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Chambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) online

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ground will be turned over in a spring day. The very light harrow is
more frequently drawn by a man or woman than by the ponies, which,
after the hard winter, are in the labouring season so weak as to be
unfit for work. No seed is ever sown in autumn ; but it is a pity
that, during the winter, the peasant fisherman thinks too little of his
land employ : he will hang on in desultory idleness, looking out for a
favourable moment to go a-fishing, when he could turn his industry
to far better account by keeping his turf fences in proper repair, and
especially by collecting manure and making composts, the materials
for which are in general suffered to go to entire loss. Sea-weed, for
instance, so valuable for the ground, is often allowed to be swept
away by the next tide, when, collected, it would fertilise many a field.
Kelp is hardly ever made in Shetland now, but the sea-weed called
tangle is eaten freely by ponies, cattle, and sheep during each ebb of
the tide in winter.

Fish of course form at least two of the meals in a Shetland cottage
daily. The young of the coal-fish (Gadus carbonarhts) swarm in
every bay and creek of these, in some respects, therefore favoured
islands. In their first year's growth, they are about six inches long,
and called sillacks. About the month of March ensuing, they have
grown to the length of about fifteen inches, when they receive the
name of piltacks. After this period they thrive very fast, attaining
the ordinary size of the cod-fish, when they are called saithes. So
abundant and constant is the supply of the young of this fish, that
whenever weather will allow a small boat to swim, they are caught
with a rod and shell-fish bait, or with an artificial fly, every evening,
even in the winter months. Women and boys also fish them from
the rocks in the same manner ; and they often set into the creeks in
shoals, when a small net stretched on a hoop, being dipped into the
sea, is lifted out full. Their livers yield a large supply of oil, and
the fish are prepared for food in every variety of way ; but, as I
mentioned before, are preferred when they have been hung up to
sour for a few days. The liquor in which fish have been boiled is
given to calves and pigs ; but very rarely is the fish given to animals,
though it is done, I believe, in Norway, and on the coasts of the Red

On the whole, the mode of living of the Shetland peasantry gives
one a favourable impression of their character and situation. They
are far superior to the generality of Irish or Highland homes,


and, besides, they are for the- most part kept very orderly. The
pigsty is always outside ; the little barn is constructed on one end,
entering from the house, or occasionally it is placed across the
entrance-door, and thus serves as a porch-shelter to the dwelling ;
and the cow-house is beyond that again. Inside, with the family, a
fostered lamb in winter, or a young calf, may be seen in a corner,
sharing the children's meals, and thriving like them ; the fowls, too,
are generally picking up the crumbs, so -that from warmth and good
feeding, they often lay eggs all winter. Occasionally the dwellings
are smoky, and personally the people are not very cleanly in their
habits ; but they have plenty of fresh air, and abundant springs of
the purest water ; and swarms of healthy children, and many very
aged persons, attest the favourable circumstances of their lot. Very
few young children die : epidemics and convulsions are the rarest
things possible. Rheumatism, from the moistness of the climate,
is common among all classes ; and pulmonary diseases are also
unfortunately too general.*

In Shetland the adult female population greatly preponderates.
When the young men grow up, they go off as sailors, few of them
ever to return ; and accidents at sea sweep off the prime of man-
hood : thus the population is in some measure checked, though it
has, as elsewhere, greatly increased during the last seventy years. As
to clothing, one sees nothing like the squalid rags common in many
other parts. Coarse household-made woollens, and bare head and
feet, are indeed the home costume of some of the old and of the
very young ; but most of the females take pride in being neatly clad ;
and this they are able to effect by the returns for their knitting. On
Sunday at the churches, therefore, may be seen men and women
most respectably, the young girls even tastefully dressed. As
respects personal appearance, the stranger will not fail to notice the
fair hair, blue eyes, and spare figure which betoken a Scandinavian

As in Scotland, there are always schools in each parish one
supported by the heritors, and others by the General Assembly, or
the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. These are so
generally taken advantage of, even at great distances, that there are

