John Macculloch.

The Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, containing descriptions of their scenery and antiquities, with an account of the political history ... present condition of the people, &c. ... founded on a series of annual journeys between the years 1811 and 1821 ... in letters to Sir Walter Scott, bart (Volume 1) online

. (page 15 of 37)
Online LibraryJohn MaccullochThe Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, containing descriptions of their scenery and antiquities, with an account of the political history ... present condition of the people, &c. ... founded on a series of annual journeys between the years 1811 and 1821 ... in letters to Sir Walter Scott, bart (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the same every where, and who are a modern race. Such
few warriors as are petrified on the ancient tombs, bear
no marks of philibeg or tartan ; their dresses and arms
resemble those of the Lowlanders of the same age; but
none of these either are of ancient date. The multitude,
at the beginning*, had probably as much dress as the
ancient Britons or the Chippewas ; and they do not
seem to have had much more for a long time afterwards.
A web or blanket of some kind, forming philibeg and
plaid at once, was probably the whole investment. In-
deed there a*e old people in Airdnaniurchan and Morven,


who pretend to have heard from their parents, that, even
in comparatively recent times, when the Mac Donalds
came to Ardtorinish castle, their followers had no other
dress than a dirty blanket.

Mr. Eustace, who is a good hater of every thing
French, wanted to iutroduce the Highland modern dress
at court. Assuredly the French coat and waistcoat, with
its bag and the rest of the offal that belongs to it, is as
ugly a dress as was ever invented ; and the full
plumed, petticoated, plaided, pursed, buckled, pistol-
dirk-and-sworded (as Homer would say) dress, is a very
showy and a very picturesque one. The King may adopt
it if he likes ; or any other that he does like. But he
must not adopt it for Mr. Eustace's reason ; as it never
was the dress of any court, nor of any king, nor of any
Scottish noble ; nor, I believe, I may safely add, of any
people. Charles Edward wore it, only out of compli-
ment to his Highland army ; and Kemble rigs up Banquo
and Macbeth in it, because he knows no better. The
gentlemen who constitute the Celtic club and other
clubs, wear it because it is handsome, or because they
think themselves handsome, or for other reasons; and
all these reasons, be they what they may, are very good

But if we are to be dressed up theatrically, I do not
see why we should not go back to the times of our
Henrys and Edwards, or even to that of the Charleses.
There is abundance of splendour and beauty too to be
found, without stripping ourselves half naked to adopt a
dress which is not that of ancient England, or even of
ancient Scotland. There are historical recollections at-
tached to these, that may well heat our minds, as their
quilted doublets, and hose, and cloaks, and boots, and
gloves, and hats, and caps, and feathers, would our car-


cases. Against this, what do the Highlands offer us :
absolutely nothing. If the plaid and petticoat, and the
vile thrum cap, are more beautiful than all the dresses
from Edward the Confessor downwards, then it can only
be answered in the words of the vulgarest of proverbs.
Why the Highlanders should claim to attend balls and
dinners in arms, when they are not soldiers, no one
knows ; and if that were, we should smile now to see the
Duke of Wellington at Almack's in the uniform of the
Blues; pistols, carbine, broadsword, cross buff belts and
all. Indeed, if this is to be the system, there is no good
reason why my Lord A, and the Duke of B, and the
Marquis of C, and not only these, but all the attorneys
and merchants' clerks of London, should not walk about
Bond Street in plate mail, why they should not make
love in helm and hauberk, dance the queue de chat in
cuisses, and ride up and down Rotten Row with two-
handed swords and matchlocks, or make their way
through Fop's Alley with a morning star or a half pike.

But the advocates of the kilt, not content with wear-
ing it themselves in a good warm room, once a year, over
a bottle of port, want to compel the unfortunate High-
landers to do the same, all the year round ; in the rain, in
the snow, in the storm, on a horse, in a boat, over hill,
over dale, thorough furze, thorough briar, thorough flood,
thorough — bog. This is somewhat hard : dictating to other
persons' sensibilities, while, like the gentlemen of Eng-
land, they themselves live at home at ease. That this is
absurd, is a conclusion which, like a late Lowland critic,
you may make if you please, as I never countenance
such hard words ; thoughtless is a better phrase : for it
is really nothing worse.

