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then learned how to estimate the narration of a Highlander.
| and dependents that were not domestics, and, if an estimate be made from the capacity of any of their old houses which I have seen, their domestics could have been but few, were appropriated certain portions of land for their support. Macdonald has a piece of ground yet called the Bards' or Senachies' field. When a beef was
They said that a great family had a bard and a senachi, who were the poet and historian of the house; and an old gentleman told me that he remembered one of each. Here was a dawn of intelligence. Of men that had lived within memory, some certain knowledge might be attain-killed for the house, particular parts were claimed. Though the office had ceased, its effects might continue; the poems might be found, though there was no poet.
Another conversation indeed informed me, that the same man was both bard and senachi. This variation discouraged me; but as the practice might be different in different times, or at the same time in different families, there was yet no reason for supposing that I must necessarily sit down in total ignorance.
Soon after I was told by a gentleman, who is generally acknowledged the greatest master of Hebridian antiquities, that there had indeed once been both bards and senachies; and that senachi signified the man of talk, or of conversation; but that neither bard nor senachi had existed for some centuries. I have no reason to suppose it exactly knowa at what time the custom ceased, nor did it probably cease in all houses at once. But whenever the practice of recitation was disused, the works, whether poetical or historical, perished with the authors; for in those times nothing had been written in the Erse language.
Whether the man of talk was an historian, whose office was to tell truth, or a storyteller, like those which were in the last century, and perhaps are now among the Irish, whose trade was only to amuse, it now would be vain to inquire.
Most of the domestic offices were, I believe, hereditary; and probably the laureat of a clan was always the son of the last laureat. The his ory of the race could no otherwise be communicated or retained; but what genius could be expected in a poet by inheritance?
The nation was wholly illiterate. Neither bards nor senachies could write or read; but if they were ignorant, there was no danger of detection; they were believed by those whose vanity they flattered.
ed as fees by the several officers, or workmen. What was the right of each I have not learned. The head belonged to the smith, and the udder of the cow to the piper; the weaver had likewise his particular part; and so many pieces followed these prescriptive claims, that the laird's was at last but little.
The payment of rent in kind has been so long disused in England, that it is totally forgotten. It was practised very lately in the Hebrides, and probably still continues, not only at St. Kilda, where money is not yet known, but in others of the smaller and remoter islands. It were perhaps to be desired, that no change in this parti cular should have been made. When the laird could only eat the produce of his lands, he was under the necessity of residing upon them; and when the tenant could not convert his stock into more portable riches, he could never be tempted away from his farm, from the only place where he could be wealthy. Money confounds subor dination, by overpowering the distinctions of rank and birth, and weakens authority, by supplying power of resistance, or expedients for escape. The feudal system is formed for a nation employed in agriculture, and has never long kept its hold where gold and silver have become common.
Their arms were anciently the Claymore, or great two-handed sword, and afterwards the two-edged sword and target, or buckler, which was sustained on the left arm. In the midst of the target, which was made of wood, covered with leather, and studded with nails, a slender lance, about two feet long, was sometimes fixed; it was heavy and cumbrous, and accordingly has for some time past been gradually laid aside. Very few targets were at Culloden. The dirk, or broad dagger, I am afraid, was of more use in private quarrels than in battles. The Lochaber axe is only a slight alteration of the old English bill.
After all that has been said of the force and terror of the Highland sword, I could not find that the art of defence was any part of common
The recital of genealogies, which has been considered as very efficacious to the preservation of a true series of ancestry, was anciently made when the heir of the family came to manly age. This practice has never subsisted within time of memory, nor was much credit due to such re-education. The gentlemen were perhaps somehearsers, who might obtrude fictitious pedigrees, either to please their masters, or to hide the deficiency of their own memories.
Where the chief's of the Highlands have found the histories of their descent, is difficult to tell; for no Erse genealogy was ever written. In general this only is evident, that the principal house of a clan must be very ancient, and that those must have lived long in a place, of whom it is not known when they came thither.
Thus hopeless are all attempts to find any traces of Highland learning. Nor are their primitive customs and ancient manner of life otherwise than very faintly and uncertainly rememhered by the present race.
