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thing within itself. The bare mountains yield them mutton,
of a flavor and delicacy unknown in the south. The copses
swarm with rabbits ; and if a net is set over night at the
Black Island, there is abundance of fish to breakfast. The
farmer grows his own corn, barley, and potatoes, digs his
own peats, makes his own candles ; he tans leather, spins
cloth shaggy as a terrier's pile, and a hunchback artist on
the place transforms the raw materials into boots or shep-
herd garments. Twice every year a huge hamper arrives
from Glasgow, stuffed with all the little luxuries of house-
keeping, tea, sugar, coffee, and the like. At more fre-
quent intervals comes a ten-gallon cask from Greenock,
whose contents can cunningly draw the icy fangs of a north-
easter, or take the chill out of the clammy mists.
" What want they that a king should have? "



IN A SKYE BOTHY. 57

And once a week the Inverness Courier, like a window sud-
denly opened on the roaring sea, brings a murmur of the
outer world, its politics, its business, its crimes, its literature,
its whole multitudinous and unsleeping life, making the
stillness yet more still. To the Isle'sman the dial face of
the year is not artificially divided, as in cities, by parlia-
mentary session and recess, college terms or vacations, short
and long, by the rising and sitting of courts of justice uor
yet, as in more fortunate soils, by imperceptible gradations
of colored light, the green flowery year deepening into the
sunset of the October hollyhock, the slow reddening of bur-
dened orchards, the slow yellowing of wheaten plains.
Not by any of these, but by the higher and more affecting
element of animal life, with its passions and instincts, its
gladness and suffering ; existence like our own, although in
a lower key, and untouched by its solemn issues ; the same
music and wail, although struck on ruder and uncertain
chords. To the Isle'sman, the year rises into interest
when the hills, yet wet with melted snows, are pathetic
with newly-yeaned lambs, and completes itself through the
successive steps of weaning, fleecing, sorting, fattening, sale,
final departure, and cash in pocket. The shepherd life is
more interesting than the agricultural, inasmuch as it deals
with a higher order of being ; for I suppose apart from
considerations of profit a couchant ewe, with her you eg
one at her side, or a ram, " with wreathed horns superb,"
cropping the herbage, is a more pleasing object to the aes-
thetic sense than a field of mangold-wurzel, flourishing ever
so gloriously. The shepherd inhabits a mountain country,
lives more completely in the open air, and is acquainted
with all phenomena of storm and calm, the thunder-smoke
coiling in the wind, the hawk hanging stationary in the
breathless blue. He knows the faces of the hills, recog-
nizes the voices of the torrents as if they were children of
his own, can unknit their intricate melody, as he lies with



58 ALEXANDER SMITH.

his dog beside him on the warm slope at noon, separating
ione from tone, and giving this to iron crag, that to pebbly
oottom. From long intercourse, every member of his flock
wears to his eye its special individuality, and he recognizes
the countenance of a " wether " as he would the counte-
nance of a human acquaintance. Sheep-farming is a pic-
turesque occupation; and I think a cataract of sheep de-
scending a hillside, now gathering into a mighty pool, now
emptying itself in a rapid stream, the dogs, urged more
6y sagacity than by the shepherd's voice, flying along the
sdges, turning, guiding, changing the shape of the mass,
one of the prettiest sights in the world. But the most
affecting incident of shepherd life is the weaning of the
lambs ; affecting, because it reveals passions in the " fleecy
fuois," the manifestation of which we are accustomed to
consider ornamental in ourselves. From all the lulls men
and dogs drive the flocks down into a fold, or fank, as it
is called ncre, consisting of several chambers or compart-
ments. Into uiese compartments the sheep are huddled,
and then the separation takes place. The ewes are re-
turned to the mountains, the lambs are driven away to
some spot where tne pasture is rich, and wheie they are
watched day and nigiit. Midnight comes with dews and
stars ; the troop is couched peacefully as the cloudlets of
a summer sky. Suddenly they are i-cstless, ill at ease,
goaded by some sore unknown want, jt*d evince a dispo-
sition to scatter in every direction ; out rhe shepherds are
wary, the dogs swift and sure, and attei A little while the
perturbation is allayed, and they rest ag*an. Walk up
now to the fank. The full moon is riding between the
hills, filling the glen with lustre and floating mysterious
glooms. Listen ! You hear it on every sidt* uf you, till
it dies away in the silence of distance, the ntt^y Rachel
weeping for her children. The turf walls of the tetrk are
in shadow, but something seems to be moving thei-e. As



IN A SKYE BOTHY. 59

you approach, it disappears with a quick, short bleat, and
a hurry of tiny hooves. Wonderful mystery of instinct !
Affection all the. more touching that it is so wrapt in dark-
ness, hardly knowing its own meaning ! For nights and
nights the creatures will be found haunting about these
turfen walls, seeking the young that have been taken
away.

