A Frankenstein Atlas: Perth, Perthshire, Scotland
“After passing some months in London, we received a letter from a person in Scotland, who had formerly been our visitor at Geneva. He mentioned the beauties of his native country, and asked us if those were not sufficient allurements to induce us to prolong our journey as far north as Perth, where he resided. Clerval eagerly desired to accept this invitation; and I, although I abhorred society, wished to view again mountains and streams, and all the wondrous works with which Nature adorns her chosen dwelling-places." (113)
“We left Edinburgh in a week, passing through Coupar, St. Andrews, and along the banks of the Tay, to Perth, where our friend expected us. But I was in no mood to laugh and talk with strangers, or enter into their feelings or plans with the good humour expected from a guest; and accordingly I told Clerval that I wished to make the tour of Scotland alone.” (116)
“…I saw a fishing-boat land close to me, and one of the men brought me a packet; it contained letters from Geneva, and one from Clerval, entreating me to join him. He said that nearly a year had elapsed since we had quitted Switzerland, and France was yet unvisited. He entreated me, therefore, to leave my solitary isle, and meet him at Perth, in a week from that time, when we might arrange the plan of our future proceedings.” (122)
Textual- Perth is not terribly significant to the plot of the story save that it is the place where Victor and Clerval part ways. Victor continues north to the Orkneys while Clerval remains with their acquaintance in Perth. In part this may symbolize Victor’s departure from civilization for the wild and Perth has historically been a divide between Highlands and ‘civilization.’
Walter Scott. Fair Maid of Perth- Edinburgh: Printed for Cadell and Co., 1828. Story of the Battle of North Inch. Led to Perth having the nickname of the Fair City.
Robert Heron. Observations Made in A Journey Through the Western Counties of Scotland in the Autumn of M,DCC,XCII. Perth: W Morison, 1799.
B Faujas Saint-Fond. Travels in England, Scotland, and the Hebrides.” Vol. II. Translated from the French London, James Ridgeway, 1799.
Henry Adamson. The muses threnodie: or, mirthful mournings on the death of Mr Gall. Containing variety of pleasant poetical descriptions, moral instructions, historical narrations, and divine observations, with the most remarkable antiquities of Scotland, especially of Perth. Two Volumes Perth: George Johnston & Robert Morison, 1774.
Contextual- In part, the tour that Clerval and Victor make around the British Isles is a tour of historical hotbeds of politics. Whether it is Oxford and Victor’s musings on the English Civil War or all the implications that surround a trip to Ulster around the time of the Rebellion of 1798 or the Act of Union in 1801, their time in the British Isles is a whirlwind of political scenes. Perth is no different, though perhaps less obviously so. As noted above, Perth also served as a stronghold for the Jacobites in 1715. Furthermore,Val Honeyman has argued that Perth in the late 18th century was the scene of radical politics and reform within Britain, though its roots were much older than the 1790s. Evidence suggests that the government (both local and Parliamentary) was fearful of Irish and French influence in Scottish political thought as pressure to reform county government following the American Revolution. Though Shelley doesn’t give any specific dates in her novel, it is not out of the question that Victor and Clerval would be in Perth during this time of political uncertainty.
Interestingly enough, Mary Shelley spent about a year of her young life near Perth in the not to distant town of Dundee, on the north side of the Firth of Tay. In 1812, young Mary became sick and a retreat from London was recommended so she was sent to stay with the Baxters, friends of Mary’s father. Only about 15 or 20 miles from where she stayed, it is possible that she visited Perth. Even if that is not true, she at least became familiar with the land and people near it.
