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Letters from a gentleman in the north of Scotland to his friend in London:

Containing the description of a capital town in that northern country: with an account of many uncommon customs of the inhabitants: likewise an account of the Highlands, with the customs and manners of the Highlanders: to which is added, a letter relating to the military ways among the mountains, began in the year 1726: the whole interspersed with facts and circumstances entirely new to the generality of people in England, and little known in the southern parts of Scotland in 2 volumes (1754)

The Editor to the Reader

I am apt to imagine you may be curious to to know by what means the following Letters came to my hands, after the space of between twenty and thirty Years.

The Gentleman in whose Possession they were, died some Time ago, and through Losses, unsuccessful Law-Suits, and other Disappointments, left his Family in none of the best of Circumstances; and, therefore you will believe I could obtain them no otherwise than by a mineral Interest.

The Person who writ them, has not set his Name to any one of them, and, it is very probable, he made Use of that Caution for Reasons given in his introductory Letter; but this is not very material, because, if I had known the Name, in all Likelihood I might have thought myself under an Obligation to conceal it.

I cannot but think the Writer has kept this Promise he made his Friend, of Writing without Prejudice or Partiality; and this I rather believe, because, at my first Perusal of these Letters, I met with several Facts and Descriptions, pretty nearly resembling others I had heard from Officers of the Army, and Revenue, who had been in that Part of the Country; but their Stories would have been the same, or very near it, if they had been free from the ludicrous and satirical Manner in which they were delivered.

Ill-nature will excite in its unhappy Vassals, a malignant Satisfaction to find the Truth (especially relating to Mankind) disguised in an antick Dress; and there is nothing more easy than to furnish out the Masquerade with ridiculous outward Appearances. But neither of our Correspondents seems to have been inclined that Way; for if the Person, to whom these Epistles were addressed, had been of that Tranpe, there is no Doubt but the Writer, who took so much Pains for his Information, would likewise have gratified him in that Particular.

It must be owned, there are some few Strokes that savour a little of the Satyrical, but they are very few, yet just enough to shew, that if Inclination had prompted, Humour would not have been wanting; and even those few are only relating to such Vices and Vanities as might easily be reformed; and, as they are now made publick, they may serve as Admonitions to such as apply them to themselves.

What shameful Portraits have been drawn for a Highlander! I shall only mention one, and that is, in the True-born Englishman.

His Description is much more shocking than entertaining to any one who has the least Humanity. But the owner of a chast Mind might have been well pleased to see the unknown Face divested of the odious Vizor.

It may be said--That Poem is a profest Satyr, but I even deny it to be one; for a true Satyrist is too delicate to Lash with a Flail.

There be some who have made a Reproach of unavoidable Poverty, and of Customs and Methods of acting, which, (I now find) according to the Nature of the Country, and Circumstances of the Inhabitants, could not be changed for others to be more reasonable and commodious. But, far otherwise, the Writer of these Letters. He seems to have catched at all Opportunities for Excuse, and even Commendation, and has not spared his own Country, or Countrymen, when the one deserved his Animadversion, or the other required an Acknowledgment; so far has he been from invidious Comparisons.

I must own he has likewise kept his Word in observing little Order or Method, for it plainly appears he took no Pains about either; But then that very Neglect has been the Cause of more sudden Variety, (to use his Correspondent’s Phrase) and the little Stories that are scattered here and there, (I think not much known in England) serve now and then to break, as the Painter says, a too long-continued Line of Description.

I shall say no more in Relation to his Style, than that a Nicety is seldom much regarded in familiar Epistles from Friend to Friend, especially in long Relations of Facts, or other Narrations; besides, he says himself, it would have taken up too much of his Time to smooth his Periods; and we all know that Words and Phrases will not dance into elegant order at the Sound of a Fiddle.

It may possibly be said, by some of the Northern People, that the Writer has borne too hard upon a Part of the then Inhabitants of Inverness. Of that I cannot pretend to make myself a Judge, only that, as a Reader, it does not seem to me to be so by the Tenor of his other Letters, and particularly by his Appeal to the Officers of the Army who had been in those Quarters; and surely this he would not have done (when he might have been so easily disproved) if he was conscious of Untruths, and had the least Regard to his Friend’s Opinion of his Veracity.

To conclude: If the Facts, Circumstances, and Descriptions, contained in the following Letters, are allowed to be just and genuine (as I really believe they are) may they not be given in Evidence, against such as are fond of shewing the Wantonness of Invention and Drollery, upon Objects altogether improper for that Purpose! and might not any one reasonably conclude, that such Jokers believe all Mankind to be ridiculous, who have not an Affluence of Fortune, or that entertain a Garb; or Customs different from their own, and were not born in the same Parish? And, if so, I think they themselves are the fittest Subjects of Ridicule.

I am,

The impartial Reader’s
Obedient humble Servant,


THE author of the following letters (the genuineness of which has never been questioned in the country where the accuracy of his delineations may best be appreciated) is commonly understood to have been Captain Burt, an officer of engineers, who, about 1730, was sent into Scotland as a contractor, &c. The character of the work is long since decided by the general approbation of those who are most masters of the subject; so that it will be here only necessary to add such notices and remarks as may tend to illustrate the subject in general, as well as to prepare the reader for what is to follow.


And first, it may be expected that somewhat should be said of the antiquity of the Highlanders, and the unmixed purity of their Celtic blood and language, of which they are more proud than of other more valuable distinctions to which they have a less questionable claim.

Whence the first inhabitants of our mountains came, or who they were, it would now be idle to inquire. They have no written annals of their own; and the few scattered notices respecting them that remain, are to be gathered from strangers, who cannot be supposed to have had any accurate knowledge of their traditions concerning themselves. That a large portion of their population once was Celtic. cannot be doubted ; but of this distinction, there seems to be less understood than the learned have commonly supposed. The traditions, superstitions, and earliest impressions of all the nations of the west, of whom in a less cultivated state, we have any knowledge, seem to point to the cast, “the great cradle of mankind,” as the la?id of their fathers; and we consider the Goths and Celts as deriving their origin as well as their language from the same source; the Celts having been the earlier, and the Goths the later wanderers westward. Although their complexion, language, religion, and habits, formed under different skies, and in different circumstances, exhibited in the end different appearances; yet the further back that we are able to trace them, the stronger the marks of identity are found to be; and presumptive evidence must be admitted, where positive proof is not to be expected. Of this kind of evidence, a very curious example is to be found in the end of the seventh book of Temora, where the following striking apostrophe occurs:-

0 Ullin, Carruil, and Rouno,
Voices of the time that has given way of old,
Let me hear you in the darkness of Selma,
And awaken the spirit of songs.
1 hear you not, children of melody:
[In] what hall of clouds is your \resf\ slumber?
Strike ye the harp that is not heavy.
In the gloomy robes of the mist of the morning,
Where the sun rises very sonorous
From the grey-headed waves?

Now, we know that all nations, having no light but that of nature to guide them, especially when in difficult circumstances, look with fond aspirations towards the land of their fathers, to which they believe and hope that their souls after death will return. This was the belief of the Goths in their state of probation in Scandinavia, and the hall ofOdin was in Asgard and here we find the Caledonian bard, in the true spirit of the ancient and original belief of his countrymen, supposing the hall of the rest of his departed friends to be in the east^ where the sufi rises.

But whoever the first settlers were, their state was so precarious, that the same districts were continually changing their masters, sometimes in possession of one tribe, sometimes of another, sometimes of Goths, sometimes of Celts, and finally, of a mixed race composed of both. In the earliest periods of which history or tradition have preserved any memorials, the characters and habits of life of the inhabitants of the Scottish Highlands and Isles, and of the Northern Men, with whom they had constant intercourse, so nearly resembled each other, that what is said of one, may be with equal justice applied to the other; and even their languages bear the nearer resemblance to each other, the further back that they are traced. Almost all the great Highland clans know not only whence they came to their present settlements, whether from Ireland, Norway, or the Scottish Lowlands, but many of them know the precise time of their emigration. Of those who came from Ireland, the Celtic origin may well be doubted. We know that the Goths had established themselves in that island as early as the third century, and that Cork, Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, &c., were built by them. As the descendants of these colonists were mariners and pirates, like their fathers, they kept to the sea-coast, and were therefore more likely than uplanders to remove in the case of distress, discontent, or want of room at home, to the Scottish Highlands and Isles. That many of these isles were inhabited by Goths from Scandinavia, at a very early period, is evident from the traditions, poetry, and tales, of the Highlanders. Indeed with respect to some of them, no traces remain of their having ever had any other permanent inhabitants. With the history of the more recent arrival of the Northern Men in Orkney, Shetland, Caithness, Sutherland, &c., we are better acquainted from the Icelandic historians; and of the Hebridians and Highlanders, properly so called, the great clans of M‘Leod, M‘Lean, M‘Neil, Sutherland, Iver, Graham (Gram), Bruce (Bris), &c., are confessedly from the same quarter; if the M-Donalds and M‘Kenzies (to the latter of whom we attach the M‘Rras) came immediately from Ireland their designations nevertheless show that they were not originally Celtic ; the Frazers {de Tresale'), and the Chisholms (whose real name is Cecil) went from the Lowlands, as did the Gordons, and the Stewarts of Appin and Athol ; the Kennedies (one of the last reclaimed of all the clans) were from Carrick and its neighbourhood; the Campbells {de campo hello) are allowed to be Normans; the Murrays, as well as the Mdntoshes, M‘Phersons, and other branches of the Clan Chattan are generally understood to have come from the interior of Germany; and, in short, with the exception of the Macgregors, their descendants the Macnabs, the [Irish?] Macarthurs, and a few others of inferior note, there seem to be none of the ancient Celtic race remaining.

How the men were thus changed, while the language continued, is easily accounted for. The frequent appeals made to the king by chiefs at war among themselves, sometimes drew upon them the chastisement of the Scotish government, which was fond enough of seizing such opportunities of extending its own influence. Expeditions were fitted out, encouragement was given to the neighbours of the devoted party to join their array, and wherever the army went, submission and order were produced for the time; but the state of the country remained the same as before. The possessions of the parties against whom the vengeance of the invaders was directed, were given, partly to new settlers from the Lowlands, and partly to their more powerful or more politic neighbours, as a bribe to ensure their favour to the new arrangements. These colonists, being mostly young male adventurers consulted their own interest and security by marrying women of the country, and the children of such marriages, being left in childhood entirely to the care of their mothers, grew up perfect Highlanders in language, habits, and ideas, and were no wise to be distinguished from their neighbours, except that, perhaps, they were less civilized, being strangers to the cultivation peculiar to the country of their fathers, without having acquired in its full virtue that of the country in which they were born. The Scandinavians, who over-ran a great part of the isles and adjacent districts of the main-land, brought few women from their own country, and their descendants were naturalized in the same manner; and the best dialect of the Gaelic is now spoken by those clans whose Gothic extraction has iiever been disputed. Their tales, poetry, and traditions, continued with the language in which they had always been delivered down from one generation to another.

From the accounts to be found in various parts of this work, particularly in the Gartmore MS. it will be seen that, from the manner in which the lands, the superiority of which belonged to the chief of a clan, were portioned out by division and subdivision, according to proximity of blood, to the cadets of great families, the aboriginal inhabitants of the country must in the end have been actually shouldered out of existence, because no means were left for their support, and consequently they could not marry and be productive. These men, attached by habit, language, and prejudice, to their native country, upon which they had little claim but for benevolence, became sorners and sturdy beggars, and were tolerated, and supported, as the Lazzaroni were in Naples, and as Abraham-men., and sturdy beggars of all sorts, were in England, after the suppression of the monasteries, and before there was any regular parochial provision for the poor. From this system it arose, that each Highland clan at last actually became what they boasted themselves to be one family., descended from the same founder, and all related to their chief, and to each other. If the chiefs of so many such clans were Goths, how is it possible that the pure Celtic blood should have continued its current, unpolluted, among them, till the present day? The Celtic form of their language has been sufficiently accounted for; and its identity with the Irish proves nothing more than what we know to have been the case, that both dialects, having passed through nearly the same alembic, have come out of nearly the same form, with much more purity than could well have been expected, and much less than their admirers have generally claimed for them.

For the illustration of the characters and manners of our mountaineers, such as they were in the days of our author, it will not be necessary to go further back in time than the period when their condition began to differ from that of their neighbours, and submission and tribute were required of them by the kings of Scotland, to whom they owed no homage, and whose general enmity was less to be feared than their partial protection. Their liberty, their arms, and the barren fastnesses of their country, were almost all that they could call their own; a warlike race of men, under such circumstances, are not likely to give up their all with good will; and those who had not enough for themselves, must have been little disposed to contribute anything for the support of a power which it was certainly not their interest to strengthen.

Emigrants from Ireland, or from Scandinavia (most of whom had withdrawn from
the usurpations of a sovereignty in their own country, to which their proud spirits could not submit), whether they obtained their settlements by conquest or by compact, as they had been accustomed to consider their swords as the sole arbiters of their rights, were not likely to put their acquisitions at the mercy of a king to whom they owed no allegiance, so long as they had the means of asserting their independence. Of the state of our own mountaineers when these strangers first arrived among them, we know very little; but the Irish, with whom they had constant intercourse, and who inhabited a much finer country, must have been in a very rude state indeed, when they suffered themselves to be conquered by a handful of Englishmen. But whatever the previous state of the country was, such an accession of ambitious and adventurous pirates and freebooters to their population, was not likely to contribute to the tranquillity of the neighbourhood; and after the establishment of the English in Ireland the constant intercourse between the Highlanders and Irish afforded the English an opportunity of making alliances with the Highland chiefs, whom they engaged to make diversions in their favour by attacking the Scots, as the French stirred up the Scots against the English.

The attempts made from time to time to civilize the country, by partial colonization from the Lowlands, had very little effect, as the colonists uniformly adopted the spirit and habits of the natives, it being more agreeable and easy to lay aside the restraints imposed by an artificial state of society, than to adopt them; but some better results attended the policy of obliging the refractory chiefs to attend the court, or surrender themselves to some man of rank, under whose surveillance they were to remain till pardoned; after which they were to present themselves annually, either in Edinburgh or elsewhere, to renew their assurances of “good behaviour.” This produced at least a more intimate acquaintance, and consequent connection, between the gentry of the Highlands and Lowlands, and made the former ambitious of acquiring those accomplishments, which might justify their pretensions to a distinction and consideration, which they had no other means of supporting, beyond the range of their own mountains. Limited as the diffusion of book learning certainly was among them, one thing is nevertheless unquestionable, that history poetry, and music, were the favourite recreations of their leisure, among the lowest vulgar; and their clergy and physicians, who were all gentlemen, read and wrote, both in their mother tongue, and in Latin. From the Privy Council record, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, it appears that the gentlemen of note, although they understood English, commonly signed their names in a bold distinct Irish Character (as it is called), which shows that they were accustomed to writing in their own language, and probably were, partly at least, educated in Ireland, to which country all who adopted either poetry or music as a profession, were uniformly sent to finish their education, till within the memory of persons still living.

The disturbances in the reign of Charles the First, opened a new term in the history of the Highlanders; but it is much to be regretted, that, for a long period after, having no historians of their own, their friends durst not speak the truth of them, and their characters have therefore been entirely at the mercy of their bitterest enemies, who knew them only to hate them, in proportion as they feared them. Of all their virtues, courage was the only respectable quality conceded to them, and this out of compliment to the best disciplined troops of the day, whom, with less than equal numbers, they had so often routed; but even their courage was disparaged, being represented as mere ferocity arising from ignorance, and a blind and slavish submission to their chiefs. To speak of them otherwise, beyond the precincts of their own glens, was so unsafe, that in 1744 and 5, all the measures adopted and recommended by President Forbes, were near being frustrated, and he himself persecuted as a Jacobite, because he spoke and wrote of them like a gentleman and a man of discernment, being almost the only man of his party that had the liberal spirit and good sense to do so.

In one great and radical mistake, all our historians agree. They represent the attachment of the clans to the house of Stewart, as cherishing the ferocious habits, and retarding the civilization of the Highlanders; whereas the very reverse of this was the case. The real friends of the house of Stewart, in England, and more particularly in Scotland, were distinguished by a refined education, high breeding, elevated sentiments, a chivalrous love of fame, a noble and disinterested devotion to a cause which they believed to be good, and a social, warm-hearted, conviviality and frankness of character, totally different from the sour, intolerant, and acrimonious spirit of Presbyterian bigotry in the north, and the heartless and selfish saving knowledge of the south—

“When the very dogs at the English court
“Did bark, and howl in German.”!

From the state of their country, the political bias of the Highlanders, and the eclat which they had acquired under Montrose and Dundee, the eyes of all Europe were turned towards them as the only hope of the house of Stewart. Their chiefs were courted by, and had frequent personal intercourse with the friends of that family who were of most note, both in Scotland, England, and Ireland, and on the continent. Studying to accomplish themselves for the part they had to act, and always received -w'ith the greatest distinction in the best society, they became statesmen, warriors, and fine gentlemen. Their sons, after passing through the usual routine in the schools and universities of Scotland, were sent to France to finish their education. As the policy of the whig governments was to crush and destroy, not to conciliate, and they found neither countenance nor employment at home, they entered into the French or Spanish service, and in those countries were, from political views, treated with a distinction suitable, not to their pecuniary circumstances, but to their importance in their own country. Great numbers of the more promising of the youth of their clans joined them; and, in order that the luxurious indulgencies of a more favoured climate might not render them unfit or unwilling to settle in their own country, at the end of two or three years they returned for a time to their relations, with all their accomplishments in knowledge and manners, and, with their relish for early habits still unimpaired, resumed the quilted plaid and bonnet, and were replaced in their regiments abroad by another set of young adventurers of the same description. Thus among the gentry, the urbanity and knowledge of the most polished countries in Europe were added to a certain moral and mental civilization, good in its kind, and peculiar to themselves. At home, they conversed with the lower classes, in the most kindly and cordial manner, on all occasions, and gratified their laudable and active curiosity, in communicating all they knew. This advantage of conversing freely with their superiors, the peasantry of no other country in Europe enjoyed, and the consequence was, that in 1745 the Scottish Highlanders, of all descriptions, had more of that polish of ind and sentiment, which constitutes real civilization, than in general the inhabitants of any other country we know of, not even excepting Iceland. This a stranger, who, not understanding their language, could see only the outside of things, could never be sensible of Book-learning.^ it is true, was confined to the gentry, because in a country so thinly peopled, schools would have been useless; they were too poor to have private instructors; and they had good reasons for looking with no favourable eye upon any thing that was Saxon. But most of the gentlemen spoke Gaelic, English, Latin, and French, and many of- them Spanish, having access to all the information of which these languages were the vehicles. The lower classes were, each ac- cording to his gift of natural intellect, well acquainted with the topography of their own country, and with its history, particular as well as general, for at least three centuries back; they repeated and listened to, with all the enthusiastic delight of a thorough feeling and perfect intelligence, many thousand lines of poetry of the very highest kind (for such they really had among them in abundance, notwithstanding the doubts which the dishonesty of MacPherson and his associates has raised on that subject); and their music (which, as it speaks the language of nature, not of nations, is more intelligible to a stranger) is allowed, when performed can amore to be the production of a people among whom the better sympathies of our nature must have been cultivated to a great extent. These facts indicate a very high degree of intellectual refinement, entirely independent of the fashion of their lower garments,* from the sight of which, and the sound of a language which they did not understand, their neighbours were fully satisfied of their barbarity and inquired no further.

In justification of this account of their character in 1745, in addition to the information procured in the country, as well as in the Lowlands and in England, we can with confidence appeal to the letters of their chiefs, and to the public documents and periodical publications of the time, although these last were written by their bitterest enemies, with a view to influence the public against them. From all the information we have been able to collect, it appears that in their whole progress to and from Derby, their conduct, all circumstances considered, was not only orderly and proper, but, in innumerable instances, in the highest degree humane and magnanimous. In England, the courtly elegance, in manners and conversation, of the Highland gentleman, their dignified deportment, the discipline they preserved among their men, but, above all, the kind-hearted, sensible, and considerate good-nature and indulgence which they everywhere manifested towards women and children (a strong feature in the Highland character, and the best proof of true civilization), which was so different from what the English had been led to expect, made so favourable an impression, and formed such a contrast to the insolent brutality of the king’s troops, officers and men, who marched down after them, that in many instances, which we know from the parties concerned, the women (for the men durst not speak out) could not help telling the latter, “when the rebels, as they are called, were here, they behaved very differently—they behaved like gentlemen—quite like gentlemen—God help them!” Such reproaches, so justly provoked, and so often repeated, produced only aggravation of insult and abuse, and (such was the spirit of the time) ladies of the greatest respectability were, by officers of rank, damned for Jacobite b*****s, and told that they were all rebels together, if they durst avow it, and deserved to have their houses burnt over their heads!

With the exception of Mrs Grant’s admirable Essays, and those of the Rev. Dr
Graham of Aberfoyl, almost all the accounts of the Highlanders have been written either by enemies, with all the virulence of party spirit, or by strangers, from partial information; and, consequently, hardly any thing has been said of them but to their disadvantage. Hence the vague and idle declamations about deadly feuds between clan and clan, bloody conflicts, desperate encounters, depredations, robberies, murders, assassinations, and all manner of sentiousness. In answer to all which, we shall only observe, that every clan was a little community by itself, under circumstances by no means favourable to quiet life among a poor, free, bold, and hardy race of men; and ask the impassionate reader, what all the great and polished nations of the earth were doing, while the mountaineers of Scotland were thus murdering one another? Amid the proud triumphs of that civilization under which we are now supposed to live, it is mortifying to reflect, that in the course of twenty years, during the last war, there was twice as much Highland blood split [upwards of 13,000 have been enlisted into one single regiment!] as was shed by Highlanders on their own account, in any way whatsoever during the three centuries that preceded the abolition of the feudal system among them in 1748!

That they lifted cattle is true, — and this was so common, that the poor beasts, like their fellow-denizens of the wilderness, the deer and roe, seldom knew to what glen they belonged;—but these things were managed in a way peculiar to themselves, and so seldom occasioned bloodshed, that with all their berships riefs, hot-trods., and rescues, we may venture to affirm, that ten Yorkshiremen lost their lives for horse-stealing, for one Highlander that died in a case of cattle lifting.

Private robbery, murder, and petty theft were hardly known among them. It has been said that “there was nothing to steal;” but there was comparative wealth and poverty in their country, as well as elsewhere; and the poorer the people were, the stronger was the temptation, and the stronger must the principle have been that enabled them to resist it. And here, for the sake of illustration, it may not be out of place to say somewhat of the heavy accusations brought against the Clangregor, particularly in Graham of Gartmore’s MS. As there is no end to the clamours which have been echoed from one generation to another, against this disorderly tribe, vve shall state a few simple facts, to show the nature of their irregularities, They had long been deprived of their lands, their name, their political existence, and the protection of the Laws, and left to provide for, and protect themselves as best they might. Their lands had been appropriated by their more powerful and politic neighbours, particularly the predecessors of the duke of Montrose. This, and that nobleman’s new-fangled whig politics, had exposed him particularly to their indignation, which he shared with Graham of Gartmore, and other gentlemen of the clan, who, having adopted the same principles, were regarded as recreant Grahams. When they lifted the duke’s cattle, took his rents from his steward, or emptied his girnel of the farm meal after it had been paid in, they considered themselves as only taking what ought to have been their own.

The manner in which this was commonly done, shows how unjustly they were accused of general cruelty and oppression to their neighbours. On one occasion, Rob Roy, ith only one attendant.^ went to the house in which the duke’s tenants had been convened to pay their rents; took the money from the steward in their presence; gave them certificates that all had been duly paid before he seized it, which exonerated them from all further claim; treated them liberally with whiskey; made them swear upon his dirk^ that not one of them would stir out of the house, till three hours after he was gone; took a good-humoured leave of them; and deliberately returned to the Braes. Those who know the spirit of the Grahams of that day, will be satisfied that this could never have taken place had the tenants not been very well pleased to see their money come into Rob’s hands. When called out by the duke to hunt down Rob and his followers, they always contrived to give him timely warning, or to mislead the scent, so that the expedition came to nothing. When the duke once armed them for defence, they sent notice to Rob’s nephew, Glengyle, to come round with such a force as would be a decent excuse for their submission, and collect the arms, which they considered as a disagreeable and dangerous deposit; and when the M‘Gregors took the field in 1715, the cavalier spirit of the Grahams rose, and many of the duke’s dependants, scorning their superior and his politics, followed their standard. This showed that they did not consider the Braes of Balquhidder as a bad neighbourhood.

In all the thinly-peopled districts by which the M‘Gregors were surrounded, the whole property of the tenants was constantly at the mercy of thieves, if there had been such in the country. The doors of their houses were closed by a latch, or wooden bolt; and a man with a clasp-knife might in a few minutes have cut open the door, or even the wicker walls of the house. Detached from the dwelling-house, from fear of fire, was a small wicker barn, or store-house, still less carefully secured, in which they kept their whole stock of hams, butter, cheese (for they then had such things) corn, meal, blankets, webs, yarn, wool, &c. These houses and barns were often left unprotected for days together, when the people were abroad cutting and winning turf, making hay or reaping for their superior, or tending their cattle in distant pastures. This was the case all over the Highlands; yet nothing was ever stolen or disturbed! Of what civilised country, in the best of times, can as much be said?

A spirit of revenge has too often been attributed to them, as a distinguishing feature of character; and the ancient prejudice on this subject remains, long after the habits in which it originated have disappeared. In a certain state of society, in all countries, revenge has been not only accounted manly and honourable, but has been bequeathed as a sacred trust, from father to son, through ages, to be wreaked as an indispensable duty of piety. This was particularly the case among the Scandinavians, from whom many of the Highlanders are descended; and as they remained longer than their neighbours in a state in which they had no laws to appeal to, there can be no doubt that many things were done in the way of retaliation, which would now be considered as lawless and violent; but, as the sum of infliction from wilful resentment among them bore no proportion to the sum of infliction from outraged laws in other countries, the balance in favour of humanity and forbearance, even in the most turbulent times we are acquainted with, will be found to be considerably in their favour. A man killed at his own fire-side by him whom he had injured, was talked of for ages, while five hundred such persons hanged at Tyburn were forgotten as soon as cut down!

Men of strong and lively feelings are generally earnest in their likings and dislikings; but notwithstanding the constant provocations they have been receiving, during the last thirty years, from their landlords, landstewards, (generally English or Lowland attornies) Lowland tacksmen, farm-appraisers, and farm-jobbers, who live among them, or occasionally visit them, like the pestilence, with oppression, insult, and misery in their train,

“Destruction before them, and sorrow behind;”

in the midst of these grievous and daily wrongs, wilful fire-raising, houghing of cattle, and assassination, so common among their neighbours, are unheard of among them!

On the subject of drunkenness, of which they have been so often accused, we refer the reader with confidence to Mrs. Grant’s Essays, which are Written in the true spirit of candour and of truth, and from an intimate and thorough knowledge of her subject. Donald is a lively, warmhearted, companionable fellow: likes whiskey when he wants it, as others learn to do who visit his country; and is no enemy to a hearty jollification upon occasion; but we never knew in the Highlands an habitual drunkard, who had learnt that vice in his own country, if we except such, about Fort-William and Fort-Augustus, as had been corrupted by the foreign soldiers resident among them. This was the case about thirty years ago, but a melancholy change has since taken place.

At that time, the privilege of distilling at Farrintosh had not been withdrawn from the Culloden family, and good whiskey was so cheap (about tenpence an English quart), that there was no temptation to illicit distillation. At present, the poor distressed and degraded peasants (who would still do well if they could, and cling to their native glens, the land of their fathers, to the last) are compelled, by hard necessity, to have recourse to smuggling, in order to raise money to gratify the insane avarice of their misguided and degenerate landlords, who, with a view to immediate gain, connive at their proceedings, without considering that their own ruin must be the consequence of the demoralization of their tenants. Illicit stills are to be found everywhere: encouraging drunkenness is encouraging trade; and the result is such as might be expected. But that the Highlander, when he has fair means of showing himself, is still averse to such profligacy, is proved by the conduct of the Highland regiments,* which, amid the contagion of bad examples, and all the licences peculiar to camps and a military life, have always been distinguished above all others wherever they have been stationed, for their sobriety, honesty, and kindly good nature and good humour. It is almost peculiar to this people, that the greatest beauties in their character have commonly been considered as blemishes.

Among these, the most prominent are family pride, the love of kindred, even to the exclusion of justice, and attachment to a country which seems to have so few charms to the inhabitants of more favoured regions. A family consisting of four or live thousand souls, all known to, connected with, and depending upon, each other, is certainly something that a man may be justified in considering as of some importance; and if a Highlander could neither be induced by threats nor promises to appear in a criminal court against a kinsman, or give him up to the vengeance of the law, as is so common elsewhere, we may admire and pity, but can hardly in our hearts blame him. Who that has done such things ever did any good afterwards?

The Highlander loves his country, because he loves heartily well every thing that has ever been interesting to him, and this his own country was before he knew any other. Wherever he goes, he finds the external face of nature, or the institutions, language, and manners of the people, so different from what was dear to him in his youth, that he is everywhere else a stranger, and naturally sighs for home, with all its disadvantages, which, however formidable they may appear to others, are with him connected with such habits and recollections, that he would not remove them, if a wish could do it. Some of the usages mentioned in the following work, may give rise to misapprehension.

To strangers, the children of the gentry appeared to be totally neglected, till they were of an age to go to school; and this, in some measure, continued even to our own times; but it was the wisdom and affection of their parents that put them in such situations. Aware of the sacredness of their trust, those with whom they were placed never lost sight of their future destiny; and as they were better acquainted with the condition of their superiors than persons of the same rank in life had means of being in other countries, no habits of meanness or vulgarity were contracted from such an education. Delicacy, with respect to food, clothing, and accommodation, would have been the greatest curse that could be entailed upon them: from early association, they learnt to feel an interest in all that concerned those among whom they had spent those years to which all look back with fond regret; and this intimate practical acquaintance with the condition, habits, and feelings of their dependants, produced afterwards a bond of union and endearment in the highest degree beneficial to all parties; at the same time that they could, with less inconvenience, encounter such difficulties and privations as the future vicissitudes of life might expose them to.

The ostentatiousness of the public, and beggarliness of the private economy of their chiefs, has been ridiculed.—If they stinted themselves, in order to entertain their guests the better, they surely deserved a more grateful return. They lived in a poor country, where good fare could not be found for every day; and after half a dozen servants had waited at table, while the chief and his family were making a private meal of hasty-pudding and milk, crowdy (graddenmeal and whipt cream), curds and cream, bread and cheese, fish, or what they might chance to have, those servants retired to the kitchen, cheerful and contented to their homely dinner, without any of those heart-burnings produced by the sight of luxuries in which they could have no share. Their fare might be hard, but their superiors were contented with it, and so were they. Such self-denial in the chiefs reconciled their dependants to disadvantages which they had no means of surmounting, and was equally humane and considerate.

Their submission to their chiefs has been called slavish; and too many of the chiefs of the present day are willing enough to have this believed, because they wish to impute their own want of influence to any cause rather than the true one; but the lowest clansman felt his own individual importance as much as his chief, whom he considered as such only “ad vitam aut ad culpam;” and although there was certainly a strong feeling in favour of the lineal descendant of the steam-father of their race, which prevented them from being rash, harsh, or unjust to him, there was also a strong feeling of honour and independence, which prevented them from being unjust to themselves. When a chief proved unworthy of his rank, he was degraded from it, and (to avoid jealousy and strife) the next in order was constituted in his room—but never a low-born man or a stranger; as it was a salutary rule among them, as in other military establishments, not to put one officer over the head of another. But it was not with a Highland chief as with other rulers; "when he fell, he fell like Lucifer, never to rise again", his degradation was complete, because he owed it to a common feeling of reprobation, not to the caprice, malice, or ambition of a faction; for every one was thoroughly acquainted with the merits of the cause, and while there was any thing to be said in his favour, his people had too much respect for themselves to show public disrespect to him. The same dignified feeling prevented their resentment from being bloody; he was still their kinsman, however unworthy ; and having none among them to take his part, was no longer dangerous.

Their affectation of gentry (if such a term may be allowed) has been treated with endless ridicule, because it did not (much to the credit of their liberality) include the idea of wealth; but we believe few gentlemen in the Highlands, however poor, would have been flattered by being classed, as to civilization., with the gentleman, our author’s friend, who attempted to ride into the rainbow.

The humane, indulgent, and delicate attention of people of fortune in the Highlands to their poor relations was one of the finest features in their character, and might furnish a very edifying example to the inhabitants of more favoured region; and, to an honourable mind, there are surely considerations of higher importance than fine clothes and good eating. It has been imputed to their pride and stupidity, that they did not flee from the poverty of their own country, and try their fortunes, as labourers and mechanics, among strangers, where they might, in time, have obtained better food and accommodation; but to give up their rank in society, with all the endearing offices and sympathies of friendship and affection to which they had been accustomed at home, and which were so soothing and so flattering to their feelings, and to go where they were sure to be degraded beneath the lowest of the low, and continually exposed to contempt, ridicule, and insult, for their ignorance of the arts and habitudes of those among whom/ they lived in short, to sell their birth-right for a mess of pottage— would have argued a beggarliness of soul and spirit, which, happily, their worst enemies do not accuse them of.

The foregoing remarks, which seemed necessary for illustrating the characters of a very singular and interesting people, have already extended this preface to a much greater length than was at first intended, which will be the less regretted, if the honest wish by which these details were prompted has been in any degree fulfilled. Of undue partiality, it is hoped the writer will not be rashly accused, for he is not a Highlander; and, having gone to the mountains, at the age of fifteen, from the Laigh of Murray (“whence every man had a right to drive a prey and where, of course, the character of their neighbours was not very popular), he carried among them prejudices which nothing but the conviction arising from observation and experience could have re- moved. Of what he then heard, saw, and felt, he has since had sufficient leisure to form a cool and dispassionate estimate, during a residence of many years in various parts of England, Wales, the north of Europe, and the Lowlands of Scotland. As he had no Celtic enthusiasm to struggle with, and his deductions have all been made from facts, it is hoped they may be received by strangers with suitable confidence.To what good purpose he has availed himself of the advantages he enjoyed, in fitting himself for his present task, every reader will judge for himself; but when he makes it known that it was first recommended to him by Mr. Scott (to whom both he and this publication, as well as the world in general, are so much indebted), his vanity will readily be pardoned, as, even if it should be found that that gentleman’s kindness for the man has over-stepped his discretion as to the writer, the general conclusion will not be dishonourable to either party.

As a close affinity in manners, habits, and character, between the ancient as well as present mountaineers of Norway and Scotland has frequently been alluded to, these prolusions may be closed, not unaptly, with a fragment of Highland biography, which may be regarded as a great curiosity, particularly by such as are acquainted with the Icelandic and Norse Sagas, which it so strongly resembles. Of Hammer Donald.) we shall only observe, that although the circumstances of his early life made him (like Viga Gluni) and other celebrated kemps and homicides of the North) a very unmanageable and dangerous neighbour, there were then varieties of character in the Highlands as well as elsewhere. Donald’s clan had been but lately introduced into the country; his father although a brave man, was denominated “the Peaceful;” and his son narrowly escaped being murdered in the very act of teaching his servants how to cultivate the ground.

In volume 1 you can also read an account of...

The History of Donald The Hammer
From an authentic Account of the Family of Invernahyle.
[MS. communicated by Walter Scott, Esq.]

Alexander, the first Invernahyle, commonly called Saoileach, or “the Peaceful,” was son of Allan Stewart, third laird of Appin. He married Margaret M‘Donald, daughter of Donald M‘Donald of Moidart, commonly called Donald an Lochan or Donald of the Lakes; but a deadly feud arose between Invernahyle and the family of Dunstaffnage, which, in the first instance, caused the overthrow of both.

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