The peculiarities which strike the native of a commercial country, proceeded in a great measure from the want of money To the servants
times skilful gladiators, but the common men had no other powers than those of violence and courage. Yet it is well known, that the onset of the Highlanders was very formidable. As an army cannot consist of philosophers, a panic is easily excited by any unwonted mode of annoy ance. New dangers are naturally magnified; and men accustomed only to exchange bullets at a distance, and rather to hear their enemies than see them, are discouraged and amazed when they find themselves encountered hand to hand, and catch the gleam of steel flashing in their faces.
The Highland weapons gave opportunity for many exertions of personal courage, and some times for single combats in the field; like those which occur so frequently in fabulous wars. Falkirk a gentleman now living was, I suppose after the retreat of the king's troops, engaged at
a distance from the rest with an Irish dragoon. They were both skilful swordsmen, and the contest was not easily decided: the dragoon at last had the advantage, and the Highlander called for quarter; but quarter was refused him, and the fight continued till he was reduced to defend himself upon his knee. At that instant one of the Macleods came to his rescue; who, as it is said, offered quarter to the dragoon, but he thought himself obliged to reject what he had before refused, and as battle gives little time to deliberate, was immediately killed.
Funerals were formerly solemnized by calling multitudes together, and entertaining them at a great expense. This emulation of useless cost has been for some time discouraged, and at last in the isle of Sky is almost suppressed.
Of the Erse language, as I understand nothing, I cannot say more than I have been told. It is the rude speech of a barbarous people, who had few thoughts to express, and were content, as they conceived grossly, to be grossly understood. After what has been lately talked of Highland bards, and Highland genius, many will startle when they are told, that the Erse never was a written language; that there is not in the world an Erse manuscript a hundred years old; and that the sounds of the Highlanders were never expressed by letters, till some little books of piety were translated, and a metrical version of the Psalms was made by the synod of Argyle. Whoever therefore now writes in this language, spells according to his own perception of the sound, and his own idea of the power of the letters. The Welsh and the Irish are cultivated tongues. The Welsh two hundred years ago, insulted their English neighbours for the instability of their orthography; while the Erse merely floated in the breath of the people, and could therefore receive little improvement.
There has lately been in the islands one of these illiterate poets, who hearing the Bible read at church, is said to have turned the sacred history into verse. I heard part of a dialogue composed by him, translated by a young lady at Mull, and thought it had more meaning than I expected from a man totally uneducated; but he had some opportunities of knowledge; he lived among a learned people. After all that has been done for the instruction of the Highlanders, the antipathy between their language and literature still continues; and no man that has learned only Erse, is at this time, able to read.
The Erse has many dialects, and the words used in some islands are not always known in others. In literate nations, though the pronunciation, and sometimes the words of common speech, may differ, as now in England, compared with the south of Scotland, yet there is a written diction, which pervades all dialects, and is understood in every province. But where the whole language is colloquial, he that has only one part, never gets the rest, as he cannot get it but by change of residence.
In an unwritten speech, nothing that is not very short is transmitted from one generation to another. Few have opportunities of hearing a long composition often enough to learn it, or have inclination to repeat it so often as is necessary to retain it; and what is once forgotten, is lost for ever. I believe there cannot be recovered in the whole Erse language five hundred lines of which there is any evidence to prove them a hundred years old. Yet I hear that the father of Ossian boasts of two chests more of ancient poetry, which he suppresses, because they are too good for the English.
He that goes into the Highlands with a mind naturally acquiescent, and a credulity eager for wonders, may come back with an opinion very different from mine; for the inhabitants, know
guage and antiquities, perhaps are not very scrupulous adherents to truth; yet I do not say that they deliberately speak studied falsehood, or have a settled purpose to deceive. They have inquired and considered little, and do not always feel their own ignorance. They are not much accustomed to be interrogated by others; and seem never to have thought upon interrogating themselves; so that if they do not know what they tell to be true, they likewise do not distinetly perceive it to be false.
