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Macleod had it. The name is certainly Norwegian,1 from Sueno, King of Norway. The present Mr. M'Sweyn left Sky upon the late Macleod's raising his rents. He then got this farm from Col.
He appeared to be near fourscore; but looked as fresh, and was as strong, as a man of fifty. His son Hugh looked older; and, as Dr. Johnson observed, had more the manners of an old man than he. I had often heard of such instances, but never saw one before. Mrs. M'Sweyn was a decent old gentlewoman. She was dressed in tartan, and could speak nothing but Erse. She said, she taught Sir James M'Donald Erse, and would teach me soon. I could now sing a verse of the song Hatyin foam' eri,2 made in honour of Allan, the famous captain of Clanranald, who fell at Sherrif-muir: whose servant, who lay on the field watching his master's dead body, being asked next day who that was, answered, " He was a man yesterday."
1 M'Swyne has an awkward sound, but the name is held to lie of high antiquity, both in the Hebrides and the north of Ireland.—Walter Scott.
In the county of Donegal, in the north of Ireland, a singular l.ole in a cliff, communicating with a cave below, through which, in certain circumstances of the sea and wind, the spray is driven up with great force, is called M'Swhie's (for M'Sweyn'..) Gun. The name, no doubt, was originally Scandinavian, but seems to have been established in England before the Conquest. "In Ferleia (Fernely, Yorkshire) Goduinet Suen habuerunt, &.c., ubi nunc habet Ilbertus de Lacy."—Doomsday Book.— Croker.
2 A very popular air in the Hebrides, written to the praise and glory of Allan Muidartach, or Allan of Muidart, a chief of the Clanranald family. The following is a translation of it by a fair friend of mine [the late Margaret Maclean Clephane, Marchioness of Northampton]:—
"Come, here's a pledge to young and old,
We quaff the blood-red wine;
The dearest love of mine.
Chokus. "Along, along, then haste along,
And none the bark may steer;
Compels her home to veer. Along, along, A c.
"And when to old Kilphedar* came
St. Peter's Church in Sky.—Croker.
We were entertained here with a primitve heartiness. Whisky was served round in a shell, according to the ancient Highland custom. Dr. Johnson would not partake of it; but being desirous to do honour to the modes "of other times," drank some water out of the shell.
lu the forenoon Dr. Johnson said, "It would require great resignation to live in one of these islands." BosWell. "I don't know, Sir: I have felt myself at times in a state of almost mere physical existence, satisfied to eat, drink, and sleep, and walk about, and enjoy my own thoughts: and I can figure a continuation of this." JohnSon. "Ay, Sir; but if you were shut up here, your own thoughts would torment you: you would think of Edinburgh, or of London, and that you could not be there."
We set out after dinner for Breacacha, the family seat of the Laird of Col, accompanied by the young laird, who had now got a horse, and by the younger Mr. M'Sweyn, whose wife had gone thither before us, to prepare everything for our reception, the Laird and his family being absent at Aberdeen. It is called Breacacha, or the Spotted Field, because in summer it is enamelled with clover and daisies, as young Col told me. We passed by a place where there is a very large stone, I may call it a rock;" "a vast weight for Ajax." The tradition is, that a giant threw such another stone at his mistress, up to the top of a hill, at a small distance; and that she, in return, threw this mass down to him. It was all in sport.
"Malo me petit Insciva puella." As we advanced, we came to a large extent of plain
Say, oame thev there for Allan's fame,
Or came they there to pray? Along, along. &c.
"And when these dames of beauty rare
Were dancing in the hall,
And cambric coifs on all. Along, along, &o.
— Walter Scott.
ground. I had not seen such a place for a long time. Col and I took a gallop upon it by way of race. It was very refreshing to me, after having been so long taking short steps in hilly countries,. It was like stretching a man's legs after being cramped in a short bed. We also passed close by a large extent of sand-hills, near two miles square. Dr. Johnson said, "he never had the image before. It was horrible, if barrenness and danger could be so." I heard him, after we were in the house of Breacacha, repeating to himself, as he walked about the room,
"And smother'd in the dusty whirlwind, dies."
