The dramatic entrance

Glasgow 1901From the opening of Glasgow in 1901, by James Hamilton Muir, which is Central Belt Shuffler’s current bedtime reading:

‘It must be accounted a pretty piece of stage direction on the part of the genius loci, that a traveller usually enters his strange city in the company of nightfall. As his train slows down and outskirts sweep out to meet him, then, whether he is entering a town of old romance, whose ancient monuments waver past him one by one like gestures of emaciated hands, or whether he finds his dark carriage “lit dreadfully” from beneath by flaring furnaces which march with him to remind him that his journey’s end is an unknown black heart of the provinces – it is night, transforming all outlines and fusing all colours, that prepares the dramatic quality of his entrance.

‘Dusk is falling; the train from the South is pounding on through the Black Country of Lanarkshire, past an endless procession of dour little mining villages, shot into heaps of waste rising from stagnant pools; on, past green fields blanched in the smoke, with bare little roads that scurry off to a fugitive horizon, over which the hills seem to cock their ears for a moment and sink back suddenly into the wilderness. And over the face of the land the evening sky is reeled off in an unending, monotonous ribbon by your flying train. For hours you seem to have sat in your corner, lulled by the narcotic of droning, insistent wheels, of cinders pattering on the roof of the rocking carriage pounding northwards along the black trail. Then the fields grow rarer, then suddenly cease; suburban stations swing past with steady rows of lamps and groups of blurred people. The houses mount higher and higher on either hand; down you go into a sudden gut; out goes the last of the sunset, and descends night’s curtain with a sudden run. Your train is gliding now through the squalid heart of the city; then it slackens speed, as you yawn and collect your wraps, it rumbles out on a bridge, the darkness lifts again, and for a moment of time a vision lies before you, seen through the twinkling lattice of the girders. It is of a short reach in a river, of water coloured a faint greenish bronze, of a dusky West Highland sunset lingering overhead, where shreds of clouds are drifting into nests for the night, of huddled silhouettes of vessels moored in the mid-stream or coaling at wharves, of brown smoke and sudden lights blinking out along the quays and dulling sky and water to the mellow chiaroscuro of an old painting. For a moment it hangs before you, dreamy, yet work-a-day, instinct with the modern poetry of night fallen on unended labours. Another moment and your train rumbles over the bridge, and a swarming, nocturnal city leaps up on every hand to welcome you.

‘It is the Clyde you have seen…’

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