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 34 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 34 of 37)
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hills : a forest destroyed ; but still containing many trees,
and even more picturesque than if it had been entire. It
presents also much beautifully wild cultivation, and many
farms of a rural and singular character: while the open-


ings in the wood, and the dispersed trees, produce a
variety of fir scenery quite distinct from that which
occurs at Rothiemurchus or in Mar, The north side of
the lake possesses also a good road, but with far less of
character, and presentins^ nothing remarkable except the
extremely ancient and decrepit, yet picturesque remains
of a birch forest, which appears once to have contained
trees of unusual size. Unfortunately, it has been dis-
covered that birch will make casks for the herring trade ;
and Scotland is thus fast losing the most picturesque of its
trees; and that too which could least be spared, because
nothing- can ever grow again in the same situations.

The traveller or the artist who writes a book of in-
dignation at the sight of a coppice or felled tree, forgets
that we must build ships and houses, and wear boots and
shoes, and that there are some other uses for a tree than
ornament ; that its proprietor did not plant for the public
amusement. But in this case of the birch, the miserable
profit bears no proportion to the general injury, nor even
to that by which the owner himself suflers ; as this de-
struction is often committed on his own ornamental
grounds. That it should ever be replaced is impossible,
for want of enclosures ; while it is a loss even to the
proprietors themselves, by depriving the cattle of a shelter
which is often much wanted.





Thus, in the revolution of things, I have brought
you once more to the end of Loch Rannoch, as I brought
you to it before, from Glenco ; and, to the very field itself
of the battle of Rannoch. But I should be very sorry
indeed to think that either Sandy Mac Donald, or my
astronomical friend, was a specimen of his countrymen.
They are in truth, exceptions, or, at least, specimens of
exceptions : and that justice may be rendered where it is
due, I shall demand your patience on this point a little
longer. Generalization is no less the fault of the vulgar
than of philosophers. Thus all the world agrees that
the Highlanders are the most hospitable and generous
people in the creation. Another party, which is, of
course, out of the world, asserts that they are the greatest
extortioners on the face of the earth. I need not say of
whom the first party consists ; and, as to the latter, the
extramundanes, they are only travellers, and may be de-
spised. So much for hypotheses on national character.
There is a third party, consisting of I know not whom,
that believes neither the one nor the other. The Ba-
conian philosophy directs us to make experiments and
observations, instead of building up theories out of
nothing. A few of these, judiciously selected, are, as all
philosophers know, as good as a thousand.

I once came to anchor in the roadstead of lona, and



there were shirts to be washed ; a base conclusion, you
will say, to a paragraph that begins on Col umba's sacred
isle ; but such vulgar events will happen in every state of
life. The shirts returned in due time ; and, as they
always do in the Highlands, not much whiter than before ;
unironed, unstarched, unannealed ; but not unsmoked.
A seaman was sent on shore to pay the bill, but a violent
dispute arose between Mrs. Mac Phail and her maid; the
former determining to charge two shillings each, and the
maid maintaining- that one was enough. But this, and
many similar events, are matters of commerce: English-
men call it Highland extortion. I have paid worse bills
than this one; though Mrs. Mac Phail's conscience was
among the most capacious: a true example of Adoniram
Byfield's definition ; who says that it is a catskin pouch
to put money in.

A year had scarcely elapsed, and I found myself in
Isla. I had walked, as I thought, enough ; but I had
yet ten miles before me. I had lost my comb. I went
into a shop of all wares, the usual Highland storehouse,
and took up a sixpenny horn utensil of this kind. How
much ? — eighteen pence. I knew I must pay a triple
price, in this country, and therefore was determined to
work the extraordinary shilling out of my chapman in
talk. How else should we learn any thing about the
people and the country. Of course, I was obliged to
give an account of myself in return. " And was I deter-
mined to walk ? — I seemed tired ; — I should have his
horse." I not only got his horse for nothing, but was
treated in his house with three times the overcharged
value of the comb: and, when I returned some time
afterwards, was domiciliated in it for two days, and might
have staid twice as many more. Here is the spirit of
commerce, the artificial graft, vegetating on the radical


generosity of the species. If I had walked out of the
shop straightway, with my comb in my pocket, I should
have ranked Mr. Mac Arthur with Mrs. MacPhail.