When a language begins to teem with books, it is tending to refinement; as those who under-ing the ignorance of all strangers in their lantake to teach others must have undergone some labour in improving themselves, they set a proportionate value on their own thoughts, and wish to enforce them by efficacious expressions; speech becomes embodied and permanent; dif ferent modes and phrases are coinpared, and the best obtains an establishment. By degrees, one age improves upon another. Exactness is first obtained, and afterwards elegance. But diction, merely vocal, is always in its childhood. As no man leaves his eloquence behind him, the new generations have all to learn. There may possibly be books without a polished language, but there can be no polished language without Jooks.
That the bords could not read more than the rest of their countrymen, it is reasonable to suppose; because, if they had read, they could probably have written; and how high their compositions may reasonably be rated, an inquirer may best judge by considering what stores of imagery, what principles of ratiocination, what comprehension of knowledge, and what delicacy of elocution, he has known any man attain who cannot read. The state of the bards was yet more hopeless. He that cannot read, may now converse with those that can; but the bard was a barbarian among barbarians, who, knowing nothing himself, lived with others that knew no
Mr. Boswell was very diligent in his inquiries, and the result of his investigations was, that the answer to the second question was commonly such as nullified the answer to the first.
We were a while told, that they had an old translation of the Scriptures; and told it till it would appear obstinacy to inquire again. Yet by continued accumulation of questions we found, that the translation meant, if any meaning there were, was nothing else than the Irish Bible.
We heard of manuscripts that were, or that had been, in the hands of somebody's father, or grandfather; but at last we had no reason to believe they were other than Irish. Martin mentions Irish, but never any Ersc manuscripts, to be found in the islands in his time.
I suppose my opinion of the poems of Ossian is already discovered. I believe they never existed in any other form than that which we have
seen. The editor, or author, never could show | were flattered at last with a wind that promised the original; nor can it be shown by any other. To revenge reasonable incredulity, by refusing evidence, is a degree of insolence, with which the world is not yet acquainted; and stubborn audacity is the last refuge of guilt. It would be easy to show it if he had it; but whence could it be had? It is too long to be remembered, and the language formerly had nothing written. He has doubtless inserted names that circulate in popular stories, and may have translated some wandering ballads, if any can be found; and the names, and some of the images, being recollected, make an inaccurate auditor imagine, by the help of Caledonian bigotry, that he has formerly heard the whole.
I asked a very learned minister in Sky, who had used all arts to make me believe the genuineness of the book, whether at last he believed it himself? but he would not answer. He wished me to be deceived, for the honour of his country; but would not directly and formally deceive me. Yet has this man's testimony been publicly produced, as of one that held Fingal to be the work of Ossian.
It is said, that some men of integrity profess to have heard parts of it, but they all heard them when they were boys; and it was never said that any of them could recite six lines. They remember names, and perhaps some proverbial sentiments; and having no distinct ideas, coin a resemblance without an original. The persuasion of the Scots, however, is far from universal; and in a question so capable of proof, why should doubt be suffered to continue? The editor has been heard to say, that part of the poem was received by him, in the Saxon character. He has then found, by some peculiar fortune, an unwritten language, written in a character which the natives probably never beheld.
I have yet supposed no imposture but in the publisher; yet I am far from certainty, that some translations have not been lately made, that may now be obtruded as parts of the original work. Credulity on one part is a strong temptation to deceit on the other, especially to deceit of which no personal injury is the consequence, and which flatters the author with his own ingenuity. The Scots have something to plead for their easy reception of an improbable fiction: they are seduced by their fondness for their supposed ancestors. A Scotchman must be a very sturdy moralist, who does not love Scotland better than truth; he will always love it better than inquiry; and if falsehood flatters his vanity, will not be very diligent to detect it. Neither ought the English to be much influenced by Scotch authority; for of the past and present state of the whole Erse nation, the Lowlanders are at least as ignorant as ourselves. To be ignorant is painful; but it is dangerous to quiet our uneasiness by the delusive opiate of hasty persua
But this is the age in which those who could not read, have been supposed to write; in which the giants of antiquated romance have been exhibited as realities. If we know little of the ancient Highlanders, let us not fill the vacuity with Ossian. If we have not searched the Magellanic regions, let us however forbear to people them with Patagons.
