A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland
Part 2 out of 4
different preparations of milk. This part of their diet will admit
some improvement. Though they have milk, and eggs, and sugar, few
of them know how to compound them in a custard. Their gardens
afford them no great variety, but they have always some vegetables
on the table. Potatoes at least are never wanting, which, though
they have not known them long, are now one of the principal parts
of their food. They are not of the mealy, but the viscous kind.
Their more elaborate cookery, or made dishes, an Englishman at the
first taste is not likely to approve, but the culinary compositions
of every country are often such as become grateful to other nations
only by degrees; though I have read a French author, who, in the
elation of his heart, says, that French cookery pleases all
foreigners, but foreign cookery never satisfies a Frenchman.
Their suppers are, like their dinners, various and plentiful. The
table is always covered with elegant linen. Their plates for
common use are often of that kind of manufacture which is called
cream coloured, or queen's ware. They use silver on all occasions
where it is common in England, nor did I ever find the spoon of
horn, but in one house.
The knives are not often either very bright, or very sharp. They
are indeed instruments of which the Highlanders have not been long
acquainted with the general use. They were not regularly laid on
the table, before the prohibition of arms, and the change of dress.
Thirty years ago the Highlander wore his knife as a companion to
his dirk or dagger, and when the company sat down to meat, the men
who had knives, cut the flesh into small pieces for the women, who
with their fingers conveyed it to their mouths.
There was perhaps never any change of national manners so quick, so
great, and so general, as that which has operated in the Highlands,
by the last conquest, and the subsequent laws. We came thither too
late to see what we expected, a people of peculiar appearance, and
a system of antiquated life. The clans retain little now of their
original character, their ferocity of temper is softened, their
military ardour is extinguished, their dignity of independence is
depressed, their contempt of government subdued, and the reverence
for their chiefs abated. Of what they had before the late conquest
of their country, there remain only their language and their
poverty. Their language is attacked on every side. Schools are
erected, in which English only is taught, and there were lately
some who thought it reasonable to refuse them a version of the holy
scriptures, that they might have no monument of their mother-
That their poverty is gradually abated, cannot be mentioned among
the unpleasing consequences of subjection. They are now acquainted
with money, and the possibility of gain will by degrees make them
industrious. Such is the effect of the late regulations, that a
longer journey than to the Highlands must be taken by him whose
curiosity pants for savage virtues and barbarous grandeur.
At the first intermission of the stormy weather we were informed,
that the boat, which was to convey us to Raasay, attended us on the
coast. We had from this time our intelligence facilitated, and our
conversation enlarged, by the company of Mr. Macqueen, minister of
a parish in Sky, whose knowledge and politeness give him a title
equally to kindness and respect, and who, from this time, never
forsook us till we were preparing to leave Sky, and the adjacent
The boat was under the direction of Mr. Malcolm Macleod, a
gentleman of Raasay. The water was calm, and the rowers were
vigorous; so that our passage was quick and pleasant. When we came
near the island, we saw the laird's house, a neat modern fabrick,
and found Mr. Macleod, the proprietor of the Island, with many
gentlemen, expecting us on the beach. We had, as at all other
places, some difficulty in landing. The craggs were irregularly
broken, and a false step would have been very mischievous.
It seemed that the rocks might, with no great labour, have been
hewn almost into a regular flight of steps; and as there are no
other landing places, I considered this rugged ascent as the
consequence of a form of life inured to hardships, and therefore
not studious of nice accommodations. But I know not whether, for
many ages, it was not considered as a part of military policy, to
keep the country not easily accessible. The rocks are natural
fortifications, and an enemy climbing with difficulty, was easily
destroyed by those who stood high above him.
Our reception exceeded our expectations. We found nothing but
civility, elegance, and plenty. After the usual refreshments, and
the usual conversation, the evening came upon us. The carpet was
then rolled off the floor; the musician was called, and the whole
company was invited to dance, nor did ever fairies trip with
greater alacrity. The general air of festivity, which predominated
in this place, so far remote from all those regions which the mind
has been used to contemplate as the mansions of pleasure, struck
the imagination with a delightful surprise, analogous to that which
is felt at an unexpected emersion from darkness into light.
When it was time to sup, the dance ceased, and six and thirty
persons sat down to two tables in the same room. After supper the
ladies sung Erse songs, to which I listened as an English audience
to an Italian opera, delighted with the sound of words which I did
I inquired the subjects of the songs, and was told of one, that it
was a love song, and of another, that it was a farewell composed by
one of the Islanders that was going, in this epidemical fury of
emigration, to seek his fortune in America. What sentiments would
arise, on such an occasion, in the heart of one who had not been
taught to lament by precedent, I should gladly have known; but the
lady, by whom I sat, thought herself not equal to the work of
Mr. Macleod is the proprietor of the islands of Raasay, Rona, and
Fladda, and possesses an extensive district in Sky. The estate has
not, during four hundred years, gained or lost a single acre. He
acknowledges Macleod of Dunvegan as his chief, though his ancestors
have formerly disputed the pre-eminence.
One of the old Highland alliances has continued for two hundred
years, and is still subsisting between Macleod of Raasay and
Macdonald of Sky, in consequence of which, the survivor always
inherits the arms of the deceased; a natural memorial of military
friendship. At the death of the late Sir James Macdonald, his
sword was delivered to the present laird of Raasay.
The family of Raasay consists of the laird, the lady, three sons
and ten daughters. For the sons there is a tutor in the house, and
the lady is said to be very skilful and diligent in the education
of her girls. More gentleness of manners, or a more pleasing
appearance of domestick society, is not found in the most polished
Raasay is the only inhabited island in Mr. Macleod's possession.
Rona and Fladda afford only pasture for cattle, of which one
hundred and sixty winter in Rona, under the superintendence of a
The length of Raasay is, by computation, fifteen miles, and the
breadth two. These countries have never been measured, and the
computation by miles is negligent and arbitrary. We observed in
travelling, that the nominal and real distance of places had very
little relation to each other. Raasay probably contains near a
hundred square miles. It affords not much ground, notwithstanding
its extent, either for tillage, or pasture; for it is rough, rocky,
and barren. The cattle often perish by falling from the
precipices. It is like the other islands, I think, generally naked
of shade, but it is naked by neglect; for the laird has an orchard,
and very large forest trees grow about his house. Like other hilly
countries it has many rivulets. One of the brooks turns a corn-
mill, and at least one produces trouts.
In the streams or fresh lakes of the Islands, I have never heard of
any other fish than trouts and eels. The trouts, which I have
seen, are not large; the colour of their flesh is tinged as in
England. Of their eels I can give no account, having never tasted
them; for I believe they are not considered as wholesome food.
It is not very easy to fix the principles upon which mankind have
agreed to eat some animals, and reject others; and as the principle
is not evident, it is not uniform. That which is selected as
delicate in one country, is by its neighbours abhorred as
loathsome. The Neapolitans lately refused to eat potatoes in a
famine. An Englishman is not easily persuaded to dine on snails
with an Italian, on frogs with a Frenchman, or on horseflesh with a
Tartar. The vulgar inhabitants of Sky, I know not whether of the
other islands, have not only eels, but pork and bacon in
abhorrence, and accordingly I never saw a hog in the Hebrides,
except one at Dunvegan.
Raasay has wild fowl in abundance, but neither deer, hares, nor
rabbits. Why it has them not, might be asked, but that of such
questions there is no end. Why does any nation want what it might
have? Why are not spices transplanted to America? Why does tea
continue to be brought from China? Life improves but by slow
degrees, and much in every place is yet to do. Attempts have been
made to raise roebucks in Raasay, but without effect. The young
ones it is extremely difficult to rear, and the old can very seldom
be taken alive.
Hares and rabbits might be more easily obtained. That they have
few or none of either in Sky, they impute to the ravage of the
foxes, and have therefore set, for some years past, a price upon
their heads, which, as the number was diminished, has been
gradually raised, from three shillings and sixpence to a guinea, a
sum so great in this part of the world, that, in a short time, Sky
may be as free from foxes, as England from wolves. The fund for
these rewards is a tax of sixpence in the pound, imposed by the
farmers on themselves, and said to be paid with great willingness.
The beasts of prey in the Islands are foxes, otters, and weasels.
The foxes are bigger than those of England; but the otters exceed
ours in a far greater proportion. I saw one at Armidel, of a size
much beyond that which I supposed them ever to attain; and Mr.
Maclean, the heir of Col, a man of middle stature, informed me that
he once shot an otter, of which the tail reached the ground, when
he held up the head to a level with his own. I expected the otter
to have a foot particularly formed for the art of swimming; but
upon examination, I did not find it differing much from that of a
spaniel. As he preys in the sea, he does little visible mischief,
and is killed only for his fur. White otters are sometimes seen.
In Raasay they might have hares and rabbits, for they have no
foxes. Some depredations, such as were never made before, have
caused a suspicion that a fox has been lately landed in the Island
by spite or wantonness. This imaginary stranger has never yet been
seen, and therefore, perhaps, the mischief was done by some other
animal. It is not likely that a creature so ungentle, whose head
could have been sold in Sky for a guinea, should be kept alive only
to gratify the malice of sending him to prey upon a neighbour: and
the passage from Sky is wider than a fox would venture to swim,
unless he were chased by dogs into the sea, and perhaps than his
strength would enable him to cross. How beasts of prey came into
any islands is not easy to guess. In cold countries they take
advantage of hard winters, and travel over the ice: but this is a
very scanty solution; for they are found where they have no
discoverable means of coming.
The corn of this island is but little. I saw the harvest of a
small field. The women reaped the Corn, and the men bound up the
sheaves. The strokes of the sickle were timed by the modulation of
the harvest song, in which all their voices were united. They
accompany in the Highlands every action, which can be done in equal
time, with an appropriated strain, which has, they say, not much
meaning; but its effects are regularity and cheerfulness. The
ancient proceleusmatick song, by which the rowers of gallies were
animated, may be supposed to have been of this kind. There is now
an oar-song used by the Hebridians.
The ground of Raasay seems fitter for cattle than for corn, and of
black cattle I suppose the number is very great. The Laird himself
keeps a herd of four hundred, one hundred of which are annually
sold. Of an extensive domain, which he holds in his own hands, he
considers the sale of cattle as repaying him the rent, and supports
the plenty of a very liberal table with the remaining product.