I was on an expedition to Sky. Loch Cateran lay in
my way ; two young countrymen were in a boat : I asked
them to row me across ; and this was done. I offered
them half a crown, which was repulsed, with some indig-
nation, but politely expressed: " They did not put me
over for the like of that." I imagine, however, that Eng-
lish communication has improved their manners of late ;
as this was not an adventure of yesterday. I arrived in
due time in Sky. I asked the same question on the shore
of a strait of the same breadth. "Aye, aye, we'll put
ye across, but it's two guineas for the boat." A Ports-
mouth wherry would have done as much for a shilling.
Am I to say that a Highlander is generous, or must I call
him an extortioner; here are irreconcilable facts for an
hypothesis on national character. Montesquieu would
say that it was because the climate of Sky differed from
that of Loch Cateran.

In Arran, I was encumbered with minerals ; and
meeting an idle lout of a boy half asleep on the common,
with an old jade of a pony, offered him two shillings to
carry them two or three miles to a place pointed out.
No ; he would have four. But this is invariable : had I
offered ten it would have been the same : and the boy
and his horse both would have been a bad purchase at
twenty. When I arrived at the place of destination by
another road, he was not there : he had repented perhaps
that he had not asked more, and preferred lounging in
the old way, to gaining four shillings by an hour's exer-
tion. This is common everywhere. Not three hours after,
I hired a boat for three shillings, to cross a piece of
water which a London waterman would have undertaken


for sixpence. The boat was to be launched, as was ob-
vious: and indeed never could, at any period of its ex-
istence, have been used without launching. Yet when
the account was to be settled, there was an additional
demand of three shillings for launching the boat.

Then, to balance all this, I have had my watch re-
paired in Cromarty by an artist whom I could not induce
to name a price or take a fee ; my shoes have been mended
on the same terms at Comrie, and my nether garments
by the Shemus-na-snahdt who keeps the inn at Kinloch
Rannoch. But what is this to Greenock ; where your bag-
gage is pulled and hauled and carried about by boys and
men, who seem never to trouble themselves whether they
get a reward or not. Being somewhat bewildered once
with trunks and such-like things, one man with a knot
on his shoulder, said, " it is a pity to carry them to the
inn, only to bring them down again ; it is putting you to
expense for nothing." We should listen long for such a
speech in London. But this is partly Highland and partly
Lowland : and as I have now and then thrown a stone
at your countrymen south of the " Grampian chain," it
is but fair to give them the praise which is amply their
due. There is a high point of honour among them, as
among the Highlanders, which it is quite delightful to see ;
putting out of question the petty economy of our purses
which it may favour : for it is not the paltry loss of a few
miserable shillings which is the evil from which we ever
suffer, but the odious and fraudulent spirit which accom-
panies the imposture.

At Pluscardine, but Pluscardine is not in the High-
lands, I gave my horse to a woman to hold, who, besides
this, very goodnaturedly supplied me with a chair, and
was abounding in all kinds of civility and attentions.
She was poor enough too: but when I offered her a shil-


ling, she said — No ; that it was a great deal too much,
as she could only earn twopence-halfpenny a day, and
she had only held my horse an hour. As the twelfth part
of twopence-halfpenny was a problem too deep for either
of us to solve, she insisted on threshing out some barley
forhnn; and, in the end, I was obliged to compound
the superfluity of the shilling, by consenting to take a
" spark" of juniper whisky out of her bottle : " vital spark
of heavenly flame." Shillings are seldom so well be-
stowed any where, and certainly rarely better earned in
the Highlands ; but it is due to the virtue of Moray and
Aberdeenshire to say that they are utterly free of the
propensity to extortion, and, if I mistake not, form the
civilest portion of the Scottish population.