But my chief delight here is my friend and neighbor,
Mr. Maclan. He was a soldier in his youth : is now
very old, ninety and odd, I should say. He would
strike one with a sense of strangeness in a city, and among
men of the present generation. Here, however, he creates
no surprise*; he is a natural product of the region, like the
red heather, or the bed of the dried torrent He is a
master of legendary lore. He knows the history of every
considerable family in the island ; he circulates like sap
through every genealogical tree ; he is an enthusiast in
Gaelic poetry, and is fond of reciting compositions of native
bards, his eyes lighted up, and his tongue moving glibly
over the rugged clots of consonants. He has a servant
cunning upon the pipes, and, dwelling there for a week, I
heard Ronald often wandering near the house, solacing
himself with their music ; now a plaintive love-song, now
a coronach for chieftain borne to his grave, now a battle
march, the notes of which, melancholy and monotonous at
first, would all at once soar into a higher strain, and then
hitrry and madden as beating time to the footsteps of the
charging clan. I am the fool of association ; and the tree
under which a king has rested, the stone in which a banner
was planted on the morning of some victorious or disas-
trous day, the house in which some great man first saw the
light, are to me the sacredest things. This slight, gray,
keen -eyed man the scabbard sorely frayed now, the blade
sharp and bright as ever gives me a thrill like an old
coin with its half obliterated effigy, a Druid stone on a



60 ALEXANDER SMITH.

moor, a stain of blood on the floor of a palace. He stands
before me a living figure, and history groups itself behind
by way of background. He sits at the same board with
me, arid yet he lifted Moore at Corunna, and saw the gal-
lant dying eyes flash up with their last pleasure when the
Highlanders charged past. He lay down to sleep in the
light of Wellington's watch-fires in the gorges of the piny
Pyrenees ; around him roared the death thunders of Water-
loo. There is a certain awfulness about very old men ;
they are amongst us, but not of us. They crop out of the
living soil and herbage of to-day, like rocky strata bearing
marks of the glacier or the wave. Their roots strike
deeper than ours, and they draw sustenance from an earlier
layer of soil. They are lonely amongst the young ; they
cannot form new friendships, and are willing to be gone.
They feel the " sublime attractions of the grave " ; for the
soil of churchyards once flashed kind eyes on them,
heard with them the chimes at midnight, sang and clashed
the brimming goblet with them ; ami the present Tom and
Harry are as nothing to the Tom and Harry that swag-
gered about and toasted the reigning belles seventy years
ago. We are accustomed to lament the shortness of life ;
but it is wonderful how long it is notwithstanding. Often a
single life, like a summer twilight, connects two historic
days. Count back four lives, and King Charles is kneeling
on the scaffold at Whitehall. To hear Mad an speak, one
could not help thinking in this way. In a short run across
the mainland with him this summer, we reached Culloden
Moor. The old gentleman with a mournful air for he is
a great Jacobite, and wears the, Prince's hair in a ring
pointed out the burial-grounds of the clans. Struck with
his manner, I inquired how he came to know their red
resting-places. As if hurt, he drew himself up, laid his
hand on my shoulder, saying, " Those who put them in told
me." Heavens, how a century and odd years collapsed,



IX A SKYE BOTHY. 61

and the bloody field, the battle-smoke not yet cleared
away, and where Cumberland's artillery told the clansmen
sleeping in thickest swaths, unrolled itself from the
horizon down to my very feet ! For a whole evening he
will sit and speak of his London life ; and I cannot help
contrasting the young officer, who trod Bond Street witli
powder in his hair at the end of last century, with the old
man living in the shadow of Blavin now.

Dwellers in cities have occasionally seen a house that
has the reputation of being haunted, and heard a ghost story
told. Most of them have knowledge of the trumpet-blast
that sounds when a member of the Airlie family is about
to die. Some few may have heard of the Irish gentleman
who, seated in the London opera-house on the night his
brother died, heard above the clash of the orchestra and the
passion of the singers, the shrill warning keen of the banshee,
an evil omen always to him and his. City people laugh
when these stories are told, even although the blood should
run chill the while. Here, one is steeped in a ghostly at-
mosphere : men walk about here gifted with the second
sight. There has been something weird and uncanny about
the island for some centuries. Douglas, on the morning of
Otterbourne, according to the ballad, was shaken unto super-
stitious fears :

" But I hae dreamed a dreary dream,

Beyond the Isle of Skye ;
I saw a dead man win a fight,

And I think that man was I."