Having waited some days at Armidel, we
to convey us to Mull. We went on board a boat that was taking in kelp, and left the isle of Sky behind us. We were doomed to experience, like others, the danger of trusting to the wind, which blew against us, in a short time, with such violence, that we, being no seasoned sailors, were willing to call it a tempest. I was seasick, and lay down. Mr. Boswell kept the deck. The master knew not well whither to go; and our difficulties might perhaps have filled a very pathetic page, had not Mr. Maclean of Col, who, with every other qualification which insular life requires, is a very active and skilful mariner, piloted us safe into his own
In the morning we found ourselves under the isle of Col, where we landed; and passed the first day and night with Captain Maclean, a gentleman who has lived some time in the East Indies, but having dethroned no Nabob, is not too rich to settle in his own country.
Next day the wind was fair, and we might have had an easy passage to Mull; but having, contrarily to our own intention, landed upon a new island, we would not leave it wholly unexamined. We therefore suffered the vessel to depart without us, and trusted the skies for another wind.
Mr. Maclean of Col, having a very numerous family, has, for some time past, resided at Aberdeen, that he may superintend their education, and leaves the young gentleman, our friend, to govern his dominions, with the full power of a Highland chief. By the absence of the laird's family, our entertainment was made more difficult, because the house was in a great degree disfurnished; but young Col's kindness and ac tivity supplied all defects, and procured us more than sufficient accommodation.
Here I first mounted a little Highland steed: and if there had been many spectators, should have been somewhat ashamed of my figure in the march. The horses of the Islands, as of other barren countries, are very low; they are indeed musculous and strong, beyond what their size gives reason for expecting; but a bulky man upon one of their backs makes a very disproportionate appearance.
From the habitation of Captain Maclean we went to Grissipol, but called by the way on Mr. Hector Maclean, the minister of Col, whom we found in a hut, that is, a house of only one floor, but with windows and chimney, and not inele gantly furnished. Mr. Maclean has the reputa tion of great learning: he is seventy-seven years old, but not infirm, with a look of renerable dignity excelling what I remember in any other man.
His conversation was not unsuitable to his appearance. I lost some of his good will, by treating a heretical writer with more regard than, in his opinion, a heretic could deserve. I honoured his orthodoxy, and did not much censure his asperity. A man who has settled his opinions, does not love to have the tranquillity of his conviction disturbed; and at seventy-seven it is time to be in earnest.
Mention was made of the Erse translation of the New Testament, which has been lately published, and of which the learned Mr. Macqueen
of Sky spoke with commendation; but Mr. | Maclean said, he did not use it, because he could make the text more intelligible to his auditors by an extemporary version. From this I inferred, that the language of the translation was not the language of the isle of Col.
He has no public edifice for the exercise of his ministry; and can officiate to no greater number than a room can contain; and the room of a hut is not very large. This is all the opportunity of worship that is now granted to the inhabitants of the islands, some of whom must travel thither perhaps ten miles. Two chapels were erected by their ancestors, of which I saw the skeletons, which now stand faithful witnesses of the triumph of Reformation.
The want of churches is not the only impediment to piety; there is likewise a want of ministers. A parish often contains more islands than one; and each island can have the minister only in its own turn. At Raasay they had, I think, a right to service only every third Sunday. All the provision made by the present ecclesiastical constitution, for the inhabitants of about a hundred square miles, is a prayer and sermon in a little room, once in three weeks: and even this parsimonious distribution is at the mercy of the weather: and in those islands where the minister does not reside, it is impossible to tell how many weeks or months may pass without any public exercise of religion.
GRISSIPOL IN COL.
After a short conversation with Mr. Maclean, we went on to Grissipol, a house and farm tenanted by Mr. Macsweyn, where I saw more of the ancient life of a Highlander than I had yet found. Mrs. Macsweyn could speak no English, and had never seen any other places than the islands of Sky, Mull, and Col: but she was hospitable and good-humoured, and spread her table with sufficient liberality. We found tea here as in every other place, but our spoons were of horn.
The house of Grissipol stands by a brook very clear and quick; which is, I suppose, one of the most copious streams in the island. This place was the scene of an action, much celebrated in the traditional history of Col, but which probably no two relaters will tell alike.