There was a rigidity of virtue in the arithmetical con-
scientiousness of my old dame of Pluscardine, which is ex-
cellently amusing. And again, what are we to conclude
about the national character on this point. What, but to
take the amiable side, and allot them the palm of virtue ;
as the noted jockey determined that crop-eared horses
were the best trotters, his own having been thus orna-

As to the hiring of boats in the Highlands, it is at
their weight in gold nearly. Putting aside hyperbole,
however, three days' freight will pay the value of any
boat that swims, if swimming it can be called, half full of
water, as is the fashion, on the west coast. The half of
a board, shoved into the angle of the sharp stern, serves
to remind you that there is no seat. As there is no floor,
your feet are in the water to the ancles ; the remains of
the fish that were caught on the day it was first launched,
are there still ; odorous, but not of violets. A man with-
out a coat and a boy without breeches, pull upon a
couple of oars hung on pins : pretty hard, I admit, if


the machinery is new ; but if old, as is more likely, there
is clanger of their breaking, and you sit in terror; for
what is a two-oared boat with only one oar. If, unfortu-
nately, there is wind, and a sail, that sail is a blanket,
without sheet, haulyard, or tack, and you must steer as
well as you can, yourself, with one of the oars. If the
wind is short, you go all to leeward and nothing forward :
if baffling, you are taken aback and overset: if aft, you
cannot scud, and are pooped and swamped; or else your
sail gibes beyond the power of art to prevent it, and
down you go like cormorants before a musket. Suppos-
ing you escape, you must pay a guinea, or two, as it
happens ; that is, if you have made such a bargain. If
not, and you are sulky, and of true English blood, you
go before the justice : like a travelling poet whom I once
met. The justice was the landlord, and he said, "Ah!
poor fellow — it is hard work:" — and the two guineas
served to pay the rent when term day came round. Such
at least was this poet's conclusion. But the poet reasoned
like the jockey. The fares are often regulated. And
there are boatmen too whom I have paid with pleasure.

If boats are thus, what shall we say about horses. The
value of the beast is five pounds: his annual grass,
possibly, as many shillings; commonly, nothing. If he
has any shoes, there are but two, and he is not, perhaps,
much accustomed, even to these. Halter or bridle, it is
tolerably indifferent which ; but the halter is the softest
in your hand. I have ridden on a quadrupled sack, and
the stirrups were two nooses of rope. This is perhaps
better than a saddle with the flaps curled upwards, which
has undergone all the vicissitudes of rain and fire for
twenty years; an application which neither man nor
horse can bear long. This Bucephalus was hired for the
day, and you rose to mount him at six. He was in the


bill, however ; was chased for a dozen or two of miles
before he could be caught ; arrived at two o'clock, blown,
and more ready to lie down than go on ; and you pay
half a guinea, or a guinea, as it may be, for crawling out
the remainder of a rainy day on him. The guide, who
earns a shilling if he stays at home, that is, if he can
find one to earn, will not walk by your side to bring him
back, without another half guinea ; and, for less than
all this, you might have ridden one of Mr. Fozard's best
hunters to Epsom races.

But these are all matters of commerce again ; and
your commerce is a sad enemy to your generosity, A
man, as Dr. Johnson said of Mr. Thrale, never gives what
he can sell.

It must be owned that the novelty of commercial
profit will cover, or at least mollify some of these sins.
A young trader does not know what to ask, according to
the usual phrase : or, in common parlance, does not know
how to ask enough. The infant tiger is quiet enough
till he has tasted blood. I have tried to excuse my High-
land friends as far as I can ; but I do not find that my
English acquaintances, who have been half drowned, and
have flayed, and altogether cheated, will back me in
this : but that is from their imperfect experience. They
have only seen the worst side, because they are them-
selves a principal cause of the evil. As to the Highland
Lairds themselves, they are no judges in this case. Per-
haps they know nothing about this laudable spoiling of the
Egyptians : possibly they do : and it is not wonderful if,
in the former case, they deny it : in the latter, the sound
policy would be to admit the exceptions, and to claim
for their countrymen, only that general character which
they really deserve.

The narrow line that divides this generosity from this


commerce, is at times amusing enough. I have sent a
sailor on shore for a bottle of milk for breakfast. It has
been a penny — twopence — sixpence — flay, a shilling. I
have drank many a gallon ; it has been forced on me ; for
love. I have eaten, and drank, and slept, and ridden,
and been rowed, for pure love, often; and 1 have done
all this at the expense of those who were ten thousand
times poorer than myself, and to whom I could make no
return ; who scarcely thought they were doing a favour.
And I have praised their generosity ; and hereby it is
praised again. But I have been made to pay, and to
some purpose, for every one of these things ; and all that
I say, is — These individuals are extortionate dogs; but
it is new to them to get money at all, and they know not
yet how to do it with grace and moderation.

But they think too that an Englishman is made of
guineas: and who does not, wherever an Englishman
goes. " Ah ! you are all so rich in England," a High-
lander said to me once ; " there is nobody poor in your
country." If he raises the market on his own country-
men, let them complain of each other. A Highlander in
Sky, not long ago, asked me a guinea for a crystal, I
offered him sixpence. " Ach ! now, it's just a guinea —
it's all the same to you, a guinea or a saxpence." The
following ingenious reasoning was well worth something,
but not what it cost. The captain wanted a sheep. The
sheep was brought in; a candle would have shone through
his flanks, " How much," — " Twenty-five shillings." —
" Twenty-five shillings ! why, I could buy a fat sheep
for this in Falkirk market." — " Aye, so ye would, but
this 'ill be fat too some day, and I canna tak less." One
must not starve for the sake of twenty-five shillings,
which the rogue well knew ; and the sheep produced
ten pounds of uneatable muttop. Within a week after


this, a little farmer, of whom I knew no more than that
I had gone into his house for shelter and had eaten his
dinner, sent me a present of abetter sheep.

And now I leave you to draw your own conclusions ;
for I only undertook to furnish you the materials. But
you will say, not only in this case, but in many others^
that you are puzzled with the irreconcileable features of
the Highlanders, that they have no steady feature, that
their properties are contradictory to each other, and that
your Highland acquaintances differ from me. That is
not unlikely: but you may enquire first how far your
friends are agreed among each other on any of these
points. I have heard no censure on them so severe as
that of their own countrymen : while others again say,
that a Highlander combines all the possible and impossi-
ble virtues that belong to civilized and uncivilized society
together. That they have a large and an enviable share
of good, I verily believe : but we must learn to be reason-
able. Perhaps the truth is not very difficult to hit : the
obscurity all arises from setting out on a false theory;
no unusual source of difficult judgment.

It is necessary, first, for us all to forget that we have
ever read a word on the Highlands : or, if that cannot be,
to recollect, that " tis" more than " sixty years since" the
battle of Culloden, that it is about fifty since Pennant
and Johnson wrote, and that what was fading then is
nearly vanished now: there is much of it indeed that is
vanished altogether. In the next place, the term High-
lands is now, scarcely even a geographical distinction;
the shade by which it unites with the Lowlands, is evan-
escent and undefinable ; and, every year, the colours
blend more, and the neutral tint widens around the border
that once separated them. The term Highlander is still
less definite : the metaphysical gradation is nearly imper-



ceptible; the political condition of Scotland is identical
in theory, and nearly so in practice ; and the Highlands
have long ceased to form a nation and a people. The
country preserves many peculiarities, it is true ; fostered
by language, occupation, residence, and a little, perhaps,
by ancient recollections : but they are fast melting away
into the misty shadows of realities that were once as
striking as their own rocks and mountains.

But these changes are, also, neither simultaneous nor
equal everywhere. According to the natural and neces-
sary progress of civilization, or change, if that term
offends you, they cannot be so ; and thus, what is true of
some parts of the country, is false of others. This is one
of the great sources of all the difficulties in question.
Nothing more is proved by the dissatisfaction of those
who are displeased: and their own discordance, when
narrowly questioned, proves this to be the real cause.
Every one judges by the district which he knows best :
no one thinks of examining the whole: there are few who
know the country in general, even among the High-
landers themselves; and why then should we be surprised
if we find a discordance in the reports that we read and
hear. The genus is the same, if you please, but the
species differs everywhere. We cannot easily trace, on
the borders of the Lowlands, or in the vicinity of towns,
fisheries, manufactures, and improvements, any very
violent character of difference between a Scot and a Gael :
but, take a wide interval, and the differences are still
strongly marked. Mixture of breed has done something :
language, example, industry, agricultural improvements,
have done more : every day the differences diminish, and,
at some day, distant though it assuredly must be, it will
be still less perceptible.