That same, somewhat rough critic, asserts also that
there is something metaphysical and refined in this at-


tempt: that it proves these worthy patriots to have
studied their humanities, and that it is but a copy, or
rather, a reverse of a former proceeding. Lord Hard-
wicke stripped off the petticoat and crammed the people
into breeches, that he might uncelt them. They are now
to be rekilted and recelted ; and when they have become
casehardened with a little practice, heaven knows, as Mr.
Speaker Onslow said, what the consequences will be.
But this, he remarks, is only the beginning of a reforma-
tion ; which ought to proceed from kilts to clans, and
from poverty and peace to starvation and war, till the
Highlanders shall once more " rise beyond all Greek,
beyond all Roman fame :" when they shall become the
admiration and terror of the world ; the bugbears of
George the fourth, and of such unlucky farmers as hap-
pen to have cattle near the pass of Ballybrough ; or any
other pass.

Happy must be such a reformation, or retrogradation
rather; if our critic is correct: yet from some unknown
cause or other, the project does not take, has not taken,
and is jiot likely to take ; to the great discomfiture of the
Society for the suppression of breeches. Donald, it is
said by this illnatured person, has found out that, besides
breeches vice kilts, and heat vice cold, there are many
other petty consequences resulting from his emancipation
out of the servitude of great chiefs, which are not to be
despised. Though not deeply read in the classics, he is
supposed to know the meaning of delirant reges, and of
what follows. He is said also to have discovered, not
only that his interest is, in a good many points, different
from that of his chiefs now, but that it was so in the
olden time ; and to smile in secret at those who are for
returning him to as much of his original barbarism and
discomfort as they can, solely to gratify some picturesque


fancies of their own. If these societies of ardent High-
landers, who, by the bye, are not Highlanders at all, nine
times out of ten, but very good-natured quiet gentlemen,
want to restore things to their old condition, to have
kilts, and brogues, and clans, and tails, and bards, and
gillies, and henchmen, and caterans at command, and
pit and gallows, they had better begin, the same com-
mentator remarks, by selling or eating all their sheep,
giving up their rents, living on their estates, and feeding
their people with dirty puddings, imrich, shins, livers,
and lights, from the ends of long tables in narrow dark
stone halls.

It is not worth this critic's while to be serious in such
matters : since assuredly these very worthy men are not
serious themselves. All that need be said, is, that no
man in his senses will go to sea in a kilt, or mount a horse
in one, or — but why trouble ourselves any further.
There is a natural progress in all mundane matters,
which force may retard, or modify, or divert, but which it
never yet stopped. Such is the conversion of kilts into
breeches, of bare feet into shoed ones ; with many other
matters in many other places, times, and countries than
the Highlands. But now for a postcript.

I said some time ago that there are critics who will not
allow that the Highlanders could have woven a tartan two
centuries back ; and as I know not who can controvert
these writers better than he who has examined all the
evidence, and does not care what is established, provided
it be the truth, here is another argument on the other
sijde. Livy informs us that the great Gaul whom Manlius
fought, was dressed in a vestis versicolor ; and what can
that possibly be but a tartan. Diodorus, who also lived
rather more than two centuries ago, says that the Braccse
were made of various colours : and as these were worn


by the Gauls of one division, that district, or Transalpine
Gaul, was also termed Gallia Braccata. I wish the Gens
togata had told us more distinctly what were the braccse
of the Gens braccata. It is no matter, however, for the
main stay of my hypothesis. Bracca is evidently derived
from the Celtic breachan, variegated, and the Gauls were
Celts ; and therefore, whether breeches or petticoats, the
braccsR were tartan, and nothing else. Tartan trews, it is
likely : and, to see how etymologies come round, breeches,
though they should be made of black satin or pea-
green kerseymere, or corduroy, or buckskin, or nankin, or
everlasting, are derived from tartan, or breachan, perhaps
from a tartan plaid; just as the rapid motion of posting
with four or six horses, traces its origin to an immoveable
wooden post. I hope the Celtic or Keltic (Celt quasi
Kelt or Kilt) nation, the Gens petticoatata in short, will
be pleased at the antiquity with which I have thus at-
tempited, even in subversion and defiance of Lowland
critics, to clothe the naked posterity of the present Gael.
Except in St. Kilda, I have never seen the original
and true corrane,or brogue of raw hide, which, it is some-
what remarkable, is still in use in the Isle of Mann. In
St. Kilda, it is found useful among the cliffs, from the
hold which it affords to the foot ; but it is a perishable
and barbarous contrivance, not much superior to the well-
used horny sole itself. The brogue of the present day,
is a shoe of tanned leather, made in the usual form, but
with a single sole, and open at the side seams for the
purpose of giving free passage to the water, which must
unavoidably enter it from above, in wet ground, or in
boats, and which thus finds a ready exit without incom-
moding the walker. They are made of skins tanned by
the natives themselves, commonly by the aid of tormentil
roots ; and sometimes dyed in the water of ferruginous