History: Perth is an ancient town along the Tay that was first settled by the Romans. Apparently upon first seeing the area where Perth now sits, Agricola’s army was so reminded of home that they exclaimed, “Ecce Tiber! Ecce Campus Martius” (Behold the Tiber! Behold the field of Mars) and set a camp there. Since then it has been continuously inhabited (though archaeology shows it was inhabited by prehistoric peoples before them). Also known as St. Johns Town because of St. John’s church until the 17th century, it gained importance in the 9th century because of its close proximity to Scone Abbey where kings of Scotland were traditionally crowned. In the 12th century it was given Royal Burgh status and was widely considered the capital of Scotland for hundreds of years. This is in part due to its strategic position between the Highlands and Lowlands. Perth has seen its share of turmoil because of its relative importance. It has been put under siege seven times and King James I was murdered there in 1437. It claims to be one of the homes of the Scottish Reformation as John Knox did his early preaching in St. John’s church there, inciting riotous destruction of iconography across Scotland in the in the mid-16th century. Later, in 1618, the Five Articles of Perth, were imposed on all of Scotland by James I/VI, attempting to bring the Scottish Church close to the English one. The city was a stronghold of the Jacobites throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries following, witnessing the proclamation of the pretender James III in 1715. In 1760, the Perth Academy was founded and revitalized the city, bringing new industry and a sense of intellectualism. In the 1780s and 90s Perth became a center for Scottish political reform, perhaps in part due to the new Perth Academy, and democratic theory became a popular topic of discussion in its taverns and coffee shops. Perth also became industrialised at this time and with many other parts of Britain, linen production was the main driving force. Coal deposits in the area also helped to fuel industrialization. As a port city since the Middle Age, Perth became important in the book trade and was opened to the ideas of French Revolution and Thomas Paine. As the capital of the council area, today Perth remains an important city regionally, if not nationally.
Geography: Perth was founded on the western banks of the Tay River on the eastern side of Scotland. Like most of Britain, it experiences cool summers and mild winters. The name Perth comes from an Old Celtic word for ‘copse’ or ‘thicket,’ which is an accurate description of the type of thick growth that occurs in eastern Scotland, though usually in a patchy fashion. An important strategic position, Perth sits in the river valley between between the Grampian Highlands to the north and the Ochil hills to the south. Perhaps it was its close proximity to the hills that reminded Agricola of his Roman home, but truly the geographies of central Italy and Western Scotland are quite different. Situated in what is called the “Midland Valley,” this lowland area sits between two fault line running south east across Scotland. As a result, the hills and mountains around Perth are actually ancient volcanoes and much of the rock in the area is either sedimentary or igneous. Millenia ago, more tropical conditions in Scotland have led to the creation of coal deposits in the area south of Perth. The area around Perth is verdant, filled with glens, woods, and streams. A largely rural area, because of its relative elevation and flat terrain, the mountains to the north can easily be seen, when not obstructed by buildings or forests. As one of the less developed areas of the British Isles, Scotland has long been and remains a refuge for wildlife. Both in Shelley’s day and now game such as red deer and pheasants, not to mention excellent fishing.
F. Cary. Perth. 12.5 X 19.8 cm. 1780-1790. Print; Book-Illustration. Department of Prints and Drawings, 1870,1008.50, © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Sir David Young Cameron. Perth Bridge 17.2 26.2 cm. 1889. Print. British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings, 1949,0411.2267, © The Trustees of the British Museum.
John Clerk of Eldin after John Runciman. Perth Bridge 8.5 X 15 cm. 1775. Print. British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings, 1924,1110.32, © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Francis Chesham after Paul Sandby. View of Strath Tay Sr. Robert Menzies Seat. 16.2 20.4 cm. 1780. Inscription: Lettered below the image with the title in strengthened letters and 'P. Sandby R.A. pinxt. / F. Chesham sculpt. / Published according to Act of Parliament, by G. Kearsly in Fleet Street, Feby. 1. 1780.' above the image 'Plate LXXIII.'. Annotated in brown ink in the upper right '52'. Etching. Print. British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings, 1870,1008.568, © The Trustees of the British Museum. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=3261415&partId=1&searchText=Tay&images=true&page=1
1) “The highway now turns gently towards the north-west; and Perth is seen to great advantage seated in a plain, on the southern bank of the Tay- On the south, and on the northern side of the town are two beautiful fields, called Inches, or rather originally, I should suppose, Innnises- the Gaelic name for an isle or peninsula… I had found them [residents of Perth] so much more amiable and obliging than any society I had expected to meet with…” Robert Heron. Observations Made in A Journey Through the Western Counties of Scotland in the Autumn of M,DCC,XCII. (Perth: W Morison, 1799), 57, 59.