Probably he had been thinking of the whole of the simile in " Cato," of which that is the concluding line; the sandy desert had struck him so strongly. The sand has of late, been blown over a good deal of meadow; and the people of the island say, that their fathers remembered much of the space which is now covered with sand to have been under tillage. Col's house is situated on a bay called Breacacha Bay. We found here a neat new-built gentleman's house, better than any we had been in since we were at Lord Errol's. Dr. Johnson relished it much at first, but soon remarked to me, that "there was nothing becoming a chief about it: it was a mere tradesman's box." He seemed quite at home, and no longer found any difficulty in using the Highland address; for as soon as we arrived, he said, with a spirited familiarity, " Now, Col, if you could get us a dish of tea." Dr. Johnson and I had each an excellent bedchamber. We had a dispute which of us had the best curtains. His were rather the best, being of linen; but I insisted that my bed had the best posts, which was undeniable. "Well," said he, "if you have the best posts, we will have you tied to them and whipped." I mention this slight circumstance, only to show how ready he is, even in mere trifles, to get the better of his antagonist,by placing him in a ludicrous view. I have known him sometimes use the same art, when hard pressed in serious disputation. Goldsmith, I remember, to retaliate for many a severe defeat which he has suffered from him, applied to him a lively saying in one of Gibber's comedies, which puts this part of his character in a strong light,—" There is noarguing with Johnson; for, if his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with the butt end of it."
Wednesday, Oct. 6.—After a sufficiency of sleep, we assembled at breakfast. We were just as if in barracks. Every body was master. We went and viewed the old castle of Col, which is not far from the present house, near the shore, and founded on a rock. It has never been a large fendal residence, and has nothing about it that requires a particular description. Like other old inconvenient buildings of the same age, it exemplified Gray's picturesque lines,
"Huge windows that exclude the light,
It may, however, be worth mentioning, that on the second story we saw a vault which was, and still is, the family prison. There was a woman put into it by the Laird, for theft, within these ten years; and any offender would be confined there yet; for, from the necessity of the tiling, as the island is remote from any power established by law, the Laird must exercise his jurisdiction to a certain degree.
We were shown, in a corner of this vault, a hole into which Col said greater criminals used to be put. It was now filled up with rubbish of different kinds. He said, it was of a great depth. "Ay," said Dr. Johnson, smiling, "all such places that are filled vp were of a great depth." He is very quick in showing that he does not give credit to careless or exaggerated accounts of things. After seeing the castle, we looked at a small hut near it. It is called Teigh Franchich, i.e. the Frenchman's house. Col could not tell us the history of it. A poor man with a wife and children now lived in it. We went into it, and Dr. Johnson gave them some charity. There was but one bed for all the family, and the hut was very smoky. When we came out, he said to me, "Et hoc secundnm sententiam phllosophnrum est esse beatns." Boswell. "The philosophers, when they placed happiness in a cottage, supposed cleanliness and no smoke." Johnson. "Sir, they did not think about either."
We walked a little in the Laird's garden, in which endeavours have been used to rear some trees; but, as soon is they got above the surrounding wall they died. Dr. Johnson recommended sowing the seeds of hardy trees instead of planting.
Col and I rode out this morning, and viewed a part of the island. In the course of our ride, we saw a turnip-field, which he had hoed with his own hands. He first introduced this kind of husbandry into the Western Islands. We also looked at an appearance of lead, which seemed very promising. It has been long known; for I found letters to the late laird, from Sir John Areskine and Sir Alexander Murray, respecting it.
After dinner came Mr. M'Lean, of Corneck, brother to Isle-of-Muck, who is a cadet of the family of Col. He possesses the two ends of Col, which belong to the Duke of Argyll. Corneck had lately taken a lease of them at a very advanced rent, rather than let the Campbells get a footing in the island, one of whom had offered nearly as much as he. Dr. Johnson well observed, that " landlords err much when they calculate merely what their land may yield. The rent must be in a proportionate ratio of what the land may yield, and of the power of the tenant to make it yield. A tenant cannot make by his laud, but according to the corn and cattle which he has. Suppose you should give him twice as much land as he has, it does him no good, unless he gets also more stock. It is clear then, that the Highland landlords who let their substantial tenants leave them, are infatuated; for the poor small tenants cannot give them good rents from the very nature of things. They have not the means of raising more from their farms." Corneck, Dr. Johnson said, was the most distinct man that he had met with in these isles; he did not shut his eyes, or put his finger in his ears; which he seemed to think was a good deal the mode with most of the people whom we have seen of late.
Thursday, Oct. 7.—Captain M'Lean joined us this morning at breakfast. There came on a dreadful storm of wind and rain, which continued all day, and rather increased at night. The wind was directly against our getting to Mull. We were in a strange state of abstraction from the world: