In Whitman's Hand


About this Item

Title: The Fair Pilot of Loch Uribol

Creators: Walt Whitman, Robert Buchanan

Annotation Date: After 1872

Base Document Citation: [Robert Buchanan], "The Fair Pilot of Loch Uribol: A Yachting Episode," The Saint Paul's Magazine 11 (July to December, 1872), 47-53.

Whitman Archive ID: yal.00368

Source: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Transcribed from our digital image of the original. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the marginalia and annotations, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Nicole Gray, Lauren Grewe, and Matt Cohen


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return to W W I have read this
little sketch three or four times
—at intervals—sometimes when "gloomy"
—& every time it sets me up
Walt Whitman






"She was a phantom of delight
When first she gleamed upon my sight;
A lovely apparition, sent
To be a moment's ornament!"

ON the afternoon of a summer day, a small schooner yacht closely reefed made her appearance off the mouth of Loch Uribol, a long and lonely fjord in the remote Hebrides of Scotland, and while beating to and fro in the open sea in the midst of the squalls from the neighbouring mountains, hoisted the inverted red flag to the foremast as a signal that the parties on board were in need of assistance.

It had been a dark, dry day, with the wind blowing fresh from the west very steady and strong, and the yacht, a tiny thing of fifteen or sixteen tons, with a small cock-pit, had been beating since early dawn across the tossing waters of the Minch, which divides the dark, serrated peaks of Skye from the far-off Outer Isles. Lightly as a bird she had bounded over the great rollers of the sea, splashing the foam over herself from stem to stern, but seldom taking on board a drop of "green." The distance across was thirty miles, and the wind was dead ahead, so that her progress westward was slow indeed. The time slipt by, however; the basaltic crags of the northwest coast of Skye grew fainter and fainter; and the islands of the ocean, which at first had been scarcely distinguishable on the horizon, had gradually loomed more and more distinct—stretching in one desolate and lonely darkness from the high hills of Lewis, past the faint, low-lying flats of Uist, to the dark and rocky shores which fringe the cliffs of Barra. Not once in the long day had the sun actually made his appearance. The atmosphere had been full of a palpitating, silvern light, in which the skies seemed close to the earth, and very gray, and the waves of the sea, where they did not break into white foam, unusually black and threatening. Yet it was "good weather," a safe, snug day for sailing, and the sombre, colourless tone of all things—sea, far-off land, and sky—was not without its charms for those who have learned to love the pathetic "neutral tint" of the melancholy Scottish coast.

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"IN the Apology which Plato gives us, as the speech of Socrates before his judges, there is this remarkable passage: 'Do not be vexed with me for telling you the truth. There lives not the man who can escape destruction if as a born antagonist he opposes you or any other popular majority and endeavours to prevent many unjust and unconstitutional things being done in the state; but it is necessary that he who will fight this battle for what is righteous, and yet, even for never so short a time, keep himself unharmed, must maintain the privacy of an individual, and take no part in public affairs.'"

Although the distinguished and very wise and humane writer who quotes this passage in his last book goes on to observe that in modern times and in Britain the Antagonist is in no such danger as the Antagonist in Athens in the days of Plato, this is by no means a true judgment. This writer does not fail, indeed, to admit that even now the Antagonist may be in danger of "persecution"—evidently not having present to his mind what a miserable burden that word carries in a compactly-formed and rapidly intercommunicating organisation like modern society. It in fact carries with it an endless scroll of threatenings; and the formula of to-day is the formula of the age of Plato—Conform, or we will destroy you if we can.

The Antagonist or Irreconcileable is not necessarily a haunter of barricades or in any recognised form a social or political conspirator. Neither of these characters would suit me, and in reading these autobiographical notes the reader will please to bear in mind that an Irreconcileable is simply an uncommitted person. He need not be cantankerous; he need not be ungentle; he need not be unsociable, when association can be made truthful. His ideals, religious, political, domestic, and other, would be found, when expressed in general terms, to be in accord with those whom most men and women agree to call good, wise, and great. But on the question of methods—that is to say, of the laws and customs directed to the cultivation of these ideals, an Irreconcileable is simply an uncommitted person; one who not only makes no show of acquiescence in these matters, but who firmly holds aloof from everything which could fairly be held to commit him to any such acquiescence.

Leaving alone the rationale of this position for the present, I will ask leave to begin these Notes with such hints of the character of my father and mother and of my own childhood as may at least help

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"The Fair Pilot of Loch Uribol"


one of my favorite stories




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