Raasay is supposed to have been very long inhabited. On one side
of it they show caves, into which the rude nations of the first
ages retreated from the weather. These dreary vaults might have
had other uses. There is still a cavity near the house called the
oar-cave, in which the seamen, after one of those piratical
expeditions, which in rougher times were very frequent, used, as
tradition tells, to hide their oars. This hollow was near the sea,
that nothing so necessary might be far to be fetched; and it was
secret, that enemies, if they landed, could find nothing. Yet it
is not very evident of what use it was to hide their oars from
those, who, if they were masters of the coast, could take away
A proof much stronger of the distance at which the first possessors
of this island lived from the present time, is afforded by the
stone heads of arrows which are very frequently picked up. The
people call them Elf-bolts, and believe that the fairies shoot them
at the cattle. They nearly resemble those which Mr. Banks has
lately brought from the savage countries in the Pacifick Ocean, and
must have been made by a nation to which the use of metals was
The number of this little community has never been counted by its
ruler, nor have I obtained any positive account, consistent with
the result of political computation. Not many years ago, the late
Laird led out one hundred men upon a military expedition. The
sixth part of a people is supposed capable of bearing arms: Raasay
had therefore six hundred inhabitants. But because it is not
likely, that every man able to serve in the field would follow the
summons, or that the chief would leave his lands totally
defenceless, or take away all the hands qualified for labour, let
it be supposed, that half as many might be permitted to stay at
home. The whole number will then be nine hundred, or nine to a
square mile; a degree of populousness greater than those tracts of
desolation can often show. They are content with their country,
and faithful to their chiefs, and yet uninfected with the fever of
Near the house, at Raasay, is a chapel unroofed and ruinous, which
has long been used only as a place of burial. About the churches,
in the Islands, are small squares inclosed with stone, which belong
to particular families, as repositories for the dead. At Raasay
there is one, I think, for the proprietor, and one for some
It is told by Martin, that at the death of the Lady of the Island,
it has been here the custom to erect a cross. This we found not to
be true. The stones that stand about the chapel at a small
distance, some of which perhaps have crosses cut upon them, are
believed to have been not funeral monuments, but the ancient
boundaries of the sanctuary or consecrated ground.
Martin was a man not illiterate: he was an inhabitant of Sky, and
therefore was within reach of intelligence, and with no great
difficulty might have visited the places which he undertakes to
describe; yet with all his opportunities, he has often suffered
himself to be deceived. He lived in the last century, when the
chiefs of the clans had lost little of their original influence.
The mountains were yet unpenetrated, no inlet was opened to foreign
novelties, and the feudal institution operated upon life with their
full force. He might therefore have displayed a series of
subordination and a form of government, which, in more luminous and
improved regions, have been long forgotten, and have delighted his
readers with many uncouth customs that are now disused, and wild
opinions that prevail no longer. But he probably had not knowledge
of the world sufficient to qualify him for judging what would
deserve or gain the attention of mankind. The mode of life which
was familiar to himself, he did not suppose unknown to others, nor
imagined that he could give pleasure by telling that of which it
was, in his little country, impossible to be ignorant.
What he has neglected cannot now be performed. In nations, where
there is hardly the use of letters, what is once out of sight is
lost for ever. They think but little, and of their few thoughts,
none are wasted on the past, in which they are neither interested
by fear nor hope. Their only registers are stated observances and
practical representations. For this reason an age of ignorance is
an age of ceremony. Pageants, and processions, and commemorations,
gradually shrink away, as better methods come into use of recording
events, and preserving rights.
It is not only in Raasay that the chapel is unroofed and useless;
through the few islands which we visited, we neither saw nor heard
of any house of prayer, except in Sky, that was not in ruins. The
malignant influence of Calvinism has blasted ceremony and decency
together; and if the remembrance of papal superstition is
obliterated, the monuments of papal piety are likewise effaced.
It has been, for many years, popular to talk of the lazy devotion
of the Romish clergy; over the sleepy laziness of men that erected
churches, we may indulge our superiority with a new triumph, by
comparing it with the fervid activity of those who suffer them to
Of the destruction of churches, the decay of religion must in time
be the consequence; for while the publick acts of the ministry are
now performed in houses, a very small number can be present; and as
the greater part of the Islanders make no use of books, all must
necessarily live in total ignorance who want the opportunity of
From these remains of ancient sanctity, which are every where to be
found, it has been conjectured, that, for the last two centuries,
the inhabitants of the Islands have decreased in number. This
argument, which supposes that the churches have been suffered to
fall, only because they were no longer necessary, would have some
force, if the houses of worship still remaining were sufficient for
the people. But since they have now no churches at all, these
venerable fragments do not prove the people of former times to have
been more numerous, but to have been more devout. If the
inhabitants were doubled with their present principles, it appears
not that any provision for publick worship would be made. Where
the religion of a country enforces consecrated buildings, the
number of those buildings may be supposed to afford some
indication, however uncertain, of the populousness of the place;
but where by a change of manners a nation is contented to live
without them, their decay implies no diminution of inhabitants.
Some of these dilapidations are said to be found in islands now
uninhabited; but I doubt whether we can thence infer that they were
ever peopled. The religion of the middle age, is well known to
have placed too much hope in lonely austerities. Voluntary
solitude was the great act of propitiation, by which crimes were
effaced, and conscience was appeased; it is therefore not unlikely,
that oratories were often built in places where retirement was sure
to have no disturbance.
Raasay has little that can detain a traveller, except the Laird and
his family; but their power wants no auxiliaries. Such a seat of
hospitality, amidst the winds and waters, fills the imagination
with a delightful contrariety of images. Without is the rough
ocean and the rocky land, the beating billows and the howling
storm: within is plenty and elegance, beauty and gaiety, the song
and the dance. In Raasay, if I could have found an Ulysses, I had
fancied a Phoeacia.
At Raasay, by good fortune, Macleod, so the chief of the clan is
called, was paying a visit, and by him we were invited to his seat
at Dunvegan. Raasay has a stout boat, built in Norway, in which,
with six oars, he conveyed us back to Sky. We landed at Port Re,
so called, because James the Fifth of Scotland, who had curiosity
to visit the Islands, came into it. The port is made by an inlet
of the sea, deep and narrow, where a ship lay waiting to dispeople
Sky, by carrying the natives away to America.
In coasting Sky, we passed by the cavern in which it was the
custom, as Martin relates, to catch birds in the night, by making a
fire at the entrance. This practice is disused; for the birds, as
is known often to happen, have changed their haunts.
Here we dined at a publick house, I believe the only inn of the
island, and having mounted our horses, travelled in the manner
already described, till we came to Kingsborough, a place
distinguished by that name, because the King lodged here when he
landed at Port Re. We were entertained with the usual hospitality
by Mr. Macdonald and his lady, Flora Macdonald, a name that will be
mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues,
mentioned with honour. She is a woman of middle stature, soft
features, gentle manners, and elegant presence.
In the morning we sent our horses round a promontory to meet us,
and spared ourselves part of the day's fatigue, by crossing an arm
of the sea. We had at last some difficulty in coming to Dunvegan;
for our way led over an extensive moor, where every step was to be
taken with caution, and we were often obliged to alight, because
the ground could not be trusted. In travelling this watery flat, I
perceived that it had a visible declivity, and might without much
expence or difficulty be drained. But difficulty and expence are
relative terms, which have different meanings in different places.
To Dunvegan we came, very willing to be at rest, and found our
fatigue amply recompensed by our reception. Lady Macleod, who had
lived many years in England, was newly come hither with her son and
four daughters, who knew all the arts of southern elegance, and all
the modes of English economy. Here therefore we settled, and did
not spoil the present hour with thoughts of departure.
Dunvegan is a rocky prominence, that juts out into a bay, on the
west side of Sky. The house, which is the principal seat of
Macleod, is partly old and partly modern; it is built upon the
rock, and looks upon the water. It forms two sides of a small
square: on the third side is the skeleton of a castle of unknown
antiquity, supposed to have been a Norwegian fortress, when the
Danes were masters of the Islands. It is so nearly entire, that it
might have easily been made habitable, were there not an ominous
tradition in the family, that the owner shall not long outlive the
reparation. The grandfather of the present Laird, in defiance of
prediction, began the work, but desisted in a little time, and
applied his money to worse uses.
As the inhabitants of the Hebrides lived, for many ages, in
continual expectation of hostilities, the chief of every clan
resided in a fortress. This house was accessible only from the
water, till the last possessor opened an entrance by stairs upon
They had formerly reason to be afraid, not only of declared wars
and authorized invaders, or of roving pirates, which, in the
northern seas, must have been very common; but of inroads and
insults from rival clans, who, in the plenitude of feudal
independence, asked no leave of their Sovereign to make war on one
another. Sky has been ravaged by a feud between the two mighty
powers of Macdonald and Macleod. Macdonald having married a
Macleod upon some discontent dismissed her, perhaps because she had
brought him no children. Before the reign of James the Fifth, a
Highland Laird made a trial of his wife for a certain time, and if
she did not please him, he was then at liberty to send her away.
This however must always have offended, and Macleod resenting the
injury, whatever were its circumstances, declared, that the wedding
had been solemnized without a bonfire, but that the separation
should be better illuminated; and raising a little army, set fire
to the territories of Macdonald, who returned the visit, and
Another story may show the disorderly state of insular
neighbourhood. The inhabitants of the Isle of Egg, meeting a boat
manned by Macleods, tied the crew hand and foot, and set them a-
drift. Macleod landed upon Egg, and demanded the offenders; but
the inhabitants refusing to surrender them, retreated to a cavern,
into which they thought their enemies unlikely to follow them.
Macleod choked them with smoke, and left them lying dead by
families as they stood.
Here the violence of the weather confined us for some time, not at
all to our discontent or inconvenience. We would indeed very
willingly have visited the Islands, which might be seen from the
house scattered in the sea, and I was particularly desirous to have
viewed Isay; but the storms did not permit us to launch a boat, and
we were condemned to listen in idleness to the wind, except when we
were better engaged by listening to the ladies.
We had here more wind than waves, and suffered the severity of a
tempest, without enjoying its magnificence. The sea being broken
by the multitude of islands, does not roar with so much noise, nor
beat the shore with such foamy violence, as I have remarked on the
coast of Sussex. Though, while I was in the Hebrides, the wind was
extremely turbulent, I never saw very high billows.
The country about Dunvegan is rough and barren. There are no
trees, except in the orchard, which is a low sheltered spot
surrounded with a wall.
When this house was intended to sustain a siege, a well was made in
the court, by boring the rock downwards, till water was found,
which though so near to the sea, I have not heard mentioned as
brackish, though it has some hardness, or other qualities, which
make it less fit for use; and the family is now better supplied
from a stream, which runs by the rock, from two pleasing water-
Here we saw some traces of former manners, and heard some standing
traditions. In the house is kept an ox's horn, hollowed so as to
hold perhaps two quarts, which the heir of Macleod was expected to
swallow at one draught, as a test of his manhood, before he was
permitted to bear arms, or could claim a seat among the men. It is
held that the return of the Laird to Dunvegan, after any
considerable absence, produces a plentiful capture of herrings; and
that, if any woman crosses the water to the opposite Island, the
herrings will desert the coast. Boetius tells the same of some
other place. This tradition is not uniform. Some hold that no
woman may pass, and others that none may pass but a Macleod.
