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Title: Nether Lochaber - The Natural History, Legends, and Folk-lore of the West Highlands
Author: Stewart, Alexander
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Nether Lochaber - The Natural History, Legends, and Folk-lore of the West Highlands" ***

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                            NETHER LOCHABER:

                          THE NATURAL HISTORY,
                         LEGENDS, AND FOLK-LORE
                         OF THE WEST HIGHLANDS.

               The Rev. ALEXANDER STEWART, F.S.A. Scot.;


                           WILLIAM PATERSON.


                      DONALD CAMPBELL, Esq., M.D.,
                      CRAIGRANNOCH, BALLACHULISH,
                        THIS VOLUME IS INSCRIBED
                              THE AUTHOR.


The contents of this volume made their first appearance in the shape
of a series of papers from "Nether Lochaber" in the Inverness Courier,
a well-known Northern Journal, long and ably conducted by the late
Dr. Robert Carruthers. They are now presented to the public in book
form, in the hope that they may meet with a friendly welcome from
a still larger constituency than gave them kindly greeting in their
original shape, as from fortnight to fortnight they appeared.

At one time it was the Author's intention to rewrite and rearrange
all, or almost all, these papers, adding, altering, or expunging as
might be considered best. On second thoughts, however--second thoughts,
besides, approved of by many literary and scientific friends, in whose
judgment and good taste the Author has the utmost confidence--it was
resolved to let them retain very much the form in which they first
attracted attention, in the belief that any good that could result
from a rewriting and reconstructing of them would be dearly purchased
if it interfered, as it was almost certain to interfere, with their
prima cura directness of phrase and freshness of local colouring.

In a volume dealing so largely with the Folk-Lore of the West Highlands
and Hebrides, there are necessarily many Gaelic rhymes and phrases
which at the first blink may tend to startle and repel the southern
reader. These Gaelic quotations, however, the Author has taken care
to translate into fairly equivalent English, so that even in this
regard it is to be hoped the volume may prove equally acceptable to
the Saxon, who is ignorant of the language of the mountains, as to
the Celt, who knows and loves it as his mother tongue.

Nether Lochaber,

June 1883.




    Primroses and Daisies in early March--"The Posie"--Burns--"The
    Ancient Mariner"--William Tennant, Author of "Anster
    Fair"--Hebridean Epithalamium--A Bard's Blessing--A
    Translation--Macleod of Berneray,                                 1


    Autumnal Tints--Solomon and the Queen of Sheba--Sortes
    Sacræ--Sortes Virgilianæ--Charles the First and Lord
    Falkland--Virgilius the Magician--Thomas of Ercildoune,           8


    An old Gaelic MS.--"The Bewitched Bachelor Unbewitched"--Fairy
    Lore--Lacteal Libations on Fairy Knowes,                         18


    Transit of Mercury--Improperly called an "Eclipse" of--November
    Meteors--Mr. Huggins--Spectrum Analyses of Cometary
    Light--Translation of a St. Kilda Song,                          23


    Bird Music--The Skylark's Song--Imitation of, by a French
    Poet--Alasdair Macdonald--Scott,                                 29


    Severe Drought--The Drive by Coach from Fort-William to
    Kingussie--Breakfast at Moy--Where did Scott find Dominie Sampson's
    "Pro-di-gi-ous!"?--Professor Blackie's Poem on Glencoe,          33


    O the Barren, Barren Shore--Brilliant Auroral Display--Intense
    Cold--Birds--Glanders--Scribblings on the Back of One Pound
    Notes,                                                           39


    A Wet February--A Good Time coming--Sir Walter Scott--Mr
    Gladstone--Death of Sir David Brewster,                          44


    Long-Line Fishing--Scarcity of Fish--Their Fecundity--Large
    Specimen of the Raia Chagrinea--The Wolf Fish--The Devil Fish,   50


    Birds--Contest between a Heron and an Eel,                       54


    Sea-Fishing--Loch and Stream Fishing--"Brindled
    Worms"--Rush-Lights--Buckie-Shell Lamps--The Weasel killing a
    Hare--Killing a Fallow Deer Fawn,                                58


    Extraordinary aspect of the Sun--Sunset from
    Rokeby--Mr. Glaisher--"Demoiselle" or Numidian Crane at
    Deerness--The Snowy Owl in Sutherlandshire--Does the Fieldfare
    breed in Scotland?--The Woodcock,                                66


    Extraordinary Heat and Drought--Plentifulness of Fungi--Cows fond
    of Mushrooms--Shoals of Whales--A rippling breeze, and a Sail on
    Loch Leven,                                                      70


    Herrings--Chimæra Monstrosa--Cure for Ringworm--Cold Tea Leaves for
    inflamed and blood-shot Eyes--An old Incantation for the cure of
    Sore Eyes--A curious Dirk Sheath--A Tannery of Human Skins,      73


    The Ring-Dove--A Pet Ring-Dove--Its Death--Shenstone--The
    Belone Vulgaris or Gar-Fish--A Rat and a Kilmarnock
    Night-cap--Extraordinary Roebuck's Head at Ardgour,              79


    The "Annus Mirabilis" of Dryden--1870 a more wonderful Year
    in its way than 1666--Winter--Number of Killed and Wounded
    in the Franco-Prussian War--Battles of Langside, Tippermuir,
    Cappel--Carrier Pigeons--The Velocity with which Birds fly,      86


    Signs of a severe Winter--The Little Auk or Auklet--The
    Gadwall--Falcons being trained by the Prussians to intercept
    the Paris Carrier Pigeons--Ballooning--The King of Prussia's
    Piety--John Forster--Solar Eclipse of 22d December 1870--The
    Government and the Eclipse--Large Solar Spots--Visible to the
    naked eye--Rev. Dr. Cumming--November Meteors,                   94


    November Rains: 1500 tons per Imperial Acre!--Rainfall in Skye--An
    old Gaelic Apologue--The Drover and his Minister--Grand Stag's
    Head--Scott as a Poet--Mr. Gladstone and Scott--An old Lullaby
    from the Gaelic,                                                 99


    Winter--Auroral Displays in the West Highlands always indicative
    of a coming Storm--Corvus Corax--Wonderful Ravens--Edgar Allan
    Poe,                                                            106


    Along the Shore after Birds--An Otter in pursuit of a Fish--Tame
    Otter at Bridge of Tilt: Employed in Fishing--His hatred of
    all sorts of Birds--"The Otter and Fox," a translation from the
    Gaelic,                                                         114


    Storms--An "inch" of Rain--Atherina Presbyter--Lophius
    Piscatorius--Mr. Mortimer Collins' misquotation from the Times, 121


    Aurora Borealis--Unfavourable weather for Birds about
    St. Valentine's Day--The Water-Vole in the Rhi--In the Eden in
    Fifeshire--In the Black Water, Kinloch Leven--Does it feed
    on Salmon Fry and Ova?--The Kingfisher--Character of the
    Water-Vole--Note about the Hedgehog,                            127


    March--The Story of a Spanish Dollar--The Spanish Armada--The
    "Florida"--Faire-Chlaidh, or Watching of the Graveyard--Molehill
    Earth for Flowers,                                              133


    The Beauty of the West Highland Seaboard--Dr. Aiton of
    Dolphinton--Dr. Norman Macleod--Specimen of Turtle-Dove (Columba
    Turtur) shot in Ardgour--The belief on the Continent of its
    value as a Household Pet--Bechstein--Male Birds dropping Eggs in
    confinement,                                                    140


    Thunderstorm--Potato Field in Bloom--The Hazel Tree--Hazel
    Nuts--Potato Shaws for Cattle--Ferns for Bedding
    Cattle--Marmion--Scott,                                         144


    Harvest--Scythe and Sickle v. Reaping Machines--Potatoes--Garibaldi
    and Potatoes at Caprera--Fishing--Platessa Gemmatus, or Diamond
    Plaice--Mushrooms--The Poetry of Fairy Rings--Harvest-Home,     150


    The disappearance of the glories of Autumn, and the advent
    of Winter--Innovations and Innovators--New Version of the
    Scriptures--The Milkmaid and her Fairy Lover, translated from
    the Gaelic,                                                     159


    Wild Birds' Nests in early April--Rook stealing Eggs frightened
    and almost captured--The Domestic Cock--What he was, and what he
    is--Sadly demoralised by intermixture with "Cochin-Chinas" and
    "Bramahpootras,"                                                165


    The Vernal Equinox--Beauty of Loch Leven--Astronomical Notes--How
    an old Woman supposed to possess the Evil Eye escaped a cruel
    death,                                                          172


    Midges and other Bloodsuckers--The Tsetse of South Africa--The
    Abyssinian Zimb--Livingstone--Adders and Grass Snakes--Lucan's
    Pharsalia--Celsus--Legend of St. John ante Portam Latinam,      178


    The Leafing of the Oak and Ash--Splendid Stags' Heads--Edmund
    Waller--Old Silver-Plate buried for preservation in the
    '45--Mimicry in Birds--An accomplished Goldfinch,               185


    Potato Culture--Sensibility of the Potato Shaw to Weather
    changes--The Carline Thistle--Burns--The true Carduus
    Scotticus--The old Dog-Rhyme,                                   192


    A non-"Laughing" Summer--Rheumatic Pains--Old Gaelic Incantation
    for Cattle Ailments,                                            199


    Early sowing recommended--Vitality of
    Superstitions--Capnomancy--Hazel Nuts: Frequent References to
    in Gaelic Poetry--How best to get at the full flavour of a ripe
    Hazel Nut,                                                      204


    Strength of Insects--Necrophorus Vespillo, or
    Burying-Beetle--Foetid smell of--How Willie Grimmond earned an
    Honest Penny in Glencoe,                                        210


    Seaweed as a Fertiliser--Homer, Horace, Virgil--November
    Meteors--Gaelic Folk-Lore--A Curfew Prayer--A Bed Blessing--A
    Cattle Blessing--Rhyme to be said in driving Cattle to
    Pasture--"Luath," Cuchullin's Dog--Notes from the Outer
    Hebrides,                                                       217


    The Delights of Beltane Tide--Bishop Gawin Douglas--His
    Translation of the Æneid--The Fat of Deer--"Light and Shade"
    from the Gaelic--Mackworth Praed--Discovery of an old Flint
    Manufactory in the Moss of Ballachulish,                        225


    Warm showery Summer disagreeable for the Tourist, but pastorally
    and agriculturally favourable--Xiphias Gladius, or Sword-Fish,
    cast ashore during a Mid-summer Gale--Garibaldi dining on Potatoes
    and Sword-Fish steaks at Caprera--The General's Drink--Medicinal
    virtues of an Onion--Nettle Broth--Translation of a New Zealand
    Maori Song,                                                     233


    Mountains--The Lochaber Axe, Ancient and Modern,                238


    Sea-Fowl--Weather Prognostics--Goosander (Mergus Merganser,
    Linn.)--Gales of Wind--January Primroses--Lachlan Gorach, the Mull
    "Natural"--A Dancing Rhyme,                                     244


    Plague of Thistles in Australia and New Zealand--How to deal
    with them--Cnicus Acaulis, Great Milk Thistle, or Stemless
    Thistle--Fierce Fight between two Seals, "Nelson" and
    "Villeneuve,"                                                   250


    Wounds from Stags' Antlers exceedingly dangerous--The old Fingalian
    Ballads--Number of Dogs kept for the Chase--Dr. Smith's "Ancient
    Lays" of modern manufacture--The Spotted Crake (Crex Prozana)
    at Inverness--Its Habits,                                       258


    Whelks and Periwinkles--An Ossianic Reading--The Sea-shore
    after a Storm--The Rejectamenta of the deep--An amusing
    Story of a Shore-Searcher--Severity of Winter--Wild-Birds'
    Levee--Woodcock--Snipe--Blue Jay,                               264


    A "Blessed Thaw" after a Severe Frost--Longevity in Lochaber--A
    ready "Saline draught"--A probatum est Recipe for Catarrh and
    Colds--Egg-shell Superstition--Curious old Gaelic Poem,         272


    "Albert," a famous Labrador Dog--As a Water Dog--His
    intelligence--Takes to Sheep-Stealing--Death!                   278


    An old Fingalian Hero--His keenness of Sight and sharpness of
    Ear--Foresters and Keepers--Foxhunters--Donald MacDonald--His
    Dogs--Sandy MacArthur the Mole-catcher,                         286


    Autumnal Night--Meteors--The Spanish Mackerel--Professor Blackie's
    Translations from the Gaelic--The "Translations" of the Gaelic
    Society of Inverness,                                           293


    Crops--Potato Slug--Fern Slug--Brackens: How thoroughly to
    extirpate them--The Merlin, Falcon, and Tringa,                 299


    The Hedgehog an Egg and Bird Eater?--Bird-catching--"Old
    Cowie"--Mackenzie--Lanius Excubitor--The Butcher-Bird or
    Shrike--Tea-Drinking and Sobriety,                              305


    Superstition amongst the People--Difficulty of dealing
    with it--Examples of Superstitions still prevalent in the
    Highlands--Cock-crowing at untimely hours--Itching of the
    Nose--Ringing in the Ears--The "Dead-Bell"--Sir Walter
    Scott--Hogg--Mickle,                                            313


    Welcome Rain in May--Plague of Mice in Upper Teviotdale--Arvicola
    Agrestis--Field-Mice in Ardgour--How exterminated--A Singing
    Mouse--Farmers' Mistakes--Mackenzie the Bird-catcher,           319


    Tourist Grumblers; how to deal with them--Sea Fishing--Superstition
    about a Gull--Josephus--Story of Mosollam and the Augur,        327


    Heat in Mid-August--Early Planting and Sowing--Over-ripening of
    Crops--Medusæ--Stinging Jelly-Fish--The amount of solid matter
    in Jelly-Fish,                                                  334


    Approach of Winter--Contentedness of the People--Poets and
    Wild-Bird Song--Differences in the Colouring and Markings of
    Birds' Eggs--Late Nest-building--Anecdote of Provost Robertson
    of Dingwall, Mr. Gladstone's Grandfather,                       341


    Spring--Hood's Parody of Thomson's Invocation--The excellence
    of Nettle-Top Soup--Cock-crowing--Birds'-nesting--Professor
    Geikie--Curious Story of an old Pipe-Tune,                      348


    Rain in Lochaber--An Apple Tree in bloom by Candle-light--Mackenzie
    the Bird-catcher--A Badenoch "Wise Woman" spitting in a Child's
    Face to preserve it from the Fairies,                           355


    Caught in a Squall on Loch Leven--Potatoes and Herrings: How
    to cook them--A day in Glen Nevis--A visit to Uaimh Shomhairle,
    or Samuel's Cave--The Cave-Men,                                 361


    Showers in Harvest Time--Magnificent Sunset--Night sometimes
    seeming not to descend but to ascend--Death of M. Leverrier--The
    Discovery of Neptune--Pigeon cooing at Midnight--The Owl at
    Noon--Cage-Birds singing at Night,                              370


    October Storms--Cablegram Predictions--Indications of
    coming Storms--Geordie Braid, the St. Andrews and Newport
    Coach-driver--The Naturalist in Winter--Drowned Hedgehogs: Spines
    become soft and gelatinous--Lophius Piscatorius--Disproportion
    between head and body in the Devil-Fish a puzzle--An Itinerant
    Fiddler,                                                        379


    A Trip to Glasgow--Kelvin Grove Museum--Highland Association--A
    run to Rothesay--Rothesay Aquarium,                             387


    Overland from Ballachulish to Oban on a "Pet Day" in
    February--Story of Clach Ruric--Castle Stalker: an old
    Stronghold of the Stewarts of Appin--James IV.--Charles
    II.--Magpies--Dun-Mac-Uisneachan,                               394


    Nest-building--Cunningham's objection to Burns' Song, "O were
    my Love yon Lilac fair"--Birds and the Lilac Tree--Rivalries of
    Birds--Birds and the Poets--The Nightingale,                    402


    March Dust--Moons of Mars--Planetoids--Occultation of Alpha
    Leonis--Zodiacal Light--Snow Bunting--Old Gaelic Ballad of
    "Deirdri:" Its Topography,                                      410



    Primroses and Daisies in early March--"The Posie"--Burns--"The
    Ancient Mariner"--William Tennant, Author of Anster Fair--Hebridean
    Epithalamium--A Bard's Blessing--A Translation--Macleod of

The weather [March 1868] with us here still continues wonderfully
genial and mild: taken all in all, the season may be noted as in this
respect perhaps without precedent in our meteorological annals. The
sun, with nearly eight degrees of southern declination, is not yet
half-way through Pisces; we are still three weeks from the vernal
equinox, and yet on our table before us, as we write these lines,
there is as pretty a posy of wild-flowers as you could wish to see,
consisting of daisies, primroses, and other modest beauties, the
"firstlings of the year," culled from bank and brae at a date when
in ordinary seasons the country, snow-covered or ice-bound, is but
a bleak and barren waste. Older and wiser people than ourselves
confidently predict "a winter in mid-spring" as yet in store for us;
but meliora speramus, we had rather believe that to one of the mildest
winters on record will succeed a genial spring, a splendid summer,
and an abundant harvest. In any case, as somebody said of Scaliger
and Clavius, Mallem cum Scaligero errare quam cum Clavio rectè sapere:
I had rather, that is, be a partaker in the errors of Scaliger, than
a sharer in all the wisdom of Clavius. Even so, we had rather err
with the optimists than be ranked with the pessimists, even when their
predictions turn out the truest. In our forenoon ramble on Friday last
did we not find a merle's nest in the close and well-guarded embrace
of an old thorn root, with its pretty treasure of four brown-spotted,
greyish-green eggs? and with our wild-flower bouquet before us,
are we not better employed in crooning one of Burns' sweetest lyrics
than in predicting evil, even if we were certain that our prediction
should become true?--said lyric being that entitled The Posie, which,
dear reader, if you do not know it already, you should incontinently
get by heart. Here is a verse or two:--

    "Oh, luve will venture in where it daurna weel be seen;
    Oh, luve will venture in, where wisdom ance has been;
    But I will down yon river rove, amang the wood sae green--
      And a' to pu' a posie to my ain dear May.

    "The primrose I will pu', the firstling o' the year,
    And I will pu' the pink, the emblem o' my dear;
    For she's the pink o' womankind, and blooms without a peer--
      And a' to be a posie to my ain dear May.

    "The lily it is pure, and the lily it is fair,
    And in her lovely bosom I'll place the lily there;
    The daisy's for simplicity and unaffected air--
      And a' to be a posie to my ain dear May.

    "The hawthorn I will pu', wi' its locks o' siller grey,
    Where, like an aged man, it stands at break o' day;
    But the songster's nest within the bush I winna tak away--
      And a' to be a posie to my ain dear May."

Mark that line in italics, and ponder its exquisite tenderness. How it
must have irradiated, like a sudden flood of sunshine over a mountain
landscape, the poet's heart as he penned it! Here you have the germ
of the doctrine afterwards more broadly taught by Coleridge in the
well-known lines of the Ancient Mariner:--

    "Farewell, farewell, but this I tell
      To thee, thou Wedding Guest,
    He prayeth well, who loveth well
      Both man, and bird, and beast.
    He prayeth best, who loveth best
      All things, both great and small;
    For the dear God who loveth us,
      He made and loveth all."

We love The Posie of Burns for its own sake, but we love it all
the more, perhaps, because our attention was first directed to its
sweet simplicity and tender beauty by one of our earliest and kindest
friends, himself a poet of no mean order, the late Professor William
Tennant, author of Anster Fair, in all its fantastical gaiety and
homely mirth the most original poem, perhaps, to be found in the
literature of our country.

A gentleman who resides at present in Cheltenham, a cadet of one of
the oldest and most respectable families on the West Coast, and himself
the head of a house not unknown in Highland story, has been so good as
to send us a short Gaelic poem in manuscript, with a request that we
should give an English version of it. With this request we very readily
comply, such a task being to us a labour of love; the poem itself,
besides, being very beautiful, and the history of its composition
extremely interesting, as throwing some light on the manners and
customs of the olden times. The following prefatory note from the
MS. itself sufficiently explains the origin of this quaint and curious
Hebridean Epithalamium:--"It was the custom in the West Highlands of
Scotland in the olden time to meet the bride coming forth from her
chamber with her maidens on the morning after her marriage, and to
salute her with a poetical blessing called Beannachadh Bàird. On the
occasion of the marriage of the Rev. Donald Macleod of Durinish, in the
Isle of Skye, this practice having then got very much into desuetude,
and none being found prepared to salute his bride agreeably to it,
he himself came forward and received her with the following beautiful
address." We present our readers with the original lines verbatim et
literatim, precisely as they stand in the MS., only omitting two lines
that are partly illegible from their falling into the sharp foldings
of the sheet. The sense and tenor of these lines, however, we have
ventured to guess at and to incorporate with our English version:--

    Beannachadh Bàird.

    Mìle fàilte dhuit le 'd bhrèid,
    Fad' a rè gu'n robh thu slàn,
    Moran laithean dhuit as sìth,
    Le d' mhaitheas as le d' nì 'bhith fàs.
    A chulaidh cheiteas a chaidh suas.
    'S tric a thairin buaidh air mnaoi--
    Bithse gu suilceach, ceiteach,
    O thionnseain thu fhein 'san treubh.
    An tùs do choiruith 's tu òg,
    An tùs gach lò iarr Righ nan Dùl;
    Cha'n' eagal nach dean e gu ceart
    Gach dearbh-bheachd a bhios 'nad rùn,
    Bithsa fialuidh--ach bith glic.
    Bith misneachail--ach bith stolt.
    Na bith brith'nach, 's na bith balbh,
    Na bith mear na marbh 's tu òg;
    Bith gleidhteach air do dhea ainm,
    Ach na bith duinte 's na bith fuar;
    Na labhair fòs air neach gu olc,
    'S ged labhras ort, na taisbean fuath.
    Na bith gearannach fo chrois,
    Falbh socair le cupan làn;
    Chaoidh dh' an olc na tabhair spèis--
    As le 'd bhrèid ort, mìle fàilt!

Whether with the sense of the above we have succeeded in catching
anything of its quaint beauty and tenderness in the following lines,
is for the reader to judge:--

    A Bard's Blessing.

    Comely and kerchief'd, blooming, fresh and fair,
      All hail and welcome! joy and peace be thine;
    Of happiness and health a bounteous share
      Be shower'd upon thee from the hand divine.
    Wearing the matron's coif, thou seem'st to be
    Even lovelier now than erst, when fancy-free,
    Thou in thy beauty's strength did'st steal my heart from me.

    Though young in years thou 'rt now a wedded wife;
      O seek His guidance who can guide aright.
    With aid from Him, the rugged path of life
      May still be trod with pleasure and delight;
    For He who made us bids us not forego
    A single, sinless pleasure in this world of woe.

    Be open-hearted, but be eident too,
      Be strong and full of courage, but be staid;
    Aught like unseemly folly still eschew--
      Be faultless wife as thou wast faultless maid!
    Guard against hasty speech and temper violent,
    And knowing when to speak, know also to be silent.

    Guard thy good name and mine from smallest stain;
      In manner still be kindly, frank, and free;
    If thou 'rt reviled, revile not thou again;
      In hour of trial calm and patient be;
    And when thy cup is full, walk humbly still,
    A careless, proud, rash step the blissful cup may spill!

    With this bard's blessing on thy wedded morn,
      All at thy bridal chamber-door we greet thee;
    May every joy of truth and goodness born
      Through all thy life-long journey crowd to meet thee;
    And may the God of Peace now richly shed
      A blessing on thy kerchief-cinctured head!

The word breid in the original, which we have rendered kerchief
and coif, was in the olden times the peculiar head-dress of married
females, while virgins wore their braided locks uncovered, a simple
ribbon to bind the hair, and occasionally a sprig of heather or modest
flower by way of ornament, being the only head-dress that could with
propriety be worn by a maiden in the good old anti-chignon days of
our grandmothers. The Highland maiden's narrow ribbon for binding
the hair was in the south of Scotland called a snood, probably from
the old English snod--"neat, handsome"--a word still in use in the
English border counties. In the south, even more pointedly than in
the north, the emblematical character of the maiden ribbon or snood
was recognised. It was only when a maiden became an honest, lawful
wife that the coif--also called curch and toy--could be worn with
propriety. If a damsel was so unfortunate as to lose pretentions
to the name of maiden, without acquiring a right to that of matron,
she was neither permitted to wear that emblem of virgin purity, the
snood, nor advanced to the graver dignity of the coif or curch. In
old Scottish songs there occur many sly allusions to such misfortunes,
as in the original words of the popular tune of "Ower the muir amang
the heather"--

    "Down amang the broom, the broom,
    Down among the broom, my dearie,
    The lassie lost her silken snood,
    That gart her greet till she was wearie."

And in a verse of a curious old ballad that we took down some years
ago from the recitation of a grey-headed Paisley weaver--

    "And did ye say ye lo'ed me weel?
      Then, kind sir, ye maun marrie me;
    For that I maunna wear my snood
      Aft brings the saut tear to my ee."

The reverend author of the above lines was probably born about the
year 1700, or perhaps ten or twenty years earlier, for we find
that he died a man well advanced in years in 1760. In the Scots
Magazine of that year there is the following notice of Mr Macleod's
death:--"Jan. 12th.--At Durinish, in the Isle of Skye, the Rev. Donald
Macleod, minister of that parish, a gentleman, says our correspondent,
who adorned his profession, not so much by a literary merit, of which
he possessed a considerable share, as by a consistent practice of the
most useful and excellent virtues. To do good was the ruling passion
of his heart; in composing differences, in diffusing the spirit of
peace and friendship, in relieving the distressed, in promoting the
happiness of the widow and orphan, his zeal was almost unexampled,
his activity unmeasured, his success remarkable. It is almost
unnecessary to add that he lived with a most amiable character,
and died universally regretted."

A somewhat curious circumstance is the following:--One of the
Rev. Mr. Macleod's daughters was married to Macleod of Berneray, she
being that gentleman's third wife. Berneray was at the date of this
third marriage seventy-five years of age, notwithstanding which he
became by this lady the father of nine children. He lived a hale and
hearty old man till he was upwards of ninety. He was reckoned in his
day a splendid specimen of the stalwart, sterling, straight-forward,
and chivalrous Highland gentleman, "all of the olden time."


    Autumnal Tints--Solomon and the Queen of Sheba--Sortes
    Sacræ--Sortes Virgilianæ--Charles the First and Lord
    Falkland--Virgilius the Magician--Thomas of Ercildoune.

With occasional gales of wind and blustering showers [October 1868],
that, from their chilliness and snellness, you suspect to be sleet,
although you don't like as yet exactly to say so--meteorological
phenomena, however, in no way strange or unusual on the back of the
autumnal equinox--the weather with us here continues delightfully
bright and breezy, and the country looks beautiful. Field and
upland are still as freshly green as at midsummer, while the deep,
rich russet hues and golden tints of the declining year, gleaming
in the fitful sunlight, and intermingling their glories with the
still beautifully fresh and unspotted foliage of our hardier trees
and shrubs; with the ripe, ruddy bloom of the heather empurpling the
moorland and the hill, and a perfect sea of "brackens brown" mantling
the mountain side, and fringing, in loving companionship with the
birch, the alder, and the hazel, the torrent's brink, as it leaps
in foam from rock to rock and dashes downwards with its wild music
to the sea,--all this, with a thousand indescribable accessories,
scarcely perceptible indeed in the general effect, but all bearing
their fitting part in the delightful whole, presents at this season,
and never more markedly than this year, a scene that you never tire
of gazing at, and declaring again and again, and with all your heart,
to be "beautiful exceedingly." As you gaze on such a scene as this,
you feel that no painter could paint it; that there is a something
in it all too subtile and spiritual to be transferred to canvas by
any art whatever. An imitation, indeed, of all that is palpable and
tangible about it you may get, and it may be very beautiful perhaps,
and a triumph of art in a way; but, even as you gaze in admiration,
ready to grant the artist all the praise that is his due, are you
not apt, remembering the scene as nature has it, to

    "Start, for soul is wanting there?"

But we must not be misunderstood. Painters and painting we love,
and have always loved, and should be sorry, indeed, to be considered
as in any way dead or indifferent to the power and beauty of the
art. Painting, after all, however, and especially landscape painting,
is but an imitative art, and the longer we live, and the more we are
brought face to face with nature, the more shall we feel that there is
a charm, an attractiveness, and a loveliness about her all her own--a
something that you feel but cannot describe, that the artist as he
gazes feels too, and strives to grasp and instil into his picture,
but cannot charm into interminglement with his colours, "charm he
never so wisely." Viewed æsthetically, nature in sooth consists not of
matter only, but of matter and spirit, and therein is the secret of her
surpassing power over us. You may subtly imitate and reproduce exact
representations of her more prominent features and general outlines,
and the painter, according as he is more or less gifted with the
poetic mens divina, may infuse a moral meaning into his work, and a
subtile beauty entirely independent of the mere manipulation of his
subject--be it landscape, seascape, or cloudscape--and his work may
impart instruction as well as pleasure and delight; but, granting
all this, there shall still be something awanting even in the finest
pictures, that something which we have ventured to call spirit--the
spirit that pervades and permeates nature in all her works, that is
her life, that may be "spiritually discerned" in her, but cannot be
transferred to canvas.

In the collection of Jewish traditions known as the Talmud there
is a very pretty story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, that will
serve to illustrate our meaning better than the longest dissertation
could be. It is to the following effect:--Attracted by his wealth, and
wisdom, and power--the fame whereof had gone forth into all lands--the
Queen of Sheba, the Beautiful, paid a visit to Solomon, the Wise,
at his own court, that she might there admire the splendour of his
throne and be instructed of his wisdom. Charmed with the courtesy and
gallantry of the accomplished King, delighted with the magnificence
and splendour of his court, and amazed at his surpassing wisdom,
which, indeed, exceeded all that she had heard reported of it, the
Queen still thought that Solomon could be outwitted, and she resolved
to have the glory of puzzling and outwitting one so wise. To this
end she one day presented herself before the King, bearing in one of
her hands a wreath of natural flowers, the most beautiful she could
gather, and in the other a similar wreath of artificial flowers,
the most beautiful and like unto natural flowers that the cunning
of herself and her handmaidens could fashion. Of the two wreaths
the hues were of the brightest, and the flowers of the one wreath
were as if they had been pulled off the same stalks that bore the
flowers of the other. "Tell me now, O King," said the Queen as she
stood at some distance from the throne whereon the monarch sate,
"Tell me now, O King, which of these wreaths I hold in my hands is
fashioned of artificial flowers, for one of them is so fashioned;
and which of them of natural flowers, that grew from out the earth,
and imbibed their beauty and their brightness from the sun, for of
such of a truth is one of them formed?" And, lo, the King was perplexed
and sorely troubled, for he wist not what answer to make, seeing that
the two wreaths were as like one to another as twin sisters at their
mother's breast, or twin lilies on the same stalk. And the courtiers
of the King, and his princes, and his servants, were sorely grieved
that the sagacity of the King should be at fault, and his superhuman
wisdom at last fail. But, lo, the spirit of wisdom came upon the
King in his perplexity. Observing some bees clustering outside,
he ordered the window to be opened, and soon the bees came swarming
into the court, and after hovering for a moment about the one wreath,
they straightway left it and settled upon the other, which observing,
"That," said the King, "that, and not the other, is the wreath of
the flowers that grew from out the earth and in the sun, and were
not fashioned with hands." And the Queen was mightily surprised at
the exceeding wisdom of the King, and did obeisance unto Solomon,
laying the wreaths of flowers upon the steps of the ivory throne that
was overlaid with gold, and of which there was not the like made in
any kingdom. And the courtiers, and the princes, and the servants of
the King clapped their hands and cried, "O King! live for ever." If we
are wise and judge aright, we shall always, like the bees of Solomon,
be attracted by nature rather than by art, however beautiful. Our
doctrine was never, perhaps, so briefly and pithily enforced as by
the Macedonian conqueror on a certain occasion. A courtier one day
asked him to listen to him how well he could, whistling, imitate
the notes of the nightingale. Alexander declined the proffered
musical entertainment with the contemptuous remark, "I have heard
the nightingale herself." No wonder that the would-be melodist slunk
away abashed; and such be the fate of all mere echoers and imitators
when at any time they claim more than is their due, or would have us
appraise their pinchbeck at the value of sterling gold. There is an
amount of truth, and a hidden meaning and beauty, in Byron's lines,
that he was himself perhaps unconscious of in the ribald mood of the
moment, when, alluding to the statuary's art, he exclaimed--

    "I've seen much finer women, ripe and real,
    Than all the nonsense of their stone ideal."

It is astonishing how difficult of thorough eradication are certain
superstitions, if once established amongst a people. Once let the
popular mind become inoculated with error in this shape, and although
times may change and the manners of the people may alter, though a
new tongue even shall have succeeded the language in which the error
was imbibed, and knowledge have spread and civilisation have steadily
progressed, yet there the superstition still lurks, frightened it
may be at the outward light, and, owl-like, ashamed to appear in
the brightness of the blessed sunshine of unclouded truth, but ever
ready, nevertheless, under favourable circumstances, to manifest
itself, and assert its sway over its votaries, like certain fabled
mediæval philters and potions that when administered are said to have
lurked for years and years in the human system, till, under certain
conditions, their subtle properties were called into active operation,
and the desired effect was produced. A short time ago we spent an
evening in the company of a gentleman from the south of Scotland, a
distinguished antiquary and archæologist, and of wonderful skill in
everything connected with the folk-lore of Scotland, whether of the
past or present. In the course of conversation, "over the walnuts and
the wine," our friend surprised us not a little by informing us that
even at this day, in certain parts of the south-western districts of
Scotland, the Sortes Sacræ are frequently resorted to by the people
when they are in doubt or perplexity about anything of sufficient
importance in their opinion to warrant their having recourse to this
ancient mode of divination. The Sortes Sacræ are founded upon the more
ancient Sortes Virgilianæ--Virgilian Lots, a method of divination which
had at least the merit of being extremely simple, and not necessarily
occupying much of the votary's time. What may be called the literary
oracle, as distinguished from vocal oracles, was consulted in this
wise: The operator having before him a copy of Virgil--the sortes were
generally confined to the Æneid--opened the volume ad aperturam libri,
anywhere, at random, when the first passage that accidentally struck
the eye was carefully read and pondered with as little reference as
possible to its immediate context, and a meaning extracted from it
which was supposed to indicate the issue of the event in hand, and
which was to be considered inevitable and irrevocable as the fates
had so decreed. A man with the knowledge thus obtained could not by
any precaution or change of conduct avert the impending doom, good or
evil; he could only put his house in order, and so arrange matters the
best way he could; that if evil came it might be borne with dignity
and patience; if good, that it might be enjoyed with moderation and
devout gratitude to the gods. It is said that at the outbreak of the
troubles that culminated in the Commonwealth, Charles I. and Lord
Falkland found themselves on a certain day in the Bodleian Library
at Oxford, when the latter jocularly proposed that they should inform
themselves of their future fortunes by means of the Sortes Virgiliæ;
and certainly, read by the light of after events, it must be confessed
that the passages stumbled upon seem singularly ominous of the fate
that overtook both. The passage read by the Martyr King was from the
fourth book of the Æneid, and is as follows:--

    "At bello audacis populi vexatus et armis,
    Finibus extorris, complexu avulsus Iuli,
    Auxilium imploret, videatque, indigna suorum
    Funera: nec, cum se sub leges pacis iniquæ
    Tradiderit, regno aut optata luce fruatur,
    Sed cadat ante diem, mediaque inhumatus arena."

Which Dryden, if with rather too much amplification, still very
beautifully translates thus:--

    "Yet let a race untamed and haughty foes
    His peaceful entrance with dire arms oppose,
    Oppress'd with numbers in th' unequal field,
    His men discouraged and himself expell'd:
    Let him for succour sue from place to place,
    Torn from his subjects and his son's embrace.
    First let him see his friends in battle slain,
    And their untimely fate lament in vain;
    And when at length the cruel wars shall cease,
    On hard conditions may he buy his peace.
    Nor let him then enjoy supreme command,
    But fall untimely by some hostile hand,
    And lie unburied on the barren sand."

Lord Falkland's eye fell on the following lines in the eleventh book:--

    "Non hæc, O Palla, dederas promissa parenti.
    Cautius ut sævo velles te credere Marti!
    Haud ignarus eram, quantum nova gloria in armis,
    Et predulce decus primo certamine posset.
    Primitiæ juvenis miseræ! bellique propinqui
    Dura rudimenta! et nulli exaudita Deorum
    Vota, precesque meæ!"

--which the same translator has rendered as follows:--

    "O Pallas, thou hast failed thy plighted word,
    To fight with caution, not to tempt the sword;
    I warn'd thee, but in vain, for well I knew
    What perils youthful ardour would pursue;
    That boiling blood would carry thee too far,
    Young as thou wert to dangers, raw to war;
    O curs'd essay of arms, disastrous doom,
    Prelude of bloody fields and fights to come,
    Hard elements of unauspicious war,
    Vain vows to heaven and unavailing care."

How the most pious man of his age, and one of the best kings that
ever adorned a throne, suffered death at the hands of his rebellious
subjects is well known. Poor Lord Falkland--a young nobleman of the
most estimable character; a poet and man of letters, so fond of books
that he used to say that "he pitied unlearned gentlemen in a rainy
day"--fell gallantly fighting for the royal cause in the battle of
Newbury, before he had yet completed his thirty-fourth year. It is
curious to find the eminent poet Abraham Cowley, a good man too--of
whom at his death Charles II. was heard to say that "Mr. Cowley had
not left a better man behind in England,"--it is curious, we say, to
find him on a certain occasion seriously referring to the Virgilian
Lots, and, what is more, avowing his firm belief in them! During
the Commonwealth, Cowley was in Paris, where he acted as secretary
to the Earl of St. Albans (then Lord Jermyn), and had a good deal to
do with the negotiations that eventually led to the Restoration. In
one of his letters, speaking of the Scotch treaty then in agitation,
he says--seriously, observe, and in an official document--"The Scotch
treaty is the only thing now in which we are vitally concerned. I am
one of the last hopers, and yet cannot now abstain from believing
that an agreement will be made; all people upon the place incline
to that union. The Scotch will moderate something of the rigour of
their demands; the mutual necessity of an accord is visible, the king
is persuaded of it. And, to tell you the truth (which I take to be
an argument above all the rest), Virgil has told the same thing to
that purpose." He had evidently consulted the Virgilian Lots, and a
passage presenting itself that could somehow be twisted so as to point
to a favourable issue to the Scotch business in hand, he accepts the
oracle, and in all seriousness announces his belief in it! When we
find a man of refinement and culture and high moral character like
Cowley crediting such nonsense, can we much wonder at the lengths to
which fanaticism and superstition carried people in those unhappy
times? To understand why Virgil, of all the ancient poets, Roman
or Greek, was selected as the oracle in this mode of divination,
we must remember that the Mantuan bard had the credit amongst his
countrymen of having been a sorcerer or necromancer and prophet as
well as a poet, something like the British Merlin, or our own Thomas
the Rhymer and Michael Scott, only more famous, perhaps. "Would the
reader suppose, for example, that the theory of volcanic action is
all a myth, and that it is to the magic of Virgil, and to nothing
else, that the south of Italy is indebted for all the earthquakes and
subterranean convulsions that have afflicted it for centuries? Yet so
it is, if we are to credit all the stories of "Virgilius the Magician"
that were current during the Middle Ages. The celebrated Benedictine
monk, Bernard de Montfaucon, author of Antiquité Expliquée one of
the most learned and curious works in existence, repeats the story
as it was told and credited in the Dark Ages. The following is from
an old translation, quoted by Scott in his notes to the Lay of the
Last Minstrel, in illustration of the magical spells attributed to
the Ladye of Branksome Tower. Virgil it seems, among other things,
was famous for his gallantries. On one occasion he fell in love with
and carried away the daughter of a certain "Soldan," and the story
proceeds:--"Than he thoughte in his mynde how he myghte marye hyr, and
thoughte in his mynde to founde in the middes of the see a fayer towne,
with great landes belongynge to it; and so he did by his cunnynge,
and called it Napells (Naples). And the foundacyon of it was of egges,
and in that town of Napells he made a tower with iiii. corners, and in
the toppe he set an apell upon an yron yarde, and no man culde pull
away that apell without he brake it; and thoroughe that yren set he
a bolte, and in that bolte set he an egge, and he henge the apell by
the stauke upon a cheyne, and so hangeth it still. And when the egge
styrreth so should the town of Napells quake; and when the egge brake,
then shulde the town sinke. When he made an ende, he lette calls it
Napells." Thomas of "Ercildoune," and he of "Balivearie," and the two
Merlins,--for there were two of them, the Merlin of the Arthurian
legends, and Merdwynn Wylet, or Merlin the Wild, who seems to have
been a Scotchman, and whose grave is still pointed out beneath an aged
thorn-tree at Drumelzier in Tweeddale,--these were accounted great
magicians and "pretty fellows in their day;" but what were they to
Virgilius the earthquaker, who at least attained to such an enviable
state of independence, that he is represented as frequently playing
at pitch and toss with the "devyl," and cheating and outwitting that
crafty potentate as if he were the veriest greenhorn! The Sortes Sacræ
were just the Sortes Virgilianæ, with this difference, that in the
former case, instead of a copy of Virgil, the New Testament was used
in the process of divination. The oracle is consulted in this case,
according to our information, by the introduction at random of the
wards end of a key (some allusion probably to the Apostolic keys)
between the leaves of the closed volume, which is then opened at that
place, and from the first verse that arrests the eye the desired
knowledge is extracted. On inquiry, we find that this superstition
was still occasionally practised in the Highlands of Scotland some
fifty years ago, though we would fain hope and believe that it
is now unknown. It is curious that it should still be frequently
resorted to in the south-western districts. It seems to have been a
very general as well as a very ancient mode of divination. Hoffman,
in his Lexicon Universale, &c., informs us that it was practised by
the Jewish Rabbins with their sacred books, as well as by the Pagans
from very early times, and was common amongst the Christians of the
Middle Ages. We are informed by a gentleman, who spent many years
in the East, that the Mahometans frequently resort to this method of
divination, taking the Koran as their oracle.


    An old Gaelic MS.--"The Bewitched Bachelor Unbewitched"--Fairy
    Lore--Lacteal Libations on Fairy Knowes.

In looking over some old papers the other day [October 1868]
we stumbled on some sheets of Gaelic MS. that had lain neglected
for years, and every existence of which, indeed, we had well-nigh
forgotten. One of these sheets contained the original of the following
lines. It is in many respects a curious composition, written in a
sort of rhythmical alliterative prose rather than in verse, somewhat
in the manner of the conversational parts of the Gaelic Sgeulachdan
or fireside tales of the olden time. Its tone throughout is gay and
lively, with an occasional admixture of humour and double entendre that
is very amusing, while its allusions to the manners and customs and
superstitious observances of a past age render it, to our thinking,
extremely interesting. The sheet in our possession is only a copy,
the original, taken down from oral recitation, we believe, being in a
MS. collection of Gaelic poems and tales by Rev. Mr. M'Donald, at one
time minister of the parish of Fortingall, in Perthshire. Having only
internal evidence to judge from, it is impossible with any confidence
to assign even an approximate date to such a production as this,
but we are probably not far wrong in placing it as early at least
as the middle or close of the last century. It bears no title in the
original; we may call it--

    The Bewitched Bachelor Unbewitched.

    The gudeman mumbled and grumbled full sore
      Over the butter-kits, all through the dairy:
    Over cheese, over butter, and milk-pails, he swore
      "'Tis the work, I'll be bound, of some foul witch or fairy.

    How can I ever be happy or rich,
    If robbed and tormented by fairy and witch,"
    Quoth he; and lo, with a sudden turn
    He stumbled and spilt the cream-full churn!

    He went to his mother (she dwelt in the cot
      Amid the hazels down by the linn:
    Full well the wild birds loved that spot,
      And taught its echoes their merry din)--
    He went to his mother, that Bachelor gruff:
      He was mild with her, though with others rough.

    "Mother," quoth he, "I have not now
    One-half the butter or cheese, I trow,
    That loaded my dairy shelves when you
    Had charge of my household and dairy too:
    Tell me mother, what shall I do?
    I vow and declare that some fairy or witch
    Is robbing me still and doing me ill--I shall never be rich."

    "My son," the mother mild replied,
      "See that you pay the fairies their due;
    A tribute due should ne'er be denied--
      Others don't grudge it, and why should you?
    Nor thrive their flocks nor kine, I ween,
    Who scorn or neglect the shian green."

    "But, mother, the witch that lives down i' the glen?"
    "A widow, my son, with a fatherless oe,
    Who has seen much sorrow and years of woe;
    Give her as heretofore, my son,
    Of your curds and whey, and let her alone.
    And oh, my son, if you would be rich,
    And free from dread of fairy and witch.
    And happy and well-to-do through life--
    Go get thee, my son, a winsome wife!"

    The bachelor hied him home full soon--
      He sent to the widow, far down in the glen,
    A kebbuck of cheese as round as the moon,
      Of oaten cakes he sent her ten,
    With a kindly message, "Come when you may
    For curds and whey in the good old way."
    He sent her withal, 'tis right you should know,
    A braw new kilt for her fatherless oe.

    And ever he saw that his maidens paid
      To the fairies their due on the Fairy Knowe,
    Till the emerald sward was under the tread
      As velvet soft, and all aglow
    With wild flowers, such as fairies cull,
    Weaving their garlands and wreaths for the dance when the moon
    is full!

    And lo! at last he took him a wife,
      A comely and winsome dame, I trow,
    Who shed a sunshine over his life,
    And silvered the wrinkles upon his brow.
      'Twas well with the kine, and well with the dairy,
    Nor dreaded he ought from witch or fairy;
    (He had one of his own--she was hight Wee Mary!)
    And often they went to the cot by the linn,
    Where mavis and merle made merry din.

The English reader will probably require to be informed that oe--the
Gaelic ogha--signifies a grandchild, while shian (Gaelic sithean) is a
fairy knoll. To show what a power fairies were at one time in the land,
and how wide-spread was the belief in them, we have only to consider
that there is perhaps not a hamlet or township in the Highlands or
Hebrides without its shian or green fairy knoll so called. Within
half a mile of our own residence, for example, there is a Sithean
Beag and a Sithean Mor, a Greater and Lesser Fairy Knoll; there is,
besides, a Glacan-t' Shithein, the Fairy Knoll Glade, Tobar-an-t'
Shithein, the Fairy Knoll Well; and a deep chasm, through which
a mountain torrent plunges darkling, called Leum-an-t' Shithiche,
the Fairy's Leap, with which there is probably connected some very
wonderful story, although we have been unsuccessful hitherto in
meeting with any one able or willing to repeat it. The truth is,
that a belief in fairies and fairyland, or faery--faint, no doubt,
and ill-defined now-a-days--still lingers ghost-like, the shadow of its
more substantial former living self, in our straths and glens; and, in
accordance with the old superstition, it is considered that the "good
people" should only be spoken of on rare and unavoidable occasions,
and then only in serious and respectable terms. Hence it is that you
always find old people reluctant to impart such fairy lore as may
be known to them, though garrulous enough on all other subjects; and
hence, also, it happens that in our old Sgeulachdan--the Arabian Nights
Entertainments of our Celtic forefathers--although you find giants,
and dwarfs, and misbegotten beings of every imaginable shape and size;
animals, too, that can speak and reason and lend their superhuman
aid to prince and peasant in extremity, as well as genii, kelpies,
and spirits of flood and fell, you rarely if ever meet with one of
the "good folks," or fairies proper, introduced upon the scene. The
people thoroughly believed in them, believed that they had a veritable
existence, and although invisible to mortal eye, that they might be at
your elbow at any moment; that they disliked being spoken of at all
as a rule, and that a disrespectful word about them especially would
inevitably be followed by some signal punishment, or "mischance," as
it was more cautiously termed in the South--all this they believed,
and therefore they held it wisest to speak of fairies, good folks
though they were, as seldom as possible. The allusion to paying--

    "The fairies their due on the fairy knowe,"

has reference to the custom, common enough on the western mainland
and in some of the Hebrides some fifty years ago, and not altogether
unknown perhaps even at the present day, of each maiden's pouring
from her cumanbleoghain, or milking-pail, evening and morning, on
the fairy knowe a little of the new-drawn milk from the cow, by way
of propitiating the favour of the good people, and as a tribute the
wisest, it was deemed, and most acceptable that could be rendered, and
sooner or later sure to be repaid a thousand-fold. The consequence was
that these fairy knolls were clothed with a richer and more beautiful
verdure than any other spot, howe or knowe, in the country, and the
lacteal riches imbibed by the soil through this custom is even now
visible in the vivid emerald green of a shian or fairy knoll whenever
it is pointed out to you. This custom of pouring lacteal libations
to the fairies on a particular spot deemed sacred to them, was known
and practised at some of the summer shielings in Lochaber within the
memory of the people now living.


    Transit of Mercury--Improperly called an "Eclipse" of--November
    Meteors--Mr. Huggins--Spectrum Analyses of Cometary
    Light--Translation of a St. Kilda Song.

We were early astir on the morning of the 5th November [1868];
with little thought, be sure, of Guy Fawkes or the Gunpowder Plot,
intent only on witnessing, if we might be so fortunate, the transit
of Mercury over the solar disc. The phenomenon in question we have
seen referred to as an "eclipse" of Mercury, which it certainly was
not. A celestial body is properly said to be eclipsed when, by the
interposition of another and a nearer orb, it is temporarily hid from
view. A star or planet so hidden by the body of the moon, for instance,
is said to be "occulted." The sun is truly said to be eclipsed when
the new moon at a particular conjunction steps in between us and him,
and temporarily intercepts his beams. What again, for convenience sake,
is called an eclipse of the moon, is really not an eclipse at all,
so far at least as the terrestrial spectator is concerned; it would
be more strictly correct to call it simply a lunar obscuration. The
temporary appearance of Venus and Mercury as circular and sharply
defined black spots on the solar disc, has hitherto always, and very
properly, been called in the language of astronomers a "transit"
of the particular planet by name, such as the "transit of Venus," or
the "transit of Mercury;" and there is no reason to change the term,
for it is expressive and true, which the word eclipse, applied to
such a conjunction, certainly is not.

Be it called what it may, however--eclipse or transit--we were
disappointed in not getting a glimpse of the phenomenon in question on
the present occasion. Although duly at our post from before sunrise
till the minute calculated for the last contact of the planet with
the solar disc, we were unable to obtain anything more than the
most momentary blink even of the larger orb, and, of course, the
detection of the black button-like disc of the planet itself, in such
circumstances, was altogether out of the question. The disappointment,
however, was less annoying to us in this instance from the fact
that we had already been privileged to witness all the phases of a
similar conjunction from first to last on the 12th November 1861. The
next visible transit of Mercury does not take place till the 6th of
May 1878--ten years hence. There are several other transits during
the present century, invisible in our country, however, and on the
continent of Europe; but which will probably afford much delight to
many an eager watcher over the length and breadth of the South American
continent, and generally over the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

Nor, with us here at least, was the night of the 13-14th instant any
way more favourable for observation than the dull beclouded morning
of the 5th itself. The night was calm and rainless, to be sure, but
a heavy impenetrable mass of dark grey clouds, so low as to envelop
all the mountain summits around, obscured the vault from horizon to
horizon, from sunset to sunrise, so that not a single meteor could
be seen by the keenest eye, even if above that pall of cloud the
display had been the most brilliant and splendid conceivable. From
the fact, however, that in several places widely distant from
each other, from which we have had communications on the subject,
and where the sky was abundantly clear and unclouded throughout,
no unusual display of meteors was seen, the probability is that we
have on this occasion missed them in our country, either because
they came into contact with our atmosphere in the daytime, when, of
course, they would be invisible, or more likely because our contact
this year with the meteorolithic annulus was of the slightest, and
at a segment thereof where the meteoric bodies are least numerous,
and thus we must patiently wait till we again dash through it at its
densest before we can hope for such a magnificent meteor shower as
astonished and delighted us all in 1866. Only at Oxford, as far as our
country is concerned, was there anything like a meteor shower on the
present occasion, and even there the display seems to have been too
faint and uninteresting to have attracted much attention. Intelligence
has reached our country from New York, however, that over that city,
and over the States generally, the meteoric display of the morning
of the 14th was very splendid indeed, though, owing to the morning
being further advanced before it commenced, less of it was seen by the
people at large than on some previous occasions. The weather with our
Transatlantic cousins seems to have been all that could be desired,
as it is stated that "astronomers and others were able to make very
complete observations." The worst thing about our insular position
with respect to matters astronomical is the extreme uncertainty with
which anything like continuous observation can be conducted. The
chances always are twenty to one that in Great Britain, at any
given hour in any given place, the weather should be such as to
render an observation of a celestial phenomenon impossible, or at
the least partial and unsatisfactory. One thing, at least, is now
pretty certain--that annually, and at a date that falls somewhere
between sunset of the 13th and sunrise of the 14th November, we may
confidently look for greater or less displays of these meteoric bodies,
the only thing likely to interfere with the interesting pyrotechnic
exhibition being an unfavourable state of the weather at a moment
when we are most concerned that the sky shall be clear and cloudless.

Mr. Huggins, whose researches with the spectroscope have already made
his name famous, has recently communicated a most interesting paper
to the Royal Society, giving an account of the spectrum analyses of
one of the smaller and commoner class of comets that was visible for a
short time in the month of June last. Avoiding technical details, which
might be uninteresting to some of our readers, we may simply mention
that on testing the nucleus of this comet with the spectroscope,
Mr. Huggins found that it was resolved into three broad "bands,"
precisely similar to the results obtained on examining with the
same wonderful instrument such carbon as follows the transmission of
electric sparks through olefiant gas. The conclusion arrived at by
Mr. Huggins is, that the nucleus of the comet in question consisted
solely of volatilised carbon. This paper of Mr. Huggins is altogether
a most interesting one, and we may have something more to say about
it on a future occasion.

The following is a translation--somewhat freely rendered--of an old
Irst or St. Kilda song, the solitary island home of a score or two
of hardy inhabitants, and by all accounts a happy and hospitable race
too, who cling with an unquenchable love to their lonely rock, as if
it were a perfect paradise, ocean-girt and storm-beaten though it be--

    "Placed far amid the melancholy main."

Except another specimen given in a small collection of Gaelic songs,
edited by the late Rev. Mr. M'Callum of Arisaig, the original of
the following is the only St. Kilda song that we have met with. Our
copy was procured in this way: Some years ago we were dining on board
H.M. Revenue cruiser "Harriet," Captain M'Allister. Going ashore on
a fine moonlight night, one of the seamen who rowed our boat sang
the song, which we had no hesitation in at once declaring to be of
St. Kilda origin, which the man admitted was the case, he having
picked it up many years before from an old woman who had spent some
time on the island. Of the air, we can only remember that it was a
wild, irregular sort of chant, very different from the soft low airs
to which our mainland songs are for the most part sung, with the
refrain or burden (represented by our Alexandrines in each stanza)
given in a shrill falsetto that was somewhat disagreeable to the ear,
although abundantly appropriate, probably, in the circumstances in
which the song was composed, and when sung amid all the surroundings
of the scene depicted.

    The St. Kilda Maid's Song.

        Over the rocks, steadily, steadily;
      Down to the clefts with a shout and a shove, O;
        Warily tend the rope, shifting it readily,
      Eagerly, actively, watch from above, O.
    Brave, O brave, my lover true, he's worth a maiden's love:
    (And the sea below is still as deep as the sky is high above!)

        Sweet 'tis to sleep on a well feathered pillow,
      Sweet from the embers the fulmar's red egg, O;
        Bounteous our store from the rock and the billow;
      Fish and birds in good store, we need never to beg, O;
    Brave, O brave, my lover true, he's worth a maiden's love:
    (And the sea below is still as deep as the sky is high above!)

        Hark to the fulmar and guillemot screaming:
      Hark to the kittiwake, puffin, and gull, O:
        See the white wings of solan goose gleaming;
      Steadily, men! on the rope gently pull, O.
    Brave, O brave, my lover true, he's worth a maiden's love:
    (And the sea below is still as deep as the sky is high above!)

        Deftly my love can hook ling and conger,
      The grey-fish and hake, with the net and the creel, O;
        Far from our island be plague and be hunger;
      And sweet our last sleep in the quiet of the Kiel, O.
    Brave, O brave, my lover true, he's worth a maiden's love:
    (And the sea below is still as deep as the sky is high above!)

        Pull on the rope, men, pull it up steadily:
      (There's a storm on the deep, see the scart claps his wings, O);
        Cunningly guide the rope, shifting it readily;
      Welcome my true love, and all that he brings, O!
    Now God be praised, my lover's safe, he's worth a maiden's love:
    (And the sea below is still as deep as the sky is high above!)

Our song needs but little elucidation. The reader who knows that the
wealth of the St. Kildians mainly consists of the feathers and eggs
of wild-fowl, to procure which they are obliged to hang suspended
from ropes over the most dreadful precipices, in the clefts and
along the otherwise inaccessible ledges of which the sea-fowl breed,
will have no difficulty in understanding the general drift of the
island maid's very spirited and very earnest song. It is, perhaps,
unnecessary to say that as ling, conger, hake, and grey-fish are
certain kinds of sea fish, so fulmar, guillemot, kittiwake, puffin,
and scart are certain kinds of web-footed sea-fowl.


    Bird Music--The Skylark's Song--Imitation of, by a French
    Poet--Alasdair Macdonald--Scott.

Conscious at last that pouting and inordinate weeping became him not,
and that, being constantly on the "rampage," like Mrs. Joe Gargery,
was hardly consistent with his place in the calendar, April [1869]
betimes resolved to "tak a thocht and mend," and now, like Richard,
is himself again--all sunshine and smiles. The rain-gauge, to be sure,
with stern impartiality, will still show an occasional "inch," or parts
of an inch, if you are very particular in your inquiries, when examined
of a morning, but its readings now at least are in no way appalling,
for they represent the warm and genial rainfall of April showers,
that, after all, are as necessary on the west coast at this moment,
and as refreshing to the soil, as the orthodox cup of mulled port of
an evening was believed to be to the weary traveller in the good old
days of stage-coaches and post-chaises. The country, at all events,
is looking very beautiful just now, everything so green and glad,
so fresh and fair, and full of promise of a yet gladder, and gayer,
and brighter day at hand, when the swallow, twittering, shall dart,
a glossy meteor, in the sunlight, and the cuckoo shall challenge
the truant schoolboy to repeat its well-known notes, correctly if
he can. Now is the time to hear our native song-birds at their best,
warbling their sweetest strains, and to decide, once for all, if it be
possible, which you like best; the loud, clear, silvery tinkle of the
seed-shelling finch's rich and rapid song; the liquid and mellifluous
warblings of the soft-billed tribes; or the soul-entrancing, round,
rich, flute-like piping of the throstle, song-thrush, and merle. How
it may fare with the reader who tries to decide the point we cannot
say. For our own part, no decision that we could ever arrive at could
keep its legs for two days together. No sooner did we decide that the
skylark and its congeners had the best of it, than the goldfinch, with
a score of lively cousins to aid and abet, challenged the verdict, and
forced us to acknowledge his exquisite mastery in song--an admission
made, however, only to be retracted again almost as soon as made,
for in our walk on the evening of that self-same day did we not stand,
and for the life of us couldn't help standing--breathless, and hushed,
and still--to listen to the merle and song-thrush from the neighbouring
copse pouring forth the indescribable riches of their God-taught
vespers as the sun went down; and did we not, then and there, vow,
in utter forgetfulness of finch and skylark, that no music of earth
could for a moment compare, in execution and compass, in distinctness,
and cheeriness, and purity of note, with these matchless twilight
strains? The truth is that no music is equal to bird-music--wild-bird
music, that is--in its season, and amid all its natural surroundings;
and the probability is that we shall give the preference at any
time to the melody of one bird over that of another, not on any
well-defined principles of choice or selection in the matter, but
simply in accordance with our own prevailing mood and temperament
of the moment. Such, at least, has been our own experience; but the
reader has every opportunity at this season of studying the question
for himself and deciding. Except that of the nightingale, perhaps the
music of no bird has attracted so much attention by its beauty and
suggestiveness as the merry trill of the skylark's ascending song. The
poets of every country in which it is to be found have vied with each
other in their praises of the only bird that sings as he soars, and
soars as he sings, scaling on quivering pinions the aerial terraces
of heaven, until he can scarcely be discerned, a music-showering
speck against the background of the blue profound! The other day
we fell in with some curious verses by the French poet Du Bartas,
in which he strives, and not altogether unsuccessfully, to imitate
the merry trill and rhythm of the skylark's song:--

    "La gentille aloüette, avec son tire-lire,
    Tire-lire, à lire, et tire-liran tire;
    Vers la voute du ciel, puis son vol vers ce lieu,
    Vire et desire dire adieu Dieu, adieu Dieu!"

The last line, if rapidly repeated with the proper beat and
intonation, will be found a really very successful imitation of
the concluding notes of the lark's well-known song. Many of our
readers will remember that the North Uist bard, Ian Mac Codrum,
in his Smeorach Chlann-Domhnuill, manages very happily to imitate
the smeorach or song-thrush's notes in the burden or chorus; while
Alexander Macdonald--Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair--very naturally falls,
like the French poet, into an imitation of the wild-bird music of the
woods and groves in a stanza that may be quoted not inappropriately
at this season:--

    "Cha bhi crèutair fo chupan nan spèur
    'N sin nach tiunndaidh ri'n speuràd 's ri'n dreach,
    'S gun toir Phoebus le buadhan a bhlàis
    Anam-fas daibh a's caileachdan ceart,
    Ni iad ais-eiridh choitcheann on uaigh
    Far na mhiotaich am fuachd iad a steach,
    'S their iad--guileag-doro-hidola-hann
    Dh-fhalbh an geamhra's tha'n samhradh air teachd!"

The lines of Du Bartas have little meaning in themselves, and
are untranslatable, being simply an attempt on the poet's part,
in some odd moment of hilarity and abandon, to embody the notes of
the skylark's song in something like articulate verse. The general
sense of Macdonald's lines describing the irrepressible inclination
of all living creatures to be jubilant and joyous at the return of
spring, cannot better be rendered than in the first part of Scott's
introductory stanza to the second canto of the Lady of the Lake, only
that the return of spring in the one case, instead of the return of
morn in the other, prompts to the outburst of gladness and song:--

    "At morn the black-cock trims his jetty wing,
      'Tis morning prompts the linnet's blithest lay,
    All Nature's children feel the matin spring
      Of life reviving, with reviving day;
    And while yon little bark glides down the bay,
      Wafting the stranger on his way again,
    Morn's genial influence roused a minstrel grey,
      And sweetly o'er the lake was heard thy strain,
    Mixed with the sounding harp, O white-hair'd Allan-bane!"


    Severe Drought--The Drive by Coach from Fort-William to
    Kingussie--Breakfast at Moy--Where did Scott find Dominie Sampson's
    "Pro-di-gi-ous!"?--Professor Blackie's Poem on Glencoe.

That the people of Lochaber and the Western Isles should be rejoicing
in the advent of heavy rains [August 1869], and seriously glad at the
reappearance of clouds in the heavens and mists upon the mountain
tops, may seem odd enough to those who know anything of our usual
meteorological characteristics; yet true it is, and of a verity that
so it is, for here, as elsewhere, the heat was for many consecutive
weeks intense, and the parching drought and fierce glare of a summer's
sun from a constantly unclouded sky well nigh unbearable by man or
beast, whether in the sheltered valley, where for days and days no
breath of air shook the tiniest leaflet or ruffled the surface of the
sullen tarn, or on the upland moor, where, if breath of air there was,
it was hot and stifling as the breath of a furnace. Were it not for
the occasional sea breezes, that sometimes of an evening swept over
the almost pulseless deep, and copious falls of blessed night-dews,
we should have been badly off indeed. But, as matters have turned out,
we have much reason to be thankful, for if our crops are not quite so
heavy as in average years, they are at least of excellent quality,
and being ripe sooner than usual, we have a chance of getting them
secured in a condition that will add immensely to their value. So
thorough and persistent was the drought even with us, that springs
failed that never before were known to refuse their waters to the
thirsty; and water-courses that heretofore, even in the driest years,
still presented shady pools connected by purling rivulets, were for
weeks together arid and waterless as the course of an ancient lava
stream. As you wandered among the hills you could set your fusee
alight on a stone in a torrent bed over which in ordinary summers
rolls a volume of foaming waters. The demand for beer wherever you
went was in these circumstances something wonderful; and at times,
on the arrival of coach or steamer with its load of panting tourists,
the bawling from husky throats for a supply--an instant and copious
supply--of the delicious liquid was sufficiently amusing. One of
the happiest illustrations of the proverbial close treading of the
ridiculous on the heels of the sublime, and the wafer-like thinness
of the partition that divides the sentimental from the absurd, was
Dr. Johnson's celebrated parody on the quasi-sentimental style of
poetry so much in vogue in his latter years--and sooth to say too much
in vogue in our day as well--a style as unlike the school of Pope as
you can well imagine, and the very antipodes of the sturdily masculine
and didactic strains which Johnson, an intellectual giant--for there
were giants in these days--alone accounted true poetry:--

    "Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,
      Wearing out life's evening grey,
    Smite thy bosom, sage, and tell
      What is bliss? and which the way?

    "Thus I spoke; and speaking sighed;
      Scarce repressed the starting tear;
    When the smiling sage replied,--
      'Come, my lad, and drink some beer!'"

And very well hit off, you will confess; an arrow shot from an Ulysses'
bow at the puling whimperers of a namby-pamby sentimentalism that they
miscalled poetry; but if we dared for the nonce to take these lines in
a more serious and literal sense than their author intended, we should
say that in such hot and parching weather as we have recently had, and
are still having, there is more "bliss" in a good draught of "Allsopp"
or "Bass" than is dreamt of in the philosophy of the sentimentalists,
and thousands upon thousands of this season's tourists are ready,
we'll be bound, to homologate this statement.

It was Dr. Johnson, too, if we remember well, who spoke loudly and
dogmatically, as was his wont, of the delightful feeling that one
has in being rapidly whirled along a good road in a post-chaise;
and remembering the unsteadiness of the "Rambler" on his pins, and
his unwieldy corporation, one can readily understand that he found
the means of locomotion referred to the easiest and most enjoyable
possible. Our own experience of post-chaises has, sooth to say, been
somewhat of the slightest, but in lieu thereof we would recommend
a well-appointed public coach, with sound, well-cared-for horses,
a steady and obliging driver and guard, good roads under foot, and a
bright sky above all; and such a conveyance we on a recent occasion
found the mail-coach between Fort-William and Kingussie to be; and
such a driver and guard, the two in one, is the renowned "Davie Jack,"
who knows his work, and does it too, in a style that reminds one of the
old "Defiance" in its palmiest days; while the weather, if anything,
was too fine, too bright and cloudless--the best fault it could have,
however, since it is impossible that the weather on any particular
day should be faultless, any more than that any human being should be
perfect. Nothing, indeed, can be finer than the drive through Lochaber
and Badenoch to Kingussie, except perhaps the drive back again. With
mountain scenery on all hands, unsurpassed even in the Highlands for
wild, and savage, and solitary grandeur; with foaming torrents dashing
down the steeps, torrents that at a distance and at this season look
like so many threads of purest silver constantly being absorbed and
inwefted with the river, that, with a voice more hushed, and a quieter,
kindlier step, still gladdens and fertilises the valley as it seeks
the sea; with loch and river scenery the most attractive and lovely;
and all, in short, that you can reasonably look for of the grand or
beautiful from the sea coast to the central Highlands. With all this,
and the redoubted "Davie" to handle the ribbons, as only "Davie" can
handle them--said "Davie" the while as full of anecdote, and joke,
and local tradition as an egg is full of meat--with all this we say,
and much more that might be mentioned, the man who cannot enjoy
such a journey at this season is little to be envied; for, be his
other qualities and qualifications what they may, his non-enjoyment
of such a drive clearly proves one of two things,--either he is
physically unwell, and out of sorts, and had better stay at home; or,
æsthetically, he has no eye for, and no appreciation of, some of the
most splendid scenery in the Highlands, and in that case is less to
be blamed than pitied. Even in winter we should say that this was the
readiest, as well as the most pleasant, line of intercommunication
between the north-western Highlands and the south. It were, finally,
unpardonable in us, who enjoyed it so much, not to mention the very
excellent breakfast on the up-journey, and the equally excellent and
substantial "tea," or tea-dinner rather, on returning, to be had in
the shepherd's house at Moy. It may seem unromantic and prosaic to
say so, but it is a fact nevertheless, that one's appreciation of the
sublime and beautiful--let Mr. Edmund Burke say what he likes--is not
a little enhanced by a due supply of creature comforts pari passû. If
one cannot carry the comforts of home about with him, any more than
honest Bailie Nicol Jarvie could carry about with him the comforts
of the "Sautmarket," it is no small matter to meet with good cheer
off a snow-white cloth, with the attentions of a smart, intelligent
serving girl, in odd and out-of-the-way places, where you least expect
it. Altogether, a trip by the Fort-William and Kingussie mail-coach
during the present fine weather is very enjoyable indeed--superior,
upon the whole, we should say, to the "Rambler's" post-chaise, not
forgetting that the latter is a solitary and somewhat surly sort of
business, whereas in the former you have the chance of pleasant and
agreeable companionship, in addition to its other attractions.