2) “Perth is a large, plentiful and rich county, bounded on the East by Forfarshire and Fifeshire;… at Perth a linen manufacture is carried on with great success, and near it are the most considerable bleaching grounds in all Scotland…. It has a great number of lochs that produce a great variety of excellent fish; and near Dumblain is a tree, supposed to be the largest in the kingdom. A remarkable fine bridge is built over the Tay at Perth.” Mostyn John Armstrong. A Scotch Atlas or Description of the Kingdom of Scotland. (London: Robert Sayer & John Bonnette, 1777), 20.
3) “We reached Perth a little late in the evening, by a road extremely rugged and fatiguing. The small city of Perth stands in a very agreeable situation on the river Tay, which the tide enters to a considerable distance, and renders navigable for small vessels. It is in a pretty flourishing condition, and contains a population of about twelve thousand souls.” B Faujas Saint-Fond. Travels in England, Scotland, and the Hebrides.” Vol. II. Translated from the French (London, James Ridgeway, 1799), 180-182.
Sensory Details: The Frankenstein’s Scottish acquaintance attempts to lure Victor to Perth by boasting of his home’s beautiful “mountains and streams, and all the wondrous works with which Nature adorns her chosen dwelling-places.” This paints quite an idyllic image and Victor seems to hope that it will remind him of his Alpine home after having spent so much time in the flatter regions of Europe and seems to fit well with the contemporary assumptions about northern Scotland as a wild, mysterious, and even uncivilized place.
Emotive Details: When Victor contemplates going to Perth, he is persuaded because he hopes to escape society, which has become abhorrent to him, and seeks the refuge of Nature. When in Perth, despite the welcome that he and Clerval receive, he rejects the laughter and conversation that is open to him and departs quickly to the Orkneys. It seems a shame that Victor felt this way because by all accounts the inns and people of Perth. Though Perth used to be seen as a bit of a Wild West sort of town because of it proximity to the Highlands, travellers found it to be something rather different.
“I still recollect, that, when I formerly heard Perth mentioned, as in a northern situation, and in some manner, the mouth of the Highlands: I used to fancy, in my ignorance of the character of the circumjacent country, that all around must be bleakness, barrenness, and wildness. I supposed, that no language, except Gaelic, could be spoken in these regions: that the manners could display nothing but Gaelic rudeness, and simplicity: and that a long time was yet to elapse, before cultivation and ingenious industry could establish themselves in this quarter. So ignorant, through a negligence of enquiring after what we can most easily learn- are often the inhabitants of one part of a narrow country, concerning the circumstances of those who occupy the other. I was very agreeably surprised, therefore, to behold the state of this part of Scotland so very advantageously different from what I had carelessly fancied it to be. It was a mixture of joy, or astonishment, and of shame which I felt, when first I viewed it.” -Heron, 58-59.
Description of Nature: Shelley describes the land around Perth in this way: “…mountains and streams, and all the wondrous works with which Nature adorns her chosen dwelling-places,” and along the banks of the Tay. This is a most alluring description for someone wanting to do work in a secret manner. After all, Shelley was drawing on her own recollections of eastern Scotland as she sent Victor there. She once wrote of her time there:
“I lived principally in the country as a girl, and passed considerable time in Scotland. I made occasional visits to more picturesque parts; but my habitual residence was on the blank and dreary northern shores of the Tay, near Dundee. Blank and dreary on retrospection I call them; they were not so to me then. They were the eyry of freedom, and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy. ... It was beneath the trees of the grounds belonging to our house, or on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near, that my true compositions of the airy flights of my imagination, were born and fostered.” (quoted in The Dundee Book, p. 103).