* Superstitions of various kinds are still common among the less educated inhabitants of
Shetland, and one in relation to the cure of scrofula is thus alluded to by the Rev. J.
Robertson, in his description of Mid and South Yell, in the New Statistical Account of
Scotland: ' For the cure of this fatal disorder, nothing, even at the present day, is deemed
so effectual as the royal touch ! And as a substitute for the actual living finger of royalty,
a few crowns and half-crowns of the coinage of the first Charles, carefully handed down,
from father to son, have been effectual, both here and in every other parish in Shetland,
towards removing this disease, and that to an extent which may appear somewhat incredible
to many whose minds, in reference to the healing virtue still inherent in royalty, may be
in a more sophisticated state than those of her Majesty's subjects in this latitude. Be this
as it may, there are few localities in Shetland in which a living evidence is not to be found
of one said to have been " cured by the coin," and who would, instantly be pointed at as a
sufficient evidence to warrant confidence in its efficacy, should it happen that a doubt at any
time rested thereon."


none of the present generation, it is believed, who cannot read well,
and many can write. The Shetlanders are not, however, fond of
reading and improving their minds like so many of the Scottish
peasantry. Perhaps want of books may repress- the development
of any literary taste ; and if so, it is to be regretted ; for if they
liked books more, and had the means, through popular libraries,
of gratifying this inclination, they would undoubtedly be more
intelligent and prosperous.

Besides retaining the old style in the computation of time, the
Shetlanders retain another ancient usage, nowhere else, I suppose,
to be -found in Britain namely, that of each generation adopting a
new surname, drawn from the Christian name of the father. Thus,
the son of James Robertson would not be called Robertson ; he
would receive the name of Jameson ; and so on with all other
names. This causes a great confusion of names to a stranger,
besides being otherwise inconvenient, and the practice ought by all
means to be abandoned. The women, after marriage, always retain
their maiden names ; but this is also a custom among the Lowland

From these sketches it may be gathered that, inclement as is the
situation and climate of Shetland, its people are far from being
objects of commiseration ; nor are they, in point of conduct and
habits, to be classed with the unruly population of many lands more
favoured by nature. Great crimes are rare amongst them, and
nowhere is there any fear of petty depredations. The inhabitant of
a great city, who at night bolts his doors and windows, to guard
against the midnight thief, and is ever in dread of spoliation,
might envy the freedom from care of the Shetland householder,
who fears no thieves, and scarcely knows the use of chains or
locks. Formerly, the meanest point in the character of the Shet-
landers was their acquisitiveness in the case of wrecks on their
coast ; but this vice, through the rigours of recent acts of parlia-
ment, is greatly modified, if not extirpated. Although intem-
perance in the use of intoxicating liquors could be cited as an
unfortunate feature in some departments of the population, Shet-
land is still more remarkable for the ineconomic use of a beverage
which is ordinarily considered the antagonist of intemperance
I allude to tea. No kind of beverage is so much relished by
the female peasantry of Shetland as tea.* To get tea they will
venture as great and as unprincipled lengths as any dram-drinker

* About 25,000 worth of bohea is annually entered at the custom-house in Lei-wick,
besides which, a great quantity is smuggled by Dutch fishing-boats. One poor man, in
the parish of Bressay, who had the expensive infliction of a tea-drinking wife, was cheated
by her secretly selling his goods to obtain tea. He was observed once to purchase the
same peck of meal three times over in one week, being always assured that his children
had eaten it. A Highland laird once remarked, that the Scotch peasantry were ruined by
forsaking ' the good old porridge of their ancestors.' Shetland and the Shetlanders, by
Catherine Sinclair.


will go for his favourite liquor. The wool that ought to clothe the
family, the oil and butter that should pay the rent, nay, the meal
and potatoes that, carefully husbanded, are to feed the children, are
all unscrupulously sold or bartered for tea. The females are the
chief tea-drinkers, and often without the knowledge of their husbands,
whose humble means are pilfered in order to gratify this ruling
propensity. Tea is a universal means of payment for any little
services in Shetland. An errand will be run for a small quantity of
tea ; some spinning will be done for tea ; and tea will form a most
acceptable present on leaving a dwelling where you have received
any attentions. The quantity of tobacco and spirits consumed is
also considerable ; and it is from an excessive indulgence in these
foreign luxuries, that the Shetland peasant is kept lower in the scale
of poverty than he has any just reason to be. Latterly, the
introduction of a poor-law has led to dismal consequences. The
pressure of the rates acts severely on property, and it would almost
appear as if the abject poor were in a fair way of absorbing the
rental of the islands.