For one to make a discovery, and to think that oneself has made a
discovery, are two widely different things. We readily acknowledge
the distinction. That we have made a discovery we shall not venture
to affirm, but we think we have. Our discovery, if discovery it be,
is this, that Sir Walter Scott is indebted for Dominie Sampson's
"prodigious!" to Boswell's Life of Johnson. Who can think of the
worthy, kind-hearted, most unsophisticated, and withal most learned,
albeit life-long kirkless parson, without instantly recalling his
favourite exclamation of "Pro-di-gi-ous?" We stumbled on our discovery
in this wise:--A few evenings ago we were reading the third volume of a
very fine edition of Boswell's "Johnson," kindly placed at our disposal
by Lady Riddell of Strontian--and a good edition of a good book is no
small matter to one so far removed from libraries as we are--when we
came to a page that described Johnson's meeting with a gentleman who
had been his companion at Pembroke College, Oxford, some fifty years
previously. Mr. Edwards, for that was the gentleman's name, and Boswell
accompanied Johnson home, where, in course of conversation, Mr. Edwards
said, addressing Johnson, "Sir, I remember you would not let us say
prodigious at college. For even then, sir (turning to Boswell), he was
delicate in language, and we all feared him." Now, can any one doubt
that it was having his attention particularly called to the word in
this passage that made Scott first ponder the absurdity of using a word
of such volume and import on every trifling occasion, and caused him,
possibly at a long subsequent date (for Scott's memory, as we know,
was prodigiously retentive--there the word, you will observe, is pat
and appropriate enough--prodigiously retentive, we say, of words,
phrases, and odd turns of expression)--to put it so frequently as
an exclamation of unspeakable, indescribable import into the mouth
of honest Sampson, whom you can no more help laughing at, at times,
than you can loving him with all your heart always? The matter, after
all, may seem a trifle, and it is a trifle, but such trifles are dear
to the lovers of literature. Were Boswell in the flesh subsequent to
the publication of Guy Mannering, and had his attention drawn to such
a matter, slight as it seems, what a delightful chapter of gossip
he could write about it, with fresh reminiscences of his long and
intimate intercourse with his "illustrious friend," for whom till his
dying day he cherished so much veneration and awe, ever-more mingled
with most pardonable pride that he knew him as no one else knew him,
and loved him as no one else loved him, or perhaps could love him.

We have just been reading our friend Professor Blackie's poem on
"Glencoe." The manner in which he "goes at" his subject, to use a
sporting phrase, the life, and vigour, and swing, and fervour of
the whole, is most refreshing in these days of poetical (save the
mark!) namby-pambyisms, and eminently characteristic of the learned
Professor when at his best. Here you have him, like a knight of the
Middle Ages, high in his stirrups, with lance in rest, "Dh'aindeoin
co theireadh e!" blazing on his shield, and who shall dare to stop
his fierce career against the perpetrators of the foulest deed
on record? Less polished and less artistic than Aytoun's "Widow of
Glencoe," it is, nevertheless, the better poem, on such a subject, of
the two. Its very ruggedness and stern headlong force are its chief
charm, they best befit the theme. Blackie is terribly in earnest;
with Aytoun you cannot help feeling it was a mere matter of sentiment
and no more.


    O the Barren, Barren Shore--Brilliant Auroral Display--Intense
    Cold--Birds--Glanders--Scribblings on the Back of One Pound Notes.

During a week's pleasant and gentle thaw [February 1870], we had
hoped that the worst of winter was come and gone; but to our no small
disappointment the genial interregnum has been followed by another
heavy fall of snow, and a wonderfully keen and biting frost, which,
borne on the wings of a surly nor'easter, has again bound up the earth
as if with fetters of iron. Under such circumstances the sea-coast,
we take it, presents the most dreary and desolate-looking winter
picture imaginable; far more so, to our thinking, than either moss,
or moorland, or mountain range. There is a something inexpressibly
dismal and dowie in the black crape-like belt of sea beach which
divides a landscape deeply clad with snow and frost-bound, from the
dull and leaden coloured deep beyond; the dashing of the waves of
said deep upon the shore, uttering the while a sadly funereal and
dirge-like moan. If our inland friends, in view of the wintry waste
around them, take up the cry of "O the dreary, dreary moorland"--we,
dwellers by the sea coast, have the best possible right to finish
the Tennysonian line by exclaiming "O the barren, barren shore." It
must, by the way, have been on some fair summer eve that the Crown
officials first thought of depriving landowners of the sea-shore
privileges hitherto enjoyed by them; had it been in winter, the idea,
it strikes us, would have withered in the bud; they would have fled
the very sight of the dark and dreary "foreshore," and wisely confined
themselves to the shelter of their Woods and Forests!

It is worthy of record that the present severe snow-storm was
ushered in by a very splendid and in many respects peculiar auroral
display. Shortly after dark on Friday evening, a faint auroral film,
over which an occasional streamer flashed impetuously, over-spread
the northern heavens. All this, however, soon died away, and the
north assumed a cold, clear, frosty aspect. Between seven and eight
o'clock many meteors, some of them of great brilliancy and beauty,
were observed to cross and recross the zenith and its neighbourhood in
all directions. Towards the latter hour, however, these ceased, and
all of a sudden, in a very few seconds at most, the whole celestial
hemisphere from E.N.E. to W.S.W.--from horizon to horizon--appeared
completely spanned by a magnificent auroral arch, eight degrees
in breadth; like a glorious bridge of a single semi-circular span,
with its edges or parapets of a deep blood-red colour, and its centre
part or roadway of frosted silver; the rest of the heavens, in all
directions, being the while of an inky blue, and cold and cloudless,
without the slightest appearance of anything like streamers to be
seen anywhere. Some idea of the brilliancy of this auroral arch may
be formed from the fact that such bright stars as Arcturus, Castor
and Pollux, Aldebaran, Mars, and others, which lay along its path,
became quite dim, and when located near the centre and brightest part
of the stream, almost invisible. Even Venus, which once or twice was
overlapped for a few minutes by the arch's margin only, lost all its
lustre and sheen, and had a burdened anxious aspect, as if the forehead
and "face divine" of a mighty intelligence laboured under the shade
of deep and profound thought. For upwards of an hour did this splendid
auroral arch continue to span the heavens from horizon to horizon, and
undergoing little or no change, until its final disappearance, by what
seemed a process of gradual contraction into itself and towards its
terminus in the east-north-east, whence it started. Such was the very
singular meteoric phenomena by which a severe snow-storm and an amount
of cold almost unparalleled in its intensity was ushered in on the
western sea-board of Scotland in February of the year of grace 1870.

And how fares it with our feathered favourites, the wild birds, in
these hard times? Fertile as they are in resources, and indefatigable
in providing for the wants of the passing hour, all their little
shifts must frequently prove inadequate to the supply of their daily
wants in such trying times as these. St. Valentine's day has come
and gone, but neither in copse, nor hedgerow, nor ivy-mantled wall,
find we as yet any traces of nidification, nor has the love-prompted
warble, in past years so loud and incessant at this season, been yet
heard around us. The robin only cheeps; the sparrow simply chirps;
the linnet merely twitters; and even the "gay chaffinch" can only give
us a disconsolate "fink, fink," in place of his well-known glad burst
of choicest and cheeriest song. The mellow chaunt of the merle and
song-thrush delights not yet the ear from copse or brake at early morn
or evening-tide. The intense and piercing cold, which, on the wings
of the northern blast, sweeps over the land as we write, and as it
moans, and sighs, and wildly shrieks by starts in its progress over
the deep, causes the lone sea-bird to utter its eeriest and wildest
cry, has succeeded in freezing, not only the rivulet and the pool,
but has actually bound up the voice of gladness and every source
of joyful utterance in all our feathered friends as well. But "nil
desperandum," better times are coming. Fields will yet be green,
trees will yet be leafy, rivers unbound from icy fetters will yet
dance merrily in the sun, and laugh with all their ripples, as they
hasten seawards; and then "again shall flowers appear on the earth;
the time of the singing of birds shall have come, and the voice of
the turtle be heard in our land."

Are glanders incurable? is a very ugly, but doubtless a very
important question, which is being at present keenly discussed in
the columns of several metropolitan journals. By glanders is meant,
not the equine disease in the equine subject properly so called,
and which comes so frequently under the treatment of the veterinary
surgeon, but the same frightful disease when introduced either by
accident or design into the human system. Is it curable? This is
the question, and the general impression seems to be, that when it
once fairly lays hold of the human system, it is, like hydrophobia,
quite and utterly incurable. We do not pretend to know anything of the
subject, and we allude to it merely to say that we well recollect of
hearing, on undoubted authority, of a patient who was actually cured
of glanders, caught, if we remember rightly, from eating some beans
found in a manger in which a horse having the disease had recently been
feeding. All the circumstances connected with the case and cure were
related in our hearing by the late Dr. John Reid, Professor of Anatomy
in the University of St. Andrews, one evening that we dined at his
house during our attendance at the University. It is now some eighteen
or twenty years ago, and we were then too young and thoughtless to
give that attention to the subject which it deserved. We recollect,
however, that the case was said to have occurred in Edinburgh, and to
have been treated in the infirmary of that city, and that the patient,
on his recovery, having been found shrewd, intelligent, and steady,
was afterwards appointed one of the janitors of that institution. There
must be some medical gentleman still in Edinburgh able to speak to a
case of such importance; and amongst others present on the occasion
that we heard Professor Reid refer to it, were, if we rightly remember,
Principal Sir David Brewster and Professor Martin, now of Aberdeen, and
at that time Mathematical Master in the Madras College of St. Andrews.

The other evening a one pound note, which a lady friend of ours
had just received by post, was handed to us, with a request that we
should try and decipher some writing which was observed on the back
of it. After some little trouble, we were a good deal amused to find
that the writing in question really consisted of the following lines:--

    "I am a note of the British Linen;
    I've long been kept by L. Mackinnon;
    Where'er you go you'll find them willing
    To give for me just twenty shilling.--L. M'K."

We have no idea who this poetical L. Mackinnon is or was, but it is
pretty evident, we think, that both he and the British Linen Company's
Bank note had very excellent opinions of themselves. It was Lady Louisa
Stewart, if we rightly recollect, who sent Sir Walter Scott a copy of
the following lines, which she discovered on the back of a battered
bank note which had come into her possession. It will be observed that
they are in all respects immeasurably superior to Mr. L. Mackinnon's:--

    "Farewell, my note, and wheresoe'er ye wend,
    Shun gaudy scenes, and be the poor man's friend;
    You've left a poor one; go to one as poor,
    And drive despair and hunger from his door."

Let cynics growl and snarl as they list, some people HAVE hearts,
and the author of the above lines, be sure, had a right warm and
kindly one.


    A Wet February--A Good Time Coming--Sir Walter
    Scott--Mr. Gladstone--Death of Sir David Brewster.

One swallow doesn't make a summer, says the proverb, and unless
one fine day (the 19th) makes a spring, we haven't for the last
six weeks [February 1870] and more had a single hour of a character
to be disassociated from one of the wettest and wildest winters on
record. No sooner has one storm died away, less from any voluntary
cessation on its part than from sheer exhaustion of its forces, than,
after a slushy, sludgy interregnum of brief duration, it has been
succeeded in every instance by another and another still of equal
or greater violence and fury, so that of quiet or calm we have known
little, and of sun or moon or stars we have seen hardly the briefest
glimpse since Old New Year's Day. When Foote, the incomparable comedian
(Johnson said of him that "the dog was irresistible"), after acquiring
and dissipating several fortunes, was at last lucky enough to be able
to set up his carriage in a more dashing style than ever, he selected
as his motto, and emblematical of his career, the words Iterum,
Iterum, Iterumque! (Again, and Again, and Again!) It has struck us
that if the Meteorological Society were to apply to the Herald's
College for a crest and armorial bearings to be displayed on the
title-page of their volume of "Transactions" for the first quarter
of the current year, we, should they do us the honour to consult us,
would suggest a cloud-cumulus, rain-surcharged, proper on the shield,
with Aquarius and the "watery" Hyades as supporters; Eolus ordering
"a fresh hand to the bellows" as a crest, and the Iterum, Iterum,
Iterumque of Foote's chariot as a motto of singular appropriateness
and meaning. How delighted, by the way, must our amphibious friend
Mr. Symons be in the midst of all this rainfall! His crest again
should be a man's head on a fish's body in an overflowed meadow,
natant, and his supporters an anemometer and rain-gauge proper! It is
needless to say that anything like spring work is with us not only in
a very backward state, but has hardly been commenced. Before the end
of February we had our own corn seed and potatoes in the ground last
year. If we get them down this year any time during the next month,
it will be earlier than the weather at the date of the present writing
promises. Our ornithological studies extend over a greater number of
years than we care at this moment very accurately to count; but never
have we known our wild-birds so listless and loveless on Shrovetide Eve
as they are this season. Except an occasional carol from the wren, who
has a soul as big as that of his namesake Sir Christopher, who built
the dome of St. Paul's (the wren also, by the way, is a dome-builder),
and an irregular strophe at rare intervals from the redbreast, our
woods are songless, and of nidification there is not a sign. Meliora
sperare, nevertheless, is sound philosophy. Let us hope for better
things: He is faithful that promised that while the earth remaineth,
seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and
day and night, shall not cease. Scott has few finer passages than the
following, which we are fond of repeating in such a season as this. It
occurs in his epistle to William Stewart Rose, introductory to the
first canto of Marmion, and, though very beautiful, is seldom quoted:--

      "No longer Autumn's glowing red
    Upon our Forest hills is shed;
    No more, beneath the evening beam,
    Fair Tweed reflects their purple gleam;
    Away hath passed the heather bell
    That bloomed so rich on Needpath fell;
    Sallow his brow, and russet bare
    Are now the sister-heights of Yair.
    The sheep, before the pinching heaven,
    To sheltered dale and down are driven,
    Where yet some faded herbage pines
    And yet a watery sunbeam shines:
    In meek despondency they eye
    The wither'd sward and wintry sky,
    And far beneath their summer hill
    Stray sadly by Glenkinnon's rill:
    The shepherd shifts his mantle's fold,
    And wraps him closer from the cold;
    His dogs no merry circles wheel,
    But, shivering, follow at his heel;
    A cowering glance they often cast,
    As deeper moans the gathering blast.
      "My imps, though hardy, bold, and wild,
    As best befits the mountain child,
    Feel the sad influence of the hour,
    And wail the daisy's vanished flower;
    Their summer gambols tell, and mourn,
    And anxious ask--Will spring return,
    And birds and lambs again be gay,
    And blossoms clothe the hawthorn spray?
      "Yes, prattlers, yes. The daisy's flower
    Again shall paint your summer bower;
    Again the hawthorn shall supply
    The garlands you delight to tie;
    The lambs upon the lea shall bound,
    The wild birds carol to the round;
    And while you frolic light as they,
    Too short shall seem the summer day."

On her rich roll of worthies, Scotland has but few names of whom
she has more reason to be proud than that of Walter Scott. If we
had even said not one, an objector might perhaps find the assertion
more difficult to disprove than he wots of. Nor has the star of his
marvellous power and influence for good set or been extinguished; it
has only been clouded for a season by the intervention of exhalations
of the "earth, earthy"--exhalations that the growth of a healthier
and holier taste is already dissipating, and the Wizard's star shall
reappear in undiminished lustre, and young and old will clap their
hands and rejoice in its purity and power. Some years ago arose a
school of poetry that flared and flickered for a season, and found
admirers on the same mysterious principle, we suppose, that Antoinetta
Bourignon and Joanna Southcott found followers. It was happily styled
the "spasmodic" school; and it died and disappeared--the best thing it
could do. A new school has succeeded, that may be called the sensuous,
and, we had almost said, the lascivious, and with a strong tendency
to the reproduction in modern guise of all that was worst and best
in the ancient Greek drama. Of this school, Mr. Swinburne is, facile
princeps, the chief. It also will last but for a season, and will
die and disappear ignominiously, as did its predecessor. There is
yet another school, that has existed for some time longer--full of
missyism, sentimentalism, and languid goodyism--"too good for banning,
too bad for a blessing." It also is slowly dwindling, and dwining,
and dying, and must soon expire, leaving people hardly any better
or worse than it found them. And so with the novels of the day,
with their "sensations," their seductions, murders, and unspeakable
horrors, worse than were mingled in the bubbling cauldron of the
witches in Macbeth: their day is doomed; for purer taste, banished
but for a moment, must reappear--is already reappearing--and people,
awakening as if from a dream, will once again consent to quench their
thirst at healthier fountains, and to wander in less questionable
bye-paths. The poetry and novels of Scott will then resume their
attraction and reassert their influence and power; and whithersoever
he leads, no parent need be ashamed to follow, or feel obliged in the
interests of morality to forbid and forego the companionship of wife
or children through scenes where there is everything to delight and
nothing to offend. It is well that in the world of poetry and fiction,
as in social and political affairs, the maxim holds true that--

    "Res nolunt diu male administrari."

Of Mr. Gladstone, the politician, there are many more enthusiastic
admirers than ourselves, though we would not willingly be supposed to
yield to any one in our ardent admiration of his ripe scholarship and
unrivalled eloquence; but we shall think better of him while we live,
and have a kindlier and warmer interest in all he says and does,
on account of his recent eulogium on the character and writings of
Sir Walter Scott.

And who can speak of Scott, or think of Abbotsford and Melrose and
the classic Tweed at the present moment, without also thinking of
Allerly and Sir David Brewster, one of the greatest men of science
that Scotland has ever produced; and greater far, as sometimes happens
in such cases, out of it than in it, for during full forty years,
wherever, throughout the habitable parts of the earth, science had
lit her lamp and could count her votaries, however humble, there
the name of David Brewster was familiar as a household word, and his
discoveries known and applauded. He was the first really distinguished
man of letters and science we ever knew, and it was while writing one
of the earlier chapters of this work, on a subject in which he felt
the keenest interest, and in connection with which we had occasion
to mention his name, that the grand old man, venerable in honours
and in years, was breathing his last, with a Christian resignation
to the Divine will, and a Christian's joyful faith in the Divine
mercy and goodness. Passing through the valley of death, he feared
no evil, for his Lord and Saviour sustained his steps. Through the
first Lady Brewster (née Macpherson), to whom we had the honour of
being known before we had yet seen her distinguished husband, we
were fortunate enough to be admitted, at the very beginning of our
curriculum at college, to a degree of familiarity with the Principal
of our University, that our relative positions would not otherwise have
warranted, and which we have the satisfaction to remember we had sense
enough to value highly and to be proud of even at that early age. It
was by his practised hand that the instrument was adjusted through
which we had our first view of two of the most beautiful sights that
the telescope reveals to us--Jupiter with his belts and retinue of
attendant moons, and Saturn with his rings; and very patient and
good-natured and kindly were his replies to our eager questionings
with regard to the nature of the wonders then first opened to our
gaze. Sir David, if forced into it, could fight, and never turned
his back on an assailant. If you hit him, he hit again, and he always
hit severely; but he was, notwithstanding, a man of kindest heart and
most amiable disposition, and it would be difficult to meet with any
one more cheerful or courteous or pleasant within the circle of his
own family and in his daily intercourse with his acquaintances and
friends. Requiescat in pace: he was in truth a great man. Not often
does it happen that in the same country, and within so short a time
of each other, two such stars so large and lustrous as Faraday and
Brewster have disappeared from the firmament of science. A century may
elapse ere the thrones they have left vacant shall again be adequately
filled. There is something extremely beautiful and affecting in one
of Sir David Brewster's last utterances upon earth. On the morning
of his death, Sir James Simpson, standing by his bedside, remarked
that it had been given to him to show forth much of God's great and
marvellous works; and the dying philosopher solemnly and quietly
replied, "Yes, I have found them to be great and marvellous, and I
have found and felt them to be His."


    Long-Line Fishing--Scarcity of Fish--Their Fecundity--Large
    Specimen of the Raia Chagrinea--The Wolf-Fish--The Devil-Fish.

For several years past [March 1870] the spring fishing with "long
lines" in our western lochs has been so unsuccessful as to be hardly
worth the while engaging in it. At our very doors, where with the
hand-line during the summer and autumn months, some ten or twelve
years ago, we could almost always depend on a large basketful of
the finest rock cod, gurnard, haddock, and flounder, as the result
of a couple of hours fishing, more recently very few, and sometimes
none at all, could be caught, with the cunningest exercise of all
the patience and piscatorial skill at our command, while in winter
and spring the long-line fishing of grey cod, skate, and ling, and
eel has been equally disappointing. Why it should be so no one would
venture to say; the utmost you could get out of the oldest fisherman
on the coast was an admission of the fact, with a shake of the head
and a shrug of the shoulders, that if so disposed you could very
readily interpret into the line, albeit unknown to him, that--

    "'Twas true 'twas pity, pity 'twas 'twas true,"

a cautious reticence on the point that was altogether praiseworthy,
for really and truly nobody did know or could say anything satisfactory
in explanation of the mystery. Was it owing to the multiplication of
the number of steamers, screw and paddle, constantly coming and going,
and like Tennyson's "years" at their unamiable meeting, "roaring and
blowing," keeping the waters in perpetual turmoil, and scaring the
fish from their usual haunts? Such an hypothesis could be seriously
entertained for a moment only to be rejected. Could it be owing to
any cyclical meteorological changes, or to anything anomalous in the
order of the seasons? Admitting that something of this kind has been
going on for some time, and is still going on, it was readily seen,
nevertheless, that it was all too inappreciable and remote to have
had the result complained of--to cause that in the waters of "the
great deep" which it had failed to effect in any noticeable way on
the dry land. Or, was it that the fish themselves, by reason of their
numberless enemies, afloat and ashore, were actually diminishing in
numbers, and so necessarily becoming scarcer from year to year? No one,
however, knowing anything of the economy of the fish in question,
could for a moment entertain such an idea. The fecundity of these
fish is something incredible. We once had the roe of a female cod,
that weighed (the fish) six lbs., first boiled hard, and then divided
with tolerable exactness into so many ounces, and counting the number
of eggs in one ounce, and multiplying by the number of ounces in the
entire roe, we found, at a rough calculation, that in that single
fish, of no great size, there were upwards of a million and a half
of eggs--each egg destined to become a fish, and, barring accidents,
to attain to the average age and size of its kind. But however we
may try to account for the scarcity of these fish in our lochs for
several years back, it is an agreeable duty to have to record that
during the past winter and spring there has been a marked improvement
alike in the quantity and quality of the fish caught all along the
western seaboard. Not only have the common fish of our own coasts
been taken in considerable numbers, but several kinds of fish formerly
known only as occasional visitors to our shores have this season been
plentiful in all our lochs, and have well repaid the diligence of their
captors. The long-nosed skate, for example, formerly a rare fish with
us, has this season been common. It is known to ichthyologists as the
Raia chagrinea, and is not only excellent eating, but from its enormous
liver supplies a large quantity of very fine oil, that burns with a
clearer and steadier light than that of any other fish with which we
are acquainted. We are convinced, by the way, that, used medicinally,
it would be found equally efficacious with cod liver oil in all cases
where the latter is recommended, whilst its rather agreeable taste and
flavour would render it a tolerably palatable dose in its purest and
strongest state, which cod oil never becomes, manufacture, and decoct,
and clarify it as you may. A very fine specimen of the Chagrinea
was caught here about ten days ago. It was cut up and disembowelled
before we saw it, but we should guess that its weight when taken off
the hook could not have been less than 70 lbs. All the skates are ugly
brutes, and the long-nosed Chagrinea is at once perhaps the ugliest
and the best of its tribe. Some people don't eat skate, nor can we
say that we are partial to it ourselves, though we once heard a noted
gourmand declare that the "wing of a skate was equal to a shoulder of
a salmon." We should, for our own part, rather have the salmon. While
in Oban about a month ago, an extremely fierce-looking and ugly fish,
the name and character whereof not a little puzzled its captors, was
brought for our inspection. Luckily for our credit as a naturalist,
we had previously seen more than one specimen of the same fish with
the St. Andrews fishermen, it being by no means a rare visitor to
the eastern and north-eastern shores of Scotland. It was the wolf or
cat-fish, closely related to the family of the Gobies (Gobioidæ),
the Anarrhicas lupus of ichthyologists. The head of this curious
and most repulsive-looking fish has some peculiar markings, which,
with the fierce glaring eyes and their position in the face, and the
formidable array of long, sharp-pointed, recurved teeth, give it much
of the expression of an enraged cat, and hence doubtless its common
name. For the same reasons, and on account probably of its character as
a fierce, relentless tyrant among more amiable and less powerful fish,
it is known among the Channel Islands and along the coasts of England
as the wolf-fish. The only fish at all approaching it in ugliness and
repulsiveness of features is the better-known angler or fishing-frog
(Lophius piscatorius), which also, by the way, is not so common of
late years on our western coasts as it used to be.


    Birds--Contest between a Heron and an Eel.

With the exception of a slight drizzle on Saturday the last ten days
have been wonderfully fine for the season [February 1870]. Seldom,
indeed, have we been so near realising the "ethereal mildness" of
Thomson's "Spring" so early in the year. And, in sooth, it was high
time that some such pleasant change in the weather should take place,
for no living wight can remember anything so incessant and persistent
as were the rain and the storm of the previous six weeks.

    "When frost and snow come both together,
    Then sit by the fire and save shoe leather,"

quoth Jonathan Swift, the honest Dean of St. Patrick's, being evidently
no curler, and more given to satire than to snow-balling; but really
for the six weeks above specified nothing less than the direst
necessity could tempt one to any other pastime than the prudential
and prosaic one recommended in the couplet. Grant him but license to
grumble, however, and man can endure, and that scathlessly, much more
than he wots of. And how easily is he after all restored to equanimity
and even cheerfulness! Here we are already, placid and pleased,
enjoying the fine weather; the cold and the wet and the boisterous
gales of January and December altogether forgotten, or, if remembered,
remembered only to give zest to the bright and sunshiny present. And
never, we believe, were song-birds in such free and full song on
St. Valentine's day. Morning and evening (the interval, you must know,
dear reader, is as yet passed in tender dalliance and nest-building),
from copse and woodland, ring out the richest strains of our native
warblers, thrush, redbreast, blackbird, throstle, white-throat, wren
(whom the Germans, on account of his indomitable pluck and pre-eminence
as a songster, term the kingbird), and a score of other "musical
celebrities," vie with each other in the richness and the melody of
their incomparable song. Within a month, should the weather continue
favourable as at present, most of our wild-birds will have finished
their nests, and commenced the labours of incubation. We trust that
our readers will do all they can this season to prevent children and
others from what is called "birds'-nesting," one of the most cruel
pastimes to which any one could turn himself. All good men, and most
great ones, have been remarkable for their attachment to animals,
both domesticated and wild, and particularly to song-birds. Listen to
Virgil's passing allusion to the subject in his Georgics, a magnificent
poem, of itself sufficient to immortalise the name of any one man:--

    "Qualis populea moerens Philomela, sub umbra," &c.,

thus rendered into English:--

    "Lo, Philomela from the umbrageous wood,
    In strains melodious mourns her tender brood,
    Snatch'd from the nest by some rude ploughman's hand,
    On some lone bough the warbler takes her stand;
    The live-long night she mourns the cruel wrong,
    And hill and dale resound the plaintive song."

And hear our own matchless "ploughman bard," in one of his sweetest
lyrics, The Posie:--

    "The hawthorn I will pu', wi' its locks o' siller grey,
    Where, like an aged man, it stands at break o' day,
    But the songster's nest within the bush I winna tak away--
    And a' to be a posie to my ain dear May."

Verily, dear reader, he who wrote that verse, despite the pious
murmurings of the rigidly righteous, and the cold shudderings of
religious fanaticism at his shortcomings, must have been a man of
largest heart and widest sympathies; and, properly understood, there
is much truth, and no irreverence, in his own finding, that even

    "The light which led astray
    Was light from heaven."

We were much amused the other day at seeing a heron, a long-necked,
long-legged bird, doubtless familiar to the reader, for once in
a "fix." We say "for once," for it is a most sagacious bird and
thoroughly master of its own particular rôle, which, it is needless
to say, is principally fish-catching. We were amusing ourselves on
the sea-shore during low-water, watching the habits of periwinkles,
hermit-crabs, star-fish, &c., when we observed a heron at some hundred
yards distance, leaping about, wriggling its body, and performing
other strange and unheron-like antics, as if it had suddenly gone
mad. Knowing the staid and sober habits of the bird in general,
we at once came to the conclusion that something extraordinary "was
up," and determined, if possible, to discover what it was. Making a
slight détour to avoid alarming him--for it was a he, a very handsome,
full-crested male--we easily managed to creep within fifty yards or
so of him, and the cause of his excitement and unwonted posturings
became at once apparent. He had caught an eel (a great dainty with the
heron family) of about two feet in length, and of girth like a stout
walking-stick, notwithstanding which, however, Mr. Heron would soon
have satisfactorily dined upon it, had he not made a slight mistake in
the mode of striking his prey. The eel was held in the heron's bill at
a point only some three or four inches from the extremity of its tail,
the greater part of its body and its head being thus left at liberty
to twist, and wriggle, and wallop about ad libitum. To swallow the
eel in this position the heron knew was impossible, and to let it go,
even for an instant, for the purpose of getting a better "grip" of
his slippery customer was altogether out of the question. The heron
was standing on the very margin of the sea, into which the eel,
if for a moment at liberty, would have shot like an arrow. It was
too large to be tossed into the air and recaught in its descent, as
herons frequently do with other fish; and in short the heron was at
his wit's end, and wist not what to say or do. To make matters worse,
the eel was wriggling and twisting about its captor's legs, breechless
and exposed legs be it observed, and might, for all we or the heron
knew, take one of them at any time between its teeth, and sharp and
cruel, as probably the heron knew, are an eel's teeth when any part
of an enemy has the misfortune to get between them. Apprehensive,
doubtless, of some such danger, the heron danced and shuffled about,
lifting now one leg and now another, as if he had been practising a
new and somewhat complicated hornpipe. He would at one time leap a
foot or two to one side, and immediately after spring into the air
as many inches, attempting the while to strike his prey against the
stones, but always failing in doing this effectually, owing to want of
sufficient "purchase" and the insecurity of his hold. Having watched
this novel combat for some time, we made a rush to the scene of action,
hoping to succeed in surprising, perhaps, both the spoiler and his
prey. We were disappointed. The heron instantly took wing, carrying
the eel for some instance in his sharp-edged and powerful bill, but
finally dropping it into the sea, doubtless confessing to himself,
as he indignantly winged his flight to another fishing ground, that
once in his life at least he had caught a Tartar.


    Sea-Fishing--Loch and Stream Fishing--"Brindled
    Worms"--Rush-Lights--Buckie-Shell Lamps--The Weasel killing a
    Hare--Killing a Fallow Deer Fawn.

Though by no means everything that we could wish it, the weather of
the last fortnight [July 1870] was a decided improvement on that of
the preceding, and people have managed to get their hay secured in
tolerably good condition after all. No appearance of the much-dreaded
potato blight as yet; pity that it should show its unwished-for
face this year at all, for a finer crop never lay ripening in the
ground. Something has been done in herring fishing, and there is some
prospect of our having enough for local consumption at all events,
and perhaps a little over, which is no small matter in those dear
times. Other kinds of fish are plentiful, and, with sufficient leisure
for the pastime, there is hardly anything of the kind more enjoyable
in fine weather than an afternoon's or early morning's fishing with
rod or hand-line. You never, besides, see the country so well as on
these occasions, or so thoroughly understand the full force of the
poet's beautiful line, that in such scenes

    "'Tis distance lends enchantment to the view."

Any number of trout, too--few of them, however, of any size--may be
caught at present in our inland lochs and mountain streams, and a
dish of these speckled beauties, fresh from the basket, is a very
good thing indeed, though the grilse and salmon eater may turn up
his nose in contempt and derision of such "small deer." Let him; we
shall be always prepared to take over his share along with our own! A
curious request was made to us a short time ago by a well-known book
"deliverer," who frequently passes this way, one of the keenest and
most successful fishers on lake or river we ever knew, and a very quiet
decent man to boot. "Will you allow me, sir, to put down some worms
in your place?" "To put down what?" we exclaimed in surprise. "Worms,
sir, brindled worms for fishing with, when the rivers are swollen after
heavy rains." We begged to have a look at the worms, and they proved
to be a variety of the common earthworm that we had never seen before,
the difference consisting in their being rather smaller in size than
the common earthworm, and prettily speckled and streaked all over
their length, whence, doubtless, their name of brindled worms. A lot
had been sent to him from Alyth, in Perthshire, very cunningly done
up in a bunch of damp moss; and, having a few left over after a week's
most successful fishing, he wished to deposit them in this, a central
part of his peregrinations, that they might multiply and be recoverable
at any time he wanted them. Holding one by the middle, between index
finger and thumb, in a manner that would have delighted the heart of
old Izaak Walton, the worm wriggling and twisting the while with all
the liveliness of an eel in similar circumstances, "There, sir," he
exclaimed, looking at the lively "brindled" as if he loved it, "there,
sir, is a bonny ane! no troot that ever swam could resist having a dash
at that in a brown and swollen stream." In answer to our questions,
he told us that the brindled colour of the worm had, he thought, a
good deal to do with the trout's liking for it, but, in his opinion,
the brisk and lively motions of the worm upon the hook was the main
attraction. The thing was so manifestly alive and active, and likely
to escape, if not caught at once, that the trout made a rush at it,
with his eyes shut, so to speak, and only discovered how thoroughly
he had been done, when, hooked and landed, he lay flopping helplessly
about on the green grass by the burn side. Getting piscator a spade,
he searched about for a suitable spot, and buried his worms beneath
the turf as tenderly as if he were laying babies asleep in their
cradles. "There now, sir," he remarked, as he finished his colonising,
"they will breed fast, and soon be plentiful enough hereabouts, and
they will destroy the common earthworm till not one can be found." So
that you see we had an interesting lesson on bait angling and the
natural history of earthworms very unexpectedly from a very unexpected
quarter. We still watch with interest if the assertion turns out to
be true, that the brindled worm exterminates the common earthworm,
notwithstanding their close relationship. Such a thing we know is
quite possible, a notable case in point being the extermination of
the old well-known black rat by the more modern coloniser, the brown.

The amount of viva você information that one can pick up, not by going
actually to look for it, but in the most casual and incidental manner,
from all sorts of people with whom one may be brought in contact,
is simply extraordinary. Some, to be sure, will have nothing to
tell; they are as Dead Sea fruit, full of mere ashes, that never
had sap or substance for good to themselves or anybody else. Others,
again, may know much, but they are cautious and reserved, and never
venture beyond the most superficial and commonplace chit-chat; but the
great mass of people, if you approach them courteously and frankly,
will be found communicative enough, and if you go deftly about it,
you seldom work long in such mines without bringing some ore to the
surface. A day or two ago, for instance, we were sitting on a rock by
the roadside on the opposite shore of Appin, having rowed ashore from
our fishing ground to have a smoke and a drink of sparkling water
from one of the many rivulets that, like so many silver threads in
some rich embroidery, twist and twine with a glad music of their own
adown the green slopes of Benavere. An old man passing along the way,
with a bundle of rushes under his arm, saluted us with the quiet and
undemonstrative courtesy so characteristic of his class all over the
Highlands. We invited him to sit down beside us, and at once he sat
down and entered into conversation with us about the weather, crops,
fishing, and other such obvious matters as are seldom overlooked during
the first five minutes of a roadside crack at this season. By-and-by
we asked him about the bundle of rushes. There were too few of them
to be of any use as thatch, and we observed that they were not of the
kind generally used in basket-making--a common amusement for the idle
hours of shepherds, herdboys, and others in the past generation, who
made very pretty rush baskets for carrying eggs, butter, and other such
light goods to the nearest shop, and bringing back the tea, sugar, &c.,
usually taken in exchange. What were his rushes for then? He gathered
them, he told us, from time to time, always selecting the largest and
best, for the sake of their pith, which served as wick for his lamp;
and he showed us the process of extracting the pith on the spot. He
first split the rush longitudinally, by running his thumb-nail along
its length, and then pressing his thumb transversely against the pith,
he ran it along until the whole beautifully soft and white substance
was gathered into a bundle free of its skin, the pith still remaining
unbroken by the deftness of the process, and easily extended at will to
its original length. This pith is inserted in the same manner as wick
in the lamp, and answers its purpose admirably. We recollect seeing
the thing before, but it is many years since, and we had thought that
cotton had everywhere, even in the remotest parts of the Highlands,
long since superseded the primitive rush pith as wick for lamps. "All
the people about me," said the old man, "now use paraffin lamps and
cotton wicks, but although perhaps I could afford these as well as
they can, I prefer the good old rush-light of my boyhood. I remember,"
he continued, "when all the people in our hamlet gave a day's work
to the tenant of the adjoining farm for leave to gather rushes for
their lamps in the proper season. Fish oil of our own manufacture was
always used, and you will perhaps be surprised to hear, sir, that the
lamp was often a "buckie shell." "A buckie shell!" we exclaimed, "how
did you manage to fix it properly? You probably glued its keel to a
piece of wood or something of that kind?" "No, sir," was the response,
"we did not fix it at all. It was suspended from a cromag or hook of
wood or iron projecting from the wall near the fire-place by a string,
one end of which was firmly tied round the hollow dividing the whorl
at the smaller end of the shell, and the other round the furrow at
its larger circumference near the lip. The loop of the string was
then thrown over the hook, and thus suspended, the shell was filled
with oil and a rush pith inserted as wick, and it made a very good
lamp indeed, at once economical and serviceable. I recollect," said
the old man with a smile, "that my father, God rest him! who was a
very economical man, and hated everything like extravagance or waste,
allowed us just a shellful of oil for the winter's night. When that
much was spent, we had to tell our tales, sing our songs, and go on
with the work we might have in hand by such light as was afforded by
the blazing peat-fire, or let it alone till the next evening, just as
we pleased." Our friend concluded by declaring in very emphatic phrase
that "the people now are less industrious than they were then; have
more money in their hands, but use it less wisely; are less truthful,
less honest, less to be depended upon in every way than were the
people of his boyhood and their immediate predecessors." "Laudator
temporis acti," but there is some truth in it. You should have heard
how grandly and with what an air of dignity the old fellow spoke that
concluding sentence in the most beautiful and rhythmical Gaelic. The
buckie shell referred to above is the Buccinum undatum, or common
whelk, constantly to be met with on almost every shore. It is to be
understood, we suppose, that the larger specimens only would be used
as lamps in the manner described by our venerable friend.

Of British quadrupeds--perhaps of all existing quadrupeds--the
pluckiest, and, according to its size and weight, by far the strongest,
is the common weasel (Mustela vulgaris). The other day a man in our
neighbourhood brought us a common brown hare, large and in excellent
condition, that had been hunted and killed by a weasel in a very
extraordinary manner. In the evening the man was going up a green glade
on the wooded hill-side in search of his cows, when he heard what he
took to be the screaming of a child on the other side of a small hazel
copse which he was passing at the moment. Supposing it to be a child
searching for cows like himself, that had fallen and hurt itself,
or that had perhaps been attacked by some stirk or quey, angry at
being disturbed in a favourite bit of grazing ground, he ran forward,
and hearing the screaming repeated, was astonished to find that it
proceeded from a hare that toilsomely and with staggering steps was
struggling up the steep. On closer inspection, about which there was
no difficulty, for by this time the poor hare was, in race-course
phrase, about "pumped out," and could barely stagger along, he was
more than astonished to observe that a weasel was extended couchant
along the hare's back, with his muzzle deeply sunk into the vertebræ
of his victim's neck, a position from which no exertion on the hare's
part could possibly dislodge him. Picking up a stone, the man rushed
forward and threw it with all his might, not so much at the hare as
at its lithe and blood-thirsty rider. The hare, however, was hit, and
fell, and with a gasp or two was dead; less from the blow than from
the terrible injuries inflicted by the weasel's teeth, from which,
under any circumstances, it was impossible that the poor animal could
have recovered. Before the man and a dog which accompanied him could
get at the wary weasel, it had with proverbial agility made good
its escape. On examining the hare, we found that it was in truth
dreadfully wounded, the ruthless Mustela having manifestly gone to
work in a very scientific manner, the little red-eyed wretch's motto
being "Thorough!" Once fairly on the back of his victim, he anchored
himself firmly by his teeth right in the centre of the nape of the
neck, just where the head is articulated to the cervical vertebræ;
and as no exertion of the hare could shake him off, he leisurely
dug down, drinking the blood and eating as he dug, until the poor
hare, faint and exhausted, could only stagger about in response to
each cruel dig of the dental spurs of its terrible rider. That a
creature so diminutive--weighing only about as many ounces as a hare
weighs pounds--should be able thus to mount and master an animal
so much bigger than itself, seems extraordinary, and is only to be
accounted for by a lithe agility in the assailant, to be met with
in no other creature perhaps, coupled with indomitable courage and
instinctive blood-thirstiness. We recollect some years ago that an
old man, a James Cameron, belonging to Achintore, near Fort-William,
was savagely assaulted by a colony of weasels, and very severely
wounded before he could get rid of his assailants. He was employed
by a neighbour to remove a cairn of small stones from a grass field,
in which it had long been an eyesore, from the centre of which cairn,
when he had wheeled away several barrows-full, six or seven weasels
rushed out and attacked him. So sudden and unexpected was the attack,
that before he could do anything to defend himself, his hands and
chin and cheeks--for they instinctively flew at his throat, which
was luckily guarded by the thick folds of a homespun cravat--were
severely bitten. One or two he killed by taking them in his hands,
dashing them to the ground, and trampling them under his feet; but the
others stuck to him with the pertinacity and viciousness of angry bees,
and it was only by running into a house that was at hand, for aid and
protection, that they ceased their attack and left him. Happening to
be in Fort-William that day, we recollect examining the man's wounds,
and getting the story of the weasel assault from his own lips. We
remember remarking how astonishingly deep and formidable were the
wounds, to be made by the comparatively small teeth, short though
sharp, of the weasel; and what was worse, they festered again and
again, and gave the man much pain and trouble ere they fully healed
up and disappeared. An old gamekeeper tells us that he once saw a
fallow deer fawn, upwards of six weeks old, killed by a weasel in one
of the Callart parks precisely as this hare was killed, and a fawn at
that age will weigh three times as much as a brown hare in ordinary
condition. In common with most people, we have rather a dislike to
the weasel, though one cannot but view with respect the courage and
pluck that carry him safely through such exploits as these.


    Extraordinary aspect of the Sun--Sunset from
    Rokeby--Mr. Glaisher--"Demoiselle" or Numidian Crane at
    Deerness--The Snowy Owl in Sutherlandshire--Does the Fieldfare
    breed in Scotland?--The Woodcock.

We have just had a week of the finest weather imaginable, dry, bright
and breezy, and with uninterrupted sunshine. The greater part of our
hay crop has, in consequence, been secured in splendid condition,
without a drop of rain, in fact--a piece of rare good fortune in
Lochaber. We do not know if the extraordinary aspect of the sun at
its rising and setting on Monday, the 13th instant [June 1870], was
noticed elsewhere by any of our readers. On the morning of the day in
question it presented a strangely mottled, yellowish copper-coloured
disc, so singularly unusual as to induce an old seaman, nearly
eighty years of age, in our neighbourhood, to call our attention
to the circumstance. In the evening a little before its setting,
it assumed a lurid blood-red colour, which was very remarkable,
and forcibly reminded us at the moment of Scott's lines in Rokeby--

    "No pale gradations quench his ray,
    No twilight dews his wrath allay;
    With disc like battle-target red,
    He rushes to his burning bed,
    Dyes the wide wave with bloody light,
    Then sinks at once--and all is night."

We were unanimous in predicting an immediate and violent storm of wind
and rain, but the next morning came in bright, breezy, and cloudless,
and such it has continued ever since. Such phenomena, and the nature
of the weather following them, are always worth recording. Virgil,
in his first Georgic instructs the husbandman to confide in those
indications of the weather afforded by the aspect of the sun, for the
rather curious reason, however, that the obscuration of the solar orb
gave faithful warning of the impending fate of Cæsar! A very striking
instance of a form of sophism, well known to the logician, in which an
accidental circumstance is assumed as sufficient to establish efficient
connection. On the morning of Wednesday last we had a smart touch of
frost here in exposed situations--a strange and anomalous phenomenon
in the dog-days truly! But when we remember that Mr. Glaisher (who
for purely scientific purposes has put his life into greater peril
than any other living man), in his recent aerial ascent met with a
regular snow-storm at the elevation of only about one mile above the
earth's surface, we shall not wonder so much, perhaps, that a frost
current should, under certain circumstances, occasionally penetrate
earthwards even in the dog-days. We should have stated above that
on the 13th we carefully examined the solar disc with an excellent
four-feet telescope belonging to Ardgour, when it presented only two
"spots" or maculæ, and neither of these of remarkable size or form,
situated close together on the orb's south-western limb.

We are glad to observe that the "Demoiselle" or Numidian crane
recently shot at Deerness has been preserved, and is to fall into
careful keeping. Its feeding on oats, however, is very extraordinary,
and only to be accounted for by the supposition that its natural
food was so scarce, in a locality so unlike its own sunny clime,
that it was fain to fill its crop with the readiest possible edible
that presented itself. The snowy owl, a specimen of which is stated
to have been recently shot in Sutherland, is by no means a rare
visitor in Britain. A pair, male and female, in full plumage, were
shot on the links of St. Andrews, by Captain Dempster, of the Indian
Army, in the winter of 1847, and are now, we believe, to be seen in
the University museum of that city. They have been known to breed
in Shetland, but never, so far as we are aware, on the mainland,
or anywhere, indeed, farther south than 59° or 60° of latitude. Is
the specimen in Mr. M'Leay's possession male or female? What is the
colour of its plumage--pure white, or slightly barred and mottled
with brown? These are important questions, and every account of such
rare visitors should be as minute in such particulars as possible. The
snowy owl, like the Arctic fox, hare, ermine, &c, is supposed to change
its plumage with the season, the immaculate white of its winter dress
being exchanged for a summer garb of mixed, spotted, and barred brown
and white. It is highly important that such a point as this should be
decided. The scientific name given it--Surna nyctea--is incorrect. It
is probably a misprint for Strix nyctea, so styled by Linnæus, and
after him continued as most appropriate by succeeding naturalists
without exception. In Sweden, where it breeds and is very common,
it is said to feed principally upon hares, hence Buffon calls it La
Chouette Harfang, the latter word being the Swedish for the white or
Alpine hare. It was the French naturalists, also, who first gave the
name Demoiselle to the Numidian crane, its symmetry of form, tasteful
disposition of plumage, and elegance of deportment, in their opinion,
fully justifying the complimentary appellation. Its economy was first
carefully studied, and a correct description of it given, about the
beginning of the present century by the naturalists who accompanied
the French expedition to Egypt under Napoleon, who, whatever his
faults were, was at least neither indifferent to, nor neglectful of,
the interests of the arts and sciences. Does the fieldfare breed in
Scotland? We are afraid the reply must still be in the negative. We
have little doubt that the bird seen by Mr. Fraser of Hamilton was the
missel-thrush, and that the nest and egg in his possession belong to
the same bird, that is, the Turdus vixivorus, and not to its congener
the Turdus pilaris. We are led to this opinion by the fact that the
female missel-thrush is very like the fieldfare in plumage, and not
very noticeably different in size. The nest referred to by Mr. Fraser
was, he says, situated in the fork of a tree, about fourteen feet from
the ground, exactly about the height the throstle generally fixes upon
for its nest, whereas, according to our best authorities, the fieldfare
builds at the top, or very near "the top of the tallest pines." We give
but little weight to the shape and markings of the egg as described,
for it frequently happens that the eggs of different birds, even
of the same species, differ in a very remarkable manner. The hint,
however, that the fieldfare may sometimes breed in Scotland is worth
attending to, and we have marked it down for future inquiry and
investigation. It was for long a question of fierce debate whether
or not the well-known woodcock bred in this country. The matter has,
however, been of late years completely set at rest by the researches of
naturalists, clearly bringing out the fact that it not only breeds in
Scotland, but that such an event, instead of being rare, is, on the
contrary, of comparatively frequent occurrence. This very season,
about the middle of May, one of Ardgour's keepers brought us the
wings of a young woodcock, with the quill feathers still pulpy and
soft, which, of the original bird, was all he could secure from the
clutches of a hawk that was breakfasting on the dainty morsel in
the woods of Coirrechadrachan. We also understand that at least two
woodcock's nests, with eggs in them, were known to some parties in
this neighbourhood at the beginning of the season. It is, therefore,
possible that the fieldfare may yet be proved to breed in Scotland,
but the evidence for the establishment of such a fact must be much
stronger than that brought forward by Mr. Fraser.


    Extraordinary Heat and Drought--Plentifulness of Fungi--Cows fond
    of Mushrooms--Shoals of Whales--A rippling Breeze, and a Sail on
    Loch Leven.

If of late we had to admit--somewhat reluctantly be it confessed--that
it was "wet, very wet," even for Lochaber, we have it in our power
now at length [1st August 1870] to strike a different key-note,
and to say that it is dry, very dry; bright, very bright; hot, very
hot,--so dry, bright, and hot, in fact, that one might as well be on
the banks of the Nile or Niger as on the shores of Loch Leven, were
it not for a delightful sea breeze that never fails to come to cheer
and gladden us evening and morning; and then you may fancy--that is,
if you can swim, dear reader--the unspeakable delight of a headlong
plunge into the cool and sparkling waters of the advancing tide! The
heat is in truth something extraordinary, and if it weren't that you
felt yourself fast retrograding into the same condition, it would be an
amusing study to watch a certain class of people, generally the most
staid and stiff and correct possible, who, as a rule, would rather
die than violate the least of the proprieties, now going about in a
semi-nude state, as if they had just escaped from a lunatic asylum,
panting the while as if they were in the last stage of asthma, and
streaming with perspiration as if they had resolutely made up their
minds to melt away and dissolve like untimely snowballs.

Crops everywhere are splendid, and, after all the rain of the earlier
part of the season, which gave them growth, this is just the weather
that suits them in their present stage, strengthening and consolidating
their tissues, and bringing them to a rapid and healthy maturity. The
meadow hay crop is unusually heavy everywhere. We saw a field belonging
to Mr. Maclean of Ardgour in the act of being cut the other day, and
we never saw anything finer or heavier fall before a scythe. This is
precisely the weather for securing such a heavy swathe in good order,
although one cannot but feel for the poor scythesman, who, brown as
an Indian and bathed in sweat, wields his glittering weapon under a
burning, blazing sun, such as at a pinch might serve the turn of our
cousins of Jamaica or Demerara. Some idea of the extraordinary heat
and drought of the past week may be gathered from the fact that it
was frequently found possible to stack or carry into the barn in one
day the hay that had only been cut on the day previous--something
hitherto unheard-of, we should say, in Lochaber, or, indeed, in any
part of the Highlands.

We cannot recollect having ever before seen all kinds of fungi so
plentiful as they are throughout Lochaber this season. You meet
mushrooms of all sizes and of all shapes, both edible and poisonous;
while fairy rings are so common that you may encounter one or more of
them in every bit of old pasture and in every greenwood glade. One
of these rings we had the curiosity to measure a few days ago,
and we found its diameter to be precisely fifteen feet, giving it
a circumference of upwards of fifty feet, as nearly as possible a a
perfect circle, the emerald outline, studded with its peculiar pretty
white, button-like Agaraci, amid the lighter green of the surrounding
herbage, as distinct and easily traceable, even at several hundred
yards distance, as ever was halo round the moon. We noticed that a cow,
happening to come the way while we were examining another of these
fairy rings, ate them all with evident relish, browsing so steadily
along and around, that when she completed the circle she had not left
a single one. We hope that they agreed with her, though we should not
like to have joined in the repast, for we have a salutary horror of
the whole mushroom tribe. The so-called edible mushroom is said to be
delicious when properly cooked: should it ever in any form be a dish
on a table at which we are seated, we promise to give our share of it,
totus, teres atque rotundus, whole and unimpaired, to the first that
will accept it. To the present intense heat, coming so suddenly on
the back of long-continued rains, is probably due the extraordinary
abundance of all kinds of fungi.

The shoal of whales at present disporting themselves in Lochiel,
intending probably, tourist fashion, to visit Inverness by-and-by,
via the Caledonian Canal, if they can only arrange it with the
authorities, did us the honour to visit Loch Leven, spending an
entire day with us, evidently very much to their own satisfaction,
if one might judge from their lively somersaultings and incessant
gambollings. These whales--a shoal of some five or six hundred,
we should say--were a very interesting sight as they gambolled about
within a hundred yards of us, blowing loudly the while and lashing the
sea with foam, until you might have heard the hurly-burly from the top
of the highest mountain in the neighbourhood. They were of all sizes,
from full growth, and old age perhaps, down to veriest babyhood. In the
shoal, two kinds of whale were mingled together in apparent amity and
good-fellowship: the common bottlenose (Baloenoptera acuto-rostrata of
La Cèpede--the highest authority on cetaceous animals), measuring some
twenty or twenty-five feet in length, and the broad-nosed or rorqual
whale (Baloena musculus, Linn.; B. rorqual, La Cèpede), from fifty to
sixty feet in length, and appearing beside a bottlenose, as they came
to the surface to breathe, like a Clydesdale horse beside a Shetland
pony. It will be strange if our friends at Fort-William do not manage
to bag some of them ere they repass the narrows at Corran Ferry.

The heat is oppressive within doors; but Loch Leven, we observe, is
darkening under a rippling breeze from the south-east, and we are off
for a sail in our tidy, little craft, that, with lugsail sheeted home,
will go to windward of anything of equal size on the coast.


    Herrings--Chimæra Monstrosa--Cure for Ringworm--Cold Tea Leaves
    for inflamed and blood-shot Eyes--An old Incantation for the cure
    of Sore Eyes--A curious Dirk Sheath--A Tannery of Human Skins.

However unproductive the herring fishing season may be quoad herrings,
and this has so far been the worst of a series of bad seasons
[September 1870], it rarely fails to provide more or less grist for our
mill in the shape of some rarity in marine life worth chronicling. A
very ugly and repulsive-looking fish, extremely rare too, was sent us
recently for identification. It was caught in Sallachan Bay, in our
neighbourhood, having become entangled in the corner of a drift net
which the fishermen were hauling into their boat in the grey morning,
after a long, wearisome, and profitless night's labours. We had seen
the fish before, though not often, and had therefore no hesitation
in recognising it as the Chimæra monstrosa--a scientific name, by
the way in which its lack of beauty is plainly enough indicated--a
cartilaginous fish, two feet in length, and of somewhat elongated and
hake-like form. The general colour is a dull leaden white, mottled
on the under parts with small spots of rusty brown. On examining
the contents of the stomach, they were found to consist of some very
small herring fry, along with partly digested fragments of the adult
fish, whence it may be concluded that the Chimæra's favourite prey,
when they can be had, is herring; a conclusion at which we might also
easily arrive from the fact that it is seldom or never met with on
our shores, except when herring are more or less plentiful. At one
time the Chimæra must have been a less rare fish than it is now, for
it has a Gaelic name, "Buachaille-an-Sgadain," the Herring Herd or
Herdsman. It was probably comparatively common in the good old times,
when even our more inland western lochs swarmed annually with herring
shoals, and so large was the capture, that the salt to cure them,
on which there was a considerable duty at the time, was frequently
retailed over a vessel's side at a shilling the lippy. The late
Colonel Maclean of Ardgour, who attained a great age, with intellect
clear and unimpaired, and who was most particular and exact in all
his statistics, has repeatedly assured us that, in his younger days,
say a hundred years ago, fifty thousand pounds worth of herring used
to be captured annually in Lochiel alone. We don't suppose that for
many years past herring to the value of a tenth of that sum have been
caught in all the lochs between the Mull of Cantyre and the Point
of Ardnamurchan.

The reader probably knows what ringworm is--a fungoid eruption on
the skin, not uncommon in the spring and early summer in children
and young people of plethoric habits. There is a very wide-spread
belief over the West Highlands and in the Hebrides that ringworm
can be readily cured by rubbing it over and around once or twice
with a gold-ring--a woman's marriage ring, if it can be had, being
always preferred. In our younger days we recollect seeing the cure
applied on more than one occasion, whether with the desired result,
or ineffectually, we do not know--we probably little thought in those
days of kilts, cammanachd, and barley bannocks, of inquiring. For
many years we had neither seen nor heard anything either of the
disease or of its popular cure, until, by the merest accident, it
came under our notice a few days ago. Riding home one evening last
week, we observed two little girls and a sturdy long-legged haflin
lad sitting patiently in front of a cottage, the door of which was
shut and locked. The youngsters, rather better dressed than usual,
had come from a considerable distance, and we wondered what they could
be doing there. On mentioning the matter next day, we had the story in
full as follows:--The three were suffering from ringworm. The owner of
the cottage has a marriage ring of wonderful efficacy in curing this
epidermic distemper. They had come from one of the inland glens to be
operated upon, but the possessor of the ring was away in Glasgow, and
only returned home by steamer late that evening. When she did arrive,
the young people were duly manipulated and ring-rubbed secundum artem;
and in four and twenty hours thereafter we were gravely assured
they were quite healed. Any gold ring is usually employed, but the
particular ring referred to in this case is much sought after on such
occasions, because, as our informant said, it is of "guinea gold,"
by which we suppose very pure gold, with the least possible alloy,
is meant; and because it is the property of a widow who was married
to one husband more than fifty years. A belief in the virtue of gold
rings in cures of ringworm is, as we have said, very wide-spread and
honestly held by many. Whether, in common phrase, there is "anything
in it," or the whole affair is sheer nonsense, we shall not take it
upon us to decide. We merely submit a common and curious article
of popular belief for the consideration of our grave and learned
dermatologists and the faculty at large. One thing is certain,--the
owner of the marvellous ring makes no vulgar profit by her frequent
use of it in such cases. She is in comfortable circumstances, and
the whole affair, as far as she is concerned, is a mere labour of love.

Another popular cure, which for the first time came under our
notice recently, and which in many cases is really efficacious, as
we have heard averred by those who have been benefited by its use,
is the application of a poultice of cold tea leaves to an inflamed
or blood-shot eye. A handful of the leaves is taken from the pot, and
placed between two folds of thin cotton or muslin, and applied to the
eye at bed-time, kept in its place, of course, by a handkerchief or
other band tied round the head. In cases of weak or inflamed eyes from
any cause, this is reckoned, in this and the surrounding districts,
"the sovereignest thing on earth." And one can quite understand how
tea leaves, at once cooling and astringent, employed in this way,
may benefit a hot and inflamed eye. It is a simple application at
all events, and always at hand; and when more pretentious remedies
are not readily attainable, one would be unwisely prejudiced, if not
actually foolish, to suffer long without giving it a fair trial.

A less simple and less readily available cure for sore eyes is the
following in old Gaelic verse:--

    Leigheas Sul.

    Luidh Challum-Chille agus spèir,
    Meannt agus tri-bhilead corr,
    Bainne atharla nach do rug laodh;
    Bruich iad a's càirich air brèid,
    S'cuir sid rid' shùil aig tra-nèin,
    Air an Athair, am Mac agus Spiorad nan gràs,
    'S air Ostal na seirce; bi'dh do shùilean slàn
    Mu'n eirich a gheallach 's mu'n till an làn.

In English, literally--

    (Take of) St. Columba's wort and dandelion,
    (Of) mint and a perfect plant of marsh trefoil,
    (Take of) milk from the udder of a quey
    (That is heavy with calf, but that has not actually calved),
    Boil, and spread the mixture on a cloth;
    Put it to your eyes at noon-tide,
    In the name of Father, Son, and the Spirit of Grace,
    And in the name of (John) the Apostle of Love, and your eyes
                                                           shall be well
    Before the next rising of the moon, before the turning of next

We were recently shown a great curiosity--a dirk sheath said to be
made of human skin. Its history, as related to us by the owner, is as
follows:--In the summer of 1746, about two months after the battle of
Culloden, a detachment of Saighdearan Dearge, red (coated) soldiers,
or Government troops, was passing through Lochaber and Appin on its
way to Inveraray, the men amusing themselves, and enlivening the tedium
of the march, by burning and plundering as they had opportunity. When
passing through the Strath of Appin, a young woman was observed in
a field, busily engaged in the evening milking her cow. A sergeant
or corporal of the band leaped over the wall into the field, and
putting his musket to his shoulder, shot the cow dead upon the spot;
after which gallant exploit he began the most brutal ill-treatment
of the woman. She, however, defended herself with great courage, and
as she retreated towards the shore, she picked up a stone, which she
hurled at her persecutor with such good aim that it struck him full
on the forehead, stretching him for the moment senseless upon the
grass. She then fled towards a boat that was afloat on the beach, and
leaping in, rapidly rowed towards Eilean-bhaile-na-gobhar, an island
at a considerable distance from the mainland, where she was safe
from further annoyance. The tradition is so minute and precise that
the heroine's name is given as Silas-Nic-Cholla, or Julia MacColl;
and our informant declared himself to be her great-grandson. The
sergeant, stunned and bleeding, was picked up by his comrades,
and carried to the place of halt for the night, near Tigh-an Ribbi,
where, before morning, he died of his wound. His body was buried in
the old churchyard of Airds, but was not allowed to rest there. On
the disappearance of the soldiers from the district, the body was
exhumed by the people, and cast into the sea; not, however, before a
brother of Silas-Nic-Cholla flayed the right arm from the shoulder
to the elbow, and of the skin thus flayed was made a dirk sheath,
and this sheath we saw and handled with no little curiosity a week or
two ago. The sheath is of a dark brown colour, limp and soft, with no
ornament except a small virle of brass at the point, and a thin edging
of the same metal round the orifice, on which is inscribed the date
"1747," and the initials "D. M. C." There is no reason, we suppose,
to doubt the genuineness of the article, though we hardly expected
to find human skin--if it be human skin--of such thickness. It may,
however, be partly the result of the tanning process which it probably
underwent, and of time. In connection with this strange relic of a
past age may be stated the extraordinary fact--incredible, indeed,
if it were not thoroughly authenticated--that during the horrors of
the French Revolution there was a tannery of human skins for many
months in operation at Meudon. The raw material, so to speak, of
this strange manufacture, was the skins of the scores and hundreds
that were daily guillotined. It is asserted that "it made excellent
wash-leather." Montgaillard, a prominent character of the period, who
had the curiosity to visit the works, and saw the tanning process in
full operation, makes the following curious observation:--"The skin
of the men was superior in toughness and quality to shamoy; that of
the women good for almost nothing, so soft in texture, and easily
torn, like rotten linen!" We have had some rebellious revolutions,
civil wars, and all the rest of it in Great Britain and Ireland,
with their attendant iniquities, bad enough in all conscience, but
the French may fairly boast of having beat us; a tannery of human
skins is a venture and enterprise that no one has been pushing and
patriotic enough yet to undertake amongst us, even when axe and
gallows wrought their hardest in days happily long since passed away.


    The Ring-Dove--A Pet Ring-Dove--Its Death--Shenstone--The
    Belone Vulgaris or Gar-Fish--A Rat and a Kilmarnock
    Night-Cap--Extraordinary Roebuck's Head at Ardgour.

The weather [October 1870] with us here on the West Coast continues
wonderfully mild and open for the latter end of October. Were it not,
indeed, for an occasional sprinkling of snow along the mountain summits
of an early morning, and finding as you wander about the pathways
everywhere bestrewn with fallen leaves, we might find some difficulty
in persuading ourselves, in weather so bright and summer-like, that
the season was at all so far advanced as it really is, that 1870,
with its immediate predecessor--the anni mirabiles of the century--had
already so nearly run its allotted course. A striking proof of the
exceptional mildness of the weather since mid-August is the fact that
a young wood-pigeon or ring-dove (Columba palumbus), not yet nearly
full fledged, was brought to us a few days ago from a nest in the
woods of Coirrechadrachan. We have kept it with the view of rearing
it as a pet, though the chances are all against us, the produce of
such late incubations having always less robustness and vitality about
them than birds hatched in spring or early summer. There is a little
difficulty, as a rule, in rearing the ring-dove, and getting it to
become even troublesomely tame, until it purrs and kur-doo's about
your feet, and rubs himself against you with all the familiarity and
empressement of a kitten begging for its morning allowance of milk. It
is, however, exceedingly quarrelsome and pugnacious among other pets,
and so jealous of any attention bestowed on any one but itself, that
it will pout and sulk for half a day if it considers itself injured
in this respect; and yet so little grateful is it for any amount
of kindness you may show it, that when full-grown it will take the
first opportunity that offers to escape into its native wild woods,
never more to look near you. One that we reared from the nest several
years ago had one very amusing habit. Every morning after being
fed he would watch the nursery door, which opened off the kitchen,
until he got it ajar, when he would leap upon the dressing-table and
spend a couple of hours in admiring himself in the looking-glass,
preening his feathers and strutting about and kur-dooing to his alter
ego with the most beauish, self-satisfied air imaginable, the poor
bird being evidently under the impression that his own reflection
was a Mademoiselle Ring-dove of irresistible attractions, and whom
he persuaded himself he was on these occasions busily courting in
the manner most approved of amongst the most fashionable circles of
ring-dovedom. His death was a singular one. A large Aylesbury duck,
with whom he used to have constant quarrels, he being invariably
in fault and always the aggressor, got a hold of him one day near
her ducking pond, and in a scuffle, which the ring-dove himself had
causelessly provoked, dragged him into the water, and beat him with
her wings until he was, like Ophelia, "drown'd, drown'd."

We never see these very handsome wild birds, or hear their soft
melodious cooing of summer eve from the neighbouring woods, but we
think of Shenstone's beautiful lines--

    "I have found out a gift for my fair:
      I have found where the wood-pigeons breed;
    But let me that plunder forbear,
      She will say 'twas a barbarous deed:
    For he ne'er could be true, she averr'd,
      Who could rob a poor bird of its young;
    And I lov'd her the more when I heard
      Such tenderness fall from her tongue.

    "I have heard her with sweetness unfold
      How that pity was due to a dove;
    That it ever attended the bold,
      And she called it the Sister of Love.
    But her words such a pleasure convey,
      So much I her accents adore,
    Let her speak, and whatever she say,
      Methinks I should love her the more."

In the same poem--the Pastoral Ballad--occurs this exquisite verse:--

    "When forced the fair nymph to forego,
      What anguish I felt at my heart!
    Yet I thought--but it might not be so--
      'Twas with pain she saw me depart.
    She gazed as I slowly withdrew;
      My path I could hardly discern:
    So sweetly she bade me adieu,
      I thought that she bade me return."

But alas, and woe the while! William Shenstone of the Leasowes, with
his many tuneful contemporaries, are forgotten, or at least unread, by
the present generation, and the poetasters of our day claim Parnassus,
its Castalian spring and Temple of Apollo, for their own! All we
can is that in rê poetica the taste of an age tolerant of such an
usurpation is little to be commended.

A gentleman in the opposite district of Appin sent us a message a
few days ago begging us to go and have a look at what he termed
a rarissimus piscis, a most rare fish that had been caught in a
scringe net along with a lot of sethe and mackerel. In complying
with such messages we can seldom be charged with dilatoriness,
as most of our friends will bear witness. Nor was it otherwise in
this case; Cha be'n ruith ach an leùm, as the Highlanders say--it
was not a run but a rush, with a leap and a bound--when they would
emphatically characterise a person's conduct in going about anything
with extraordinary alacrity. The fish in question we found to be
an old acquaintance of ours, though so rare on the west coast that
we never saw or heard of it before during a twenty years' residence
in the country, and constantly, too, on the out-look for everything
in the shape and semblance of a rara avis, whether encased in fur,
feather, or scales. It was the gar-fish of British zoologists,
known in ichthyological nomenclature as the Belone vulgaris of the
family Scomberesocidæ, having the body, which is covered with minute
scales, elongated to a degree almost conger-like. It is frequently
captured on the east coast, sometimes intermingling with mackerel and
haddock shoals in considerable numbers. We have seen it in the Perth,
Dundee, and Edinburgh fish markets; never, as we have said, on the
west coast. It is said to be excellent eating when in proper season,
although there is a prejudice against its use amongst the fishermen
themselves; and it is a remarkable fact, by the way, that some of
the finest fish in the sea--most in esteem, at all events, with the
fish-eating public--are frequently rejected by their professional
captors for their own eating in favour of what we should call the
coarser and inferior kinds. For a long time we thought this was
entirely a matter of economy, those that brought the largest price
in the market being sold, and the inferior sorts kept for their own
consumption. Subsequently we had abundant opportunities of finding
out that it was far otherwise. An east coast fisherman will give the
preference at any time, for his own eating that is, to a flounder,
however flabby and flaccid, over a whiting or plaice; he will eat the
hake rather than the finest cod or haddock, and considers the wing of
a skate, dried in the smoke until it is of the colour of the darkest
mahogany, with a bouquet the very opposite, be sure, of the ottar of
roses, a tit-bit with which, in his estimation, neither sea-trout,
mackerel, nor turbot can for a moment bear comparison. Fishermen, too,
we have observed with some surprise, seldom eat their fish fresh;
they prefer it salted--salted, moreover, as a rule to a degree that
to other people would render it almost uneatable. For the prejudice
against the gar-fish there is, however, some excuse. In popular
superstition, "lang-nebbed" things have always been in bad odour;
and the gar-fish's snout is greatly elongated, so much so that it
bears no small resemblance to a curlew's bill, giving it a wicked,
vicious look, that its structure otherwise, however, belies; for
it is altogether incapable of hurting anything bigger than the
very small fry and marine insects on which it feeds. The prejudice
against the gar-fish is no doubt to be accounted for in part by the
curious fact that its bones are of a dirty green colour, strange
and perhaps disagreeable to an eye accustomed to the ivory-like
whiteness of the osseous structure of most other fishes that are
brought to table. We have seen specimens of the gar-fish captured by
the St. Andrews fishermen that exceeded three feet in length: the fish
more immediately referred to only measured nineteen inches. Our friend
has since written us a note to say that on being shown to a gentleman,
"professing to know something of ichthyology," he declared it to be
a specimen of the pipe-fish, which is just about as correct as if a
man said that a pelican was a parrot, or a pig was a giraffe.