Some time in the obscure ages, Macneil of Barra married the lady Maclean, who had the isle of Col for her jointure. Whether Macneil detained Col, when the widow was dead, or whether she lived so long as to make her heirs impatient, is perhaps not now known. The younger son, called John Gerves, or John the Giant, a man of great strength, who was then in Ireland, either for safety or for education, dreamed of recovering his inheritance; and getting some adventurers together, which in those unsettled times was not hard to do, invaded Col. He was driven away, but was not discouraged, and collecting new followers, in three years came again with fifty men. In his way he stopped at Artorinish in Morvern, where his uncle was prisoner to Macleod, and was then with his enemies in a tent. Maclean took with him only one servant, whom he ordered to stay at the outside: and where he should see the tent pressed outwards, to strike with his dirk; it being the intention of Maclean, as any
man provoked him, to lay hands upon him, and push him back. He entered the tent alone, with his Lochaber axe in his hand, and struck such terror into the whole assembly, that they dismissed his uncle.
When he landed at Col, he saw the sentinel, who kept watch towards the sea, running off to Grissipol, to give Macneil, who was there with a hundred and twenty men, an account of the invasion. He told Macgill, one of his followers, that if he intercepted that dangerous intelligence, by catching the courier, he would give him certain lands in Mull. Upon this promise Macgill pursued the messenger, and either killed or stopped him; and his posterity, till very lately, held the lands in Mull.
The alarm being thus prevented, he came un expectedly upon Macneil. Chiefs were in those days never wholly unprovided for an enemy. A fight ensued, in which one of their followers is said to have given an extraordinary proof of activity, by bounding backwards over the brook of Grissipol. Macneil being killed and many of his clan destroyed, Maclean took possession of the island, which the Macneils attempted to conquer by another invasion, but were defeated and repulsed.
Maclean, in his turn, invaded the estate of the Macneils, took the castle of Brecacig, and conquered the isle of Barra, which he held for seven years, and then restored it to the heirs.
CASTLE OF COL.
From Grissipol, Mr. Maclean conducted us to his father's seat; a neat new house erected near the old castle, I think, by the last proprietor. Here we were allowed to take our station, and lived very commodiously while we waited for moderate weather and a fair wind, which we did not so soon obtain, but we had time to get some information of the present state of Col, partly by inquiry, and partly by occasional excursions.
Col is computed to be thirteen miles in length, and three in breadth. Both the ends are the property of the Duke of Argyle, but the middle belongs to Maclean, who is called Col, as the only laird.
Col is not properly rocky; it is rather one continued rock, of a surface much diversified with protuberances, and covered with a thin layer of earth, which is often broken, and discovers the stone. Such a soil is not for plants that strike deep roots; and perhaps in the whole island nothing has ever yet grown to the height of a table. The uncultivated parts are clothed with heath, among which industry has interspersed spots of grass and corn; but no attempt has been made to raise a tree. Young Col, who has a very laudable desire of improving his patrimony, purposes some time to plant an orchard; which if it be sheltered by a wall, may perhaps succeed. He has introduced the culture of turnips, of which he has a field, where the whole work was performed by his own hand. His intention is to provide food for his cattle in the winter. This innovation was considered by Mr. Macsweyn as the idle project of a young head, heated with English fancies; but he has now found that turnips will really grow, and that hungry sheep and cows will really eat them.
By such acquisitions as these, the Hebrides | country have been accurately related, every mile may in time rise above their annual distress. maintains more than twenty-five. Wherever heath will grow, there is reason to think something better may draw nourishment; and by trying the production of other places, plants will be found suitable to every soil.
Col has many lochs, some of which have trouts and eels, and others have never yet been stocked; another proof of the negligence of the islanders, who might take fish in the inland waters when they cannot go to sea.
This proportion of habitation is greater than the appearance of the country seems to admit; for wherever the eye wanders, it sees much waste and little cultivation. I am more inclined to extend the land, of which no measure has ever been taken, than to diminish the people, who have been really numbered. Let it be supposed, that a computed mile contains a mile and a half, as was commonly found true in the menTheir quadrupeds are horses, cows, sheep, and suration of the English roads, and we shall then goats. They have neither deer, hares, nor rab-allot nearly twelve to a mile, which agrees much bits. They have no vermin except rats, which better with ocular observation. have been lately brought thither by sea, as to other places; and are free from serpents, frogs, and toads.