Then the island is full of strange legends of the Norwe-
gian times and earlier, legends it might be worth Mr.
Dasent's while to take note of, should he ever visit the rainy
Hebrides. One such legend, concerning Ossian and his
poems, struck me a good deal. Near Mr. Maclan's place
is a ruined castle, a mere hollow shell of a building, Dun-
Bcaith by name, built in Fingalian days by the chieftain



02 - ALEXANDER SMITH.

Cuclmllin, and so called in honor of his wife. The pile
crumbles over the sea on a rocky headland bearded by
gray green lichens. The place is quite desolate, and sel-
dom visited. The only sounds heard there are the sharp
whistle of the salt breeze, the bleat of a strayed sheep, the
cry of wheeling sea-birds. Maclan and myself sat one sum-
mer day on the ruined stair. The sea lay calm and bright
beneath, its expanse broken only by a creeping sail. Across
the loch rose the great red lull, in the shadow of which
Boswell got drunk ; on the top of which is perched the
Scandinavian woman's cairn. And out of the bare blue
heaven, down on the ragged fringe of the Coolin hills, flowed
a great white vapor gathering in the sunlight in mighty
fleece on fleece. The old gentleman was the narrator, and
the legend goes as follows : The castle was built by Cu-
chullin and his Fingalians in a single night. The chief-
tain had many retainers, was a great hunter, and terrible
in war. Every night at feast the minstrel Ossian sang his
exploits. Ossian, on one occasion, in wandering among the
hills, was struck by sweet strains of music that seemed to
issue from a green knoll on which the sun shone tempt-
ingly. He sat down to listen, and was lulled asleep by
the melody. He had no sooner fallen asleep than the knoil
opened, and he beheld the under-world of the fairies. That
afternoon and the succeeding night he spent in revelry,
and in the morning he was allowed to return. Again the
music sounded, again the senses of the minstrel were steeped
in forgetfulness. And on the sunny knoll he awoke a gray-
haired man ; for in one short fairy afternoon and evening
had been crowded a hundred of our human years. In his
absence, the world had entirely changed, the Fingalians
were extinct, and the dwarfish race, whom we call men,
were possessors of the country. Longing for companion-
ship, Ossian married the daughter of a shepherd, and in
process of time a little girl was born to him. Years passed



IN A SKYE BOTHY. 63

on ; his wife died, and his daughter, woman grown now,
married a. pious man, for the people were Christianized
by this time, called, from his love of psalmody, Peter
of the Psalms. Ossian, blind with age, went to reside with
his daughter and her husband. Peter was engaged all
day in hunting, and when lie came home at evening, and
when the lamp was lighted, Ossian, sitting in a warm
corner, was wont to recite the wonderful songs of . iis
youth, and to celebrate the mighty battles and hunting
Teats of the big-boned Fingalians. To these songs Peter
of the Psalms gave attentiye ear, and being something of
a peuman >% carefully inscribed them in a book. One day
Peter had been more than usually successful in the chase,
and brought home on his shoulders the carcass of a huge
stag. Of this stag a leg was dressed for supper, and when
it was picked bare, Peter triumphantly inquired of Ossian,
" In the Fingalian days you speak about, killed you ever
a stag so large as this ? " Ossian balanced the bone in
his hand ; then, sniffing intense disdain, replied, " This
bone, big as you tln'nk it, could be dropped into the hollow
of a Fingalian blackbird's leg." Peter of the Psalms, en-
raged at what he conceived an unconceivable crammer on
the part of his father-in-law, started up, swearing that he
would not ruin his soul by preserving any more of his
lying songs, and flung the volume in the fire ; but his wife
darted forward and snatched it up, half-charred, from the
embers. At this conduct on the part of Peter, Ossian
groaned in spirit, and wished to die, that he might be
saved from the envy and stupidities of the little people,
whose minds were as stunted as their bodies. When he
went to bed he implored his ancient gods for he was
a sad heathen to resuscitate, if but for one hour, the
hounds, the stags, and the blackbirds of his youth, that he
might astonish and confound the unbelieving Peter. His
prayers done, he fell on slumber, and just before dawn a



64 ALEXANDER SMITH.

weight upon his breast awoke him. To his great joy, he
found that his prayers were answered, for upon his breast
was crouched his favorite hound. He spoke to it, and the
faithful creature whimpered and licked his face. Swiftly
he called his little grandson, and they went out with the
hound. When they came to the top of an eminence, Ossian
said, " Put your fingers in your ears, little one, else I
will make you deaf for life." The boy put his fingers in
his ears, and then Ossian whistled so loud that the whole
world rang. He then asked the child if he saw anything.
' k O, such large deer ! " said the child. " But a small herd,
by the sound of it," said Ossian ; u we will let that herd
pass." Presently the child called out, ' k 0, such large
deer!" Ossian bent his ear to the ground to catch the
sound of their coming, and then, as if satisfied, let slip
the hound, who speedily tore down seven of the fattest.
When the animals were skinned and laid in order, Ossian
went towards a large lake, in the centre of which grew a
remarkable bunch of rushes. He waded into the lake,
tore up the rushes, and brought to light the great Finga-
lian kettle, which had lain there for more than a century.
Returning to their quarry, a fire was kindled ; the kettle
containing the seven carcasses was placed thereupon ; and
soon a most savory smell was spread abroad upon all the
winds. When the. animals were stewed, after the approve. I
fashion of his ancestors, Ossian sat down to his repa. t.
Now as, since his sojourn with the fames, he had never
enjoyed a sufficient meal, it was his custom to gather up
the superfluous folds of his stomach by wooden splints,
nine in number. As he now fed and expanded, splint
after splint was thrown away, till at last, when the kettle
was emptied, he lay down perfectly satisfied, and silent as
ocean at the full of tide. Recovering himself, he gathered
all the bones together, set fire to them, till the black
smoke which arose darkened the heaven. " Little one,"



IN A SKYE BOTHY. 65

then said Ossian, " go up to the knoll, and tell me if you
see anything." '" A great bird is flying hither," said the
child; and immediately the great Fingalian blackbird
alighted at the feet of Ossian, who at once caught and
throttled it. The fowl was carried home, and was in the
evening dressed for supper. After it was devoured, Ossian
called for the stag's thigh-bone \shk.h had been the original
cause of quarrel, and, before the face of the astonished and
convicted Peter of the Psalms, dropped it in the hollow of
the blackbird's leg. Ossian died on the night of his tri-
umph, and the only record of his songs is the volume which
Peter in his rage threw into the fire, and from which, when
half consumed, it was rescued by his wife.

I am to stay with Mr. Maclan to-night. A wedding has
taken place up among the hills, and the whole party have
been asked to make a night of it. The mighty kitchen has
been cleared for the occasion ; torches are stuck up ready
to be lighted ; and I ab-eady hear the first mutterings of
the bagpipe's storm of sound. The old gentleman wears
a look of brightness and hilarity, and vows that he will
lead off the first reel with the bride. Everything is pre-
pared ; and even now the bridal party are coming down
the steep hill road. I must go out to meet them. To-mor-
row I return to my bothy, to watch the sunny mists congre-
gating on the crests of Blavin in radiant billow on billow,
and on which the level heaven seems to lean.



RUINS.

BY JAMES GATES PERCIVAL.



EARTH is a waste of ruins ; so I deemed,
When the broad sun was sinking in the sea
Of sand that rolled around Palmyra. Night
Shared with the dying day a lonely sky,
The canopy of regions void of life,
And still as one interminable tomb.
The shadows gathered on the desert, dark
And darker, till alone one purple arch
Marked the far place of setting. All above
Was purely azure, for no moon in heaven
Walked in her brightness, and with snowy light
Softened the deep intensity, that gave
Such awe unto the blue serenity
Of the high throne of gods, the dwelling-place
Of suns and stars, which are to us as gods,
The fountains of existence and the seat
Of all we dream of glory. Dim and vast
The ruins stood around me, temples, fanes,
Where the bright sun was worshipped, where the} gave
Homage to Him who frowns in storms, and rolls
The desert like an ocean, where they bowed
Unto the queen of beauty, she in heaven
Who gives the night its loveliness, and smiles
Serenely on the drifted waste, and lends



RUINS. 67

A silver softness to the ridgy wave
Where the dark Arab sojourns, and with tales
Of love and beauty wears the tranquil night
In poetry away, her light the while
Falling upon him, as a spirit falls,
Dove-like or curling down in flame, a star
Sparkling amid his flowing locks, or dews
That melt in gold, and steal into the heart,
Making it one enthusiastic glow.,
As if the God were present, and his voice
Spake on the eloquent lips that pour abroad
A gush of inspiration, bright as waves
Swelling around Aurora's car, intense
"With passion as the fire that ever flows
In fountains on the Caspian shore, and full
As the wide-rolling majesty of Nile.

Over these temples of an age of wild
And dark belief, and yet magnificent
In all that strikes the senses, beautiful
In the fair forms they knelt to, and the domes
And pillars which upreared them, full of life
In their poetic festivals, when youth
Gave loose to all its energy, in dance,
And song, and every charm the fancy weaves
In the soft twine of cultured speech, attuned
In perfect concord to the full-toned lyre :
When nations gathered to behold the pomp
That issued from the hallowed shrine in choirs
Of youths, who bounded to the minstrelsy
Of tender voices, and all instruments
Of ancient harmony, in* solemn trains
Bearing the votive offerings, flowing horns
Of plenty wreathed with flowers, and gushing o'er
With the ripe clusters of the purple vine,



68 JAMES GATES PERCIVAL.

The violet of the fig, the scarlet flush
Of granates peeping from the parted rind,
The citron shining through its glossy leaves
In burnished gold, the carmine veiled in down,
Like mountain snow, on which the living stream
Flowed from Astarte's minion, all that hang
In Eastern gardens blended, while the sheaf
Nods with its loaded ears, and brimming bowls
Foam with the kindling element, the joy
Of banquet, and the nectar that inspires
Man -with the glories of a heightened power
To feel the touch of beauty, and combine
The scattered forms of elegance, till high
Rises a magic vision, blending all
That we have seen of glory, such as drew
Assembled Greece to worship, when the form,
Who gathered all its loveliness, arose
Dewy and blushing from the parent foam,
Than which her tint was fairer, and with hand
That seemed of living marble parted back
Her raven locks, and upward looked to Heaven,
Smiling to see all Nature bright and calm ;
Over these temples, whose long colonnades
Are parted by the hand of time, and fall
Pillar by pillar, block by block, and strew
The ground in shapeless ruin, night descends
Unmingled, and the many stars shoot through
The gaps of broken walls, and glance between
The shafts of tottering columns, marking out
Obscurely, on the dark blue sky, the form
Of Desolation, who hath made these piles
Her home, and, sitting with her folded wings,
Wraps in her dusty robe the skeletons
Of a once countless multitude, whose toil
Reared palaces and theatres, and brought



RUINS. 69

All the fair forms of Grecian art to give
Glory unto an island girt with sands
As barren as the ocean, where the grave
And stately Doric marked the solemn fane
Where wisdom dwelt, and on the fairer shrine
Of beauty sprang the light Ionian, wreathed
With a soft volute, whose simplicity
Becomes the deity of loveliness,
Who with her snowy mantle, and her zone
Woven with all attractions, and her locks
Flowing as Nature bade them flow, compels
The sterner Powers to hang upon her smiles.
And tifere the grand Corinthian lifted high
Its flowery capital, to crown the porch
Where sat the sovereign of their hierarchy,
The monarch armed with terror, whose curled locks
Shaded a brow of thought and firm resolve,
Whose eye, deep sunk, shot out its central fires,
To blast and wither all who dared confront
The gaze of highest power ; so sat their kings
Enshrined in palaces, and when they came
Thundering on their triumphal cars, all bright
With diadem of gold, and purple robe
Flashing with gems, before their rushing train
Moving in serried columns fenced in steel,
The herd of slaves obsequious sought the dust,
And gazed not as the mystic pomp rolled by.
Such were thy monarchs, Tadmor ! now thy streets
Are silent, and thy walls o'erthrown, no voice
Speaks through the long dim night of years, to tell
These were once peopled dwellings ; I could dream
Some sorcerer in his moonlight wanderings reared
These wonders in an hour of sport, to mock
The stranger with the show of life, and send
Thought through the mist of ages, in the search



70 JAMES GATES PERCIVAL.

Of nations who are now no more, who lived

Erst in the pride of empire, ruled and swayed

Millions in their supremacy, and toiled

To pile these monuments of wealth and skill,

That here the wandering tribe might pitch its tents

Securer in their empty courts, and we,

"Who have the sense of greatness, low might kneel

To ancient mind, and gather from the torn

And scattered fragments visions of the power,

And splendor, and sublimity of old,

Mocking the grandest canopy of heaven,

And imaging the pomp of gods below.



A REVELATION OF CHILDHOOD.

(FROM A LETTER.)
BY MRS. JAMESON.

I WILL here put together some recollections of



Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 5 of 66)