L. S.]

{91a} This is, of course, the tradition commemorated by Southey in his ballad of 'The Inchcape Bell.' Whether true or not, it points to the fact that from the infancy of Scottish navigation, the seafaring mind had been fully alive to the perils of this reef. Repeated attempts had been made to mark the place with beacons, but all efforts were unavailing (one such beacon having been carried away within eight days of its erection) until Robert Stevenson conceived and carried out the idea of the stone tower. But the number of vessels actually lost upon the reef was as nothing to those that were cast away in fruitless efforts to avoid it. Placed right in the fairway of two navigations, and one of these the entrance to the only harbour of refuge between the Downs and the Moray Firth, it breathed abroad along the whole coast an atmosphere of terror and perplexity; and no ship sailed that part of the North Sea at night, but what the ears of those on board would be strained to catch the roaring of the seas on the Bell Rock.

{92a} The particular event which concentrated Mr. Stevenson's attention on the problem of the Bell Rock was the memorable gale of December 1799, when, among many other vessels, H.M.S. York, a seventy-four-gun ship, went down with all hands on board. Shortly after this disaster Mr. Stevenson made a careful survey, and prepared his models for a stone tower, the idea of which was at first received with pretty general scepticism, Smeaton's Eddystone tower could not be cited as affording a parallel, for there the rock is not submerged even at high-water, while the problem of the Bell Rock was to build a tower of masonry on a sunken reef far distant from land, covered at every tide to a depth of twelve feet or more, and having thirty-two fathoms' depth of water within a mile of its eastern edge.

{94a} The grounds for the rejection of the Bill by the House of Lords in 1802-3 had been that the extent of coast over which dues were proposed to be levied would be too great. Before going to Parliament again, the Board of Northern Lights, desiring to obtain support and corroboration for Mr. Stevenson's views, consulted first Telford, who was unable to give the matter his attention, and then (on Stevenson's suggestion) Rennie, who concurred in affirming the practicability of a stone tower, and supported the Bill when it came again before Parliament in 1806. Rennie was afterwards appointed by the Commissioners as advising engineer, whom Stevenson might consult in cases of emergency. It seems certain that the title of chief engineer had in this instance no more meaning than the above. Rennie, in point of fact, proposed certain modifications in Stevenson's plans, which the latter did not accept; nevertheless Rennie continued to take a kindly interest in the work, and the two engineers remained in friendly correspondence during its progress. The official view taken by the Board as to the quarter in which lay both the merit and the responsibility of the work may be gathered from a minute of the Commissioners at their first meeting held after Stevenson died; in which they record their regret 'at the death of this zealous, faithful, and able officer, TO WHOM IS DUE THE HONOUR OF CONCEIVING AND EXECUTING THE BELL ROCK LIGHTHOUSE.' The matter is briefly summed up in the Life of Robert Stevenson by his son David Stevenson (A. & C. Black, 1878), and fully discussed, on the basis of official facts and figures, by the same writer in a letter to the Civil Engineers' and Architects' Journal, 1862.

{122a} 'Nothing was said, but I was LOOKED OUT OF COUNTENANCE,' he says in a letter.

{171a} Ill-formed--ugly.--[R. L. S.]

{174a} This is an incurable illusion of my grandfather's; he always writes 'distended' for 'extended.'--[R. L. S.]

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book