bogs or springs. It is extremely rare to see a man bare-
footed ; and even that only happens on some specific
occasions, not habitually in any individual ; but it is
equally rare to see women with shoes, except when in
full dress, on Sundays, or on the borders of the Low-
lands. Even among females, however, their use is fast
creeping in; but the children of both sexes are bare
legged even to an advanced age, not only among the
poorer classes, but also in families of condition. It is
not long since domestic female servants, even in Edin-
burgh, as you well know, paddled about their duties
unshod : the fashion is still to be found by those who will
seek it, and it must be confessed that it is somewhat re-
pulsive to southern feelings. But out of doors, and in
the Highlands, it adds much to the general picturesque
effect of the female attire, which consists of a short
jacket and shorter petticoat; and as the limbs of the fair
sex here are well turned, far different from those of the
Welsh women, which seem as if they had been shaped
in a lathe, a painter will be sorry for the day when the
progress of improvement shall have swept away this dis-
tinction. I cannot equally praise the mode of dressing
the hair ; the smoothed locks of all hues, drawn tightly
back so as to stretch the face till it shines, and secured
by a huge black comb, form a termination to the general
effect of the figure which is far from picturesque. In
the Long Island, chiefly, though it is found elsewhere,
there is a head-dress consisting of a dirty coloured hand-
kerchief tied round the head ; the effect of which is even
worse than that of the comb or snood, as there is no at-
tempt to give it a pleasing form. But enough, for the
present, of tailoring and millinery.



By pursuing the road along- the side of Loch Cateran
and crossing- its waters, it is easy to reach the upper part
of Loch Lomond, at a ferry which terminates that branch
of the old military road which communicated with the
garrison of Inversnaid, long- since abandoned. But it
offers few temptations; except to those who may wish to
visit this wild country on account of its historical recol-
lections, or to examine a cave on this remote part of Loch
Lomond, said to have been one of the retreats of the
noted Rob Roy. The same road will conduct to Aber-
foyle, and there is also a road, across the hills, to this
latter place : practicable, I must not say more, even for
gigs, but in no respect interesting. The ordinary route
to this village from Stirling, will introduce the traveller
to the pleasing, though tame. Loch of Monteith, rendered
additionally attractive by the ruins on its island, and by
the magnificent trees which overshadow it.

As far as the village of Aberfoyle, this pass into the
Highlands is not very interesting; but some wild and
pleasing scenes will be found in its neighbourhood ;
at the Duchra, and at other places which I need not spe-
cify. The great attraction, as I need scarcely say, is
Loch Ard ; Loch Chon, connected with it by the same
river, being rarely visited, although not inferior to it in
picturesque beauty, however differing in style. When I
say that Loch Ard is a pleasing lake, it is the utmost


praise which it seems to deserve; having very little de-
cision of character, and scarcely presenting* any variety
of scenery. The best view of it is the first that is obtained ;
where a small portion only of the lake, nearly separated
from the main body of the water by a wooded promon-
tory, is seen; a bright and placid basin imbedded in
surrounding woods, over which rises the here graceful
form of Ben Lomond. Passing this point, amid dense
coppices of oak, the whole lake is shortly displayed ;
bounded on the west by a range of hill, of no decided
features, terminated by the same mountain ; but more
open on the east, where the road is conducted along the
shore, and where there is a succession of farms and of
scattered cultivation, extending onwards to Loch Chon.
A low rocky promontory, advancing so close to the water
as barely to give room to the road between them, is the
only very remarkable object on this shore : nor, except-
ing that, does any material change take place, either in
the foreground or in the general aspect of the lake, to
produce any other picture than that which first meets the
eye. If this be the narrow pass intended in the skir-
mish described in Rob Roy, a question which you can
probably answer much better than any one, it has now
acquired an interest similar to that of the Lady's island
in Loch Cateran. If Ithaca, Segovia, Bagdad, the Sierra
Moreua, and Datchet Mead, are classic ground, and if we
cannot visit without interest the scenes of those fictions
which have, for centuries, formed the delight of youth
and age, neither can we now easily contemplate the pass
of Aberfoyle or the wilds of Loch Cateran without view-
ing them through that atmosphere of a new enchantment
which has been lately spread over them.