With all the interesting associations of this group of islands,
things are not what we could wish. Remote, and with a generally
inclement climate, Shetland is unhappily situated. Great efforts
have lately been made to introduce improvements of various kinds.
The latest and not the least important measure of the kind has been
the connecting Lervvick with Orkney and the mainland by a tele-
graphic wire, by which, in a way, the principal islands are brought
within an intimate relationship with the great centres of intelligence.
There is likewise a growing interest in the public mind regarding
Shetland. Trips to it by steamer from Granton (a port in the Firth
of Forth, near Edinburgh) are more common than formerly. The
islands are also visited nearly every year by the Pharos, a large and
commodious steamer belonging to the Commissioners of Northern
Lighthouses, for the purpose of inspecting the lighthouses on the
coast ; one of these being situated on a rocky islet at the extremity
of Unst, the most northern habitable spot in the British Islands.
By this vessel, the Commissioners, in 1867, visited the solitary island
of Foula, which lies between Shetland and Orkney, and is out of
the way of ordinary navigators. Here, the inhabitants live in so
remarkably primitive and simple a manner, that crime and the
more odious vices of civilised society are unknown. On the next
page is subjoined a small wood-cut of Foula, which, at its western
extremity, presents a lofty precipice of red sandstone to the everlasting
buffetings of the Atlantic.


For several days no cutter appeared, and I began to fancy that
the rumour of her visit to the Sound of Yell must have been a


mistake ; at length she was seen entering Balta Sound, and in due
time came to anchor not far from our residence. By the polite-
ness of my Shetland friends, I was introduced to the commander,
a gentleman well known on these shores, and was kindly offered
by him a passage to Kirkwall ; the offer was to me the more
acceptable, for he proposed to sail down the western coast of the

It was a sad parting with the good folks of Unst, who would not
let me go till I had promised, if at all possible, once more to spend
a month with them in some succeeding summer. A fine breeze
having sprung up, the sails of the cutter were shaken out, and we
soon sped rapidly on our course. In the evening, we were off the
coast of Northmaven, a peninsula of the mainland of Shetland,
which, as it died away on the horizon, reminded me of the carol
of the poetic Claud Halcro :

' Farewell to Northmaven ;

Gray Hillswicke, farewell !
To the calms of thy haven,

The storms on thy fell
To each breeze that can vary

The mood of thy main,
And to thee, bonny Mary !

We meet not again.'

How, during a run of three days in one of the handsomest of her
Majesty's cruisers, I was kindly entertained by my new naval friends
in a way I can never forget how I reached Kirkwall in Orkney,
and bade them adieu, must all be left to the vivid imagination of
the reader. Again catching the steamer, I was in due course borne,
with twenty other passengers, to Wick, and thence to Aberdeen and
Leith, without a single adventure to form the subject of an anecdote.
And so ends my account of a month's visit to Shetland.



at Paris in 1769, his father, it is said, having been an
obscure but honest shopkeeper. Being seen to be of
a quick apprehension, an effort was made to give him a
good education, in order to fit him for one of the learned
professions. The church appears to have been what his father
ultimately destined him for, as he wore for some time the dress of
an abbe ; but feeling a disinclination to the clerical profession, he
afterwards studied the law, and was preparing to become a barrister,
when an entire change was given to his feelings by the outburst of
the Revolution. Ardent in the cause of social regeneration, he
espoused the revolutionary doctrines, and became an officer in the
National Guard ; but soon he was shocked at the sanguinary excesses
which were committed in the sacred name of liberty, and shrunk
from the cause. With a heroic disregard of his own safety, he now
attached himself to the falling fortunes of Louis XVI., and narrowly
escaped with his life when defending the royal family alongside the
Swiss Guard, at the storming of the Tuileries, on the memorable loth
of August 1792.