Here, as in Sky, and other islands, are the laird, the tacksmen, and the under-tenants.
Mr. Maclean, the laird, has very extensive possessions, being proprietor, not only of far the greater part of Col, but of the extensive island of Rum, and a very considerable territory in Mull.
Rum is one of the larger islands almost square, and therefore of great capacity in proportion to its sides. By the usual method of estimating computed extent, it may contain more than a hundred and twenty square miles.
Noise is not the worst effect of the tempest; for they have thrown the sand from the shore It originally belonged to Clanronald, and was over a considerable part of the land, and it is said purchased by Col; who, in some dispute about still to encroach and destroy more and more pas-the bargain, made Clanronald prisoner, and kept ture; but I am not of opinion, that by any sur-him nine months in confinement. Its owner veys or landmarks, its limits have been ever fixed, represents it as mountainous, rugged and barren. or its progression ascertained. If one man has In the hills there are red deer. The horses are confidence enough to say, that it advances, no- very small, but of a breed eminent for beauty. body can bring any proof to support him in de-Col, not long ago, bought one of them from a tenying it. The reason why it is not spread to a nant; who told him that as he was of a shape greater extent, seems to be, that the wind and uncommonly elegant, he could not sell him but rain come almost together, and that it is made at a high price; and that whoever had him close and heavy by the wet before the storms should pay a guinea and a half. can put it in motion. So thick is the bed, and so small the particles, that if a traveller should be caught by a sudden gust in dry weather, he would find it very difficult to escape with life.
There are said to be in Barra a race of horses yet smaller, of which the highest is not above thirty-six inches.
The rent of Rum is not great. Mr. Maclean For natural curiosities, I was shown only two declared that he should be very rich, if he could great masses of stone, which lie loose upon the set his land at two-pence halfpenny an acre. ground; one on the top of a hill, and the other The inhabitants are fifty-eight families, who conat a small distance from the bottom. They cer- tinued papists for some time after the laird be tainly were never put into their present place by came a protestant. Their adherence to their old human strength or skill; and though an earth-religion was strengthened by the countenance of quake might have broken off the lower stone, and rolled it into the valley, no account can be given of the other, which lies on the hill, unless, which I forgot to examine, there be still near it some higher rock, from which it might be torn. All nations have a tradition, that their earliest ancestors were giants, and these stones are said to have been thrown up and down by a giant and his mistress. There are so many more important things of which human knowledge can give no account, that it may be forgiven us, if we speculate no longer on two stones in Col.
the laird's sister, a zealous Romanist, till one Sunday as they were going to mass under the conduct of their patroness, Maclean met them on the way, gave one of them a blow on the head with a yellow stick, I suppose a cane, for which the Erse had no name, and drove them to the kirk, from which they have never since departed. Since the use of this method of conversion, the inhabitants of Egg and Canna, who continue papists, call the protestantism of Rum the religion of the Yellow Stick.
The only popish islands are Egg and Canna. This island is very populous. About nine-Egg is the principal island of a parish, in which, and-twenty years ago, the fencible men of Col though he has no congregation, the protestant were reckoned one hundred and forty; which is minister resides. I have heard of nothing cuthe sixth of eight hundred and forty; and pro-rious in it, but the cave in which a former gene bably some contrived to be left out of the list.ration of the islanders were smothered by MacThe minister told us, that a few years ago the leod.
inhabitants were eight hundred, between the If we had travelled with more leisure, it had ages of seven and of seventy. Round numbers not been fit to have neglected the popish islands are seldom exact. But in this case the autho-Popery is favourable to ceremony; and among rity is good, and the error likely to be little. If ignorant nations ceremony is the only preser to the eight hundred be added what the laws of vative of tradition. Since protestantism was computation require, they will be increased to extended to the savage parts of Scotland, it has at least a thousand; and if the dimensions of the perhaps been one of the chief labours of the