The character of Loch Chon, including its miniature
associate Loch Dhu, is utterly distinct from that of Loch

VOL. I. o


Ard, and, thougli small, it is a very picturesque lake ;
rocky and wild, with bold and steep boundaries ; pre-
senting scenes where the surrounding land is of more
importance than the water, but wanting in that high de-
gree of ornament, derived from scattered wood, which
we have so lately parted with. There is little temptation
to pursue this road any further towards Inversnaid, or to
follow the wild country tracks which lead to the source of
the Forth and to the summit of Ben Lomond. This is
true, at least, for those who are strangers to this country :
as what might be gained by taking this route, is far more
than compensated by the beauties of the road along the
eastern shore of Loch Lomond to the same point, which
would thus be lost. Curiosity alone may be, to many, a
sufficient temptation to trace the springs of the Forth ;
but this river acquires little beauty till it arrives near to
Aberfoyle, to join the water issuing from Loch Ard, its
second principal source. Nor, though thus originating
in the Highlands, is it long a Highland river ; losing its
claims near the pass of Aberfoyle, as its first great coU'-
tributor, the Teith, does at Callander.

But whatever enchantment that pen of yours, whether
wielded by yourself or your shadow, may have thrown
over these scenes, there is a compensation of evil in it, to
us who have lived in other years. In the early days
when I wandered first among these wild and lovely re-
gions, there was an old romance in every thing', in the
lakes, in the hills, in the woods, and in the streams, as
there was in the tales of former years that were repeated
in every house ; a charm, gilding alike the present and
the past, causing the heart to beat at the name of the
clans and heroes of old, brightening- every blue moun-
tain and hoary rock, and breathing from every whispering
birch, and from every billow that curled on the pebbly


shore. But the mystic portal has been thrown open, and
the mob has rushed in, dispersing all these fairy visions,
and polluting every thing with its unhallowed touch.
Barouches and gigs, cocknies and fishermen and poets,
Glasgow weavers and travelling haberdashers, now
swarm in every resting place, and meet us at every
avenue. As Rob Roy now blusters at Covent-garden
and the Lyceum, and as Aberfoyle is gone to Wapping,
so Wapping and the Strand must also come to Aberfoyle.
The green-coated fairies have packed up their alls and
quitted the premises, and the Uriskins only caper now
in your verses. If I have lived to see these changes, I
must be thankful that I lived before them ; and 1 may be
thankful too that I have been able to wander where the
sound of Cockayne, which has gone out into all lands,
is yet unknown. But the circle of pollution is spreading
fast, to the far north and the remote west; and as the old
Highlander said when the law had come to Tain, I also
may say, " take care of yourselves to the north," the
troops of Cockayne are let loose and will soon be upon
you. Time was, when 1 strayed about these wild scenes,
and, as I listened to the endless tales of Rob Roy and his
Mac Gregors, could imagine myself glorying in past
times, as if I also had been sprung from the children of
the Mist. But now they have found their way to every
circulating library, Brighton and Margate flaunt in tar-
tan, the citizen from Pudding Lane talks of Loch Hard;
and recollections of Miss Stephens, Diana Vernon, and
Listen, with the smell and smoke of gas lights, and cries
of " Music, Off, Off,'' confound the other senses, and re-
call base realities Avliere there was once a delicious

These are among the things which prevent us, who
have fallen upon these evil days, from now viewing ancient



Highland manners, and listening to ancient Highland
stories, and entering into all the spirit of clanship and ro-
mance and wild chivalry, as many would fain flatter
themselves they still do. We look to the dark backward
and abyss of time, in search of all these illusions, in vain.
The mist has rolled away ; and the provoking rays of
provoking reason and truth, display past images in all
their native shapes and hues, even where they have not,
as here, lost their magic, by intimacy and by the fatal
effects of vulgar associations. Who can even hope to tell
a Highland tale, in the teeth of such company as this.
You talk of Rob Roy's cave, or of Inversnaid, or Ben
Lomond, and your hearer immediately figures to himself
a few feet of painted canvas and twenty-four fiddlers.
You speak of a creagh, but the mysterious vague is over
and past, and there arises to the eye, a drove of bullocks
pricking in to Smithfield market. So I must even strip
poor Rob and his oppressed clan as naked as ever the
law did, since I dare not pass over such important per-
sonages, and exhibit them to you in the style of the New-
gate calendar.