Among other guests, which the hospitality of Dunvegan brought to
the table, a visit was paid by the Laird and Lady of a small island
south of Sky, of which the proper name is Muack, which signifies
swine. It is commonly called Muck, which the proprietor not
liking, has endeavoured, without effect, to change to Monk. It is
usual to call gentlemen in Scotland by the name of their
possessions, as Raasay, Bernera, Loch Buy, a practice necessary in
countries inhabited by clans, where all that live in the same
territory have one name, and must be therefore discriminated by
some addition. This gentleman, whose name, I think, is Maclean,
should be regularly called Muck; but the appellation, which he
thinks too coarse for his Island, he would like still less for
himself, and he is therefore addressed by the title of, Isle of
This little Island, however it be named, is of considerable value.
It is two English miles long, and three quarters of a mile broad,
and consequently contains only nine hundred and sixty English
acres. It is chiefly arable. Half of this little dominion the
Laird retains in his own hand, and on the other half, live one
hundred and sixty persons, who pay their rent by exported corn.
What rent they pay, we were not told, and could not decently
inquire. The proportion of the people to the land is such, as the
most fertile countries do not commonly maintain.
The Laird having all his people under his immediate view, seems to
be very attentive to their happiness. The devastation of the
small-pox, when it visits places where it comes seldom, is well
known. He has disarmed it of its terrour at Muack, by inoculating
eighty of his people. The expence was two shillings and sixpence a
head. Many trades they cannot have among them, but upon occasion,
he fetches a smith from the Isle of Egg, and has a tailor from the
main land, six times a year. This island well deserved to be seen,
but the Laird's absence left us no opportunity.
Every inhabited island has its appendant and subordinate islets.
Muck, however small, has yet others smaller about it, one of which
has only ground sufficient to afford pasture for three wethers.
At Dunvegan I had tasted lotus, and was in danger of forgetting
that I was ever to depart, till Mr. Boswell sagely reproached me
with my sluggishness and softness. I had no very forcible defence
to make; and we agreed to pursue our journey. Macleod accompanied
us to Ulinish, where we were entertained by the sheriff of the
Mr. Macqueen travelled with us, and directed our attention to all
that was worthy of observation. With him we went to see an ancient
building, called a dun or borough. It was a circular inclosure,
about forty-two feet in diameter, walled round with loose stones,
perhaps to the height of nine feet. The walls were very thick,
diminishing a little toward the top, and though in these countries,
stone is not brought far, must have been raised with much labour.
Within the great circle were several smaller rounds of wall, which
formed distinct apartments. Its date, and its use are unknown.
Some suppose it the original seat of the chiefs of the Macleods.
Mr. Macqueen thought it a Danish fort.
The entrance is covered with flat stones, and is narrow, because it
was necessary that the stones which lie over it, should reach from
one wall to the other; yet, strait as the passage is, they seem
heavier than could have been placed where they now lie, by the
naked strength of as many men as might stand about them. They were
probably raised by putting long pieces of wood under them, to which
the action of a long line of lifters might be applied. Savages, in
all countries, have patience proportionate to their unskilfulness,
and are content to attain their end by very tedious methods.
If it was ever roofed, it might once have been a dwelling, but as
there is no provision for water, it could not have been a fortress.
In Sky, as in every other place, there is an ambition of exalting
whatever has survived memory, to some important use, and referring
it to very remote ages. I am inclined to suspect, that in lawless
times, when the inhabitants of every mountain stole the cattle of
their neighbour, these inclosures were used to secure the herds and
flocks in the night. When they were driven within the wall, they
might be easily watched, and defended as long as could be needful;
for the robbers durst not wait till the injured clan should find
them in the morning.
The interior inclosures, if the whole building were once a house,
were the chambers of the chief inhabitants. If it was a place of
security for cattle, they were probably the shelters of the
From the Dun we were conducted to another place of security, a cave
carried a great way under ground, which had been discovered by
digging after a fox. These caves, of which many have been found,
and many probably remain concealed, are formed, I believe, commonly
by taking advantage of a hollow, where banks or rocks rise on
either side. If no such place can be found, the ground must be cut
away. The walls are made by piling stones against the earth, on
either side. It is then roofed by larger stones laid across the
cavern, which therefore cannot be wide. Over the roof, turfs were
placed, and grass was suffered to grow; and the mouth was concealed
by bushes, or some other cover.
These caves were represented to us as the cabins of the first rude
inhabitants, of which, however, I am by no means persuaded. This
was so low, that no man could stand upright in it. By their
construction they are all so narrow, that two can never pass along
them together, and being subterraneous, they must be always damp.
They are not the work of an age much ruder than the present; for
they are formed with as much art as the construction of a common
hut requires. I imagine them to have been places only of
occasional use, in which the Islander, upon a sudden alarm, hid his
utensils, or his cloaths, and perhaps sometimes his wife and
This cave we entered, but could not proceed the whole length, and
went away without knowing how far it was carried. For this
omission we shall be blamed, as we perhaps have blamed other
travellers; but the day was rainy, and the ground was damp. We had
with us neither spades nor pickaxes, and if love of ease surmounted
our desire of knowledge, the offence has not the invidiousness of
Edifices, either standing or ruined, are the chief records of an
illiterate nation. In some part of this journey, at no great
distance from our way, stood a shattered fortress, of which the
learned minister, to whose communication we are much indebted, gave
us an account.
Those, said he, are the walls of a place of refuge, built in the
time of James the Sixth, by Hugh Macdonald, who was next heir to
the dignity and fortune of his chief. Hugh, being so near his
wish, was impatient of delay; and had art and influence sufficient
to engage several gentlemen in a plot against the Laird's life.
Something must be stipulated on both sides; for they would not dip
their hands in blood merely for Hugh's advancement. The compact
was formerly written, signed by the conspirators, and placed in the
hands of one Macleod.
It happened that Macleod had sold some cattle to a drover, who, not
having ready money, gave him a bond for payment. The debt was
discharged, and the bond re-demanded; which Macleod, who could not
read, intending to put into his hands, gave him the conspiracy.
The drover, when he had read the paper, delivered it privately to
Macdonald; who, being thus informed of his danger, called his
friends together, and provided for his safety. He made a public
feast, and inviting Hugh Macdonald and his confederates, placed
each of them at the table between two men of known fidelity. The
compact of conspiracy was then shewn, and every man confronted with
his own name. Macdonald acted with great moderation. He upbraided
Hugh, both with disloyalty and ingratitude; but told the rest, that
he considered them as men deluded and misinformed. Hugh was sworn
to fidelity, and dismissed with his companions; but he was not
generous enough to be reclaimed by lenity; and finding no longer
any countenance among the gentlemen, endeavoured to execute the
same design by meaner hands. In this practice he was detected,
taken to Macdonald's castle, and imprisoned in the dungeon. When
he was hungry, they let down a plentiful meal of salted meat; and
when, after his repast, he called for drink, conveyed to him a
covered cup, which, when he lifted the lid, he found empty. From
that time they visited him no more, but left him to perish in
solitude and darkness.
We were then told of a cavern by the sea-side, remarkable for the
powerful reverberation of sounds. After dinner we took a boat, to
explore this curious cavity. The boatmen, who seemed to be of a
rank above that of common drudges, inquired who the strangers were,
and being told we came one from Scotland, and the other from
England, asked if the Englishman could recount a long genealogy.
What answer was given them, the conversation being in Erse, I was
not much inclined to examine.
They expected no good event of the voyage; for one of them declared
that he heard the cry of an English ghost. This omen I was not
told till after our return, and therefore cannot claim the dignity
of despising it.
The sea was smooth. We never left the shore, and came without any
disaster to the cavern, which we found rugged and misshapen, about
one hundred and eighty feet long, thirty wide in the broadest part,
and in the loftiest, as we guessed, about thirty high. It was now
dry, but at high water the sea rises in it near six feet. Here I
saw what I had never seen before, limpets and mussels in their
natural state. But, as a new testimony to the veracity of common
fame, here was no echo to be heard.
We then walked through a natural arch in the rock, which might have
pleased us by its novelty, had the stones, which incumbered our
feet, given us leisure to consider it. We were shown the gummy
seed of the kelp, that fastens itself to a stone, from which it
grows into a strong stalk.
In our return, we found a little boy upon the point of rock,
catching with his angle, a supper for the family. We rowed up to
him, and borrowed his rod, with which Mr. Boswell caught a cuddy.
The cuddy is a fish of which I know not the philosophical name. It
is not much bigger than a gudgeon, but is of great use in these
Islands, as it affords the lower people both food, and oil for
their lamps. Cuddies are so abundant, at sometimes of the year,
that they are caught like whitebait in the Thames, only by dipping
a basket and drawing it back.
If it were always practicable to fish, these Islands could never be
in much danger from famine; but unhappily in the winter, when other
provision fails, the seas are commonly too rough for nets, or
TALISKER IN SKY
From Ulinish, our next stage was to Talisker, the house of colonel
Macleod, an officer in the Dutch service, who, in this time of
universal peace, has for several years been permitted to be absent
from his regiment. Having been bred to physick, he is consequently
a scholar, and his lady, by accompanying him in his different
places of residence, is become skilful in several languages.
Talisker is the place beyond all that I have seen, from which the
gay and the jovial seem utterly excluded; and where the hermit
might expect to grow old in meditation, without possibility of
disturbance or interruption. It is situated very near the sea, but
upon a coast where no vessel lands but when it is driven by a
tempest on the rocks. Towards the land are lofty hills streaming
with water-falls. The garden is sheltered by firs or pines, which
grow there so prosperously, that some, which the present inhabitant
planted, are very high and thick.
At this place we very happily met Mr. Donald Maclean, a young
gentleman, the eldest son of the Laird of Col, heir to a very great
extent of land, and so desirous of improving his inheritance, that
he spent a considerable time among the farmers of Hertfordshire,
and Hampshire, to learn their practice. He worked with his own
hands at the principal operations of agriculture, that he might not
deceive himself by a false opinion of skill, which, if he should
find it deficient at home, he had no means of completing. If the
world has agreed to praise the travels and manual labours of the
Czar of Muscovy, let Col have his share of the like applause, in
the proportion of his dominions to the empire of Russia.
This young gentleman was sporting in the mountains of Sky, and when
he was weary with following his game, repaired for lodging to
Talisker. At night he missed one of his dogs, and when he went to
seek him in the morning, found two eagles feeding on his carcass.
