorer coast-lines must have been driven in, till the hardest masses of rock have been sifted out, as it were, and left in the front of the battle, by the constant aggressions of the sea. The onset of the ocean overwhelms what- ever it can overwhelm, while that which it cannot beat down remains as cape, island, or promontory, when all the rest has been washed away. Just as the brunt of war or plague distinguishes for us and leaves uninjured only the hardy constitutions, while it mows down all feebler lives, so it is only where the ocean's onset is most fierce and dangerous that the iron-bound coasts are discriminated, and left standing far in advance of the others, with every weak section of rock undermined and excavated, if it be beneath the level of the tides, or if it be above it, driven in and crumbled landwards by the winds of centuries. Hence one must go to the coast of Cornwall or the west coast of Ireland, if one wants the cliffs which have had the longest and severest sifting by the full wash of the Atlantic and by those great western winds which blow over the Atlantic. And in point of fact, there is hardly anything in Europe finer in its way than some of the finest of these, say, for instance, the cliffs of Clare and of Donegal, some of which run for miles in a sheer mountain wall resembling the battlements of a gigantic fortress built to foil the inroads of that penetrating Atlantic which elsewhere on that western coast has found so many weak points in the side of Ireland, and driven its tides deep into the very heart of the land. Standing on a fine day on the cliffs of Moher, you have at least some eighty or a hundred square miles of open Atlantic stretching away in all shades of colour, from the deep Italian blue at your feet to the faint grey that shines in the far horizon beyond the dreamy Isles of Arran, spread before you ; beneath you a precipice not less sheer, and considerably vaster than the fall from the cross of St. Paul's to the streets of London, a precipice which stretches away for miles on both sides of you in the most picturesque sweeps, interrupted by jutting crags round which the surf is always angry. Within what seems a stone's throw, set in the most dazzling ring of surf, but far beneath you, is some monumental rock, an island in the sea, so chiselled by the winds and waves that it has taken to itself the semblance of a work of art, and you can almost discern the very shape for which it has been designed, so clear do the helmet and the spear of Athene seem to stand out above that Cyclopean pedestal of fifty feet of rock. Clouds of gulls or gannets,—at that great depth you cannot discern the species by any vision of the individual specimens, for they look little larger than butterflies, —swim in all sorts of varying oval figures, but always in masses with a wedge-like vanguard, on the blue water, while their strange, shrill cry is heard above the roar of the waves. It is impossible to find a scene of grander contrasts,— the soft, dreamy islands on the horizon, and the stern, iron-bound coast on which you stand,—the Italian sky reflected in the boundless ocean, but reflected with just those breaks of angry surf which tell you that it reflects only what it cannot reach, and assails what it can,—the wrinkles and shadows on the mighty cliffs, and the long stream of rippling sunlight on the waves,—these are sym- bols of beauty and power such as you seldom see combined together in such simplicity. There is the spell of distance for what is lovely, and the menace of nearness for what is strong. There is the delicate blue of that ocean which has produced all this chisel- ling of the mighty rocks, to contrast, by a kind of irony, with the time-worn stains of the precipice which it has worn away. There is the solid fortification which has resisted centuries of invasion, and the liquid waters which have never had to resist any invasion, because it was always their function to invade. Earth and sea certainly never meet in simpler and grander fashions than on those cliffs at Moher.

Unless, indeed, it be in such cliffs as those of Slieveleague in Donegal, which are three times the height, though their visible extent in one continuous line is much less. There you may stand as high as you stand on the top of the Moher cliffs, and yet look up to a height towering twice the same altitude above you. The fishing boats beneath are dwarfed to the size of children's toys, and the men on the heights above seem almost dolls out of a Noah's ark. Here it is a true mountain which breaks down sheer into the Atlantic, but for that very reason there is comparatively but a limited reach of the mountain wall presented to the eye,.—half a mile, perhaps, at most, which looks but little in the foreshortened dis- tances of a bending coast. These cliffs, therefore, are perhaps seen to most advantage when mists are lowering over the landscape, and seem to shut out from you an indefinite range of coast equally grand, and by veiling the summit to suggest that they tower up above the very region of the clouds. It is in such aspects, too, when, planted in the sea, they seem to reach into the clouds, that the sound of the breakers as it comes up to the ear, affects the imagination most, as Wordsworth seems to have felt when he says in his ode on "The Power of Sound,"—

" The towering headlands, crowned with mist,

Their feet among the billows, know That Ocean is a mighty harmonist ;'

for so various is the effect on the ear of the same sounds under different aspects of nature, that the same roar of the waves which only just enters the ear and refreshes the fancy under a bright sky, I occupies it with a kind of weird and solemn persistency when mists limit narrowly the sense of vision, and throw the gazer back, as it were, upon himself. There is hardly any spectacle in the world more purely magnificent than these great Slieveleague cliffs, bounded in front and threatened from above by mist under a lowering sky, the opposite coast of Sligo, fourteen miles off, looming, if at all, by glimpses, in a ghostly sort of way, through breaks in the driving clouds. Here, indeed there is no sense of desolation like that on the high Alps ; for the sea, though it is wild and lonely, is never exactly desolate, never suggests the idea of waste power ; but it does suggest the idea of a vast besetting force more perfectly than any other natural element, and when there is also a sufficiently grand and solid front of cliff to be beset, as there is in these great cliffs and the magnificent headlands a few miles further west—Glenhead and the Stirrell—there is as much to excite and satisfy the imagi- nation as you can find even in the most lonely recesses of the Alps, or in the sublimest wildernesses of snow and glacier.