In one particular, at least, we resemble Dr. Samuel Johnson. We
have never during our whole lifetime once worn a nightcap. "I
had the custom by chance," replied the "Rambler," with a growl
at Boswell's inquisitiveness on the subject, "and perhaps no man,
sir, shall ever know whether it is best to sleep with or without a
nightcap." But if we don't wear a nightcap, some of our neighbours
do, and to one of these useful articles of nocturnal toilette befell
the following adventure a short time ago. One of our neighbours, a
fine old Highlander, still straight as a pine tree, and strong and
stalwart withal, though already past the grand climacteric, having
had occasion to be in the south in the early summer, bought himself a
speck and span new nightcap, which, neatly folded up along with some
braws for the gudewife, formed a parcel of which, you may be sure,
he was exceedingly careful on the return journey, constantly "keeping
his eye on it" all the way from the Broomielaw to Ballachulish Pier,
and watching over its safety as anxiously as if it contained the wealth
of the Rothschilds in Bank of England notes, or the title-deeds of
an earldom. When at last produced at home, and displayed before the
admiring gaze of a select few in every imaginable angle of light, it
was really a very fine nightcap, a sort of ribbed magenta-coloured
"Kilmarnock," with a tassel at top, in which were intermingled all
the hues of the rainbow, such a splendid tassel as was never before
seen in Lochaber: Cardinal Antonelli might have been proud of it
as a pendant to his hat. Having at last been sufficiently admired,
the nightcap was duly put to its proper use, and was found to answer
its purpose perfectly; but one night, while yet the gay Kilmarnock
retained almost all its pristine bloom, lo! it was amissing at bedtime
from its usual place of honour on the corner of its owner's pillow,
greatly to his annoyance you may believe, and not a little to the
surprise and consternation of his amiable bedfellow. Then, and for
weeks afterwards, all search for the missing nightcap was but so
much fruitless labour; nothing could be seen or heard of it, and it
was finally agreed on all hands that it must have been stolen by some
person whose honesty became weak as water in view of the Kilmarnock's
rare magenta colour and gay pendulous tassel. And the nightcap in very
truth was stolen, though the thief was probably actuated less by the
brilliancy of its colours than the cozy feel of its soft and silken
texture. Some time in mid-autumn the mystery was cleared up in this
wise. The nightcap owner was one day engaged in redding up his barn
preparatory to the ingathering of his crops, when a large rat bolted
from between his feet, and, scuttling across the floor, disappeared,
rat fashion, in a hole in the divot wall. A spade was instantly got,
and the hole dug about until its innermost recess was reached, in
which was found a gigantic dam rat with a litter of a dozen or more
young ones. These were all of them of course straightway despatched,
and the cozy nest of moss, dried grass, and nibbled straw scattered
about, when lo! as its foundation appeared the long missing bonnet de
nuit, the incomparable Kilmarnock, without a rent or tear, and its
colours as bright almost, and its tassel bobbing as coquettishly as
when first displayed on the points of the shopman's distended fingers
over the counter in the Cowcaddens. There was great rejoicing over the
reappearance of the nightcap, which is now again prized as highly and
watched over as carefully as if it were the nightcap of Fortunatus;
and the owner, a wag and humorist in a quiet way, as are most of
our old Highlanders, has composed a song on the subject (Oran do m'
Churrachd-oidhche), which, after some coaxing, we got him to repeat
to us some days ago. It pleased us immensely, and made us laugh until
our sides were sore. For the benefit of our readers we may dash off
a translation of it some evening or other when we are "i' the vein."

Going to call at Ardgour House one day last week, and taking a short
cut through the woods, we came across the keeper just as he had shot
a roebuck, the largest we think we ever saw, and with the finest
head. The horns were something extraordinary, both as to size and
shape, so much so, indeed, that although we have in our day met with
many fine ones, we never saw anything for a moment to be compared
with these. We have, for instance, a roebuck's head of our own,
kindly given us some years ago by Lochiel, the horns on which are
allowed to be uncommonly good ones; but we find that they are nearly
two inches shorter in the beam, and less by nearly a whole inch in
circumference of root of antler at its junction with the skull than
those of the specimen shot in Ardgour on Tuesday.


    The "Annus Mirabilis" of Dryden--1870 a more wonderful Year
    in its way than 1666--Winter--Number of Killed and Wounded
    in the Franco-Prussian War--Battles of Langside, Tippermuir,
    Cappel--Carrier Pigeons--The Velocity with which Birds fly.

One of Dryden's best poems, and in many respects one of the most
curious poems in the language, is the Annus Mirabilis, an effusion
of historical panegyric, which, after the lapse of two centuries, no
one can read unmoved or undelighted, so beautifully is it written,
so masterly is the versification, and so vividly are its events
portrayed. The year commemorated is 1666, and the "wonders" that
entitled it to such pre-eminence were the naval war with the Dutch
and Danes and the great fire in London. If 1666, however, was an annus
mirabilis, surely 1870 is an annus mirabilior, a more wonderful year
still, nay, an annus mirabilissimus, if you like, for you shall go
back in our annals very far indeed--much farther, if you try it, than
at the outset you might think at all necessary--before you meet its
match. Just consider, first of all, the great Franco-Prussian war,
with its countless hosts of slain; with its sieges of Strasbourg,
Metz, and Paris, not to mention strongholds of less importance;
its capitulation of Sedan and captive Emperor; the Empire ruined,
and a Republic in its place, with all that may yet happen ere peace is
proclaimed and the Germans have recrossed the Rhine. Think, again, of
the promulgation of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, so speedily,
and let us say unexpectedly, followed by the capture of Rome and
the dethronement of this very infallible Pope as a temporal Prince,
by the Catholic (proh pudor!) King of Italy. At home, a daughter of
the Queen, with the royal consent and concurrence, marries one of
that Queen's subjects, for we suppose we may regard the matter as
a fait accompli, an event so unheard-of and unusual that we must
go back for an exact parallel for more than two hundred years,
when the Duke of York, afterwards James II., "a man of many woes,"
married the Lady Anne Hyde, daughter of Lord Chancellor Clarendon,
whose history of the Rebellion is one of the most interesting, and,
on account of its inimitable portraiture, one of the most valuable
works of its kind in the English language. If to all this be added such
events as the loss of the "Captain," built and armed on a principle,
the ultimate adoption or rejection of which will so materially affect
the navy of the future; the revision of the Authorised Version of the
Scriptures; and many other matters, both at home and abroad, that will
readily occur to the reader, this may be regarded as a very wonderful
year indeed. Occupying the centre, as it were, of all these events,
we are too near them at present to appraise either their magnitude
or importance at their legitimate value. Not the man at the base of
a lofty tower, but he who stands at some distance from it can take
its proportions aright, and we may depend upon it that the reader
of the history of our period a hundred years hence will turn to the
page that records the events of 1870 as at once the most interesting
and important in the annals of many centuries. Reverting for a moment
to the Annus Mirabilis of Dryden, it is but fair to acknowledge that
they seem to have had one wonder to boast of in 1666 that we cannot
claim for 1870, to this date at least; the wonder in question being
two blazing comets in the nocturnal sky. Describing the English fleet
advancing to attack the enemy at night, the poet, with a boldness of
hyperbole for which he is always remarkable, says--

    "To see that fleet upon the ocean move,
      Angels drew down the curtains of the skies;
    And Heaven, as if there wanted lights above,
      For tapers, made two glaring comets rise!"

But if we have no comets to boast of in 1870, let not the reader
forget that the 14th November is nigh at hand, and that he who gets up
betimes on the morning of that day, and watches till the daybreak, will
assuredly witness a sight more startling, and grand and "glaring" than
Dryden's comets, wonderful and startling as they doubtless were. We
must be permitted one other extract from this extraordinary poem. It
describes the state of the contending fleets and the feelings of their
respective crews on their withdrawing for a time from an engagement
that resulted in something like what at the present day we should
call a drawn battle:--

    "The night comes on, we eager to pursue
      The combat still, and they ashamed to leave
    Till the last streaks of dying day withdrew,
      And doubtful moonlight did our rage deceive.

    "In th' English fleet each ship resounds with joy,
      And loud applause of their great leader's fame;
    In fiery dreams the Dutch they still destroy,
      And, slumbering, smile at the imagin'd flame.

    "Not so the Holland fleet, who, tired and done,
      Stretch'd on their decks, like weary oxen lie;
    Faint sweats all down their mighty members run
      (Vast hulks which little souls but ill supply).

    "In dreams they fearful precipices tread,
      Or, shipwreck'd, labour to some distant shore;
    Or in dark churches walk among the dead;
      They wake with horror, and dare sleep no more."

We do not know whether the reader will agree with us, but we look upon
these verses as wonderfully fine, and upon the Annus Mirabilis as,
of its class, amongst the finest, if not the very finest, poem in
the language.

Even from a meteorological point of view, this year, in our part of
the country at least, has had not a little of the mirabilis about
it. Byron, we know, awoke one morning and found himself famous, and
we awoke one morning last week and found ourselves in mid-winter,
albeit the previous day had been mild, and calm, and sunny, and
bright as if it were Whitsuntide, rather than the Eve of St. Luke the
Evangelist. Since then we have had incessant storms, shifting about
and sometimes blowing from every point of the compass within the
four-and-twenty hours, with such deluges of rain as Lochaber alone
can supply in season, or sometimes, entre nous, out of season as
well. The mountain summits are, at the moment we write, covered with
a lamb's-wool-like coating of virgin snow, and the air has become
so chill and raw that we were fain some days ago to don our winter
habiliments for the season. We have no right or reason to complain,
however; a finer summer and autumn were never known in the Highlands,
and since winter must come some time or other, it is better that it
should come in season. The fourth week of October is not a bit too
early for snow, and sleet, and storms, so that when we hear the
winds howling over ferry and firth, and the waves breaking with
sullen roar upon the vexed strand, and listen to the rattle and
the dash of rain and sleet upon the window panes, we shall, first
taking care that the shutters are properly closed and the curtains
drawn, just draw our arm-chair a little nearer the fire, which our
"lassie," you may be sure, has trimmed betimes, like Horace's boy,
large reponens peats and coals thereon, and then, with the Courier,
Scotsman, or Standard on our knee, or a stray copy of the Saturday
Review or Spectator, which some distant friend has kindly sent us,
or some fresh volume from Ardgour's library, the worst we shall say
will be in the words of poor old Lear, "Blow wind, and crack your
cheeks! rage! blow!" blessing God the while that if our lot be a
humbler one, it is also a happier one than the poor old king's.

A good deal has been written about the enormous numbers of killed
and wounded in the present Franco-Prussian war, the fact being
nevertheless, as we learn on competent authority, that notwithstanding
the improvements made of late years in arms of precision, there were,
considering the numbers engaged, quite as many men disabled as in the
good old days of "Brown Bess" in the wars of the first Napoleon and in
our battles in India. Mr. Hill Burton, in one of his recently published
volumes of the History of Scotland, and an admirable and very impartial
history it is, tells us that in the battle of Langside, an historical
combat on the issue of which so much in the after history of England
and Scotland depended, 10,000 men were engaged for three-quarters of
an hour, with a loss to the Queen's party of 300 hors de combat, while
the victors only lost one man! A very extraordinary fact certainly; but
a more wonderful fact still, and neither Mr. Burton nor his reviewers
seem to be aware of it, is that of the battle of Tippermuir, fought
in 1644, between the Covenanters and the famous Marquis of Montrose,
in which Montrose was victorious without the loss of a single man on
his own side, although of the Covenanters between four and five hundred
were killed in the battle and pursuit. Another curious thing connected
with the battle of Tippermuir was this: a body of Highlanders, keen
enough for the fray, were without arms of any kind, when Montrose,
pointing to the stones that thickly strewed the field, advised them
to try these to begin with, and they did, appropriating the arms
of their enemies as they fell, and using them with such effect that
the battle proper was over in less than half an hour. The only other
battle that we can recollect in which such primitive weapons as stones
were employed by the combatants was that of Cappel, fought in 1531,
between the Protestants of Zurich and the Catholics of the neighbouring
cantons. It was in this battle that the celebrated reformer Zwingle,
or Zwinglius, met his death. He was first of all knocked down by a
stone that, fiercely hurled, struck him on the head, and then, with
the exclamation, "Die, obstinate heretic," the sword of Fockinger of
Unterwalden pierced his throat, and the reformer was no more.

The reader has, of course, seen in the papers how beleaguered Paris
keeps up communication with Belgium and the provinces, by means of
balloons and carrier pigeons. Of balloons and ballooning we have no
practical experience; of carrier pigeons we do know something, the bird
being as well-known to us as is a robin redbreast to a gardener. We
kept them for some time, but were obliged to get quit of them on
account of their ineradicable propensity to purloin our neighbours'
turnip seed from the drill immediately after being sown and before
they got time to sprout. All pigeons have this habit, but the carrier
worse and more persistently than any other. The speed and power of
wing appertaining to the carrier pigeon is extraordinary, and if not
well attested would be deemed incredible. We remember, for instance,
that at the Christmas of 1845, when a student at the University of
St. Andrews (best as well as oldest university in Scotland, gainsay
it who may!) we spent our holidays at Kirkmichael, a pleasant little
village in the Highlands of Perthshire. On leaving St. Andrews we took
with us a carrier pigeon, a magnificent bird. On the 1st of January
1846, at the hour of noon precisely, we gave this bird, with a bit
of narrow blue ribbon tied under his wing, his liberty on the bridge
of Kirkmichael. When let out of his basket he instantly soared up in
a sort of spiral flight, ascending and ascending cork-screw fashion
until he seemed to the eye no bigger than a wren, then straight
and swift as an arrow from a bow he urged his flight southwards,
and became lost to view. On returning to St. Andrews, we found that
our bird had reached his dovecot, eagerly watched and waited for
by his owner, as the College bells were chiming one o'clock on the
same day, so that it must have done the distance, about fifty-four
miles as the crow flies, in about one hour, or very nearly at the
rate of a mile a minute. Now, it must be remembered that this was
the bird's ordinary flight. He doubtless sought his distant home in
what one might call a brisk and business-like manner, nor swerved,
we may be sure, an inch from his course, nor loitered by the way. He
was going well--very well, if you like--throughout, but not going
his best. The probability is that under extraordinary pressure, with
a falcon in chase, for instance, the same bird could and would have
gone twice as fast, or at a rate of something more than a hundred
miles an hour. If the reader likes to experiment in this direction,
he can easily try it with the common domestic pigeon, as we have done
more than once. Years ago we recollect a brother of ours taking, at
our suggestion, a common black and white pigeon from the dovecot here
to Oban, where, at a preconcerted hour on a day agreed upon, he set it
at liberty. The bird took nearly two hours to do the distance, some
twenty-three or twenty-four miles as the crow flies; but it probably
lingered some time by the way to feed, as, instead of being well fed,
which should always be strictly attended to, it received no food
at all on the morning of its liberation at Oban. The house-pigeon,
however, is useless except for comparatively short distances, and
even then is never to be much depended upon. His extreme domesticity
predisposes him to pay a visit to every dovecot on the route, and to
fraternise with every flock of brother pigeons he may happen to fall in
with. His peculiar mode of flight, besides, and his extreme timidity,
mark him out as an easy and desirable prey for any keen-eyed hawk or
falcon that may be at the moment impransus, as Johnson in his early
days once signed a note in London--dinnerless. The common pigeon,
too, wings his flight at a comparatively low altitude, and becomes an
easy shot to any one with a gun ready to hand when it passes by. Not
so the true carrier pigeon, which flies at a great height, far out
of range of needle-gun or artillery--out of range of human sight,
in fact; so that it is never in danger of being brought to grief,
as was poor Gambetta in his balloon when passing above the Prussian
lines the other day. The velocity with which some birds fly is almost
incredible. A hungry falcon, with his blood up and in eager pursuit
of his quarry, will fly at the rate of 150 miles an hour, and keep
it up too until his object is attained; and the tremendous impetus
of the bird at such a speed accounts for the dreadful wounds that
a falcon inflicts when it strikes its prey, sometimes ripping up
a grouse, or blackcock, or mallard, from vent to breastbone, as if
it had been done by the keen edge of a butcher's cleaver. A goshawk
(Falco palumbarius) belonging to Henry of Navarre--the Henri Quatre
of after days--having its royal owner's name engraved on its golden
varvels, made its escape from Fontainebleau in 1574, and was caught
in Malta within four-and-twenty hours afterwards--a distance of 1400
miles, or at the rate of sixty miles an hour, supposing him to have
been on the wing the whole time. But a hawk never flies by night,
so that, on a fair computation, the bird's speed in winging the
enormous distance must have been at the rate of at least 100 miles an
hour. We have calculated that a snipe, thoroughly alarmed, and going
its best, can fly at the rate of a mile a minute, and there are other
well-known birds equally fleet of wing. Nor must it be supposed that
the velocity of birds is a mere "flash-in-the-pan," so to speak--a
"spurt," as it were--which could not be kept up. The long-sustained
flights of migratory birds proves the contrary--that birds are not
only inconceivably fleet, but, to use a racing term, that they can
stay as well. Of our more familiar birds, we should say that the
common wild duck of our meres flies with greater velocity than any
other bird with which the reader is likely to be well acquainted.


    Signs of a severe Winter--The Little Auk or Auklet--The
    Gadwall--Falcons being trained by the Prussians to intercept
    the Paris Carrier Pigeons--Ballooning--The King of Prussia's
    Piety--John Forster--Solar Eclipse of 22d December 1870--The
    Government and the Eclipse--Large Solar Spots--Visible to the
    naked eye--Rev. Dr. Cumming--November Meteors.

It must have been in view of some such scene [November 1870] as the
early morning presents to the eye at present that Horace began his
celebrated ode to Augustus--

    "Jam satis terris nivis, atque diræ
    Grandinis misit Pater"--

Enough, enough of snow and direful hail! Or if you prefer the wintry
scene in the ninth Ode--

    "Vides, ut alta stet nive candidum
    Soracte, nec jam sustineant onus
    Sylvæ laborantes: gelûque
    Flumina constiterint acuto?"

Which our countryman Theodore Martin thus renders--

    "Look out, my Thaliarchus, round!
      Soracte's crest is white with snow,
    The drooping branches sweep the ground,
    And, fast in icy fetters bound,
      The streams have ceased to flow."

The snow-clad Soracte itself could not wear a colder or wintrier aspect
than does our own Ben Nevis at this moment. We have, in truth, had a
great deal of sleet and snow and rattling hail showers of late, with
bitterly cold winds and frost enough to induce one to don his warmest
habiliments when venturing abroad, and thoroughly to appreciate the
comforts of a bright and blazing fire within doors. Winter, in short,
has fairly set in; and we must just battle with its inclemencies
as best we may until a more genial season has come round. And an
unusually inclement and severe winter is this likely to prove. Our
lochs and estuaries are swarming with Arctic sea-fowl, that already
venture quite close to the shore, and seek their food in the most
sheltered bays, a sure sign that much cold weather, with heavy
gales from the north and north-west, cannot be far away. Among these
web-footed visitors from the far north we have observed two that are
extremely rare on our part of the west coast, even in the severest
winters. One of these is the ratch or auklet (Alca alle, Linn.),
a very pretty little black and white diver, the smallest bird of
the genus with which we are acquainted, a little more rotund in form
and of a robuster frame than the well-known dipper of our streams,
but otherwise very like it. Another is the gadwall (Anas strepera),
a species of duck very rare in our north-western waters--a very
pretty little duck, with a remarkably loud and harsh voice, so loud
that on a calm frosty day it reaches you over a sea surface distance
of several miles. We have only identified the latter at a distance
by the aid of a powerful binocular. It is not a difficult bird to
recognise, however, on account of its distinct markings, and we are
as confident that we have repeatedly seen it during the present month
as if we had it in our cabinet. And talking of birds, what does the
reader think the Prussians are up to now? Annoyed at the ballooning and
pigeon-carrying by means of which beleaguered Paris manages to keep up
communication with the outer world, the Germans are training falcons
to be employed in coursing and capturing such carrier pigeons as may
be observed passing over their outposts and siege works. Such at least
is one item in the last batch of news notes from Versailles. If the
Prussians really mean this, all we can say is that it is "a fine idea,
but impracticable," as Hannibal said of Maharbal's suggestion to push
on to the capture of the Capitol after the battle of Cannæ. In the
first place it is allowed on all hands that a few months at most,
probably a few weeks, must decide the fate of Paris one way or
other, while a hawk, to be employed as proposed, requires years of
carefullest training ere it can be depended upon as an aerial cruiser
in any way subject to human control, nor, even if it were otherwise,
could a sufficient number of falcons for the purpose be procured in
Europe or elsewhere. Such an attempt at an aerial blockade must prove
a failure. Even from a well-trained hawk, under the most favourable
circumstances, a carrier pigeon ought to be able in nine cases out of
ten to make good its escape by reason of the velocity and altitude
of its flight. Depend upon it that in all time to come ballooning
and pigeon carrying will be employed by a besieged city, as Paris
employs them now; and while gas can be had to inflate a balloon, and
a carrier-pigeon is available, there is nothing that a besieging force
can do to prevent the constant voyaging of such aerial messengers. One
result of this war will be that carrier pigeons will be bred in larger
numbers, and more highly valued than ever--carrier pigeon dovecots in
each city at the public expense--while aerial navigation by means of
balloons, having lost much of its terrors, will more and more become
a common and every-day mode of locomotion. There is an "Aeronautical
Society" in England, which boasts the names of many distinguished men
on its roll of members, but which, nevertheless, couldn't in twenty
years have done so much for aerial navigation as the Franco-Prussian
war has done in little more than a month. Most people, by the way,
have been disgusted with the King of Prussia's repeated appeals for
Divine aid and pretended recognition of Divine guidance, while wading
at the head of his forces knee-deep in a mare magnum of bloodshed and
carnage from the Rhine to the Seine. One anecdote, apropos of a king's
pretended piety and close alliance with the Divine powers in all his
undertakings, we have not seen quoted. It is this: some person once
calling on John Forster, took occasion to remark that the Emperor
Alexander (of Russia) was a very pious man. "Very pious, indeed,"
observed Forster, with tremendous sarcasm, "Very pious, indeed;
I am credibly informed that he said grace ere he swallowed Poland!"

Preparations on a large scale are being made on the Continent and in
America for observing the great solar eclipse of the 22d December,
with a care and precision never known in the examination of a similar
phenomenon. Never before, indeed, could a solar eclipse be observed
and analysed in its every phase as this one will be. Aided by the
spectroscope, polariscope, photometer, and photograph, with the most
powerful telescopes, and meteorological and magnetic instruments of
the utmost delicacy and exactness, it will be strange, indeed, if
our knowledge of the chemistry and constitution of the great central
orb is not very largely increased on this occasion. In our country
the eclipse will be a partial one only. At the moment of maximum
obscuration, supposing the sun to consist of twelve digits, about nine
digits, or three-fourths of the disc, will be occulted. According to
Edinburgh mean time the eclipse will begin at 10 h. 54 m. morning;
maximum observation, 0 h. 8 m. afternoon; and of eclipse, 1 h. 22
m. afternoon. A glass of very moderate powers is sufficient for
observing such partial eclipses. Partial though this eclipse is,
however, no phenomenon of the kind of equal magnitude will be seen
again in our country till August 1887, when the eclipse will be very
nearly, though not quite, total.

Never, perhaps, has the solar disc been so constantly and so largely
crowded with maculæ, or "spots," as during the present year. Some of
these spots have recently been very large. On the 9th of the present
month, for instance, there was an immense circular spot as nearly
as possible on the centre of the solar disc, like a bull's-eye in a
bright target of living light, which a little before sunset was plainly
visible to the naked eye. It was the evening of the Fort-William market
day, and we drew the attention of several people returning from the
fair to the unusual phenomenon. One jolly old fellow, who had probably
been largely patronising the "tents" on the market stance throughout
the day, would insist upon it that he saw, not one big spot on the sun,
but two or more--and perhaps he did. A few days previously a perfect
stream of maculæ of all sizes might easily be observed along the solar
equator, looking for all the world as if a flock of ravens were at
the moment passing, in struggling order within the telescope's field
of view, between us and the sun. At the moment we write these lines,
there is a very large spot half-way between the solar centre and
its western limb, that towards sunset, if the sky is clear, might,
we think, be discerned by the unaided eye. Auroral displays, too,
still continue to render our nights, though at present moonless,
and frequently cloudy withal, bright and cheerful by their broad and
mysterious effulgence.

The November meteors of the present year seem to have made little
or no display anywhere. Here it was wet and cloudy, so that we could
not have seen them even if the sky was ablaze with them.


    November Rains: 1500 tons per Imperial Acre!--Rainfall in Skye--An
    old Gaelic Apologue--The Drover and his Minister--Grand Stag's
    Head--Scott as a Poet--Mr. Gladstone and Scott--An old Lullaby
    from the Gaelic.

With the exception of two, or at most three, tolerably fine days at
the beginning of the month, December [1870] has been hardly less
rainy and generally disagreeable than November itself, and this,
although in November a fall of 18 inches--1500 tons of rain water
to the imperial acre--was duly registered. A recent communication
from Skye went to show that in the matter of rainfall that island is
far ahead, not only of Lochaber, but of every other station in the
kingdom--a pluvial pre-eminence which we had really thought belonged
to ourselves, but which, claimed for Skye on the impartial authority
of the rain-gauge, we give up ungrudgingly, simply exclaiming with
Meliboeus in the Virgilian eclogue--

    "Non equidem invideo, miror magis."
    (In sooth I feel not envy, but surprise.)

"With such a rainfall as is claimed for Skye, one only wonders how it
is that the inhabitants of the island seem not to suffer a whit because
of it. As a rule, they are a robust and remarkably long-lived people;
and, what is even more surprising, they are exceedingly good-humoured
and cheerful--the pleasantest people in the world to meet with,
whether at home or abroad. There is an old Gaelic apologue current in
Lochaber, which may perhaps have some bearing on the point:--"It was
long, long ago that, in the grey dawn of an intensely cold January
morning, after a wild night of drift and snow, the heathcock of Ben
Nevis clapped his wings, and, in a loud, prolonged, interrogative crow,
addressed his first cousin by the father's side, the heathcock of Ben
Cruachan--'How do you feel yourself this morning, dear heathcock of
Cruachan?' 'So, so,' with a feeble attempt at wing-clapping, responded
the heathcock of Cruachan; 'So, so; miserable enough, believe me,
after such a night as last night was. And if I am thus miserable
down here, it only puzzles me to understand how you can at all endure
it, and live up there on Ben Nevis.' 'Thanks, my dear fellow,' with
a second vigorous clapping of his wings, quoth the Ben Nevis bird;
'Thanks, my dear fellow, for your kind and cousinly solicitude for my
welfare. Know this, however, that, bad as it doubtless is up here on
Ben Nevis, I am made to it.'" We can only suppose that our friends in
Skye bear this prodigious rainfall with such philosophic equanimity
and impunity because, like the heathcock of Ben Nevis, they are
"made to it." The first time we heard this apologue was many years
ago, in the cabin of one of the Messrs. Hutcheson's steamers. A
rubicund visaged drover--a fine-looking man, of burly frame and
Atlantean shoulders--had just swallowed quite half-a-tumblerful of
potent and unadulterated "Talisker" at a gulp rather than a draught,
when his parish clergyman, who happened to be reclining on a sofa
at the opposite side of the cabin, got up and expostulated with
his parishioner for drinking ardent spirits in such a way as that;
prophesying that unless he stopped it very quickly it would kill him,
and only wondering that it had not killed him long ago. The drover,
who was not aware until then that his minister was on board, and a
witness to his potations, respectfully took off his broad bonnet, and,
with a bow, begged to repeat the apologue, which he did, ore rotundo,
in the most beautiful Gaelic; the application being so manifestly apt
and pertinent to his particular case that we all burst out a laughing,
the venerable clergyman--now, alas, no more!--enjoying it as much as
any one that the tables had been so cleverly turned upon him. Fables
apart, however, the fact of the matter seems to be simply this, that
the humidity of the climate along our western sea-board, and amongst
the Hebrides, is in nowise inimical to robust health or longevity. It
is of course disagreeable enough at times, and frequently a sad
drawback on our agricultural prosperity; but a minute examination
of the vital statistics of the Western Highlands and Islands would
probably go far to show that our superabundance of rain is rather
favourable to health and long life than otherwise. Ach bi'dh sin
mar a chithear da, a beautiful Gaelic phrase literally. But be that
particular matter as it may seem to it,--what would most please us at
this moment would be a month or more of the good old-fashioned winters
of our boyhood, when everything was blanketed for weeks together
in soft and virgin snow, and the earth was at times so braced and
bound with frost that under the rapid tread and multitudinous rush
of all the village schoolboys at play, it rang again like a hollow
globe of iron! It is now, alas, dribble and drip, and splash, slop,
and slush from year's end to year's end.

We are indebted to our excellent friend Mr. Snowie, of Inverness,
for a very curious and valuable stag's head, admirably stuffed,
which reached us the other day by steamer. It is a splendid trophy,
a veritable Cabar-Féidh, which the Chief of the Mackenzies himself,
when the clan was at its proudest, might be glad to have to adorn the
entrance-hall of Brahan Castle. The antlers are of immense girth and
spread; one, except for the brow tine, what is called a cabar-slat;
the other with two tines, each of them almost big enough for an antler
of itself. We have seen many grand and curious heads in our day, both
cabar-slats and multicornute; but this, which is properly neither the
one nor the other, is, from its size and peculiar style of antlers,
a trophy to be singled out and admired in a collection of the best
heads of the kingdom. It faces us as we write from the opposite
wall of our study, and constantly reminds us of Scott's magnificent
description of the stag that led Fitzjames and his attendants such a
merry dance in the Lady of the Lake. We must be pardoned for quoting
a passage with which every one is familiar:--

    "As Chief, who hears his warder call,
    'To arms! the foemen storm the wall,'
    The antler'd monarch of the waste
    Sprang from his heathery couch in haste.
    But, ere his fleet career he took,
    The dew-drops from his flanks he shook;
    Like crested leader proud and high,
    Toss'd his beam'd frontlet to the sky;
    A moment gazed adown the dale,
    A moment snuff'd the tainted gale,
    A moment listened to the cry,
    That thicken'd as the chase drew nigh;
    Then, as the foremost foes appeared,
    With one brave bound the copse he clear'd
    And, stretching forward free and far,
    Sought the wild heaths of Uam-Var."

And yet some stupid people will ask if Scott was a poet! Even
Landseer never painted anything finer or truer to the life than that
word-painting of Scott's. Every one admits that Homer was a poet: well,
then, search the Iliad, point out anything better, or anything, entre
nous, quite as good, and when you have found it, please let us know,
and we promise to reperuse the passage, with every attention and care,
in the original of Homer himself, as well as in the translations of
Pope, Cowper, and Blackie; and if you are right and we are wrong,
we shall not hesitate to confess it, and humbly cry peccavi. Meantime
we shall continue steadfast in our belief that Scott is a poet, and
not only a poet, but a poet of the highest order; more "Homeric,"
too, than any other poet you can name, either of the present or
past century; and that Mr. Gladstone has had the good sense and
penetration to discover this, and the courage to avow it, is one,
and not the least, of many things which make us have a liking for
that distinguished statesman and scholar.

A lady, to whom we are indebted for numberless obligations of a like
nature, has sent us a copy of an old Gaelic lullaby or baby-song,
the composition of which must clearly be referred to the days when
cattle-lifting forays and spuilzies of every description were in high
fashion and favour with the gentlemen of the north--

    "When tooming faulds, or sweeping of a glen,
    Had still been held the deed of gallant men."

It is in many respects so curious that we venture on a translation
of it. Attached to it is a very pretty air, low and soft and subdued
as a lullaby air should be, though consisting but of a single part,
as was always the case with such compositions, unlike ordinary songs,
which generally had two parts, and admitted of endless variations,
according to the taste and vocal capabilities of the singer. It is
proper to state that our version is not intended to be sung to the
original air, for which the measure we have selected is unsuitable. Our
only object has been to convey to the English reader the general sense,
with something of the spirit and manner, of the original.

    A Lullaby.

    "Hush thee, my baby-boy, hush thee to sleep,
    Soft in my bosom laid, why should'st thou weep;
    Hush thee, my pretty babe, why should'st thou fear,
    Well can thy father wield broadsword and spear.

    "Lullaby, lullaby, hush thee to rest,
    Snug in my arms as a bird in its nest;
    Sweet be thy slumbers, boy, dreaming the while
    A dream that shall dimple thy cheek with a smile.

    "Helpless and weak as thou 'rt now on my knee,
    My eaglet shall yet spread his wings and be free--
    Free on the mountain side, free in the glen,
    Strong-handed, swift-footed, a man among men!

    "Then shall my dalt' bring his muim' a good store
    Of game from the mountain and fish from the shore;
    Cattle, and sheep, and goats--graze where they may--
    My dalta will find ere the dawn of the day.

    "Thy father and uncles, with target and sword,
    Will back each bold venture by ferry and ford;
    From thy hand I shall yet drain a beaker of wine,
    And the toast shall be--Health and the lowing of kine!

    "Then rest thee, my foster-son, sleep and be still,
    The first star of night twinkles bright on the hill;
    My brave boy is sleeping--kind angels watch o'er him,
    And safe to the light of the morning restore him.
    Lullaby, lullaby, what should he fear,
    Well can his father wield broadsword and spear!"

To the proper understanding of this curious composition, a few words
of comment and elucidation may be necessary. The lullaby must be
understood as sung by a foster-mother to her foster-son, the Gaelic
words from which the exigencies of verse oblige us to retain in our
paraphrase. In lulling her charge to sleep, the foster-mother fondly
anticipates the time when the boy on her knee shall have become a
full-grown and perfect man; her beau-ideal of a perfect man, observe,
being that, like the heroes of ancient song, he should be brawny
limbed, strong of hand, and swift of foot, able and willing at all
risks to seize and appropriate his neighbour's goods, especially his
cattle, whenever necessity--an empty larder--or honour urged him to the
adventure. The coolness with which the old lady commits her foster-son
to the immediate care and guardianship of the heavenly powers, in
the self-same breath in which she hopes and believes that he will,
when he becomes a man, prove an active and expert thief--a stealer of
beeves from the pastures of neighbouring tribes, in utter defiance of
the decalogue--is ludicrous in the extreme. To understand it aright,
we must recollect that in former times it was accounted not only lawful
but honourable among hostile tribes to commit depredations on one
another; and as hostility among the clans was the rule rather than the
exception, every species of depredation was practised,--cattle-lifting
raids, however, being accounted the most honourable of all, and in
the conduct of which the best gentlemen of the clan might without
a blush take an active part. The "lowing of kine," geùmnaich bhà,
occurring in this lullaby, was an old toast of the cattle-lifting
times, that the late Dr. Macfarlane of Arrochar told us, he himself had
often heard when a young man at baptismal feasts and bridals on Loch
Lomond side. The secret of it is this: The geùmnaich, or "lowing,"
implied that the cattle were strangers to the glen, whilst those
that belonged to the glen itself, and were the bona fide property of
the clan, if such there were, were quiet and staid and well-behaved,
as decent cattle should be. The cattle "stolen or strayed," as the
advertisements have it, "lowed," and were troublesome; while those
born and bred in the glen were content to graze in peace, and to "low"
only when they deemed it absolutely necessary. "The lowing of kine,"
therefore, was a toast that meant neither more nor less than success
to the cattle-lifting trade! As ancient Pistol says--

    "'Convey,' the wise it call. 'Steal!' foh, a fico for the phrase."


    Winter--Auroral Displays in the West Highlands always indicative
    of a coming Storm--Corvus Corax--Wonderful Ravens--Edgar Allan Poe.

Snow continues to accumulate on the mountain summits [December 1870],
which all around, from Ben Nevis to Ben Cruachan, and from the peaks
of Glen-Arkaig to Benmore in Mull, now present so many Sierra Nevadas,
while you are conscious at last, and to an extent that admits of no
possible mistake on the subject, that the wind, which, whether it blows
adown the glen or across the sea, has a chill and penetrating edge to
it, is neither the breeze of autumn nor the zephyr of summer, but the
breath of winter itself--the hoary-headed and icicle-bearded season,
that, with all its drawbacks, has its uses in the general economy
as well as its gentler confrères in the annual. With the exception
of one or two pet days, the weather of the past fortnight has been
stormy and wild, with heavy falls of rain on the lowlands, and sleet
and snow among the mountains. In no one season since we first became
a student of the heavens, now more than a quarter of a century ago,
have we had so many splendid exhibitions of aurora borealis as the last
three weeks have presented us with in a series of tableaux vivants,
which, while they charmed and delighted the intelligent observer,
made the vulgar gape in astonishment and alarm. In every instance
these auroral displays have invariably been followed within twelve
hours by heavy gales of wind and much rain, and so constantly have
we noticed this sequence throughout the observations of many years,
that there is perhaps no meteorological prediction on which we should
be disposed to venture with so much confidence and boldness as that
within twelve or fifteen hours of a bright auroral display there
shall be a storm, and that that storm shall be of heavy rain or sleet,
as well as of high wind. We speak principally of the West Highlands,
but we have no doubt that observation would prove the phenomena to
be the same throughout the kingdom. If we were in command of a ship
at sea, we should consider ourselves quite as justified in making all
necessary preparations for a coming storm on the back of a brilliant
aurora, as we should on observing a sudden fall in the barometer, the
only difference being that the "merry dancers" give you longer notice
of the approaching gale than does the mercury. The latter exclaims,
"Look out!" and if you don't look out, and that instantly, calling
all hands and making everything snug, you come to grief, while time
enough generally elapses after the auroral warning, to enable you
to prepare at leisure for the coming storm, and, if it catch you
napping, the fault is all your own. The recent auroral displays seem
to have been very general over the whole of Europe, and are said to
have been unusually brilliant in Canada and the Northern States of
America. A more than ordinarily severe and protracted winter may be
expected after all these aerial perturbations, which, when a French
savant remarked the other day to a compatriot, "Tant pis," replied the
chassepot-bearing mobile, with the invariable shoulder shrug and grin,
"Tant pis pour Messieurs les Prussiens!"--thinking, no doubt, of the
disastrous retreat from Moscow, and hoping to see it repeated in a
different direction at no distant day. Except the wren and redbreast,
whose pluck is indomitable, and who are never altogether out of voice,
our singing birds are now songless and silent, or if they do utter a
note, it is but a cheep and a chirp, not a song, another sign that our
winter is to be regarded as having fairly set in. We notice, besides,
that some of our winter visitors from Arctic seas have made their
appearance along our shores, while we observe that the rook and grey
crow have already begun to frequent the beach at low water in search
of what may be picked up in the way of a meal, a sure sign that they
also look upon it as already come, and that their food in more inland
parts has disappeared until a kindlier season has come round.

A very large raven (Corvus corax), the biggest specimen of this bird
we have ever seen, was trapped at the head of Glencreran a few days
ago by a bird-catcher that annually pays the West Highlands a visit at
this season. It was a female, as fat and plump as a Michaelmas goose,
and weighed within an ounce or two of four pounds. The plumage, as
might be expected in a bird of such high condition, was perfect,
with the exception of two of the upper alar feathers, which were
perfectly white, an abnormality, however, that only rendered the
specimen all the more interesting. The raven is the craftiest and
shyest of birds, never venturing within shot of fowling-piece or rifle,
and more difficult than any other bird, perhaps, to be outwitted or
circumvented in any way. With all his craft and caution, however,
the raven is, when occasion calls, one of the most courageous and
boldest of birds. At the time of nidification, for instance, the
male will fearlessly attack the largest falcon and drive him from
what he considers his own proper territory, nor will he shun the
combat, as we have often observed, even with the osprey or bald
buzzard when they met in mid-air on their predatory excursions,
and a sufficient casus belli has been found or feigned by either
belligerent. We remember seeing an encounter of this kind several
years ago, which continued nearly an hour, and was a very pretty and
interesting sight, the combatants performing the most beautiful aerial
evolutions as they charged, and parried, and soared, and swooped in
fierce and determined conflict. We noticed that the raven frequently
uttered his hoarse and threatening croak, as if to intimidate his
opponent, while the osprey fought in perfect silence. The combat
finally resulted in a drawn battle, the belligerents separating as
if by mutual consent, and slowly winging their flight in opposite
directions. The probability is that the raven's pugnacity was excited
on this occasion (March 1863) by the osprey's cruising about, however
unwittingly, in the vicinity of the precipice in a cleft of which the
female raven was at the time brooding on her nest. At such a time the
raven will boldly attack the passing eagle, and harass and annoy it
until the eagle, pestered and teased by the assault, rather than in
any way alarmed, with great good nature evacuates the territory which
the raven claims as its own. The raven has from the earliest ages
been accounted a bird of evil omen, and an object of superstitious
dread and awe, and allusions to the bird in this connection are to
be met with in the literature of most countries, the raven being as
cosmopolitan as man himself. Its croak, so disagreeable, and dismal,
and hoarse, and startling; its colour, a funereal black; its habitat,
the lonely and demon-haunted mountain peaks, giddy precipices, and
dreary solitudes; its lamb-slaying and carrion-eating propensities;
its shy and suspicious manner, as if he knew that he had done evil and
was apprehensive of well-merited punishment--all combine to render him
in the first instance a noticeable and remarkable bird, and one sure
to be selected for frequent reference in the days of bird divination,
a superstition of which traces may probably be found in the early
history of every country, and thus it would readily be raised to the
"bad eminence" of a bird of evilest omen--

    "The hateful messenger of heavy things,
    Of death and dolour telling."

The Moor of Venice says--

    "It comes o'er my memory,
    As doth the raven o'er the infected house,
    Boding to all."

And you remember Macbeth, and cannot fail to catch the allusion--

    "The raven himself is hoarse,
    That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
    Under my battlements."

During his tour in the Highlands with Dr. Johnson, Boswell writes
a highly characteristic letter to David Garrick, and, describing
their visit to Macbeth's Castle, says--"The situation of the old
castle corresponds exactly to Shakspeare's description. While we were
there to-day, it happened oddly that a raven perched upon one of the
chimney tops and croaked. Then I, in my turn, repeated 'The raven
himself,' &c." Now, if a raven in truth did so perch, all we can say
is that it was a very curious place for a raven to be, or ravens,
within a hundred years, must have very much changed their habits
and nature. The explanation probably is that it was a tame raven,
or a rook perhaps, or, likeliest of all, that it was a common jackdaw
(Corvus monedula), a pert, impudent, and garrulous little gentleman
in black--no bigger than a dovecot pigeon--that Mr. Boswell mistook
(proh pudor!) for the grave, stately, and sagacious raven, who is as
much bigger, and weightier, and wiser than his loquacious cousin the
daw, as Samuel Johnson was bigger, and weightier, and wiser than his
travelling companion, James Boswell. It is curious to meet with the
following on the authority of no less renowned a personage than the
valorous and puissant knight Don Quixote de la Mancha, the flower of
chivalry. "Have you not read, sir," proceeds the knight, "the annals
and histories of England, wherein are recorded the famous exploits
of King Arthur, whom in our Castilian tongue we perpetually called
King Artus, of whom there exists an ancient tradition, universally
received over the whole kingdom of Great Britain, that he did not die,
but that by magic art he was transformed into a raven, for which reason
it cannot be proved that from that time to this any Englishman hath
killed a raven."

We have just called the raven our "friend," nor are we at all ashamed
so to designate a bird whom we have known long, and regarding whom,
if other people speak nothing but evil, we at least can speak a great
deal that is good. There is a well-known proverb to the effect that a
certain potentate of sable hue is not so black as he is painted, nor
is the raven. First of all, he is an apt scholar, and a bird generally
of much sagacity, of long memory, and ready wit. It is on record that
on one occasion when the Emperor Augustus was returning victorious
from a battlefield, a tame raven that had received his lesson, and
remembered it to the letter, alighted on the conqueror's chariot,
and saluted him in these words--Ave Cæsar, Victor, Imperator! The
Emperor was pleased, as he well might be, and ordered the raven a
handsome pension for life. Bechstein, who probably knew more about
the habits and economy of ravens, especially in their tame state,
than any other ornithologist before his day or since, vouches for
the facility with which they may be taught to speak, and for their
sagacity and docility generally. He tells the following amusing
story:--"A very clever raven was kept at a nobleman's residence in
the district of Mannsfeldt. Among other things he could say, 'Well,
who are you?' very strongly and distinctly. One day, as he was walking
about among the grass in the garden, he observed a setter dog which
remained near him, and kept constantly walking after him. Not liking
to be thus watched and followed, the raven turned rapidly round and
sternly exclaimed, 'Well, who are you?' The dog was alarmed at this,
hung his tail, and ran hastily away, and not until he had gained
a considerable distance did he turn round and howl." The raven,
besides, is a thorough anti-Mormonite, and wouldn't live in Utah for
the world. If he visits the polygamist colony at all, it is always
under protest against the institutions of that delectable land,
and to be ready to pick the bones of the first many-wived "elder"
he may catch in articulo mortis. Rather should the raven be elected
to a seat upon the bench of bishops, for he is ever careful to fulfil
the apostolic injunction to be the husband but of one wife; and until
accident or old age deprives him of her, he is the model and pattern
of faithful and affectionate husbands, never violating his conjugal
vows, not even to the extent of the most innocent of flirtations
or the most Platonic of intimacies with a neighbouring raveness,
even though she should be younger, and sleeker, and glossier than
his own. The raven, in short, when he pairs, which he does at the
earliest moment permitted by the laws of ravendom, pairs for life,
and while his first choice is spared to him he will no more think of
paying court to another, be her charms what they may, than he will
of dying of hunger while there is a bone to pick, a tender lamb, or
braxied sheep within a circuit of a hundred miles of his eyrie, in the
most inaccessible cleft of yonder beetling precipice. We might now say
something if we liked of the raven's usefulness in the general economy
as a hard-working and indefatigable inspector of nuisances, and how
putrid animal matter of every description disappears, as if by magic,
wherever he is known and appreciated; but this is a utilitarian age,
and as we hate utilitarianism, we are content merely to hint that
the raven deserves special regard as a sanitary reformer. We prefer
insisting on the fact that the raven is a gentleman of very ancient
descent, being able, in the clearest manner, to trace his pedigree
in unbroken line up to the days of "Captain" Noah himself, as Byron
irreverently styles the patriarch. When any one in our day becomes
distinguished and attracts our special regard, we instantly set to work
to trace his descent, and although he himself can hardly tell who was
his grandfather, we are never satisfied until we have, by hook and by
crook, traced his ancestry to the Ragman Roll or the Norman Conquest,
and, having thus ennobled him to our own entire satisfaction, we cease
not to pet and praise him until he is dead, and then the newspapers
swarm with obituary notices of the distinguished man who has just
departed, and a monument, erected by public subscription, concludes
the farce. The raven's ancestor was unquestionably with Noah in the
ark, and although he has incurred some odium in connection with the
assuaging of the waters, we confess we cannot well tell why, for all
that the ancient, and beautiful, and simple narrative says of him
is this: "And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro,
until the waters were dried up from off the earth." On the point
of ancestry, in short, there is no bird that has a better right to
hold up his head than the raven. And just consider: wasn't Dickens'
stuffed raven "Grip" sold the other day for a hundred and twenty
guineas! although if his portrait in the Graphic is to be depended
on, he never was a handsome specimen of the family, or if he was,
then the man who stuffed and "set him up" should have received a
flogging for his pains. Should the reader wish to know more about our
friend Corvus corax, we can confidently recommend him to make the
acquaintance, the intimate acquaintance if he can, of "The Raven"
to be met with in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, the most weird and
wonderful raven that has ever yet appeared in song or story.


    Along the Shore after Birds--An Otter in pursuit of a Fish--Tame
    Otter at Bridge of Tilt: Employed in Fishing--His hatred of all
    sorts of Birds--"The Otter and Fox," a translation from the Gaelic.

November closed with a week of the most delightful weather one
could wish for at this season [December 1870], cold, but crisp and
clear; nor has December thus far shown any tendency to exceptional
"rampaging" either, though come it must, if we are not much mistaken,
and in a style we fear that will cause it to be remembered. Woodcocks,
fieldfares, redwing thrushes, snow buntings, and starlings are at
this moment more plentiful than we ever saw them before; while
Arctic sea-fowl in great numbers crowd our creeks and bays, and
immense flocks of grallatores, curlews, gedwits, purrs, dunlins,
and oyster-catchers, may be seen all along our shores diligently
attending the sea margin as the tide recedes, or with weird and wild
scream urging their eccentric flights from an exhausted sandbank in
indefatigable search of "fresh fields and pastures new." Creeping among
the rocks on the back of Cuilchenna Point, a quiet, sequestered shore,
seldom visited by anybody but ourselves at this season, one evening
last week, watching a pair of web-feet that we finally decided to
be smews, a species of merganser, we were unexpectedly treated to an
exhibition of aquatic feats that we had never before seen equalled,
and that we thought no animal, biped or quadruped, could accomplish in
an element not properly its own. Squatted on the beach behind two huge
boulders, a narrow opening between which enabled us to look seawards,
and to see without being seen, we were watching the elegant smews as
they preened themselves, floating gracefully the while, without the
movement of a web, on the calm surface of the cold, clear sea, when
right before us, and within less than a dozen fathoms of the shore,
a dark object suddenly dashed to the surface with a flop and a splash,
and as suddenly disappeared. We took it to be a seal in pursuit of
some fish, as is his wont; but on its reappearance a minute or so
afterwards, we were delighted to see that it was not a seal, but a
large otter hard at work in chase of some favourite fish for supper;
and small blame to him for that same, for if one might judge from his
exertions in the pursuit, he was dreadfully hungry and thoroughly
in earnest, not yet having dined, perhaps, nor even broken his
fast since the preceding evening, for your otter (Lutra vulgaris)
is for the most part an evening and nocturnal feeder. Nothing could
exceed the elegance and ease with which the otter performed the most
extraordinary and complicated evolutions in pursuit of his prey,
his long, lithe body, pliant and supple as an eel's, twisting and
twining in every direction as the fish darted hither and thither, or
swept in rapid circles in its efforts to escape. Its tail, we noticed,
seemed to act not merely as a rudder in aid of its owner's incessant
perisaltations, but to be in constant motion like a propeller, as if to
assist the broad and muscular web feet in every act of natation. For
ten minutes or more, perhaps, did the chase continue, the fish, that
seemed to be either a haddock or sea-trout of some three or four
pounds weight, occasionally leaping bodily out of the water in its
efforts to escape from the unfriendly attentions of its stern pursuer,
the said pursuer, like a staunch hound, doubling as the fish doubled,
circling as it circled, and diving as it dived, with a persistency
and perseverance that it was impossible to elude, until at last,
fairly beaten in his own element, the fish was captured in a pool of
shallow water, whither it had darted in its terror and bewilderment,
the otter instantly pouncing upon it and seizing it in his mouth,
as you have seen a terrier deal with a rat. At this moment we rushed
from our concealment with a shout, hoping to frighten the otter and
get hold of the fish, but Monsieur Lutra was too quick for us. With
the fish in his mouth he plunged into the sea, and in a second had
disappeared among some boulders that would probably have afforded him
a secure asylum, even if we had a pack of otter hounds to aid in our
attempt at the dislodgment of a gentleman so cunning.

With the common otter of our inland rivers and lakes we have been more
or less familiar since our school-boy days; but we cannot recollect
having ever seen a marine otter until this occasion. Our naturalists
seem to be very generally agreed that the sea otter and that of
our rivers and fresh-water lakes are one and the same animal,--an
opinion from which we are not at this moment prepared to dissent,
though the animal referred to above seemed to us to be larger in
size, blacker in colour, with more prominent ears, and a bigger,
bushier tail than any specimen, living or dead, that had hitherto
come under our notice. Certain peculiarities, however, of form and
colouring in the individual are frequently attributable to accidental
circumstances. We remember seeing a very fine dog otter many years ago,
that its owner had succeeded in rendering comparatively tame, and of
some use in the capture of fish for its master's table, as well as for
its own sustenance. The animal belonged to the innkeeper at Bridge
of Tilt, in Athole, and was usually kept chained in an empty stall
in the stable. It was very good-natured and docile, and evinced its
satisfaction on being stroked with the hand and patted by a curious
purring, sort of half whine half bark, altogether unlike the utterance
of any other animal with which we are acquainted. We saw it presented
with a dish of milk, which it readily lapped up, using its tongue
by way of spoon, as a dog does under similar circumstances. With
a collar round its neck, to which a long rope was attached, it was
frequently taken to the river, where it never failed to catch fish,
first driving them, after the manner of a collie with a flock of
sheep, into the nearest pool in which there was a considerable depth
of water, when he pounced upon them with the agility of a wild cat,
and seldom failed to secure two or three of the best and biggest fish
in the shoal ere they could manage to escape. We were assured, however,
that the best place to see the otter at work was not the river, but
one of the moorland lochs, in the depths of which he was perfectly
at home. Here he exhibited the most astonishing feats of agility in
pursuit of his prey; his activity and matchless swimming powers being
backed by a pertinacity and cunning that left neither trout nor pike
much chance of escape. Having marked out and selected the fish to be
captured, it was observed that he stuck to it with the staunchness of
a well-trained hound through all its doublings and windings, as if for
the moment the loch contained none but it, until he had fairly run it
down; the capture generally taking place among the reeds that bordered
the margin of the mere, into which the fish always rushed on becoming
sensible that its adversary was not to be eluded in open water. If
left to himself, it was remarked that the otter was somewhat dainty
and fastidious of taste, rarely eating more of a captured fish than
a little at the back of the head and about the pectoral fins, when,
after a short rest, he was ready to start in pursuit of another. If
this be the habit of otters in their wild state--as there is reason to
believe it is--one can fancy how terribly destructive to fish they must
be, killing ten times more than they actually eat, and these, too, the
best and biggest fish they can meet with in their depredations. Even
a single pair of otters, with a family to rear, must be a terrible
scourge on any river they may select to honour with their attentions
for a season; nor is the marine otter, we may be sure--such as we
saw the other day--less destructive when he takes up his residence in
the vicinity of salmon fishings. Whatever the price of salmon in the
market, depend upon it that the otter's larder is always well supplied.

The semi-domesticated otter above referred to, after leading a not
unuseful life for a year or two under the careful and always kindly
superintendence of its intelligent owner, managed at last somehow to
break its chain and escape, and was never more seen or heard of. The
only other curious thing about this animal that we can recollect
was his deadly aversion to every feathered creature that came near
him. Whether goose or duck, barn-door fowl or pigeon, he seemed to
detest them all, and would readily, and with every sign of anger,
kill such as he could get hold of, not to eat them, observe, for
that he was never known to do, but just because he disliked them. To
all other animals he could be easily reconciled, and was on good
and even friendly terms with all the dogs, cats, and pigs about the
place, particularly manifesting his love for his stable companions,
the horses, by whining in his strange fashion and straining on his
chain to the utmost, as if he would fain welcome them with a caress,
when after a day's work in the fields they returned to the stable of
an evening. We are not aware that, except milk, which it would readily
lap and seemed to enjoy, this otter was ever known to touch anything in
the shape of food except its natural fish diet. In the old Sgeulachdan,
or fireside tales of the ancient Highlanders, we frequently meet with
the "dun otter" or dobhran donn, as one of the dramatis personæ. He
is generally introduced to us under an amiable character, rescuing
neglected merit from obscurity, relieving distressed damsels, or
succouring the widow and orphans with bountiful supplies of silvery
fish from the tarn amongst the mountains, or the eddying pool beneath
the cascade in the glen. The amiable and friendly otter sometimes
turns out to be an enchanted prince, who, timeously released from
the spell that has doomed him to amphibious habits and quadrupedal
form, assumes his proper shape, and marries the always virtuous and
beautiful, though frequently humble, heroine of the tale. In the
Hebrides to this day the otter is looked upon with some degree of
superstitious reverence, and a bit of otter skin worn by way of charm
is regarded as an antidote against infection in fever and small-pox,
a preservative from death by drowning, and of singular efficacy in
bringing the labours of parturition to a happy issue. A mole on a
person's skin, whatever its place or proportions, is in the Hebrides
never reckoned a deformity. It is regarded rather as a "beauty spot"
than otherwise, and believed to betoken a long life and good luck to
the fortunate possessor. In the West Highlands and Hebrides such a
mark on the skin is called a ball-dobhrain, an otter mark or otter
spot, and is no more accounted a blemish or deformity than was the
mole on the right lip of Dulcinea del Toboso by Don Quixote, though
it looked "like a whisker, and had seven or eight red hairs in it
above a span long!" In some places a piece of otter skin placed on
the head under a woman's coif, and worn inside a man's blue bonnet,
is supposed to relieve the headache and prevent baldness, while
gentle friction along the affected part with the furry side of a
bit of otter skin is esteemed of sovereign efficacy in erysipelas or
"rose." The following is a somewhat free rendering from the Gaelic
of a fable occurring in an old Sgeulachd, with which many of our west
coast readers at least must be acquainted. The moral is obvious.

    The Otter and Fox.

    The otter had caught in the pool below
    A silvery salmon so full of roe,
    And clambering bore it over the rocks,
    When who should he meet but his cousin the fox.
    "Friend," quoth the wily fox, "pray go
    And bring me a fish from the pool below--
    I've not tasted fish for a year or mo'.
    Leave here thy salmon; go, haste thee back,
    We'll dine together and have our crack;
    Believe me, dear otter, that over one's food
    The face of a friend is always good."

    The otter tumbled into the stream
    Where the floating foam was white as cream;
    He sought and searched in each cranny and hole,
    But not a fish could he find in the pool.
    "Well," quoth the otter, "I'll hasten back
    To my cousin the fox, and we'll have our crack
    Over the salmon I left above;
    One fish will go far that is eaten in love;
    'Tis large, and fat, and full of roe,
    And, fairly divided, will serve for two."

    Clambering over the rocks in haste
    The otter returned to join his guest;
    But guess his surprise when he reached the spot;
    Where the fox had been--the fox was not,
    And nought of the salmon that could be seen
    But some silvery scales where the salmon had been!
    The otter but said, "'Tis my belief
    My cousin the fox should be hanged for a thief;
    He'll never again make me his tool,
    For myself alone I'll haunt the pool."


    Storms--An "inch" of Rain--Atherina Presbyter--Lophius
    Piscatorius--Mr. Mortimer Collins' misquotation from the Times.

A finer winter [January 1871] never was known all over the West
Highlands and Hebrides. Some tempestuousness is to be looked for
at this season, and some tempestuousness we have had, but of actual
winter rigour and cold we have hardly had a trace. Only twice during
the winter have we had any frost, and even then it was but slight
and of short duration. On several occasions, however, we have had
such terrible rainfalls as are only known perhaps within sight of the
mountain peaks of Jura and Mull and Morven. On the 19th of January,
and again on the 23d, the rainfall within a given time was heavier
than anything known even with us for many years past. In about sixteen
hours on the 19th, 4·19 inches fell, and quite as much, if not more,
on the 23d. Now, does the reader know what an inch of rain means? It
means a gallon of water spread evenly over a surface of something like
two square feet, or, to put it in a more striking and intelligible
form, it means a fall of a hundred tons upon an acre of land; so that
in sixteen hours on the 19th upwards of four hundred tons of rain
fell on every acre of land for miles and miles around us. It will
be confessed that thus the country was for once at least well soaked
and saturated. All our rivers and mountain torrents were, of course,
in full flood, and throughout the night, when it had calmed down a
little, the "noise of many waters," as you lay awake on your pillow
and listened, made wild and eerie music enough, to which the fitting
bass was the boom of the storm-driven rollers as they broke in sullen
thunder along the shore. We had occasion to be across Corran Ferry on
the wettest of these days, bad as it was, and, in spite of waterproofs
and haps of most approved texture and form, we returned in the evening
so soaked and drenched and droukit, to use an expressive Scotticism,
that we might as well have been for half an hour up to our chin,
over head and ears for that matter of it, in the deepest pool of
the Rhi. When changing our clothes in our own room after getting
home, we managed to raise a quiet laugh with ourselves over it all,
by the recollection of the music and words of a favourite Scotch
reel not altogether inapplicable to our then condition. The reel in
question is a well-known one, though we forget at present its proper
distinctive name. It is, we think, one of Neil Gow's. A gudewife,
presumably of Amazonian heart, and also of Amazonian proportions,
makes her husband wince and quail, and conduct himself with becoming
amiability and decorum, as she sings--

                 "Mur 'bi'dh agam ach trudair bodaich,
                  Bhogain anns an allt e;
                 Mur 'bi'dh agam ach trudair bodaich,
                  Bhogain anns an allt e;
    Bhogain agus bhogain agus bhogain th'ar a cheann e,
    'S mur 'bi'dh a glan 'nuair bhidh e tioram,
                  Bhogain 'rithisd ann e!"

Not very easily turned into English, but this is something like it--

                 "If my gudeman were cross and dour,
                  I'd dip him in the burn, O!
                 If my gudeman were cross and sour,
                  I'd dip him in the burn, O;
    I'd dip the dear o'er head and ears until he'd grane and girn, O,
    And till he promised better things, he'd get the tother turn, O."

While stripping, it struck us that we were quite as wet on the occasion
in question, as if for our sins we had undergone all the "dipping"
threatened by the gudewife in the old reel; and the idea put us into
good humour until tea and other fireside comforts made us forget
all the pelting of the pitiless storm. How the remainder of winter
and early spring may turn out meteorologically, it is impossible to
forecast with any confidence, but meantime our old people, in their
own opinion, at least, weatherwise and shrewd quoad hoc, are gravely
shaking their heads over what they deem an unusual dearth of frost
and snow in mid-winter.

Our West Coast storms, if in one sense sometimes disagreeable enough,
rarely fail, however, to bring us a good thing in the shape of hundreds
of tons of drift-ware, which, gathered and spread on the land, is
found to be a valuable fertiliser. It is a labour, besides, which
falls to be done in a season when there is little else to occupy the
people's time, and saves an immense deal of trouble when the spring
comes round, for the land is ready for the plough and the immediate
reception of the seed, whatever the crop--thus saving at once the
manure heap for purposes in which farmyard manure is indispensable,
and all the trouble of long cartage afield. In collecting his
share of a huge swathe of this drift-ware the other day, one of our
neighbours found a dead fish, quite fresh and unmutilated, which
being new to him, though a fisherman and sea-shore man all his life,
he thought might be interesting to us. He accordingly brought it to
us, and to us also it was new, and as such, of course, exceedingly
interesting. We puzzled long over it ere we satisfied ourselves that
we had determined its identity. It was a small fish, some six inches
in length, and of smelt-like shape and form and colouring, but it
was not a smelt. After some little trouble, we finally decided that
it was a species of atherine (Atherina) belonging to the Mugilidæ or
mullet family. Our particular specimen was the Atherina presbyter,
a not uncommon visitor on some of the south of England shores, but so
rare in our seas that, as we have already said, we never saw a specimen
before. We are told that the atherine is very good eating, and we can
quite believe it, for it is a pretty, delicate-looking little fish,
that, nicely fried until properly crimp and brown, ought to taste
well. A much commoner fish, but interesting in this instance for the
great size of the specimen, was an angler, fishing-frog, or sea-devil
(Lophius piscatorius), which was cast ashore near Corran Ferry last
week. This was the largest individual of the species--the ugliest,
perhaps, of all fishes--that we ever saw. It measured five feet seven
inches from snout to tip of tail, and weighed fifty-three pounds. It
was poor and fleshless, and had died seemingly of sheer inanition or
atrophy; had it been in full condition, it would have weighed a third
more. Its terrible mouth, with its formidable array of sharp recurved
teeth, was enough to scare a friend that accompanied us to a distance,
though we assured him that the brute was dead and harmless. On opening
out its jaws to a fair extent--that is, as far as we thought the animal
itself would open them easily if need were, we placed a large turnip
from a pit that was conveniently at hand, a turnip nearly as large as
a man's head, easily within the horrid cavern. We would willingly have
taken this specimen home with us, for the purpose of preserving the
skeleton, but we had no conveyance with us, and any idea of carrying
it was out of the question. It had, besides, evidently lain some
time on the beach, and its odour on moving it in the least was, the
reader may believe, the very antipodes of Eau de Cologne or ottar of
roses. We contented ourselves therefore with slitting open its stomach
with our pocket-knife, and found it, as we expected, perfectly empty,
containing nothing in the shape of food, except the tips of two claws
and small bits of the carapace of a not uncommon species of crab,
the velvet fiddler (Portunas puber). The Highlanders of the west coast
and Hebrides call the angler Mac Làmhaich, properly Mac Làthaich--the
son (that is, inhabitant) of the mud or ooze; a very expressive and
appropriate name for it, for it is essentially a mud fish, in which,
half buried and perdu, it hides and watches, tiger-like, for its
prey. The naturalist meets with many things to puzzle him, and it has
always puzzled us to account for the large size of this animal's head
and mouth, altogether disproportioned to the size of the rest of the
body. No matter how insatiable the cravings of the brute's maw--to
use a Miltonic word--no matter how gluttonous soever of appetite, the
head and mouth, and number and size of teeth, do seem unnecessarily
formidable, monstrous indeed, for any conceivable work that they
can be called upon to perform; and yet there is unquestionably good
reason for it all, if we could only find it out. It may interest some
of our readers to know that the sea-devil belongs, ichthyologically,
to the Acanthopterygious family of fishes. Acanthopterygious! what a
staggerer to any one except a learned ichthyologist at a Spelling Bee.

Mr. Mortimer Collins and others are recently down, somewhat
hypercritically we can't help thinking, on Mr. Tennyson's occasional
natural history references throughout his poems. The fun is
that in almost every instance in which fault is found with him,
Mr. Tennyson is right and his critics wrong! Here is one example of
this hypercriticism in which Mr. Mortimer Collins is fairly hoist
with his own petard. Mr. Tennyson writes--

    "In spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin's breast."

Upon which Mr. Collins comments--"As a fact, that fuller crimson comes
in autumn, as all know who watch the half-shy, half-familiar bird--

    "That ever in the haunch of winter sings."

Here Mr. Mortimer Collins is partly right and largely wrong,
while Mr. Tennyson is altogether right. It is true that our native
song-birds, moulting in autumn or early winter, assume at this season a
thicker, warmer, fresher plumage after all the wear and tear consequent
on the labours of nidification, incubation, and love-making throughout
the spring and summer; but it is equally true that it is only in
spring, as Mr. Tennyson correctly asserts, that our wild birds assume
their gaudiest and gayest attire, every colour and shade of colour
in the individual bird's feathering there and then only being at its
best and brightest. And when we remember that spring is the season of
love and incipient song, we should be very much surprised, and with
good reason, if the fact were otherwise. So far as our recollection
serves us, Mr. Mortimer Collins, or any one else, will find it rather
difficult to catch Mr. Tennyson tripping in the direction indicated. We
should say that the Poet Laureate was rather remarkable than otherwise
for his fidelity to nature and truth in all his local colouring.

Some time ago, by the way, we had occasion to call attention to the
exceeding frequency of misquotation in our current literature, and
in quarters, too, where one would least expect it. Here is a curious
and very unpardonable instance, all things considered. In a review
of the South Kensington Handbooks, in the Times of the 18th January,
a sentence opens thus--"It is well-known that weary lies the head that
wears a crown." Every one will see that the manifest intention here is
to quote from the monologue of the poor harassed and sleepless King
in Shakespeare's Henry IV. (part second), one of the finest things
that even Shakespeare ever wrote, and we had thought too well-known
by every one with any pretensions to literature to be misquoted. The
concluding lines are these:--

    "Can'st thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
    To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude;
    And in the calmest and most stillest night,
    With all appliances and means to boot,
    Deny it to a king? Then, happy, low, lie down:
    Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."


    Aurora Borealis--Unfavourable weather for Birds about
    St. Valentine's Day--The Water-Vole in the Rhi--In the Eden in
    Fifeshire--In the Black Water, Kinloch Leven--Does it feed
    on Salmon Fry and Ova?--The Kingfisher--Character of the
    Water-Vole--Note about the Hedgehog.

A brilliant display of aurora borealis on the early morning of the 8th
[February 1871] led us to conclude that a change of weather was not
far distant; and before sunset of that same day the wind had gone
round from east by south to south-west, and a drizzling rain, with
a very much milder temperature than we had known for three months,
told us that, for the present at least, King Frost had agreed
to suspension of hostilities. Since then it has been mostly wet,
with occasional hailstone showers, and turbulent withal, if not
actually stormy. The revictualling of Paris under the terms of the
capitulation and armistice was not a more sensible relief to the
starving inhabitants than was the recent thaw to our wild birds on
sea and shore. The moment they became convinced that it was no sham,
but a real, veritable thaw, they revived amazingly. Shaking off the
torpidity in which cold and want had so pitilessly bound them, they
took heart, and bustled about in search of such food as might now
be procured by diligent seeking in copse and hedgerow, by pool and
stream. An occasional strophe, sadly inconsecutive and discordant,
may now again be heard when the sun shines out and the storm has
lulled, from some of our hardier warblers, and we have observed that
in some instances rooks have begun to pair; but our bird-world, upon
the whole, is far from what it should be at this date; more taken up,
like vanquished France, with the thought of the mere necessities of
life and the reestablishment of their exhausted energies, than with
love or music, or the gaiety and abandon so characteristic in ordinary
seasons of our feathered friends on the back of St. Valentine's
Day. The meridian sun, however, is now steadily climbing zenithwards,
and the day perceptibly lengthening apace, so that our wild birds,
rapidly gathering strength, and daily improving in tone and tune, may,
after all, arrive at their day of jollity and joyousness sooner than
we anticipated. We captured a beautiful Scarlet Emperor butterfly
a few days ago, as brisk and lively as possible, on a window pane
in Ardvulin Cottage, Ardgour. How beautiful, by the way, and how
suggestive of spring and vernal delights in a land of plenitude
and peace, is the following from the Song of Solomon:--"For, lo,
the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on
the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice
of the turtle is heard in our land; the fig-tree putteth forth her
green figs, and the vines with the tender grapes give a good smell."

Another animal besides the hedgehog has of recent years made its
appearance in Lochaber, though previously unknown, so far as we are
aware, anywhere in the West Highlands. The animal in question is
the water-rat, water-vole, or British beaver. The last is, perhaps,
its most appropriate name, for the animal is neither kith nor kin to
the rat, while very much in its economy and habits, as well as in its
corporeal structure, particularly its dentition, allies it not remotely
to the beaver tribe. In size, the water-vole is more robust in body and
larger in every way than the common rat, with a more silken pile, and
a bigger and brighter eye. It frequents the banks of streams and ponds,
feeding on the more delicate aquatic plants, and on the bark and tender
shoots of the willow, alder, and such other shrubs as love to grow

    "The quiet waters by."

That such an animal inhabited Lochaber was accidentally revealed to us
two years ago, and so unmistakeably that there was no room for doubt
or hesitation in the matter. We were returning from Fort-William on a
beautiful summer afternoon, walking by the hill route through Lundavra,
when having already accomplished more than half the distance at our
best pace, we sat down to rest and solace ourselves with a pipe--not
the Arcadian musical instrument, observe, but the more prosaic article
anathematised in the royal Counterblast--by the side of a canal-like
reach in the River Rhi, as it slowly winds through Glenshelloch, when
our attention was drawn to a splash in the water at a short distance
above us, to which, however, we gave but little heed, taking it for
the lively flop of a half-pound trout engaged in fly-catching for
supper. Another and a louder splash, however, aroused our curiosity,
and induced us to creep cautiously in the direction whence the sound
proceeded, and there, sure enough, disporting themselves round a
gnarled alder stump that projected into the stream from the water-line
on the opposite bank, were a pair of water-voles, full-grown, and brisk
and lively as ever we had seen them in our younger days in the upper
reaches of the beautiful Eden in Fifeshire, a favourite habitat. After
watching their gambols for some time, we threw a pebble into the pool,
when they instantly dived and disappeared, only to emerge in a few
seconds near a large boulder further up the stream, behind which,
and cunningly concealed beneath the overhanging bank, was their hole,
into which they popped as readily as does an alarmed mouse into a wall
crevice. As they dived and pursued their subaqueous flight in the
direction of their hole, the eye could follow their every movement,
for the water was as clear as crystal. Keeping very near the bottom,
it seemed as if they progressed partly by swimming and partly by
running along the gravel, at any rate with amazing celerity and
ease. We noticed that about their necks and shoulders their pile
appeared as if adorned with numberless tiny pearls--air bubbles, in
fact--that adhered to their fur, and that, frequently shifting the
position like quicksilver drops, as the animals moved, had a very
pretty effect. Since that time the water-vole has been repeatedly
seen about the lower reaches of the same river, between the Inchree
Falls and the highway. It has also been seen in some parts of the
Blackwater above Kinlochleven. Ardent disciples of Izaak Walton and
others interested in the preservation of trout and salmon hold the
water-vole in great dislike, under the belief that it feeds largely
on fry and ova. The accusation we believe to be unfounded, as much so
as the egg-eating charge against the hedgehog. We shall not attempt
to prove a negative, the onus probandi of their averments logically
resting with the accusers; but we will say that we have known the
water-vole for many years, and at one time had every opportunity
of studying its habits, and we never had cause to entertain the
slightest suspicion that it was anything else than a vegetable
feeder. We recollect once questioning old John Robertson of Perth,
than whom a better fisher, whether on lake or stream, never cast
a fly or impaled a worm, about the water-vole's alleged liking for
fish-spawn and fry. His reply was in these words, "I dinna believe it,
sir; I have fished in maist feck o' the rivers, burns, and lochs in
Perth, Fife, and Kinross, and other counties forbye, and the fish
were just as plentiful where the splash o' the gleb (a local name
for the water-vole) was heard a'maist at every cast o' the line,
as where none could be seen for days together." We know, besides,
that the late Professor John Reid of St. Andrews, one of the most
distinguished comparative anatomists of his day, and who had dissected
many of them, was of opinion that the water-vole was a vegetable feeder
and nothing else, he having never been able to detect anything to lead
him to the conclusion that it fed on fish or their spawn. Suspicion
of the water-vole's being addicted to the malpractices in question
was first of all grounded on the fact that fish-bones were frequently
found along the banks of the streams he inhabited, and sometimes about
the entrance of, and even in, the hole which was his habitat and home;
and on this evidence alone the water-vole soon got into very bad repute
indeed. As to the finding occasionally of fish bones along a water-vole
inhabited stream, although the fact is indisputable, it really goes
for nothing, suspicious as it looks, for similar relics of defunct
trouts and troutlets may be seen any day on the margin of streams
where a water-vole was never yet known to exist. The real culprits
in such cases are the otter, the common rat (a great fish-eater in
shallow streams and almost as expert a swimmer as the vole itself,
only that it cannot dive so well), the heron, king-fisher, and
grey crow, all of whom are fond of fish, either as an article of
constant diet, or as an occasional make-shift in default of more
legitimate fare. As to the fish bones to be sometimes met with in
the water-vole's holes, the dusky-coated and white-vested dipper and
the beautiful plumaged king-fisher are alone to blame. The castings,
indeed, of a single pair of king-fishers would of itself suffice to
account for all the fish bones one meets with by the banks of ponds
and streams, for the beautiful Alcedo is a voracious fish-devourer,
and his hole going backwards and upwards some three or four feet
into the bank, invariably a perfect charnel-house of bleached fish
bones of minnows and troutlets. The number of small fish that a pair
of king-fishers, with their young, dispose of in a single season
must amount to many thousands, and as the larger bones at least are
always cast or regurgitated, their presence may always be taken as a
sure indication that the spot has recently been the haunt of the most
beautifully coloured of British birds. When the bones of larger fish,
however, are met with, the blame, if blame there be, must be shifted
from the king-fisher to the shoulders of one or other or all of the
animals above mentioned. It is only fair that the spirit of our laws,
which accounts a man innocent until he is proved guilty, should be
extended to beasts and birds as well. In this view of the matter the
water-vole has good reason of complaint that it has been over hastily
and unwarrantably condemned on insufficient evidence, without even
the form of a fair and impartial trial. Unlike Ritson, the antiquary
and balladist, who, although he was a strict vegetarian in diet,
holding all manner of animal food in utter abhorrence, and writing a
volume on the subject, was yet as cross-grained and as irascible as a
wasp, the water-vole, like a true vegetarian, is quiet and unobtrusive
even to timidity, leading an inoffensive life, and in his play hours,
which--in proof of his good sense, let us remark--are very numerous,
as frolicsome and sportive as a kitten. He will show fight, it is
true, if attacked in his hole or otherwise brought to bay, and his
bite, whether on the nose of an over-venturesome terrier, or the hand
that would rashly seize him, is very severe and difficult to heal;
but it is only doing him the merest justice that those who know him
should bear witness that in general character and disposition he is
the most peaceable and harmless of animals.


    March--The Story of a Spanish Dollar--The Spanish Armada--The
    "Florida"--Faire-Chlaidh, or Watching of the Graveyard--Molehill
    Earth for Flowers.

A fall of snow on Monday, followed by keen frost during three
consecutive nights, rendered the past week [March 1871], as to mere
cold at least, the most wintry of the season; but with a bright sun
circling at mid-March altitude, the frost had no time to penetrate
the soil to any depth, and spring work has been steadily pushed on,
with hardly any retardation. In the upland glens, however, the frost
was for some days intense, and had it continued much longer, weakly
sheep must have suffered severely. But solvitur hiems, the frost is
gone; the weather is now again open, and mild and spring-like, and
our wild birds--scores of them within a stone's cast of our window
as we write--only seem all the more jubilant because of the past
week's temporary dip of temperature to the freezing-point. "Speed
the plough"--one of our very best Scotch reels, by the way--should
now be the cry, at once earnest and cheery, of every one connected
with arable land, for what says the old Gaelic proverb--

    "Am fear nach cuir 'sa Mhàrt,
    'Sanmoch a bhuaineas e."

He that sows not in March shall have a late ingathering.

A coin was sent us for identification a few days ago, the history of
which strikes us as interesting. We had no difficulty in determining
it to be a silver Spanish dollar of the time of Philip II. It is
much corroded and worn, but the following letters of the original
inscription are distinctly legible:--Ph. II., D.G. Hisp: et Ind:
Rex. 1585. On the reverse disc is what seems to have been intended
for the prow of a ship between two palm trees. The owner of this coin
tells us that it came into his possession in the following manner:--A
brother of his, who owned and commanded a coasting schooner about
fifty years ago, chancing to be becalmed while passing through the
Sound of Mull, thought it best to come to anchor for the night. Next
morning, when getting under weigh, the anchor, as it came to the
bows, was found to have brought up a large mass of tangle. While
clearing this away, the edge of the coin was observed sticking out
from among a lot of sand and shingle attached to the tangle roots,
and having been secured and handed to the Captain, he ever after
kept it in his purse as a "luckpenny," on which he set a high value,
and all the more so, perhaps, that it happened to be found on the
morning of Easter Sunday, a fact that to him, as a good Catholic, had
a significance and meaning that the rest of the crew took no account
of. Be this as it may, he was from that day an exceedingly prosperous
and lucky man in all his undertakings, and till the day of his death
he carried the coin about him wherever he went, as a "luckpenny"
and talisman of extraordinary virtue. The present owner, too, sets
a very high value on this numismatic talisman, which, he declares,
hardly anything would induce him to part with. During the ten years
that it has been in his possession, he assures us that he has been
prosperous and successful as he never was before, with never a moment's
illness; and although too sensible and shrewd a man actually to assert
that the coin has anything to do with it, it is a fact that he very
seriously looks upon his Spanish dollar as a sort of "lee-penny,"
giving its possessor a fair chance of an amount of health and wealth,
that without it he might struggle for in vain. This nonsense apart,
however, the question remains, What business had a Spanish dollar
in the bottom of the Sound of Mull? How came it there? Our theory is
that the coin originally belonged to some one connected with the great
"Invincible Armada" of 1588. It is a well-known historical fact that,
after the defeat of the Armada, the already shattered and discomfited
fleet, in attempting to return to Spain by sailing round Scotland
and Ireland, was overtaken by a dreadful storm, in which many of the
ships were wrecked. One ship, named the "Florida," ran for shelter
into the Sound of Mull, and while at anchor off Tobermory harbour,
was captured and destroyed by a body of Mull and Morvern men, under
the command of Maclean of Duart. This fact is sufficiently attested
by a remission, under the Privy Seal, to that chief for his share in
the somewhat questionable transaction, bearing date the 20th March
1589. The "Florida" was destroyed by being blown up, with all her
armament and stores, and many of her crew--a treacherous and cruel
act, for Scotland at least was then at peace with Spain--and it is
probable that the Spanish dollar so recently examined by us reached
the bottom of the Sound on that occasion, and there remained till
fished up in the curious manner above related, upwards of two centuries
afterwards. Some of the timbers of the submerged "Florida" have from
time to time been brought to the surface, and a casket formed out of
part of her windlass was presented by Sir Walter Scott to George IV.,
during his visit to Scotland in 1822.

An unsuccessful attempt, by means of divers, was made in 1740 to
recover some of a large amount of treasure said to have been sunk
in her; but some very beautiful brass guns were brought up, one of
which is still to be seen at the Castle of Dunstaffnage, near Oban,
and another, we believe, at Inveraray. These were last made to speak
loud and lustily, not against a Queen of England, as was their original
errand to our shores, but in honour of the marriage of the daughter
of a Queen of Great Britain with the son of a Scottish Duke, who now
owns the lands which belonged to the Macleans, by whom the "Florida,"
carrying those very guns, was destroyed. Thus does "the whirligig
of time bring about its revenges." Some years ago we were shown by a
gentleman in Glasgow a large ebony-stocked pistol, beautifully carved
and inlaid with mother-of-pearl and silver, which was said to have
been secured from the wreck of the "Florida." We recollect that the
corroded state of the barrel and lock abundantly satisfied us at the
time that, whether it had belonged to the "Florida" or not, it had at
all events long lain in water, and more probably, from the peculiar
form of corrosion, in salt water than in fresh. As to the dollar,
we have only further to state that its owner now thinks more of it
than ever: our suggestion as to its very probable connection with the
Spanish Armada having largely enhanced its value in his estimation. Its
mere intrinsic value as a bit of silver would, we think, be fully
and fairly appraised at something like twenty pence sterling.

We were the other day accidentally brought into contact with a
curious superstition, which, although not peculiar to this district,
but common, we believe, over all the Highlands, was yet quite new
to us. We were sailing past the beautiful island of St. Mungo, in
Loch Leven, the burial-place for many centuries of the people of
Nether Lochaber and Glencoe, when the following conversation took
place between ourselves and an old man who managed the sails while we
steered. It was all in Gaelic, of course, but we give the substance
in English:--"You were at the funeral on the island the other day,
sir?" interrogatively observed our companion. "I was, indeed," we
replied. "John ----," he continued, naming the deceased, "was a very
decent man." "He was a fine old Highlander, shrewd and intelligent,"
we replied, "and, what is more, I believe a very good man." "Donald
----," naming a person we both knew, "is very ill, and not likely
to last long." "I saw him to-day," we observed, "and I fear that
what you say is true: he cannot last long." "Well, sir, it will be
a good thing for John ---- (the person recently buried); his term of
watching will be a short one." "I do not understand what you mean,"
we observed, with some curiosity. "The man is dead and buried; what
watching should he have to do?" "Why, sir, don't you know that the
spirit of the last person buried in the island has to keep watch and
ward over the graves till the spirit of the next person buried takes
his place?" "I really did not know that," we replied. "Is it a common
opinion that such is the case, and do you believe it yourself?" "Well,
sir, it is generally believed by the people; and having always heard
that it was so, I cannot well help believing it too. The spirit whose
watch it is, is present there day and night. Some people have seen
them: my mother, God rest her! once pointed out to me, when I was
a little boy, an appearance, as of a flame of light on the island,
slowly moving backwards and forwards, and she assured me it was the
watching spirit going his rounds." "What particular object has the
spirit in watching?" we asked. "Well, I don't exactly know," was
the answer. "He just takes a sort of general charge of the Island
of the Dead, until his successor arrives." We have since found that
a belief in this superstition is common among the old people. The
spirit or ghost is supposed to be to a certain extent unhappy, and
impatient of relief while in the discharge of this office, and thus,
it is considered, that the sooner after a funeral there is occasion
again for the opening of a grave, the better it is for the spirit of
the last person interred, who then, and not till then, passes finally
and fully to his rest.

We have to warn such of our readers as dwell by the sea, and all
"who go down to the sea in ships, and see His wonders in the deep,"
that unusually high tides may be expected in connection with the
new moon of the 18th. The highest tide, however, is not likely to
be exactly coincident with the change of the moon, but at the time
of the second or third flood thereafter. Along our Scottish coasts
the tidal wave will probably be highest on the morning of the 20th,
so that this notice may yet be sufficiently timeous. Much, however,
will depend on the state of wind and weather, as to the height the
tide may attain at any particular place. In any case, it can do no
harm to be prepared.

To such of our readers as may be engaged in the rearing and tending of
flowers at this season we very willingly communicate a hint that may
be found useful. And it is this. In filling flower-pots or window-sill
boxes, there is frequently considerable difficulty in procuring soil
that will be at once sufficiently rich, free of weed seeds, and finely
pulverised. The despised and sadly persecuted mole provides the very
thing wanted, and in little round heaps, waiting only to be gathered,
commonly called molehills. For flowers, whether in pots or borders,
there is nothing so good as molehill earth. The rationale of the
thing is, as is well-known to every one in the least acquainted with
the natural history of the interesting velvet-coated subterranean
tunnelists, that they live on worms and insect larvæ. These are
always found in the best soil, which is hurled to the surface in round
heaps by the industrious little animal while in pursuit of his prey,
and in so pulverised a state, and so free of weed seeds, as to be
above all others the soil most suitable for all manner of ordinary
floriculture. With such soil we have grown the purest dahlias and
wallflowers we ever saw anywhere. The old Royalist toast, "To the
little gentleman in the black velvet coat!" was in sly allusion to
the death of a high personage from injuries received by his horse
stumbling over an insignificant molehill, and whose name by the
way is disagreeably connected with a dark deed done heretofore in
Glencoe, whose wild gorge and frowning precipices are in view as we
write. But if any of our readers will feel cause of gratitude to the
mole on the hint above given, as they bend over a moss rose or dahlia
which has grown in soil so procured, why, we shall be glad for all
our sakes. For our reader's, in that he or she has been gratified
in such a delightful and holy taste as flower culture; for our own,
that the secret was ours to divulge; and for the mole's sake, poor
persecuted fellow, for he sadly needs a friend.


    The Beauty of the West Highland Seaboard--Dr. Aiton of
    Dolphinton--Dr. Norman Macleod--Specimen of Turtle-Dove (Columba
    Turtur) shot in Ardgour--The belief on the Continent of its
    value as a Household Pet--Bechstein--Male Birds dropping Eggs
    in confinement.

If somewhat over-showery for the comfort of tourists, whose season
[June 1871] may now be said to have fairly commenced, the weather
with us on the west coast is at least all that the agriculturist and
sheepowner could wish it to be, for pasture everywhere is rich and
abundant to a degree that has rarely been known even here, while crops
of all kinds never perhaps presented a healthier or more luxuriant
growth. The truth is that a certain amount of rainfall, and that
amount a large one, is absolutely necessary for the wellbeing of our
crops in the West Highlands, and the longer we live the more do we
feel the truth and force of the saying of a shrewd old gentleman,
at his own dinner table many years ago, to the effect that he had
always observed that the season in which there was some difficulty
in getting peats secured in good condition was invariably the best
for Lochaber and the neighbouring districts from a pastoral and
agricultural point of view. This is particularly observable this
year, for while you cannot as yet see a stack of this season's peats
anywhere, the country is clothed in richer, greener verdure, the woods
are leaner, and crops of every description more luxuriant than we can
recollect to have been the case for at least a dozen years past. If
anybody wishes to see the West Highlands in all their magnificence and
beauty, now is the season, for, go where you may, turn whithersoever
you will, wander forth at any hour and in any direction, you cannot
fail to be charmed with the infinite variety of pictures that present
themselves for your admiration, pictures which, while they only charm
and enchant the ordinary beholder, delight at once and distress the
artist--delight him by their marvellous beauties, but distress him
not the less, because he cannot with all his cunning transfer these
beauties in their entirety to canvas. An American gentleman whom we
met the other day candidly confessed that, although he had gone over
most of his native land, and made the tour of Continental Europe and
the East, he had not in all his travels seen anything more beautiful
than the shores of Loch Linnhe, Loch Leven, and Lochiel at sunset on
a fine evening in June. The late Dr. Aiton of Dolphinton told us on
his return from Palestine that he had seen nothing at all to equal
Loch Linnhe on a summer's evening. In all the breadth of his native
Doric, which he always employed in familiar conversation, he declared
there was "naething in a' the Archipelago till touch't," and we have
heard Dr. Norman Macleod on his return from India express himself
very much to the same effect. The Queen says in her Journal that
"the scenery in Loch Linnhe is magnificent--such beautiful mountains."

A specimen of a very rare bird, shot by the keeper in Ardgour Garden
a few days ago, has been kindly sent to us by Mr. Maclean. It turns
out to be a male in beautiful plumage of the turtle-dove (Columba
turtur, Linn.; La tourterelle of Buffon), a bird rarely seen anywhere
in Scotland, and which, except in this instance, has never, so far as
we are aware, been met with in the West Highlands. We remember seeing
a young bird, a female in immature plumage, that was said to have been
shot somewhere near Falkland Palace in the summer of 1847, from which
it was reasonably concluded that a pair of these beautiful birds had
in that year at least nidified and reared their young somewhere in
the Howe of Fife. Except in the case of the specimen now before us,
we are not aware that it has ever been met with anywhere in the
north or north-western counties. The turtle is, as we have said,
an exceedingly beautiful and handsome bird, the breast of a delicate
vinaceous tint, and a black patch on either side of the neck, each
feather of which is tipped with a crescent of pure white, giving it a
very elegant and striking appearance. It is less bulky and less rotund
in form than the common dove, its shape more nearly resembling that
of the blue jay or throstle cock, which latter it also about equals
in size. We have never seen this bird in confinement, but it is said
to exhibit a remarkable degree of tenderness and sagacity, whether
as a cage or chamber bird. On the Continent it is kept not only for
its tameness and beauty, but because it is a common belief among the
people that it attracts to itself bad humours, and is to a family
in the matter of diseases what a lightning-rod is to a building in a
thunderstorm. Bechstein, a shrewd and intelligent man, seems to think
that the belief in question, absurd as it may appear to us, is not
so ill-founded after all, for he says quietly, "Thus much at least is
certain, that during the illness of men it readily becomes sickly." The
explanation probably is that, being a tender and delicate bird, the
odour and effluvia attendant on certain human ailments affects it as
described. Other birds are occasionally similarly affected; thus, when
our own children were laid up with a very bad kind of scarlatina, our
cage-birds, gold and green finches, were out of sorts for some time,
drooping and dejected and unable to sing as usual, though the month
was April, when they should have been in all respects at their best
and in full and free song. You may be sure, by the way, that we were
not a little pleased with a paragraph which appeared the other day
about the male cockatoo that dropped the egg, very much, no doubt,
to the astonishment of his amiable mistress. When some years ago we
ventured to assert that males of various birds, notably the common
domestic cock, sometimes dropped an egg, the thing was scouted as
ridiculous, and from Dan to Beersheba, from London to John O'Groat's,
the cry was that it couldn't be, that it was impossible; one writer
going so far in his scepticism as plainly to declare that "he would
as soon believe that a bull had given birth to a calf." Much was the
chaffing that we had to endure in connection with the subject, and
our most intimate friends could hardly believe that we were serious
in it at all. And yet we were perfectly in earnest; we had known the
thing happen repeatedly, and since then a very fine cock goldfinch
of our own, one of the best singers, too, we have ever heard, laid an
egg in his cage which is still in our possession, and several of our
correspondents having had their attention directed to the subject,
have assured themselves that, not only is the thing possible, but
in the case of the domestic cock at least, and of many cage-birds,
of rather common occurrence. It is a very odd and curious thing,
no doubt, and difficult of explanation, but there are thousands
of undisputed facts in natural history in the same category, the
existence of which is beyond all question, though the how, and why,
and wherefore is a mystery.

From our window, as we write these lines, we can see quite a fleet
of herring boats sailing up Loch Linnhe on their return from the
fishing stations at Barra, Lochmaddy, and the Lewis--a very pretty
sight--not less than two hundred or more boats under full sail,
stretching in one long line from Corran Ferry to the Sound of Mull,
looking at this distance for all the world like the notes in a line
of complicated printed music.


    Thunderstorm--Potato Field in Bloom--The Hazel Tree--Hazel
    Nuts--Potato Shaws for Cattle--Ferns for Bedding

With an occasional fine day [August 1871], the past fortnight must,
we fear, be characterised as having been upon the whole wet--very
wet, a stranger would say--and not a little stormy withal. We had
a tremendous thunderstorm early on Sunday morning, with the most
magnificent display of forked lightning that we have ever seen, while
the very earth seemed to quake and tremble under the crash of peal
upon peal of thunder, so near and loud at times as to be absolutely
terrible. It is no wonder that the soundest sleepers were awakened
from their midnight slumbers by the hurly-burly. We ourselves got up
for a time, and sat at our window, watching the lightning that darted
incessantly among the mountain summits with startling vividness,
revealing their serrated peaks at times through the very heart of the
thunder-cloud as distinctly as if it were clearest noonday. Rain, too,
fell the while in torrents, that instantly filled river and mountain
stream to overflowing; and as the storm passed away, and we retired
to rest in the grey, uncertain twilight of the early dawn, we were
lulled into a sleep, that lasted well nigh until noon, by the weird
and wild music of "the noise of many waters." We thought, as we sat
alone in the midst of that magnificent storm, of him (was it John
Foster?) who, on a similar occasion, turned round to his companion
and remarked, in a tone of deep solemnity, "It is a fine night; the
Lord is abroad!" Crops, though generally further from maturity than is
usual at this date, continue to grow rapidly, and everywhere present
a strong and healthy appearance,--"a guarantee," as newspaper editors
say, "of their good faith" and honest intentions in the direction of
a bounteous yield when cometh the season of ingathering. Potatoes
are now in full flower; and a very pretty sight, if you deign to
look at it with an unprejudiced eye, is a potato field in blossom
at this season. If the incomparable esculent were not cultivated
for its utility and value as an article of food, it would still
deserve a place in our gardens for its elegance and beauty simply as
a flower. Nothing but its commonness causes its beauty as a flowering
plant to be so constantly overlooked. We are in the midst of our hay
season, and we are only anxious about good weather for securing it in
tolerable order. Eight consecutive days of dry, breezy weather would
be of incalculable value to us at this moment. Anything will grow,
and grow luxuriantly, on the West Coast: our difficulties only begin
with the season of ripening and after preservation. If there be any
truth in the old Scottish saying, that "a year of nuts will also be
a year of corn," then may the grain-growers of the West Highlands at
least already congratulate themselves, for we have seldom seen the
hazel boughs so laden with nut clusters; and a prettier sight than a
hazel wood so laden, either now or when decked in its autumnal robes,
it would be difficult to conceive. It is, besides, a fragrant, cleanly
wood, through which you can at any time dash fearlessly and at will,
all the better of your contact with the leaves, branches, and nut
clusters, when you have reached the open beyond. There is not a leaf
in the woods so thoroughly clean, so fragrant when you have crushed it
in your hand, so soft and pleasant to the touch in its every stage,
as the leaf fresh plucked from the hazel bough. And apropos of hazel
nuts, a gentlemen from the south of England, at present resident in
our neighbourhood, told us something the other day that we did not
know before. "In our part of England," observed our friend, "the
hazel is common, and grows to a larger size, has more pretentions
to the name of tree, in fact, than here with you; and our nuts, I
should say, must be larger, juicier, and in all respects better than
yours." (A "soft impeachment," at which, for the honour of Nether
Lochaber, we took the liberty of gravely shaking our head in token
of dissent). "We seldom, however," he went on, "can get a ripe hazel
nut in autumn, the reason being that in many places they are gathered
while yet in a half-formed and green state. You look surprised, but
the reason is this: the husk of the green, unripe hazel nut is rich,
as you must be aware, in a bitterly sharp and astringent acid, that
must have often made your teeth water when you have essayed to crack
a nut in a state of immaturity. This acid, then, you must know, is
valuable as a mordant (a technical term) in the printing and dyeing of
cotton and other fabrics, and it commands a high price in the market
accordingly. It is a maxim in commerce that demand creates supply;
and the consequence is, that every year in the month of July, when
the nuts are at their greenest, and the acid in their husks at its
acridest, women and children plunder the woods of their hazel nut
clusters, which are sold to the manufacturers, who, by a process of
crushing by machinery, and washing and maceration, extract all the
acid, to be employed, as I have already mentioned, in cotton printing
and dye works." So far in substance, if not in ipsissimis verbis,
our friend. All we could reply was that we should be sorry indeed
to see our own bonny hazel woods similarly despoiled. Another thing
told us by this friend somewhat surprised us. He observed our servant
girl carrying a bundle of potato "shaws" into the byre, and asked
us what they were for. On our replying that these were the shaws of
the potatoes taken up for dinner, and that they were thrown before
the cows, and devoured by them with avidity on their return from
their hill pasture in the evening, he earnestly advised us never to
do so again; that in England it was never done, because it was found
that potato shaws given to milch cows not only lessened the quantity
of milk yielded, but actually vitiated the milk itself, giving it
a disagreeable taste, and making it decidedly unwholesome. All we
could answer was that we had known potato shaws given to milch cows
all over the Highlands since ever we could remember, and that we had
never known or heard any of the evils stated to result from the use
of them. What says the reader? It is true, no doubt, that the potato
belongs botanically to a family of plants many of whom are highly
poisonous--such as the common deadly nightshade of our lanes and
roadsides, for example--and it is averred that, although the tuber
of the potato is healthy and nutritious when cooked, it is a poison
in its raw state, and that its stem, leaves, flower, and "apple"
are all more or less poisonous; and yet we have known boys, while
the blight was yet unheard of, and when potatoes were more prolific
of apples or plums than they have ever been since, eat the large,
soft, full, ripe apples with relish, and they never suffered the
slightest inconvenience in consequence that ever we heard of. As a
boy we have often ate them ourselves, and very saccharine, juicy,
and pleasant flavoured we recollect they were, not at all unlike the
purple plum of our gardens in taste and flavour, and hardly inferior
to it as a pleasant succulent bonne bouche. Cattle, as we know, will
greedily eat the fresh shaws, as they will a decidedly poisonous plant,
the hemlock (Celticè, Iteotha); and it is a well-known fact that in
severe cases of scurvy on board ships that have to go long voyages a
feast of raw potatoes is an immediate and certain cure; so that after
all it would seem that if the potato is originally a poisonous plant,
cultivation has eradicated all, or almost all, traces of the evil. As
to the deleterious effects of the shaws on the milk of cattle we have
our doubts, our amiable and learned friend above mentioned to the
contrary notwithstanding. And while on such subjects let us record a
piece of information received from an old woman in our neighbourhood
a few days ago. We were cutting some green ferns on the hillside,
when the old lady in question, who happened to pass the way at the
time, stood to have a crack with us about the weather and crops and
things in general, said crack concluding somewhat as follows:--"You
are cutting ferns, sir," said the old lady, "what are you to make of
them if you please, sir?" "They are for bedding," we replied, "bedding
for the cows and pony." "Well, sir," she rejoined, "there is no harm
in bedding the pony with them; they will do him no evil; but take an
old woman's advice, and don't put them under your cows." "Why so," we
asked in astonishment. "What can be cleaner, fresher, fragranter for
bedding, whether for horse or cow, than these nice green ferns? Just
look how beautiful and soft they are." "Still, sir," she persisted,
"you must not place them under your cows, particularly your milch
cows; if you do, their udders will assuredly fester, and they will
go wrong in their milk. I have known it happen often, and no sensible
person in the country ever does such a thing now-a-days. Ferns cut in
autumn when brown and ripe make excellent bedding for milch cows as
for all other cattle, but July cut ferns, green, juicy, and unripe,
should never be used for bedding milch cows. I do not pretend to tell
you why they should produce the evils I have mentioned, but I do know
that if I had fifty cows I had rather have them without bedding at all
than put such green, fresh ferns as those under them." We stood for the
moment aghast at this piece of information, which was perfectly new to
us, and from the positive and decided tone of the old lady, a shrewd
intelligent woman of her class, we felt that there must be something
in it. On inquiry we have since found that the old lady's belief in the
evil of ferns--green, unripe ferns, that is--as bedding for milch cows,
is common among the people of this part of the West Highlands. Whether
the whole affair is a mere superstition, the fern having always been
accounted a sacred plant in the Highlands, or whether there is really
some foundation in fact for the belief that a bedding of green ferns
causes the udders of cows to swell and fester as is alleged, we are
not at this moment prepared to say; perhaps some of our readers may be
able to throw light on the subject. It is just possible that green-cut
ferns, when pressed by the recumbent animal, may exude an acrid juice
that, coming in contact with the tender udder, may be absorbed with
the effects alleged. Meantime we doubt it. One thing we know is this,
that cattle are fond of lying down among growing ferns in their every
stage, and that both roe and red deer frequently make their lair among
growing ferns at this season. Do you remember, by the way, Scott's
magnificent description in Marmion of a fern-couched deer roused from
his midnight lair by the awful tolling of the passing-bell over the
living entombment of poor Constance in the monastery of Lindisfarne?--

    "Slow o'er the midnight wave it swung,
    Northumbrian rocks in answer rung;
    To Warkworth cell the echoes roll'd,
    His beads the wakeful hermit told.
    The Bamborough peasant raised his head,
    But slept ere half a prayer he said;
    So far was heard the mighty knell,
    The stag sprung up on Cheviot Fell,
    Spread his broad nostril to the wind,
    Listed before, aside, behind,
    Then couch'd him down beside the hind,
    And quaked among the mountain fern,
    To hear that sound so dull and stern."

Than the whole of the trial and doom of poor Constance, who "loved
not wisely but too well," in the second canto of Marmion, even Scott
never wrote anything more solemn or terrible.


    Harvest--Scythe and Sickle v. Reaping Machines--Potatoes--Garibaldi
    and Potatoes at Caprera--Fishing--Platessa Gemmatus, or Diamond
    Plaice--Mushrooms--The Poetry of Fairy Rings--Harvest-Home.

With such fine weather as we enjoy at present, September [1871] is one
of the pleasantest months of the year. Harvest operations are now in
full swing, and the redbreast--having moulted, and proudly conscious
of the splendour of his scarlet vest--has already begun his autumnal
song--more delectable now and more appreciated, because now, with the
exception of an occasional voluntary from the wren, he only sings,
whereas his vernal strains are lost in their amalgamation with the full
chorus of a thousand performers. It is pleasant now, as you saunter
or ride along, to listen to the merry laughter of the reapers afield,
and to their song, as, morê majorum, it floats in chorus on the gale:
pleasant, too, to us at least, and far from unmusical, the frequent
sound of the whetting of scythe and sickle in every direction--the
bloodless weapons--as they are deftly handled in the process,
glancing brightly in the sunlight! Reaping "machines" and "steam"
ploughs may be very good things in their way, but we are not ashamed
to confess that we are glad that, as yet at least, we know nothing
of them in the West Highlands. The utilitarian must be content if we
admit all their value and importance from his point of view, while at
the same time we yet assert that wherever they appear all the poetry
of agriculture incontinently becomes plain prose--Sic transit gloria
Cereris. Very excellent, at all events, are our crops this season,
and very excellently are they being harvested. A good deal has already
been secured in barn and stackyard, and in such condition, too, as
is but rarely possible under the weeping skies of the west coast. The
weather is still so favourable that our people are working with a will,
and making every exertion to have their harvesting concluded while
it lasts. Potatoes still continue sound and untainted, although an
occasional spottiness of the leaf in some fields shows that our old
enemy the "blight" has not yet forgot the time of his coming. The
crop is now, however, about ripe, and may be considered very much
out of danger for the season. In our last, we had a good deal to say
about this invaluable root, and how it should be brought to table;
and to show that such a subject-matter is not quite so infra dig. as
some of our readers might suppose, listen to what the Times says of
Garibaldi's doings at Caprera. After recounting the General's failures
in connection with his orchard, the acclimation of the silk-worm, &c.,
the Times proceeds:--"Garibaldi, however, points with exultation to
his potato fields. No species of the favourite root is neglected, and
there is no treat he so heartily enjoys as a dish of his own potatoes,
baked with his own hand under embers, in the open air--a treat which
calls up reminiscences of his camp life on the Tonale or the Stelvis,
or of his pioneer's experience in the backwoods of the Mississippi
or the Plate." We wonder if this "hero in an unheroic age," who yet
disdains not to exult in his potato fields, or to cook his delicious
"earth apples," as the French so happily term them, in the embers
with his own hand--we wonder if he eats his fish with his fingers? We
could lay a wager that he does; that in eating his ember-roasted
potatoes in the open air, with some broiled tunny, let us suppose,
as a fitting accompaniment--(the Thynnus vulgaris, in highest esteem
with the ancients as with the moderns, abundant about Caprera and
all the shores of Provençe, Sardinia, and Sicily, and than which,
indeed, there is hardly any better fish)--we could lay a wager,
we say, that in eating his potatoes and fish al fresco he discards
the use of knife and fork utterly, eating his fish with his fingers,
and using the running brook beside him as a convenient finger-glass.

There is a lull at present in our herring fishing, rather because,
however, of the paramount claims of harvest operations on the attention
of our people just now, than from any dearth of the fish in our
lochs. In a week or ten days, when all or most of the corn has been
cut, the fishing will be resumed, and it is hoped with success. In
an old Fingalian tale it is very beautifully said--"Rejoice, O my
son, in the gifts of the sea; for they enrich you without making
any one else the poorer." A rather rare fish in our western waters
was caught a few days ago by our excellent neighbour, J. P. Grant,
Esq., who occupies Cuilchenna House this season. Mr. Grant was good
enough to send this odd fish for our inspection, and we determined
it to be a species of plaice (Platessa)--and the handsomest of the
family--the Platessa gemmatus of ichthyologists, commonly called
the diamond or diamond-spotted plaice. This very handsome fish is
quite as good on the table as it is beautiful when fresh from its
native element. Another fish, rare on the west coast, was captured
by ourselves with the rod while mackerel fishing last week. It was
a specimen of the sapphirine gurnard (Trigla hirundo), one of the
family of "hard-cheeked" fishes, of which the common red or cuckoo
gurnard (Trigla cuculus) is a familiar example. A peculiarity in
all the family is the abnormal development of the pectoral fins,
so large in one species as to enable it to fly bird-like for short
distances in the air. All our readers must have heard and read of
the flying-fish (Trigla volitans), even if they have never seen
it. It is of the gurnard family--a very near relation, indeed, of
our common gurnard. All the "hard-cheeked" fishes, without exception,
are excellent eating. Our sapphirine gurnard was delicious.

We do not know whether any of our readers has observed it to be the
case elsewhere, but in this and the neighbouring districts we have
again and again remarked how very plentiful all kinds of mushrooms--the
whole family of Agarici--are this season. Never have we seen so
many beautiful "fairy rings," many of them almost mathematically
perfect circles. Although they are always interesting and beautiful,
you cannot help being a little startled, and feeling a shade of awe
mingling with your curiosity and admiration, as you suddenly come
upon one of these emerald rings in burnside meadow or upland glade,
and contrast the vivid green and well-defined periphery of the charmed
circle with the general every-day colour of the surrounding verdure. We
are not surprised--on the contrary, we can perfectly understand--how
in the good old times, ere yet the schoolmaster was abroad, or science
had become a popular plaything, people--and, doubtless, very honest,
decent people too--attributed those inexplicable emerald circles to
supernatural agency; if, indeed, anything connected with the "good
folks" or "men of peace" could properly be called super-natural
in times when a belief in fairies, and every sort of fairy freak
and frolic, was deemed the most correct and natural thing in the
world. Didn't these circles, it was argued, appear in the course of a
single night? In the sequestered woodland glade, nor herd nor milkmaid
could see anything odd or unusual as the sun went down, and, lo! next
morning, as they drove their flocks afield, there was the mysterious
circle, round as the halo about the wintry moon. Was not the colour,
too, of these circles green, and not only green, but a deeper,
richer, and more vivid green than natural verdure is ever seen to
be? and whose work, therefore, could it be but that of the fairies,
whose own favourite, peculiar colour was green, that no mere mortal
durst wear but at his peril, and who, it was well known, delighted
to dance hand-in-hand in merry circles round, footing it featly, as
the owl flittered ghost-like by the scene, all by the silvery light
of the moon, until the dawn of day. As Tom D'Urfey has it--

    "O how they skipped it,
    Capered and tripped it,
    Under the greenwood tree!"

The popular belief in the origin of these bright green circles, that
they were caused by fairy feet in many a midnight merry-go-round,
is frequently alluded to in the poetry alike of Celt and Saxon. Thus
a fairy song of the time of Charles the First begins--

    "We dance on hills above the wind,
    And leave our footsteps there behind,
    Which shall to after ages last,
    When all our dancing days are past."

The reader will probably remember Queen Mab's very quaint and beautiful
song in Percy's Reliques of English Poetry:--

      "Come, follow, follow me,
      You fairy elves that be:
      Which circle on the green,
      Come follow Mab your queen.
    Hand in hand let's dance around,
    For this place is fairy ground.

      "Upon a mushroom's head
      Our table-cloth we spread;
      A grain of rye or wheat,
      Is manchet which we eat:
    Pearly drops of dew we drink,
    In acorn cups fill'd to the brink.

      "The grasshopper, gnat, and fly,
      Serve for our minstrelsy:
      Grace said, we dance a while,
      And so the time beguile;
    And if the moon doth hide her head,
    The glow-worm lights us home to bed.

      "On tops of dewy grass
      So nimbly do we pass,
      The young and tender stalk
      Ne'er bends when we do walk;
    Yet in the morning may be seen
    Where we the night before have been."

Another poet says--

    "O'er the dewy green,
    By the glow-worm's light,
    Dance the elves of night,
    Unheard, unseen.
    Yet where their midnight pranks have been,
    The circled turf will betray to-morrow."

Nor was the superstition unknown to Shakspeare; was there anything
unknown to him? Listen:--

    "And nightly meadow-fairies, look you sing,
    Like to the Garter's compass, in a ring;
    The expressure that it bears, green let it be,
    More fertile-fresh than all the field to see;
    And, Honi soit qui mal y pense, write
    In emerald tufts, flowers, purple, blue, and white:
    Like sapphire, pearl, and rich embroidery,
    Buckled below fair knighthood's bending knee!
    Fairies use flowers for their charactery."

And if we know better now-a-days than to believe these green circles
to be fairy rings, we also know better than to give the slightest
credence to certain authors of our own day who have gravely asserted
that they are caused by electricity. We prefer the fairy agency theory,
as the more poetical and picturesque of the two, for, as to the truth
of either, why, the one is every whit as true as the other. Fairy
rings, as we continue for convenience sake to call them, are, in truth,
caused by a species of mushroom (Agaricus pratensis), the sporule dust
or seed of which, having fallen on a spot suitable for its growth,
instantly germinates, and constantly propagating itself by sending out
a net-work of innumerable filaments and threads, forms the rich green
rings so common everywhere this season. On the outer edge of this ring,
and sometimes also, though more rarely, on the inner edge, grows the
perfect plant, the fruit, the mushroom proper itself; and if some of
our modern wiseacres had only had half an eye in their heads and the
least particle of gumption, they could easily have gone to the fields
and seen all this for themselves, instead of lazily theorising on the
origin of the apparent mystery in their dressing-gowns and slippers
by the fireside, and sagely ascribing the whole to the agency of
electricity! There was a time, you may remember, when it was the
fashion to ascribe everything that people didn't readily understand
to electricity--very convenient certainly, but if you pushed these
savans a little, and asked them what this electricity itself was,
they were incontinently dumb, or, if they talked, they were bound to
talk nonsense. We can forgive, and even admire, the fairy dance theory,
for it is full of poetry and beauty, and in an age when people seldom
troubled themselves to trace natural phenomena to their source, it was,
upon the whole, a rather happy conjecture; if it was not the actual
vrai, it had of vraisemblance about it enough to recommend it to the
acceptance of the multitude. Grant but the existence of fairies,
and the rest was easy of belief. The "electricity" theory, on the
contrary, was unpardonable: it was not only false in fact, but it had
nothing whatever about it to recommend it either to one's faith or
fancy. Hardly more excusable than the electricity theorists themselves
are those authors who tell us that the West received the first hint of
the existence of fairies from the East at the time of the Crusades,
and that almost all our fairy lore is traceable to the same source;
the fact being, nevertheless, that Celt and Saxon, Scandinavian and
Goth, Lap and Fin, had their "duergar," their "elfen," without number,
such as dun-elfen, berg-elfen, munt-elfen, feld-elfen, wudu-elfen,
sae-elfen, and waeter-elfen--elves, or spirits, of downs, hills, and
mountains, of the fields, of the woods, of the sea, and of the rivers,
streams, and solitary pools--fairies, in short, and a complete fairy
mythology, long centuries before Peter the Hermit was born, or Frank
and Moslem dreamt of making the Holy Sepulchre a casus belli. It is a
curious fact in connection with fairy lore, and we have not seen it
noticed elsewhere, that although these anomalous beings are always
credited with much capriciousness, and are constantly described as
sensitive in the extreme to anything like slight or insult, keenly
vindictive in their dispositions and easily irritated, they are never
represented as encompassing the death of human beings. They tease,
terrify, and torment in a thousand ways where they take a dislike,
but they never kill. Their power is described as great, but it is also
limited--the issues of life and death are beyond their reach. In the
fairy song (temp. Charles I.) first quoted, there are two amusing
verses indicating such pranks as fairies could play on mortals,
if mortals offended them. Thus concludes Queen Mab her song:--

    "Next turned to mites in cheese, forsooth,
    We get into some hollow tooth;
    Wherein, as in a Christmas hall,
    We frisk and dance, the devil and all!

    "Then we change our wily features,
    Into yet far smaller creatures,
    And dance in joints of gouty toes,
    To painful tunes of groans and woes."--

A pathology of toothache and gout that we recommend to the attention
of the faculty. The fairy ring agaric is one of the British species of
mushroom that may be eaten with safety. For our own part we abominate
the whole tribe. Our table may be scantier at times than we could
wish, but it will be scantier far than a kind Providence has ever
yet permitted it to be before we shall think of dining or supping on
funguses. Chacun à son goût, however, and if anybody wants mushrooms in
abundance, now is the time, and Nether Lochaber is the place for them.

The new moon that comes in this morning (the 6th) will be the harvest
moon of the year. It is full on the 20th, and for a few evenings before
and after will be very beautiful, and well worth attention. If you
can command telescopic aid on the occasion, so much the better, but
even without it, it were strange if we could not view with admiration
and delight the silver orb that probably at some such conjunction
as that of the 20th, when walking in her brightness and her beauty,
tempted the patriarch of old to kiss his hand in acknowledgment of
her excellency, and bow before her in adoration.


    The disappearance of the glories of Autumn, and the advent
    of Winter--Innovations and Innovators--New Version of the
    Scriptures--The Milkmaid and her Fairy Lover, translated from
    the Gaelic.

Ichabod! the glory is departed [November 1871]. The gorgeous autumnal
hues, which were so beautiful when we penned our last, have already
passed away. In the first fierce breath of winter the trees have
shed their golden glories, while the few remaining leaves that still
cling trembling to branch and bough, shrivelled up and blackened at
their edges, present only that pallid, corpse-like hue that betokens
approaching dissolution, making you sad and thoughtful as you gaze,
and reminding you that everywhere, on all hands, last while it may,
the end of all life is death. It is a sad lesson for the moment,
doubtless, but a useful one; and even at its worst, when the thought
bears heaviest upon us, the cloud presents its silver lining, and
a gleam of gladness bursts upon the soul, in the recollection that
as sure as all things are subject to decay and death, so sure are
decay and death themselves but the vassals of a brighter life and
more excellent glory. In one of our Scripture Paraphrases there is a
very beautiful reference to the decay of nature at this season, and
to the hope that gladdens us amidst all the desolation of the scene:--

    "All nature dies, and lives again:
      The flow'r that paints the field,
    The trees that crown the mountain's brow,
      And boughs and blossoms yield,

    "Resign the honours of their form
      At Winter's stormy blast,
    And leave the naked leafless plain
      A desolated waste.

    "Yet soon reviving plants and flow'rs
      Anew shall deck the plain;
    The woods shall hear the voice of Spring,
      And flourish green again!"

We have no patience with your innovators, whether in matters of
Church or State. We do not deny, indeed, that certain innovations may
be sometimes permissible, even if not absolutely necessary, that by
their adoption things may be done more decently and in order; nor do
we object even to a radical change in a given direction, when such a
change has by common consent become imperative. We believe, in fact,
in development and progress; only let that progress and development
be slow and sure, that they may be lasting; gradual, that they may
be graceful, and fall easily into their place, without unnecessary
jostling or disturbance of the established order of things. Festina
lente--hasten slowly--was the motto of the learned Erasmus, and
quoad hoc it is ours also; and, if you care to know it, is our creed
in affairs political and ecclesiastical. Some people, however,
seem born to be innovators and nothing else, and the innovator,
pure et simple, is surely a pest. He seems to have been born never
to know peace himself, and never, as much as in him lies, to permit
others a moment's rest or peace, or quiet either. Your thoroughbred,
full-blooded innovator always reminds us of our first housekeeper--a
very good woman in her way, too, but who had a perfect craze for
shifting and reshifting, adjusting and readjusting, as well as dusting
and redusting every article of furniture throughout the house, at
all sorts of unseasonable hours, and when to ordinary mortals such
labour seemed utterly uncalled for. When we were at home she went
"at it" in out-of-the-way closets and bedrooms as much and as often
as the immediate calls of the moment permitted. But when she got
us away from home for a day or two, how she did enjoy it! How she
did luxuriate in the power to innovate "at her own sweet will"--the
quotation, by the way, is rather inapt, for her temper was somewhat
of the sourest. Sometimes when we came back after a day or two's
absence, we could hardly believe it to be the same house, so great
was the change in the place and position of everything. At last the
thing became unbearable. One evening, on our return from a walk,
we found our writing-table, at which we had been employed during
the day, carefully placed in the darkest corner of the room, with
its drawers, containing letters, paper, pens, &c., jammed up hard
and fast against the wall, while books and manuscripts were most
artistically arranged in pyramidal form, the ink-bottle representing
the graceful entablature on the top of a book-case, where it must have
cost her no small pains, and a great deal of stretching on tip-toe,
even with the aid of a chair, to place them. The thing was too absurd
for any one to be really angry; but we pretended to be so, and at
last peace was proclaimed, under a sort of compromise that she should
arrange and readjust all the rest of the house at her pleasure, as
often and as radically as she chose, but that that particular room,
having been put to rights to our mutual satisfaction once for all,
must in all time coming be let alone. This treaty being duly ratified,
was upon the whole faithfully observed by the contracting parties. The
mischief, however, with your thoroughbred innovator is that you can
never completely satisfy him, his appetite for change is insatiable,
he will make no compromise with you. Grant him all he asks to-day,
and as sure as to-morrow comes, he is at it anew. If you gave him the
whole world, and his own way everywhere and in everything, he would
be in worse plight than the conqueror who wept because there were no
more worlds to subdue, and fret himself to death that there were no
more changes for him to effect. The probability is that, rather than
be idle, he would, in hunting phrase, "hark back" upon his old track,
and diligently undo all he had spent his life in doing, and without
much regard to the consequences.

We have been led into these remarks by the recollection, when quoting
the above verses of the Eighth Paraphrase, that there are at this
moment some people busily bestirring themselves in the matter of
a new translation of the Scriptures, to supersede the authorised
version now in use. Now, we most solemnly protest against all this,
as a most rash proposal, ill-advised, and utterly uncalled for. At
present we object very much on the same principle that we should
object to a painting by one of the old masters being cleansed and
retouched by a modern R.A., however eminent in his own person, or
on the same principle that we should feel tempted to kick the ladder
from under the feet of a man we should detect white-washing a stately
pile of the olden time, under the plea, forsooth, that in obliterating
weather stains, and freely applying putty and paint, he was thereby
improving, renovating, and beautifying the whole fabric. That there
are verbal inaccuracies in our authorised version of the Scriptures
is on all hands admitted; let these be rectified, if people please,
and let the corrections so made, under adequate authority, appear in
the form of marginal notes opposite the passage amended, but let the
body of The Book stand as it is--intact. The edifice, as it exists,
is too grand, and stately, and beautiful, and hallowed, not to suffer
under the proposed remodelling, even in the most competent hands.

But to turn to a different theme. The following is a translation from
the Gaelic, as literal as we could make it, with anything like due
regard to the spirit and manner of the original. It is a fairy song,
if song it can be called, from the manuscript volume referred to in
a former communication. Fairy tales, both in prose and verse, were
common with our Celtic forefathers, and, if we only examine them with
sufficient care, we shall find that, underlying all their quaintness,
there is always to be found a substratum of sound and healthy moral. It
bears no title in the original, but we may call it--

    The Milkmaid and her Fairy Lover.

      Gaily the milkmaid came tripping along;
      The echoes so loved her, they joined in her song;
      The hare and the wild-roe that browsed in the glade,
      The bird on the bough swinging high over-head--
    They saw and they heard, but they feared not--they KNEW the

      Abundant her tresses, bright golden their hue;
      And soft as a dove's was her eye in its blue;
      Elastic her footstep, and lightsome and free
      As a fawn's when in gladness it skips o'er the lea--
    Of the old and the young the delight, and the pride of Glentallon
                                                                was she.

      In secret she met with the Hunter in Green,
      Beside the lone fountain of Coirre-na-Sheen;
      A gallant more gay ne'er did maiden behold,
      His manner so gentle, his bearing so bold;
    By his side freely dangled, and well could he wind it, a bugle
                                                                of gold!

      Full fondly he kissed her--she thought it no sin,
      Though she knew not his name, nor his kith, nor his kin;
      They plighted their troth by the fount's bubbling stream,
      Where oft, it is said, when frail mortals but dream,
    The fairies hold revel, and trippingly dance in the moon's
                                                            mellow beam.

      On the Eve of St. Agnes the maiden confessed,
      As was proper she should, all her sins to the priest;
      When she left him, the blush in her check mantled high;
      There was care in her step, and a tear in her eye.
    Yet pure was the maiden and spotless, I ween, as a star in the
                                                        blue of the sky.

      Next day, by the fountain of Coirre-na-Sheen,
      The milkmaid again met the Hunter in Green.
      As he kissed her she quietly slipped under his vest
      A relic she long had worn next to her breast--
    'Twas a relic in sooth the most sacred--a Cross that the holy
                                                 St. Colomb had blessed.

      And lo! in the place of the Hunter in Green
      ('Twas all by the fountain of Coirre-na-Sheen),
      A brown, withered twig, so elf twisted and dry,
      Was all--'twas amazing--the maid could espy!
    While the Cross, with a bright burning light round its edges,
                                                      beside it did lie.

      And the maid grasped the Cross, which devoutly she kissed,
      And hid it again in the snow of her breast;
      Homewards she turned her with pensive steps slowly,
      But her heart was at peace--meek, submissive, and lowly,
    As maid and as mother (the Cross at her breast) she passed a
                                                              life holy.

      Often still wake the echoes of Coirre-na-Sheen,
      At the blast of thy bugle, O Hunter in Green!
      Go get thee a mate from the green fairy knowe--
      A cross-bearing maid dare not wed such as thou:
    Let fairy wed fey, and let mortal wed mortal. Come, Annabel,
                               stir up the fire till it blaze in a lowe!

The moral of the fairy song is instantly apparent. A young lady--miss
or milkmaid--is not to hold clandestine appointments with any young
gentleman, however lovable and attractive, until at least she knows
who and what he is, whence he cometh and whither he goeth. Having met
and loved, however, she is instantly to consult those who are older
and wiser than herself, and, under their friendly care and direction,
she is to be sure that, on her own part and on that of her lover, all
shall be pure and holy. The touch at the end is admirable. We must
suppose a mother telling the story, herself and sons and daughters
sitting round the fire, which, in the absorbing interest of the tale,
has been for the time neglected. "Annabel," addressed at the close, we
must fancy to be the eldest daughter, just entering upon womanhood. The
whole moral of the story, flung obliquely at her head in the command
to stir the fire and make it blaze, is exquisite, and we can fancy
the gentle "Annabel" quietly smiling to herself the while--she also
having a secret--as she cheerily obeys the maternal mandate.


    Wild Birds' Nests in early April--Rook stealing Eggs frightened
    and almost captured--The Domestic Cock--What he was, and what he
    is--Sadly demoralised by intermixture with "Cochin-Chinas" and

After a month's cold, clear weather, with dry, parching, northerly
winds--the finest heather-burning season that ever was seen--a
considerable rainfall during the past week has been welcomed as a boon
rather than otherwise, and the country around is all the greener and
gladder because of it [April 1872.] During an afternoon's ramble on
Saturday we found a redbreast's nest, a blackbird's, and a chaffinch's,
all with their full complement of eggs in them; while the nests of
several other species, some completed and some still abuilding, were
to be found by diligent searching in almost every likely locality. For
many years past there has been no such favourable season for wild
birds. An amusing scene a day or two ago was the following:--One of
our hens, disregarding the companionship of the rest, and desirous of
more freedom of action, in a matter so important, than the hen-house
could supply, took to laying her eggs in a hole she had scratched
out under an old hazel root in a neighbouring copse. Complaints were
by-and-by brought into the house that although this hen regularly
dropped her quotidian egg in the spot selected, it was found that,
unless immediately taken away from her, the egg was sure to be sucked
by some sly thief who doubtless enjoyed such a delicacy at this season
amazingly, and all the more so, we daresay, that his pilferings had
hitherto passed undetected, despite the strictest vigilance on the
part of those more immediately interested. It was very annoying, as
you may believe, morning after morning to find the fresh and pearly
shell at the nest's side, its contents abstracted through a gaping
hole in its bulge, instead of the snowy treasure, totus, teres atque
rotundus, as it should be. Appealed to for such assistance as we could
render in detecting and punishing the culprit, whoever he might be,
we began by setting a trap for ground vermin, properly baited, and as
cunningly as possible placed, but without result. Determined, however,
to discover the petty larcenist, if possible, we took advantage of
an idle forenoon last week to sit and watch the nest from a distance,
our object in the first instance being to find out who the depredator
really was; we could afterwards and at our leisure take such steps as
we might deem advisable for his capture. Selecting a convenient spot
whence we could see without being seen, and provided with a powerful
binocular, we watched and waited with the most exemplary diligence
and patience, and were rewarded, after some time, by discovering the
culprit to be neither rat, stoat, nor weasel, nor other quadrupedal
marauder, but a common crow, or rook rather--Corvus frugilegus, Linnæus
calls him, though Corvus omnivorus would be nearer the mark--a large
old male bird, as he afterwards proved to be, who had doubtless in
his day sucked many an egg and sacked many a homestead of its callow
fledglings. We first observed him alighting on the branch of a large
ash tree, whence he had a full view of the nest, and there he sat with
much patience, preening his feathers, and uttering an occasional craa,
as if to encourage the hen in her labours. No sooner did the latter,
having deposited her egg, leave the nest with the usual cackle of
self-congratulation, than Monsieur Corvus glided from his perch,
and in a twinkling, by the dexterous use of head and bill, had the
egg rolled out on the grass by the nest's side. Turning it round and
round, and rolling it over and over, stepping back at times as if the
better to contemplate its pearly whiteness and handsome proportions,
and already in imagination rolling the sweet morsel under his tongue,
he finally stepped forward, and with his pick-axe-like bill delivered
a stroke at the egg's bigger end, which made a sufficiently large
hole for him to suck away at comfortably. And how he did seem to enjoy
it! Removing his bill now and again as if to draw breath, and looking
up and around with an air of innocence and self-satisfaction that was
exceedingly comical. Meanwhile, so intent was Corvus on his egg-flip,
that we managed to creep quite close to the scene unperceived by
him, resolved to give him a good fright at least, if we could do no
more. We took advantage of a moment when he had his head buried in
the egg up to the eyes to start to our feet, uttering at the instant
a favourite shout of ours in such circumstances--a sort of war-whoop,
a legacy, we suppose, from our Fingalian ancestors--and the happiness
of Corvus, sucking his egg in such fancied security, vanished like
a dream. With a prolonged cra-a-a he made a sudden dig into the egg
in his fright, his bill passing clean through it, and spreading his
wings he fluttered upwards, the egg sticking over his bill and eyes
like a mask, and preventing him from seeing anything, and causing him
to perform the most ridiculous evolutions ever exhibited perhaps by a
bird on wing. Fluttering along obliquely, with many a dolorous cra-a,
he came to the ground like a collapsed balloon in a neighbouring field,
where we hoped to capture him, but just as we ran up to him he managed
to shake the egg from his head, and in an instant was up and away and
out of sight at a rate that must have brought him to Culloden Moor
within the hour if he stopped not by the way. A bird rarely fails to
profit by experience, least of all a crow, and we have no hesitation
in saying that the particular rook in question will remember his
egg-shell mask and our unearthly war whoop till his dying hour.

And while on such subjects, let us ask the reader by the way if he has
noticed that cocks don't crow now-a-days as they used to do? We refer
of course to the common barndoor fowl--Gallus domesticus, the domestic
cock. He, we assert, does not now-a-days crow with the same regularity
and timeousness, nor with the clear, clarion notes with which he did

    "Salutation to the morn,"

say a score of years ago. This may seem a startling assertion, but any
one who deigns to turn his attention to the subject will find that it
is true. The cock-crowing and wing-clapping of the House of Commons
when in the humour is no doubt highly creditable to that august
assembly. (It was Boswell, if we recollect well, who imitated the
lowing of a cow to admiration, and was naturally very proud of so rare
an accomplishment.) But the march of civilisation, and cross-breeding,
which you may call "internationalism" if you like, have been the ruin
of our cocks, so far as crowing is concerned. They may weigh more than
they did a score of years ago, and present a plumper form on the table,
but their crowing is gone: at the best it is but a harsh, spasmodic,
unmusical half-scream half-wheeze, altogether unlike the loud and
lusty, the clear, ringing notes of the cock-crowing of our boyhood
days. Our cocks are no longer chanticleers, but chantiqueers. If you
have occasion to sit up at night, or to start on a journey betwixt
midnight and morning, the cock no longer lends you any countenance or
aid in the matter--he sleeps on his perch in utter oblivion of the
passing hours, and as heedless of the "watches of the night" as the
brooding hen in the coop beneath him. The day may dawn, and the sun
may flood the mountain peaks with light, glad and golden, without a
note of welcome or recognition on the part of the bird that, from the
earliest ages until recent years, was known as the herald of the dawn,
and deservedly held in high honour and esteem as the vigilant sentinel
of the homestead throughout the midnight and early morning hours. Any
convivial "Willie" whom it so pleases may now brew his "peck o' maut,"
if the Inland Revenue will let him, and sit down to enjoy it with
his boon companions into all the hours of the night and morning,
unwarned of the flight of time by anything like a cock-crow. The
moon may fill her silver horn, and shine bright as aforetime, "to
wile them hame," and the day may "daw," but the cock's "crawing"
will no longer convey its notes of warning and expostulation. If the
bird crows at all, it is sometime throughout the day, generally,
we have noticed, in the afternoon, when nobody thanks him for it,
and then in notes so discordant as to make your teeth water, as if
you had suddenly bitten deep into an unripe apple, with the chance
of a headache for the rest of the evening. The last time we heard
a cock crow in the good old fashion was in an out-of-the-way corner
of Arisaig, some three years ago. Being a stranger in the place, and
having to sleep on a "shake-down" on the floor of our room, our sleep
was less sound than usual, but throughout the night we were cheered by
the companionship of a cock that was roosting in an out-house not far
from our window. Shortly after midnight he announced the first watch
of the night as ended, and afterwards at intervals, of as nearly as
possible two hours, his clear, clarion notes, repeated two or three
times, startled the stillness of the glen, until at last the rising
sun invited him to the labours of the day, and called us to boot and
saddle. Nor is the degeneracy and demoralisation of the modern domestic
cock less apparent in another direction. Surrounded by his harem, he
used to be considered the beau-ideal by common consent of all that is
gallant, and courteous, and brave. With proud step and stately bearing
he led his dames about, finding for them the sunniest spots wherein to
bask and dust themselves when the day was at its height. He diligently
searched for, and rarely failed to find, the particular corner wherein
food was most abundant, scratching with might and main that the ladies
of his court might have as little unnecessary trouble as possible,
rarely eating anything himself until they had first of all picked the
best and biggest share; and if he came across any dainty titbit that
his followers had overlooked, he took it up in his bill, and by certain
peculiar notes reserved for such occasions, called them around him,
dropping the toothsome morsel with strict impartiality at his feet,
to be picked up by the first to respond to his summons. Now all this is
changed. They may sun and dust themselves when and where they please,
or not at all, for all he cares. Instead of being the active leader
and gallant protector in feeding excursions, he is content to be no
more than as any other of the band, exhibiting the utmost selfishness
and greed in gobbling up the first grain-pickle or earthworm that
comes in the way, nor is he, proh pudor! ashamed even to cuff and
drive away his decidedly better halves, when the mean wretch has,
by accident rather than by any diligence of his own, fallen on a good
scratching-place. Neither do you find in the cock of the present day
the pugnacity and pluck, the indomitable courage and love of warfare,
once so characteristic of the genus, from the tiniest bantam to the
lordliest gamecock, that would rather die than cry quarter or show
the white feather to an opponent. We don't suppose that the reader,
any more than ourselves, has seen a cock-fight for years; not from any
elevation of morals, we submit, in Monsieur Gallus, or increase at
all of amiability, but from sheer poltroonery and want of pluck. He
will still bully about among his hens, and fight with them, and we
have seen some of them turn upon him and give him a good drubbing,
as he deserved; but a fair stand-up fight with another cock--oh no,
we never mention it!--he has still the spurs, but no longer the heart
for it. When afield at the head of his following; if the shadow of a
suspicious bird on wing, as likely to be a crow as a gled or hawk,
or other bird of prey, passes along, instead of the old warning
note to his wives, with preparation on his own part to receive the
enemy à l'outrance, be he who he may, he is the first himself, in
Yankee phrase, to skedaddle and make tracks for a place of security
and shelter, leaving his hens to their fate. Our bill of indictment
contra gallum, the reader may say, is a heavy one, but it is in the
main very true, as any one who chooses may satisfy himself when he
has the opportunity. How, then, do we account for it? Well, it is very
difficult satisfactorily to account for it in any way. We are inclined
to the belief that the demoralisation of our domestic cock is to be
traced to the introduction into our country of such splay-footed,
loutish, awkward fowls as the "Cochin China," "Bramahpootra" et hoc
omne genus, whose brains seem to have subsided into the feathers on
their feet, and whose only good quality is their size, and even that
is dearly purchased, we suspect, when the immense feeding they require
is taken into account. These fowls have spread everywhere, so that,
except in some out-of-the-way localities, a cock or hen of the old
native breed, of blood pure and uncontaminated by foreign intermixture,
is very rarely to be met with, while cross-breeds and mongrels of
every shape and size are abundant in all directions. Whatever the
good qualities of these latter in other respects, courage, gallantry,
and pluck are not of the number. Just inquire into the subject for
yourself, good reader, and you will find that, neither physically,
intellectually, nor morally is the cock of the present day to be
compared for a moment with the gallant, handsome, proud-stepping
biped of your boyhood.


    The Vernal Equinox--Beauty of Loch Leven--Astronomical Notes--How
    an old Woman supposed to possess the Evil Eye escaped a cruel

The vernal equinox has come and gone, unaccompanied this year
[April 1872], as it was unheralded and unannounced, by anything
like the storms that from the earliest times have been observed to
be attendant on the sun's crossing the equator. It is by no means
certain, however, that these storms may not even now be a-brewing,
to make themselves yet felt in all their fierceness, for we have
noticed in recent years particularly that what are called the
"equinoctial gales" quite as frequently follow, as accompany or
precede, the exact equality of day and night. We have just had a
fortnight of genuine March weather--clear, cold days, and frosty
nights--the air snell and biting, to be sure, and keen of edge, as
might be expected on the uplands; but in places sheltered from the
east and north it is delightfully bright and sunny, the incessant
song of birds, the hum of wild bees, and the gay fluttering of early
butterflies, making one think of Whitsuntide rather than All Fools'
Day; the twittering of swallows and the cheery notes of the cuckoo
alone are wanting to make the illusion perfect, and these, unless
the weather should undergo some extraordinary and unexpected change,
must certainly soon be heard, much earlier this year, we should think,
than usual. We are particularly favoured in this respect along the
northern shores of Loch Leven. Here, to quote Burns--

    "Simmer first unfaulds her robe, and here the langest tarry;"

and as we wander afield we often apply the words of Horace to our
own little spot, as from some neighbouring height we view it cozily
nestling in the sunlight--

    Ille terrarum mihi præter omnes
    Angulus ridet;

which may be rendered--

    Whate'er the beauties others boast,
    This spot of ground delights me most.

Or, as we prefer putting it in our own case--

    Of brighter skies and sunnier climes let others boast and jabber,
    Give me the sunny, southern shores of mountain-girt Lochaber!

Or yet again, if you will have it still more literally in Gaelic--

    'S anns' leam na spot eil' fo 'a ghréin,
    M' oisinneag bheag, ghrianach féin.

During the present clear, cold spring nights the starry heavens are
very beautiful. Jupiter, just below Castor and Pollux, is at his
brightest, and very favourably situated for observation, his cloudy
belts and bright diamond-point-like satellites being visible in an
instrument of very moderate powers. If between nine and ten o'clock the
reader will turn to the north-east, he will find a constellation pretty
high up in the heavens, and consisting of five or six principal stars,
none of them, however, of the first magnitude, opening towards the
pole star in the form of a widely spread-out W. This constellation
will be an object of more than usual interest during the present
year. It is Cassiopeia, or The Lady in her Chair, the scene of a
very startling and strange phenomenon in 1572, which, it has been
asserted with some confidence, is not at all unlikely to be repeated
in 1872. In 1572 a new star of great splendour appeared in Cassiopeia,
occupying a place that had hitherto been blank. It was first observed
on the 6th August, by Schuler, of Wittemburg, shortly after which it
arrested the attention of the celebrated Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe,
who watched its rapid increase of brilliancy night after night with
the liveliest interest. Its magnitude at last rivalled, if it did not
even exceed, that of Jupiter, with an effulgence equally bright and
vivid. After shining with great splendour some time, and attracting
the earnest gaze of the most distinguished astronomers of the period,
its brilliancy began steadily to decline, changing its colour in a very
remarkable manner as it became fainter and fainter, until finally it
became invisible in March 1574, and has never been seen since. Sir John
Herschel and other astronomers have suggested that its reappearance in
1872 is by no means an improbable event; and towards no constellation
in the northern heavens, in consequence, will the observer's eye be
so constantly turned throughout the present year as to Cassiopeia. The
reappearance of such a star would be certain to give rise to the most
startling theories. With the spectroscope in our possession, however,
and the marvellous telescopic power at our command now-a-days, we could
not fail to arrive at more intimate terms with such a stranger than
was possible in the days of Tycho Brahe. The interest and excitement
in the astronomical world in connection with the sudden burst of
splendour in the star in Corona a year or two ago was very great,
but would be still greater in the event of the reappearance of the
long absent stranger in Cassiopeia. In the one case it was only a
remarkable increase of light and lustre in the star already existent
and visible; but the reappearance of a new orb in a spot blank and
starless in the most powerful telescopes for three hundred years, would
be almost equal to the sudden creation of a new sun. Here, by the way,
good reader, if you are ambitious, is a chance for fame. Be but the
first to detect the reappearance of this remarkable star-stranger,
and your immortality into all time shall be more secure than if you
wrote an epic to rival the Iliad, or a tragedy equal to Hamlet or
Othello. The name and memory of George Palitch, the amateur peasant
astronomer, who was so fortunate as to obtain the earliest glimpse of
Halley's Comet on its first return to perihelion after its periodicity
had been so boldly, and as some thought so rashly asserted, is more
secure in that connection than if, either as king or conqueror,
he had all the honours of the most imperishable brass or marble.

A hundred years ago or more, when Highlanders were more superstitious
than they are now, or when, to be more correct, they took less pains to
conceal their superstitious beliefs than at the present day, a certain
hamlet in a remote part of the country was sadly troubled by an "evil
eye," whose unhallowed powers wrought "mickle woe," to the manifest
loss and discomfort of the good people around. The cows no longer
yielded their lacteal treasures in the desired abundance, nor did the
calves grow and thrive, as calves in good keeping should. Churns,
however shaken and jolted, refused to turn out their hebdomadal
pot of butter; or if, after much weary labour, they did reluctantly
yield any, it was found to be pale and rancid as unsalted suet in the
dog-days. Stirks and other young "beasts," though the rents depended
on them, sickened and dwined and died, without apparent reason;
and even children, hitherto in rude and ruddy health enough, were
frequently prostrated by sudden and unaccountable illnesses. That an
"evil eye" of more than ordinary virulence and power was at work was
at last conceded even by the most sceptical as to such influences,
and suspicion straightway fell upon a lone old woman, who lived in
a hut on the outskirts of the township. Originally a stranger to
the district, and of a taciturn and retiring disposition, she had
long been looked upon with suspicion and dislike, and now a number
of young men resolved to be revenged on her as the secret author of
all that was amiss in the hamlet. At a late hour one dark night they
proceeded to the poor old woman's hut, with the intention of setting
fire to the roof and burning it about her ears, not caring very much
either even if the "evil-eyed witch" herself, as they called her,
should be buried under the burning rafters of her cottage. As the
young men noiselessly surrounded the hut, they found that the old
woman was just about retiring for the night, and as some of them
stood at her window, and looked and listened, they could see her,
by the light of a bog pine fire, kneel at her bedside, and after a
little they heard her repeat the following prayer:--

    "Tha 'n la nis air falbh ùainn,
    Tha 'n oidhche 'tighinn orm dlùth;
    'S ni mise luidhe gu dion
    Fo dhubhar sgiath mo rùin.
    O gach cunnart 's o gach bàs,
    'S o gach nàmhaid th'aig Mac Dhe,
    O nàdur dhaoine borba,
    'S o choirbteachd mo nàduir fèin,
    Gabhaidh mis' a nis armachd Dhe,
    Gun bhi reubta no brisd',
    'Sge b'oil leis an t'sàtan 's le phàirt
    Bi'dh mis' air mo gheàrd a nis."

Which, literally rendered into English, will read thus:--

    "The day has now departed from us;
    Dark night gathers around,
    And I will lay me safely down (to sleep)
    Under shadow of my Beloved One's wing.
    Against all dangers, and death in every form,
    Against each enemy of God's good Son,
    Against the anger of the turbulent people,
    And against the corruption of my own nature,
    I will take unto me the armour of God--
    That shall protect me from all assaults:
    And in spite of Satan and all his following,
    I shall be well and surely guarded."

The old woman's confidence in the Divine protection was not misplaced;
the heart of youth is generous, and the beauty and solemnity of the
scene carried it captive. The young men felt that one who could thus,
on retiring to rest, commend herself to God and God's Son, could not
be the "evil" old woman they had thought her. Awed and impressed,
silently and on tip-toe, they departed for their homes, leaving the
old woman in peace. By-and-by things went well again with the cattle of
the hamlet, sickness disappeared from the district, and the old woman
continued to live the same quiet, unobtrusive life a few years longer,
and was as much respected and loved latterly, the story says, as she
was at one time hated and feared. Nor did she ever know of the young
men's midnight visit to her hut on an errand so happily frustrated.

The following are a couple of very excellent "toimhseachan" that were
sent us a few days ago. Finding the correct solutions will afford
some amusement to our Gaelic readers during the first idle half-hour--

      Chi mi, chi mi thar an eas,
      Fear cruaidh, colgarra glas,
      Cirb do léine sios mu leis,
      'S ceum an cirinnaich fo choïs.

    A mhuc a mharbh mi 'n uiridh
    Bha uirceanan aice am bliadhna.


    Midges and other Bloodsuckers--The Tsetse of South Africa--The
    Abyssinia Zimb--Livingstone--Adders and Grass Snakes--Lucan's
    Pharsalia--Celsus--Legend of St. John ante Portam Latinam.

Along the west coast the weather is now [May 1872] as mild and May-like
as you could wish; the swallow twitters gaily in the sunlight, and
when he ceases his zig-zag flight for a moment to rest on chimney-top
or house-ridge, he sings a gladsome song, low and faint indeed, and
frequently lost on that account in the general chorus, but exceedingly
sweet and musical, as you will find if you give it the attention it
merits; while in the distance you hear the cheery notes of the cuckoo,
wild and startling as yet, as they burst suddenly upon the ear from
out the woodland glade or from the old rowan tree that finds root
room, you wonder how, in yonder crevice in the rock above the foaming
waterfall, but soon to become familiar as the season advances, and
pressed upon your notice whether you will or no, and at all sorts of
impossible times and places, by the truant schoolboy's oft-repeated,
though rarely successful, attempts at imitation. For the first week
in May the temperature is unusually high, and we do not recollect
ever before having seen insect life so plentiful so early in the
season. Midges, gadflies, and other bloodsuckers are already astir
in their thousands, their taste for their favourite fluid keen and
unabated, as they fail not abundantly to manifest by an activity that
one cannot help admiring, even while wishing that it could possibly be
directed to a more legitimate and less personally annoying end. But
"'tis their nature to," as the hymn-book says, and we must grin and
bear it, protecting ourselves from their assaults as best we may,
thankful the while that the evil is no worse. Our winged pests are
innocence itself compared with their congeners in other lands. Our
midge, for instance, is to the mosquito as the dog-fish is to the
shark, as the domestic cat is to the tiger; while our gadflies and
Æstri, though sufficiently annoying to our cattle at certain seasons,
are to be regarded as absolutely harmless if we compare them with the
venomous Zimb of Abyssinia, or the still deadlier Tsetse of Southern
Africa. The Abyssinian insect, by the way--the Zimb--is probably
the Zebub of the Hebrew Scriptures, the estimation in which it was
held from the earliest ages being clearly enough indicated by its
place in the word Beelzebub, "the prince of devils." Livingstone's
account of the Tsetse is one of the most interesting chapters in his
Travels. Shall the intrepid explorer be restored to us? We are afraid
not. It is only too probable that, as Scott said of his protegé and
friend, the author of the Scenes of Infancy--

    "A distant and a deadly shore
      Has Leyden's cold remains!"

The districts of Ardgour and Sunart have always had an unenviable
notoriety for the great numbers of adders and grass snakes to be
found in them, the reptiles frequently attaining to a size unknown,
we believe, anywhere else in the West Highlands. Within the last
two or three years we have noticed that they are rapidly becoming
numerous in Lochaber, much more so than they used to be, though the
general opinion, in which we heartily concur, is that we were getting
on very well without them. During an ornithological ramble among the
hills a few days ago, we knelt to drink at a fountain that we fell in
with, welling up cool and sparkling beside a large moss-covered drift
boulder among the heather, when we were not a little startled by the
presence of no less than three adders that lay coiled together in a
sort of Gordian knot on a patch of green moss close by the fountain's
brink. The day was hot and dry, and they had probably come there
to drink and bathe; but we were very thirsty, having just smoked a
pipe on the top of the hill, and there being no appearance of water
anywhere else for miles around, and knowing, besides, that there
could be really no danger, even if the vipers had been ten times
larger and more venomous than they were, we drank a long draught of
the pure sweet water, and then proceeded with the stick in our hand to
attack the enemy, and soon had the satisfaction of knocking them into
wriggling, writhing bits, and crushing their heads under our heel. Our
assault was so sudden and unexpected that they had no time to show
fight; otherwise an adder, when his blood is up and thoroughly on
his guard, is an ugly customer to attack with no better weapon than a
walking-stick, and nothing can be imagined more deadly, wicked-looking,
and savage than such an animal, as with erected crest and flashing eye
he steadies himself in act to strike. It is curious that the poison
of these reptiles, though certain death if commingled in sufficient
quantity with the blood through an abrasion or wound, is perfectly
innocuous if taken into the stomach--a fact, by the way, that has been
known from very early times. On taking our drink, for instance, from
yonder viper-guarded fountain, we recollected that Lucan had something
on a somewhat similar circumstance in his Pharsalia. Describing Cato
and his soldiers coming to a fountain of water in the desert, and
how horrified they were to find innumerable serpents of the deadliest
kind--asps and dipsades--disporting themselves in and around the pool,
he has the following fine passage, the finest indeed in the poem,
which we took care to turn up when we reached home:--

                      "Jam spissior ignis,
    Et plaga, quam nullam superi mortalibus ultra,
    A medio fecere die calcatur, et unda
    Rarior; inventus mediis fons unus arenis
    Largus aquæ; sed quem serpentum turbat tenebat
    Vix capiente loco; stabant in margine siccæ
    Aspides, in mediis sitiebant Dipsades undis.
    Ductor, ut aspexit perituros fonte relicto
    Alloquitur: Vana specie conterrite leti
    Ne dubita miles tutos haurire liquores;
    Noxia serpentum est admisto sanguine pestis;
    Morsu virus habent et fatum dente minantur;
    Pocula morte carent. Dixit dubuumque venenum

Which has been elegantly rendered into English as follows:--

    "And now with fiercer heat the desert glows,
    And mid-day sun-darts aggravate their woes;
    When, lo! a spring amid the sandy plain
    Shows its clear mouth to cheer the fainting train;
    But round the guarded brink in thick array,
    Dire aspics roll'd their congregated way,
    And thirsting in the midst the deadly dipsas lay.
    Black horror seized their veins, and at the view
    Back from the fount the troops recoiling flew;
    When, wise above the crowd, by cares unquell'd,
    Their trusted leader thus their dread dispell'd--
    'Let not vain terrors thus your minds enslave,
    Nor dream the serpent brood can taint the wave;
    Urged by the fatal fang their poison kills,
    But mixes harmless with the bubbling rills.'
    Dauntless he spoke, and, bending as he stood,
    Drank with cool courage the suspected flood."

Celsus, an older writer still, and styled the "Roman Hippocrates,"
tells us in his great work, De Medicinâ, that the poison of serpents
may be safely enough sucked by the mouth from the wound, warning the
operator, however, to be careful that the lips and palate are free from
any cut or excoriation by which the venom might find its way into the
blood, in which case it might be just as dangerous as if introduced
into the circulation by the fang itself. It should be stated that the
grass or ringed snake spoken of above is not in the least poisonous,
though ugly enough to look at, and ready enough to assume a threatening
attitude if rudely disturbed. Nor, by the way, is the date of the
present writing inappropriate to the discussion of such a subject, as
we have at this moment discovered by the merest accident. The 6th of
May you will find is a Saint's day in the Calendar, being dedicated
to St. John ante Portam Latinam, the legend connected with which
is as follows:--The Beloved Disciple, after preaching the Gospel in
various parts of the world, was in his old age taken to Rome by the
Emperor Domitian, and because he refused to renounce the religion
of Christ, was put into a cauldron of boiling oil before the Latin
Gate--Porta Latina--which, however, did him no more harm than did
Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego;
on the contrary, John came out of the cauldron rejuvenated, younger,
fairer, and more beautiful than before. Afterwards a cup of deadliest
poison was given him to drink, but as he was putting it to his lips,
the poison, assuming the appropriate shape of a venomous serpent,
glided from the cup, leaving the draught harmless and pure. He was
finally banished to Patmos, where he wrote the Apocalypse.

Old Fingalian rhymes and proverbs having reference to dogs and the
hunting of the stag, as it was then pursued, are very common in
the Highlands, and show how devoted to the chase were our Celtic
ancestors. Our neighbour, the Rev. Mr. Clerk of Kilmallie, in his
splendid edition of Ossian, gives some of these old rhymes in his
very interesting and learned notes on Fingal. The following was
sent us a short time ago, and as it has never appeared in print, we
present it to the reader with a liberal translation. We are always
glad to be able to rescue from oblivion even the smallest shred of
the folk-lore of the olden time. The story goes that this rhyme was
first of all taught by a fairy to a gay young hunter "of the period,"
under the following circumstances:--Once upon a time, a sprightly,
green-robed fairy, a sort of princess in her way, fell in love with
a young Fingalian hunter, who had frequent occasion, on his way to
and from the chase, to pass the shian or green knoll in which the
fairy band of the glen had taken up their abode. The fairy and her
hunter lover had frequent opportunities of meeting in secret, until
some evil-disposed sister fairy divulged Brianag's--for that was the
fairy's name--imprudent and unfairy-like conduct to the powerful fairy
prince Aërlunn, who was himself over head and ears in love with the
beautiful Brianag, though she gave him no encouragement at all; on
the contrary, she flatly told him that, great and powerful as he was,
she did not love him in the least, and would have nothing to do with
him. On hearing how things were going on, Aërlunn was very jealous and
very angry, just as a mortal might be under similar circumstances, and
he issued an edict, as Prince of the Fairies of that glen, by which,
after reflecting severely on the unfairy-like conduct of Brianag and
others of the band, he prohibited Brianag from leaving the shian on
any pretence whatever, except for the one hour before midnight on the
night when the moon completed her first quarter--perfect liberty to
do as they like during this one hour in the month is every fairy's
birthright, and no power can deprive them of it. He would have done
something very dreadful to Brianag's lover, only the latter was
protected from any evil a fairy enemy could do to him by a talisman
of extraordinary value, which his uncle, a priest of the Druids,
had given him, and which he always carried on his person. Brianag
and her lover were thus able to meet for one hour in every month,
despite the opposition of the angry Aërlunn, whose jealousy became at
last so insupportable, that he resolved to shift his court and people
from that glen to another at a great distance. To this arrangement,
much as she regretted it, as it separated herself and her lover,
Brianag dare not object. It is a prerogative appertaining to the
Princes of Fairyland that they can shift their court at will, when
and whither they please. The fairy palace thus forsaken is still
to be seen in Glen Etive, and has ever since been called An Sithean
Samhach--the Quiet or Deserted Fairy Knoll. On parting with her lover
at their last interview, Brianag presented him with a silver horn,
whose blast could be heard, loud and clear, over the Seven Hills and
across the Seven Glens; and knowing that it was his ambition to excel
all others in the chase, she instructed him as to the best kind of
dog to have and hunt withal as follows:--

    Cuilean bus-dubh, buidhe,
    Ceud mhac na saidhe,
    Air àrach air meog 's air bainne ghabhar,
    Cha deach' air sliabh air nach beireadh.

Which may stand in English thus:--

    Get a yellow brindled dog,
    First-born of his dam's first litter,
    With a muzzle black as jet,
    Reared on whey and milk of goats;
    No stag in forest can escape him.

Those who rear deer-hounds, et juvenes qui gaudent canibus, might do
worse than experiment a little according to the fairy's receipt; we
shouldn't wonder at all if a splendid dog was the result, for these
old rhymes are rarely devoid of reason. There is no reason at all
events why such a dog might not turn out well.


    The Leafing of the Oak and Ash--Splendid Stags' Heads--Edmund
    Waller--Old Silver-Plate buried for preservation in the
    '45--Mimicry in Birds--An accomplished Goldfinch.

While mild and May-like enough in the valleys and along the coast line,
the weather [May 1872] is reported as having more of March than May
about it on the uplands, owing to the prevalence of north-easterly
winds, that are at once exceedingly piercing and unseasonably snell. It
is pleasant at the same time to have to report that, so far, crops of
all kinds look extremely well, and have seldom been seen so forward
in mid-May. Potatoes have been distinguishable from field's end to
field's end in regular drills for ten days past, and in some instances
are already undergoing their first weeding and hoeing. Oats show a
strong, healthy braird, and nothing but a deficiency of moisture in
its present stage can prevent ryegrass from being the best crop that
has been known in the West Highlands for many years. Much, however,
will depend on the nature of the weather for the next fortnight: those
who should know best say that the country would be all the better
of more or less rain on every day for the remainder of the month,
and we daresay they are right. The lambing season has hitherto been a
highly favourable one, though the drought and the keen-edged easterly
winds are beginning to be complained of by shepherds in charge of
upland hirsels. As we write, however, there is appearance of rain,
which cannot fail to be attended by a change of wind to a more genial
airt, and it is hoped it may fall abundantly. The summer, by the way,
is likely to be a hot and dry one, if there be any truth in the popular
belief that when the oak takes precedence of the ash in presenting its
rich green foliage to the light, a cloudless, rainless summer is sure
to follow. We observe that everywhere the oak is now in leaf, while
the ash is yet budless and bare to its topmost bough, manifesting
an unwonted dulness and drowsiness for mid-May, as if it was loth,
even at the call of summer, to be roused from its hybernal repose.

We are indebted to the monks of the middle ages for the introduction
into our country, and successful cultivation, of some of our choicest
fruits and most beautiful flowers; nor is it any wonder that in
times when herbalism and the culling of simples was universally
practised and believed in, numberless shrubs and plants of real or
supposed efficacy in the cure of particular ailments should also be
imported and assiduously cultivated by the same benefactors. In some
cases, however, the supposed plants of virtue then introduced have
in our day turned out to be no better than noisome weeds, extremely
difficult of eradication, and one of these--how it found its way into
this district it would be difficulty to say--is becoming a perfect
pest in some parts of Lochaber. We refer to the plant commonly known
as Bishopweed, Goatweed, or Herb Gerard, which the botanists have
honoured by the high-sounding name Ægropodium podagraria. Gout, as
its botanical name implies, was the disease in which this rank and
foul-smelling weed was supposed to be of extraordinary virtue, and
for anything we know to the contrary, it may still possess all the
virtues at one time so confidently ascribed to it; but then you see
gout is altogether unknown in Lochaber--we are too poor, and perforce
live too soberly, to be visited by such aristocratic ailments--and
what business therefore this weed has to grow and spread amongst us,
and become unto us a nuisance and a plague, we cannot imagine: not
knowing the disease, we could get on very well without the unsavoury
antidote. Bishopweed, if allowed free growth in suitable soil, will
quickly cover the ground, to the destruction of everything else,
its innumerable stalks, crowned with pinnated ash-like leaves,
attaining to the height of a foot or more. When a single plant once
gets root-hold in pasture land, it spreads with amazing rapidity,
damaging and crowding out the grass in all directions, so that whenever
and wherever it appears its utter and thorough extirpation, whatever
the labour and cost, should be insisted upon with the least possible
delay. When plucked by the hand the plant emits a foetid, sickening
smell, all trace of which is only effaced from the fingers by a very
thorough washing indeed. We have observed that neither horse, nor ox,
nor sheep will of choice touch it, though its being in many places
called goatweed would seem to indicate that it is no more rejected
by that animal than many other acrid and poisonous plants and herbs
which our other ruminants will not touch even if starving. Of all the
ground pests with which we are acquainted, bishopweed is the worst,
and we warn our readers, if ever they meet with it in any neglected
corner of garden or field, to show it no mercy at all, for it is of
an unmerciful nature itself, killing every blade of grass it comes
in contact with, and choking unto the death every other vegetable
that it can surmount and master.

The finest stag's head and antlers that we have ever seen form a
trophy in the possession of our neighbour, Mr. Bill, Kilmalieu, the
magnificent "monarch of the waste" that bore them having fallen to
that gentleman's own rifle in Glengour two or three years ago. The
other day, however, we were shown a set of larger horns, though not
quite so handsome perhaps, or so faultless in spread and curve,
and unfortunately imperfect from the loss of one of the tines,
which was picked up by a shepherd in the Black Mount Forest many
years ago. The size of beam throughout was something extraordinary,
and one could not help regretting that it had not the head and neck
attached, that it might be set up in the style for which the good city
of Inverness has of recent years become so famous. Such a trophy of
the chase, complete in all its parts, would have deserved the place
of honour amid a thousand such trophies in the noblest hall in the
kingdom. As we handled these antlers, and poised them at arm's length
with admiration, the thought suddenly struck us that Edmund Waller,
the poet, must have had some such magnificent trophy before him when
he burst into the following apostrophe, in which a well-known fact
in the natural history of the animal is so happily interwoven with
the old mythological legend:--

    "O fertile head! which every year
    Could such a crop of wonder bear!
    The teeming earth did never bring
    So soon so hard, so huge a thing:
    Which, might it never have been cast,
    Each year's growth added to the last,
    These lofty branches had supplied,
    The earth's bold sons' prodigious pride;
    Heaven with these engines had been scal'd
    When mountains heaped on mountains failed."

Lines, by the way, that would form a most happy and appropriate
inscription for any really fine trophy of this kind.

Calling upon the Misses Macdonald of Achtriachtan the other day at
Fort-William, we were shown some very fine old silver-plate, having
a history of its own, to the recital of which we listened with no
small interest. After the battle of Culloden, a party of "red-coat"
soldiers entered Lochaber, and employed themselves in pillaging and
plundering in all directions. Hearing that visitors so unwelcome
were in the neighbourhood, Mrs. Cameron of Glenevis, a lady of great
spirit and decision of character, had all her silver-plate, china,
and other valuables buried deep in the ground outside the garden wall,
after which she removed, with her children and personal attendants,
to a spacious cave called Uaimh Shomhairle (Samuel's Cave), far up
the glen, in the south-western shoulder of Ben Nevis. Meanwhile the
soldiers visited Glenevis House, but, disappointed at not finding
the valuables they looked for in such a residence, they burned and
plundered the glen without mercy, the terrified inhabitants taking
to the mountains, only too glad to escape with their lives, while
their homesteads were in flames, and their cattle either driven away
or slaughtered on the spot. Lady Glenevis was at last discovered in
her cave by a party of soldiers, who had somehow heard of her place
of retreat, and had to undergo much rude treatment at their hands,
because, in defiance of all their threats, she refused to tell where
the valuables of which they were in search had been hidden away. As
they were about to leave the cave, one of the soldiers, observing
that she had something bulky in her breast, of which she seemed very
careful, and over which her plaid, fastened with a silver brooch,
was carefully drawn, made a snatch at the trinket, and, when the
lady resisted, drew his sword and made a thrust, which cut open the
plaid at its point of fastening, wounding her infant son at the same
moment in the neck; for the hidden treasure in her bosom, though the
soldier doubtless thought it might turn out to be something of more
marketable value, was a child only a few months old. The soldiers at
last departed, carrying with them the brooch and plaid as the only
trophies of their victory over the defenceless lady of the cave. The
wounded child recovered, though he bore the mark of the sword-thrust
to his dying day. He lived to be laird of Glenevis, was father of the
late much-respected Mrs. Macdonald of Achtriachtan, and grandfather of
the ladies above mentioned. We remember hearing our friend, the late
Dr. Macintyre of Kilmonivaig, repeating some very fine Gaelic lines to
a waterfall, something in the style of Southey's address to Lodore,
which he said was by the Mrs. Cameron of Glenevis above mentioned,
and composed by her while in hiding in the cave. When quieter times
came round, the buried valuables were of course exhumed, and were
found to be none the worse of their temporary interment.

Most birds are endowed with considerable powers of mimicry, the
exercise of which, under favourable circumstances, seems, we have
observed, to afford them great delight. The bird most celebrated in
this respect is, perhaps, the mocking-thrush of America, the singularly
expressive and appropriate name of which, among the Mexican aborigines,
is Cencontlatlolli, which means four hundred tongues or languages,
conferred upon it in honour and acknowledgment of the fact that,
with a rich and varied song of its own, it correctly imitates all
other songs and sounds as well. Though we have nothing equal to the
four-hundred-tongued wonder of America, many of our native British
birds are in truth excellent mimics, particularly after they have
been some time in confinement, the tedium and irksomeness of their
imprisonment being probably alleviated by a constant exercise of their
gifts in this way, until individuals sometimes attain to a mastery in
the art that is perfectly astonishing. Amongst our pets at present is a
goldfinch cock, a very fine bird, still perfect at all points, though
he must be at least a dozen years old, during ten of which he has
been in our possession as a favourite cage-bird. He is a magnificent
singer, and the wisest little fellow in the world; you only wonder,
indeed, how such a rich flood of song, clear and long sustained, can
issue from such a tiny throat, and how such a little scarlet-capped
head can contain so much intelligence and sagacity. "Cowie"--for so
he is called, after the bird-catcher from whom we purchased him--is
above all things an extraordinary mimic. We have never, indeed,
known any bird to equal him in this respect. The chirping of the
sparrow in the hedge opposite the window at which usually hangs his
cage; the twittering of swallows, as they flit past on their zigzag
insect cruise; the fink, fink of the lively chaffinch; the chirr
of the ox-eye tit; the bell-like jingle of the blackbird scolding
a prowling cat; the lugubrious notes of the corn bunting's evening
plaint; the love-cheep of the lesser white-throat; and the quick
rasping utterances of the excited wren, into whose proper territories
a rival has dared to intrude;--these are each and all imitated by our
little pet with marvellous exactness of note, emphasis, and tone. The
querulous cheeping of a chicken that has met with some little accident,
or for the moment lost sight of its mother, he mimics to the life;
and he will on such occasions stand on tip-toe, stretch his neck to
the utmost, or cling parrot-like to the topmost wire of his cage, in
order to catch a glimpse of the victim of his ridicule. When tired
of this, the commoner and coarser part of his art, he will burst
suddenly into song, which he will continue sometimes for an hour on
end, introducing voluntaries and variations without number, in which
you can readily distinguish longer or shorter strophes from the songs
of almost all the birds he has ever had a chance of hearing. Any one,
indeed, thoroughly familiar with bird-music could easily name the
principal songsters in the district immediately around us solely
from the singing of our talented little polyglot, so faultless is
his imitation of the songs as well as "conversational utterances,"
so to speak, of all such birds as he is in the habit of hearing and
seeing from his cage at the frequently open window. You may be sure
that "Cowie" is an immense favourite with us all, and that his weight
in diamonds would hardly induce us to part with him.


    Potato Culture--Sensibility of the Potato Shaw to Weather
    changes--The Carline Thistle--Burns--The true Carduus
    Scotticus--The old Dog-Rhyme.

Of no place in existence, perhaps, is the old adage, in its most
literal sense, truer than of Lochaber, that "it never rains but
it pours" [June 1872]. When we last wrote rain was much needed;
no mid-March could be dustier or colder than was our mid-May;
rain, rain was the cry on all hands; the birds, as they alighted
on the branches or flew overhead, cheeped it querulously; the ducks
quacked it energetically; the hens cackled and gaped for it; while
the cattle afield lowed for it in a manner the meaning of which there
was no mistaking; and at last the change of weather, so universally
wished for, came--came first of all in the shape of hail, the dira
grando of Horace, the downright pea-size genuine article, which
left the hills around as white as if, in questionable taste, they
had whitewashed themselves for the season. Hail! fellow, well met,
was the natural and appropriate greeting. Then came sleet, a milder
form of the same visitation, not very pleasant, perhaps, but we were
grateful; then with the wind from the west, soft and pleasant as the
breath of a child, came warm, genial summer rain; the tiniest blade
of grass felt the benign influence, and, in the beautiful language
of oriental imagery, "the mountains and the hills broke forth before
us into singing, and the trees and fields clapped their hands." It
is now mild and beautiful exceedingly, with just enough of rain from
time to time to keep everything fresh and green, and at full stretch
of growth, so that crops of all kinds are everywhere making the most
satisfactory progress; and although the unseasonable hail and intense
cold of ten days ago was very trying to the young potato plants in
exposed situations, we are glad to say that no serious damage has
resulted, the change from cold to milder weather having been very
gradual. The damage in such cases always depends on the suddenness,
or the contrary, of the transition from a low to a high temperature;
a night of frost, followed by a hot sun next day, being most dangerous
to vegetable life, while frost, followed by rain and cloud, and so
on gradually to heat and sunshine again, rarely does any more harm
than merely to give a slight check to what might otherwise prove an
unhealthy rapidity of growth. In the same way it is found that in
the case of animals generally, and in man particularly, it is not the
actual and immediate amount of cold undergone at any time that kills
or maims, but the too sudden transition from a very low temperature
to a comparatively high one. It is probably well enough known to the
reader that very many of our flowers and plants are hygrometric, some
of them very sensitively so. By hygrometric we mean that they spread
out or expand their parts when the sun is bright and the weather is
dry, while they contract or close them on the approach of moisture
and cloud. We would at present draw attention to the fact that the
potato plant, in its earlier stages of growth, is very sensitive in
this respect, more so in some years than in others perhaps, according
as the plants have come up, strong and vigorous and healthy, or the
reverse; for we think our observations during many years warrant us
in saying that the more vigorous and healthier the plant, the more
sensitive will it be found to weather changes--its very sensitiveness
in this respect, observe, helping forward its growth and preserving its
vitality, by enabling it to avail itself of every favourable influence,
just as it enables it to protect itself against such influences as
are unfavourable or adverse. We were particularly struck with this
hygrometric sensitiveness in the potato plant a day or two ago. We
have an early planted field, more forward, perhaps, than anything
else of the kind in the West Highlands, over which we took a friend
who happened to call upon us. It was about mid-day, with a bright,
hot sun overhead, and our friend agreed with us that he had never
seen potatoes that had come up more regularly, or that looked more
healthy and vigorous at the same stage of growth, the fully expanded
plants already showing leaves broad and beautiful as those of a hazel
tree in June. In an hour or two afterwards we had occasion to pass
the same field, and the change in the appearance of the plants was
extraordinary. They seemed to have actually grown a couple of inches
since mid-day, and our friend exclaimed, "Well, your potatoes are
wonderful! look at them now." And we did look, not so much, however,
at the potato field as our friend did; we looked upwards and saw that
clouds were rapidly forming in the west, one black, finger-like stripe
of which had already nearly mounted to the zenith, and looking at that
and at our potato field, we assured our friend that a heavy fall of
rain, with possibly a gale of wind, was at hand. Our companion was
astonished; the sun was yet shining brightly, and the greater part
of the heavens was clear and cloudless; but within little more than
an hour afterwards the rain fell in torrents, and a smart gale from
the south-west was blowing. Our potatoes, however, had foreseen it
all; were sensible of its approach, while our friend and ourselves
thought ourselves in the midst of fine weather that might, perhaps,
last unbroken for days; and what struck our companion as a sudden
and mysterious addition to the height of the plants was merely the
effect of their having gathered themselves together--contracted all
their parts into the least possible compass--thus assuming an upright
pyramidal form, as best enabling them to withstand the assaults of the
approaching storm. Plants of less health and vigour would, according
to our theory, have shown the same sensitiveness in the circumstances,
but in a manner not so immediate, and to a degree less marked and
striking. Our companion of that day, who got a thorough drouking,
as we say in Scotland, on his way home that afternoon, writes us with
some humour that "as he has always had a great regard for potatoes on
the table, both mashed and 'balled,' in their 'jackets,' so in future
will he, in acknowledgment of their infallibility in the matter of
weather changes, view them with respect even in the field." It should
be stated, by the way, that this hygrometrical property in the potato
plant rapidly diminishes in sensitiveness as the haulm increases in
height and strength, as if it felt that when approaching its full
growth it could afford very much to disregard such weather changes
as are incident to the mid-summer season; but the reader who has the
opportunity may verify all we have said upon the subject for himself.

Another plant still more remarkable for hygrometric properties
is the common carline, or carlen thistle, the Carlina vulgaris of
botanists. It is common enough in some districts of Scotland, though
those who do not know it already need not be in the least ambitious of
the honour of its acquaintance, unless indeed from a purely scientific
point of view, for the carline, wherever it appears, is almost always
the infallible sign of a poor soil, miserably farmed. The species
receives its name of Carlina from an old story that Charlemagne
introduced it into Europe on account of some valuable medicinal
qualities attributed to it; its virtues in this respect having been
revealed, it was said, to Carolus Magnus by an angel in a vision of the
night during the prevalence of a deadly plague. Certain preparations
of its roots and leaves were for centuries afterwards held of great
virtue in such internal complaints as demanded violent purgatives for
their removal; and to this day it is, we believe, held in great repute
by herbalists for the cure of vertigo, headache, and other cerebral
diseases. As a weather prognosticator, it is perhaps unequalled by
any other British plant, the sensitiveness of its involucral scales to
the slightest weather changes being so extraordinary as to have from
very early times attracted the attention and aroused the wonderment
of those unacquainted with the fact that similar properties, in a
greater or less degree, are common to all plants and flowers--to the
whole vegetable kingdom indeed. The carline has a stem of some eight
or ten inches in height, and bears many pretty purple flowerets set
in the midst of straw-coloured rays. The carline's sensitiveness
to weather changes continues long after it has been cut or pulled,
provided the heads have not been much hurt or bruised in the process;
on the same principle, we suppose, that some animals are known to
manifest unmistakeable signs of muscular irritability long after they
are otherwise, as we should say, to all intents and purposes dead. We
have generally met with the carline thistle among sickly-growing oats,
on poor, thin soil, and sometimes among other luxuriant weeds in a
neglected potato field. It is amusing, by the way, sometimes to see
bonnet-badges and pictorial representations of what you are supposed to
believe is the Scottish thistle, evidently copied to the life from one
of the carline family! which are but pigmies in stature and absolutely
harmless in the matter of prickliness compared with the grand stately
fellow bristling with prickles strong as darning needles, and sharp
and venomous as the sting of a bee, with "Nemo me impune lacessit" in
the very look of him--the true national emblem! You remember Burns'
reference to it in a very fine stanza that has been often quoted,
that indeed everybody has by heart--

    "Even then, a wish (I mind its power)--
    A wish that to my latest hour
      Shall strongly heave my breast--
    That I for poor auld Scotland's sake
    Some usefu' plan or book could make,
      Or sing a sang at least.

    The rough burr-thistle, spreading wide
      Amang the bearded bear,
    I turn'd the weeder-clips aside,
      And spared the symbol dear:
             No nation, no station,
               My envy e'er could raise;
             A Scot still, but blot still,
               I knew nae higher praise."

                          --(Epistle to the Guidwife of Wauchope House.)

The true Carduus Scotticus is not fond of cultivated land, but is
a tremendous fellow when he gets hold of a waste outlying corner to
himself, sometimes attaining a height of four or five, or even six
feet, with a stem as thick as your wrist, and prickles--no, spikes
is the word--with spikes, then, as formidable as the bayonets of a
kilted regiment going into action.

An anonymous lady correspondent in London sent us a manuscript sheet of
paper of the last century, containing a very old dog-rhyme. "The paper
has been in our family as long as I can remember, and I have heard my
grandfather repeat the lines often before we left the Highlands fifty
years ago. The Ronald Mac Ronald Vic John mentioned in the rhyme was,
I believe, one of the Glencoe family, a celebrated hunter of deer
in his day. He was killed, as I have heard my grandfather relate,
at the battle of Philiphaugh. It was the fairy dog-rhyme in one of
your recent letters that brought to my mind that such a thing was in
my possession." Owing to the faded state of the writing, and a very
peculiar orthography, we had some difficulty in deciphering the lines;
but, modernising the spelling a little, the following we believe to
be an accurate transcript:--

    An cù 'bh'aig Raonull-mac-Raonuil-'ic-Iain,
    Bheiradh e sithionn a beinn:
    Ceann leathan eadar 'dha shuil, ach biorach 's bus dubh air
    gu shroin.
    Uchd gearrain, seang-leasrach; 's bha fhionnadh
    Mar fhrioghan tuirc nimheil nan còs.
    Donn mar àirneag bha shuil; speir luthannach lùbta,
    'S faobhar a chnamh mar ghein.
    An cù sud 'bh'aig Raonull-mac-Raonuil-'ic-Iain,
    'S tric thug e sithionn a beinn.

Which, rendered as literally as possible, many stand thus in English--

    Ronald-son of Ronald-son of John's good dog,
    He could bring venison from the mountain.
    He was broad between the eyes; otherwise sharp and black-muzzled
    to the tip of his nose.
    With a horse-like chest, he was small flanked, and his pile
    Was like the bristles of the den frequenting boar.
    Brown as a sole was his eye;
    Supple-jointed (was he), with houghs bent as a bow;
    All his bones felt sharp and hard as the edge of a wedge.
    Such was Ranald Mac Ranald vic John's good dog,
    That often brought venison from the mountain.


    A non-"Laughing" Summer--Rheumatic Pains--Old Gaelic Incantation
    for Cattle Ailments.

The best thing, perhaps, that can be said of our summer up to this
date [July 1872], is that it has, upon the whole, been amiable and
summer-like; has, after the manner of a love-lorn maiden, wept much
and often smiled, although, until within the last day or two, it has
never actually laughed. You loved it, and couldn't help yourself,
but your love wanted warmth and fervour, just because of its want of
jocundity and joyousness. Even in our climate, summer is not summer by
the mere reading of the thermometer, however sensitive and delicate its
mercurial indications; one wants brilliant sunshine, with cloudless,
or almost cloudless skies, to make up a summer as a summer proper
ought to be. The poets of the East and South always speak of summer
and summer scenes as "laughing," while in more northern and less
favoured lands your poet is content to describe otherwise exactly
similar scenes and situations as simply "smiling," "gentle," "sweet,"
"quiet," and so forth, so that an acute critic, by attending to this
alone, could tell, were other proofs entirely wanting, whether a poet
was born under northern skies, or lived and loved, soared and sang,
in sunnier and more southern climes. Horace has--

    --"mihi angulus ridet."

His "corner," observe, does not merely smile; it "laughs" under the
bright blue Italian sky. Lucretius has--

    --"tibi rident æquora ponti;"

which Creech and Dryden, bards of a colder clime, have rendered
"smiles," but which literally and truly is honest, open, joyous
"laughter" in the southern bard. Metaetasio has--

    "A te fioriscono
    Gli erbosi prati;
    E i flutti ridono
    Nel mar placati."

"Ridono," observe--laughter again--like his earlier countrymen,
Horace and Lucretius. Our British poets rarely venture to make spring
or summer do more than smile; they are afraid of the laughter of the
south, as being quoad hoc an over-bold hyperbole. We can only quote
at this moment two instances in which the laughter of more favoured
lands is boldly introduced. John Langhorne, a poet and miscellaneous
writer of the last century, author of the Fables of Flora, very
beautifully says--

    "Where Tweed's soft banks in liberal beauty lie,
    And Flora laughs beneath an azure sky."

And Chaucer, the father of English poetry, has the following:--

    "The busy larkë, messager of daye,
    Salueth in hire song the morwe gray;
    And fyry Phebus ryseth up so brighte,
    That al the orient laugheth of the light."--

Very finely modernised by Dryden thus:--

    "The morning lark, messenger of day,
    Saluted in her song the morning grey;
    And soon the sun arose with beams so bright
    That all the horizon laughed to see the joyous sight."

Our summer, then, thus far, has not been a "laughing," but, at the
best, a merely smiling summer. There has been but little actual
sunshine, rarely such a thing as a blue, unclouded sky; but, if we
do not err, if the wish be not altogether father to the thought, a
splendid autumn, glad and golden--summer and autumn in one, like the
companion scenes in a stereoscope, in close and kindly combination--is
in store for us. Even as it is, the country is very beautiful, and the
rains of the west, if superabundant, are at least perfectly harmless
to any one in ordinary health, no matter how often you get drenched
through and through, as the saying is, provided always you do not idly
saunter or sit down for any length of time in wet clothes; neglect this
precaution, however, and you may look out for an attack of rheumatism,
and the taste of pains to which the tortures of the rack were but
a joke--pains as fiery and intense as those threatened against the
foul-mouthed Caliban in the Tempest. You recollect what Prospero says--

    "Hag-seed hence!
    Fetch us in fuel; and be quick, thou wert best
    To answer other business. Shrug'st thou, malice?
    If thou neglect'st, or dost unwillingly
    What I command, I'll rack thee with old cramps;
    Fill all thy bones with aches; make thee roar
    That beasts shall tremble at thy din!"

Get wet, then, as often and as much as you like, in the West Highlands,
but don't sit down or idle about in wet clothes, is a friend's advice;
otherwise, you will soon have a pretty correct idea of the nature
of the cramps and aches of which even the brutal Caliban had such a
horror that he exclaims:--

    "No, 'pray thee!--
    I must obey: his art is of such power,
    It would control my dam's god, Setebos,
    And make a vassal of him."

Supplementary to our last paper on the spells and incantations of the
Highlands, the following has been sent to us by our kind correspondent,
Mr. Carmichael, of the Inland Revenue, Island of Uist, a gentleman
of whom highly honourable mention is made in Mr. Campbell's West
Highland Tales, and in some of the notes to the Rev. Dr. Clerk's
Ossian. Mr. Carmichael is more conversant, perhaps, than anybody
else with the antiquities and folk-lore of the Outer Hebrides. The
incantation that follows was taken down by Mr. Carmichael from the
recitation of "an honest, unsophisticated old Banarach, or dairymaid,
in North Uist, who is even yet occasionally consulted about sickly

    Rann Leigheas Galar Cruidh.

    Crìosd' 'us Ostail 'us Eoin
    An triuir sin is binne gloir
    A dh-èirich a dheanada na h-òra,
    Roimh dhorus na Cathrach,
    No air glún deas De Mhic.
    Air na mnathan múr-shuileach,
    Air na feara geur shuileach,
    'Sair na saighdean sitheadach;
    Dithis a lasachadh alt agus ga 'na adhachadh
    Agus triuir a chuireas mi 'an urra rin sin,
    An t-Athair, 'sar Mac 'san Sprorad Naomh,
    Ceithir ghalara fichead 'an aoraibh duine 's beathaich,
    Dia ga sgriobanh, Dia ga sguabadh,
    As t-fhail, as t-fheoil, 'sad 'chnàimh 'sad 'smuais;
    'Smar a thog Crìosd' meas air bharra gach crann,
    Gum b'ann a thogas Edhiotsa
    Gach sùil, gach gnù 'sgach farmad,
    On 'là u dingh gu latha deireannach do shaoghail. Amen.

In English--

    A Healing Incantation for Diseases in Cattle.

    Christ and His Apostle and John,
    These three of most excellent glory,
    That ascended to make supplication
    Through the gateway of the city,
    Fast by the right knee of God's own Son.
    As regards evil-eyed women;
    As regards blighting-eyed men;
    As regards swift-speeding elf-arrows;
    Two to strengthen and renovate the joints,
    And three to back (these two) as sureties--
    The Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost.
    To four-and-twenty diseases are the reins of man and beast
    God utterly extirpate, sweep away, and eradicate them
    From out thy blood and flesh, thy bones and marrow,
    And as Christ uplifted its proper foliage
    To the extremities of the branches on each tree-top,
    So may He uplift from off and out of thee
    Each (evil) eye, each frowning look, malice and envy--
    From this day forth to the world's last day. Amen.

"It is not always an easy task," writes our correspondent, "to
write from the dictation of partially deaf and toothless old women,"
and we perfectly agree with him. "Ostail," in the first line of the
above spell, we take to be an insular form of Abstol, voc.--Abstoil
or Abstail--the Apostle par excellence, namely, Paul. Mr. Carmichael
appends the following elucidatory note:--"This òra or spell can be
used for either man or beast, and is guaranteed to effect a cure
in any case! In the case of a four-footed animal a worsted thread
is tied round the tail, and the òra or incantation repeated. The
"snàthaile" (snàthainn, a thread), as this charm is called, undergoes
much mysterious spitting, handling, and incantation by the woman from
whom it is got. The rann or spell is muttered over it at the time of
"consecration." Usually two threads (dà shnathaile) are given, and if
the first is not quite successful, the second is sure to be effectual!"


    Early sowing recommended--Vitality of
    Superstitions--Capnomancy--Hazel Nuts: Frequent References to
    in Gaelic Poetry--How best to get at the full flavour of a ripe
    Hazel Nut.

A fortnight's incessant rain [September 1872]--rain descending
at times in solid sheets--not only wets the ground and puddles
the roads, but makes one's very brains feel soft and sloppy
and mashed-turnip-wise. You take up a book only to lay it down
again. You fill your pipe and set it alight, but with less than
half a dozen whiffs you are more than satiated. The weed has lost
its flavour. You sit down to write "doggedly," as Johnson says,
but with all your doggedness the pen totters over the sheet with
pace uncertain and listless, as if even he felt disinclined for the
task, and the sentences, like a squad of raw recruits, refuse to
fall gracefully into their places, and stumble against each other in
ludicrous confusion, to the consternation and grief of the most patient
of drill-sergeants. You will not, perhaps, believe it, but it is true,
nevertheless, that so persistent, penetrating, and inter-penetrating
has been the last fortnight's rain, that in nineteen cases out of
twenty a lucifer match, "vesuvian," or fusee will obstinately refuse
to ignite by any other process than putting it into actual contact
with fire, and in that case, why, a slip of paper is just as easily
dealt with, as well as more efficacious for your purpose. Hay and corn
luckily stand a good deal of rain without being completely spoiled,
but we are afraid to estimate the amount of damage that another week's
wet weather will cause over the West Highlands. All our own hay and
corn has been snugly housed more than three weeks ago. Why shouldn't
everybody sow in February or early March as we do, and have their
ingathering in August, generally our best and driest month? In a
climate so treacherous and inconstant as ours is, it is the greatest
folly in the world to run the smallest risk that you can possibly
avoid. We have been preaching this particular doctrine for a dozen
years past, and it has had some effect in our immediate neighbourhood;
but it is sad to see the country at large at this moment--corn and
hay rotting in the fields, that might, with ordinary prudence and a
little effort, be long ere now snug and safe under "thack and rape."

The more one inquires the truer does he find the dictum of a
philosopher of the last century to be, that "the superstitions,
as well as the languages, of all lands and ages are linked together
by mysterious bonds, which neither time nor distance seem able to
destroy." In our immediate neighbourhood an instance of a very old
superstition was brought under our notice a few days ago, such as,
with all our knowledge of such matters, we had hitherto never dreamt
of as existing in the Western Highlands. A man went to market at a
considerable distance to sell a good strong two-year-old colt. He did
not return on the day his wife expected him, and she became uneasy,
not so much for the well-being of her laggard liege lord and master--he
had often gone the same errand before, and had always returned safe
and sound, even if a little later than his better half had a right to
expect--but as to whether he had sold the colt, and if for anything
like the price settled between the twain as being his fair price
before he left home. She put on a large fire on her hearth, placing,
when it had reached a certain stage of ignition, a bundle of green
alder boughs atop. When the whole was fully ablaze, she went outside
and watched the direction of the smoke issuing from her chimney. The
smoke was carried in an easterly direction, a lucky quarter, and she
returned to the house and told her daughter that, whatever had come
over the father--and she threatened to tell him a bit of her mind
as to his doings on his return--the colt at least had been sold, and
well sold, for the alder smoke had gone in the best and luckiest of
all directions, towards the east, in the direction of the rising sun;
and she had never known the omen fail. The curious thing is that within
an hour or so on that very evening the man returned, and counted into
his wife's lap two pounds and four shillings sterling over and above
the expected price of the colt, as agreed upon at home. The only other
curious thing that we could gather in connection with the superstition
is that the alder branches must be cut specially for the occasion, and
by a virgin. It was so in this case; and we are gravely assured that,
if it had been otherwise, the ascending smoke would either have drifted
hither and thither without a purpose, unsteadily, or have uselessly
intermingled with that of the neighbouring cottages. The superstition,
you must know, is a very old one; the Greeks and Romans practised
it, and from them it spread widely over the European Continent. In
books on magic and divination it is called Capnomancy, derived, as
our friend Professor Blackie could tell you better than anybody else,
from the Greek Capnos, smoke, and manteia, divination, witchcraft. The
ancients paid attention principally to the smoke of sacrifices, as well
as to the briskness with which the fire burned. If the smoke ascended
in a straight columnar body zenithwards, it was a favourable omen;
if it was violently blown aside, or fell back over the altar and the
sacrificers, it was of evil augury. Our Highland dame's notion of its
taking an easterly course, towards the direction of the breaking day,
of the dawn, and the morning sun, seems to us full of a rough and rude
poetry such as you frequently meet with in carefully examining into the
details of even the grossest superstitions. Having had occasion to be
of some little service to the priestess in this rare act of divination,
we had the whole from her own lips, though she was averse at first,
as is generally the case when a clergyman is the inquirer, to entering
upon the subject at all. How these practices root themselves among
a people, defying eradication, is very extraordinary.

Did you ever, reader, crack a nut? Not the aristocratic walnut or
filbert over your wine, but the far superior, rich, ripe hazel nut
in its season from off the hazel bough, when the bright autumnal sun
was overhead, and the autumnal breeze stirred the leaves around you,
their multitudinous murmur resembling the far-heard music of the
restless sea. A ripe hazel nut is good anywhere, but best of all when
gathered by your own hand in its native wild wood from the overhanging
branch, whence the beautiful cluster nods at you as if soliciting
your attention, now and again, as you approach to pull it, seeming
to delight in playing a game of bo-peep with you among the leaves,
like as you have seen the Pleiades at times when, though the night
be clear, many blanket-like clouds are chasing each other in wild
career athwart the starry blue. Throughout the whole range of poetry,
the hazel nut, though often mentioned, has never perhaps had so much
justice done to it as by the Gaelic bard Duncan Bàn Macintyre. In
his Coire-Cheathaich, one of his finest poems, he says:--

    Bha cus ra' fhaotainn de chnothan caoine,
    'S cha b' iad na cacohagan aotrom gann,
    Ach bagailt mhaola, bu taine plaoisge,
    'Toirt brigh á laoghan na' maoth-shlat fann:
    'S rath nan caochan 'na dhosaibh caorainn,
    'S na phreasaibh caola, làn chraobh a's mhearg;
    Na gallain ùra, 's na faillein dhlùtha,
    'S am barrach dùinte mu chùl nan crann.

Ewen Maclachlan, commonly styled "of Aberdeen," because he taught the
Grammar School there, and there died, but who was, in truth, a Lochaber
man--nay, a Nether Lochaber man, born and bred, and whose ashes rest
in Killevaodain of Ardgour, without, we are ashamed to confess it,
"One gray stone to mark his grave;" he, born at Tarrachalltuinn--the
Height of Hazel Trees--in our parish, knew something of hazel nuts,
and thus happily describes them in their season:--

    'S glan fàile nan cno gaganach,
      Air ard-Shlios nan cròc bad-dhuilleach;
    'S trom fàsor am por bagailteach,
      Air bharr nam fad-gheug sòlasach;
    Theid brìgh nam fiuran slat-mheurach,
      'An cridhe nam ùr-chnap blasadach;
    Gur brisg-gheal sùgh a chagannaich,
      Do neach a chaguas dòrlach dhin.

    'S clann bheag a ghnà le'm pocannan,
      A streup ri h-ard nan dos-chrannabh,
    A bhuain nan cluaran mog-mheurach,
      Gu lùgh'or, docoir, luath-lamhach;
    'Nuair dh'fhaoisgear as na mogail iad,
      'S a bhristear plaoisg nan cochall diu,
    Gur caoin am maoth-bhlas fortanach
      Bhios air an fhros neo-bhruaileanach.

Our nuts are unusually plentiful this year, and of a size and flavour
that we do not recollect ever to have seen equalled. They are now
at that stage of ripeness when they are most delicious to the taste,
and one may indulge in any amount of them with perfect safety. Most
people are fond of nuts, but if the reader wants to enjoy the full
flavour, to get out of a nut all that is in it, let him take the
following recipe:--"First of all, let the nut be cracked, if possible,
between your own molars, for these are, after all, the first and
most natural and best of all nut-crackers, better quoad hoc than
an instrument of the purest silver or steel; and there is besides,
remember, something pleasant to the palate in the feel and flavour
even of an uncracked nut. Having cracked your nut, then--and fairly
placed between the grinders, a really good nut is not difficult to
crack, the worst nuts being always the most difficult to deal with,
for the more insignificant the kernel the thicker and dourer the
shell--having cracked your nut and extracted the kernel, whole if
possible, introduce it into your mouth, not per se, by itself, as
is commonly done, but with a small fragment of the shell,--a bit
of pin's head size will do. Proceed now to masticate the delicious
morsel, and confess that there is a delicacy and flavour about a hazel
nut that you knew not how to extract in full, although in your day
you had cracked your bushels of them, until you were taught it from
Nether Lochaber. The philosophy of the thing is that the particle of
shell introduced with the kernel causes the act of mastication to be
performed more thoroughly than it otherwise would be, setting free
the full flavour and aroma--all, in short, that a nut has to give.


    Strength of Insects--Necrophoris Vespillo, or
    Burying-Beetle--Foetid smell of--How Willie Grimmond earned an
    Honest Penny in Glencoe.

The strength of insects, proportionably to their weight and size,
was probably the first characteristic in the minor world to arrest
the attention and call forth the admiration of entomologists; and soon
afterwards, we may believe, the ingenuity, patience, and perseverance
displayed by these pigmies in dealing with any self-imposed piece of
labour, must have made the intelligent observer feel and acknowledge,
even if he could not repeat and had never heard of the mad-wise
Hamlet's dictum, that--

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Take an example of something wonderful in insect life, as it chanced
to come under our notice a few days ago [September 1872]. We were
raking hay--raking hay, too, after others had raked the same ground
shortly before us, for we are most particular that, both for the look
of the thing, as well as for the profit, not a wisp, not a strawlet
shall be left upon the ground--when, as we raked, we came across a
dead mole. No rare or wonderful thing, the reader may exclaim, but
rare enough when you come to think of it, and wonderful enough, too,
to attract the attention of any one even less observant of natural
history than Nether Lochaber. Lying on its side was the mole, already
half-hidden by the swiftly growing aftermath. Touching it with the
corner of our rake, and moving it slightly, we got a glimpse of a
yellow-banded beetle busy underneath; and at once understanding what
was going on, we called our bairns, a couple of girls and a boy, who
were raking and laughing a la Madame de Sévigné in the field beside
us, to give them a lesson on entomology; and as our lesson was fresh
and to the point, and interesting, though we say it ourselves, and
rather out of the common track of entomological experience, we give
it to the reader, that he may know and believe, and reverently ponder,
a truth that has never been so well expressed as by St. Augustine, the
sturdy, old, bellicose Bishop of Hippo, who of all the Fathers had the
most sensitive nose for the out-ferreting of a heretic, and who, when
he got hold of one, treated him very much as a Scotch terrier does a
rat--but who could say and do good things notwithstanding. Deus magnus
in magnis, maximus in minimis. God is great, that is, in great things,
but greatest of all in least things. The mole, as we have said, was
lying on his side on a grassy patch of fast-growing aftermath, and our
glimpse of the beetle beneath showed us that it was the Necrophorus
vespillo, or burying-beetle, rare anywhere in Britain, and so rare
in Lochaber and the west coast, that this was only the third or
fourth instance in which we had met with it. It is a black beetle,
rather more than an inch in length, with two bright orange-coloured
bands across the back, and more active in all its movements than any
of its congeners. There were just two beetles, observe--a pair, male
and female--engaged upon the mole, and the "mole" of Adrianus, when
a-building, showed not more labour and not half the mechanical skill
or indomitable perseverance on the part of its constructors exhibited
by these tiny but thoroughly skilled excavators in the case of their
mole. "You see that mole," we said to our attentive audience, leaning
upon our rake for the moment, as if it were a sceptre of prerogative
and power, as in truth it was. "It is almost as big as an ordinary
sized rat--bigger, you will confess, than three full-grown mice. It
has only been dead, say, a dozen of hours; his sleek and still glossy
coat proves it. This pair of beetles, then, a single pair remember,
have discovered him by an instinct and sense of smell which must be
wonderfully delicate and keen. They are now, as you may see, busy
digging under and around him, and after breakfast to-morrow morning we
shall come and see the result." "Suppose, papa," said one of the girls,
with a demure look, though with a merry twinkle in her eye the while,
"Suppose, sir, that this afternoon a passing kestrel or owl should
pick up our mole and make a meal of him, what then could we see in
the morning?" "What you suggest is, no doubt, possible enough," was
our rejoinder, "but we believe the mole will be here to-morrow morning
all the same, provided you take example from the animal's proverbial
wakefulness, and are up and have breakfast ready for us all in good
time." Meantime, that they might know it again, should they ever come
across it, we took up the male beetle, distinguishing the sex from
his being somewhat smaller and rather more active than his mate, on
the palm of our left hand, and with the fingers of the right turned
him on his back to show him properly, the delicate markings of his
abdomen, his muscular thorax and cas-chrom shaped antennæ. We soon
wished we had not done it; it was a thoughtless proceeding on our part,
and we should have known better. We nearly fainted, and our children
started back in horror and alarm at the foul and foetid smell of the
carrion-eating Vespillo. It was horrible; never in all our experience
were our olfactory nerves so offended. A pot of stale assafoetida from
a druggist's shop, all the proverbial many dozen stinks of Cologne in
combination, would have been a joke to it, a bouquet of roses compared
with our Vespillo. It made us quite sick and ill for the moment; but
we had the presence of mind to lay down our malodorous beetle beside
his beloved mole ere we followed our audience, who were by this time
scampering in all directions across the field, with their fingers
tightly compressing their nostrils, and vowing that they would have no
more to do with dead moles or burying-beetles, be they ever so brightly
banded or interesting from papa's point of view. A message now came
forth that tea was ready; but no tea could we drink, nor bread could
we handle, on account of the horrible smell that still adhered to our
fingers and palm. Washing with soap and water had no effect upon it,
for it seemed to have instantly and thoroughly penetrated and permeated
skin, flesh, and muscle, and to have reached and lodged in the very
bone itself, whence it refused to be extirpated. It was only late
at night, sitting by a briny rock-pool, and using the viscous clay
of the beach after the manner of soap, that we managed to get quit
of the foul odour; and even after a final washing with hot water
and scented soap, as we retired for the night, we still persuaded
ourselves that the loathsome smell had not altogether departed. All
the carrion beetles, without exception, and most of the ground beetles
proper, have always more or less of a disagreeable, sickening smell
about them, but in this respect the burying-beetle is worse than all
the rest put together; seeming to have centered in his own person a
combination of the essences of all possible stenches in their worst and
foulest form. In the case of the Vespillo, it is to be noted that the
foetid smell, though always there, and easily perceptible, is bearable
enough while the animal is quiescent and undisturbed, and you do not
approach it too closely. Tease it, however, in any way; touch it with
the point of a switch, or take it up, as we foolishly did, in your
hand, and the stench, emitted probably in self-defence, as in the
case of the skunk and polecat, is of all others the most abominable
in itself, and the most difficult to get rid of. Next morning, then,
on visiting the mole, as proposed, we found it completely buried,
with at least half an inch depth of earth neatly shovelled over it,
with a slight ridge in the centre, and sloping sides, showing that
the Vespillones are practised grave-diggers. Averse to disturbing
a work that had cost the tiny excavators so much labour, we only
removed the earth sufficiently to bring a small patch of the mole's
fur to view, in proof to those accompanying us that the animal had
really been buried by the beetles, as we had said it would be. A
full-grown elephant buried by a pair of field mice would hardly be a
more wonderful labour. The rationale and raison d'être of the whole
labour thus carried out with so much diligence and engineering skill
is this: the carrion of the dead mole, mouse, or bird thus operated
upon, serves in the first instance partly as food for the beetles
themselves (and they richly deserve a feast, such as it is, in reward
for their arduous labours), after which the female lays her eggs in
the fast-rotting carcase, and it is then left as the doubtless savoury
banquet of the larvæ, while the parent pair cruise about in search
of another dead bird or quadruped of the proper size, whereupon to
bestow similar attentions. It is principally owing to the labours of
these beetles that it happens that although you may see a dead mole,
mouse, or bird lying in the corner of a field to-day, you shall look
for it in vain next morning elsewhere than in a beetle-dug grave,
as in the above instance. That a single pair of these comparatively
small insects should be able to perform such a gigantic task in so
short a time is, in truth, very wonderful, and must seem incredible
to any one unacquainted with the habits and economy of the order.

There are doubtless many odd and curious ways of earning even an
honest livelihood in this world, but the oddest, and to us, while
uninitiated, the most puzzling we have met with for a long time, was
the following:--On a fine day lately, we took our boat to the mouth
of the Coe, and were leisurely proceeding up the far-famed glen,
when we saw, a little before us, a diminutive but still active old
man, whom, from his peculiar style of dress, we had no difficulty
in recognising as a peripatetic vendor of ballads, letter-paper,
steel pens, and other knick-knacks, who frequently pays us a visit in
Lochaber, and with whom, in lieu of better company, we have had many a
far from uninteresting roadside crack. As, with a longer and livelier
stride than his, we were rapidly overtaking him, we noticed that he
frequently stopped and picked up something, now from the middle of
the road, now from the footpath at the side, and occasionally from
the grass beyond, which something he instantly deposited in a sort
of canvas side-pouch, or wallet slung at his side. "Well, Willie,"
we exclaimed, as we came up with him, "what in the world are you
doing in the glen to-day, and where's your pack? I wish to have a
look at your bundle of ballads?" "Weel, sir," was Willie's response,
"my pack is laid by at Duror just now; my present wark"--here he made
a dart at something on the grass that looked to us uncommonly like a
big black beetle, and transferred it to his wallet,--"my present wark,"
he went on to say, "pays far better, and is mair pleasant, besides, in
this dreadfu' hot weather." "But what is your present work, Willie?" we
inquired, "what are you so industriously picking up along the road and
transferring to your wallet? Snails? beetles? what?" "No mony snails,
or beetles either, sir," said Willie, with more entomological good
sense than we gave him credit for, "abroad in such hot and dry weather
as this is. I'm no very fond of telling what I am doing to everybody;
and when I see anybody coming, I generally sit down and let them pass;
but I saw you coming, sir, and I kent ye brawly, and didn't mind. And
now I'll show ye what I'm gathering." With this he put his hand in his
capacious pouch, and took out a handful of cigar and cheroot stumps,
of all shapes and sizes. Some had been "smoked out," that is, till only
an inch or so remained; others were only half smoked, and a few had
only afforded the smoker a whiff or two, when, from a disinclination to
smoke any further, or, perhaps, from some defect in the cigar itself,
it was thrown away as of no further use. Of these cigar stumps "Willie"
had at that moment nearly a pound weight in his wallet, the result
of his forenoon's labours. We daresay we looked, as we really were,
very much puzzled, which, Willie observing, he politely asked us for
a light for his pipe, and invited us to sit on a ledge of rock by
the roadside, and he would "tell us a' aboot it." Our pipes alight,
we sat down accordingly, and Willie proceeds as follows:--"Weel, sir,
I doubt if ever there was such a number of strangers--tourists, as
they ca' them--day after day in Glencoe as there are this year. And
a' the gentlemen that goes up the glen smoke, and I have seen some
of the ladies--forrenders, I suspect--smoking too, the mair shame to
them. They a' maistly smoke cigars, and they throw them from them when
they're done with them; sometimes only a short stump, and sometimes
almost a hail ane, as I have shown ye; and I pick them up and sell
them in Greenock or Glasgow for three ha'pence or tuppence the ounce,
and that's a' aboot it." "But what," we inquired, "do they make of
them in Glasgow?" "Weel, sir," he replied, "I believe some of them,
the cleanest, langest, and best bits, are unrolled, and made up anew
into cigars, and the shorter and dirtier stumps are dried and broken
down to mix with other tobacco, in making the mixtures called 'bird's
eye,' 'shag,' exetry, exetry." We ordered Willie a glass of beer
at Clachaig, and went on our way with a bit of curious information,
till that particular date undreamt of in all our philosophy.


    Seaweed as a Fertiliser--Homer, Horace, Virgil--November
    Meteors--Gaelic Folk-Lore--A Curfew Prayer--A Bed Blessing--A
    Cattle Blessing--Rhyme to be said in driving Cattle to
    Pasture--"Luath," Cuchullin's Dog--Notes from the Outer Hebrides.

From a utilitarian point of view, at least, the ancients seem
to have looked upon the sea and all its products--exclusive, of
course, of its myriad inhabitants of finny tribes--as absolutely
worthless. Homer in the Iliad constantly speaks of the sea as
"unfertile," alòs atrugétoio,--literally, the ocean where no harvest
can be gathered; and Horace in one of his satires says that a man
may be possessed of all the virtues, and all the accomplishments,
&c. to boot, but if yet sine rê--without means, moneyless, or to use,
perhaps, the best equivalent that our language can afford, without
substance--he shall be accounted "vilior algâ," viler than seaweed,
or, as we should say, viler than the dust on which he treads. Even
Virgil in the Georgics has no good word for the sea as in any sense,
directly or indirectly, subservient to husbandry, or an ally to the
tiller of the ground. Had these master-poets of Greece and Rome,
gentle reader, lived with us here in Nether Lochaber, in the seventh
decade of the nineteenth century, they would have thought and said
differently. Homer would have probably selected a more appropriate
epithet than that constantly employed by him; Horace would have
cast about for some other fitting dissyllable as a substitute for
"algâ;" and Virgil would have written, as he alone could write, a
score or two of unexceptionable hexameters in praise of seaweed as
an excellent manure and fertiliser of the soil. "It is an ill wind,"
quoth the proverb, "that blows nobody good;" and disastrous in many
a place as was the dreadful storm of the first week of this month
[November 1872], here along the western seaboard it only blew us
good, in the very tangible and tangly shape of thousands of tons of
drift-ware, that, laid on the soil in fair abundance just now, prepares
it without any more trouble for the reception of seed, when, ushered
in by the vernal equinox, the jocund, jolly spring comes round. For
the last fortnight, wherever you wandered about the coast, you found
the people in every direction--men, women, and children--busy as busy
could be gathering and carting afield this really valuable product
of the sea--Homer and Horace to the contrary notwithstanding. We draw
attention to the subject at present by reason of its timeousness, and
because within recent years we have had it made clear to us beyond all
cavil, and in the most practical manner possible, that for potatoes
at least there is no manure for a moment to be compared with a heavy
blanketing of drift-ware laid on the ground in early winter. On our
own land this year a field of potatoes thus treated was a third at
least better than another of equal size manured from the farmyard
"heap" in the usual orthodox manner. The soil, observe, was the same,
the seed the same, the date of planting the same--the only difference
being in the manure. In the experience of such of our neighbours, too,
as have tried it, the result has been precisely the same. The salts and
other essential ingredients of seaware seem to be really antagonistic
to the spread of "blight" among the tubers; and we would strongly
advise as many of our readers as have the opportunity to experiment
for themselves in the direction indicated during the present winter and
spring, and we are ready to wager our good porcupine-shafted "Pickwick"
steel pen against the vilest crow-quill, that, on the ingathering of
the crop this time twelve months, our advice, in nineteen cases out
of twenty, will have been found to be a sound and good one.

Since the cessation of the terrible gales of the early part of
the month, the weather has been bright, bracing, and breezy,
with occasional snow showers along the uplands, that have already
converted the many mountain ridges around each into a veritable Sierra
Nevada. On the nights of the 13-14th and 14-15th we sat up till a late,
or rather an early hour, keenly on the watch for a meteoric display,
in railway nomenclature, then due, but which, up to the date of the
present writing, has not yet put in an appearance. Meteors there were,
but they were the mere phosphorescent streaks rarely looked for in
vain by the student of the heavens on a fairly cloudless night at
this season. The lunar eclipse of the early morning of the 15th was
well seen, the beautiful orb, like a shield of burnished silver,
riding serene in the unclouded blue; but the obscuration was too
partial to be in any way interesting or striking to any one who had
gazed on the phenomenon in its grander phases as often as we have done.

To our good friend Mr. Carmichael of South Uist we are indebted for
the following contributions to our stock of ancient Celtic folk-lore,
a subject much neglected, but of very great interest notwithstanding:--

    Urnuigh Smalaidh Teine.

    A prayer to be said at covering up the fire at bedtime.

    (Taken down from the recitation of a man living at Iocar of Uist.)

    Smàlaidh mise an teine;
    Mar a smàlas Mac Moire.
    Gu'm bu slàn an tigh 's an teine,
    Gu'm bu slàn do 'n chuideachd uile.
    Co sid air an làr?
    Peadair agus Pàl,
    Co air a bhith's an aire 'nochd?
    Air Moire geal 's air a Mac.
    Beul De a dh'innseas,
    Aingeal geal a lann'ras,
    Aingeal 'an dorus gach taighe
    Gu solus gael a maireach.

Which may be rendered into English as follows:--

    I will cover up the fire aright,
    Even as directed by the Virgin's own Son.
    Safe be the house, and safe the fire,
    And safe from harm be all the indwellers.
    Who is that that I see on the floor?
    Even Peter himself and Paul.
    Upon whom shall this night's vigil rest?
    Upon the blameless Virgin Mother and her Son.
    God's mouth has spoken it.
    A white-robed angel shall gleam in the darkness,
    An angel (to keep watch and ward) at the door of each house
    Till the return of the morrow's blessed light.

Having thus duly covered up the fire, and committed the house and
its inhabitants to the Divine protection during the watches of the
night, the following "Bed Blessing" was repeated by each as the people
retired to rest:--

    Altachadh Leapa'.

    Laidhidh mise 'nochd
    Le Moire's le 'Mac,
    Le mathair mo Righ,
    'Ni mo dhion 'o dhroch-bheairt,
    Cha laidh mise leis an olc,
    'S cha laidh an t'olc leam;
    Ach laidhidh mi le Dia,
    'S laidhidh Dia ma' rium.
    Lamh dheas Dhe fo'm cheann,
    Crois nan naoi aingeal leam.
    'O mhullach mo chinn
    Gu craican mo bhonn.
    Guidheam Peadair, guidheam Pòl,
    Guidheam Moir-Oigh' 'sa Mac.
    Guidheam an da ostal deug,
    Gun mise 'dhol eug le'n cead.
    'Dhia 'sa Mhoire na gloire.
    'S a Mhic na oighe cubhraidh
    Cumabh mise o na piantan dorcha,
    'S Micheal geal' an cò'ail m'anama.

Which, fairly translated into English, will stand thus:--

    A Blessing to be said at Bedtime.

    This night I will lay me down to sleep
    In the companionship of the Virgin and her Son,
    Even with the mother of my King,
    Who protects me from all evil.
    I will not lie down to sleep with evil,
    Nor shall evil lie down to sleep with me;
    But I shall sleep with God.
    And with me shall God lie down.
    His good right arm be under my head;
    The cross of the Nine Angels be about me,
    From the top of my head
    Even to the soles of my feet.
    I supplicate Peter, I supplicate Paul,
    I supplicate Mary the Virgin and her Son,
    And I supplicate the twelve Apostles,
    That evil befall me not this night, with their consent.
    Good and ever glorious Mary,
    And Thou, Son of the sweet-savoured Virgin,
    Protect me this night from all the pains of darkness!
    And thou, Michael, ever beneficent, be about for the safe keeping
                                                             of my soul!

Apart from the appropriateness and almost absolute faultlessness
of the rhythm and language in which they are couched, nothing
about these old Hebridean "Blessings" seems to us so beautiful and
striking as the nearness with which they bring Heaven and its active,
ceaseless beneficence, to the very firesides and commonest affairs
of men. Nothing is too small or insignificant to be placed, not in
a general way observe, but in the most literal particular sense,
under the Divine guardianship. With these old people, in their
ocean-girt and storm-swept islands, God was not merely the creator,
but the ever present, ever near father, protector, and friend,
while to them His angels were in very truth "ministering spirits,
sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation"--not
merely in spiritual matters, we are to remark, but in all the affairs
of common, every-day life. Since the days of the ancient Hebrews,
nowhere shall we find so firm and fixed a belief in a direct and
constant intercourse and communion for good between Heaven and Earth.

The following "Blessing," to be said over cattle when being led to
pasture of a morning, is exceedingly interesting:--

    Rann Buachailleachd.

    Siubhal beinne, siubhal coille,
    Sinbhal gu rèidh fada, farsuinn,
    Banachag Phadruig ma 'n casan,
    'S gu faic mise slàn a rithisd sith.
    An seun a chuir Moire mu 'buar,
    Moch 'us anmoch 'sa tigh'n bhuaidh',
    Ga'n gleidheadh o pholl, o eabar.
    O fheithe, o adh'rcean a cheile,
    O liana' na Craige-Ruaidhe,
    'S o Luaths na Féinne.
    Banachag Phadruig ma'r casan,
    Gu'm bu slàn a thig sibh dhachaidh.

In English thus--

    A Rhyme to be said in driving Cattle to Pasture.

    Wandering o'er uplands, wandering through woods,
    Hither and far away wander ye still,
    St. Patrick's own milkmaid attend your steps
    Till safe I see you return to me again.
    The charm that Mary made to her cattle,
    Early and late, going and coming from pasture,
    Still keep you safe from quagmire and marsh,
    From pitfalls and from each other's horns,
    From the sudden swelling (of the torrent about) the Red Rock
    And from Luath of the Fingalians.
    St. Patrick's milkmaid attend your feet,
    Safe and scaithless come ye home again.

The reference to "Luath," Cuchullin's matchless dog, so celebrated
in the Ossianic poems and old Fingalian tales, is curious. The ghosts
of the Fingalian heroes, existing in a sort of middle state--not yet
exactly saved nor wholly lost--with those of their famous dogs, were
believed to visit at times the scenes of their former exploits for the
sake of the hunting, in which they so much delighted, and a cow or
other animal, running about excitedly and wildly, and, to all human
investigation, causelessly, was supposed to be the work of a passing
Fingalian hunting party, invisible to mortal eyes, Luath, unmatched
in spirit-land as upon earth, still leading the chase as of old. On
the lines about St. Patrick's dairymaid or milkmaid Mr. Carmichael
has the following note, which will be read with interest, and which
we give in his own words:--

    "'Banachag Phadriug mu'r casan.'
    (St. Patrick's dairymaid be around your feet.)

Banachag is the Hebridean form of the Banarach of the mainland, and
Banachogach or Banacach is the Hebridean term for the smallpox. You
will observe the close resemblance between the Gaelic word for
a dairymaid and that for the smallpox. I think the explanation is
obvious. Dairymaids were wont to get the cow-pox, and people confounded
the cow-pox with the smallpox. Hence, in the Highlands old people will
tell you that effects of the cow-pox were known long before Jenner's
celebrated discovery. Hence, also, you will rarely meet with a woman
in the Highlands disfigured from the effects of smallpox. Not so the
men, however. In England, again, in the rural parishes, the case is
reversed. There you will see women pox-marked, but seldom men. The
reason I take it to be is this:--In the Highlands it is the woman who
milk the cattle, and in doing so they get the cow-pox off the cows
in milking them. A Highlander would consider it unmanly to milk a
cow. I have never seen or heard of one who could or would do this,
except a young man in Lismore. Three or four young men, brothers,
had a small farm among them. Their mother died and their two sisters
married, and probably remembering Calum-Cille's celebrated saying--

             'Far am bi bò bith'dh bean,
             S' far am bi bean bithidh buaireadh.'
    (Where there is a cow there will be a woman,
    And where there is a woman there will be mischief.)

They resolved to do without a woman in their house at all; and they
succeeded for a time, but not for long, for--

    'Man, the hermit, sighed, till woman smiled.'

One of them ultimately brought home a wife, who soon became a cause
of discord and ill-will among the previously happy and affectionate
brothers. But this is digressing. In England it is the men who
milk the cows. Most men in rural parishes can milk, and but few
women. Consequently in the agricultural districts of England you
hardly ever see an elderly man disfigured by the smallpox, but you
can see many women so disfigured. These suggestions are simply the
results of my own observations in England and in the Highlands. They
may be to the purpose or not, I don't know."

We think they are to the purpose, and we are very much obliged to our
correspondent for his many interesting contributions from the Outer
Hebrides to our stock of "auld-world" folk-lore.


    The Delights of Beltane Tide--Bishop Gawin Douglas--His
    Translation of the Æneid--The Fat of Deer--"Light and Shade"
    from the Gaelic--Mackworth Praed--Discovery of an old Flint
    Manufactory in the Moss of Ballachulish.

In the poetry and proverbs of our country you constantly meet with
references which go to prove that alternations of sunshine and
shower [April 1873] have for ages been held to be the meteorological
characteristics of an April day throughout the British Islands,
and most of all, perhaps, in Scotland. To go no further, you will
remember Scott's concluding lines in Rokeby--

    "Time and Tide had thus their sway,
    Yielding, like an April day,
    Smiling noon for sullen morrow,
    Years of joy for hours of sorrow."

This, however, has been the driest April known in the West Highlands
for at least a score of years past. Hardly any rain has fallen during
the month, and with a bright sun overhead, and drying north-easterly
winds, rivers and streams have seldom been at a lower ebb even in
midsummer, while in some places you hear complaints of an absolute
scarcity of water even for ordinary household purposes--a very rare
thing, indeed, in the West Highlands at this season of the year,
or for that matter of it at any season. There was, however, such a
superabundance of moisture in the ground, from the heavy rains of the
past winter, that vegetation has as yet suffered little or nothing
from the drought, and the country is beautiful exceedingly in all
its greenery of leaf and gaiety of expanding blossom and bursting
bud. Our wild-birds never had a finer nesting season, and they are
now literally as merry as the day is long, for with the first flush
of dawn in the east they begin their rich and varied song, which, with
a short interval of quiescence and repose about mid-day, is continued
without interruption until long after the sun has set and the earlier
stars are already twinkling through the twilight gloom. April will
be succeeded by the "merry month of May," which, with the exception
of two, or at most three, cold days, with frost at night, about the
10th, is pretty sure to be an unusually fine month even for May. It
was an article of belief in the hygienic code of the old Highlanders,
and which you come across occasionally even at the present day, that
the invalid, suffering under no matter what form of internal ailment,
upon whom the sun of May once fairly shed its light, was pretty sure
of a renewed lease of life until at least the next autumnal equinox,
and how fine, by the way, and lightsome and cheery withal, Bishop
Gawin Douglas' apostrophe (circa 1512):--

   "Welcum the lord of licht, and lamp of day,
    Welcum fosterare of tender herbis grene,
    Welcum quickener of flurest flouris schene,
    Welcum supporte of every rute and vane,
    Welcum comfort of all kind frute and grane,
    Welcum the birdis beild upon the brier,
    Welcum maister and ruler of the yeare,
    Welcum weilfare of husbands at the plewis,
    Welcum repairer of woddis, treis, and bewis,
    Welcum depainter of the blomyt medis,
    Welcum the lyf of every thing that spedis,
    Welcum storare of all kind bestial,
    Welcum be thy bricht beams gladand all!"

(Prologue to "xii. Buke of Eneados of Virgill.")

The Æneid has been often translated into English, both in prose and
verse, since the days of Gawin Douglas, but we doubt if the Mantuan
bard has ever been more happily rendered than by the good Bishop of
Dunkeld. The following is his rendering of perhaps the best known
and perhaps the most frequently quoted passage in Virgil:--

                  "Facilis descensus Averni,
    Noctes atque dies patet atri janua Ditis;
    Sed revocare gradum, superasque evadere ad auras
    Hoc opus, hic labor est," &c.

    "It is richt facill and sith gate, I thè tell,
    For to descend and pass on doun to hell:
    The black yettis of Pluto and that dirk way,
    Standis evir open and patent nycht and day:
    But therefra to return agane on hicht,
    And bere aboue recouir this airis light,
    That is difficill werk, there labour lyis;
    Full fewe there bene quhom heich aboue the skyis,
    Thare ardent vertew has rasit and upheit,
    Or yet quhame squale Jupiter deifyit,
    Thay quhilkis bene gendrit of goddis may thidder attane.
    All the midway is wilderness vnplane,
    Or wilsum forrest; and the laithly flude
    Cocytus with his dresy bosom vnrude
    Flowis enuiron rounde about that place."

Warton (History of English Poetry) says of Bishop Douglas' Æneid,
that "it is executed with equal spirit and fidelity, and is a proof
that the Lowland Scotch and English languages were then nearly the
same." We may state that Douglas' Æneid, irrespective of its many
and great intrinsic merits, is especially interesting, as being the
first translation of a Roman classic into the English language either
in verse or prose. We have quoted above an old Highland belief in the
exceeding efficacy, even in the most serious ailments, of the kindly
beams of a May-day sun. Another belief of theirs was this--

    "Geir fèidh air a ghabhail 'n ad bhroinn, 's air a shuathadh ri d'
    dhruim 's ri d' thaobh--
    Am fear nach leighis sid, cha'n 'eil leagheas ann."

That is--the fat of deer applied internally and externally, the
invalid whose sickness that does not heal, why, then, there is no
healing for him. The old Highlanders, you see, knew the value of deer:
they hadn't a good word to say of sheep.

A few days ago we went into a cottage where a woman was sitting
spinning, and singing a song we had not heard for many years, though we
recollect hearing it frequently sung in boyhood. The soft and plaintive
air was an old favourite, and her style of singing pleasing. With a
very sweet voice and much feeling, she sang it all on requesting her to
do so; and after tea in the evening we threw the verses into English,
as follows. It is, however, rather an imitation than a translation. The
original, which is probably known to many of our readers, beginning--

    "Tha'n oidhche dorcha, dubh, gun reult
    Tha aibh's na speur fo ghruaman," &c.

is old; how old we know not. Nor have we any clue to the name of the
author, or more probably authoress. Of the authors, indeed, of many
of our very finest Gaelic songs may be said what was said of the old
nameless border-bard, that they--

    "Nameless as the race from whence they sprung,
    Saved other names and left their own unsung."

The song in Gaelic has no particular title. It is known by the two
first lines quoted above, just as we say, "Of a' the airts the wind
can blaw," and "Ye banks and braes o' bonnie Doon." In default of
anything better, our English version may perhaps appropriately enough
be entitled--

    Light and Shade.

    Dark and dreary is the world to me,
      No sun, no moon, no star;
    Vainly I struggle on my midnight sea,
      No beacon gleams afar;
    A wilderness of winter, frost and snow,
    Sad and alone I hang my head in woe.

    'Tis vain to strive against the will of fate
      (No sun, no moon, no star);
    Where I had looked for love, I found but hate
      (No beacon gleams afar);
    I gave my heart, my all, to one who cares
    Now nought for me--no one my sorrow shares.

    Cares not my love though I were dead and gone
      (No sun, no moon, no star!)
    God help me, I am weak and all alone
      (No beacon shines afar):
    I dare not reveal my grief, I dare not tell;
    The fire that burns my heart no tears can quell.

    Traveller that passest o'er hill
      (May thy night have its star!)
    Acquaint my love that you have left me ill,
      And seen my bleeding scar;
    'Twere better to have killed than maimed me thus--
    A bird with broken wing in the lone wilderness.

    I once was happy, and how bright was then
      Sun, moon, and every star!
    Spotless and pure I laughed along the glen;
      When, swift to mar
    This happiness and peace, the spoiler came
      And left me all bereft--the child of shame.

    And yet I do not hate him, woe is me
      (No sun, no moon, no star!)
    But shun him, O ye maidens frank and free!
      'Twere better far
    That you were lifeless laid in the cold tomb,
    In all your virgin pride and beauty's bloom.

    But God is good, and He will mercy have;
      (How bright the morning star!)
    Even the weary-laden find a grave--
      (The beacon shines afar!)
    Bless, Father of our Lord so meek and mild,
      An erring mother and a helpless child.

The moral of our song is obvious, though you will observe the story is
told with all possible delicacy and good taste, a characteristic, by
the way, of our best Gaelic poetry. The reader may easily understand
that, sung in proper time and place, and with proper feeling, such
a song is calculated to have a good effect, and convey a healthy
lesson in its own indirect way, when a sermon or moral exhortation,
however well meant, would be altogether out of the question. There
is much sound sense in Mackworth Praed's Chaunt of the Brazen Head,
the first verse of which is this--

    "I think, whatever mortals crave
      With impotent endeavour,
    A wreath--a rank--a throne--a grave--
      The world goes round for ever;
    I think that life is not too long,
      And, therefore, I determine,
    That many people read a song,
      Who will not read a sermon."

At a bridal, baptism, or other merry-making, such a song as the above
is calculated to do more good than the most laboured, well-meant,
and goody-goody sermon that ever was preached. As we rode away from
yonder cottage door, the woman resuming her task, and chanting a gay
and lively air in accompaniment, we were reminded of a verse quite
apropos to the occasion:--

    "Verse sweetens toil, however rude the sound:
      All at her work the village maiden sings;
    Nor while she turns the giddy wheel around,
      Revolves the sad vicissitude of things."

And we also thought of the simple and beautiful epitaph on the tomb
of a nameless Roman matron:--

    "Domum mansit, lanam fecit,"

which old Robertson of Strowan has so admirably rendered into our
Scottish Doric:--

    She keepit weel the house, and birlt at the wheel!

A discovery of considerable archæological interest has recently been
made by some people employed in trenching the moss of Ballachulish
in our neighbourhood. At a depth of ten feet in the "drift" subsoil,
underlying six or seven feet of moss, only removed within recent years
in the ordinary course of peat-cutting, was found the remains of what,
in the far past, must have been a flint instrument manufactory on
a large scale. Within an area of twenty or thirty square yards was
disclosed several cartloads of flint chippings, manifestly broken
off in the manufacture of flint instruments, for we have been able
to secure several arrow heads, two roughly finished chisels, and
a hammer head of curious shape, with a hole in the centre, which
must have cost the maker no small amount of time and trouble in the
manipulation. What renders this "find" more interesting is the fact
that the material must have been brought to the place of manufacture
from a considerable distance, flint being of rare occurrence anywhere
in Nether Lochaber. Underlying such a depth of solid moss and drift,
such a discovery necessarily carries us back to a race of men who
lived in a very remote period indeed; how remote, even geology is
as yet unable absolutely to say. We were unfortunately from home
at the time the discovery was made, and were thus prevented from
examining the whole in sitû. This much, however, is certain, that
under a diluvial bed of drift, gravel, and sand of upwards of two
feet in thickness, underlying a thickness of at least six feet of
solid moss, a flint instrument manufactory is found, the work of
a people who lived before the deposit of that drift and the growth
of that moss. How many thousands and thousands of years ago lived
that flint-working race, who, in view of the extreme slowness of
geological changes, can say? We know that in the celebrated case of
the discovery of flint weapons at Abbeville and elsewhere in France
the remains of extinct species of elephant, rhinoceros, and other
mammals were found at an immense depth in the drift alongside of
flint instruments unquestionably fashioned by human hands. Whether
our Ballachulish discovery is to be held as a connecting link with
a people of an antiquity as remote as those of Abbeville, it would
be rash positively to assert; but the flint workers, some remains of
whose labours have, as we have stated, been recently brought to light
in our neighbourhood, must have lived at a period when the face of
the country was geologically very different from what it is now; and
remembering how slowly as a rule geological changes are brought about,
we shall probably be still within the mark, if approximately we fix
the era of the earliest flint workers at something like ten thousand
years ago, and in the case of Abbeville, Continental archæologists
have had no hesitation in suggesting a still remoter antiquity.


    Warm showery Summer, disagreeable for the Tourist, but pastorally
    and agriculturally favourable--Xiphias Gladius, or Sword-Fish,
    cast ashore during a Midsummer Gale--Garibaldi dining on Potatoes
    and Sword-Fish steaks at Caprera--The General's Drink--Medicinal
    virtues of an Onion--Nettle Broth--Translation of a New Zealand
    Maori Song.

"Rather showery, sir," exclaims the pleasure-seeking butterfly tourist
as he stands at his hotel window, or settles himself as comfortably
as may be on the box-seat of the coach in the morning. "Not a bit of
it, sir," responds the sturdy agriculturist or well-to-do drover;
"not a bit of it, sir, the finest growing weather we could have:
cattle and sheep getting into condition famously!" [July 1873]. In
such a case it is best to avoid declaring positively for either
party. In medio tutissimus ibis. Both are right from their individual
standpoint; that of the agriculturist and drover being the utilitarian
and anti-poetic, while the sentimental tourist, bent on sight-seeing
and recreation, very pardonably grumbles that instead of clear skies
and refreshing breezes he is as often as not enveloped in mist and
small rain. In any case the country is at present most beautiful,
and despite the grumblings of a few, who foolishly expect to have "a'
the comforts of the Sautmarket" about them whithersoever they wander,
such batches of tourists as we forgather with from time to time are
in raptures with our glens, and bens, and lochs, and richly wooded
shores, as well they may. And never before in the West Highlands
were all the conveniences for "touristing" with ease and comfort,
and all reasonable despatch, so perfect and so varied.

A tolerably perfect, though not very large specimen of the sword-fish,
the Xiphias gladius of ichthyologists, was cast ashore in our
neighbourhood during an unusually heavy midsummer gale from the
south-west last week. The length of the elongated snout, commonly
called the sword or dagger, was two feet seven inches, a really
formidable weapon, with which it has been known, whether willingly
or unwillingly it would be difficult to say, to perforate the bottom
timbers of the stoutest ships, the sword in such cases luckily breaking
off as a rule, and thus becoming an immediate as well as an efficient
plug or stop-gap to the perforation. It is a more frequent visitor to
our shores than our natural history books would lead one to believe,
hardly a summer passing but you hear of one or more being caught
or cast ashore somewhere. This is the fourth specimen that within
twenty years has come under our personal inspection here on the west
coast. The largest and finest we ever saw was captured by a well-known
Fort-William fisherman, Iack Crùbach, or Lame Jack. If we well
remember, we think he told us that somebody gave him a sovereign for
it. Its flesh is said to be excellent eating, while its liver affords
an oil equal to eel oil in transparency, and of marvellous virtue,
it is said, as a medicament. The favourite habitats of the sword-fish
are the Sicilian and the Italian shores of the Mediterranean, where,
at certain seasons of the year, it is caught in great numbers,
the average weight being quite a hundred, and sometimes two hundred
pounds or more. We have it in our Common-Place Book that Major Healy,
of the yacht "Wildbird," informed us in Fort-William (August 1869)
that he had just returned from the Mediterranean; had called on
Garibaldi at Caprera, and dined with him on potatoes and sword-fish
steaks, which the gallant Major pronounced excellent. We may state, as
something curious, that while the Major at said dinner had his choice
of very good wines, with lots of capital bottled "Bass" from England,
the General himself drank a funny decoction composed of Marsala and
water--half-and-half--in which a large onion, sliced lemon-wise,
had been steeping for the whole previous night--a drink which the
Major tasted, and in very emphatic phrase declared to be "beastly,"
but which he shrewdly guessed had something to do with the General's
rheumatism and gout. Any of our readers having a tendency thitherwards
might do worse than take the hint. There may be something in it,
for we recollect, when a little boy in Morven, that an onion was
somehow considered a panpharmacon, a perfect panacea--good for any
and every ailment. That the mediæval herbalist, like the mediæval
alchemist, was often a quack is very likely. In many instances he
could hardly be otherwise when his profession was in such repute; but
it is a question if our revulsion has not gone too far; if our modern
medicinists do not rather much overlook, too contemptuously ignore,
the inherent virtues, as to human ailments, of roots and herbs and
"flowers of the field." An old lady in our neighbourhood, shrewd
and intelligent beyond most of her class, told us not long ago as
she was cutting nettles by the roadside, as an evening bonne bouche
for her cow, that Stewart of Invernahyle, Sir Walter Scott's friend,
made it a point every spring to have nettle broth or soup on three
consecutive days about the season of the vernal equinox, which he
religiously believed acted as a safe and efficient diuretic for the
remainder of the year. From Mairi Bhàn, Invernahyle's sister, the

    "Mhairi Bhàn gur barrail thu"

of Macintyre's well-known song, are descended at least two
Presbyterian clergymen, though the Invernahyles themselves were
strongly Episcopalian--ourselves, namely, and the Rev. Mr. Cameron,
Free Church minister of Ardersier. And the writing of the word
"Episcopalian" above reminds us of the fact that the titular dignity
of the Bishopric of Argyll and the Isles is at present vacant. The
late Bishop, Dr. Ewing, with whom we had the honour of being on most
intimate and friendly terms, was an unostentatiously pious, thoroughly
good, and really very able man, whom nine-tenths of the clergy of his
own Church would not or could not understand. Thank God that in the
enumeration of the good men whom we have known, the fingers of both
hands do not suffice; and of the really good men whom we have been
privileged to know and honour with affectionate regard was the late
Bishop Ewing.

Some months ago we wrote to an old college chum, now farming in
New Zealand, advising him, as some occupation for his idle hours,
to pick up and send us such scraps of songs and poems as he might
find among the Maori race around him. No uncivilised people that
we had read or heard of seemed to us, in many respects, so like our
ancient Highlanders--the Fingalians, so called, of our older ballad
poetry--and we thought that so much of their poetry and folk-lore as
could be gathered could not fail to be interesting. Our correspondent
says:--"The Maoris, as you so shrewdly guessed, have a good deal
of poetry among them; short songs, however, for the most part,
and rhymed proverbs, and "wisdom words," as they call them, very
much like the Welsh "Triads," for they generally teach some three
particular doctrines, or state historically some three particular
facts. A few weeks ago I got an old man who came this way to sing me
some aboriginal songs, and the one that most struck my fancy I now
send to you. It is perfectly literal, for I know the native language
well, and as you are fond of rhyming, you may put it into verse if
you like. I can only send a true translation, line for line.

    Maori Song.--(Translation.)

    Fish in the pool? No fish in the pool;
    And the women are sad because of it.
    The men, too, are sad; but to-morrow
    The fish will be big, and fat, and many.

    I heard the bird singing a pleasant song.
    He sang of food; he also sang of love.
    The name of this bird is known to me,
    But I will not tell it till we meet under the moon.

    The stranger, with his face so ugly and pale,
    Has come from far over the sea.
    He loves us, he says; but a Maori maid
    Will not listen to his love.

    The mountains and vales of our own land
    Are pleasant to see and live among.
    And the sun at his setting is very red--
    Red with love to the Maori; angry at the stranger.

    My father lived here long ago;
    He lived here, and here also lived the paraipa (a kind of bird).
    The paraipa is not here, and my father is dead:
    Woe is me, I wander among strangers.


    Mountains--The Lochaber Axe, Ancient and Modern.

"With occasional gales, by no means out of place or untimeous at this
date [October 1873], with the sun already in its retrogression, almost
half-way back through Scorpio, the weather is upon the whole mild and
more autumn-like than was any portion of autumn proper itself. Winter,
as yet, has hardly descended lower than the highest summits of our
mountain ranges, and how beautiful in the golden after-glow, even at
this season, are these same mountain peaks, impending over us like
so many living presences! Tutelary divinities we sometimes fancy
them, interested in all that belongs to the dwellers at their feet,
with living hearts under their rocky ribs, loving us even as we love
them, if we only knew it, and speaking to us in their own solemn and
mysterious language, as at midnight, in our communings with the stars,
we are startled now and again by the weird, inexplicable sighs and
sounds, and deep-toned murmurings that seem to rise from glen and
corry and frowning gorge--sounds of much meaning, doubtless, if one
only knew the language, and could respond, as the sea seems to do,
in the palpitation of its heaving waves, and the boom of its billows
upon the beach. Pantheism and atheism are the very antithesis and
antipodes of each other--errors both, just as blind credulity is
the antithesis of stubborn unbelief--but, if forced to decide in
favour of either, give us pantheism for choice, as the more poetical,
at least, and pardonable error of the two; for the recognition of a
Divine intelligence pervading and dwelling lovingly in all things is
surely preferable to the cold and bloodless anti-creed that professes
to have searched the universe for a God, but failed to find Him. For
our own part, we have dwelt so long among the mountains, and within
sight and sound of the sea, that we have learned to love them with a
strange, undefinable affection, such as one bestows only on what is
at once weird and mysterious, as well as intelligent and potent, and,
upon the whole, beneficent and friendly. So impressed are we with this
feeling at times, that we fear that, however weighty the advantages
otherwise, a city life for us would now be irksome and unenjoyable,
and anything like a lengthened sojourn in a mountainless land, far
from the sight of ocean waves, well-nigh unendurable. There is some
meaning, however wild and improbable it may seem at first sight,
in the theory that accounts for the Egyptian pyramids as erected by
a nomade people, who finally settled along the valley of the Nile,
in remembrance of the mountains of their native land, and to serve
instead of these mountains in making the astronomical observations
for which the ancient Assyrians and Chaldeans were so famous. Be these
things as they may, we dearly love the mountains by which our humble
home is surrounded, whether basking in jubilant sunshine or wrapt
in sorrowing cloud, whether robed in midsummer green, in autumnal
purple, in brown and gold, or snow-covered and ice-bound to their
base; what time the day is shortest, and the sun, almost shorn of
his beams, shines but faint and far down at its farthest point of
southern declination. It is recorded of Queen Mary, of sanguinary,
or rather igneous memory, that so affected was she by the loss of
Calais, that had been in the possession of England since the victory
at Cressy under the gallant Edward III., upwards of two hundred years
previously, that she declared in her last moments that, if her body
was opened after death, the name of the lost city would be found
written upon her heart; probably the nearest approach to anything
like poetry to be found in any word or act of her dark and bigoted and
wholly unhappy life. If such things were possible--and the ancients,
at least, believed they were--we should be apt to say the same in our
own case of the mountain ranges and sea views around us, with which
we have held such intimate fellowship for upwards of twenty years.

If one asked us where he could get coals, we should without hesitation
be disposed, were it but to keep the well-known proverb in countenance,
to direct him to Newcastle-on-Tyne. If he consulted us as to where
he could best procure a serviceable and trustworthy sword-blade
of finest workmanship and highest value, we should probably direct
him to Damascus or Toledo. If slings and slingers, we should send
him to the Balearic Isles; if bows and arrows, and how to use them
with perfectest dexterity, to the Parthians; and in so advising the
anxious inquirer for coals, or the warlike weapons in question, we
should probably be disposed to feel that we had advised him wisely
and well. And suppose one wanted a "Lochaber axe," where would he
most naturally look for it but in Lochaber? And yet, in all Lochaber
there is probably at this moment not a single specimen of a weapon
at one time so common and so peculiar to the district as to have
been called after it. The Secretary of the Royal Institution of
a seaport city of England wrote us lately, begging us to procure
for them a Lochaber axe, to be placed in a collection of shafted
weapons in their museum. He wrote as if he thought there need be no
difficulty about the matter; living as we do in Lochaber, he seemed
to think that we could lay our hands upon such a weapon as easily
as upon a tuft of heather or a twig of birch. We were, of course,
obliged to write him in reply that neither in Lochaber proper, nor,
so far as we knew, in any of the neighbouring districts, was there to
be found a single specimen of the formidable weapon in question. There
should be a good many Lochaber axes in the country however, though
not in Lochaber. We wonder if such a thing as a "Jeddart staff"
could be had to-day in its proper locality? We recollect that during
Her Majesty's first visit to Scotland in 1842, when she was received
by such a splendid gathering of the Clans at Dunkeld, there was a
company of a hundred men, commanded by the Honourable Captain James
Murray, brother of Lord Glenlyon, the biggest men that could be got in
Athole and the surrounding districts, all armed with Lochaber axes,
and a very fine sight they were as they poised and swung about their
ponderous and terrible weapons. We were then but a boy at school,
just entering upon our teens, but the appearance of these kilted
giants, with their dreadful battle-axes, is as fresh and vivid as if,
since that bright and beautiful September noon, hardly thirty days
had elapsed, instead of upwards of thirty years. We doubt, however,
if the Lochaber axe, so called, as seen at Dunkeld on the occasion
referred to, and as usually shown in our collections of weapons, is at
all a true representative of the ancient arm so formidable in many a
dour conflict in the hands of the Camerons, Macmartins, Macmillans,
and Macphees of Lochielside, Glenarkaig, and Glenlochy, and of the
Macdonalds of the Braes, and Mackenzies of Lochlevenside. The weapon
as now shown is decidedly too big, too ponderous and unwieldy ever to
have been used in actual fight. Only a Clan Samson or Clan Goliath,
and all of them of ancestral stature and strength, could hope to
wield such an arm in the heat and hurry of conflict with anything
like dexterity and ease. Like the immense two-handed "Wallace" style
of sword that is sometimes shown to you as having been the favourite
weapon of some celebrated warrior of the middle ages and subsequent
centuries, but which it is simply impossible that any mere man could
ever have wielded with effect in actual fight, the modern Lochaber
axe is too gigantic for use, and must have been manufactured, a big
pattern of a lesser weapon, merely for parade and show. That a weapon
of the kind, however, once existed, and was a favourite arm with the
men of Lochaber, is unquestionable, and a truly formidable weapon it
must have been. With a crescent axe face to cut with, it had a hook at
the back by which horsemen could be caught hold of and dragged from
their saddles, to be despatched at leisure as they lay helpless upon
the ground. The shaft was necessarily of considerable length, about
six feet, of ash or other tough wood, and of no greater girth than
a common hay-fork handle. The shaft of the modern weapon, however,
is between seven and eight feet long, and of a girth that an ordinary
hand does not suffice to grasp. The axe proper, too, or head of the arm
usually shown as a Lochaber axe, is nearly twice the weight of that
of the older and more business-like weapon. An Indian tomahawk with
a six-foot shaft, or a mediæval knight's battle-axe with a six-foot
handle, such as that with which the Bruce cleft the skull of Henry de
Boune at Bannockburn, would probably be nearer to the pattern of the
original Lochaber axe than the ridiculously big and cumbrous modern
article. You remember the scene in Scott's Lord of the Isles--

    "Of Hereford's high blood he came,
    A race renown'd for knightly fame.
    He burn'd before his Monarch's eye,
    To do some deed of chivalry.
    He spurr'd his steel, he couched his lance,
    And darted on the Bruce at once.

    "As motionless as rocks, that bide
    The wrath of the advancing tide,
    The Bruce stood fast. Each breast beat high,
    And dazzled was each gazing eye.
    The heart had hardly time to think,
    The eyelid scarce had time to wink,
    While on the King, like flash of flame,
    Spurr'd to full speed the warhorse came!
    The partridge may the falcon mock,
    If that slight palfrey stand the shock;
    But, swerving from the knight's career,
    Just as they met, Bruce shunn'd the spear.

    Onward the baffled warrior bore
    His course--but soon his course was o'er!
    High in his stirrups stood the King,
    And gave his battle-axe the swing.
    Right on De Boune, the whiles he pass'd,
    Fell that stern dint--the first--the last!
    Such strength upon the blow was put,
    The helmet crush'd like hazel nut;
    The axe shaft, with its brazen clasp,
    Was shiver'd to the gauntlet grasp.
    Springs from the blow the startled horse,
    Drops to the plain the lifeless corse.
    First of that fatal field, how soon,
    How sudden fell the fierce De Boune!"

A real Lochaber axe-head we have seen, never the complete weapon
properly shafted, though surely real and genuine specimens of the
old and famous war-arm must be found in some of our museums. At what
period the Lochaber axe ceased to be carried as a battle-arm by the
Highlanders it is impossible to say; probably soon after the general
introduction of fire-arms into the northern half of the kingdom,
for it was certainly not used in the '45, nor, so far as we know,
in the '15, nor even in the wars of Montrose; so that for upwards of
two hundred years at least it has not been used in actual combat.


    Sea-Fowl--Weather Prognostics--Goosander (Mergus Merganser,
    Linn.)--Gales of Wind--January Primroses--Lachlan Gorach, the Mull
    "Natural"--A Dancing Rhyme.

When a prophet's vaticinations are verified by the event, the world
rarely fails to be reminded of it; when it is otherwise, however;
when the vaticinations turn out to be the very reverse of true,
people are rarely ever troubled with a note on the matter, least of
all on the part of the disappointed vaticinator himself. The fact
is that everything like vaticination had better, as a rule, be let
alone; sooner or later, and in nine cases out of ten, or oftener,
the prophet never fails to come to grief. So convinced, for our own
part, are we of this, that while reserving our right to vaticinate
and predict as much and as recklessly as anybody else, when it so
pleased us, yet, as a matter of fact, we never do venture further
into the treacherous territories of vaticination than the mere
outskirts, so to speak, of what may well be called the debateable
land of weather prognostics; and even there we tread as gingerly and
cautiously as if at this moment we were on the banks of the Prah, in
constant dread of a lurking ambuscade of fierce and fetish-valorous
Ashantees. Our weather prophecies from time to time have often,
as the courteous reader may remember, been fully justified by the
event; but if the whole truth is to be told, we fear we must confess
that they have almost as frequently turned out to be wrong, and it
is not every weather prophet who will confess so much. It requires
a larger share of magnanimity than the reader is perhaps aware of,
to be able to confess one's errors with anything like complaisance,
even in such a matter as weather prognostics, and we therefore trust
that the following confession will be valued as it ought. Some time
ago the number of Arctic sea-fowl in our creeks and bays, and the near
approach of a rather early fall of snow to the sea line, justified us,
as we thought, in predicting an early and severe winter, meaning by
"severe"--for we scorn to be disingenuous in the matter--that it
was likely to be excessively cold as well as unusually stormy. The
experience of upwards of twenty years, during which we have been a
keen and close student of meteorological phenomena and wild-bird life,
seemed to us to warrant the conclusion at which we had arrived. But
how at mid-winter stands the fact? Why, thus: that up to this date
[January 1874], it has been, upon the whole, the "openest" and mildest
season for at least a quarter of a century! How, then, about your
Arctic sea-birds? the reader may exclaim, and we can only answer
that their presence so early and in such numbers is to be accounted
for by the almost incessant gales that have been sweeping over the
Atlantic and northern seas, with such disastrous effects, for nearly
two months past. Feeling the first blast of the approaching tempest,
and assured of its prolonged continuance by a marvellous instinct,
further and more correctly prescient of such matters than man, with
all his boasted science, they fled to the shelter of our, to them
in such cases, Friendly Islands; for an Arctic web-foot dreads an
unusual severity of hyperborean storms, long continued, quite as much
as it dreads an excessive intensity of hyperborean cold, and for the
same reason--both equally interfere with the allotted comforts of its
economy and due supply of food. The winter, besides, is not yet past;
whistling before one is fairly out of the wood is proverbially foolish,
and there is, after all, time enough yet betwixt this and the vernal
equinox for the advent of any amount of cold, so that there is still
a chance for our wild-bird friends and ourselves standing higher in
the reader's estimation as weather prophets, ere the winter is ended,
than we do at present. Our web-foot visitors from the far north, at
all events, are still with us, and in large numbers, and a very pretty
sight a flock of them is as you quietly approach them congregated in
some sheltered bay, and with a good binocular watch their graceful
motions, now disporting themselves and chasing each other in many
a merry round over the surface of the water; now, as if by common
consent and in obedience to some, to you inaudible, word of command,
they seem to leap rather than dive into the blue depths beneath
them, until not one is to be seen, then as suddenly reappearing,
again to chase each other, and disport and dive, as if they knew you
were looking at them, and admired and loved them, and would as soon
cut off your finger as think of levelling a murder-dealing weapon at
creatures so beautiful and harmless.

A bird generally rare in our inland waters is this year quite common
on all our shores. We refer to the goosander (Mergus merganser,
Linn.), one of the handsomest and most interesting of sea-fowl. Of the
Merganser family the goosander is the largest, and the whole order
is remarkable for their serrated mandibles, the nearest approach to
anything like teeth to be met with among birds, and admirably adapted
for retaining firm hold, when seized, of their slippery prey, which
mainly consists of eels, lampreys, &c., in dealing with which "kittle
cattle" in deep water an ordinary unarmed duck-bill would be a very
inefficient weapon. Once in the firm grip of the Merganser's serrated
bill, however, the chance of such comparatively small fish as it can
alone feed upon must be very small indeed. We saw a very fine male
specimen a few days ago, which a young man had shot, believing it to
be a "wild duck," as he termed it, and necessarily good for eating. We
told him that he had been guilty of a piece of very unnecessary and
indefensible cruelty, for that the bird in his hand was in truth a
Merganser, and no more fit to be eaten than a ten-year-old herring
gull or an octogenarian guillemot. He looked at us with a smile,
in which we thought we detected a considerable shade of incredulity,
and we do believe that the thought passed through his mind at that
moment that we only spoke so disparagingly of the bird because we
wanted to get hold of it ourselves, either by its being given to us
as a present, or for the smallest possible money payment, and then
what a jolly feed we should have at the expense of his ornithological
ignorance and juvenile simplicity! Perhaps we do him injustice; but,
at all events, he carried the bird away with him, observing that he
"would try it at any rate." We met his sister a day or two afterwards,
and on inquiring if they had cooked the "wild duck," and how they
liked it, we confess that it was with an inward chuckle of intense
satisfaction that we listened as she told us that, after having duly
boiled and cooked it secundum artem, until it ought to have been good
and tender, it turned out to be so rank, and fishy, and tough, that no
one could eat a morsel of it, and it had to be thrown into the dinner
refuse basket as worthless! These birds, though necessarily hardy, and
able to outlive a vast amount of cold and storm, are exceedingly fond
of still water, rarely resting or fishing when there is any surface
disturbance beyond a slight ripple; and hence it is that you so seldom
meet with them elsewhere than in the most sheltered bays, creeks,
and estuaries, where the water is least liable to the surface turmoil
and commotion of a storm. The finest stuffed specimen of the Merganser
we ever saw is at Achnacarry Castle, Lochiel's seat in Lochaber.

We have said above that the winter has thus far been almost
unprecedentedly open and mild, by which we mean only that the
temperature throughout has been unusually high, not, by any means,
that it has been calm. The very contrary is the case. It has been
one continued storm, with an occasional breathing time, so to speak,
of a fine day at rare intervals, for upwards of eight consecutive
weeks. But the storms have, as to temperature, been rather the
storms of early summer or autumn, than the boisterously cold and burly
shriekings of the lone winter "Storm King," as we used to know and fear
him. The reader will best understand what we mean, when we say that,
notwithstanding the storminess, anemometrically, of the season, not
a single snowflake has fallen in the lowlands of Nether Lochaber this
winter, except a little which fell last night, but of which there are
no traces again this morning; nor, except twice, and then only for an
hour or so, has the thermometer touched the freezing-point. We much
doubt if the thickness of a sixpenny piece of ice could be gathered
at any one moment from pool or puddle in our district of Lochaber
during the present winter. The consequence is, that in all our gardens
flowers are at this moment in bloom that perhaps were never known
to be in bloom at the same date before. Our privet and elder hedges
bear quite a close green vesture of young leaves; the columbine has
already reached an April altitude of growth, and a woman who happened
to walk from Fort-William early last week brought us a small bouquet
of primroses that she had picked up while passing through the woods of
Coirrechaorachan, as beautiful and perfect as if it were in truth the
proper season of these favourite flowers, instead of the last days of
the first month of the year. We shouldn't wonder, however, if we have
to pay for it all yet, ere the truant schoolboy again begins to imitate
the cuckoo's note, or "the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."

There is at this moment sitting in our kitchen a poor, half-witted
natural, "Lachlan Gorach," from Mull, whose conversation is always
garnished with "Davie Gelletly"-like snatches of quaint song. Sometimes
the rhyme is in English, and sometimes in Gaelic, and frequently
has no connection whatever with what may be the immediate subject
of conversation. On going up to have a crack with him a few moments
ago--for poor Lachlan is, in a way, a great favourite of ours--he
returned our friendly greeting of "Well, how are you, Lachlan?" with
a hearty shake of the hand, and a bow that, for close proximity of
forehead to the ground and duration, might have graced the court of
Louis the Fourteenth, and immediately on regaining the erect position,
struck, to an air that was probably original, into the following verse,
which we took down on the spot:--

      "First the heel and then the toe,
      That's the way the polka goes;
      First the toe and then the heel,
      That's the way to dance a reel;
      Quick about and then away,
      Lightly dance the glad Strathspey.
      Jump a jump, and jump it big,
      That's the way to dance a jig;
      Slowly, smiling as in France,
      Follow through the country dance.
    And we'll meet Johnny Cope in the morning."

It was very amusing. Where he picked up the uncouth rhyme we do not
know, and it was bootless to inquire. Having ordered him some dinner,
we bade him good-bye, when we caught hold of the following verse of
Lachlan's favourite ditties as we disappeared:--

    "Kilt your coaties, bonnie lassie,
    As you wade the burnie through;
    Or your mother will be angry
    If you wet your coaties now."

Poor Lachlan, always cheerful and perfectly harmless, is a welcome
guest at every fireside throughout the many districts which he
periodically peregrinates. We may have something more to say of
himself and his quaint scraps of songs on a future occasion.


    Plague of Thistles in Australia and New Zealand--How to deal
    with them--Cnicus Acaulis, Great Milk Thistle, or Stemless
    Thistle--Fierce Fight between two Seals, "Nelson" and "Villeneuve."

It is true to a proverb that one may have too much even of a good
It is true to a proverb that one may have too much even of a good
thing. It was the most natural thing in the world, for instance, that
our countrymen should have introduced the thistle, the national emblem,
into the fertile plains and straths of Australia and New Zealand,
to remind them of home, and to speak to them, even at the Antipodes,
of memories and traditions that patriotism will in nowise "willingly
let die." The inevitable result of such introduction, however, was
not foreseen, or rather was never thought of. A correspondent in the
province of Otago, in a very pleasant letter by last mail [August
1874] informs us that the "symbol dear" of Burns has so flourished
and spread over large tracts of land in New Zealand as to be already
an intolerable nuisance; so much so, that legislative enactments are
being passed, in view, if possible, to its total extirpation. "You
may think I exaggerate," says our friend, "but I positively do not,
when I tell you that in the course of a fifty miles ride the other day
I saw whole paddocks containing many hundred acres of splendid land
quite overrun with thistles, so close, and thick, and formidable,
that neither man nor horse could force a way through them. And such
thistles, too! I measured several that were quite eight feet in height,
and as thick in the stem as my wrist, with spikes on them as large
as horse-shoe nails, and as sharp-pointed as the sharpest needle. The
proprietor of one of the paddocks thus overgrown with thistles swore
at them awfully--and most unpatriotically, too, you will say, for he
was a Scotchman--when I spoke to him on the subject. I assure you it
is a very serious matter, for unless the obnoxious weed is somehow got
rid of, many places will soon be uninhabitable, and, as you can easily
understand, the evil is daily and rapidly becoming worse. The thistles
are at present ripe, with large heads like cauliflowers, and when a
smart breeze is blowing, where they are plentiful, the air is filled
with thistle-down like a heavy snow-storm. If you, who know so many
things, could only suggest some effectual way of ridding ourselves
of this pest, you would be doing us a very real service." At home,
too, thistles, if not more plentiful, are at least of larger growth
than usual. In a corner of our own garden, for instance, there is
still growing at the present moment a splendid fellow, nearly six
feet in height, to which we pay a daily visit in admiration of its
lusty growth, and the rich emerald green of its imbricated involucral
leaves. We have purposely preserved it unhurt till now, as something of
a curiosity, but in a day or two it must be cut down, for the seeds
are fast ripening, and it were unwise, if not actually criminal,
to allow them to escape on downy wings only to fall and germinate
after their kind, a very nuisance, elsewhere. Most herbaceous plants
will bleed to death if cut down two years running, just as they have
about attained half their growth; and we can only suggest to our New
Zealand friends that they should treat their thistle fields after a
similar fashion. Let them be mowed down when about half, or rather
more than half-grown, with the scythe for two consecutive seasons,
and we believe the roots will infallibly die and disappear. We
have known bracken, ragwort, and burr-dock, &c. very effectively
disposed of in this way, and have some confidence that thistles,
too, might be thoroughly eradicated by a similar process of vital
wounding at the hastiest stage of growth. From our correspondent's
description of them, we should say that the New Zealand thistles, so
loudly complained of, are of the same species as that in our garden,
the Carduus marianus of botanists, or Great Milk Thistle, a biennial
common over all Europe, but nowhere so plentiful as in Scotland,
whence it is probable that it is so frequently pointed to by poets,
painters, and patriots as the Scotch Thistle, though its claims to
the high honour of being the actual and real national emblem are
somewhat questionable. The tradition in the south and south-west,
where the true story, if ever there was a true story in the matter,
is most likely to have rooted itself in its perfectest form, is to the
effect that, during an invasion of the Norsemen, the Danes advancing
against the Scots on a dark night, one of their barefooted scouts,
when prowling about the Scottish encampment, chanced to tread on a
thistle, the sharp prickles of which piercing his foot, caused him
to utter a loud imprecation, which reaching the ears of the Scots,
hitherto lying in fancied security, warned them that the enemy was at
hand, and enabled them, instantly standing to their arms, to take their
foes at such disadvantage that the fierce Norsemen were totally routed
and driven to their ships with immense slaughter. The thistle that
thus opportunely prevented the Scots being taken unawares is still
pointed out, not, however, as being any of the large, formidable,
long-stemmed varieties, but the stemless thistle that spreads out
its leaves and spikes quite close to the ground, common enough in old
pastures and waste grass lands. The stemless thistle is botanically
known as the Cnicus acaulis, and lowly and unpretending as it may
seem at first sight, there is, we make bold to assert, no species
of thistle so well entitled to bear and boast the grand old legend,
Nemo me impune lacessit. Its spines are as fine, and quite as tough
and piercing withal, as the finest cambric needle; impossible, too,
of extraction, once it has fairly penetrated the flesh, except by
a surgical operation; and we have a shrewd suspicion that it is to
some extent poisonous, for, from the moment one pierces the flesh
till its expulsion by suppuration of the part, the pain is keen and
excruciating beyond conception. Barefooted Dane, Saxon, or Celt,
unexpectedly treading on a nearly ripe and full-formed Cnicus, might
well be excused an oath, however lusty and loud, in acknowledgment
and hearty execration of such an impediment. We can say something
of a Cnicus spike wound from personal experience. Several years ago,
when we were younger and lighter than we are to-day, we were vaulting
over a wall that divided an infield of corn from an outfield of old
pasture. Safely over, but alighting awkwardly, we slipped forward and
fell, instinctively stretching out our hands to secure ourselves as
we came almost headlong to the ground. The fall was nothing, but one
of our hands had, as ill-luck would have it, alighted, with all our
weight upon it, in the very bosom of a full-armed, irate Cnicus. The
palm of the hand somehow escaped, but one of the prickles entered our
wrist, and the pain was at once intense--stinging, sharp, and burning,
as if the spike was the point of a red-hot needle from the fire. It
could not be extracted, for it could not be seen; and there was nothing
for it but patience and such local applications as might best aid the
inevitable suppuration by which alone, after fourteen days' acute pain,
relief was finally obtained. Upon the whole, then, and keeping the
barefooted Danish scout tradition in view, we are disposed to consider
the stemless Cnicus as the true national emblem. If there be any doubt,
the honour, at all events, must be left between itself and the burly,
big-stemmed Marianus. Of a certainty, in any case, the cotton thistle
(Onopordon acanthium), though frequently spoken of by horticulturists
and amateur gardeners as the Scotch thistle, cannot be the species
indicated, for this last is not properly a Scotch plant at all,
it being rarely, if ever, found growing wild anywhere north of the
Tweed, though comparatively common in England. The first public and
properly authenticated mention of the thistle as the national badge
is, we believe, in an inventory of the jewels and wardrobe effects of
James III., about the year 1467. Whether there was an "ancient" Order
of the Thistle seems doubtful; what is commonly called the revival
of the order dates from the reign of James the Seventh of Scotland,
Second of England, in 1687.

A more natural and less apocryphal combat than the recent dwarf and
bulldog business at Hanley is the following. Be not alarmed; ours is
simply a brief account of a fight, fierce and furious enough to be
sure, but very natural--for of the Phocidæ, we suppose, as of the
"bears and lions" in the well-known hymn, it may be predicted that
"'tis their nature to"--a fight, then, between a pair of dog-seals in
the bay under our house a few evenings ago. In nothing else are the
results of the Gun Tax Act so pleasantly manifest as in the increased,
and still increasing, confidence and friendly relations now so happily
established between seals and sea-birds of every kind and the sea-side
naturalist, as, throwing books and papers for the time aside, he
takes his evening walk abroad within sight and sound of the setting
sunlit sea, that gently murmurs the while, as if for very gladness,
in response to the rosy smile of the departing god. Ever since the
beginning of summer, a large dog-seal, recognisable as such by his
immense, square, bulldog-like head and fierce hirsute beard, has
made our beautiful Onich Bay his favourite evening fishing-ground,
until we have come to know him perfectly; no difficult matter either,
for he has a curious grey patch, larger than one's hand, on his left
cheek, and, unlike most seals, sinks, not log-like, when he disappears
under water, but almost always with a lively "header," in which the
whole back, arched and shining, is brought to view, as if for our
special delectation, as we sit and watch his graceful motions with
a glass powerful enough to detect the wary and intelligent glance of
his beautiful dark-brown eye, and count, if need were, every separate
bristle in his moustache. He is a big and powerful animal, and when
in our bay doubtless accounts himself lord of all he surveys, for,
of the hundreds of seals in Loch Leven, he alone constantly frequents
this particular semi-oval, sandy-bottomed inlet, his size and strength
probably ensuring it to him as a sort of reserve, in which woe unto
the interloping poacher caught sight of flagrante delicto by the
bright eye of "Lord Nelson," as we have long since called him, and
all the people about call him, for he is now known to everybody in the
hamlet, and frequently spoken about with all the interest attached to
a wild animal, actually suspicious and shy, but perfectly harmless,
when, with a confidence extremely rare in animals of its kind,
it approaches human habitations. On the afternoon of Friday last,
"Nelson" was fishing, as usual, in our bay, which at the time was
mirror-smooth and calm as calm could be. We had watched him for some
time through our glass, and seen him come to the surface more than
once, and dispose of a flounder in his usual quiet and leisurely
way, when, somewhat to our surprise, we caught sight of another
seal, seemingly as large as "Nelson" himself, and about a hundred
yards from him; and at the same moment his "lordship" evidently saw
him too! There could be no mistake about it, for he, first raising
himself half-way out of the water, and gazing excitedly around, with a
splendid header and a very significant flourish of his hind flippers,
instantly dived; the stranger seal also, who probably knew what was
coming, diving immediately afterwards. What happened below is only
known to such subaqueous spectators as might be about at the moment;
we can only bear witness to what followed, and that was, that in
about two minutes there was wild splashing and violent commotion of
the waters near the spot at which the stranger seal had disappeared,
from the centre of which turmoil the two seals soon emerged, fighting
in fierce grip like a pair of enraged bulldogs. For several minutes
this wild combat continued; Greek had met Greek; the belligerents
hugging each other, bear-like, with their anterior flippers, and
tearing at each other's heads and throats with their terrible fangs,
for the canine teeth of seals are exceedingly formidable, and their
strength of jaw enormous. All this time they wrestled and rolled
over and over each other in deadly and desperate encounter, the sea
for yards around them one sheet of boiling, hissing foam, here and
there streaked with blood, as we could plainly discern by the aid of
the glass, for we had, in the meantime, advanced to the very margin
of the sea, and were standing within some thirty yards of them. In
the wild hurly-burly of the conflict, it was impossible to see or
say whether "Nelson" or "Villeneuve" was winning--for by the latter
name had our son, who was along with us, already dubbed the stranger
seal, as, with true boy-like interest and eagerness, he watched the
fight. Had there been any betting on the event, we, knowing "Nelson,"
and believing in his prowess--for it was impossible to be impartial
in such a case--would probably have laid two to one freely on our
favourite; remembering, too, the pithy Gaelic adage, "'S laidir cù air
a dhùnan fein:" Strong is the dog that has his own home knoll for a
battle-field! As it was, the battle was fought out and finished under
water, so that we were not privileged to see the last of it. After
a final fierce worry, in which the combatants reared their bodies
more than half-way out of the water, and much surface splashing and
somersaulting, the belligerents, as if by common consent, disappeared,
still fighting, however, as the hundreds of bursting bubbles that for
a time kept coming to the surface clearly testified. In about a couple
of minutes the stranger seal came to the surface, swimming rapidly
seawards; he had evidently had enough of it; and shortly afterwards,
"Nelson," known at once by the grey patch on his cheek, reappeared in
the centre of the bay, quietly floating about, as if thoroughly tired
of the tussle, and shaking his head dog-fashion now and again, from
which we gathered that "Villeneuve," though beaten, had left his mark
upon the victor, and the victor was in this wise very significantly
acknowledging the fact. It is worthy of remark, that throughout the
whole of this curious fight, though from first to last it was as fierce
and furious as anything of the kind could be, not a sound was uttered
by either combatant, except an occasional heavy, sigh-like breathing,
which was probably involuntary, and merely the natural result of
unwonted physical exertion. And yet seals are by no means dumb, for
their curious bleatings--we can find no better word for it--in the
breeding season, must be known to every sea-side naturalist. "Nelson,"
the reader will perhaps be glad to hear, is all right again, and, as
yet, sole admiral of our bay, in which at this moment, as we write,
he is busy fishing for supper.


    Wounds from Stags' Antlers exceedingly dangerous--The old Fingalian
    Ballads--Number of Dogs kept for the Chase--Dr. Smith's "Ancient
    Lays" of modern manufacture--The Spotted Crake (Crex Prozana)
    at Inverness--Its Habits.

It is not generally known, we believe, that a wound from a stag's
antlers, however slight--the merest scratch or abrasion of the skin,
if only blood is drawn--is exceedingly dangerous. A short time ago
[December 1874], on ascending from the cabin of a steamer, we went
forward in order to enjoy an uninterrupted smoke in the fresh breeze
that swept across the vessel, when we noticed a fine-looking young
man, closely wrapped up in cape and plaid seated, in the shelter of
the capstan, as if the breeze, to him at least, was, if anything,
too brisk and keen. Glancing at him once and again, we observed
that he was pale and sickly looking; and concluding from his dress
and caste of features that he must be a Highlander, we went over to
him and addressed him in Gaelic. It turned out that although we did
not know him, he knew something of us, and we were soon on friendly
terms. He told us he was going to Glasgow to consult the doctors
about a stag's horn wound in the thigh that was daily, in spite of
all the salves, ointments, and healing applications that he and all
the "wise" people of his glen could think of, getting worse instead
of better. About two months ago he was helping to take a stag off
a hill pony's back, when, by some accident, the sharp point of one
of the tines penetrated the thigh for a short distance, and then,
by the force of the falling weight of the head, rasped downwards for
about an inch and a half, leaving an ugly, ragged gash, though of no
great depth. He thought but little of it, he told us, having often
had more serious wounds before, though not from a stag's horn, that
gave hardly any trouble, and soon healed of themselves--of the first
intention, as the surgeons have it. How it may fare with him among
the Glasgow doctors we do not know: well, poor fellow, we sincerely
hope, though we shouldn't wonder if the wound continued to trouble
him all his life long. The subject of stag-horn wounds having thus
been brought before us in a way that could not fail to interest us,
we took the matter to avizandum, as the sheriffs say; and, in dearth
of anything better at this dull season, we present our readers with
the result of our inquiries in every direction whence there was the
least chance of enlightenment. Dogs wounded by stags' horns usually
die from mortification or gangrene of the wound; and even if the wound
heals, and they recover, it is only in an unsatisfactory sort of way,
for they are almost always afterwards paralytic in the wounded limb,
or they are epileptic. An old forester, who knows more about deer and
deerhounds than anybody else we ever met, tells us that in very few
instances has he ever known a dog that has actually bled at the touch
of a stag's horn, recover in such wise as to be fairly serviceable
again. With the least drop of blood in such cases, they seem to
lose all their courage. Another man, a shepherd near us, says that
a very fine collie dog of his was once severely wounded by a stag in
Glenarkaig, on Lochiel's estate, and that although the wound healed
satisfactorily enough, and to the eye of an ordinary observer there
was nothing the matter with the dog, it was, in fact, ever afterwards
perfectly useless. "Chaidh e gòrach, le'r cead." A good dog before,
"he became perfectly stupid, sir!" said the man. The above-mentioned
forester says that the poisonous character of stag-horn wounds is well
known to every one in the least acquainted with deer-stalking, as the
sport was followed in the good old ante-breech-loading rifle days,
when explosive bullets were yet unknown; and that rough contact with
the tines of the animal, whether living or dead, was, in his younger
days, avoided as one would avoid the tooth of a rabid dog or a viper's
fang. A stag antler's wound, he avers, is dangerous at all times,
but most so in the end of autumn--the rutting season--or, as he put
it, "an àm dhaibh 'bhi dol 'san damhair," when they take to their
"wallowing pools." Curiously enough, and by the merest accident, we
have fallen in with the following proverbial distich from an old volume
on Venerie, or Hunting of the Buck, published in London in 1622:--

    "If thou art hurt by boar's tooth, the leech thy life may save;
    If thou art hurt by buck's horn, 'twill bring thee to thy grave."

So that the venom of a stag's horn wound seems to have been quite as
well known two hundred years ago as it is now; better, indeed, for
those who followed the chase in the olden time were more liable to
such hurts than is possible in the case of the modern deer-stalker,
when the aid of dogs and the "gillie's" knife to give the coup de
grace to the "stag at bay," are matters of comparatively little
moment. It was a much more serious and risky affair in the days of
the old "flint"-bearing musket. There was a paragraph a short time
ago about a serious attack by a stag on some men in the island of
Raasay. It would be interesting to know whether blood was drawn on
the occasion, and if so, how the wounds have healed.

Hardly anything in our old Ossianic ballads, of which we have such
an interesting and ably edited collection in Mr. J. F. Campbell of
Islay's Leabhar-na-Feinne, is so curious as the great number of dogs
employed by the Fingalians in their huntings,--that is, if we are to
read the ballads with anything like literalness. Fifty, a hundred,
two hundred, and even five hundred dogs are spoken about as freely
as a modern sportsman speaks of couples. In one ballad, for instance,
recovered by ourselves, ten men, one of them the balladist himself, the
last remnant of the Fingalian host, are represented as going to hunt
in the "Glen of Mist," attended by fifty dogs a piece, or five hundred
in all--surely an unnecessary, if not an impossible number. In these
ballads, besides, you find frequent reference to scarcity of food,
and the shifts the "heroes" were often put to, to provide for the
barest wants of the passing day; and yet, if such an army of dogs was
necessary, it also had to be fed, which one conceives must have been
a matter of some difficulty, when the heroes themselves were, as the
ballads inform us, frequently reduced to the necessity of splitting
"marrow bones," when all the flesh that covered them had already been
used up. The whole question of the natural history of these old ballads
is well worth more attention than has yet been bestowed on it. Some
day or other we shall devote a special chapter to it. Meantime, let
us merely say that we decided many years ago against the authenticity
and genuineness of one at least of Dr. Smith's so-called Ancient Lays,
because of the incorrectness of a reference to the natural history
of a well-known bird, the common pigeon. Here are the lines in Gaul
which first made us shake our head in dubiety over the genuineness
of the composition--

    "Mar cholum an carraig na h-Ulacha,
    'S i solar dhearca da h-àl beag,
    'S a' pilltinn gu tric, gun am blasad i fein,
    Tra dh'eireas an t-seabhag 'na smuainte."

    As a dove on the rock of Ulla,
    That gathereth berries for her young;
    Oft she returns, nor tastes herself the food,
    When rises the hawk within her thoughts.

On which passage we would first of all remark that pigeons are not
berry eaters, and even if they were, they would not carry them to
their young in such wise as the poet clearly implies. A pigeon itself
eats the food meant for its young, and only after undergoing a certain
process of maceration and digestion in the parent's crop, is it again
regurgitated in form suitable for the young. In genuine Gaelic poetry,
the natural history is in a very remarkable manner almost invariably
correct. Here it was not, and we recollect tossing the volume aside,
and remarking that while much of Gaul might certainly be "ancient,"
quite as much was modern, and that, wittingly or unwittingly, Dr. Smith
had been dealing in patch-work. Dr. Smith cites a parallel passage
to the above from Thomson's Spring--

                    "Away they fly,
    Affectionate, and, undesiring, bear
    The most delicious morsel to their young."

But the context shows that Thomson is not referring to doves, but to
Turdi and warblers that build

                  "Among the roots
    Of hazel pendent o'er the plaintive stream."

And these do feed their callow young as represented in the poem,
though the Columbidæ certainly do not.

We observe that Mr. T. B. Snowie, of Inverness, has recently been so
fortunate as to secure a specimen of the spotted crake or Crex porzana,
a very rare bird indeed, of which we never saw a living specimen. It
seems, however, to be a more regular visitor to our shores than is
imagined, specimens having from time to time been met with in almost
all parts of Scotland. Our friend Mr. Robert Gray, in his excellent
volume on The Birds of the West of Scotland and the Outer Hebrides,
writes of the spotted crake as follows:--"So far as I have observed,
the spotted crake is a very uncommon species in the western counties;
it is, however, more numerously distributed throughout the eastern
counties, extending from Orkney to Berwickshire. In Aberdeen and Forfar
shires, according to Macgillivray, it can scarcely be called very
rare. 'In Scotland,' says Mr. More in the Ibis, 'the nest has been
found only in Perth, Aberdeen, and at Loch Spynie, in Elgin; but as
birds have been repeatedly taken in the breeding season in Banffshire,
Fife, East Lothian, and Berwick, it is not unreasonable to infer that
the species nest in these counties also. In the west of Scotland,
the spotted crake has been taken in Wigtonshire, Renfrewshire, and
Argyllshire; but I have no authentic instance of its occurrence north
of the last-named district. In its habits this bird closely resembles
its congener the water-rail, and, like it, is not easily flushed from
its haunts. Although a migratory species, the spotted crake appears
to come early, specimens being occasionally taken about the beginning
of April; as a rule, it also lingers much later than other migratory
birds, stray examples having been shot in November, December, and even
January, so that it is absent not more than two or three months. It
may, indeed, be yet found to be, in some of the southern districts,
permanently resident. From its shy and unobtrusive habits, and its
life of seclusion and silence in marshy places, from which it but
rarely issues, it is much less frequently seen than birds which try
to escape by flight when disturbed. Rather than take wing, it will
thrust itself, when molested, into any hole or tuft of grass, and
remain concealed until quiet is restored; and on this account the
comparative numbers of the species cannot readily be ascertained.'"

The bird is, however, unquestionably a rara avis, a rarissima avis
even, in the north of Scotland, and to have seen the bird as Mr. Snowie
was privileged to see and handle it, we should cheerfully have walked
ten miles, were it the coldest day in mid-winter.


    Whelks and Periwinkles--An Ossianic Reading--The Sea-shore
    after a Storm--The Rejectamenta of the Deep--An amusing
    Story of a Shore-Searcher--Severity of Winter--Wild-Birds'
    Levee--Woodcock--Snipe--Blue Jay.