The horrors to which this formed a prelude, drove the indignant
young national guardsman to join, at the suggestion of his friend
61 i


and comrade Bertrand, a few young men in seeking service in the
French armies abroad. What the party underwent and witnessed
in traversing France, at the time in a state of wild commotion, made
Lavalette doubly rejoice on joining his regiment ; and though the
change was at first very great from the ease and comfort of his
father's house, to the hardships of a common soldier's life, yet his
good-conduct and attention to his duties soon insured his promotion,
while his superior education and love of reading led him to devote
the scanty leisure of a camp, and all the energies of a strong mind,
to acquiring a scientific knowledge of his future profession. While
yet only a sergeant, his colonel discovered his merits, and gave him
lessons in strategy and fortification, and the construction of military

From the rank of sergeant, young Lavalette rose, by good-conduct
and abilities, to that of lieutenant, in which with his brother-
officers, all equally poor, he endured many privations when on active
service. Of naturally good feelings, and repugnant to everything like
the butchery of warfare, he was at first shocked with the horrors of
an engagement, and quailed before the storm of bullets to which he
was exposed. Viewing this as a weakness of character, he mentions
in his memoirs that he resolved to conquer it, and achieve greater
strength of mind. Speaking of the part he acted in the army of the
Rhine, he observes : ' When I joined, I was full of enthusiasm and
desire to do right, but I had only confused ideas of war, and was
wholly without experience. I had never yet seen an enemy, and
was much taken up as to how I should behave in my first action.
It was my good-fortune to be attached to the division under General
Dessaix, whose air of calm cheerfulness under the most murderous
fire, first taught me that there is no true valour without those
fundamental requisites. I took myself severely to task ; I found I
had not steadiness to keep my horse in the line of the bullets ; nay,
that I even sometimes caught myself taking a circuit when I might
have pushed straightforwards. I felt ashamed of such paltry
manoeuvres, and got the better of myself so completely, that at last
even grape-shot ceased to give me any annoyance. This was by no
means the work of a day. How often had I to turn back and take
my place in the thick of the fire, and in the midst of the sharp-
shooters ! But when I had stayed there a good while, I was pleased
with myself, and that is so satisfactory ! It was this moral courage
perhaps which made me worthy of being aide-de-camp to the
conqueror of Italy, and contributed to gain me his esteem. To it
also I am indebted for having borne prosperity with moderation ;
and when evil days came, what did I not owe to its invaluable aid!'

At Milan, after the battle of Arcola, he was attached as an aide-de-
camp to Bonaparte, who, more than any other man, had the talent
of selecting able individuals to assist him in his enterprises. Chosen
from among a host of eager competitors to execute some dashing


manoeuvres, Lavalette acquitted himself satisfactorily in them all.
On one occasion, when wounded in a perilous expedition into the
Tyrol, he was complimented by Bonaparte, who said to him, in
presence of the army : ' Lavalette, you have behaved like a brave
fellow ; when I write the history of this campaign, you shall not be
forgotten' a promise he lived to fulfil.

But it was to other than military qualities that the young officer
owed his general's special favour. It was his solid information, his
acute spirit of observation, his marvellous sagacity, and, above all,
the propriety of his manners, which Bonaparte (a great admirer of
good-breeding) so highly appreciated ; and at a subsequent period
shewed that he did so, by employing him first in the most delicate
and difficult political missions, and afterwards in an important post
in the state.

Desirous at once of rewarding and attaching to himself his confi-
dential agent with the Directory, at a time when he had as yet little
in his power in the way of recompense, Napoleon sought to promote
his protdg^'s interests by uniting him in marriage with the amiable
heroine of our story, Mademoiselle Emilie de Beauharnais.

