« ZurückWeiter »
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 im-, pute it 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 six-pence 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 six-pence 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 har. vest 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 galleys 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 exten. sive domain, which he holds in his own hands, he cone siders 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 th 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 expedi, tions 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 their boats.
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 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 unknown.
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 compu. tation. 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 hun. dred, 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 migration.
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 enclosed 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 collateral house. 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 institutions 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 inAuence 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 fall.
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 vocal instruction.
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 inha. bitants 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 soli