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The highland dress being forbidden by law, is very little used; sometimes it may be seen, but the English traveller is struck with nothing so much as the nudité des pies of the common people.
Skie is the greatest island, or the greatest but one, among the Hebrides. Of the soil I have already given some account; it is generally barren, but some spots are not wholly unfruitful. The gardens have apples and pears, cherries, strawberries, raspberries, currants, and gooseberries, but all the fruit that I have seen is small. They attempt to sow nothing but oats and barley. Oats constitute the bread corn of the place. Their harvest is about the beginning of October; and being so late, is very much subject to disappointments from the rains that follow the equinox. This year has been particularly disastrous. Their rainy season lasts from autumn to spring. They have seldom very hard frosts; nor was it ever known that a lake was covered with ice strong enough to bear a skater. The sea round them is always open. The snow falls, but soon melts; only in 1771, they had a cold spring, in which the island was so long covered with it, that many beasts, both wild and domestick, perished, and the whole country was reduced to distress, from which I know not if it is even yet recovered.
The animals here are not remarkably small; perhaps they recruit their breed from the main land. The cows are sometimes without horns. The horned and unhorned cattle are not accidental variations, but different species; they will however breed together.
October 3d, The wind is now changed, and if we snatch the moment of opportunity, an escape from this island is become practicable; I have no reason to complain of my reception, yet I long to be again at home.
You and my master may perhaps expect, after this description of Skie, some account of myself. My eye is, I am afraid, not fully recovered; my ears are not mended; my nerves seem to grow weaker, and I have been otherwise not as well as I sometimes am, but think myself lately better. This climate perhaps is not within my degree of healthy latitude.
Thus I have given my most honoured mistress the story of me and my little ramble. We are now going to some other isle, to what we know not; the wind will tell us. I am, &c.
LETTER XXV. To Mrs. Thrale.
Mull, Oct. 15, 1773. THOUGH I have written to Mr. Thrale, yet having a little more time than was promised me, I would not suffer the messenger to go without some token of my duty to my mistress, who, I suppose, expects the usual tribute of intelligence, a tribute which I am not now very able to pay.
October 3d, After having been detained by storms many days in Skie, we left it, as we thought with a fair wind; but a violent gust, which Bos. had a great mind to call a tempest, forced us into Coll, an obscure island; on which
-nulla campis Arbor æstivâ recreatur aura.
There is literally no tree upon the island, part of it is a sándy waste, over which it would be really dangerous to travel in dry weather and with a high wind. It seems to be little more than one continued rock, covered from space to space with a thin layer of earth. It is, however, according to the Highland notion, very populous, and life is improved beyond the manners of Skie; for the huts are collected into little villages, and every one has a small garden of roots and cabbage. The laird has a new house built by his uncle, and an old castle inhabited by his ancestors. The young laird entertained us very liberally; he is heir, perhaps, to three hundred square miles of land, which, at ten shillings an acre, would bring him ninety-six thousand pounds a year. He is desirous of improving the agriculture of his country; and, in imitation of the Czar, travelled for improvement, and worked with his own hands upon a farm in Hertfordshire, in the neighbourhood of your uncle Sir Thomas Şalusbury. He talks of doing useful things, and has introduced turnips for winter fodder. He has made a small essay towards a road.
Coll is but a barren place. Description has here few opportunities of spreading her colours. The difference of day and night is the only vicissitude. The succession of sunshine to rain, or of calms to tempests, we have not known; wind and rain have been our only weather.
At last, after about nine days, we hired a sloop; and having lain in it all night, with such accommodations as these miserable vessels can afford, were landed yesterday on the isle of Mull; from which we expect an easy passage into Scotland. I am sick in a ship, but recover by lying down.
I have not good health; I do not find that travelling much helps me. My nights are flatulent, though not in the utmost degree, and I have a weakness in my knees, which makes me very unable to walk. Pray, dear Madam, let me have a long letter.
I am, &c.
LETTER XXVI. TO Mrs. Thrale.
Inverary, Oct. 23, 1773. My last letters to you and my dear master were written from Mull, the third island of the Hebrides in extent. There is no post, and I took the opportunity of a gentleman's passage to the main land.
In Mull we were confined two days by the weather; on the third we got on horseback, and after a journey difficult and tedious, over rocks naked and valleys untracked, through a country of barrenness and solitude, we came, almost in the dark, to the sea-side, weary and dejected, having met with nothing but water falling from the mountains that could raise any image of delight. Our company was the young Laird of Col and his servant. Col made
his house where we came, and supply us with horses when we departed; but the horses of this country are small, and I was not mounted to my wish.
At the sea-side we found the ferry-boat departed;
if it had been where it was expected, the wind was against us, and the hour was late, nor was it very desirable to cross the sea in darkness with a small boat. The captain of a sloop that had been driven thither by the storms, saw our distress, and as we were hesitating and deliberating, sent his boat, which, by Col's order, transported us to the isle of Ulva. We were introduced to Mr. Macquarry, the head of a small clan, whose ancestors have reigned in Ulva beyond memory, but who has reduced himself, by his negligence and folly, to the necessity of selling this venerable patrimony.
On the next morning we passed the strait to Inch Kenneth, an island about a mile in length, and less than half a mile broad; in which Kenneth a Scottish saint established a small clerical college, of which the chapel walls are still standing. At this place I beheld a scene which I wish you and my master and Queeney had partaken.
The only family on the island is that of Sir Allan, the chief of the ancient and numerous clan of Maclean; the clan which claims the second place, yielding only to Macdonald in the line of battle. Sir Allan, a chieftain, a baronet, and a soldier, inhabits in this insulated desart a thatched hut with no chambers. Young Col, who owns him as his chief, and whose cousin was his lady, had, I believe, given him some notice of our visit; he received us with the soldier's frankness and the gentleman's elegance, and introduced us to his daughters, two young ladies who have not wanted education suitable to their birth, and who, in their cottage, nei. ther forgot their dignity, nor affected to remember it. Do not you wish to have been with us?