But this is as true of England and of Wales : it is the


term Higblands that always misleads us ; because it is a
term of history. Let me carry you to St. Kilda. It is as
little like the St. Kilda of Martin, as it is to Owhyhee ;
though so remote a part of the country. The Gannets
build as they did, and they are caught and eaten pretty
much in the same manner: but,for any thing else, neither
Martin, nor even Macaulay, would know their old friends
again could they rise from the dead. St. Kilda and the
generality of the Long Island may now rank together
pretty nearly : but what resemblance does the Barra
where the Macneil could once muster a thousand men
within the walls of Chisamil castle, bear to the Barra
which sends a dozen or two of boats full of salt ling to
Greenock, every summer ; bringing back, in return,
(irreendck manners and the Greenock tongue. If the
Danes who occupy the Butt of the Lewis, still comb their
heads as little as their ancestors did, yet, where the Mac-
kenzie once led bare-legged clans to battle behind the
braying of a bagpipe, the ladies of Stornaway are forming
nightly coteries of cards and scandal.

Perhaps the wild Mac Raws, as they are called by
courtesy, are now the most genuine pictures that remain
of the ancient Highlander ; and the superficial view is
not a very flattering one. Contrast them with the opulent
agriculturists of Isla, once the centre of power, the focus
of the Macdonald dynasty, the seat of piracy and plun-
der, and virtue and valour. Go to the slate quarries of
Seil and Luing, and there ask for Highland manners : or
to the salmon fisheries of Pol Ewe and Laxford, and find
them in the hands of Berwickers; heteroclite dogs, nei-
ther Scots nor English. Follow the kelp manufacture
and the fisheries; tread in the steps of the excisemen and
justices; ride on a turnpike road, finer and better than
any in England, from Fort William to Sky, and then ask

VOL. I. G c


for Hig-hland manners, and expect that he who can wear
breeches, dig- in the Caledonian canal, go to Glasgow and
weave cotton, or has returned from a Spanish campaign
with a leg less and a shilling a day more, will not be a
corrupt dog and no Highlander. If you would see him
in a state as rude as heart can wish, explore the wilds of
Sutherland : but what will you find ; a starving melan-
choly wretch, half clothed, living in a dunghill, paying
no rent, stealing a sheep when he can catch him, cutting
down his landlord's trees, defying all laws, and preferring
rather to starve than work. Thus, at least, it was lately.
Pursue the same creature to the sea-shore where Lord
Stafford has driven him, to the great annoyance of all
romantic gentlemen, and find him in a comfortable cot-
tage, with a boat, a cow, and a few acres of oats, active,
industrious, and happy ; and then ask why travellers do
not give a consistent character of the Highlanders. No-
thing was ever more unlike himself; except Horace's
friend : and, in some places, the savage even elbows the
neophyte. Bute and Arran for example : but Arran has
changed under my very pen ; thanks to the excise, the
steam boats, and the Duke of Hamilton. What with
sheep, and ribbands, and excisemen, and shoes, and mus-
lin, and rents, and taxes, and absentees, and kelp, and
English, and cod, and herring, and lobster smacks, and
justices of peace, and breeches, and shops of all wares,
and schools, and roads, and cockneys travelling in gigs,
and innkeepers who have learnt little from their instruc-
tors but the art of making them pay for what they do not
get, Donald or Dougal himself, were they alive again, the
great fathers of all the Donalds and Dougals of the day,
would wonder as much what was become of their own
dear country as Owen Glendwr or Jorwerth ap Drwndwn
would do if they were to see a bridge over Bangor straits,


or as the votaries of Mr. Sams do, that a modern traveller
in the Highlands does not make them appear the thing
which they are not. The Mac Raws are one thing, and the
Mac Kenzies are another, and the Campbells are a third ;
and as to the Mac Intoshes, and the Mac Phersons and the
Grants, and the Erasers, and the Mac Raes, and the Mac
Kays, and the Camerons, and the Mac Donalds, and the
Mac Leans, and the Mac Callums, and the Mac Farlanes,
and the Mac Gregors, and the Mac Neils, Mac Nabs, Mac
Arthurs, Mac Alisters, Mac Phails, Mac Naughtons, and
so forth, they are all worthy descendants of worthy and
ancient stocks : but, of nine tenths of them, it would be

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 34 of 37)