Page images

Sept. 11.] The heritable jurisdictions.


of thirteen hundred pounds a year. Dr. Johnson said, 'If he gets the better of all this, he'll be a hero; and I hope he will'. I have not met with a young man who had more desire to learn, or who has learnt more. I have seen nobody that I wish more to do a kindness to than Macleod.' Such was the honourable elogium, on this young chieftain, pronounced by an accurate observer, whose praise was never lightly bestowed.

There is neither justice of peace, nor constable in Rasay. Sky has Mr. M'Cleod of Ulinish, who is the sheriff substitute, and no other justice of peace. The want of the execution of justice is much felt among the islanders. Macleod very sensibly observed, that taking away the heritable jurisdictions' had not been of such service in the islands as

'Mr. Croker says that 'though he sold a great tract of land in Harris, he left at his death in 1801 the original debt of £50,000 [Boswell says £40,000] increased to £70,000.' When Johnson visited Macleod at Dunvegan, he wrote to Mrs. Thrale :- Here, though poor Macleod had been left by his grandfather overwhelmed with debts, we had another exhibition of feudal hospitality. There were two stags in the house, and venison came to the table every day in its various forms. Macleod, besides his estate in Sky, larger I suppose than some English counties, is proprietor of nine inhabited isles; and of his isles uninhabited I doubt if he very exactly knows the number. I told him that he was a mighty monarch. Such dominions fill an Englishman with envious wonder; but when he surveys the naked mountain, and treads the quaking moor; and wanders over the wild regions of gloomy barrenness, his wonder may continue, but his envy ceases. The unprofitableness of these vast domains can be conceived only by the means of positive instances. The heir of Col, an island not far distant, has lately told me how wealthy he should be if he could let Rum, another of his islands, for twopence halfpenny an acre; and Macleod has an estate which the surveyor reports to contain 80,000 acres, rented at £600 a year.' Piozzi Letters, i. 154.


* They were abolished by an act passed in 1747, being ‘reckoned among the principal sources of the rebellions. They certainly kept the common people in subjection to their chiefs. By this act they were legally emancipated from slavery; but as the tenants enjoyed no leases, and were at all times liable to be ejected from their farms, they still depended on the pleasure of their lords, notwithstanding



The heritable jurisdictions.

[Sept. 11.

was imagined. They had not authority enough in lieu of them. What could formerly have been settled at once, must now either take much time and trouble, or be neglected. Dr. Johnson said, 'A country is in a bad state which is governed only by laws; because a thousand things occur for which laws cannot provide, and where authority ought to interpose. Now destroying the authority of the chiefs set the people loose. It did not pretend to bring any positive good, but only to cure some evil; and I am not well enough acquainted with the country to know what degree of evil the heritable jurisdictions occasioned'.' I maintained hardly any; because the chiefs generally acted right, for their own sakes.

Dr. Johnson was now wishing to move. There was not enough of intellectual entertainment for him, after he had satisfied his curiosity, which he did, by asking questions, till he had exhausted the island; and where there was so numerous a company, mostly young people, there was such a flow of familiar talk, so much noise, and so much singing and dancing, that little opportunity was left for his energetick conversation'. He seemed sensible of this; for when I told him how happy they were at having him there, he said,

this interposition of the legislature, which granted a valuable consideration in money to every nobleman and petty baron, who was thus deprived of one part of his inheritance.' Smollett's England, iii. 206. See ante, p. 51, note 2, and post, Oct. 22.

''I doubt not but that since the regular judges have made their circuits through the whole country, right has been everywhere more wisely and more equally distributed; the complaint is, that litigation is grown troublesome, and that the magistrates are too few and therefore often too remote for general convenience... In all greater questions there is now happily an end to all fear or hope from malice or from favour. The roads are secure in those places through which forty years ago no traveller could pass without a convoy. . . No scheme of policy has in any country yet brought the rich and poor on equal terms into courts of judicature. Perhaps experience improving on experience may in time effect it.' Johnson's Works, ix. 90.

* He described Rasay as 'the seat of plenty, civility, and cheerfulness.' Piozzi Letters, i. 152.


Sept. 11.]

The joyous life in Rasay.


'Yet we have not been able to entertain them much.' I was fretted, from irritability of nerves, by M'Cruslick's too obstreperous mirth. I complained of it to my friend, observing we should be better if he was gone. 'No, Sir (said he). He puts something into our society, and takes nothing out of it.' Dr. Johnson, however, had several opportunities of instructing the company; but I am sorry to say, that I did not pay sufficient attention to what passed, as his discourse now turned chiefly on mechanicks, agriculture and such subjects, rather than on science and wit. Last night Lady Rasay shewed him the operation of wawking cloth, that is, thickening it in the same manner as is done by a mill. Here it is performed by women, who kneel upon the ground, and rub it with both their hands, singing an Erse song all the time. He was asking questions while they were performing this operation, and, amidst their loud and wild howl, his voice was heard even in the room above'.