Col, for he must be named by his possessions, hearing that our
intention was to visit Jona, offered to conduct us to his chief,
Sir Allan Maclean, who lived in the isle of Inch Kenneth, and would
readily find us a convenient passage. From this time was formed an
acquaintance, which being begun by kindness, was accidentally
continued by constraint; we derived much pleasure from it, and I
hope have given him no reason to repent it.
The weather was now almost one continued storm, and we were to
snatch some happy intermission to be conveyed to Mull, the third
Island of the Hebrides, lying about a degree south of Sky, whence
we might easily find our way to Inch Kenneth, where Sir Allan
Maclean resided, and afterward to Jona.
For this purpose, the most commodious station that we could take
was Armidel, which Sir Alexander Macdonald had now left to a
gentleman, who lived there as his factor or steward.
In our way to Armidel was Coriatachan, where we had already been,
and to which therefore we were very willing to return. We staid
however so long at Talisker, that a great part of our journey was
performed in the gloom of the evening. In travelling even thus
almost without light thro' naked solitude, when there is a guide
whose conduct may be trusted, a mind not naturally too much
disposed to fear, may preserve some degree of cheerfulness; but
what must be the solicitude of him who should be wandering, among
the craggs and hollows, benighted, ignorant, and alone?
The fictions of the Gothick romances were not so remote from
credibility as they are now thought. In the full prevalence of the
feudal institution, when violence desolated the world, and every
baron lived in a fortress, forests and castles were regularly
succeeded by each other, and the adventurer might very suddenly
pass from the gloom of woods, or the ruggedness of moors, to seats
of plenty, gaiety, and magnificence. Whatever is imaged in the
wildest tale, if giants, dragons, and enchantment be excepted,
would be felt by him, who, wandering in the mountains without a
guide, or upon the sea without a pilot, should be carried amidst
his terror and uncertainty, to the hospitality and elegance of
Raasay or Dunvegan.
To Coriatachan at last we came, and found ourselves welcomed as
before. Here we staid two days, and made such inquiries as
curiosity suggested. The house was filled with company, among whom
Mr. Macpherson and his sister distinguished themselves by their
politeness and accomplishments. By him we were invited to Ostig, a
house not far from Armidel, where we might easily hear of a boat,
when the weather would suffer us to leave the Island.
OSTIG IN SKY
At Ostig, of which Mr. Macpherson is minister, we were entertained
for some days, then removed to Armidel, where we finished our
observations on the island of Sky.
As this Island lies in the fifty-seventh degree, the air cannot be
supposed to have much warmth. The long continuance of the sun
above the horizon, does indeed sometimes produce great heat in
northern latitudes; but this can only happen in sheltered places,
where the atmosphere is to a certain degree stagnant, and the same
mass of air continues to receive for many hours the rays of the
sun, and the vapours of the earth. Sky lies open on the west and
north to a vast extent of ocean, and is cooled in the summer by
perpetual ventilation, but by the same blasts is kept warm in
winter. Their weather is not pleasing. Half the year is deluged
with rain. From the autumnal to the vernal equinox, a dry day is
hardly known, except when the showers are suspended by a tempest.
Under such skies can be expected no great exuberance of vegetation.
Their winter overtakes their summer, and their harvest lies upon
the ground drenched with rain. The autumn struggles hard to
produce some of our early fruits. I gathered gooseberries in
September; but they were small, and the husk was thick.
Their winter is seldom such as puts a full stop to the growth of
plants, or reduces the cattle to live wholly on the surplusage of
the summer. In the year Seventy-one they had a severe season,
remembered by the name of the Black Spring, from which the island
has not yet recovered. The snow lay long upon the ground, a
calamity hardly known before. Part of their cattle died for want,
part were unseasonably sold to buy sustenance for the owners; and,
what I have not read or heard of before, the kine that survived
were so emaciated and dispirited, that they did not require the
male at the usual time. Many of the roebucks perished.
The soil, as in other countries, has its diversities. In some
parts there is only a thin layer of earth spread upon a rock, which
bears nothing but short brown heath, and perhaps is not generally
capable of any better product. There are many bogs or mosses of
greater or less extent, where the soil cannot be supposed to want
depth, though it is too wet for the plow. But we did not observe
in these any aquatick plants. The vallies and the mountains are
alike darkened with heath. Some grass, however, grows here and
there, and some happier spots of earth are capable of tillage.
Their agriculture is laborious, and perhaps rather feeble than
unskilful. Their chief manure is seaweed, which, when they lay it
to rot upon the field, gives them a better crop than those of the
Highlands. They heap sea shells upon the dunghill, which in time
moulder into a fertilising substance. When they find a vein of
earth where they cannot use it, they dig it up, and add it to the
mould of a more commodious place.
Their corn grounds often lie in such intricacies among the craggs,
that there is no room for the action of a team and plow. The soil
is then turned up by manual labour, with an instrument called a
crooked spade, of a form and weight which to me appeared very
incommodious, and would perhaps be soon improved in a country where
workmen could be easily found and easily paid. It has a narrow
blade of iron fixed to a long and heavy piece of wood, which must
have, about a foot and a half above the iron, a knee or flexure
with the angle downwards. When the farmer encounters a stone which
is the great impediment of his operations, he drives the blade
under it, and bringing the knee or angle to the ground, has in the
long handle a very forcible lever.
According to the different mode of tillage, farms are distinguished
into long land and short land. Long land is that which affords
room for a plow, and short land is turned up by the spade.
The grain which they commit to the furrows thus tediously formed,
is either oats or barley. They do not sow barley without very
copious manure, and then they expect from it ten for one, an
increase equal to that of better countries; but the culture is so
operose that they content themselves commonly with oats; and who
can relate without compassion, that after all their diligence they
are to expect only a triple increase? It is in vain to hope for
plenty, when a third part of the harvest must be reserved for seed.
When their grain is arrived at the state which they must consider
as ripeness, they do not cut, but pull the barley: to the oats
they apply the sickle. Wheel carriages they have none, but make a
frame of timber, which is drawn by one horse with the two points
behind pressing on the ground. On this they sometimes drag home
their sheaves, but often convey them home in a kind of open panier,
or frame of sticks upon the horse's back.
Of that which is obtained with so much difficulty, nothing surely
ought to be wasted; yet their method of clearing their oats from
the husk is by parching them in the straw. Thus with the genuine
improvidence of savages, they destroy that fodder for want of which
their cattle may perish. From this practice they have two petty
conveniences. They dry the grain so that it is easily reduced to
meal, and they escape the theft of the thresher. The taste
contracted from the fire by the oats, as by every other scorched
substance, use must long ago have made grateful. The oats that are
not parched must be dried in a kiln.
The barns of Sky I never saw. That which Macleod of Raasay had
erected near his house was so contrived, because the harvest is
seldom brought home dry, as by perpetual perflation to prevent the
mow from heating.
Of their gardens I can judge only from their tables. I did not
observe that the common greens were wanting, and suppose, that by
choosing an advantageous exposition, they can raise all the more
hardy esculent plants. Of vegetable fragrance or beauty they are
not yet studious. Few vows are made to Flora in the Hebrides.
They gather a little hay, but the grass is mown late; and is so
often almost dry and again very wet, before it is housed, that it
becomes a collection of withered stalks without taste or fragrance;
it must be eaten by cattle that have nothing else, but by most
English farmers would be thrown away.
In the Islands I have not heard that any subterraneous treasures
have been discovered, though where there are mountains, there are
commonly minerals. One of the rocks in Col has a black vein,
imagined to consist of the ore of lead; but it was never yet opened
or essayed. In Sky a black mass was accidentally picked up, and
brought into the house of the owner of the land, who found himself
strongly inclined to think it a coal, but unhappily it did not burn
in the chimney. Common ores would be here of no great value; for
what requires to be separated by fire, must, if it were found, be
carried away in its mineral state, here being no fewel for the
smelting-house or forge. Perhaps by diligent search in this world
of stone, some valuable species of marble might be discovered. But
neither philosophical curiosity, nor commercial industry, have yet
fixed their abode here, where the importunity of immediate want
supplied but for the day, and craving on the morrow, has left
little room for excursive knowledge or the pleasing fancies of
They have lately found a manufacture considerably lucrative. Their
rocks abound with kelp, a sea-plant, of which the ashes are melted
into glass. They burn kelp in great quantities, and then send it
away in ships, which come regularly to purchase them. This new
source of riches has raised the rents of many maritime farms; but
the tenants pay, like all other tenants, the additional rent with
great unwillingness; because they consider the profits of the kelp
as the mere product of personal labour, to which the landlord
contributes nothing. However, as any man may be said to give, what
he gives the power of gaining, he has certainly as much right to
profit from the price of kelp as of any thing else found or raised
upon his ground.
This new trade has excited a long and eager litigation between
Macdonald and Macleod, for a ledge of rocks, which, till the value
of kelp was known, neither of them desired the reputation of
The cattle of Sky are not so small as is commonly believed. Since
they have sent their beeves in great numbers to southern marts,
they have probably taken more care of their breed. At stated times
the annual growth of cattle is driven to a fair, by a general
drover, and with the money, which he returns to the farmer, the
rents are paid.
The price regularly expected, is from two to three pounds a head:
there was once one sold for five pounds. They go from the Islands
very lean, and are not offered to the butcher, till they have been
long fatted in English pastures.
Of their black cattle, some are without horns, called by the Scots
humble cows, as we call a bee an humble bee, that wants a sting.
Whether this difference be specifick, or accidental, though we
inquired with great diligence, we could not be informed. We are
not very sure that the bull is ever without horns, though we have
been told, that such bulls there are. What is produced by putting
a horned and unhorned male and female together, no man has ever
tried, that thought the result worthy of observation.
Their horses are, like their cows, of a moderate size. I had no
difficulty to mount myself commodiously by the favour of the
gentlemen. I heard of very little cows in Barra, and very little
horses in Rum, where perhaps no care is taken to prevent that
diminution of size, which must always happen, where the greater and
the less copulate promiscuously, and the young animal is restrained
from growth by penury of sustenance.
The goat is the general inhabitant of the earth, complying with
every difference of climate, and of soil. The goats of the
Hebrides are like others: nor did I hear any thing of their sheep,
to be particularly remarked.
In the penury of these malignant regions, nothing is left that can
be converted to food. The goats and the sheep are milked like the
cows. A single meal of a goat is a quart, and of a sheep a pint.
Such at least was the account, which I could extract from those of
whom I am not sure that they ever had inquired.
The milk of goats is much thinner than that of cows, and that of
sheep is much thicker. Sheeps milk is never eaten before it is
boiled: as it is thick, it must be very liberal of curd, and the
people of St. Kilda form it into small cheeses.
The stags of the mountains are less than those of our parks, or
forests, perhaps not bigger than our fallow deer. Their flesh has
no rankness, nor is inferiour in flavour to our common venison.
The roebuck I neither saw nor tasted. These are not countries for
a regular chase. The deer are not driven with horns and hounds. A
sportsman, with his gun in his hand, watches the animal, and when
he has wounded him, traces him by the blood.
They have a race of brinded greyhounds, larger and stronger than
those with which we course hares, and those are the only dogs used
by them for the chase.
Man is by the use of fire-arms made so much an overmatch for other
animals, that in all countries, where they are in use, the wild
part of the creation sensibly diminishes. There will probably not
be long, either stags or roebucks in the Islands. All the beasts
of chase would have been lost long ago in countries well inhabited,
had they not been preserved by laws for the pleasure of the rich.
There are in Sky neither rats nor mice, but the weasel is so
frequent, that he is heard in houses rattling behind chests or
beds, as rats in England. They probably owe to his predominance
that they have no other vermin; for since the great rat took
possession of this part of the world, scarce a ship can touch at
any port, but some of his race are left behind. They have within
these few years began to infest the isle of Col, where being left
by some trading vessel, they have increased for want of weasels to
The inhabitants of Sky, and of the other Islands, which I have
seen, are commonly of the middle stature, with fewer among them
very tall or very short, than are seen in England, or perhaps, as
their numbers are small, the chances of any deviation from the
common measure are necessarily few. The tallest men that I saw are
among those of higher rank. In regions of barrenness and scarcity,
the human race is hindered in its growth by the same causes as
The ladies have as much beauty here as in other places, but bloom
and softness are not to be expected among the lower classes, whose
faces are exposed to the rudeness of the climate, and whose
features are sometimes contracted by want, and sometimes hardened
by the blasts. Supreme beauty is seldom found in cottages or work-
shops, even where no real hardships are suffered. To expand the
human face to its full perfection, it seems necessary that the mind
should co-operate by placidness of content, or consciousness of
Their strength is proportionate to their size, but they are
accustomed to run upon rough ground, and therefore can with great
agility skip over the bog, or clamber the mountain. For a campaign
in the wastes of America, soldiers better qualified could not have
been found. Having little work to do, they are not willing, nor
perhaps able to endure a long continuance of manual labour, and are
therefore considered as habitually idle.
Having never been supplied with those accommodations, which life
extensively diversified with trades affords, they supply their
wants by very insufficient shifts, and endure many inconveniences,
which a little attention would easily relieve. I have seen a horse
carrying home the harvest on a crate. Under his tail was a stick
for a crupper, held at the two ends by twists of straw. Hemp will
grow in their islands, and therefore ropes may be had. If they
wanted hemp, they might make better cordage of rushes, or perhaps
of nettles, than of straw.
Their method of life neither secures them perpetual health, nor
exposes them to any particular diseases. There are physicians in
the Islands, who, I believe, all practise chirurgery, and all
compound their own medicines.
It is generally supposed, that life is longer in places where there
are few opportunities of luxury; but I found no instance here of
extraordinary longevity. A cottager grows old over his oaten
cakes, like a citizen at a turtle feast. He is indeed seldom
incommoded by corpulence. Poverty preserves him from sinking under
the burden of himself, but he escapes no other injury of time.
Instances of long life are often related, which those who hear them
are more willing to credit than examine. To be told that any man
has attained a hundred years, gives hope and comfort to him who
stands trembling on the brink of his own climacterick.
Length of life is distributed impartially to very different modes
of life in very different climates; and the mountains have no
greater examples of age and health than the low lands, where I was
introduced to two ladies of high quality; one of whom, in her
ninety-fourth year, presided at her table with the full exercise of
all her powers; and the other has attained her eighty-fourth,
without any diminution of her vivacity, and with little reason to
accuse time of depredations on her beauty.
In the Islands, as in most other places, the inhabitants are of
different rank, and one does not encroach here upon another. Where
there is no commerce nor manufacture, he that is born poor can
scarcely become rich; and if none are able to buy estates, he that
is born to land cannot annihilate his family by selling it. This
was once the state of these countries. Perhaps there is no
example, till within a century and half, of any family whose estate
was alienated otherwise than by violence or forfeiture. Since
money has been brought amongst them, they have found, like others,
the art of spending more than they receive; and I saw with grief
the chief of a very ancient clan, whose Island was condemned by law
to be sold for the satisfaction of his creditors.
The name of highest dignity is Laird, of which there are in the
extensive Isle of Sky only three, Macdonald, Macleod, and
Mackinnon. The Laird is the original owner of the land, whose
natural power must be very great, where no man lives but by
agriculture; and where the produce of the land is not conveyed
through the labyrinths of traffick, but passes directly from the
hand that gathers it to the mouth that eats it. The Laird has all
those in his power that live upon his farms. Kings can, for the
most part, only exalt or degrade. The Laird at pleasure can feed
or starve, can give bread, or withold it. This inherent power was
yet strengthened by the kindness of consanguinity, and the
reverence of patriarchal authority. The Laird was the father of
the Clan, and his tenants commonly bore his name. And to these
principles of original command was added, for many ages, an
exclusive right of legal jurisdiction.
This multifarious, and extensive obligation operated with force
scarcely credible. Every duty, moral or political, was absorbed in
affection and adherence to the Chief. Not many years have passed
since the clans knew no law but the Laird's will. He told them to
whom they should be friends or enemies, what King they should obey,
and what religion they should profess.
When the Scots first rose in arms against the succession of the
house of Hanover, Lovat, the Chief of the Frasers, was in exile for
a rape. The Frasers were very numerous, and very zealous against
the government. A pardon was sent to Lovat. He came to the
English camp, and the clan immediately deserted to him.
Next in dignity to the Laird is the Tacksman; a large taker or
lease-holder of land, of which he keeps part, as a domain, in his
own hand, and lets part to under tenants. The Tacksman is
necessarily a man capable of securing to the Laird the whole rent,
and is commonly a collateral relation. These tacks, or subordinate
possessions, were long considered as hereditary, and the occupant
was distinguished by the name of the place at which he resided. He
held a middle station, by which the highest and the lowest orders
were connected. He paid rent and reverence to the Laird, and
received them from the tenants. This tenure still subsists, with
its original operation, but not with the primitive stability.
Since the islanders, no longer content to live, have learned the
desire of growing rich, an ancient dependent is in danger of giving
way to a higher bidder, at the expense of domestick dignity and
hereditary power. The stranger, whose money buys him preference,
considers himself as paying for all that he has, and is indifferent
about the Laird's honour or safety. The commodiousness of money is
indeed great; but there are some advantages which money cannot buy,
and which therefore no wise man will by the love of money be
tempted to forego.
I have found in the hither parts of Scotland, men not defective in
judgment or general experience, who consider the Tacksman as a
useless burden of the ground, as a drone who lives upon the product
of an estate, without the right of property, or the merit of
labour, and who impoverishes at once the landlord and the tenant.
The land, say they, is let to the Tacksman at six-pence an acre,
and by him to the tenant at ten-pence. Let the owner be the
immediate landlord to all the tenants; if he sets the ground at
eight-pence, he will increase his revenue by a fourth part, and the
tenant's burthen will be diminished by a fifth.
Those who pursue this train of reasoning, seem not sufficiently to
inquire whither it will lead them, nor to know that it will equally
shew the propriety of suppressing all wholesale trade, of shutting
up the shops of every man who sells what he does not make, and of
extruding all whose agency and profit intervene between the
manufacturer and the consumer. They may, by stretching their
understandings a little wider, comprehend, that all those who by
undertaking large quantities of manufacture, and affording
employment to many labourers, make themselves considered as
benefactors to the publick, have only been robbing their workmen
with one hand, and their customers with the other. If Crowley had
sold only what he could make, and all his smiths had wrought their
own iron with their own hammers, he would have lived on less, and
they would have sold their work for more. The salaries of
superintendents and clerks would have been partly saved, and partly
shared, and nails been sometimes cheaper by a farthing in a
hundred. But then if the smith could not have found an immediate
purchaser, he must have deserted his anvil; if there had by
accident at any time been more sellers than buyers, the workmen
must have reduced their profit to nothing, by underselling one
another; and as no great stock could have been in any hand, no
sudden demand of large quantities could have been answered and the
builder must have stood still till the nailer could supply him.
According to these schemes, universal plenty is to begin and end in
universal misery. Hope and emulation will be utterly extinguished;
and as all must obey the call of immediate necessity, nothing that
requires extensive views, or provides for distant consequences will
ever be performed.
To the southern inhabitants of Scotland, the state of the mountains
and the islands is equally unknown with that of Borneo or Sumatra:
Of both they have only heard a little, and guess the rest. They
are strangers to the language and the manners, to the advantages
and wants of the people, whose life they would model, and whose
evils they would remedy.
Nothing is less difficult than to procure one convenience by the
forfeiture of another. A soldier may expedite his march by
throwing away his arms. To banish the Tacksman is easy, to make a
country plentiful by diminishing the people, is an expeditious mode
of husbandry; but little abundance, which there is nobody to enjoy,
contributes little to human happiness.
As the mind must govern the hands, so in every society the man of
intelligence must direct the man of labour. If the Tacksmen be
taken away, the Hebrides must in their present state be given up to
grossness and ignorance; the tenant, for want of instruction, will
be unskilful, and for want of admonition will be negligent. The
Laird in these wide estates, which often consist of islands remote
from one another, cannot extend his personal influence to all his
tenants; and the steward having no dignity annexed to his
character, can have little authority among men taught to pay
reverence only to birth, and who regard the Tacksman as their
hereditary superior; nor can the steward have equal zeal for the
prosperity of an estate profitable only to the Laird, with the
Tacksman, who has the Laird's income involved in his own.
The only gentlemen in the Islands are the Lairds, the Tacksmen, and
the Ministers, who frequently improve their livings by becoming
farmers. If the Tacksmen be banished, who will be left to impart
knowledge, or impress civility? The Laird must always be at a
distance from the greater part of his lands; and if he resides at
all upon them, must drag his days in solitude, having no longer
either a friend or a companion; he will therefore depart to some
more comfortable residence, and leave the tenants to the wisdom and
mercy of a factor.
Of tenants there are different orders, as they have greater or less
stock. Land is sometimes leased to a small fellowship, who live in
a cluster of huts, called a Tenants Town, and are bound jointly and
separately for the payment of their rent. These, I believe, employ
in the care of their cattle, and the labour of tillage, a kind of
tenants yet lower; who having a hut with grass for a certain number
of cows and sheep, pay their rent by a stipulated quantity of
The condition of domestick servants, or the price of occasional
labour, I do not know with certainty. I was told that the maids
have sheep, and are allowed to spin for their own clothing; perhaps
they have no pecuniary wages, or none but in very wealthy families.
The state of life, which has hitherto been purely pastoral, begins
now to be a little variegated with commerce; but novelties enter by
degrees, and till one mode has fully prevailed over the other, no
settled notion can be formed.
Such is the system of insular subordination, which, having little
variety, cannot afford much delight in the view, nor long detain
the mind in contemplation. The inhabitants were for a long time
perhaps not unhappy; but their content was a muddy mixture of pride
and ignorance, an indifference for pleasures which they did not
know, a blind veneration for their chiefs, and a strong conviction
of their own importance.
Their pride has been crushed by the heavy hand of a vindictive
conqueror, whose seventies have been followed by laws, which,
though they cannot be called cruel, have produced much discontent,
because they operate upon the surface of life, and make every eye
bear witness to subjection. To be compelled to a new dress has
always been found painful.
Their Chiefs being now deprived of their jurisdiction, have already
lost much of their influence; and as they gradually degenerate from
patriarchal rulers to rapacious landlords, they will divest
themselves of the little that remains.
That dignity which they derived from an opinion of their military
importance, the law, which disarmed them, has abated. An old
gentleman, delighting himself with the recollection of better days,
related, that forty years ago, a Chieftain walked out attended by
ten or twelve followers, with their arms rattling. That animating
rabble has now ceased. The Chief has lost his formidable retinue;
and the Highlander walks his heath unarmed and defenceless, with
the peaceable submission of a French peasant or English cottager.
Their ignorance grows every day less, but their knowledge is yet of
little other use than to shew them their wants. They are now in
the period of education, and feel the uneasiness of discipline,
without yet perceiving the benefit of instruction.
The last law, by which the Highlanders are deprived of their arms,
has operated with efficacy beyond expectation. Of former statutes
made with the same design, the execution had been feeble, and the
effect inconsiderable. Concealment was undoubtedly practised, and
perhaps often with connivance. There was tenderness, or
partiality, on one side, and obstinacy on the other. But the law,
which followed the victory of Culloden, found the whole nation
dejected and intimidated; informations were given without danger,
and without fear, and the arms were collected with such rigour,
that every house was despoiled of its defence.
To disarm part of the Highlands, could give no reasonable occasion
of complaint. Every government must be allowed the power of taking
away the weapon that is lifted against it. But the loyal clans
murmured, with some appearance of justice, that after having
defended the King, they were forbidden for the future to defend
themselves; and that the sword should be forfeited, which had been
legally employed. Their case is undoubtedly hard, but in political
regulations, good cannot be complete, it can only be predominant.
Whether by disarming a people thus broken into several tribes, and
thus remote from the seat of power, more good than evil has been
produced, may deserve inquiry. The supreme power in every
community has the right of debarring every individual, and every
subordinate society from self-defence, only because the supreme
power is able to defend them; and therefore where the governor
cannot act, he must trust the subject to act for himself. These
Islands might be wasted with fire and sword before their sovereign
would know their distress. A gang of robbers, such as has been
lately found confederating themselves in the Highlands, might lay a
wide region under contribution. The crew of a petty privateer
might land on the largest and most wealthy of the Islands, and riot
without control in cruelty and waste. It was observed by one of
the Chiefs of Sky, that fifty armed men might, without resistance
ravage the country. Laws that place the subjects in such a state,
contravene the first principles of the compact of authority: they
exact obedience, and yield no protection.
It affords a generous and manly pleasure to conceive a little
nation gathering its fruits and tending its herds with fearless
confidence, though it lies open on every side to invasion, where,
in contempt of walls and trenches, every man sleeps securely with
his sword beside him; where all on the first approach of hostility
came together at the call to battle, as at a summons to a festal
show; and committing their cattle to the care of those whom age or
nature has disabled, engage the enemy with that competition for
hazard and for glory, which operate in men that fight under the eye
of those, whose dislike or kindness they have always considered as
the greatest evil or the greatest good.
This was, in the beginning of the present century, the state of the
Highlands. Every man was a soldier, who partook of national
confidence, and interested himself in national honour. To lose
this spirit, is to lose what no small advantage will compensate.
It may likewise deserve to be inquired, whether a great nation
ought to be totally commercial? whether amidst the uncertainty of
human affairs, too much attention to one mode of happiness may not
endanger others? whether the pride of riches must not sometimes
have recourse to the protection of courage? and whether, if it be
necessary to preserve in some part of the empire the military
spirit, it can subsist more commodiously in any place, than in
remote and unprofitable provinces, where it can commonly do little
harm, and whence it may be called forth at any sudden exigence?
It must however be confessed, that a man, who places honour only in
successful violence, is a very troublesome and pernicious animal in
time of peace; and that the martial character cannot prevail in a
whole people, but by the diminution of all other virtues. He that
is accustomed to resolve all right into conquest, will have very
little tenderness or equity. All the friendship in such a life can
be only a confederacy of invasion, or alliance of defence. The
strong must flourish by force, and the weak subsist by stratagem.
Till the Highlanders lost their ferocity, with their arms, they
suffered from each other all that malignity could dictate, or
precipitance could act. Every provocation was revenged with blood,
and no man that ventured into a numerous company, by whatever
occasion brought together, was sure of returning without a wound.
If they are now exposed to foreign hostilities, they may talk of
the danger, but can seldom feel it. If they are no longer martial,
they are no longer quarrelsome. Misery is caused for the most
part, not by a heavy crush of disaster, but by the corrosion of
less visible evils, which canker enjoyment, and undermine security.
The visit of an invader is necessarily rare, but domestick
animosities allow no cessation.
The abolition of the local jurisdictions, which had for so many
ages been exercised by the chiefs, has likewise its evil and its
good. The feudal constitution naturally diffused itself into long
ramifications of subordinate authority. To this general temper of
the government was added the peculiar form of the country, broken
by mountains into many subdivisions scarcely accessible but to the
natives, and guarded by passes, or perplexed with intricacies,
through which national justice could not find its way.
The power of deciding controversies, and of punishing offences, as
some such power there must always be, was intrusted to the Lairds
of the country, to those whom the people considered as their
natural judges. It cannot be supposed that a rugged proprietor of
the rocks, unprincipled and unenlightened, was a nice resolver of
entangled claims, or very exact in proportioning punishment to
offences. But the more he indulged his own will, the more he held
his vassals in dependence. Prudence and innocence, without the
favour of the Chief, conferred no security; and crimes involved no
danger, when the judge was resolute to acquit.
When the chiefs were men of knowledge and virtue, the convenience
of a domestick judicature was great. No long journies were
necessary, nor artificial delays could be practised; the character,
the alliances, and interests of the litigants were known to the
court, and all false pretences were easily detected. The sentence,
when it was past, could not be evaded; the power of the Laird
superseded formalities, and justice could not be defeated by
interest or stratagem.
I doubt not but that since the regular judges have made their
circuits through the whole country, right has been every where more
wisely, and more equally distributed; the complaint is, that
litigation is grown troublesome, and that the magistrates are too
few, and therefore often too remote for general convenience.
Many of the smaller Islands have no legal officer within them. I
once asked, If a crime should be committed, by what authority the
offender could be seized? and was told, that the Laird would exert
his right; a right which he must now usurp, but which surely
necessity must vindicate, and which is therefore yet exercised in
lower degrees, by some of the proprietors, when legal processes
cannot be obtained.
In all greater questions, however, there is now happily an end to
all fear or hope from malice or from favour. The roads are secure
in those places through which, forty years ago, no traveller could
pass without a convoy. All trials of right by the sword are
forgotten, and the mean are in as little danger from the powerful
as in other places. No scheme of policy has, in any country, yet
brought the rich and poor on equal terms into courts of judicature.
Perhaps experience, improving on experience, may in time effect it.
Those who have long enjoyed dignity and power, ought not to lose it
without some equivalent. There was paid to the Chiefs by the
publick, in exchange for their privileges, perhaps a sum greater
than most of them had ever possessed, which excited a thirst for
riches, of which it shewed them the use. When the power of birth
and station ceases, no hope remains but from the prevalence of
money. Power and wealth supply the place of each other. Power
confers the ability of gratifying our desire without the consent of
others. Wealth enables us to obtain the consent of others to our
gratification. Power, simply considered, whatever it confers on
one, must take from another. Wealth enables its owner to give to
others, by taking only from himself. Power pleases the violent and
proud: wealth delights the placid and the timorous. Youth
therefore flies at power, and age grovels after riches.
The Chiefs, divested of their prerogatives, necessarily turned
their thoughts to the improvement of their revenues, and expect
more rent, as they have less homage. The tenant, who is far from
perceiving that his condition is made better in the same
proportion, as that of his landlord is made worse, does not
immediately see why his industry is to be taxed more heavily than
before. He refuses to pay the demand, and is ejected; the ground
is then let to a stranger, who perhaps brings a larger stock, but
who, taking the land at its full price, treats with the Laird upon
equal terms, and considers him not as a Chief, but as a trafficker
in land. Thus the estate perhaps is improved, but the clan is
It seems to be the general opinion, that the rents have been raised
with too much eagerness. Some regard must be paid to prejudice.
Those who have hitherto paid but little, will not suddenly be
persuaded to pay much, though they can afford it. As ground is
gradually improved, and the value of money decreases, the rent may
be raised without any diminution of the farmer's profits: yet it
is necessary in these countries, where the ejection of a tenant is
a greater evil, than in more populous places, to consider not
merely what the land will produce, but with what ability the
inhabitant can cultivate it. A certain stock can allow but a
certain payment; for if the land be doubled, and the stock remains
the same, the tenant becomes no richer. The proprietors of the
Highlands might perhaps often increase their income, by subdividing
the farms, and allotting to every occupier only so many acres as he
can profitably employ, but that they want people.
There seems now, whatever be the cause, to be through a great part
of the Highlands a general discontent. That adherence, which was
lately professed by every man to the chief of his name, has now
little prevalence; and he that cannot live as he desires at home,
listens to the tale of fortunate islands, and happy regions, where
every man may have land of his own, and eat the product of his
labour without a superior.
Those who have obtained grants of American lands, have, as is well
known, invited settlers from all quarters of the globe; and among
other places, where oppression might produce a wish for new
habitations, their emissaries would not fail to try their
persuasions in the Isles of Scotland, where at the time when the
clans were newly disunited from their Chiefs, and exasperated by
unprecedented exactions, it is no wonder that they prevailed.
Whether the mischiefs of emigration were immediately perceived, may
be justly questioned. They who went first, were probably such as
could best be spared; but the accounts sent by the earliest
adventurers, whether true or false, inclined many to follow them;
and whole neighbourhoods formed parties for removal; so that
departure from their native country is no longer exile. He that
goes thus accompanied, carries with him all that makes life
pleasant. He sits down in a better climate, surrounded by his
kindred and his friends: they carry with them their language,
their opinions, their popular songs, and hereditary merriment:
they change nothing but the place of their abode; and of that
change they perceive the benefit.
This is the real effect of emigration, if those that go away
together settle on the same spot, and preserve their ancient union.
But some relate that these adventurous visitants of unknown
regions, after a voyage passed in dreams of plenty and felicity,
are dispersed at last upon a Sylvan wilderness, where their first
years must be spent in toil, to clear the ground which is
afterwards to be tilled, and that the whole effect of their
undertakings is only more fatigue and equal scarcity.
Both accounts may be suspected. Those who are gone will endeavour
by every art to draw others after them; for as their numbers are
greater, they will provide better for themselves. When Nova Scotia
was first peopled, I remember a letter, published under the
character of a New Planter, who related how much the climate put
him in mind of Italy. Such intelligence the Hebridians probably
receive from their transmarine correspondents. But with equal
temptations of interest, and perhaps with no greater niceness of
veracity, the owners of the Islands spread stories of American
hardships to keep their people content at home.
Some method to stop this epidemick desire of wandering, which
spreads its contagion from valley to valley, deserves to be sought
with great diligence. In more fruitful countries, the removal of
one only makes room for the succession of another: but in the
Hebrides, the loss of an inhabitant leaves a lasting vacuity; for
nobody born in any other parts of the world will choose this
country for his residence, and an Island once depopulated will
remain a desert, as long as the present facility of travel gives
every one, who is discontented and unsettled, the choice of his
Let it be inquired, whether the first intention of those who are
fluttering on the wing, and collecting a flock that they may take
their flight, be to attain good, or to avoid evil. If they are
dissatisfied with that part of the globe, which their birth has
allotted them, and resolve not to live without the pleasures of
happier climates; if they long for bright suns, and calm skies, and
flowery fields, and fragrant gardens, I know not by what eloquence
they can be persuaded, or by what offers they can be hired to stay.
But if they are driven from their native country by positive evils,
and disgusted by ill-treatment, real or imaginary, it were fit to
remove their grievances, and quiet their resentment; since, if they
have been hitherto undutiful subjects, they will not much mend
their principles by American conversation.
To allure them into the army, it was thought proper to indulge them
in the continuance of their national dress. If this concession
could have any effect, it might easily be made. That dissimilitude
of appearance, which was supposed to keep them distinct from the
rest of the nation, might disincline them from coalescing with the
Pensylvanians, or people of Connecticut. If the restitution of
their arms will reconcile them to their country, let them have
again those weapons, which will not be more mischievous at home
than in the Colonies. That they may not fly from the increase of
rent, I know not whether the general good does not require that the
landlords be, for a time, restrained in their demands, and kept
quiet by pensions proportionate to their loss.
To hinder insurrection, by driving away the people, and to govern
peaceably, by having no subjects, is an expedient that argues no
great profundity of politicks. To soften the obdurate, to convince
the mistaken, to mollify the resentful, are worthy of a statesman;
but it affords a legislator little self-applause to consider, that
where there was formerly an insurrection, there is now a
It has been a question often agitated without solution, why those
northern regions are now so thinly peopled, which formerly
overwhelmed with their armies the Roman empire. The question
supposes what I believe is not true, that they had once more
inhabitants than they could maintain, and overflowed only because
they were full.
This is to estimate the manners of all countries and ages by our
own. Migration, while the state of life was unsettled, and there
was little communication of intelligence between distant places,
was among the wilder nations of Europe, capricious and casual. An
adventurous projector heard of a fertile coast unoccupied, and led
out a colony; a chief of renown for bravery, called the young men
together, and led them out to try what fortune would present. When
Caesar was in Gaul, he found the Helvetians preparing to go they
knew not whither, and put a stop to their motions. They settled
again in their own country, where they were so far from wanting
room, that they had accumulated three years provision for their
The religion of the North was military; if they could not find
enemies, it was their duty to make them: they travelled in quest
of danger, and willingly took the chance of Empire or Death. If
their troops were numerous, the countries from which they were
collected are of vast extent, and without much exuberance of people
great armies may be raised where every man is a soldier. But their
true numbers were never known. Those who were conquered by them
are their historians, and shame may have excited them to say, that
they were overwhelmed with multitudes. To count is a modern
practice, the ancient method was to guess; and when numbers are
guessed they are always magnified.
Thus England has for several years been filled with the
atchievements of seventy thousand Highlanders employed in America.
I have heard from an English officer, not much inclined to favour
them, that their behaviour deserved a very high degree of military
praise; but their number has been much exaggerated. One of the
ministers told me, that seventy thousand men could not have been
found in all the Highlands, and that more than twelve thousand
never took the field. Those that went to the American war, went to
destruction. Of the old Highland regiment, consisting of twelve
hundred, only seventy-six survived to see their country again.
The Gothick swarms have at least been multiplied with equal
liberality. That they bore no great proportion to the inhabitants,
in whose countries they settled, is plain from the paucity of
northern words now found in the provincial languages. Their
country was not deserted for want of room, because it was covered
with forests of vast extent; and the first effect of plenitude of
inhabitants is the destruction of wood. As the Europeans spread
over America the lands are gradually laid naked.
I would not be understood to say, that necessity had never any part
in their expeditions. A nation, whose agriculture is scanty or
unskilful, may be driven out by famine. A nation of hunters may
have exhausted their game. I only affirm that the northern regions
were not, when their irruptions subdued the Romans, overpeopled
with regard to their real extent of territory, and power of
fertility. In a country fully inhabited, however afterward laid
waste, evident marks will remain of its former populousness. But
of Scandinavia and Germany, nothing is known but that as we trace
their state upwards into antiquity, their woods were greater, and
their cultivated ground was less.
That causes were different from want of room may produce a general
disposition to seek another country is apparent from the present
conduct of the Highlanders, who are in some places ready to
threaten a total secession. The numbers which have already gone,
though like other numbers they may be magnified, are very great,
and such as if they had gone together and agreed upon any certain
settlement, might have founded an independent government in the
depths of the western continent. Nor are they only the lowest and
most indigent; many men of considerable wealth have taken with them
their train of labourers and dependants; and if they continue the
feudal scheme of polity, may establish new clans in the other
That the immediate motives of their desertion must be imputed to
their landlords, may be reasonably concluded, because some Lairds
of more prudence and less rapacity have kept their vassals
undiminished. From Raasa only one man had been seduced, and at Col
there was no wish to go away.
The traveller who comes hither from more opulent countries, to
speculate upon the remains of pastoral life, will not much wonder
that a common Highlander has no strong adherence to his native
soil; for of animal enjoyments, or of physical good, he leaves
nothing that he may not find again wheresoever he may be thrown.
The habitations of men in the Hebrides may be distinguished into
huts and houses. By a house, I mean a building with one story over
another; by a hut, a dwelling with only one floor. The Laird, who
formerly lived in a castle, now lives in a house; sometimes
sufficiently neat, but seldom very spacious or splendid. The
Tacksmen and the Ministers have commonly houses. Wherever there is
a house, the stranger finds a welcome, and to the other evils of
exterminating Tacksmen may be added the unavoidable cessation of
hospitality, or the devolution of too heavy a burden on the
Of the houses little can be said. They are small, and by the
necessity of accumulating stores, where there are so few
opportunities of purchase, the rooms are very heterogeneously
filled. With want of cleanliness it were ingratitude to reproach
them. The servants having been bred upon the naked earth, think
every floor clean, and the quick succession of guests, perhaps not
always over-elegant, does not allow much time for adjusting their
Huts are of many gradations; from murky dens, to commodious
The wall of a common hut is always built without mortar, by a
skilful adaptation of loose stones. Sometimes perhaps a double
wall of stones is raised, and the intermediate space filled with
earth. The air is thus completely excluded. Some walls are, I
think, formed of turfs, held together by a wattle, or texture of
twigs. Of the meanest huts, the first room is lighted by the
entrance, and the second by the smoke hole. The fire is usually
made in the middle. But there are huts, or dwellings of only one
story, inhabited by gentlemen, which have walls cemented with
mortar, glass windows, and boarded floors. Of these all have
chimneys, and some chimneys have grates.
The house and the furniture are not always nicely suited. We were
driven once, by missing a passage, to the hut of a gentleman,
where, after a very liberal supper, when I was conducted to my
chamber, I found an elegant bed of Indian cotton, spread with fine
sheets. The accommodation was flattering; I undressed myself, and
felt my feet in the mire. The bed stood upon the bare earth, which
a long course of rain had softened to a puddle.
In pastoral countries the condition of the lowest rank of people is
sufficiently wretched. Among manufacturers, men that have no
property may have art and industry, which make them necessary, and
therefore valuable. But where flocks and corn are the only wealth,
there are always more hands than work, and of that work there is
little in which skill and dexterity can be much distinguished. He
therefore who is born poor never can be rich. The son merely
occupies the place of the father, and life knows nothing of
progression or advancement.
The petty tenants, and labouring peasants, live in miserable
cabins, which afford them little more than shelter from the storms.
The Boor of Norway is said to make all his own utensils. In the
Hebrides, whatever might be their ingenuity, the want of wood
leaves them no materials. They are probably content with such
accommodations as stones of different forms and sizes can afford
Their food is not better than their lodging. They seldom taste the
flesh of land animals; for here are no markets. What each man eats
is from his own stock. The great effect of money is to break
property into small parts. In towns, he that has a shilling may
have a piece of meat; but where there is no commerce, no man can
eat mutton but by killing a sheep.
Fish in fair weather they need not want; but, I believe, man never
lives long on fish, but by constraint; he will rather feed upon
roots and berries.
The only fewel of the Islands is peat. Their wood is all consumed,
and coal they have not yet found. Peat is dug out of the marshes,
from the depth of one foot to that of six. That is accounted the
best which is nearest the surface. It appears to be a mass of
black earth held together by vegetable fibres. I know not whether
the earth be bituminous, or whether the fibres be not the only
combustible part; which, by heating the interposed earth red hot,
make a burning mass. The heat is not very strong nor lasting. The
ashes are yellowish, and in a large quantity. When they dig peat,
they cut it into square pieces, and pile it up to dry beside the
house. In some places it has an offensive smell. It is like wood
charked for the smith. The common method of making peat fires, is
by heaping it on the hearth; but it burns well in grates, and in
the best houses is so used.
The common opinion is, that peat grows again where it has been cut;
which, as it seems to be chiefly a vegetable substance, is not
unlikely to be true, whether known or not to those who relate it.
There are water mills in Sky and Raasa; but where they are too far
distant, the house-wives grind their oats with a quern, or hand-
mill, which consists of two stones, about a foot and a half in
diameter; the lower is a little convex, to which the concavity of
the upper must be fitted. In the middle of the upper stone is a
round hole, and on one side is a long handle. The grinder sheds
the corn gradually into the hole with one hand, and works the
handle round with the other. The corn slides down the convexity of
the lower stone, and by the motion of the upper is ground in its
passage. These stones are found in Lochabar.
The Islands afford few pleasures, except to the hardy sportsman,
who can tread the moor and climb the mountain. The distance of one
family from another, in a country where travelling has so much
difficulty, makes frequent intercourse impracticable. Visits last
several days, and are commonly paid by water; yet I never saw a
boat furnished with benches, or made commodious by any addition to
the first fabric. Conveniences are not missed where they never
The solace which the bagpipe can give, they have long enjoyed; but
among other changes, which the last Revolution introduced, the use
of the bagpipe begins to be forgotten. Some of the chief families
still entertain a piper, whose office was anciently hereditary.
Macrimmon was piper to Macleod, and Rankin to Maclean of Col.
The tunes of the bagpipe are traditional. There has been in Sky,
beyond all time of memory, a college of pipers, under the direction
of Macrimmon, which is not quite extinct. There was another in
Mull, superintended by Rankin, which expired about sixteen years
ago. To these colleges, while the pipe retained its honour, the
students of musick repaired for education. I have had my dinner
exhilarated by the bagpipe, at Armidale, at Dunvegan, and in Col.
The general conversation of the Islanders has nothing particular.
I did not meet with the inquisitiveness of which I have read, and
suspect the judgment to have been rashly made. A stranger of
curiosity comes into a place where a stranger is seldom seen: he
importunes the people with questions, of which they cannot guess
the motive, and gazes with surprise on things which they, having
had them always before their eyes, do not suspect of any thing
wonderful. He appears to them like some being of another world,
and then thinks it peculiar that they take their turn to inquire
whence he comes, and whither he is going.
The Islands were long unfurnished with instruction for youth, and
none but the sons of gentlemen could have any literature. There
are now parochial schools, to which the lord of every manor pays a
certain stipend. Here the children are taught to read; but by the
rule of their institution, they teach only English, so that the
natives read a language which they may never use or understand. If
a parish, which often happens, contains several Islands, the school
being but in one, cannot assist the rest. This is the state of
Col, which, however, is more enlightened than some other places;
for the deficiency is supplied by a young gentleman, who, for his
own improvement, travels every year on foot over the Highlands to
the session at Aberdeen; and at his return, during the vacation,
teaches to read and write in his native Island.
In Sky there are two grammar schools, where boarders are taken to
be regularly educated. The price of board is from three pounds, to
four pounds ten shillings a year, and that of instruction is half a
crown a quarter. But the scholars are birds of passage, who live
at school only in the summer; for in winter provisions cannot be
made for any considerable number in one place. This periodical
dispersion impresses strongly the scarcity of these countries.
Having heard of no boarding-school for ladies nearer than
Inverness, I suppose their education is generally domestick. The
elder daughters of the higher families are sent into the world, and
may contribute by their acquisitions to the improvement of the
Women must here study to be either pleasing or useful. Their
deficiencies are seldom supplied by very liberal fortunes. A
hundred pounds is a portion beyond the hope of any but the Laird's
daughter. They do not indeed often give money with their
daughters; the question is, How many cows a young lady will bring
her husband. A rich maiden has from ten to forty; but two cows are
a decent fortune for one who pretends to no distinction.
The religion of the Islands is that of the Kirk of Scotland. The
gentlemen with whom I conversed are all inclined to the English
liturgy; but they are obliged to maintain the established Minister,
and the country is too poor to afford payment to another, who must
live wholly on the contribution of his audience.
They therefore all attend the worship of the Kirk, as often as a
visit from their Minister, or the practicability of travelling
gives them opportunity; nor have they any reason to complain of
insufficient pastors; for I saw not one in the Islands, whom I had
reason to think either deficient in learning, or irregular in life:
but found several with whom I could not converse without wishing,
as my respect increased, that they had not been Presbyterians.
The ancient rigour of puritanism is now very much relaxed, though
all are not yet equally enlightened. I sometimes met with
prejudices sufficiently malignant, but they were prejudices of
ignorance. The Ministers in the Islands had attained such
knowledge as may justly be admired in men, who have no motive to
study, but generous curiosity, or, what is still better, desire of
usefulness; with such politeness as so narrow a circle of converse
could not have supplied, but to minds naturally disposed to
Reason and truth will prevail at last. The most learned of the
Scottish Doctors would now gladly admit a form of prayer, if the
people would endure it. The zeal or rage of congregations has its
different degrees. In some parishes the Lord's Prayer is suffered:
in others it is still rejected as a form; and he that should make
it part of his supplication would be suspected of heretical
The principle upon which extemporary prayer was originally
introduced, is no longer admitted. The Minister formerly, in the
effusion of his prayer, expected immediate, and perhaps perceptible
inspiration, and therefore thought it his duty not to think before
what he should say. It is now universally confessed, that men pray
as they speak on other occasions, according to the general measure
of their abilities and attainments. Whatever each may think of a
form prescribed by another, he cannot but believe that he can
himself compose by study and meditation a better prayer than will
rise in his mind at a sudden call; and if he has any hope of
supernatural help, why may he not as well receive it when he writes
as when he speaks?
In the variety of mental powers, some must perform extemporary
prayer with much imperfection; and in the eagerness and rashness of
contradictory opinions, if publick liturgy be left to the private
judgment of every Minister, the congregation may often be offended
There is in Scotland, as among ourselves, a restless suspicion of
popish machinations, and a clamour of numerous converts to the
Romish religion. The report is, I believe, in both parts of the
Island equally false. The Romish religion is professed only in Egg
and Canna, two small islands, into which the Reformation never made
its way. If any missionaries are busy in the Highlands, their zeal
entitles them to respect, even from those who cannot think
favourably of their doctrine.
The political tenets of the Islanders I was not curious to
investigate, and they were not eager to obtrude. Their
conversation is decent and inoffensive. They disdain to drink for
their principles, and there is no disaffection at their tables. I
never heard a health offered by a Highlander that might not have
circulated with propriety within the precincts of the King's
Legal government has yet something of novelty to which they cannot
perfectly conform. The ancient spirit, that appealed only to the
sword, is yet among them. The tenant of Scalpa, an island
belonging to Macdonald, took no care to bring his rent; when the
landlord talked of exacting payment, he declared his resolution to
keep his ground, and drive all intruders from the Island, and
continued to feed his cattle as on his own land, till it became
necessary for the Sheriff to dislodge him by violence.
The various kinds of superstition which prevailed here, as in all
other regions of ignorance, are by the diligence of the Ministers
Of Browny, mentioned by Martin, nothing has been heard for many
years. Browny was a sturdy Fairy; who, if he was fed, and kindly
treated, would, as they said, do a great deal of work. They now
pay him no wages, and are content to labour for themselves.
In Troda, within these three-and-thirty years, milk was put every
Saturday for Greogach, or 'the Old Man with the Long Beard.'
Whether Greogach was courted as kind, or dreaded as terrible,
whether they meant, by giving him the milk, to obtain good, or
avert evil, I was not informed. The Minister is now living by whom
the practice was abolished.
They have still among them a great number of charms for the cure of
different diseases; they are all invocations, perhaps transmitted
to them from the times of popery, which increasing knowledge will
bring into disuse.
They have opinions, which cannot be ranked with superstition,
because they regard only natural effects. They expect better crops
of grain, by sowing their seed in the moon's increase. The moon
has great influence in vulgar philosophy. In my memory it was a
precept annually given in one of the English Almanacks, 'to kill
hogs when the moon was increasing, and the bacon would prove the
better in boiling.'
We should have had little claim to the praise of curiosity, if we
had not endeavoured with particular attention to examine the
question of the Second Sight. Of an opinion received for centuries
by a whole nation, and supposed to be confirmed through its whole
descent, by a series of successive facts, it is desirable that the
truth should be established, or the fallacy detected.
The Second Sight is an impression made either by the mind upon the
eye, or by the eye upon the mind, by which things distant or future
are perceived, and seen as if they were present. A man on a
journey far from home falls from his horse, another, who is perhaps
at work about the house, sees him bleeding on the ground, commonly
with a landscape of the place where the accident befalls him.
Another seer, driving home his cattle, or wandering in idleness, or
musing in the sunshine, is suddenly surprised by the appearance of
a bridal ceremony, or funeral procession, and counts the mourners
or attendants, of whom, if he knows them, he relates the names, if
he knows them not, he can describe the dresses. Things distant are
seen at the instant when they happen. Of things future I know not
that there is any rule for determining the time between the Sight
and the event.
This receptive faculty, for power it cannot be called, is neither
voluntary nor constant. The appearances have no dependence upon
choice: they cannot be summoned, detained, or recalled. The
impression is sudden, and the effect often painful.
By the term Second Sight, seems to be meant a mode of seeing,
superadded to that which Nature generally bestows. In the Earse it
is called Taisch; which signifies likewise a spectre, or a vision.
I know not, nor is it likely that the Highlanders ever examined,
whether by Taisch, used for Second Sight, they mean the power of
seeing, or the thing seen.
I do not find it to be true, as it is reported, that to the Second
Sight nothing is presented but phantoms of evil. Good seems to
have the same proportions in those visionary scenes, as it obtains
in real life: almost all remarkable events have evil for their
basis; and are either miseries incurred, or miseries escaped. Our
sense is so much stronger of what we suffer, than of what we enjoy,
that the ideas of pain predominate in almost every mind. What is
recollection but a revival of vexations, or history but a record of
wars, treasons, and calamities? Death, which is considered as the
greatest evil, happens to all. The greatest good, be it what it
will, is the lot but of a part.
That they should often see death is to be expected; because death
is an event frequent and important. But they see likewise more
pleasing incidents. A gentleman told me, that when he had once
gone far from his own Island, one of his labouring servants
predicted his return, and described the livery of his attendant,
which he had never worn at home; and which had been, without any
previous design, occasionally given him.
Our desire of information was keen, and our inquiry frequent. Mr.
Boswell's frankness and gaiety made every body communicative; and
we heard many tales of these airy shows, with more or less evidence
It is the common talk of the Lowland Scots, that the notion of the
Second Sight is wearing away with other superstitions; and that its
reality is no longer supposed, but by the grossest people. How far
its prevalence ever extended, or what ground it has lost, I know
not. The Islanders of all degrees, whether of rank or
understanding, universally admit it, except the Ministers, who
universally deny it, and are suspected to deny it, in consequence
of a system, against conviction. One of them honestly told me,
that he came to Sky with a resolution not to believe it.
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