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of usefulness; with such politeness as so narrow
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.
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 per- They have opinions which cannot be ranked ceptible inspiration, and therefore thought it his with superstition, because they regard only naduty not to think before what he should say. It tural effects. They expect better crops of grain is now universally confessed, that men pray as by sowing their seed in the moon's increase. they speak on other occasions, according to the The moon has great influence in vulgar philosogeneral measure of their abilities and attain-phy. In my memory it was a precept annually ments. 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 public liturgy be left to the private judgment of every minister, the congregation may often be offended or misled.
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
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 palace.
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.
given in one of the English almanacs, "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 Erse it is called Taish; which signifies likewise a spectre, or a vision. I know not, nor is it likely that the Highlanders ever examined, whether by Taish, used for Second Sight, they mean the power of
The various kinds of superstition which pre-seeing, or the thing seen. vailed here, as in all other regions of ignorance, I do not find it to be true, as it is reported, are by the diligence of the ministers almost exterminated.
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
that to the Second Sight nothing is presented but phantoms of evil. Good seems to have the same proportion 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 | to have any part. Those who profess to feel it, we enjoy, that the ideas of pain predominate in do not boast of it as a privilege, nor are consialmost every mind. What is recollection but a dered by others as advantageously distinguished. revival of vexations, or history but a record of They have no temptation to feign; and their wars, treasons, and calamities? Death, which hearers have no motive to encourage their imis considered as the greatest evil, happens to all. posture. 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 gayety made every body communicative, and we heard many tales of these airy shows, with more or less evidence and distinctness.
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 the resolution not to believe it.
Strong reasons for incredulity will readily occur. This faculty of seeing things out of sight is local, and commonly useless. It is a breach of the common order of things, without any visible reason or perceptible benefit. It is ascribed only to a people very little enlightened; and among them, for the most part, to the mean and ignorant.
To talk with any of these seers is not easy. There is one living in Sky, with whom we would have gladly conversed; but he was very gross and ignorant, and knew no English. The proportion in these countries of the poor to the rich is such, that if we suppose the quality to be accidental, it can very rarely happen to a man of education; and yet on such men it has sometimes fallen. There is now a second-sighted gentleman in the Highlands, who complains of the terrors to which he is exposed.
The foresight of the seers is not always prescience: they are impressed with images, of which the event only shows them the meaning. They tell what they have seen to others, who are at that time not more known than themselves, but may become at last very adequate witnesses by comparing the narrative with its verification.
To collect sufficient testimonies for the satisfaction of the public, or of ourselves, would have required more time than we could bestow. There is, against it, the seeming analogy of things confusedly seen, and little understood; and for it, the indistinct cry of national persuasion, which may be perhaps resolved at last into prejudice and tradition. I never could advance my curiosity to conviction; but came away at last only willing to believe.
As there subsists no longer in the islands much of that peculiar and discriminative form of life, of which the idea had delighted our imagination, we were willing to listen to such accounts of past times as would be given us. But we soon found what memorials were to be expected from an illiterate people, whose whole time is a series of distress; where every morning is labouring with expedients for the evening: and where all mental pains or pleasures arose from the dread of winter, the expectation of spring, the caprices of their chiefs, and the motions of the neighbouring clans; where there was neither shame from ignorance, nor pride in knowledge; neither curiosity to inquire, nor vanity to communicate.
To the confidence of these objections it may be replied, that by presuming to determine what is fit, and what is beneficial, they presuppose more knowledge of the universal system than man has attained; and therefore depend upon principles too complicated and extensive for our The chiefs indeed were exempt from urgent comprehension; and there can be no security in penury and daily difficulties; and in their houses the consequence, when the premises are not un- were preserved what accounts remained of past derstood; that the Second Sight is only wonder- ages. But the chiefs were sometimes ignorant ful because it is rare, for, considered in itself, it and careless, and sometimes kept busy by turbuinvolves no more difficulty than dreams, or per-lence and contention; and one generation of ighaps than the regular exercise of the cogitative norance effaces the whole series of unwritten faculty; that a general opinion of communica- history. Books are faithful repositories, which tive impulses, or visionary representations, has may be for a while neglected or forgotten; but prevailed in all ages and all nations; that par- when they are opened again, will again impart ticular instances have been given with such evi- their instruction: memory, once interrupted, is dence as neither Bacon nor Boyle has been able not to be recalled. Written learning is a fixed to resist; that sudden impressions, which the luminary, which, after the cloud that had hidden event has verified, have been felt by more than it has passed away, is again bright in its proper own or publish them; that the Second Sight of station. Tradition is but a meteor, which, if the Hebrides implies only the local frequency of once it falls, cannot be rekindled. a power which is no where totally unknown; It seems to be universally supposed, that much and that where we are unable to decide by ante- of the local history was preserved by the bards, cedent reason we must be content to yield to the of whom one is said to have been retained by force of testimony. every great family. After these bards were some of my first inquiries; and I received such answers as, for a while, made me please myself with my increase of knowledge; for I had not
By pretension to Second Sight, no profit was ever sought or gained. It is an involuntary affection, in which neither hope nor fear are known
then learned how to estimate the narration of a Highlander.
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 attained. 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 known 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 history 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.
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 rehearsers, who might obtrude fictitious pedigrees, either to please their masters, or to hide the deficiency of their own memories.
Where the chiefs 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 remembered 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
| 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 killed for the house, particular parts were claimed 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 particular 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 subordination, 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 education. The gentlemen were perhaps sometimes 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. At 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.
When a language begins to teem with books, it is tending to refinement; as those who undertake 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; different modes and phrases are compared, 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
That the bards 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
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 his. tory 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, knowing the ignorance of all strangers in their lan 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 distinctly perceive it to be false.
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 Erse 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 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.
were flattered at last with a wind that promised 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 harbour.
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.
man upon one of their backs makes a very disproportionate appearance.
I have yet supposed no imposture but in the publisher; yet I am far from certainty, that some Here I first mounted a little Highland steed; translations have not been lately made, that and if there had been many spectators, should may now be obtruded as parts of the original have been somewhat ashamed of my figure in work. Credulity on one part is a strong temp- the march. The horses of the Islands, as of tation to deceit on the other, especially to deceit other barren countries, are very low; they are of which no personal injury is the consequence, indeed musculous and strong, beyond what their and which flatters the author with his own inge-size gives reason for expecting; but a bulky nuity. 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 persuasion.
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
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 inelegantly furnished. Mr. Maclean has the reputation of great learning: he is seventy-seven years old, but not infirm, with a look of venerable 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