« PreviousContinue »
dresses himself in a cow's hide, upon which other men beat with sticks. He runs with all this noise round the house, which all the company quits in a counterfeited fright: the door is then fhut. At Newyear's eve there is no great pleasure to be had out of doors in the Hebrides. They are sure foon to recover from their terrour enough to solicit for re-admission which, for the honour of poetry, is not to be obtained but by repeating a verse, with which those that are knowing and provident take care to be furnished.
Very near the house of Maclean stands the castle of Col, which was the mansion of the laird, till the house was built. It is built upon a rock, as Mr. Boswell remarked, that it might not be mined. It is very strong, and having been not long uninhabited, is yet in repair. On the wall was, not long ago, a stone with an inscription, importing, that if any man of the clan of Maclonich shall appear before this castle, though he come at midnight, with a man's head in his hand, he shall there find safety and protection against all but the king.
This is an old Highland treaty, made upon a very memorable occasion. Maclean, the son of John Gerves, who recovered Col, and conquered Barra, had obtained, it is said, from James the Second, a grant of the lands of Lochiel, forfeited, I suppose, by some offence against the state.
Forfeited estates were not in those days quietly resigned; Maclean, therefore, went with an armed force to seize his new possessions, and, I know not for what reason, took his wife with him. The Camerons role in defence of their chief, and a battle
was fought at the head of Loch Ness, near the place where Fort Augustus now stands, in which Lochiel obtained the victory, and Maclean, with his followers, was defeated and destroyed.
The lady fell into the hands of the conquerors, and being found pregnant, was placed in the custody of Maclonich, one of a tribe or family branched from Cameron, with orders, if she brought a boy, to destroy him, if a girl, to spare her.
Maclonich's wife, who was with child likewise, had a girl about the same time at which lady Maclean brought a boy; and Maclonich, with more generosity to his captive, than fidelity to his trust, contrived that the chil. dren fhould be changed.
Maclean being thus preserved from death, in time recovered his original patrimony; and in gratitude to his friend, made his castle a place of refuge to any of the clan that should think himself in danger; and as a proof of reciprocal confidence, Maclean took upon himself and his posterity the care of educating the heir of Maclonich.
This story, like all other traditions of the Highlands, is variously related; but though some circumstances are uncertain, the principal fact is true. Maclean undoubtedly owed his preservation to Maclonich; for the treaty between the two families has been strictly observed: it did not sink intodisuse and oblivion, but continuedin its full force while the chieftains retained their power. I have read a demand of protection, made not more than thirty-seven years ago, for one of the Maclonichs, named Ewen Cameron, who had been accessory to the death of Macmartin, and had been
banished banished by Lochiel, his lord, for a certain term; at the expiration of which he returned married from France; but the Macmartins, not satisfied with the punishment, when he attempted to settle, still threatened him with vengeance. He therefore asked, and obtained, shelter in the isle of Gol.
The power of protection subsists no longer; but what the law permits is yet continued, and Maclean of Col now educates the heir of Maclonich.
There still remains in the islands, though it is paffing fast away, the custom of fosterage. A laird, a man of wealth and eminence, fends his child, either male or female, to a tacksman, or tenant, to be foftered. It is not always his own tenant, but some distant friend, that obtains this honour; for an honour such a trust is very reasonably thought. The terms of fosterage seem to vary in different islands. In Mull, the father sends with his child a certain number of cows, to which the same number is added by the fofterer. The father appropriates a proportionable extent of ground, without rent, for their pasturage. If every cow brings a calf, half belongs to the fosterer, and half to the child ; but if there be only one calf between two cows, it is the child's, and when the child returns to the parents, it is accompanied by all the cows given, both by the father and by the fosterer, with half of the increase of the stock by propagation. These beasts are considered as a portion, and called Macalive cattle, of which the father has the produce, but is fupposed not to have the full property, but to owe the fame number to the child, as a portion to the daughter, or a stock for the fon.
Children continue with the fosterer perhaps fix years, and cannot, where this is the practice, be considered as burdensome. The fosterer, if he gives four cows, receives likewise four, and has, while the child continues with him, grass for eight without rent, with half the calves, and all the milk, for which he pays only four cows when he dismisses his dalt, for that is the name for a fostered child.
Fosterage is, I believe, sometimes performed upon more liberal terms. Our friend, the young laird of Col, was fostered by Marsweyn of Grispol. Macfwey
. then lived a tenant to Sir James Macdonald in the isle of Sky; and therefore Col, whether he sent him cattle or not, could grant him no land. The dalt, however, at his return, brought back a considerable number of Macalive cattle, and of the friendship so formed there have been good effects. When Macdonald raised his rents, Macsweyn was, like other tenants, discontented, and, resigning his farm, removed from Sky to Col, and was established at Grillpol.
These observations we made by favour of the contrary wind that drove us to Col, an island not often visited; for there is not much to amuse curiosity, or to attract avarice, · The ground has been hitherto, I believe, used chiefly for pasturage. In a district, such as the eye can command, there is a general herdsman, who knows all the cattle of the neighbourhood, and whose station is upon a hill, from which he surveys the lower grounds; and if one man's cattle invade another's grass, drives them back to their own borders. But other means of profit begin to be found; kelp is gathered and
burnt, and loops are loaded with the concreted ashes. Cultivation is likely to be improved by the skill and encouragement of the present heir, and the inhabitants of those obscure vallies will partake of the general pro
gress of life.
The rents of the parts which belong to the duke of Argyle, have been raised from fifty-five to one hundred and five pounds, whether from the land or the fea I cannot tell. The bounties of the sea have lately been so great, that a farm in Southuift has risen in ten years from a rent of thirty pounds to one hundred and eighty.
He who lives in Col, and finds himself condemned to solitary meals, and incommunicable reflection, will find the usefulness of that middle order of tacksmen, which fome who applaud their own wisdom are wishing to destroy. Without intelligence, man is not social, he is only gregarious; and little intelligence will there be, where all are constrained to daily labour, and every mind must wait upon the hand.
After having listened for some days to the tempest, and wandered about the island till our curiosity was satisfied, we began to think about our departure. To leave Col in October was not very easy. We however found a floop which lay on the coast to carry kelp; and for a price which we thought levied upon our necessities, the master agreed to carry us to Mull, whence we might readily pass back to Scotland,
As we were to catch the first favourable breath, we spent the night not very elegantly nor pleasantly