They dance here every night. The queen of our ball was the eldest Miss Macleod, of Rasay, an elegant well-bred woman, and celebrated for her beauty over all those regions, by the name of Miss Flora Rasay'. There seemed to be no jealousy, no discontent among them; and the gaiety of the scene was such, that I for a moment doubted whether unhappiness had any place in Rasay. But my delusion was soon dispelled, by recollecting the following lines of my fellow-traveller :

''We heard the women singing as they waulked the cloth, by rubbing it with their hands and feet, and screaming all the while in a sort of chorus. At a distance the sound was wild and sweet enough, but rather discordant when you approached too near the performers.' Lockhart's Scott, iv. 307.

' She had been some time at Edinburgh, to which she again went, and was married to my worthy neighbour, Colonel Mure Campbell, now Earl of Loudoun, but she died soon afterwards, leaving one daughter. BOSWELL. 'She is a celebrated beauty; has been admired at Edinburgh; dresses her head very high; and has manners so ladylike that I wish her head-dress was lower.' Piozzi Letters, i. 144. See ante, iii. 134.



Departure from Rasay.

'Yet hope not life from pain or danger free,

[Sept. 12.

Or think the doom of man revers'd for thee'!'


It was a beautiful day, and although we did not approve of travelling on Sunday, we resolved to set out, as we were in an island from whence one must take occasion as it Macleod and Talisker sailed in a boat of Rasay's for Sconser, to take the shortest way to Dunvegan. M'Cruslick went with them to Sconser, from whence he was to go to Slate, and so to the main land. We were resolved to pay a visit at Kingsburgh, and see the celebrated Miss Flora Macdonald, who is married to the present Mr. Macdonald of Kingsburgh; so took that road, though not so near. All the family, but Lady Rasay, walked down to the shore to see us depart. Rasay himself went with us in a large boat, with eight oars, built in his island'; as did Mr. Malcolm M'Cleod, Mr. Donald M'Queen, Dr. Macleod, and some others. We had a most pleasant sail between Rasay and Sky; and passed by a cave, where Martin says fowls were caught by lighting fire in the mouth of it. Malcolm remembers this. But it is not now practised, as few fowls

come into it.

We spoke of Death. Dr. Johnson on this subject ob served that the boastings of some men, as to dying easily


'Yet hope not life from grief or danger free,
Nor think the doom of man reversed for thee.'


The Vanity of Human Wishes. Rasay accompanied us in his six-oared boat, which he said was his coach and six. It is indeed the vehicle in which the ladies take the air and pay their visits, but they have taken very little care for accommodations. There is no way in or out of a boat for a woman but by being carried; and in the boat thus dignified with a pompous name there is no seat but an occasional bundle of straw.' Piozzi Letters, i. 152. In describing the distance of one family from another, Johnson writes:-'Visits last several days, and are commonly paid by water; yet I never saw a boat furnished with benches.' Works, ix.



Sept. 12.]

A short sermon upon the sea.


were idle talk', proceeding from partial views. I mentioned Hawthornden's Cypress-grove, where it is said that the world is a mere show; and that it is unreasonable for a man to wish to continue in the show-room, after he has seen it. Let him go cheerfully out, and give place to other spectators'. JOHNSON. Yes, Sir, if he is sure he is to be well, after he goes out of it. But if he is to grow blind after he goes out of the show-room, and never to see any thing again; or if he does not know whither he is to go next, a man will not go cheerfully out of a show-room. No wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to go into a state of punishment. Nay, no wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to fall into annihilation: for however unhappy any man's existence may be, he yet would rather have it, than not exist at all'. No; there is no rational principle by which a man can die contented, but a trust in the mercy of GOD, through the merits of Jesus Christ.' This short sermon, delivered with an earnest tone, in a boat upon the sea, which was perfectly calm, on a day appropriated to religious worship, while every one listened with an air of satisfaction, had a most pleasing effect upon my mind.

Pursuing the same train of serious reflection, he added that it seemed certain that happiness could not be found in this life, because so many had tried to find it, in such a variety of ways, and had not found it.

We reached the harbour of Portree, in Sky, which is a large and good one. There was lying in it a vessel to carry off the emigrants called the Nestor. It made a short settlement of the differences between a chief and his clan :—

[ocr errors]

See ante, ii. 122, and iii. 174.

They which forewent us did leave a Roome for us, and should wee grieve to doe the same to these which should come after us? Who beeing admitted to see the exquisite rarities of some antiquaries cabinet is grieved, all viewed, to have the courtaine drawen, and give place to new pilgrimes?" A Cypresse Grove, by William Drummond of Hawthorne-denne, ed. 1630, p. 68.

See ante, iii. 174, 335.


« PreviousContinue »