This lady was the daughter of Frangois, Marquis de Beauharnais,
the elder brother of Alexander, Viscount de Beauharnais, first
husband to Josephine, and father of Eugene : Emilie and Eugene
thus were cousins. At the period to which we refer, Emilie was
receiving her education in the well-known seminary of Madame
Campan, where she had been placed with the concurrence of her
aunt Josephine, now the wife of General Bonaparte. The manner
in which Josephine, widowed by the execution of her husband.
Viscount de Beauharnais, became known to Bonaparte is worth

After putting down, by the most unscrupulous exercise of the
military means in his power, the insurrections by which Paris was
still harassed, Bonaparte issued peremptory orders for disarming the
citizens, and weapons of every description were obliged to be given
up. Among these, Madame Beauharnais was about to deliver up
her late husband's sword, when her son Eugene, a boy of thirteen,
threw himself on it, and declared that nothing in the world should
induce him to part with it. The functionaiy employed refused to
leave it without the express authority of General Bonaparte, but
offered to take the boy to him. The beauty of the child, his deep
emotion, the warmth and naiveti of his entreaties, and his father's
well-known name and fame, all combined to touch the general. He
gave him leave to retain his beloved sword, and begged to be intro-
duced to his mother. She was young, amiable, and possessed a
grace beyond beauty's self. The conqueror saw, loved, and married
her ; and their union, long even more happy than it was brilliant,
owed its origin to a trait of filial piety to the memory of a beloved



Now united to Josephine, Bonaparte considered himself entitled
to negotiate the marriage of Emilie, and in looking about for a
match, none appeared to him so eligible as that of his favourite aide-
de-camp, Lavalette. Sudden and energetic in all his movements,
Bonaparte adopted the idea of the marriage when on the eve of his
expedition to Egypt, in which, as a matter of course, his aide-de-camp
was to accompany him. In vain did Lavalette remonstrate against
so hasty and ill-timed a union, urging the probable disinclination of
the young lady, and the chance of her being left a widow.

' In that case, and supposing the worst,' said her imperious uncle,
' she will be the widow of one of my aides-de-camp, and enjoy a
pension and a place in society. As she is, the daughter of an
emigre", no one will look at her, even under my wife's wing ; and 'tis
a pity, for she is a nice, pretty, accomplished, well brought-up girl.
Come ! marry her you must, and within eight days. I '11 give you a
fortnight's leave afterwards.'

' At first I only laughed,' says Lavalette, ' during this harangue ;
then I began to get serious, and said: "But the young lady! I
would not for the world force her inclination." '

' Oh, she is a child. She must by this time be dead tired of
school, and never would be happy at her mother's. While you are
away, she can go and live with her grandfather at Fontainebleau.
You will not be killed, and in two years you will be back to her.
Come ! 'tis a settled thing. I '11 talk of it to my wife.'

On the evening of the day in which this proposal was broached,
Lavalette visited Josephine, who expressed her satisfaction with the
match, and promised to take him next day to St Germains, to
introduce him to her niece.

' Next morn, accordingly,' says Lavalette, ' we that is, Bonaparte,
Josephine, her son Eugene, and I got into a carriage, and drove to
Madame Campan's. It was a great event ; and as a holiday had
been given, all the girls were either at the windows or in the drawing-
room. We adjourned to the garden, and amid this flock of forty
young ladies I looked out with no small anxiety for my intended.
Her cousin Hortense soon brought her forward to salute her aunt
and the general ; and I was not sorry to recognise in her really the
prettiest person present ; a fine tall figure, full of grace and elegance,
a beautiful complexion, heightened by natural confusion, but, withal,
a timidity and embarrassment which set the emperor a-laughing.
It was settled that we should breakfast in the garden on the grass.
For my own part, I confess I was very thoughtful. Would this
sweet creature be mine, or at least would she obey without reluctance?
And if she did, this abrupt marriage and sudden departure were
sufficiently annoying.

' When the party broke up, I requested Eugene to lead his cousin
into a solitary walk, where I joined them, and he left us together.
I then opened the conversation, and concealed from her neither my


birth nor my lack of fortune. " I have only," said I, " my sword
and the good-will of the general ; and in a fortnight I must bid you
adieu. Open your heart as freely as I do mine. I feel that I could
love you with all my soul ; but this on one side only will not suffice.
If this union is not to your taste, confide in me frankly, and I
engage to find a pretext for breaking it off without your secret trans-
piring, or your being tormented on the subject."

'Without raising her eyes, which had been bent on the ground
during the whole of my address, she answered it by a timid smile,

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 44 of 58)