Of the antiquity of this clan, whatever difficulty there
may be in deriving it from Alpin or any of his succes-
sors, there can be no doubt. It is quite sufficient that
it was opulent and powerful in the days of James HI,
and some time before that period. To ascertain their
ancient possessions, is not a very easy matter, that is, in
terms of the law ; as they seem to have held some lands
allodially, if this phrase is allowable, and others, as
branches, or dependants, or vassals. Of the latter class,
were their possessions in this district ; the former ex-
tended from Taymouth to Glenorchy, and are said also
to have included the rich and fertile valley of Glen Lyon.
I do not find that the traditions about their early history


are very consistent ; and I conjecture that you have ex-
perienced the same difficulties. Whether they were more
lawless or ferocious than the other clans who were, in a
similar manner, seated near the Lowland border, does
not appear; but they were the most conspicuous sufferers
from the statute of 1581, authorizing private reprisals on
any predatory clans, and which was, of course, frequently
made a pretext, as I have noticed in the historical sketch,
for private feuds and unfounded aggressions. Under this
precious mode of ensuring the energy of the laws, the
Campbells proceeded to levy war on the Mac Gregors,
weakened at that moment by their contests with the
Mac Nabs; and having slain the heir of their Chief,
Mac Gregor a Ruari, or Roderick, celebrated in song,
their principal possessions fell into the power of this ris-
ing, though already important clan. The statute of 1587
thus, virtually, rendered them outlaws ; since, condemned
now to live by depredation, they were totally disabled
from finding that security for their good conduct which
that law demanded.

Tradition says that they became, now at least, sufficiently
lawless to justify the severity of a proceeding, which, after
all, seems, by its injustice and folly, to have given rise
to their desperate conduct ; and thus, numerous as well
as desperate, and occuping a district almost inaccessible,
in times when roads were unknown and the country more
covered with wood, they were enabled from their fast-
nesses, to carry on a cruel, as well as a predatory, sys-
tem of war on the surrounding clans, and of inroads on
the Lowlands. In 1589, a party belonging to an inferior
leader of the tribe, called Dugald of the Mist, having slain
Drummond, one of the king's rangers, with circumstances
of peculiar cruelty, noticed, in speaking not long ago
of Loch Voil, a writ of fire and sword was issued against


them, and was carried into effect with considerable
slaughter. Still, however, unconqnered, they contrived
to fight the celebrated battle of Glen Fruin in 1602, in
which the Colquhouns were nearly exterminated ; while
their chief, Alister of Glenstrae, having surrendered on
terms, was treacherously hanged.

The clan was now formally outlawed ; their very
name being proscribed, and the adoption of it made a
felony. Thus, hunted like wild beasts, and executed
without trial, they retreated in small bands to the most
inaccessible parts of that difficult country which sur-
rounds these lakes and Loch Cateran ; becoming the
very banditti from which that lake seems to have derived
its name. Among these fastnesses, they seem to have
been a good deal disturbed by Cromwell's soldiers ; and
they were also materially kept in check by the garrison
established at Inversnaid, which, though long aban-
doned, still remains a memorial of past times. Still, they
were far from extirpated ; and, under the same system,
sometimes changing their names as convenience dictated,
to Stuart, Campbell, or Drummond, they continued to
survive, if not as a clan, yet ready again to be united
under any chief who should arise, and whenever circum-
stances should become more favourable. Thus many of
them joined Montrose under these assumed names; and
so valuable were their services thought, that, out of
gratitude as it is said, a virtue for which that personage
was not very particularly distinguished, Charles the second
caused the ancient act of outlawry to be reversed in 1633.
As this act was, however, renewed by William in 1693,
it seems tolerably certain, without a minute enquiry into
particulars, that the former statutes against them must
have been more or less merited, and that the past lenity
had been misplaced. It is indeed certain, that, during

Online LibraryJohn MaccullochThe Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, containing descriptions of their scenery and antiquities, with an account of the political history ... present condition of the people, &c. ... founded on a series of annual journeys between the years 1811 and 1821 ... in letters to Sir Walter Scott, bart (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 37)