It has been our habit for many years [January 1875] to take our
morning walk along our beautiful sea-beach, one of the coziest and
prettiest silver-sanded bays on the West Coast, descending now and
again, when the tide is at ebb, to search for objects of interest in
marine animal and vegetable life, in every likely spot along what
Ossian calls "tràigh na faoch,"--the periwinkled shore. Our friend
and neighbour Dr. Clerk, by the way, in his admirable edition of the
great Celtic bard, renders it "the shore of whelks," and in a note
gives us to understand that he thinks the expression so unpoetical,
infra dig., and every way inappropriate, as almost to warrant its
rejection as a corruption of the text. As a conjectural emendation,
he suggests "tràigh na faobh," the shore of spoils, as probably the
true reading. Faoch, however, is not the whelk, but the periwinkle or
wilk. The whelk is the Buccinum undatum, the cnogag or cnocag of the
Gaels of the Western seaboard and Hebrides. The wilk or periwinkle
is the faoch or faochag; and to it and not to the whelk the passage
clearly refers. The whelk or cnogag rarely allows itself to be left
behind on the beach by the receding waters, even in spring tides,
when ebbs are at their lowest. The periwinkle, on the contrary,
sticks, regardless of the receding waves, to its place or stone or
algae stem and frond, until the ebbing waters have returned, as return
he knows full well they shall; so that at any time after half ebb,
a suitable shore, rich in algæ, presents a most interesting sight,
every stone and smallest bit of sea-weed covered with millions of
periwinkles at all stages of growth. It is to a scene of this kind
that the poet refers, and very happily we think: "the periwinkled
shore" is a thousand times better than the "barren, barren shore"
of Tennyson. No one objects to "daisied mead" or "daisied lea," and
"periwinkled shore," as we have seen it, and as hundreds, we make
no doubt, of our readers have also seen it, is, to our thinking,
every whit as poetical, and in no sense inconsistent even with
epic dignity. Wilks having within recent years become an article
of considerable marketable value, being carefully gathered on every
beach, the "periwinkled shore" of Ossian is, of course, a rarer sight
now-a-days than it used to be. Nearly as plentiful on our shores as
the common periwinkle itself is its first cousin, the Purpura lapillus
of conchologists, or yellow periwinkle, one of those creatures that
furnished the famous purple dye of the ancients. It has a bitter,
astringent taste, and is in consequence not eaten like its congener,
the wilk. We have said that our favourite morning walk is invariably,
if we can accomplish it, along the sea-beach; and hardly a day passes
but we can show something interesting and new, picked up in these our
littoral perambulations. After a storm particularly, we endeavour,
whatever our other engagements, to devote an hour at least to a ramble
along the shore, and it is rarely we return empty-handed: some curious
waif or other, cast up by the storm, seldom fails to be forthcoming as
the reward of our matutinal diligence. After a severe gale one morning
last week, we found a dead kittiwake, but perfectly plump and fresh,
lying on the top of a mass of drift tangle. The bird itself was no
great rarity, for the kittiwake (Larus rissa, Linn.), a very pretty
little gull, is common on all our shores, even in winter. The curious
thing was that, on taking up the bird in our hand, we found that one
of its feet was firmly held in the vice-like grasp of a large mussel,
the mussel in its turn being anchored by its byssus to a tangle root
(Laminaria digitata) of immense size. The poor kittiwake had evidently
been fairly trapped: the case was clear. Walking along the beach
at low-water, in search of food, it must have stepped inadvertently
and unwittingly into the jaws, so to speak, of the open, or rather
half-open, mussel, which, in resentment of the intrusion, instantly
closing with a steel trap-like snap, held the poor bird firm and
fast. There was no chance or hope of escape, and the unfortunate
little gull, thus anchored to the bottom, was miserably drowned by the
advancing tide. Its body would, to a certain extent, act as a float or
buoy to the mussel and tangle root, which, thus loosened, the storm
would readily dislodge, and cast up on the beach, even as we found
it. Web-feet of all kinds are, of course, as liable to death in all
its forms, natural and accidental, as any other animals, but we dare to
say that in any accurate return of the vital statistics of sea-birds,
death by drowning, Ophelia-like, would be found about the rarest. In
more ways than one, therefore, was our dead kittiwake a curiosity of
no every-day occurrence, though, in nineteen cases out of twenty, the
passer-by would probably be content to kick it aside as a dead gull,
and no more, if, indeed, he condescended to notice it at all. We were
lately told an amusing story about a Fort-William man who lived some
fifty years ago, and was in his day a great shore-searcher after
storms, incited thereto, not exactly in the interests of science,
but by more mundane and prosaic considerations. Summer and winter,
all the year round, he searched the shores (Bhi'dh e g'iarraidh nan
cladaichan, was the phrase) of Achintore and Drumarbin after every
gale of wind, wandering ghost-like in the grey dawn by the margin
of the sea, and diligently picking up every conceivable article
of flotsam and jetsam that came in his way. In all this there was
perhaps nothing to object to; but this mild specimen of a Cornish
wrecker had the habit of appropriating, without compunction, such
oars, thwarts, baling-dishes, and other articles of boat gearing
as came in his way, even though he knew that they belonged to his
neighbours, and had only been carried away from their proper places
by an unusually high tide or a gale of wind. This was a breach of the
etiquette and good-neighbourhood prevailing among boatmen that could
not be tolerated. A Drumarbin man, therefore, who had lost some oars
in a storm, and suspected that the Fort-William shore-searcher had
found and kept them, determined on reprisal, and in hope of curing
him of such shabby peculations, to give him a good fright, which
could be done the more easily, as the shore-searcher was a nervous,
timid creature, brimful of belief in apparitions, ghosts, and ghost
stories of the wildest and most improbable character. Getting up one
morning after a storm, the Drumarbin man put on a pair of new shoes,
and slipping to the shore, unobserved by the wrecker, whom he could see
wandering along the beach, as was his custom, in the grey day-break,
he lay down at length on the shingle, and covered his head and body
down to his ankles with the drift-ware that had been cast up by the
storm. All he left exposed was his feet, on which we have said there
was a pair of good substantial new shoes. Meanwhile the "wrecker" was
advancing along the beach, carefully searching about, and stooping from
time to time, oyster-catcher or curlew-wise, in order to pick up such
waifs and strays as he fancied worth the while. At last he reached
the recumbent and sea-ware-covered Drumarbin man. The shoes at once
caught his eye, and as he gazed wistfully on what he considered the
most fortunate and valuable jetsam that had fallen to his luck for a
long time, he was heard to soliloquise,--"A drowned man! Poor fellow;
but he has good shoes on, and as he can have no more use for them,
I may as well take them now as anybody else later in the day." No
sooner said than done. Throwing down his bundle of gatherings, he
pulled the shoes evenly and steadily off the supposed "body's" feet,
and was moving away with them, when a smothered sepulchral voice from
under the sea-ware struck his ear--an ear painfully acute under the
circumstances,--"Gabh mo chomhairl' 's fàg na brògan sin!" "Take
my advice, and leave these shoes alone!" At the same time he saw
the mass of drift-weed heaving and moving. Dropping the shoes as if
they had suddenly become each a mass of red-hot iron in his hand,
he started off with a yell that frightened the sea-birds all the way
to Camus-na-Gall, and ran a terrible race without once halting or
looking over his shoulder, till, penitent and breathless, he reached
his own fireside. He was completely cured of shore-wandering, for,
as our informant told us, he soon after sickened and took to his bed,
from which he never rose again. Told in excellent Gaelic, and with a
large admixture of the serio-comic quiet humour so characteristic of
an old Highlander, the story made us laugh heartily; and not the less
so that it was told in sly reference to our own frequent sea-shore

It is many years since our wild birds have had to encounter a winter
of such unmitigated severity as the present. Dead rooks, blackbirds,
chaffinches, and hedge sparrows are only too common in copse, hedgerow,
and open field, stiffened and starved all of them, nothing but the
bones, skin, and feathers remaining as you take them up and handle
them, so that one only wonders how it is they did not drop and die
long before reaching such a sad state of utter fleshlessness and
emaciation. A whole month, however, of intense frost, making every one
exposed to its direct influence, even for a moment, put their fingers
to their mouths with a "poor Tom's a-cold" attitude and grin--of
intense frost, in which the earth became hard and resonant as iron,
clearly accounts for it all. Some idea of the keenness of the frost at
times may be gathered from the following facts:--On Friday afternoon
we had occasion to go to look if our boat on the beach was all right,
for the darkening heavens threatened an immediate storm, a not uncommon
end to such rare meteorological phenomena as long continued frosts
on the West Coast. Sitting on the end of a log of wood that lay on
the beach, a little above high-water mark, was a rook or crow, which,
as we approached, attempted to fly away, but could not. It stretched
itself, and strained, and flapped its wings frantically as we drew
near, but there it was, tethered firm and fast, manifestly unable to
budge an inch, unless it carried the immense log bodily along with
it. We wondered for a moment what in the world could be the matter,
for we could not recollect ever seeing a rook, of all our birds the
most knowing, perhaps, and self-possessed, act so absurdly. Running
forward and laying hold of the bird, we had a ready solution of the
mystery in the fact that the poor, struggling creature's feet were
firmly frozen to the log--more firmly than the best bird-lime or
glue could have held them. Thawing the frozen feet with some little
trouble by the warmth of our hand, we had the pleasure of setting the
poor bird at liberty. He--for it was a male--did not certainly weigh
more, as we poised him in our hand, than six or seven ounces, though
the ordinary weight of a rook in fair condition is nearly a couple of
pounds. Even within doors the frost was unusually intense. In a small
room off our own kitchen--and in the latter there is, of course,
always a fire, and generally a large fire, burning--the night's
milk was frequently found frozen into a hard and solid mass in the
morning; so thoroughly frozen that the servant girl could, by tilting
up the vessel and smartly tapping its bottom get the solid contents
of frozen milk into her hand, and carry it, for the amusement of the
youngsters, about the house, from one room to another, as if it were
a Dunlop cheese. Such a frost we have not had on the West Coast for
at least a score of years. Our wild-bird levee of a morning is a
most interesting scene--the most pleasant episode, perhaps, in the
necessarily dull routine of a winter's day in the country. On these
occasions we can depend on the presence of such birds as redbreasts,
wrens, finches of all kinds, the lively and ubiquitous chaffinch,
however, being most numerous; coral-billed blackbirds, shy at
first, but easily made familiar and friendly enough; ox-eye tits,
very pretty birds, but nervous and fidgety always; house and hedge
sparrows, with a self-assertion and impudence that is most amusing,
and a bold familiarity that would always place them in the front rank
of bread-crumb recipients, if the redbreasts, seldom otherwise than
quarrelsome and testy, did not drive them back. Most of those birds,
when they found an open door or window, would boldly venture into
the house, and eagerly pick up the bread crumbs from off the floor
or table, undisturbed by anything one said or did, provided only you
refrained from any attempt to lay hold of them; in that case they
were off and out instantly, and in a manifest pet at your rudeness and
inhospitality, shy to trust you again until the matter was forgotten,
or perhaps only overlooked perforce of the inexorable logic of intense
cold and gnawing hunger. All the birds that we have handled for more
than a month past were but the merest skin and bone, emaciated to a
degree altogether unknown in less severe winters. Curiously enough,
however, we had a brace of woodcocks a few days ago which were as
plump and fat as one could wish them; and some brace of snipe, shot
in the neighbourhood of Inverness, kindly sent to us as a Christmas
present, were in excellent condition, and good in every way. Why
these long-billed, sucking birds should be fat, when all other birds
are unnaturally lean, is to be accounted for by the fact that the
intense frost drives the worms and minute animals which constitute
their food into the open "eyes" and rivulets, which never freeze,
like sheep in a fank; and thus the woodcock and snipe have their food
with rather less trouble in frost than in more open weather. Some ten
days ago, a very fine specimen of the jay (Corvus glandarius, Linn.;
the Scriachan-Coille of the Gael) was sent us. This is one of our
handsomest birds, and we are glad to say that it has within recent
years become comparatively common in Lochaber. Like its congener the
magpie, it is looked upon with considerable suspicion as an enemy to
game; eating up, it is alleged, grouse, and partridge, and pheasant
eggs as a favourite bonne bouche, and even devouring the newly hatched
young. It is a shy and solitary bird, even where it is common, and we
do not know its habits and economy sufficiently to entitle us, much as
we are inclined, to enter on its defence under such an indictment;
but, from all we have been enabled to gather on the subject, we
should meantime be disposed to record the tertium quid verdict of
"Not proven."


    A "Blessed Thaw" after a Severe Frost--Longevity in Lochaber--A
    ready "Saline draught--A probatum est Recipe for Catarrh and
    Colds--Egg-shell Superstition--Curious old Gaelic Poem.

How intense was the recent frost [January 1875], and how hyperborean
all our surroundings, may be judged of from the fact that on coming out
of church yesterday, one of our people, a greyheaded, pious old man,
spoke of the happy change to open weather and "westlan' breezes" very
solemnly as "the blessed thaw"--an t'aiteamh beannaichte. Before any
one else north or south of the Tweed made any reference to the coming
winter, our readers may remember that we did, and that we inculcated
on every one the wisdom of keeping themselves warm and comfortable, by
means of good fires and otherwise, as the best way of being jolly in
the best and truest sense of that much misapprehended and frequently
misapplied term. It was, in truth, a trying season; but sensibly and
thickly clad in many a fold of honest home-spun cùrain, or plaiding,
our people for the most part got over it without any very serious
ailments. Influenzas, catarrhs, and colds in every form were of course
common, and, for a time, one was met on every side by an uncomfortable
and sometimes disagreeable amount of coughing, expectoration,
sniftering, sneezing, and nose-blowing; but now all this has almost
or altogether passed away, and people are again going about as usual,
clad no otherwise than ordinarily, and as becometh the inhabitants
of a temperate zone: plaids, comforters, double-ply mittens, and
"bosom-friends," having been laid aside as unnecessary incumbrances in
weather that is now actually warm and spring-like, as compared with
that dreadful month or six weeks of Baffin's Bay-like temperature,
that, when it got fairly at you, and off your guard, seemed capable of
making the very blood freeze in one's veins, even as it froze the water
in our subterranean and best guarded lead pipes. Nothing, perhaps,
could more pointedly illustrate the healthy vigour and vitality of
our people generally than the fact that, although we have amongst us
many who have arrived at extreme old age, and some who have been more
or less valetudinarian for years, there has not been a single death
in the district--a district which, as we look around us, contains
some two or three thousand inhabitants--since the beginning of last
December; a fact which, considering the inclemency of the weather,
and the high death-rate everywhere else, is something surely worthy
chronicling. We are probably correct in believing that the worst at
least of winter is already past, but much cold and stormy weather
may be still in store for us, and as colds and coughs may return,
we beg to make friendly offer of the following probatum est recipe,
quite a popular cure in this part of the country for every form of
winter influenza. Cure or no cure, the recipe has at all events the
merit of being extremely simple, and to thousands of our readers very
readily available at any time. Take a pint--say a tumblerful--of sea
water that has been heated to the boiling-point, without having been
allowed actually to boil. Sprinkle over it some pepper, rather more
plentifully than you do in your soup; drink this as hot as you can
bear it as you step into bed at night. Next day your cold and cough
will have disappeared like an unpleasant dream. You may be weak,
but you will, upon the whole, be well! We cannot personally vouch
for the efficacy of this draught, but we find that many people here
invariably resort to it as a ready and popular cure for their colds,
and they speak highly of its virtues, and, contrary to what one would
expect, of its comparative pleasantness and palatability as well. A
sensible old man whom we questioned on the subject a few days ago,
and a firm believer in the efficacy of this "saline" draught, told
us in confidence that the rationale of the thing consisted in the
fact that it immediately acted as a powerful sudorific; and that to
this, he thought, was to be attributed the thoroughness as well as the
rapidity of the cure. Probably he was right. It is a simple, cheap, and
readily available remedy at all events, and dwellers by the sea-side
might do worse than give it a trial at a pinch, when more orthodox
remedies have failed, or are not ready to hand. One grand thing about
it is the certainty that, if it does no good, it cannot possibly do
harm. Another old man in our neighbourhood, still hale and active,
though in his eighty-fourth year, told us lately that he never took
a dose, not a ha'penny's worth, of medicine, druggist's or doctor's
stuff in his life. "Whenever I felt out of sorts," he continued,
"I just went down to the sea and drank a good large draught of salt
water; that was always my medicine, and it never once failed to do me
good." So that there may be more virtue in sea water as a curative
agent in bronchial and stomachic ailments than the world generally
wots. And if so, how consoling the thought that this druggist's shop
is never shut; the supply is exhaustless, and no charge!

A curious bit of popular superstition is the following, which a
gentleman in a neighbouring district was good enough to bring recently
under our notice. After breakfast, at which, among other good things,
we had some excellent fresh eggs, he suggested that we should go into
the kitchen to smoke, "and watch," he said, "what my housekeeper will
do with the empty egg-shells as the breakfast things are brought
up from the parlour." We went and stood and watched accordingly,
and this is what we saw, chatting with our host the while, that the
housekeeper might not suspect that we took any particular interest
in her doings. We noticed that when the girl came into the kitchen
and laid the tray upon the table, the housekeeper, a staid and
respectable-looking woman, well advanced in years, walked over and
took the egg-shells--there were four or five of them--and, placing
them one after another into an egg-cup, she took a small knife, and
passed it with a smart tap through the bottoms or hitherto unbroken
ends of the lot, and then turned away to some other employment. This
was all, for our host immediately suggested that we should visit the
stables. We were a good deal puzzled, having seen so little, where
we expected to have seen a great deal, and that little so seemingly
without meaning and purposeless. When we got to the stables, our host
asked if we understood the meaning of the old lady's manner of dealing
with the egg-shells. We confessed our profound ignorance, having never
seen--never, at least, seen so as seriously to notice--anything of this
kind before. "My housekeeper, you must know," continued our friend,
"is a most excellent woman, but much given to little superstitious
observances and harmless giosragan. She will not allow a single
egg-shell to go out of her sight without first making a hole through
it, knocking out its bottom in short, in case, as she has more than
once seriously told me, a witch should get hold of it and use it
as a boat, in which to set to sea in order to raise violent storms,
in which the ablest seamanship could not possibly save hundreds of
vessels from being miserably wrecked!" "You may smile," he went on,
"for it is supremely absurd, to be sure, that an otherwise sensible
woman should give credence to such nonsense; but, after all, if you
make inquiry, you will find that the superstition in question is quite
a common one. Few middle-aged women, brought up in the Highlands,
but will act as you saw my housekeeper act with the empty egg-shells,
knocking a hole through their unbroken ends before throwing them aside,
or frequently even more effectually providing against the possibility
of their being used as witched life-boats, by crushing the whole
shell into a crumpled mass bodily in the hand." We haven't as yet had
many opportunities of making inquiry into the matter, but from all we
can gather from some old women in our neighbourhood, we believe empty
egg-shells are, or perhaps we should say were, frequently treated after
the fashion stated, and for the reason assigned. Some of our readers
in the north-west Highlands and Hebrides may perhaps know something
more about a very odd and curious superstition to be met with in the
latter half of the nineteenth century. For obvious reasons, it is a
superstition more likely to be prevalent among islanders and dwellers
by the sea-shore than in the more inland parts of the country.

The following fragment of a curious old poem we picked up about
ten days ago from the recitation of Alexander Maclachlan, shepherd,
Dalness. It is unfortunately but a fragment, as we have said, but
we give it here in the hope that some of our friends of the Gaelic
Society, or of our many readers throughout the Hebrides, may be able
to supply more or less of the remainder. Maclachlan heard the entire
poem from a Glenetive forester, a very old man, some years ago, but
this man is now unfortunately dead, and the reciter could not direct us
to any one likely to be able to repeat the poem at length. Perhaps our
friend Mr. J. F. Campbell of Islay, so indefatigable and marvellously
successful in his search after Celtic song and story, "all of the olden
time," may have met with it in a more or less complete form; if so,
he would very much oblige us all in the north by giving us a version
of it and its history, as far as he knows it. We may state that it does
not appear in Leabhar-na-Feinne, which we have searched for it, though
unquestionably a production of considerable antiquity. Maclachlan
told us that the old forester, in reciting it, called it Conaltradh
nan Ian, or The Parliament of Birds. The following were evidently the
opening lines of the poem, and likeliest to be remembered by one who
only heard it repeated once or twice:--

    Conaltradh nan Ian--(Fragment).

    "Nuair 'bha Gaelig aig na h'eoin,
    'Sa 'thuigeadh iad glòir nan dàn,
    Bu tric an comhradh anns a choill
    Air iomad pong, ma's fhior na Bàird.
    Thainig piàid luath na gleadhraich,
    'S shuidh i air grod mheur còsach fearna,
    Ma choinneamh cò'chaig a ghuib chruinn,
    'Sa caog-shuil dhonn na ceann mar àirnaig.
    'N so dh'èirich a phiaid gu grad,
    'S thubhairt i 's i 's tailceadh a bonn,
    'An tusa sin a'd mheall air stop
    Nuair a bhi's do cheod-cheann trom?
    Am bi do theanga 'ghnath fo ghlais
    'S tu gun luaidh air reach na ùi,
    'S tu cho duinte ri cloich bhric
    'Bhi's air meall a chnaip gun bhri."

    "Bu treis dhaibh mar so a còmhstri,
    Gearradh, 'bearradh glòir a cheile,
    Ach gus an d'leum a nois an glas-eun;
    'S rinn esan gach cùis a rèiteach,
    'S crog a phiaid air a ceann
    'S dh-fhag e i gu fuar, fann,
    'N sin bh'èirich firèun nan gléus
    A shinbhlas an spèur ga luath."

                                [Cætera desunt.]

This curious poem seems to have been throughout of a dramatic
form. Maclachlan says that, as he heard it repeated, almost all our
better known wild-birds were introduced, and had appropriate speeches
and parts assigned to them. He particularly referred to a very funny
speech by the wren, who finally quarrels with the wagtail, by whom
he had been insulted, and gives him a good licking. The end of it
all is that the eagle is unanimously elected king of birds, with
the glas-eun or falcon-kite as his lieutenant. The throstle cock is
elected bard of birds, and the dipper admiral and commander-in-chief
of the wild-bird fleet. Any one recovering the whole poem would be
conferring no small boon on Gaelic literature.


    "Albert," a famous Labrador Dog--As a Water-Dog--His
    intelligence--Takes to Sheep-stealing--Death!

In a recent number of Land and Water, Mr. Frank Buckland, in
writing about the Ophiophagus elaps, a serpent-eating serpent
lately introduced into the Zoological Gardens, London, with all the
honours due to a visitor so choice and curious in its diet, remarks
that "the saying that 'Dog will not eat dog' is proverbial amongst
us." North of the Tweed, neither in Gaelic nor in guid braid Scotch,
is any such proverb known. The nearest approach to it that we can
think of at this moment [April 1875] is the saying that "Hawks winna
pick oot hawks' een," and this is applied in a sense very different
from that suggested by Mr. Buckland's proverb, if such a proverb
exists. At all events the saying that dog will not eat dog is not
true; dog will eat dog, ravenously and greedily enough, when he is
hungry and gets the chance. Notwithstanding his domestication and
long acquaintance with the usages of civilised life, the dog is,
under certain circumstances, as thorough a cannibal and savage as
ever was Fiji islander in the days when that worthy Polynesian would
give the best finger of his right hand for a prime haunch of full-fed
and fat "missionary." Out of many instances that had come under our
own observation of cannibalism in dogs, take the following, all the
circumstances connected with which, although it is somewhat of an old
story now, are for many reasons as fresh in our recollection as if
they had occurred but yesterday. When we came to Lochaber, upwards
of twenty years ago (Eheu! fugaces labuntur anni), we had a large
Labrador dog, a present, when a three-months-old pup, from one of the
best and kindliest men we have ever known, the late Rev. Dr. Macnair,
of the Abbey Church, Paisley. He grew to be a magnificent animal, the
largest and most powerful dog, perhaps, ever seen in the Highlands, and
as sagacious and good-tempered as he was big and bold and strong. The
late Mr. Campbell of Monzie, an excellent judge of dogs, used to say
that he was the finest dog he ever saw, and made it a point every
year to call once or twice during the shooting season purposely to
have "a friendly talk," as he termed it, with "Albert," for such was
our canny Goliath's name. As a water-dog, he was simply perfect,
as amphibious almost as a seal. Any stone that you took in your
hand and threw into twelve, fifteen, or even twenty feet of water,
he instantly dashed after, and took from the bottom, and laid at your
feet, seldom making a mistake, though how he was able to select from
a stony bottom the very stone that had been handled and thrown in by
you was then, and is still, a puzzle to us: not by scent, one would
think, for all traces of contact with the hand must surely have been
lost in passing through such a depth of salt water. He probably was
able to recognise the proper stone partly from its colour and shape,
and from its being in a less saturated state, and less in contact with
the bottom than were those that always lay there. On one occasion we
had left our boat on the beach, neglecting to tie the painter, as we
intended returning immediately. Something came in the way, however,
that occupied us longer than we expected, and on returning to the
shore, our boat was off and away, drifting before a land breeze that
had already carried it quite a quarter of a mile from the beach. There
was no other boat at hand in which to overtake the runaway, and to
go round by the ferry, to meet it on the opposite side of the loch,
was a longer walk than one cared about just then, and the boat,
besides, was likely to be considerably damaged if it reached the
rocks on the other side, as the chances were it would, before we could
arrive. While thus in a state of anxiety and indecision, our eye fell
upon "Albert," then our constant companion, afloat and ashore. "Albert,
old fellow," we remarked, "the boat, you see, is adrift; what's to
be done?" With a grand, deep bass bark in response, he dashed into
the water, and ere we could well understand it all, he was a hundred
yards away, swimming hastily and rapidly in the direction of the
truant yawl. We could only sit down on a rock to watch and wait the
upshot of the adventure. Soon overtaking the runaway boat, "Albert"
swam once or twice round it, and then observing that the painter was
dragging in the water over the bow, he seized the rope in his mouth,
and strongly and steadily towed the boat towards us, against a stiff
breeze and a considerable ripple of a sea, until he reached the beach,
and dropped the painter on the shingle at our feet, and with a jolly,
self-approving bark, in response to our words of hearty welcome, that
made the mountain echoes ring again, he shook a perfect shower-bath
of brine from his shaggy coat, and scampered away along the sands to
dry himself. He was manifestly proud, as he well ought to be, of an
exploit so timeously and sagaciously performed, and so, be sure, were
we. "Albert's" readiness to take to the water was, on one occasion at
least, attended by rather awkward circumstances. One beautiful summer
afternoon, a young Oxford friend and ourselves were in the same boat,
with "Albert," as usual, for a companion. It was too calm for sailing,
and we were too lazy to row, so we allowed the boat to drift about at
"its own sweet will," while we lounged on the thwarts and read the
papers, of special interest then on account of the Crimean war. We
were half a mile from land, and our friend by-and-by suggested that
a swim in the invitingly cool, clear sea would be a good thing before
returning home to dinner. As he was an excellent swimmer, with whom,
for a small wager, we had the day before done a considerable distance,
we readily agreed. We had long known, however, how difficult it is to
get into a buoyant, floating boat of such a comparatively small size
as ours was, without any purchase to aid but such as is afforded by the
unstable water, and it was arranged that he should have his dip first,
and when he was tired of it, and we had helped him on board, that we
should have a plunge in our turn. "Albert," who had not been consulted
in our arrangement, was stretched the while at length, half or wholly
asleep, along the bottom of the boat. When he had stripped, our young
friend stood up in the bow, with one foot on the foremost thwart and
the other on the gunwale, and with a loud shout took a splendid header
into the cool, green depths, disappearing like an arrow, with a clean,
clear cut, that hardly left a ripple on the surface. "Albert," who
clearly thought it an accident, and that the young man's life was
in danger, with one brave bound, and before we could prevent him,
was instantly over the side, and, diving after the swimmer, met him
as he was returning to the surface, and laid hold of him awkwardly,
though with the best intention, by the fleshy part of the left arm
near the shoulder. When they appeared on the surface, the swimmer,
who had manifestly lost all his self-possession, struggled violently
to free himself from the dog, and would certainly have been drowned by
his own struggles and the very exertions intended by the noble animal
to save his life, if we had not quickly rowed the boat alongside,
and taking our friend very unceremoniously by his "Hyperion curls,"
dragged him on board, panting and sputtering as only the half-drowned
and wholly frightened can pant and sputter in such circumstances. On
examination, his arm was found to be less hurt by the dog's teeth
than we expected it to be; a firm and friendly grip with such kindly
intentions as actuated the honest would-be rescuer being a very
different thing from a bite and worry in good earnest. His back and
shoulders, however, were seriously scratched in livid lash-like weals
by the dog's nails, while they were hugging each other and struggling
in the water. "Albert" was of course very little if at all to blame
in the adventure, and his only punishment--if what indeed was to him
always a delight could be called a punishment--was that, refusing
to take him back into the boat, he was obliged to swim a full half
mile to the beach; which, however, he easily reached before us. Our
friend felt sore and uncomfortable for a day or two, but was soon all
right again; and both he and we had got a lesson which we were not
likely to forget in a hurry, that a powerful dog, no matter how well
meaning and kindly his intentions, is rather a dangerous companion
to a swimmer in puris naturalibus in deep water.

But what has all this, it may be asked, to do with Mr. Frank Buckland
and his proverb that "Dog will not eat dog"? A little patience,
as is your wont, courteous reader, and we shall come to the point
without much more ado. When "Albert" was about four years old,
and as powerful, and perfect, and pleasant a dog as ever growled in
anger or barked with glee, it began to be rumoured abroad that he was
fast falling into bad habits--whether from following evil example, or
instinctively and proprio motû, was never determined. He was accused,
in fact, of sheep-worrying, and of course we couldn't and wouldn't
believe a bit of it. Other dogs might be guilty of such vulgar
misconduct; in the case of our dog the thing was impossible. Wasn't
he regularly and well fed? Didn't he sleep every night at our own
bedroom door? All this, of course, we said, and urged, and argued,
and furthermore we urged a fact which seemed to us to be conclusive of
our dog's innocence of the great misdemeanour laid to his charge--we
had sheep of our own, and there were sheep belonging to others in
our immediate neighbourhood, and with none of these, we pointed out,
had our dog ever been known to make or meddle in any way further than
by an occasional deep bow-wow! which, though it sometimes made them
scamper, was uttered more in rollicking fun and merry make-believe
than in anything like anger or earnest. Precisely so, answered a host
of crook-carrying shepherds from farms five, seven, ten miles away:
"Your dog is too knowing to kill sheep at your own doors; he goes to a
considerable distance on his raids, the better to escape detection,
slipping away at night or early in the morning unknown to you,
and returning as innocent-seeming as the last sheep he has worried,
before you appear in your breakfast parlour!" It was not alleged that
he had ever been caught in the act, or actually seen eating forbidden
mutton or lamb, minus the "mint sauce;" but more than one shepherd
averred that he had more than once been seen wandering at improper
hours on hill-sides, where he had no good right or reason to be,
on which occasions, too, he exhibited the stealthy, prowling pace,
and all the hang-dog looks and other signs of an evil-doer. Half
afraid that it was too true, but irritated by their strenuousness of
assertion, and defiant to the last, "Catch him, then!" we exclaimed,
"shoot him, kill him, if he is harming you; but I am not going to put
away or kill my dog--and such a dog, too! worth the best hirsel in
your charge!--simply to please you." And thus the matter rested for a
time, but not for long. Early one Monday morning, about a fortnight
afterwards, our good neighbour Mr. Linton, of the farm of Coruanan,
seven or eight miles away, drove up to our door in his gig, and asked
to see us. After the usual civilities, "Your big dog is killing my
sheep, Mr. S.!" was the charge, straightforward and unqualified. We
argued, of course, that it couldn't be, &c., as above, but Mr. Linton
soon brought the matter to a very practical issue. "What is the value
of your dog?" We couldn't say; he was very valuable, a great favourite,
and we declined to put a price upon him. "Well," continued Mr. Linton,
"say that he is worth £5, or £10, or £20. I charge him with killing
two of my sheep this very morning. I have my gun here in the gig: let
me shoot him, and if I don't find and show you wool and mutton-flesh
taken from his stomach, I will gladly pay over the dog's price; if I
show you what I am certain I can show, his still undigested morning
meal of mutton-flesh and wool, we are quits. That's surely fair!" And
there was no denying that it was perfectly fair, but we declined,
nevertheless, bringing the matter to the arbitrament suggested. We
parted good friends, however, for we promised that whether he was to
be shot or drowned, or sent out of the country, the dog would never
again be allowed a chance of killing another sheep in Lochaber,
and our friend Mr. Linton is, we are glad to say, still in life to
bear testimony to the fact that we were as good as our word. On due
consideration of the case in all its aspects, we decided that it
was best, in the interest of peace and good neighbourhood, to have
the dog shot forthwith, and shot he was accordingly within an hour
of the interview above described. We directed the executioner of
the sad sentence to open him, that we might examine the contents of
the stomach, and sure enough, intermixed with wool enough to stuff
a small cushion, it was found to contain many pounds of recently
killed and undigested mutton. It was clear that some at least of the
many grave charges against him were true. Anxious to preserve the
skin for stuffing, the eviscerated body was placed in the fork of
an apple tree in the garden, until we could procure the services of
some one expert in flaying to do the job handsomely. Next morning,
on going into the garden to have a look at all that remained of poor
"Albert," what was our astonishment and horror at finding the corpus
vile--vile, indeed, at last!--dragged from the tree to the ground,
and almost entirely devoured by some half-dozen jackal looking curs,
that were having what was manifestly to them a jolly banquet on the
remains of the gallant animal whose single bark when in lusty life
was sufficient to scatter a whole score of such sorry mongrels, as if
each had a firebrand at his tail. Except a few ragged shreds of skin
and the larger bones, they had devoured every particle of him; and
so much for Mr. Frank Buckland and his proverb that "Dog will not eat
dog." Won't he just, when he has the chance! Nor is this by any means
the only instance of canine cannibalism that might be adduced from our
common-place book in disproof of any proverb or saying whatever to the
contrary. Poor "Albert!" we are ashamed to confess how much grieved
we were for his death, his ovicidal tendencies notwithstanding. His
upper jaw, showing a development of dentition of which a Bengal tiger
need not have been ashamed, is the only relic of our gallant dog now
remaining to us; and on the ex pede Herculem principle, we point to
that with a melancholy satisfaction in telling how big and brave,
afloat and ashore, was our matchless Labrador.


    An old Fingalian Hero--His keenness of Sight and sharpness of
    Ear-- Foresters and Keepers--Foxhunters--Donald MacDonald--His
    Dogs--Sandy MacArthur the Mole-catcher.

The hero of one of our most popular old Fingalian tales is described as
very marvellously gifted. In order to secure the hand of a beautiful
Scandinavian princess, whose locks are as the beams of the setting
sun, about the time the summer sea is flecked and barred with gold,
and with whom he has long been in love, he has to undertake the most
strange and startling adventures; and not the least important of his
qualifications for combating the frequent difficulties of his position
is a preternatural acuteness of eye and ear, of sight and hearing. His
keenness of sight, for instance, is indicated by his being able to
count the beats of the swallow's wings in all the gyrations of its
flight over the summer grove; and as for his acuteness of ear, enough
is said when the veracious chronicler does not hesitate to assert that
his hero could hear the grass grow? We, in our unheroic and degenerate
day, cannot boast of anything like this. We are content to know that
the swallow skims the pool with a swiftness due to a motion of wing
too rapid to be detected in its separate beats by the acutest eye,
and that the grass does grow, and at times with marvellous rapidity,
albeit the stir and tumult of its upward rush is inaudible to human
ears. But if we cannot hear the grass grow, we can safely aver that
in such exceptionally splendid seasons as this [July 1875], and
without fear of being charged with any very culpable exaggeration,
we can see it grow, not only from day to day, but almost literally
from hour to hour--so rapid, so marked, and visibly perceptible is
the progress towards a large and lusty maturity of grass and grain
and every green herb of the field. Anything, indeed, to equal the
sturdy vigour and upward rush of vegetation during the month of June
last past we never did see before, and had it not come immediately
under our own observation, we could hardly have believed it possible
anywhere outside the tropics. The harvest must necessarily be a late
one, though not quite so late as it was at one time feared must be
the case. If we say that the season of ingathering will be later than
usual by ten days, or a fortnight at the most, we are probably not
far from the mark. But, late or early, it is sure to be an exceedingly
abundant harvest, there being at present all over the West Highlands
every promise of very heavy returns, the heaviest, perhaps, that,
under any circumstances whatever, the land could safely bear, with
the hope of an eventually fully ripe and lusty maturity.

Readers of our Nether Lochaber papers will in nowise be surprised to
hear that we have all our lifetime made it a point to cultivate the
confidence and friendly goodwill of keepers, foresters, and their
followers, wherever we chanced to meet with them; nor would it be
proper to suppress our grateful acknowledgment of the fact that to
them we have been largely indebted in all our zoological studies for
a long quarter of a century. We look upon foresters and gamekeepers
as at the head of their profession, what the French call "princes of
the game," and we have ever found them exceedingly courteous and kind,
highly intelligent almost without exception, and not merely willing but
well pleased to be examined, and cross-examined when occasion calls,
on anything and everything appertaining to, or at all connected with,
their office. With their humbler brethren of the craft, too, we have
long been thoroughly en rapport; these humbler brethren being the
fox-hunters, mole-catchers, and vermin-killers generally, by whatever
name or designation known from the Moray Firth, to the Clyde. Most
readers of poetry will remember how Pope, in one of his finest poems
(Prologue to the Satires), apostrophises his friend Dr. Arbuthnot as

    "Friend to my life! which did not you prolong,
    The world had wanted many an idle song."

And if one dared to parody any couplet from a poem so beautiful, we
should be disposed to address the first fox-hunter or mole-catcher of
our numerous acquaintances among them who are deacons of their craft,
we chanced to meet, in some such words as these--

    "Friend to my mill! which did not you supply
    With frequent grist, I'd wither, wane, and die."

A few days ago the Ardgour fox-hunter, Donald Macdonald by name, a
Moidart man, and an excellent specimen of his class, called upon us
with his quarterly budget of news from glen and upland, from hill and
scaur, and den and corrie; and a wonderful season in his particular
line he vows it has been. Since the middle of April last he has killed
and bagged no fewer than fifty-one foxes all told, besides a number,
both young and old, that were worried to the death by his terriers
in the deepest recesses of their saobhies or dens, whence, when the
turmoil of battle had ceased, and his dogs had emerged bearing very
visible marks of the deadly conflict within, it was impossible to dig
them out. All these foxes were got on the borders of three conterminous
farms--Aryhuelan (Dr. Simpson's), Conaglen and Inverscaddle (the Earl
of Morton's), and Glennahuirich (Mr. Milligan's). Donald, who has been
a fox-hunter for upwards of thirty years, never before knew foxes so
numerous, and this not in one or more favourite haunts within a given
district, but generally over the country. He couldn't himself in any
way satisfactorily account for the fox fecundity of 1874-75, and we
could only regret that we were unable to enlighten him in the least,
for he avowedly came for enlightenment on a subject that was very
naturally exceedingly interesting to him. We were obliged to confess
that the matter was as much a puzzle to us as to himself, but promised
to think it over. Account for it as we may, it is in truth a fact
that has attracted attention everywhere, that not for many years,
if indeed ever before, have foxes been so numerous all over the
Highlands. In the three adjoining districts of Badenoch, Lochaber,
and Ardgour, the last including a part of Sunart, we are assured
that no less a number than two hundred and forty-three foxes have
been killed or captured since mid-April, besides, as already stated,
a considerable number worried in the recesses of their big rock dens
which could not be actually "bagged" or charged for after the fashion
of the craft by brush or pad, though there was no doubt at all of their
having succumbed after, in each case, a more or less desperate battle,
to the assaults of their terrier assailants. And here, good reader, you
must permit us, en parenthese, a slight disgression, not altogether, we
hope, uninteresting. We wonder if in the great family of dogs anywhere
throughout the world there is anything to equal in hardihood, pluck,
and all endurance the Highland fox-hunter's canine following? They are
invariably a rough and ragged lot enough, and seemingly at sixes and
sevens as to anything like assortment; no two of them exactly alike in
colour, size, or breed; and they are usually low in stature, though
of considerable bone and well developed muscle what there is of it;
but be what they may in these respects, when you fall in with one of
our fox-hunter's packs, six, seven, eight, or a dozen in number, as
the case may be, be sure you have before you the gamest, varmintest
little beggars to tackle otter, fox, or badger that the whole world
can show. Our visitor of the other day had only one little fellow
of his pack along with him. "What's his name, Donald?" we asked,
pointing to his wiry follower, that we could easily see was, from the
ink-black tip of his nose to the extremity of his tail, a "varmint"
of the first order. "What do you call him?" "Speach," he replied, and
speach, our non-Gaelic readers must be told, means a wasp or hornet,
and, even like a wasp, we knew that that little fellow with his dander
up in the labyrinthine recesses of a fox's den or a badger's garaidh,
would fight against any odds until he was torn into ribbons, and on
each and every occasion would prove himself

    "Impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer,"

which old Robertson of Struan admirably rendered into our native Doric,
without the loss of a particle of meaning or force--

    "A fiery ettercap, a fractious chiel,
    As het as ginger, and as stieve as steel!"

"And is 'Speach' good, then, Donald?" we inquired. "Yes, sir," was the
reply, "a very good little dog. He is but small, you see, and light;
the smallest, indeed, at present in my pack, but he will take hold
of fox or badger or otter at the readiest spot that offers, and,
having once got hold, will never let go again while his antagonist
is in life; at every dig only burying his muzzle deeper into his
opponent." We quite agreed with him that a dog that did that must be
good indeed; and we are perfectly satisfied that he did not in the
least exaggerate the indomitable pluck and never-say-die tenacity of
his tiny favourite. Two very good things remain to be said in praise of
our Highland fox-hunters' dogs. They are never known to bite, and very
rarely even to bark at human beings; and no fox-hunter's dog was ever
known to be affected with hydrophobia or canine madness. The exemption
from canine madness may, perhaps, be largely due to their open air
and natural mode of life, but it is difficult to understand why they
should be so entirely free from any propensity to bite or otherwise
annoy a human being, a vice common enough to dogs of unexceptionable
character and breeding otherwise, and from which even the highly
intelligent and much-lauded collie is by no means so free as his many
admirers seem to suppose. Even a collie is always prepared to bark,
and oftentimes to bite on very little provocation, or no provocation
at all. The fox-hunter's terrier, whether he is pure or a nondescript
cross, very rarely indeed barks at a stranger, and never under any
circumstances offers to bite. We question if there is a human being
to-day in life who can honestly assert that he has ever been bitten
by a fox-hunter's dog. With Macdonald we had a long and interesting
crack, in the course of which we touched on some matters of sufficient
importance to be introduced to the reader on a future occasion.

We had also a visit some little time ago from Sandy Macarthur, a
well-known mole-catcher in Lochaber and the neighbouring districts;
a very intelligent and civil man, whose only fault is that when
you have collared him there is no spontaneity in his crack. Even
when you have got firm hold enough of him, you have to extract his
frequently very valuable information from him by a process akin to
that which an ingenious and learned counsel employs in the case of a
recalcitrant and unwilling witness at an important jury trial. Sandy,
however, is a good fellow all the same, slow but sure; and his
quiet unobtrusiveness and reticence is perhaps to be attributed to
the exigencies of his profession; a "rattling, roaring Willie" of a
mole-catcher, with, to use a Gaelic phrase, his tongue constantly
on his shoulder, would probably prove but an unsuccessful hunter
of the velvet-coated quick-eared, and timid subterranean family of
the Mac Talpa. Sandy, on the contrary, goes to work in dead silence
and a-tiptoe, and bags his mole as quietly as an angler baskets his
trout from out the glassy pool, over which, if but his shadow moved,
he would angle long in vain. Sandy assures us that moles are to be
found this season where they were never seen before, and where he was
at first a good deal puzzled to account for their appearance. On a full
consideration of the case Macarthur's theory is briefly to this effect:
Moles are mainly underground dwellers, and even their travelling and
migrating from place to place are done subterraneously. If, however,
they find themselves, as in the Highlands they must frequently do,
in a district or part of district separated from other parts in
which they have never been by rocky spurs and ridges, they will not
venture over these latter unless they carry sufficient earth to hide
their tunnelling, which, it is needless to say, they frequently do
not. The mole in such a case remains insulated, a prisoner, so to
speak, within his present domain. Last winter and spring, however,
according to Sandy's theory, the snow lay so deep and lay so long,
that the moles took advantage of the fact, and making their tunnels
under the snow, where it lay on spur and ridge, just as if it had been
so much superincumbent soil, they easily got into fresh fields and
pastures new. In this way alone can Sandy account for the appearance
of moles this summer in places into which hitherto they had no means of
ready access; and he may be right, though it is a point in the natural
history of the Talpa well deserving further investigation. Sandy
further avers that moles sometimes swim across rivers, fresh-water
lakes, and even arms of the sea in their migrations; and this is just
possible, though we took the liberty of expressing ourselves slightly
incredulous. Sandy, however, ought to know; he has spent the best part
of a life already approaching its grand climacteric in the careful and
close and constant study of, as one may say, a single animal--to wit,
the mole--and it is always hazardous gravely to doubt or contradict
the deliberately expressed opinion of such a man on a matter strictly
within his proper province. All the same we still venture to question
the assertion that the mole ever voluntarily enters water deep enough
to swim in, or ever dims the velvety sheen of its glossy pile even
by such a luxury as a voluntary bath in the shallows, till we have
some stronger proof for it than has yet been adduced.


    Autumnal Night--Meteors--The Spanish Mackerel--Professor Blackie's
    Translations from the Gaelic--The "Translations" of the Gaelic
    Society of Inverness.

    "On the Rialto, every night at twelve,
    I take my evening's walk of meditation."

So says the love-sick knight in Venice Preserved. We have never, much
as we should like it, had an opportunity of enjoying a Rialto midnight
meditation ramble. There is poetry and romance in the very thought of
it; but we know something more poetical and in every way better still,
namely, a midnight meditative stroll along our own beautiful silvery
sanded beach, what time the sea is so calm that its breathings are low
and soft as the respirations of a child whose sleep is undisturbed
save by angel-whispered dreams; the cloudless sky above, with its
waning moon and thousands of sparkling stars, each star a living
intelligence; its sparkling speech, and no sound to disturb the solemn
silence, except now and again the wakeful sea-bird's eerie scream,
and the voice of many waters, as the mountain torrents leap adown
their channels to the sea, a voice so mellowed by the distance that
it becomes solemn and musical as the fast-falling concluding notes
of a grand organ hymn--the Pentecostal "Veni, Creator Spiritus,
for example. During the fine weather of this exceptionally fine
season [August 1875] we have rarely gone to bed before midnight,
more frequently, indeed, long after, and our last thing at night
has been a sea-shore stroll, a half or quarter hour so thoroughly
enjoyable that we have come to miss it sadly, if by adverse weather,
absence from home, or any other cause, we are obliged to forego it. In
addition to all the other attractions of a midnight sea-side stroll in
such weather as the tropics themselves might be proud of, the reader
must remember that August is one of our meteor months--the second
week particularly being remarkable for the number and brilliancy of
the Perseides, so called from their seeming mainly to radiate from
the direction of the constellation Perseus. Never was there a finer
season to observe them than this; and although they have, perhaps,
been less numerous than usual, the brilliancy of many of them was so
remarkable, and their paths throughout so easily followed, that their
very infrequency only added to the eagerness and interest with which
one watched and waited for them. The finest display of the season was
from midnight on to nearly two A.M. on the night of the 11th and 12th,
in which time we counted thirty-three noticeable meteors--of which
seven were what might be called first-class meteors of a nucleus
brilliancy equal to or exceeding that of first magnitude stars,
with broad, bright, well-defined trains, that wholly or in part, in
three or four instances, remained in sight, mapping out the meteor's
trajectory for several seconds after the disappearance or extinction
of the parent orb or meteor proper itself. Mr. W. B. Symington,
who was among the Hebrides at the time on a yachting cruise, writes
on the subject as follows:--"Notwithstanding your injunction to be
on the qui vive as to the August meteors, I am sorry to say that
I forgot all about it on the nights of the 9th and 10th, although
the weather was beautifully clear. On the 11th, 12th, and 13th,
however, the sailing-master and myself were sharply on the look-out,
and our watchfulness was rewarded by the sight of some really very
splendid examples. There were on each night scores and scores of the
more common, lesser, and fainter meteors, but our attention was of
course principally directed to the more brilliant ones. Of these
latter we had, during about an hour and a quarter's observation,
four very fine ones, with long bright tails, on the 11th; nine on
the 12th; and one magnificent fellow, that lighted up the deck,
sails, and rigging of the yacht with a strange greenish glare, on
the 13th. This last was at 11.5 P.M. One of the men said that before
daybreak on the 12th there were some very large and bright meteors. As
far as my observations went, the course of these meteors seemed to
be mainly to the west and south-west, although two at least of the
larger ones rushed in a directly opposite path, namely, to east and
north-east. As I am likely to be at sea in November, though in a very
different kind of craft, I will endeavour to give you a more careful
and satisfactory account of the meteor display of that month. I may
tell you that one of the men caught a scad of large size, the biggest,
I believe, I ever saw. It weighed nearly four pounds. I thought it not
bad eating, though the rest of them in the cabin said it was coarse
and tasteless. It was caught by a long line and herring baited hook,
that was allowed to drag after the ship in a breeze that gave us at
the time a speed of at least eight knots an hour."

The fish referred to by our correspondent is also called the Spanish
mackerel, it being very common on some parts of the Spanish coast. It
belongs to the order Scomberidæ, and is a cousin of our own better
known mackerel proper, though a considerably larger fish, and not
nearly so good for the table as its beautiful congener. The Spanish
differs from the mackerel proper in one very remarkable particular;
it has an air bladder which the true mackerel of our shores has not,
and yet the latter is one of the readiest and swiftest swimmers,
and at all depths, of any fish in the sea. The fact is that the real
use of the air bladder in the economy of fish still continues an
unresolved and seemingly an unresolvable puzzle.

Lovers of living, healthy poetry--healthy as the mountain breeze,
and free and sparkling as the mountain stream, and more especially
our Celtic friends who have been taught to honour and reverence
the "kilted" muse--will be glad to know that Professor Blackie
has in preparation the materials of what cannot fail to prove a
very interesting volume, consisting of translations of some of the
most admired compositions of our modern Gaelic bards. Macintyre's
Ben. Dorain, Alasdair Macdonald's Berliun, with many of such lesser
popular lyrics, as Am Breacan Wallach, Failte na Mor-Thir, A Bhanarach
Dhoun a Cruidh, &c., will thus appear for the first time in a becoming
Saxon garb; not--to use the milliner's phrase--too tight a fit,
observe, but natural and easy, though "made to measure," and we venture
to predict that our English readers, who as yet know them not at all,
and our Gaelic friends, who know them well and have long known them,
will alike be pleased with the results of the learned Professor's
gallant raid into bard-land. The Professor has been visiting us
here lately, and we can honestly say that such specimens of his
work as he was good enough to read to us--and there are few better
readers than Professor Blackie--seemed to us admirably done. His
version of Ben. Dorain particularly, which we had an opportunity of
hearing twice, and of which we can thus speak most positively, is
thoroughly well done; so well, so faithfully, and with such spirit
and verve as must delight not only the ordinary reader, but the very
"ghost" of the original author--Macintyre himself--if, like the
Ossianic departed heroes, he is permitted to know and appreciate
sublunary affairs from out the bosom of "his cloud." The Professor
translates these Gaelic poems into English verse just as, in our
opinion, they should be translated; not too literally, but with all
necessary freedom and elbow room, and yet so literally that any one
knowing the English version may rest assured that he knows also the
original quite as intimately and correctly as it is possible in the
circumstances for any mere outsider to know it. Johnson, in his Life
of Dryden, referring to the latter's version of the Æneid, &c., has a
paragraph which is worth quoting in this connection:--"When languages
are formed upon different principles, it is impossible that the same
modes of expression should always be elegant in both. While they
run on together, the closest translation may be considered the best;
but when they divaricate, each must take its natural course. Where
correspondence cannot be obtained, it is necessary to be content
with something equivalent. 'Translation, therefore,' says Dryden,
'is not so loose as paraphrase, nor so close as metaphrase.'" With all
this we entirely concur, more especially when such widely different
languages as the English and Gaelic have to be dealt with. We do not
know that Professor Blackie ever read the paragraph quoted, or, even
if he did read it, that he now remembers it; but to his translations
from the Gaelic, to so much of them, at all events, as were submitted
to our notice, Dryden's dictum is entirely applicable--they are not
so loose as paraphrase, nor so close as metaphrase. They strike a
golden mean very difficult of attainment in such efforts; and on
the appearance of the volume itself, we shall be disappointed if
nine-tenths at least of the many readers it is sure to command do
not entirely agree with us. But nous verrons, if we live we shall see.

The Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness for 1873-4 and
1874-5, have reached us. The Secretary's paper on "Coinneach Odhar,"
the Brahan seer, is most interesting, containing as it does the best
account that we have met with of that uncanny Ross-shire worthy. That
he was an impostor, and a vulgar impostor too, there can be no doubt;
but the story of a man--clever, shrewd rascal as he was--in whom the
people so thoroughly believed, is worth the telling, and Mr. Mackenzie
tells it very well. He should, we think, give us, if possible,
a second paper, containing the many other wonderful vaticinations
attributed to his hero, who seems to have latterly been too clever
by half; for he who could foresee the misfortunes of others--the
death even of a cow--couldn't evidently foresee the well-merited fate
that awaited himself; for he was hanged, and we have no doubt at all
that he richly deserved that species of exaltation. What Thomas the
Rhymer--him of Ercildoune--was in the south of Scotland at a much
earlier period, this Coinneach Odhar, comparing small things with
great, seems to have been in the North-West Highlands during the
latter half of the seventeenth century. "True Thomas," however, was
a gentleman and a scholar; whereas Coinneach was, of course, utterly
illiterate, conducting his scheme of imposture solely by the aid of
natural talents, which must have been considerable, and a large and
ever-ready stock of impudence and cunning, nicely calculated to impose
upon the vulgar. He made his grand mistake when he flew at such high
game as Lady Seaforth and her domestic affairs. She was too clever,
too intelligent and well-educated to be imposed upon. She ordered
him to be hanged, a doom to which many were led at that period
who probably less richly deserved it than such a prying, meddling,
mischief-maker as was Kenneth the Seer.


    Crops--Potato Slug--Fern Slug--Brackens: How thoroughly to
    extirpate them--The Merlin--Falcon and Tringa.

We have had a full fortnight of magnificent summer weather [August
1875], a bright sun over-head from morning till night, with brisk
breezes, a leanachd na gréine, following the sun; that is, beginning
in the morning at east, and gradually wearing round pari passû with
the solar march, till at sunset it is north-west, and so on round
and round the compass day after day, a phenomenon usually attendant
upon the very finest weather in our northern latitudes. Under these
circumstances it will not surprise those who care for such matters
to hear that our hay crop, about which we were in such anxiety,
has been secured in splendid condition, in such condition, indeed,
as we can rarely boast of in the West Highlands. Our meadow hay crop,
too, is this year unusually heavy, and already, in obedience to the
adage which teaches that it is well and wise to make one's hay while
the sun shines, we are all busy getting it cut down and secured,
although the old, orthodox season is not yet for a fortnight to
come--about old Lammastide. Oats with us here are generally a light
crop, but it will as such be easier to secure in good condition than
a heavier crop would be, and, upon the whole, may thus turn out quite
as profitable. Potatoes are not so heavy haulmed as usual, but in
other respects they promise well, and there is no appearance of our
old enemy the "blight." We hear, however, a good deal of complaint in
some districts on account of the prevalence this year of yellow shaw,
or bar-buidhe as our Highlanders term it, the work of a small grey
slug that attacks the main-stem shaw just at its point of junction
with the soil, and eating and tunnelling it through and through until
the leaves first assume a yellow and withered appearance, and the
whole shaw finally falls down paralysed, and practically useless and
inoperative as to its proper functions, though not actually rotten
or dead, as in the case of the "blight." Many such shaws in a field
give it an unsightly appearance, but beyond this there is no great
harm done after all, for as the slug seldom begins its work until the
plant is large and well forward, the tubers underground, though they
may be of smaller size than their neighbours that have escaped the
slug's attentions, are yet sound and wholesome food enough either for
man or beast. We have observed that this particular slug, or a closely
allied species, is also much given to feeding on the stem of the common
fern or bracken, dealing with it just as it does with the potato shaw,
though, to be sure, it finds the fern a rather harder nut to crack;
for the brave bracken, with its firmer contexture of stem, refuses
to bend its head to the ground, no matter the number or direction
of the slug's insidious tunnellings and perforations. If you glance
at a fern clump as you ride along the road or climb the mountain
steep, the yellow, withered fronds of an occasional plant, here and
there painfully conspicuous amid the rich, dark, emerald green of
its healthy companions, tell you where the grey slug--and a nasty,
slimy little wretch it is--is busy at its evil work, drinking up,
like consumption among the human race, the very heart's blood, so to
speak, of the fairest and finest plants it can find. We have found
in our own experience that the best protection of the potato from
its ravages is to give the ground a sprinkling of lime just as the
plants are appearing above ground, about the end of April or beginning
of May. For the early varieties usually planted in our gardens, a
sprinkling of soot is less unsightly and equally efficacious with lime.

And speaking of the bracken, let us observe that, while it is a
magnificent and beautiful plant, it is, like everything else of
beauty, most beautiful in its proper place. Meet it on mountain slope,
in copsewood covert, or greenwood glade, and you cannot admire it
sufficiently. In the end of autumn, particularly when its graceful
fronds have assumed a certain indescribable tinge of mingled brown
and ruby and gold, a bracken covert is beyond measure lovely. At such
a stage, and in the warm and mellow light of the setting September
sun, it is to ourselves all that an ocean of broom in flower was to
the great Linnæus. If, however, you live in the near neighbourhood
of brackens, you will find that it is apt to creep down from its
proper wild and upland habitat, and to encroach unduly upon your
old grass lands, wherever it can get an undisturbed footing. If you
consult books on the subject, they will tell you that if you cut them
down for a season or two running before they ripen, they will die
away and disappear. With our large, soft-stemmed herbaceous plants,
this method of eradication is sometimes effectual enough; with the
bracken, as we know to our cost, it avails nothing. The roots are so
curiously ramified and intertwined that they will live on and put
forth a new growth year after year, no matter how constantly and
closely you cut and crop them. We gave up trying a plan so futile,
and only hit upon the right way of dealing with them by the merest
accident. Walking along the edge of one of our old grass parks about
mid-June some few years ago, we wished to get hold of a switch or
something similar, wherewith to drive a fractious pony on before us
to the park gate. There was no switch just then at hand, and, without
thinking of it, we bent down, and with both hands pulled steadily and
straight upwards at one of the largest of a luxuriant bracken patch
that skirted the path beside us. To our surprise the plant came up
easily and from the very root, or we should rather say with the very
root attached, long, dark-brown, and something cigar-like in shape
and size. That particular plant, a slight examination satisfied us,
was fairly or literally and for ever eradicated, extirpated. When you
get hold of plant and root, you get all; no other plant can grow in its
stead; no plant, at all events, can honestly call it progenitor. The
thing now was clear; we knew what we had to do, and how simple it
was! One afternoon soon afterwards we called all our people into
that field along with us. In all such cases best lead yourself,
if you would have the thing done right. We pulled a bracken or two
straight up and steadily in their presence, and showed them how it
was extracted, even as a practised dentist, "deacon of his craft,"
deals with an offending tooth--root and all complete. They then
set to work along with us, and in an hour or so we had the whole
field cleared of ferns--quite a large cart-load of them--each plant
with its black root attached, all of which were afterwards found
useful as bedding for the pony, and the largest and least broken for
thatch. In that field no brackens have since shown themselves. So, if
you are troubled with ferns, the proper way is not to cut them down,
for they will grow again, but to deal with them as we did, and they
will trouble you no more. There is some trouble about it, no doubt,
though far less than you would suppose, and then, you see, we really
know nothing at this moment worth the having to be had without trouble;
so take the trouble and the good together, and be wise.

In your sea-shore wanderings, good reader, you must many a time and
oft have witnessed the graceful flight of the tern or sea-swallow,
the handsomest bird, perhaps, that ever saw its own image reflected in
the glassy surface of a waveless sea; and you must have noticed its
sudden dart and dip, now and again, after its prey into the bosom of
the green, unbroken waves. This, of course, you have seen and admired
a thousand times. But have you ever seen the merlin or merlin falcon
(Falco æsalon), perform the same feat? No! Well, we did a few evenings
ago; albeit the momentary immersion in the briny blue was probably,
nay certainly, what the merlin would have avoided if it could. It
happened in this wise: We were engaged on the beach painting our
boat--there are few things but we can put our hand to with more or
less success, always barring shooting, of our deficiency in which we
recently made full and honest confession--when we suddenly heard that
curious and indescribable half-scream, half-cheep, so well-known to
the ornithologist, and which tells him so plainly that the utterer
is a bird--usually a small bird--in dire distress, in constant fear
and danger of its life. Looking round, we saw a merlin in hot chase
of a sandpiper (Tringa hypoleucus), pursuer and pursued circling and
wheeling in their arrow-like flight over the bent some hundred yards
from the margin of the sea. Were it not for the manifest distress of
the poor sandpiper, evidenced by its frequent scream, as if invoking
all the kindly powers of heaven and earth to its aid, we should have
considered it a most beautiful and interesting sight. The merlin was
evidently hungry and in earnest, and we made no doubt at all, for
there was no possible way that we could aid it, that the sandpiper
was distined to be the fiery little falcon's evening meal. But Diis
aliter visum--the gods had otherwise ordered it. All of a sudden
it seemed to occur to the Tringa that if there was the slightest
chance of escape for it, it must be in closer relationship with its
favourite and familiar element, the sea; and to the sea accordingly in
one rapid dart the poor bird betook itself. The merlin, as if aware
that there was now at least a possibility that its prey might after
all escape its clutches, made a magnificent dash after, and just as
the sandpiper was over the sea, reached it, and pounced to strike,
but missed; by the smallest fraction of a single second, a sharp
zig-zag in the Tringa's flight kept it clear of the stroke, and the
merlin, by the force and impetus of its flight, plunged head over
ears into the sea, whence, with draggled plumage and brine-blinded
eyes, it arose with difficulty, and betook itself to a rock ledge
at hand to preen and dry itself, with no other consolation in its
disappointment, probably, than a sotto voce merlin-wise muttering of
the adage, "Better luck next time." The sandpiper, it is needless
to say, was soon a mile away, winging its terrified flight to the
opposite Appin shore. We were glad that the sandpiper had escaped,
that the merlin was disappointed. It is always pleasant to see an
evil-doer baulked in the accomplishment of his evil intentions. And
yet we don't know either. We have called the merlin an evil-doer:
are we entitled so to call him? Was he not as much entitled, could
he have secured it, to have that Tringa for his evening meal, as
we the delicious red rock cod that in an hour or two afterwards we
enjoyed so heartily to our own supper? Let the reader think it over,
and answer the question to himself at his leisure.


    The Hedgehog an Egg and Bird Eater?--Bird-catching--"Old
    Cowie"--Mackenzie--Lanius Excubitor--The Butcher-Bird or
    Shrike--Tea drinking and Sobriety.

Audi alteram partem is a sensible maxim, so reasonable in itself,
and mild and deprecatory of tone, that it rarely fails to commend
itself to our sense of right and candour; for if we would arrive
at a right conclusion on any matter in dispute, we must learn to
listen without prejudice to both sides of a question. We can only
hold our own convictions wisely and well, by knowing all that can
be said in antagonism and per contra. The following letter from a
correspondent in London, who writes under the pseudonym of "Observer,"
tells rather in favour of those who entertain grave suspicions as to
the morality and harmlessness of our prickly friend the hedgehog,
and, of course, against Mr. Frank Buckland and ourselves. We are
honest enough, however, to give "Observer's" communication in full,
meanwhile merely remarking that, obliged as we are to our correspondent
for his attention, and really interesting note, we are by no means
convinced that the hedgehog is either oviphagous or a bird-killer and
bird-eater. At this date [February 1876], and with all our knowledge
of the animal, we fear that nothing less than the catching of him
in the very act would convince us, any number of uncompromising
and hard-hearted gamekeepers, with "Observer" to back them, to the
contrary notwithstanding.

"While perusing your interesting article on the hedgehog, some
slight personal experiences of this animal recurred to my mind, and
I therefore thought it might be as well to communicate them to you,
to show that, according to my limited experience, the hedgehog is not
quite such a harmless and innocent creature as you endeavour to make
him, and further, that your practical experiments with the hungry
animals and the eggs are not sufficiently satisfactory to establish
and set at rest once and for ever the hedgehog's innocency. To be
brief: two or three summers ago, while living in the Highlands of
Scotland, and within one hundred and fifty miles of the Highland
capital, about ten o'clock on a beautiful Sunday evening in the
month of June, and shortly after a most genial shower of rain had
fallen to refreshen the young crops, my attention was attracted by
the most alarming and violent cackling of a hen that had just begun
to incubate on two or three addled eggs, or 'nest eggs' as they are
called. Wondering what would be the cause of this noisy demonstration
on the part of the hen, and thinking that probably a thief might be
at hand, I at once repaired to where the hen was. I could see no one
about, but there the hen was, as noisy as ever, looking towards her
nest, advancing apparently to charge some unseen enemy, and then
suddenly making a retrograde movement in the most frantic manner,
without attacking her enemy. On stooping down and peeping into the
corner where the nest was (for by this time it was almost dark), I
observed a round dark object in comfortable possession of the nest;
this was a hedgehog. If I remember well, one of the eggs was broken,
and there was very little of the contents left. This, I am almost
sure, was the case, though I would hardly go so far as to swear to
it at this distance of time. Probably in these circumstances you
will say, 'Then, if you can't actually swear to it, your information
deserves no attention.' However, bear with me a little longer. On
another occasion, on a similar fine evening, about the same hour,
and about four weeks after the above, I heard another hen, which,
with a brood of some eight or ten fine young chickens, had taken up
its night quarters quite near the scene of the first row, making a like
noise. Thinking a cat might be about, and therefore must be the enemy
now, I went up to see what was doing. There the hen was, standing a
short distance from the nest, with only two chickens by her side; the
others could not be seen. On going nearer the nest, there was another
hedgehog in quiet possession. Below him in the nest were one or two
dead chickens; their little heads were crushed quite flat and wet,
as if some animal had been trying to chew the heads. Outside the nest
were two more dead chickens, their heads being in the same flat and
wet condition. The chickens were about a week old, and, so far as I
can recollect, there was no other disfigurement. In the morning two
more live chickens turned up, and the poor hen had to be content with
a reduced brood of four or five instead of eight or ten. The hedgehog
had been sentenced to a violent death, but, fortunately for himself,
made his escape while search was being made for any of the surviving
chickens. During the next summer a duck had laid a number of eggs--more
than a dozen--in a quiet secluded spot at the root of a birch tree,
and which were not discovered by human eye until they were rather
far on in a state of incubation to be fit for use; so the duck was
allowed to keep her eggs in order to hatch them. One night, about 11
or 11.30 P.M., some of the inmates of the house were disturbed by the
duck coming to one of the doors, making a great noise, and would not
leave. So, to save further annoyance, the servant rose and locked
up poor duck with the other ducks. In the morning the prisoner was
released, and allowed to go to resume possession of the nest, which,
on examination, was found undisturbed, except that two or three of the
eggs were amissing; but this was thought nothing of, and allowed to
pass unnoticed. However, a few nights after this occurrence, the duck
repeated her visit to the house, was in a greatly disturbed state,
and would on no account whatever be pacified; so, as the night was
dark, a light was procured, and the writer, along with a friend,
went to the nest, and found a hedgehog sitting on the eggs. Some of
them were broken, and the nest in a great mess. Outside there was
an empty shell, and a large round hole in it. On this occasion the
hedgehog had to pay the extreme penalty. Mentioning these things
to the people about, the writer was informed that it was understood
generally that hedgehogs destroyed eggs, but it had never been known
to them that they attacked young chickens. However, they had never
given the matter any attention. Perhaps these facts I have related
may be of some use to you in making further inquiries about the
hedgehog. At any rate, you may rely on the truth of my statements,
as they are no hearsay stories, but facts that took place before my
own eyes. Query--Granted that the hedgehog does not eat eggs, then
what was he doing in possession of these three different nests? How
were the eggs broken? What animal killed the chickens, if it was not
the hedgehog? Perhaps a weasel would have done it, but in that case,
would the weasel not have inflicted some serious wound about the
throat, and which would have left some bloody marks?"

Of some half-dozen bird-catchers, or bird-fanciers, as they prefer
calling themselves, that visit the West Highlands professionally
from time to time, our favourite is Mackenzie, a north countryman,
we believe, as one indeed might readily guess from his surname,
and well enough known, we daresay, in and about Inverness, where
during our last visit we noticed with pleasure--for it is a good
sign of a people--that birds in cages were exceedingly common. "Old
Cowie," another of the fraternity, is a respectable man, with
more knowledge, perhaps, of things in general than any of his
brethren that have chanced to come our way; but for a knowledge
of our native wild-birds, their favourite haunts, food, song, and
individual habits--idiosyncrasies--for a knowledge, we say, precise
and accurate to the most astonishing degree on all those matters, you
may trust Mackenzie, for he is far and away at the head of his class,
positively unrivalled by any one else that we ever met with. Of the
ornithology of books, of ornithology as a science, with its systems,
classifications, genera, and species, he knows nothing, of course, but
he knows every bird you can refer to under some favourite provincial
cognomen, and he knows it so thoroughly that no one could possibly
know it better. It is true that he knows little or nothing but birds,
but he knows them so well (the birds of Scotland), so intimately, from
constant intercourse with them in their native haunts and homes, that
a "crack" with him about them, when once you get him fairly started,
is no ordinary treat to any one so interested in all that concerns
our wild-birds as we are, and have been for well-nigh a quarter of
a century. Remembering that bird-catching is a sort of profession or
trade, by which a livelihood, however precarious, is encompassed, an
affair of demand and supply, with the usual prosaic result of pounds,
shillings, and pence--or rather of shillings and pence without the
pounds, these last seldom tickling the palms or troubling the purses
of the order--one would expect to find the bird-catcher a dull,
mechanical rogue, a mere bird-trapper and bird-seller in the dearest
market, with no more of poetry or sentiment about him than about a
white-aproned poulterer. This, however, is far from being the case,
at least not always nor even frequently, for Mackenzie, "Old Cowie,"
and others that we could name, really and truly love birds for their
own sakes, without a thought frequently of their market value, and you
can gather as you converse with them from their frequent references
to the delights as well as the désagréments of their profession,
that they are by no means either unconscious of or indifferent to the
poetry of birds and bird life in their native haunts, whether on moor
or mountain side, by solitary tarn or stream, in copse and wildwood,
amid the wildernesses of inland mountains or by the margin of the
sea. We never knew any one so correctly and minutely conversant with
the language of birds as Mackenzie is. By the language of birds, we
do not mean their song, for song is no more the ordinary speech of
birds, though most people think it is, than it is the ordinary speech
of men. Mackenzie, it is true, can imitate the songs of our different
species of warblers with great taste and exactness, but when we say
that he is conversant with the language of birds, we mean not their
song, but their little notes, abrupt chirpings, and faint whisperings,
indicative to the initiated of the particular thought or motif at the
moment predominant in the feathered breast, whether love or terror,
or mere apprehension of danger, or envy, or rivalry, or combativeness,
or notes of warning, or call of invitation to its kind--all these,
and for every separate species, Mackenzie imitates with such consummate
skill, exactness, and dexterity, that he not only deceives an ordinary
listener when off his guard--he has more than once deceived us, though
familiar with birds and bird-notes all our life--but he deceives the
very birds themselves, as we have often witnessed with no little
admiration and delight. That much of this imitatory work is done
ventriloquistically renders it all the more effective, as well as
more difficult of attainment by others of the fraternity ambitious of
catching and cultivating on their own behalf so desirable a gift. This
knowledge of bird language is, of course, of great value to him as
a bird-catcher, and accounts for his success at seasons seemingly
the most inopportune, and in localities the most unlikely, that an
ordinary bird-catcher would probably search in vain for a single
specimen of goldfinch or aberdevine, linnet or redpole, or anything
else in the shape of a valuable song-bird. In passing and repassing
our place, this wonderful bird-man, as our servant girl styles him,
always calls with such bird news and rare specimens as he thinks
most likely to interest us. The other day he came in a state of great
excitement to inform us that just as he had got several siskins on his
limed twigs, a bird--not a hawk of any kind, he was certain--dashed
out of a copse at hand, pounced upon one of the siskins, and bore
it off and away before his very eyes, ere he could do anything--so
sudden and unexpected was the attack--to prevent it! Momentary as
was his glimpse of it, however, Mackenzie's quick and practised
eye enabled him to take in the marauder's predominant colouring,
its shape and size, and mode of flight; and on describing these to
us, we at once exclaimed, a butcher-bird--a shrike! The description
could apply to no other British bird-killer that we could think of;
and that we were right we have no more doubt than if we had the culprit
already in our cabinet. Mackenzie was in a rage. "You are right, sir;
it must have been a butcher-bird, for now I recollect having once seen
a specimen in Ayrshire. I'm bound, however, to lay salt on yon chap's
tail before I am done with him; and you, sir, shall have him, dead or
living. I swear it by all my illustrious ancestors, the Mackenzies of
Kintail!" he exclaimed, with a melodramatic air that was very amusing;
and shouldering his cages and other paraphernalia of his craft, he
departed with a touch of his cap and a bow that showed that amongst
birds he had learned good manners and politeness to an extent that
as a navvy or hired labourer he would probably be all his lifetime
very much a stranger. He has not returned to us as yet, so we suppose
he is still in pursuit, detective-wise, of the shrike; and it had
better look out, for Mackenzie is just the man to succeed sooner or
later in laying salt upon its tail, as threatened. The butcher-bird,
or shrike, is the Lanius excubitor of Linnæus, an exceeding rare bird
in the West Highlands--in Scotland, indeed--so rare that we never
saw a living bird of the order, only stuffed or otherwise preserved
cabinet specimens. It preys on small birds, mice, insects, &c.,
which it does not tear up from under its feet like the hawk tribe,
but fixes it on a thorn-prickle, or in the fork of a small branch,
and then tears it to pieces with its bill, which is very strong, and
toothed and hooked at the point. When Mackenzie catches the offender
he is now in search of, we shall have something more to say about
the butcher-bird, if butcher-bird it proves to be.

We have noticed, by the way, that all bird-catchers--all at least
with whom we have had any acquaintance--are prodigious tea-drinkers,
not sipping the grateful beverage from cups, observe, but literally
drinking it in bowls'-full. They have assured us that they find it
the best thing they can take, not merely as a refresher, but as a long
sustaining element in their dietary throughout their many wanderings by
flood and field. And like all large tea-drinkers, bird-catchers are a
very sober class of men; that they should be so is indeed a necessity
of their craft, for a knock-kneed, shaky-handed, blear-eyed, nerveless
bird-catcher would be as unfit for the successful prosecution of the
labours incident to his profession, as would a similar physical wreck
be for the successful manipulation of his tools in the more minute
and delicate departments of mathematical instrument making.


    Superstition amongst the People--Difficulty of dealing
    with it--Examples of Superstitions still prevalent in the
    Highlands--Cock-crowing at untimely hours--Itching of the
    Nose--Ringing in the Ears--The "Dead-Bell"--Sir Walter

We live in an age of intense literary and intellectual activity; the
tendency of the highest culture of our time [March 1876], however,
it is complained, being towards materialism and scepticism, the
latter either in the form of indifferentism or absolute negation. The
great mass of our people, however--the uneducated or only partially
educated--stand at the other extreme; for whilst it is complained that
those of the highest culture believe too little, or don't believe at
all, the common people, it is averred, believe too much. And it is
perfectly true that the latter are indeed superstitious to an extent
of which the mere outsider can have no adequate conception; and yet,
philosophically pondered, there can be no difficulty, we think,
in arriving at the conclusion that of the two evils over-belief
is better than its opposite; that it is better, upon the whole,
to believe too much than too little. A man with any form of creed,
even if it be false, may be led in time to believe aright, whereas
the case of the utterly creedless man is well-nigh hopeless. For
our own part, therefore, we do not look upon the superstitions of
our people with such horror and alarm as many well-meaning persons,
clerical or lay, feel or feign when brought in contact with an evil
which, let the philosophers say what they will, has its good as well
as its bad side. We greatly doubt if, under present circumstances, and
in their present stage of civilisation, the inhabitants of Scotland
generally, and of the Highlands, with which we are best acquainted,
in particular, would be at all so religious and devout a people as
they are confessedly allowed to be, were it not for the substratum
of superstition that underlies their better founded beliefs and
religious aspirations. Constantly en rapport with the supernatural
and the unseen, they are more disposed than they might otherwise be
to believe in and shape the conduct of their daily lives in accordance
with the doctrine of a future world, with its rewards and punishments,
feeling and acknowledging in a very remarkable manner, even through
the medium of their superstitions--if erroneous, yet not always
degrading--the full force and meaning of what the apostle speaks of in
a general way as "the powers of the world to come." An interesting
paper might be written in support of the theory here indicated,
a theory that to some may seem a paradox, but meanwhile it must lie
over for some more fitting occasion. Such a task requires time; for of
all the delicate tasks that the philosophic mind can concern itself
with, the most delicate is the endeavour to discover and recognise
the spirit of good things in things evil, and of reason in things
unreasonable. Meanwhile, it is the truth, account for it as we may,
that notwithstanding the multiplication of ministers and churches,
schoolmasters and school boards, "Increase of Episcopate" Bill, and all
the rest of it, there is still a lively undercurrent of superstition
amongst our people, do what you can to stamp it out or otherwise;
and that those who believe in it most implicitly are by no means
the worst people either. An example of a very common superstition
is the following:--A few evenings ago, at an accidental gathering
of some half-dozen families in a house in our neighbourhood, the
subjoined conversation took place with regard to a recent death in the
parish. Mrs. B.--"I suppose you have all heard of the death of X. L.,
poor fellow. It was reported he was better yesterday, but I knew last
night that I should hear of a death some time to-day, and knowing of
no one else at present unwell, I decided that it must be X. L.'s death
that was foretold me." Mrs. C.--"Foretold you! how?" Mrs. B.--"Why,
thus: long after dark last night, as I was busy getting the children's
supper, the cock, that had gone to roost as usual, suddenly stood
up on his perch, and crowed a long and loud crow that startled us
all; and I made Katie say the Lord's Prayer, for I knew that a cock
crowing at an hour so untimeous meant a death in our neighbourhood,
and nothing else. On inquiry, I find that X. L. died just about that
time." Mrs. D.--"I knew it too, that there was to be a death in our
neighbourhood. My nose itched so much all last evening, and the itching
was on the left nostril side, and I was certain that it was to be the
death of a male that I should hear of. I had not, however, heard that
X. L. was so very poorly." Mrs. F.--"While at breakfast this morning,
I could hardly eat anything, so loud and persistent was the ringing
in my ears. It was just like the tolling of the church bell." Now,
the reader must remember that these were highly respectable women,
of some education, and in every way of good repute; and yet they had
no idea at all that there was anything silly or wrong about their
superstition, of which they made no secret, and which was reported to
us immediately afterwards by one who was present. Now, we ask, if one
was present and heard it all, how could he best deal with the believer
in this superstition, a superstition so wide-spread that it may be said
to be universal. Any attempt at getting angry and driving it out of
them by the mere force and weight of your superior enlightenment would
be a false move, sure to be attended by no good results. Laughing at
the whole affair might perhaps be a more successful way of dealing
with the nonsense, but in neither way would you be likely to make
them look at the matter from your particular light and point of
view. Admitting that it was rank superstition and sheer nonsense,
there was this one good thing attending it; it led to much moralising
on the shortness and uncertainty of human life, and the unabidingness
generally of all sublunary things; and the superstition was perhaps
more effectual in this direction than would be the most carefully
composed sermon. But the philosophic aspect of the case apart, let
us inquire why the facts mentioned should be held as premonitory of
death. The crowing of the cock has probably some connection with the
denial of St. Peter, and in it, too, may perhaps be traced a faint
remnant of the bird divination of the ancients. As to the itching
of the nose, we confess our inability to say anything satisfactory,
beyond the fact that in old times anything unusual and difficult to
be reasonably accounted for in man's physical economy, as well as
in his mental, was at once attributed to a supernatural cause. Of
this the ringing in the ears, as well as the itching in the nose,
must be held to be an example. The well-known ringing in the ears
does come with extraordinary suddenness, as we have all experienced,
and when it comes makes the most staid philosopher look foolish and
out of sorts for the moment. Its connection with death is perhaps to
be traced to the passing bell of early and mediæval times, and to the
tolling of bells at funerals even in our own day. Sir Walter Scott,
who knew the peasantry of Scotland so well, and sympathised so much
even with their superstitions, has a happy reference to the death-bell
in a passage in Marmion:--

    "For soon Lord Marmion raised his head,
    And, smiling, to Fitz-Eustace said--
    'Is it not strange, that, as ye sung,
    Seem'd in mine ear a death-peal rung,
    Such as in nunneries they toll
    For some departing sister's soul?
      Say, what may this portend?'
    Then first the Palmer silence broke
    (The livelong day he had not spoke),
      'The death of a dear friend.'"

On this passage there is an interesting note very apropos to our
subject:--"Among other omens to which faithful credit is given among
the Scottish peasantry is what is called the 'dead-bell,' explained by
my friend James Hogg to be that tinkling in the ears which the country
people regard as the secret intelligence of some friend's decease." He
tells a story to the purpose in the "Mountain Bard," p. 26--

    "O lady, 'tis dark, an' I heard the dead-bell,
    An' I darena gae younder for gowd nor fee."

"By the dead-bell," says Hogg, "is meant a tinkling in the ears,
which our peasantry in the country regard as a secret intelligence
of some friend's decease. Thus this natural occurrence strikes many
with superstitious awe. This reminds me of a trifling anecdote which
I will relate as an instance. Our two servant girls agreed to go an
errand of their own one night after supper, to a considerable distance,
from which I strove to persuade them, but could not prevail. So, after
going to the apartment in which I slept, I took a drinking-glass,
and coming close to the back of the door, made two or three sweeps
round the lips of the glass with my fingers, which caused a loud,
shrill sound. I then overheard the following dialogue:--B.--"Ah,
mercy! the dead-bell went through my head just now with such a knell
as I never heard." C.--"I heard it too." B.--"Did you indeed? That
is remarkable. I never knew of two hearing it at the same time
before." C.--"We will not go to Midgehope to-night." B.--"No! I
wouldn't go for all the world! I warrant it is my poor brother, Wat;
who knows what these wild Irishes may have done to him?" Tinkling,
however, which both Scott and Hogg use, is not the word. It is more
of a ringing, so clear and loud at times, that we once heard a little
girl say "there was a bell in her head." Our authorities above confess
that it is called the "dead-bell" amongst the peasantry, and by bell
they mean not a tinkling but a loud and very pronounced sound, as if
of solid metal striking hollow metal, and causing the bell-sound with
which we are all so familiar. Mickle, in his fine ballad Cumnor Hall,
has a reference to the same superstition:--

    "The death-bell thrice was heard to ring,
      An aerial voice was heard to call,
    And thrice the raven flapp'd its wing
      Around the towers of Cumnor Hall."

To sneer at such beliefs, and pooh-pooh them superciliously and
from a philosophical stand-point, is easy; it has been tried
with but little satisfactory result. The true philosopher will
be more and more disposed, the more he deals with such matters,
and the closer he examines them, to fall back on Hamlet's dictum,
"That there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of
in our philosophy." So ineradicable is superstition of this sort,
that you may battle with it long enough--we have battled with it for
years--and find it at last by no means the weaker of your assaults,
no matter how cautiously and circuitously you select to deal with it.

After an unusually mild and open season, we have just had a taste of
downright winter in the bitterly cold gales and drifting snow-storms of
the last few days. Our weatherwise old folks are of course delighted
that winter in proper dress and form has come at long last; better
late than never, is the cry, and a bright and warm spring in due
course is confidently predicted.


    Welcome Rain in May--Plague of Mice in Upper Teviotdale--Arvicola
    Agrestis--Field-Mice in Ardgour--How exterminated--A Singing
    Mouse--Farmers' Mistakes--Mackenzie the Bird-Catcher.

After rather more than six consecutive weeks of weather so hot and dry
and parching [May 1876], that we were all rapidly becoming hide-bound,
brown-skinned, and sapless as so many Egyptian mummies, the rain
came at last; came, too, not deluge-wise, and with a splash and a
roar as is generally the case after such long-continued droughts,
but calmly and softly as falls the dew of sleep on infant eyelids,
and without a breath of accompanying wind. The earth, long agape
with thirst, drank it in greedily, and vegetable and animal life
alike rejoiced in the grateful quiet as well as in the copiousness
of the blessed rainfall. You should have heard how, when the first
drop began to fall, our wild-birds welcomed it. All at once, in wood,
and copse, and hedgerow, they burst out into loud and gladsome song;
nor did they cease when the rainfall was heaviest, as they usually do,
but kept it up far into the night, the merle and song-thrush now and
again breaking out afresh as if they couldn't sufficiently express
their joy, even after we had retired to rest, and well pleased lay
listening to the music of the raindrops as they fell plashing and
pattering from the eaves. Even our least accomplished songsters took
their share in this concert, and if they did not, simply because
they could not, sing as well as their more gifted companions, they
made at least, as the Ancient Mariner has it, a pleasant "jargoning,"
therein, dear reader, teaching us all this lesson, that if our gifts
prevent us from playing any great or prominent part in the orchestra
of life, we are yet all the same to perform the parts assigned us as
best we may, and always cheerily and with a will. Next morning again
was calm and mild and beautiful as a summer morning could be, while
the country already looked so fresh and green and lovely that one
could hardly believe that such a marvellous change had taken place
in the course of a single night; so potent, in such circumstances,
is the kindly touch of the Rain King's-magic wand.

The plague of mice in Upper Teviotdale is a very serious matter indeed,
and the most energetic steps should at once be taken in order to
check and, if possible, stamp out the evil. These little rodents
multiply with incredible rapidity, and if they are to be fought
à l'outrance and conquered, the sooner the campaign is opened,
and the more vigorously it is conducted, the easier and speedier
will be the victory. The short-tailed field-mouse is fortunately a
rare animal in the Highlands, though we have occasionally met with
it in the districts of Lorne, Lochaber, and Badenoch. We have also
seen it on the lands of Drumfin, near Tobermory, in the island of
Mull. Once seen, it is easily recognised again. Its colour, instead
of being of the ordinary "mouse" shade of grey or brown, is red,
or reddish; its head is more bullet-like and rounder, and its snout
blunter than in any of its congeners; and its tail ends abruptly,
giving that appendage a docked and stumpy look, as if by accident or
design one-third of its proper length had been cut off in early life;
and hence its common designation of short-tailed field-mouse. Every one
who has tried to capture a common domestic mouse with the bare hand,
knows to his cost how quickly and sharply it can bite; but the little
field-mouse never once attempts to bite the hand that holds it. If
pounced upon while running about in the rough bent grass in which it
usually shelters, it no sooner feels itself fairly enclosed in your
hand than it seems to become paralysed through sheer excess of terror,
and you may handle it for a time and turn it about in all directions
as if it were a stuffed specimen, without its once offering to escape
or defend itself in any way. If, however, you let it slip from your
hand to the ground, it is at once off and away, and, search for it
as you may, you are never likely to see it again. For its size the
Arvicola agrestis is a very powerful little animal, particularly
strong in the neck, shoulder, and fore-arm, a provision whereby it
is enabled to dig and burrow its way underground when necessary, with
all the ease and rapidity almost of the mole itself. It is very fond
of water, which it drinks often and greedily, and hence it is that
it is never found at any great distance from a plentiful supply of
its favourite beverage. One that a lady friend of ours kept for some
months in a cage, drank, more or less, she assures us, during every
half-hour of the day, and if its supply at any time happened to fail
by any neglect or oversight of its mistress, the thirsty little toper
squeaked querulously and nibbled angrily at the bars and wood-work
of its cage until its water-dish was replenished. When it had drank
enough, it frequently stepped into the dish, and frisked about in such
a manner as to wet its breast and lower parts of its body thoroughly,
when it would retire to a corner of its cage in which was a little
raised platform, and, sitting up on its quarters, squirrel-wise,
rub and cleanse its head and face with both paws in a very comical
manner. It was fed on succulent grasses and lettuce leaves and endive
from the garden, of which latter it was very fond. It also ate bread
steeped in milk, and apples, both raw and boiled. It finally met the
fate of most cage pets; the cat got at it and killed it. We have only
heard of one instance in which the Arvicola became so numerous in the
West Highlands as to become a pest that was only got rid of with great
trouble and no little expense. This was on the estate of Ardgour, in
our own parish. About seventy years ago, the late Colonel Maclean,
grandfather of the present proprietor, planted the greater part of
the woods that now make the place so beautiful--at this moment one
of the loveliest spots in all the Highlands. Shortly after the young
trees were planted, the field-mouse made its appearance, and in a
few months so rapidly increased its numbers, that they were on all
hands declared a nuisance that must be got rid of at any cost. Their
favourite food in this instance seemed to be the tender rootlets
and bark of the smaller trees, thousands of which straightway
shrivelled up and died away owing to the little rodent's unkindly
attentions. Colonel Maclean, who was eminently a man of action,
vowed that such a state of things was beyond all bearing, and must
be put a stop to at all hazards. With a host of willing workers,
he straightway set about what for a time appeared a hopeless task,
employing every conceivable means that wit or ingenuity could devise
in order to check, and if possible stamp out the mouse plague. Having
heard of a plan adopted under similar circumstances in the Dean and
New Forests in England, holes and trenches were dug in all directions,
and pitfalls ingeniously constructed, in which very soon scores of
the marauders were caught and killed every morning. The cats in every
house in the hamlet, purposely kept for the time on short commons at
home, were locked out at night and allowed to cater for themselves;
and they fell upon the rodents tooth and nail, doing such execution
that they soon became sleek and fat as cats were never known in
Ardgour before or since. At convenient spots large fires were kindled,
on which cauldrons of water were boiled, kettles of which, as hot
as hot could be, were poured into such burrows as showed signs of
habitation, with a view to scalding the inmates to death. This was
generally done in the early morning, to make sure of finding the enemy
at home, for the field-mouse, like most of the rodents, is mainly a
nocturnal feeder. The keepers had orders for the time to cease annoying
vermin--so-called--of any kind, the result being that in a short time
stoats, weasels, ravens, grey crows, hawks, and owls abounded, and
these, you may believe, did yeoman service in the campaign; they were
the cavalry that swept off the scattered fugitives. By such active
measures the enemy was exterminated in a single season, and never
again, so far as we know, showed face on Loch-Linnhe-side. It was
Colonel Maclean's opinion that the mice were imported; that the first
pair, or more, perhaps, were brought from the south in the straw and
moss and matting in which the roots of the more valuable and delicate
plants and trees were packed. From the above our Teviotdale friends
may perhaps gather some wrinkles that may be of use to them in their
efforts to relieve themselves from their field-mouse invasion.

And writing of the field-mouse reminds us that amongst our own domestic
mice there is at present what is generally, if somewhat erroneously,
called a "singing mouse." About a fortnight ago it attracted the
attention of a young lady, who heard it at midnight, and thought at
the time it was the twittering of some bird at her bedroom window. It
was afterwards heard by others, and finally by ourselves, as we sat up
late one night writing. That it was not a bird we were certain, and
guessing the truth--for years ago we had become acquainted with the
notes--we watched and waited until the "jargoning" seemed to proceed
from a closed press immediately behind our chair, which we gently
opened, and had a glimpse of the performer, who vanished, of course,
but soon again began its voluntary, or involuntary rather, behind the
wainscoting in another corner of the room. It was, in short, a "singing
mouse;" an involuntary music, however, with which the poor mouse would
gladly dispense if it could. Birds, as we know, are sometimes incited
to song by sheer rivalry and rage; sometimes by poignant sorrow for
the loss of a mate, or the despoliation of a nest of its treasure of
eggs or callow young; but as a rule a bird sings from pure joyousness
of heart and exhilaration of spirits. When a mouse "sings" it is owing
to a laryngeal disease, a sort of fungoid growth in the throat, which
obstructs the breathing, causing the animal to emit the notes which
have been foolishly called "singing," and which, the clearer and more
bird-like they become, only in truth indicate the more advanced stages
of a malady which invariably ends in death. Our attention was first
directed to this matter by a distinguished comparative anatomist,
the late Professor John Reid of St. Andrews, whose curiosity as a
naturalist was unbounded, only equalled by the untiring patience
and care and caution with which, step by step, he wrought out his
conclusions. It is difficult to describe the "singing" of a mouse thus
affected to those who have not heard it for themselves. It may be said
to be in the main a half-whistle half-wheeze, now and again interrupted
by some rapid clicking notes of a somewhat metallic ring, as if a small
bit of stick was being smartly and rapidly, but very lightly, struck
on the very extremity of the treble string of a guitar or violin. Our
"singing mouse," in whom, poor thing, we were all much interested,
has not been heard for a night or two; it has probably gone the way
all mice, as well as men, must go when respiration becomes impossible.

An amusing paragraph is at present going the round of the papers
about a farmer who, having ordered a hogshead of nitrate of soda for
agricultural purposes, got hold somehow of a hogshead of sugar instead,
which latter, in ignorance of its quality, he sowed broadcast over his
land. Now, at length aware of the mistake, he is said to be waiting
and watching with much curiosity as to how the saccharine crystals
turn out as fertilisers. The story, which may be true enough, reminds
us of an amusing mistake of a somewhat similar nature into which one
of the crofters in our neighbourhood very innocently fell some years
ago. He had attended the Fort-William June market, and amongst other
things brought home with him, on his return in the evening, two small
parcels, one containing one pound of turnip seed, the other the same
quantity red clover seed. Next morning he was up bright and early,
and as an exercise that might perhaps help to drive away a headache,
not uncommon on such occasions, he resolved, the day being favourable,
to sow his turnip and clover seeds. He commenced, and, very unwittingly
you may believe, sowed the turnip seed broadcast among the barley
braird, and the red clover seed in the drills prepared for the
turnips! The blunder was only discovered several days afterwards,
when the seeds began to sprout after their kind, and matters were
rectified as the case best allowed; but poor Donald never heard the
last of the joke, which, when followed beyond certain limits, used
to make him exceedingly angry.

Mackenzie the bird-catcher, facile princeps the king and head of his
order, called upon us to-day, and made us a present of the bonniest
little redpole we ever set eyes upon. Its colouring is exquisitely
beautiful, differing from the usual plumage of the species in having
several little snow-white spots irregularly sprinkled over the coverts
of either wing, and its neck and breast of a mingled shade of pink
and crimson of exceeding richness, that makes it far and away the
handsomest bird of the order we ever saw. At first we took it for a
foreign bird, or a bird that had been artificially painted in order to
deceive us, and it was only on handling and thoroughly examining him
that we became convinced that the bird was a genuine, though curiously
coloured, specimen of its species, and that we had it before us just
as it was captured some days ago in Glentarbet, near Strontian. Of all
our cage-birds, the redpole (Fringalla linaria, Linn.) is perhaps the
soonest reconciled to loss of liberty and prolonged captivity. Our
little pet, whose cage hangs almost within arm's length of us as we
write, seems perfectly happy, and is already singing with all his
might, a goldfinch in another cage beside him busily scolding him all
the time for having the impudence to sing so well, or sing at all, in
interruption of his own louder and clearer notes. Cage-birds properly
treated are a great amusement, and, if you pay them due attention,
evince in a very short time a degree of intelligence so remarkable
that you only wonder, philosophising craniologically, how so much of
it can find lodging-room within their little heads.

Mackenzie is commissioned to go to Norway and Sweden this summer in
search of a lot of crossbills, grossbeaks, and other birds, for a
wealthy gentleman in the south, who is a great bird-fancier. Let him
only once get to their habitat, and Mackenzie is just the man to lay
salt on the tail of any bird that flies.


    Tourist Grumblers; how to deal with them--Sea Fishing--Superstition
    about a Gull--Josephus--Story of Mosollam and the Augur.

With a bright sun overhead, at noon as nearly vertical as it can
ever be in our latitudes, and a steady, kindly warmth, and no lack
now of genial showers, our West Highlands are now [June 1876]
beautiful exceedingly, almost at the height and heyday of their
summer loveliness, while crops of all kinds are at their present
stage all that we could wish them. Tourists in considerable numbers
are already on the move; and coaches and steamers alike are beginning
to carry daily increasing crowds of passengers, so delighted with the
attention paid them, and the elegance and comfort of their surroundings
whether afloat or ashore, that a crack with them, as you chance to
forgather of an evening, is always pleasant, for the essentials of
a pleasant conversation are there to begin with; they are pleased,
and you are glad that it is so; the rest is all smooth sailing. You
meet an occasional grumbler of course; a wretch, miserable himself,
and anxious to make every one else miserable also. An extraordinary
curiosity, in truth, is your thorough grumbler. The faculty would
probably explain it all away by a reference to dyspepsia or some
serious derangement of liver. From frequent and close study, however,
of a not uninteresting phenomenon, we are rather inclined to think
otherwise. In the genuine grumbler the disposition to look at things
obliquely, and from a false or foreshortened point of view, seems
ingrained in and interwoven with his very nature. In everything he says
and does you detect a perverseness of disposition and a thrawnness
of temper that you cannot believe to be temporary or accidental, but
a veritable part and portion of the man's being from the first. The
old dictum about the poet, which after all is only true in a sense,
is true of the grumbler absolutely. Grumblerus nascitur, non fit; he
was born a grumbler, and if you put his mother in the witness box,
and she chose to entertain you with reminiscences of his infancy,
her testimony, we venture to say, would go to show that he kicked
and screamed at existence and all the surroundings of his nursery at
the earliest moment possible for such an exhibition, and that this
disposition to hit out right and left indiscriminately at every one and
everything, grew with his growth and strengthened with his strength,
till in fulness of time he became the thoroughbred grumbler who sat
opposite you at the table d'hôte a week ago, or rode with you atop
of the coach yesterday. With spur on heel, and once fairly in the
stirrups, your grumbler is ready to tilt, in dearth of anything more
substantial, at his own shadow. Any attempt to mollify him, however
well-meant and carefully worded, only makes him worse. Do what you
can, he remains a grumbler still--implacable, unappeasable. As we
generally meet with him here, his grievances for the most part are as
to the steamer or coach by which he has travelled, and the food that
he has had to eat. Try to put him right according to your view of it,
and you are sure to catch it hot and heavy for your interference in
a matter which he declares concerns him alone, and yet with which he
has been pestering everybody that would for a moment listen to him all
the way from Oban to Staffa, or from Ballachulish to Tyndrum. Give
a man of this kind the softest cushion in the coziest corner of
Cleopatra's barge; the box seat in the victor's own chariot in a
triumphal procession; a first and full supply of all the delicacies
at the table of Apicius of De rê Culinaria fame, and he would still
be the same fault-finder and grumbler. One way of shutting up the
inveterate grumbler, very effectual in most cases, is to fool him to
the top of his bent--to give him line, in the piscatorial sense. If
he complains that his seat on the coach is hard and the rails behind
hurt his spine, assure him at once, in a confidential sort of way,
that you believe the axle is horribly twisted, and is as likely as
not to snap in twain just about half-way down the next incline. If he
complains of the dust, give it as your candid opinion that the Road
Trustees should be heavily fined for not allaying the nuisance by a
properly arranged water-cart service all over the Black Mount. If he
complains that the steamer trembles in all her timbers, and the steam,
as it escapes at the calling-places, makes a horrible noise, agree
with him at once, hinting that an explosion of the boiler is by no
means an unlikely event through the carelessness of the coal-begrimed
stoker, who is just then cooling himself at an open air-hole, and
wiping his brow with a wisp of tow. If at dinner he abuses the soup,
ask him how it could possibly be good, seeing that the water whereof
it is made was taken a week ago, by means of a tarry bucket, from
the third lock of the Crinan Canal? Does he abuse his salmon? Shake
your head sadly, and point with your fork towards the round of beef,
hinting that at this season cattle sometimes die a natural death, and
then their carcasses are to be had for a third of the market price
of good beef. Go with him and beyond him in this sort of way for a
little, and he will soon see that you are only poking your fun at him,
and the chances are that he will cease troubling you at all events
with his complaints for the rest of the day. After all, however,
it is but justice to observe that even your inveterate grumbler is
not infrequently a much more amiable person than he seems; kind, too,
after a fashion, and amazingly liberal when a proper occasion offers.

Fish are now becoming plentiful along our shores, and with a little
trouble in selecting a very early or a very late hour, and watching
the state of the tides, they may be caught in considerable numbers
with rod and line; and irrespective of their value as an article of
food, the pastime is by no means contemptible even as a matter of
sport, though, sooth to say, many people live within sight of the
sea for years, and know little or nothing of the amusement that may
be had so readily and cheaply in this way. Those caught at present
are principally whitings, lythes, and seths, or coal-fish, with an
occasional sea-bream. This last is reckoned a somewhat coarse fish,
but it is by no means bad eating when properly cooked and served,
and you recollect as you eat that the price of mutton is something
like a shilling the pound, and frequently not to be had even at that.

More prone, perhaps, to superstition in every form than their more
inland brethren, our maritime population have quite a number of freits,
forms, fancies, and superstitious observances, most of them only
silly and harmless enough, in connection with all their sea-fishing
adventures, whether with rod, net, or line. A few evenings ago, as a
party of four, douce and decent men enough, were preparing to launch
their boat to go a-fishing, we chanced to pass along the beach,
joining them, as has long been our habit in such circumstances,
for a few minutes' conversation. Suddenly, as we were speaking,
a large black-backed gull (Larus marinus) wheeled towards us out of
a flock that were lazily circling about at a considerable distance
seawards. Right towards us, as if on some express and special errand,
came the gull, one of the largest and most beautiful of sea-birds,
until he was within less than fifty yards of us, when by a change of
poise, and a scarcely perceptible movement of wing, he slowly swept
round our heads, screaming the while as only a black-backed gull can
scream--a wild and eerie note that may be heard for a league. The
gull's business, whatever it might be, was so manifestly connected
with one or all of us, or with the boat, perhaps, round which we
were standing on the beach, that it could not but attract attention
and provoke comment from the most unobservant. After circling some
half-dozen times round and round and right above our heads, the bird,
with one loud parting scream--and yet scream is not the word either;
the Gaelic guileag is nearer it--and with an upward oblique sweep, so
beautifully easy and effortless that it seemed the result of a simple
act of volition rather than a grand pas in volitation, flew away to
join his companions, who were now heard clamouring over a coal-fish
goil or boil, as the Highlanders call the ebullition of the surface
play of a shoal of sea-fish. The men looked at each other and at us
meaningly; and at last out it came. "Small chance," said one of them,
"have we of anything like a good fishing this evening: better for
us to stay at home." "Why so?" we quietly inquired. "Well, sir,"
was the response, "I never knew a gull act in that sort of way but it
meant bad luck in fishing, and the non-accomplishment of one's errand
afloat, whatever it might be." The rest agreed with the speaker, but we
persuaded them, after some trouble, to proceed to their fishing-ground,
to give it a trial at least; and when, at a much later hour, they
returned, we were on the beach to meet them, and found that after
all they had made an excellent fishing. There and then we sat down
beside them as they were dividing their fish into equal shares, and
told them the following story from Josephus, Against Apion. Quoting
from Hecatæus, the great Jewish historian proceeds:--"As I was myself
going to the Red Sea, there followed us a man, whose name was Mosollam;
he was one of the Jewish horsemen who conducted us. He was a person
of great courage, of a strong body, and by all allowed to be the most
skilful archer that was either among the Greeks or barbarians. Now,
this man, as people were in great numbers passing along the road,
and a certain augur was observing an augury by a bird, and requiring
them all to stand still, inquired what they staid for. Hereupon the
augur showed him the bird from whence he told his augury, and told him
that if the bird staid where he was, they ought all to stand still;
but that if he got up and flew onward, they must go forward; but that
if he flew backward, they must retire again. Mosollam made no reply,
but drew his bow and shot at the bird, and hit him and killed him; and
as the augur and some others were very angry, and wished imprecations
upon him, he answered them thus:--'Why are you so mad as to take this
most unhappy bird into your hands? for how can this bird give us any
true information concerning our march, which could not foresee how
to save himself? For had he been able to foreknow what was future,
he would not have come to this place, but would have been afraid lest
Mosollam the Jew would shoot him as he has done, and kill him.'" The
men, who had listened most attentively, smiled as we concluded, and
agreed that Mosollam must have been a very sensible man; and vowed
that for the future they would attach no more meaning or importance
to a circling, screaming gull, than to the chirping of a wren in the
elder bushes at the cottage doors. And what after all, the reader
may ask, brought the black-backed gull circling and screaming over
your heads? Well, from its great and immense spread of wing, it was
probably the leader and guardian of its own particular flock, and as
such thought it his duty to reconnoitre in person, in case the five
men about the boat on the beach should have sinister intentions as
to him or his. His scream or guileag was just his way of telegraphing
the results of his observations to his distant companions; or he may
have been scolding us in his own manner for our manifest intention
of leaving the land, and invading what he considered his own proper
element and territory, the sea. A more prosaic explanation, if it
please you better, is perhaps to be found in the fact that the boat
was internally largely incrusted with fish scales, and smelt strongly
of fish, and that that, to one of his sensitive olfactory nerves, was
the only or main attraction, the rest being mere idle curiosity, from
which birds are no more exempt than men. One thing only is certain,
if difficult to be accounted for, and that is, that individual gulls
frequently act as this gull acted when a boat is about to put off from
the shore in the fishing season, which being occasionally connected,
as must sometimes happen, however accidentally, with an unsuccessful
fishing adventure, gave rise to the silly superstition which, by
the aid of Flavius Josephus, we were able in this instance at least
successfully to combat.


    Heat in Mid-August--Early Planting and Sowing--Over-ripening of
    Crops--Medusæ--Stinging Jelly-Fish--The amount of solid matter
    in Jelly-Fish.

The unprecedented heat of mid-August lasted with us here precisely
a fortnight [September 1876]. Beginning on the 10th, it continued
with little intermission or mitigation till the 24th, when the wind
suddenly chopped round to the south-west, our rainy quarter; the sky
assumed the threatening aspect, an ugly interminglement of black and
dark grey, with which we are only too familiar, and rain began to fall
with that dour, persistent pattering, and aimless horizontal drift,
which sufficed to convince the most careless and unobservant student
of our West Highlands meteorology that it was neither a thunder-plump
nor a mere passing shower, but a determined and regular "set-in" of
probably some days, or, it might be, of some weeks' duration. The
last ten days have accordingly been more or less wet, and as the
corn over the country generally is about ripe for scythe and sickle,
many an anxious eye is cast heavenwards with wistfullest glance,
morning, noon, and night, in hopes of a change of wind and a return
to fair weather. We are about tired of advocating the advantages of
early sowing to our friends of the West Highlands. We are content
with once again stating the fact that, having sown early, our own
corn was cut in ripe and good condition on the 17th August, and
safely housed without having once been touched by a single drop of
rain. A single armful of such well-preserved provender is worth a
whole back-burden of the washed-out and sapless stuff that usually
goes by the name of "wintering" and "winter keep" in this and the
neighbouring districts. It is proper to say, however, that, though
so difficult to move to an earlier date in corn-sowing, our people
here have of recent years been more amenable to good advice in the
matter of potato culture. This year a large breadth of potatoes
was planted in March and early April, and the consequence is that
these are now nearly ripe, and of the best quality, stronger too,
and in every way better able to resist the attacks of blight--absit
omen!--should it unfortunately come their way, as we hope it won't;
while the still green and half-ripe tubers of later plantings would
probably suffer largely under a similar visitation. Not even when
it is quite ready for the sickle do people generally cut their corn
timeously. Too often it is allowed to ripen overmuch, till the straw
is over-dry and sapless, besides the inevitable loss of grain in the
stooking and subsequent ingathering. It is very much the same with
hay. As a rule, it is left too long uncut, by which its quality is
sadly deteriorated. Nor is this mistake in haymaking peculiar to
the west coast, but much too common over all the country. Even in
Morayshire and about Inverness the hay crop is, as a rule, allowed
to ripen over-much. If it were cut ten days or a fortnight earlier
it would weigh more, smell sweeter, be more nutritious, and better
every way than under the present system, which allows it not merely
to ripen, but to more than ripen, to wither up and lose most of its
sap and seed before it is cut and secured. It may, perhaps, be laid
down as an axiom that root crops cannot be allowed to ripen over-much;
cereals and grasses most certainly may.

Cavill's recent attempt to swim the Channel, in rivalry of Captain
Webb's feat, was a failure, and had medical aid not been so opportunely
at hand when the swimmer, comatose and unconscious, was lifted out
of the water by his friends in the attendant lugger, the venture,
noteworthy, though unsuccessful, for its pluck and daring, would
probably have resulted in something far more serious than mere
failure. In accounting for his non-success, and his state of extreme
exhaustion when taken out of the water, Cavill largely blames the
jelly-fish or sea-blubber, through perfect shoals of which he had
once and again to force his way; and although he wore a thin jersey,
which must have been some protection, enough of the bare skin was
exposed to contact with the cold, clammy, slimy Medusæ, to make him
exceedingly nervous and generally uncomfortable throughout a full third
of the distance covered. The number of these Medusæ to be met with at
certain seasons all along the British shores is enormous; and towards
the close of summer and early autumn they are more abundant, perhaps,
in our western lochs than anywhere else. Looking over the boat's side
on a fine day, we have seen them in our own Loch Leven in incalculable
numbers, thick as autumnal leaves in Vallambrosa, or the stars in the
Milky Way--of all shapes and sizes too, swimming about aimlessly by
a slow but constant contraction and expansion, regular as the beat
of a pendulum, of their umbrella-like bodies, fringed like a lady's
parasol, with a close edging of thread-like cilia, and frequently
having long, pendulous tentaculæ attached to their under surface,
giving the healthy animal, when busy in its proper element, a very
curious appearance. Though the jelly-fish is in constant motion--in
perpetual motion, so to speak, for it never rests, that ever we could
discover, either by night or day--its progress in the sea is rather
due to the set of the wind and the tide-drift than its own exertions,
its incessant labours of contraction and expansion being performed
not so much for the purpose of shifting its place in the water, as
for the purpose of grasping and sucking in at each contraction such
microscopic organisms as form its food. It is true that in a calm and
tideless sea its motions cause it to be carried in the direction of
the contracting beat an inch or thereby at a time, but this progress
is clearly accidental and unintentional, so far as it is concerned,
the great object of the incessant contraction and expansion being, as
we have said, not so much change of place as the capture and insuction
of its ordinary food. The Medusæ swim at all depths in the sea, but
as a rule they seem to prefer feeding within a fathom or two of the
surface, particularly if the sun is bright and the sea is perfectly
calm. The mouth of the Medusa is in the centre of the under concave
surface, and the animal's modus operandi in sweeping in its food
towards this orifice is not difficult to understand. Stretch out your
right hand, with its back or knuckle surface uppermost. First expand
the hand and fingers to their full extent, then contract so as almost,
but not quite, to close the hand, not quickly, but very firmly and
decidedly. Continue in this way opening out and closing the hand and
fingers, not quite so fast as a second's beating pendulum oscillates,
and you have the perfect analogue, or more properly the homologue,
of the Medusa's action. If you can fancy an orifice or mouth in the
centre of your palm, and your fingers to be the fringe surrounding
the jelly-fish disc, and if you perform the action indicated in a
tub or pool of water, into which a little flour or fine oatmeal has
been thrown to represent the animalculæ forming the Medusa's food,
so much the better: you will at once understand how the animalculæ
and food particles are swept and sucked in by the current created
towards the animal's mouth, or gastric cavity, as it might be more
properly termed. When one or more of these animals comes in contact
with a swimmer's skin, the sensation is anything but agreeable, a
feeling of indescribable loathing and horror being engendered by the
touch of the cold, gelatinous mass, that you are yet conscious is not
dead matter, but an animated pulsating organism. But though contact
with the ordinary Medusa is bad enough, there is another species
of jelly-fish not uncommon in British waters at certain seasons,
accidental contact with which is a very serious matter indeed. These
are known to naturalists as Acalephæ, from a Greek word signifying
a nettle. They are not so numerous on our shores as the true Medusa,
but they grow to a much larger size, some of them measuring eighteen,
twenty, or even twenty-four inches across the disc, and thick and heavy
in proportion, large enough, when fresh from the sea, to fill a tub
of considerable size. If one of these wretches comes in contact with
the human skin, it is found to sting like a nettle, only much more
severely, and hence its scientific name. A swimmer stung by contact
with an acaleph feels not only the cruel smarting of the nettle-like
and burning stinging, but he is in a few minutes frequently overcome
by a feeling of languor and sickness, that lasts for a considerable
time, and is sometimes only relieved by a violent fit of vomiting,
just as if he was a sufferer for the moment under the influence of
a powerful emetic. We have more than once been stung by an acaleph,
and can speak feelingly on the subject. Only last season a boy on
the opposite coast of Appin was, while bathing, so severely stung
by one or more acalephs that he was for some days confined to bed,
seriously ill, and under medical treatment. This power of stinging
seems to be a wise provision in the economy of the animal, for the
purpose of rendering helpless and numbing its prey, to make them easier
of capture and subsequent deglutition, just as the Mysotis, or electric
eel, with like purpose puts to a very important and practical use its
electro-battery shocks. The true acaleph may generally be distinguished
from the more harmless jelly-fish by having a good deal of colour in
its tissues, being striated with red, pink, and pale green, which
gives it a very beautiful appearance as under the bright sunlight
it floats about, contracting and expanding with the regularity of
a pendulum beat, near the surface of the calm, unruffled sea. The
amount of solid matter in a jelly-fish of any kind, however large,
is amazingly small. Within a thin, filmy skin, they are entirely made
up of water, with a few threads spider-net-wise running through it to
keep it in shape, like the ropes on which was stretched the immense
velarium of an ancient amphitheatre. After a summer storm we have seen
the sea-beach covered with a considerable wall of jelly-fish that had
been cast ashore, a yard in breadth, perhaps, and a couple of feet in
height; and before the evening of the next day, during which the sun
shone out hot and clear, the whole had melted away like so much snow,
leaving only a thin film of gelatinous matter, which, if gathered
together in a single heap, wouldn't have filled our venerable but still
useful "Clachnacuddin" hat. There is a good story told of a farmer,
somewhere from the altitudes of Druimuachdar, who took some land by
the sea, not a hundred yards from our own neighbourhood. One morning
he saw the beach covered with a deep ring of jelly-fish as above,
and being an eident body, he got his horses and carts in order, and
commenced to cart them afield, in the belief that they could not but
prove excellent manure for the land. After working at the job nearly
half a day, a naturalist, who chanced to pass the way, astonished the
farmer not a little by assuring him that some hogsheads of sea-water,
and a single pocket-handkerchief full of manure from the nearest
dung-heap, would fitly and fully represent all that he had on his
land in the fifty odd carts of jelly-fish that had cost him so much
labour! The story goes on to say that that particular farmer looked
askance at jelly-fish ever afterwards, and didn't care much to have
their natural history discussed in his presence at kirk or market,
at bridal or funeral, all his life long. The fact is, that a mass of
jelly-fish sufficient to load the "Great Eastern" wouldn't probably
yield a peat creelful of solid serviceable matter for any purpose
or purposes whatever. The jelly-fish is known to the Gaels of the
Hebrides and West Coast by a curious name--Sgeith an Róin for the
smaller ones, that is, the seal's vomit, and for the larger ones,
Sgeith na Muicamara, the whale's vomit, in the absurd belief that
they were the vomits respectively of the uncanny Sealchs, of whom
the Highlander had always a superstitious dread, and of the largest
of marine monsters, after they had gorged themselves to repletion on
a shoal of extra-oleaginous herring or mackerel. These names for the
jelly-fish are doubtless absurd enough, and yet, in defence of the
good old Gaelic name-givers, let us observe that they are not a whit
more absurd than the Caprimulgus (goat-sucker) of Linnæus as applied
to the night-jar, or the Frugilegus (corn-gatherer) of the same high
authority as applied to the common rook.


    Approach of Winter--Contentedness of the People--Poets and
    Wild-Bird Song--Differences in the Colouring and Markings of
    Birds' Eggs--Late Nest-Building--Anecdote of Provost Robertson
    of Dingwall, Mr. Gladstone's Grandfather.

The meteorological vaticinations of our weather-wise octogenarian
neighbours have met with abundant and speedy verification in the
storms and heavy rains of the past ten days [October 1876]. For the
month of October, however, the weather continues wonderfully mild;
even with wind and rain the temperature is higher than it usually
is at this date; an occasional fine day, besides, encouraging us in
the hope that winter proper, winter with its thousand discomforts,
its snow and sleet, its cold and cheerlessness and gloom, may be
checked in his advance for some weeks to come, by the uncompromising
attitude of an autumn so lusty of life and bright of eye, but,
despite an occasional overclouding of countenance, it seems yet but
only little past its prime. Agriculturally the season is being wound
up satisfactorily enough; crops have, upon the whole, been secured in
very fair condition, and although the herring fishing in our lochs
as elsewhere has proved a failure, our people are prepared to meet
the coming winter in comparative abundance, and with a cheerfulness
calculated to disarm the gloomy season of more than half its
terrors. The poet has philosophically observed that man

    "Wants but little here below,
    Nor wants that little long"--

where "wants," you will observe, has to be read in a restricted and
peculiar sense: the plain prose of it being, that for all his essential
needs man requires but little, that merely to live a little suffices,
and that, on account of the shortness and certainty of human life, even
that "little" is soon dispensed with--is no longer required. Granted,
O Poet! but not the less true is it that during man's allotted time
the "little," however small, is indispensable all the same, and any
sensible diminution or curtailment of his "little" will make a man,
however abstemious and sober of life, just as miserable as his fellow
who has to bewail the diminution, not of his "little," but of his
abundance. Nothing pleases us in our people here more than their
constant cheerfulness in the enjoyment of their "little." They would
doubtless take more if they could get it, and rejoice exceedingly if
their "little" could be converted into an abundance; but meantime they
have the good sense to be contented, and even happy with what they
have, and that, too, to a degree that no one perhaps less intimate
with them than we are could believe possible in the circumstances.

Our "Indian summer," that seems still to linger, as if loth to
leave us to the tender mercies of a winter that is likely to prove
unusually inclement, has been a season of unwonted jubilation to our
wild-birds; for, guided by an instinct that is a monitor sufficiently
to be depended upon in ordinary circumstances, they had already,
each after his kind, prepared themselves, not for equinoctial
warmth and sunshine, but for equinoctial storms. All the more,
then, from its very unexpectedness, did they feel bound to rejoice
in the incalculable blessing of twenty free days of midsummer warmth
and calm at a time when, in the usual course of events, the tempest
should have been howling through the woods and careering over moss and
moorland, they the while glad to cower for shelter and safety in such
crevices and corners as might be best suited to their purpose. At
and after the autumnal equinox, in ordinary seasons, the only one
of our native wild-birds that sings, or attempts to sing, a fairly
finished song, is the redbreast; though, to be sure, the wren also
sometimes strikes up an occasional voluntary when we least expect it;
the lively Lilliputian in his song, as in everything else, being a
creature of unbridled impulse, guided solely by the whim and caprice
of the moment, as if in utter contempt and disregard of the method and
order by which other birds are fain to regulate the conduct of their
lives. Not the redbreast alone, however, backed by the intermittent
melodies of the wren, who, Sims Reeves-like, only sings when the
humour seizes him, obstinately silent when you would expect him
to sing, and as obstinately singing when you would expect him to
be silent; but the blackbird also, and chaffinch, the corn bunting
and goldfinch, have been of late delighting us with their music, in
volume and compass and exquisite finish hardly inferior, though so
out of season, to their most successful performances in spring and
early summer, which, be it noted, is the season for wild-bird song
at its best. Our poets, as if by tacit arrangement and preconcert,
do all in their power to impress us with the notion that June is not
only the month of flower and leaf, but the great bird music month as
well, a mistake partly owing, no doubt, to their ignorance of bird
life, but mainly, we suspect, arising from the fact that "June" and
"tune" are such pat and perfect rhymes, that the poet dealing with
summer glories and summer joys never fails to pounce upon them for
instant use, without a thought of their inappropriateness, so far
at least as bird music is concerned. It is true that with reference
to bird song our poets are also liberal enough with their "May" and
"lay," which, as nearer to the mark, is somewhat better. Better still,
however, would be April, if our poets would be correct, to which we
might perhaps suggest "trill" as a rhyme; not a good rhyme to be sure,
even if "April" could be decently placed at the end of a line (as in
the old "valentines") without being misaccented; but we ornithologists
could forgive the halting rhyme and barbarous accent for the sake of
the correctness of the "colouring" otherwise. The truth is that our
best wild-bird music time may be set down as properly belonging to the
eight weeks between the 15th March and the 15th May. Let our poets,
then, look out for and find appropriate rhymes for "March," "April,"
and "May." It is their business and not ours; but for any sake, in
dealing with wild-bird music and summer joys, let them beware of the
fatal facility of the rhymes of "June" and "tune." Poets and poetry
apart, however, it was extremely interesting to watch the conduct of
our wild-birds during our late "Indian summer." For the first few days
they fluttered about and chirped interrogatively amongst themselves, as
if in a state of doubt and indecision, if not of actual bewilderment,
evidently puzzled what to say to it, but, upon the whole, of opinion
that it was too good to last. Last, however, it did, longer than
either they or we thought at all likely, and before the end of the
week the chirping had developed into actual song, and the fluttering
into a business-like activity, as if they had fully thought it over,
and had decided that it was best, proverb wise, to be making some
hay while the sun shone. Our attention was first of all attracted
by a pair of house sparrows passing and repassing our study window,
now with a stray feather, now with a bit of straw in their bills,
with which they disappeared in a clump of ivy high up on a corner of
the garden wall. On climbing by the aid of a small ladder to inquire
what they were about, we found that they were repairing a nest,
in which they had already reared a brood this season, and which the
youngsters, in their unfledged and awkward babyhood, had considerably
damaged and generally knocked out of shape--"into a cocked hat," in
fact, as they say across the Atlantic. With a care and painstaking,
however, which our "featherless biped" architects, in executing their
repairs on our stone and lime habitations would do well to imitate,
the sparrows in a surprisingly short time got their house in order,
and in a few days thereafter we found a couple of eggs in it. These
eggs we took away, for it would only be cruel to allow a brood to
be hatched at this season, only to starve and die before they could
possibly be strong enough of wing to shift for themselves. And here,
in connection with these same sparrow eggs, let us record a fact
that seems to have hitherto escaped the notice of our oologists
(egg-students), even the most lynx-eyed and observant of them,
and it is this: that in the case of such of our wild-birds as breed
more than once in a single season, the eggs of the second laying,
and of the third, if third laying there is--of all eggs, in short,
dropped after the first laying--are, as a rule, either entirely free
from spots, or, if they have the spots, they are so faint as to
be scarcely distinguishable. In the case of the sparrow eggs, for
example, taken from the nest as just related, they were perfectly
spotless, pearl-white and clean as they could be. Even under a
lens of considerable power they presented hardly a trace of spot or
colouring in any form. And yet take an egg from a sparrow's nest in
early spring--from the first laying that is--and you will invariably
find it to be spotted or blotched with a perfect constellation, so
to speak, round its larger end of greyish and dusky brown dots and
markings. On due examination, we suspect it will be found to be the
same in the case of all our "spotted" egg layers; and to this fact,
that has been so unaccountably overlooked hitherto, is to be mainly
attributed, we make no doubt, the many dissensions and disagreements
that so frequently have set our best, and otherwise good-natured,
oologists by the ears. In another particular, too, the eggs of later
laying differ from those of the first--in the thickness, namely, of
the shell; that of the later laying being thinner and more fragile in
the handling. On account of their fragility, indeed, it is extremely
difficult to blow without damaging an egg of this kind, taken from
one of our smaller bird's nests towards the close of the season. All
which, the faintness of colouring in or total absence of the spots,
with the thinness, transparency, and general fragility of the shell,
is doubtless due to an impaired vitality, quoad hoc, consequent upon
the prodigality of energy thrown into the loves and labours of rearing
the first or spring brood.

On this occasion, too, a pair of blackbirds began a nest de novo,
either despising the labours of mere repairing, or having no old
nest, perhaps, to repair. The blackbirds, however, wiser than the
sparrows, left off before a third--the lower flat, so to speak--of
their building was finished; as if they had duly thought it all over
again, and had wisely concluded that it was better to wait till spring,
it being manifestly too late to finish a nest and attempt to rear a
brood any more this season. We fully expected to see the redbreast,
and wren perhaps, also attempt the rearing of an "Indian summer"
brood; and had they tried, they might, perhaps, have succeeded,
for both birds in such circumstances select cozy corners about open
sheds and out-houses, where they are pretty safe from the assaults
of the weather, and can always find suitable food in more or less
abundance. So far as we could see, however, they never once thought
of anything like love-making or nidification, contenting themselves
with thoroughly enjoying the calm and sunshine while it lasted, as
was abundantly, and, so far as we were concerned, very delightfully
evidenced by the frequency of their loud and lightsome song.

A recent paragraph in the newspapers about Provost Robertson of
Dingwall, whose daughter was Mr. Gladstone's mother, reminds us of an
anecdote which was told us some years ago by the late Mrs. Morrison of
Salachan, in Ardgour, an old lady whose reminiscences of the people
of the Hebrides and mainland of Ross-shire, about the beginning of
the present century, were extremely interesting. Provost Robertson
of Dingwall--Mr. Gladstone's grandfather by the mother's side--on
one occasion paid a visit to London, for the first, and, we believe,
the only time in his life. His friends in the metropolis put him under
the charge of a gentleman, a far-away cousin of his own, who undertook
to show him all the wonders of the great city, and look after him
generally. The worthy Provost was thoroughly Scotch, and dressed after
a somewhat outré fashion, à la Dingwall of the period. Walking one day
along one of the streets of London, a little in advance of his guide,
the worshipful Provost's appearance and tout ensemble attracted the
attention of some half-dozen street arab boys, who, always ready for
a "lark," desired no better pastime for the present than to chaff
and poke their fun at the Chief Magistrate of one of Scotland's
most distinguished northern burghs. The Provost, indignant at the
impudence and rudeness of the young rascals, at last turned round, and,
shaking his silver-headed cane at the offending gamins, exclaimed,
in tones loud enough to be heard by his guide, who was almost choked
with laughter at the scene, "Ah, you young vagabonds; if I had you
in Dingwall, wouldn't I make you pay for your davayrshon!" The term
"diversion" was then used, both in English and Gaelic, all over the
Highlands, as indeed it still is to some extent, in the sense of
fun with a backbone of mischief to it; rough horse-play, in fact,
accompanied by what is now-a-days commonly called chaff.


    Spring--Hood's Parody of Thomson's Invocation--The excellence
    of Nettle-Top Soup--Cock-crowing--Birds'-nesting--Professor
    Geikie--Curious Story of an old Pipe-Tune.

This is the 1st of May [1877], sacred in the ecclesiastical calendar to
St. Philip and St. James the Apostles. In ordinary speech we may now
call it summer, we suppose, and it is to be hoped that it may prove
summer indeed, not in name merely, or astronomically, but veritably,
that is, meteorologically as well; such a summer as delighted our
boyhood with its bright sun and cloudless skies, or with such clouds
only as served to modify and temper a brilliancy and heat that might
otherwise have been excessive; the earth verdant and flower-bespangled
under foot and around, the very floods and trees of the forest, in
the grand hyperbole of Scripture, "clapping their hands for joy:"
the singing of birds the while, jubilant and joyous, in copse and
wild-wood, its fitting bass, the murmur of innumerable bees; while the
fluttering of splendidly coloured butterflies, as they danced along
in many a lawless zig-zag and merry-go-round, constantly verified
and bore witness to the beauty of the Roman poet's famous line,
which may be rendered--

    "Lo! fluttering past, flowers swimming in liquid air!"

However the summer may turn out, of the spring at least but little
good--speaking of course meteorologically--can be said. It was,
quoad hoc, an imposture, and nothing else, and always reminding us
of Hood's wicked parody on the opening lines of Thomson's big and
bow-wow invocation to the season:--

    "'Come, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness, come!'
        O, Thomson, void of sense as well as reason;
      Why in our ears such arrant nonsense drum?
        There's no such season!"

To housewives in rural districts we offer a "wrinkle" that may be
found of use at the present season, when most vegetable gardens may
be ransacked in vain for delicacies that shall be common enough at
a later period. While rambling through the district a few days ago,
we chanced to drop in upon a widow lady and daughter, who occupy a
nice little cottage. They were going to sit down to an early dinner,
and although we were not very hungry, and could have fasted till
a later hour, not merely without inconvenience, but from choice,
yet on their earnest invitation we sat down along with them. The
fare consisted of soup and a boiled fowl, the latter fat, tender,
and good as a fowl should always be, and the soup was simply
delicious. A green vegetable of some kind floating thickly in it,
gave it a relish and gout that was very remarkable, and we asked what
it was. "Nettle-tops, sir," was the answer, and had we not been told,
it is probable that we should have guessed and blundered long ere
we could hit upon it. But not only can nettle-tops be thus utilised
as an admirable condiment in soup at this season, but they may also
be served up asparagus-wise, and, to our taste, are every whit as
good. In this latter form we have eaten them often, and, as Johnson
said, after swallowing several platefuls of Scotch broth, in reply
to Boswell's observation--"You never ate it before?" "No, sir, but
I don't care how soon I eat it again." And so say we invariably when
we have finished a dish of nettle-top asparagus. After our nettle-top
soup it occurred to us that there might be more truth in Goldsmith's
remark about the French than he was perhaps aware of, for he meant
it as satire, that they can roast a sirloin if they only had beef,
and prepare "ten different dishes from nettle-tops."

We had occasion to be up and about very early this morning, not,
however, for the purpose of washing our face in May dew, although
the morning was very beautiful, and the dew lay plentiful enough,
and pearl-like on grass and birchen bough, but in order to go on what
some may think an even sillier errand, to wit, a birds'-nesting. For
this sort of thing the earlier the hour the better at this season,
and as we mounted the coppiced slopes which we proposed searching,
the sun was beginning to gild the loftiest peaks of Glencoe with
purple and amber and gold, and all the cocks in the hamlet, as if at
a preconcerted signal, were cheerily greeting the rising god, or if
their thoughts were more mundane and prosaic, as perhaps they were,
you may interpret the crowing of each individual chanticleer as some
one else did before you in some such lines as these--

    "The cock rose in the morning;
    He called his favourite hen,
    With a cockle-do-doo, and a how-d'ye-do,
    And how-d'ye-do again."

In the economy of birds, the most important labours are those of
nest-building and incubation; and owing to the wintriness of the
spring, we were quite prepared this morning to find matters in
a decidedly backward state throughout the length and breadth of
bird-land, wherever we might wander. We were not, however, prepared
to find things in anything like the sad plight in which we actually
found them; for in no district of the remotest Highlands, we venture
to say, are the agricultural labours proper to man at this season so
backward as are their own proper labours this year amongst our native
wild-birds. Usually at this date nine-tenths of our birds have already
completed the labours of nidification, and with some species even
incubation is far advanced, if not actually completed. The results
of our morning's ornithological ramble may be very briefly stated. Of
thirteen nests discovered, four only contained eggs, and even of these
four only one had its proper complement, that of a song-thrush, namely,
which contained five bonny blue eggs, spotted with black at the larger
end, a number rarely, if ever, exceeded. In a merle or blackbird's nest
there were only two eggs, instead of the usual complement of four or
five. A chaffinch's nest had only one egg, whereas four is the proper
number; while in the nest of a greenfinch, there was also only one
egg instead of five, and that one, from certain signs known only to
the initiated, we decided had only been laid yesterday, or even early
this morning--perhaps shortly before our visit. Of the remaining nests,
a few were fairly completed, and ready for their egg treasures at any
time, but the greater number were only partially finished, and in their
unfinished state had suffered so much from sleet and wind and rain,
that we much doubt if their builders will have anything more to do
with them, for it is a curious fact, that with such rare exceptions
as only serve to accentuate and emphasise the rule, all birds prefer
building a new nest from the very foundation to occupying an old one,
or making the slightest repairs on one that has met with any serious
injury. And this, too, you will please observe--a bird never improves
in his architecture and never declines. He builds to-day neither
better nor worse than did his ancestors a thousand or five thousand
years ago. The sense or instinct that taught him to build of certain
materials and of a certain form, long before Homer was born or Troy
was besieged, is the same sense or instinct still. Nothing added;
nothing subtracted. From all we have seen, we should say that the
annual addition to bird life in our country will be considerably
smaller than the average. Even first broods will be so late that
second hatching is out of the question. Bird-song, however, will
last longer into the summer, and begin again earlier in autumn than
in ordinary seasons.

On a dull day last week we were routed out of our study by a visit
from Professor Geikie, who, accompanied by some half-dozen others, was
geologising in the districts of Appin and Lochaber. In such a place as
this, it was impossible but that they should find much to interest them
geologically and otherwise; and we were glad to hear them all say that
they were much delighted with their wanderings. An occasional invasion
of this kind, sometimes, too, when you least expect it, never fails to
do one good. It makes you, nolens volens, shake yourself clear, as best
you may, of the accumulated cobwebs of months, and you return to your
ordinary work not a little invigorated and refreshed by having had an
opportunity of comparing notes, rubbing shoulders, and even crossing
blades--in all friendship of course--with foemen worthy of your steel.

A lady correspondent writes us from London as follows:--"I was much
pleased with your reference to the old pipe tune. The music I have
long known, but the origin and history of the piece was unknown to
me, nor had I ever heard any of the words attached to it. I agree
with you that all such scraps of information should be collected and
preserved, adding so largely as they do to the interest with which
we Highlanders must always regard our national melodies. I need not,
of course, ask you if you know the very fine pipe tune 'Macrimmon's
Lament,' Cha till mi tuilleadh. When I was a girl in the Hebrides--I
am afraid to say how many years ago--I often heard the following
story associated with this tune. In the island of Mull there is a
large cave which in popular belief reaches right across the island
from the east shore to the west. This cave, in the old times, was
inhabited, so ran the tradition, by a colony of wolves and other wild
animals. No man in consequence had ever the courage to explore its dark
labyrinthine windings. At a wedding party assembled in a hamlet in the
neighbourhood of the cave, its vastness and many dangers became the
subject of conversation. All agreed that no human being could possibly
pass through it and live. The piper of the district was a very brave
man as well as an admirable piper, and in an evil hour for himself, as
it proved, he offered for some slight wager to traverse the cave from
side to side of the island, with a pine torch stuck in the front of his
bonnet to give him light, and playing the pipes all the time. The piper
thereupon entered the cave, playing a lively march, while most of the
wedding guests followed above, led in the proper course by the music,
which could be heard faintly from below. More than half the cave was
traversed, when suddenly the music changed from a brisk march to a
doleful lament. This lament, duly interpreted, told the people above
that things were becoming uncomfortable with the piper; first, that
the pine torch was almost burnt out, and again that his breath was
failing him, while the boldest of the wolves slowly retired before
him, only kept at bay by the flickering of the torch and the sound
of the pipes, but ready to spring upon and devour him the instant
the torch should be extinguished and the music of the pipes should
cease. It was then that the doomed piper played Cha till mi tuilleadh'
so mournfully--'I will return no more!' And this too--

    'Mo dhìth, mo dhìth, gun trì lamhan;
    Dà làmh 's a phiob, 's làmh 's a chlaidheamh.'

    ('Alas, and my great want, that I have not three hands,
      Two for (playing) the pipes, and one to wield my sword.')

If he had only a third hand he thought he could manage to kill the
wolves that were every instant becoming bolder, as if they knew he
must fall into their jaws at last. The last notes caught by the people
above were known to mean--

    ''Si ghall' uaine 'shàraich mi,
    'Si ghalla' uaine 'shàraich mi!'

    ('It is the green bitch wolf that most harasses me!')

And then the music ceased, and they knew that the poor piper had been
torn to pieces by the wolves. Such is something like the story I used
to hear in connection with the big cave in Mull and the well-known
lament, more than fifty years ago."

The cave referred to is on the estate of Lochbuy. So far as it has
been explored, its length is over 500 feet, with a breadth of some 25
feet, and a height of 40. It is proper to say that the people of Skye
claim the whole story as belonging to their island. The piper was a
Macrimmon; the cave is pointed out near Dunvegan, and the story of
the wolves and the piper's sad fate is just as likely to be true of
the one island as of the other. Our own opinion is, that so far as
there is any truth in the story, it must be located in Skye rather
than in Mull, although our friends in the latter island will perhaps
be angry with us for saying so.


    Rain in Lochaber--An Apple Tree in bloom by Candle-light--Mackenzie
    the Bird-Catcher--A Badenoch "Wise Woman" spitting in a Child's
    Face to preserve it from the Fairies!

"It never rains but it pours," and nowhere is the familiar adage
in its utmost literalness truer than in Lochaber. During a long
protracted drought of nearly a couple of months' duration [June
1877], we were constantly calling for rain; and no wonder, for the
earth was hard and hide-bound as an Egyptian mummy; sheep and cattle
finding little more to gather on the parched uplands than if they
were nibbling at the bulge of an ironclad laid up in ordinary. For
full five and twenty years--so far back, eheu and alas! do our own
individual meteorological records extend--we have had no May month so
persistently ungenial and cold; nor, when one comes to think of it,
is it much matter of surprise, for we have just been reading that
in the North Atlantic, within a few hundred leagues of the British
shores, and up to the very margin of the Gulf Stream, a ship recently
arrived in port had to fight her way through quite a continent of
drift ice, with occasional icebergs "from two to three hundred feet
in height." With such grim, hyperborean neighbours on the one hand,
and a keen-edged east wind on the other, it was impossible that it
should be otherwise than cold and uncomfortable all round. On the 26th,
however, came the long-looked-for change, the wind came slowly round
to S.S.W., rain began to fall, and the effect was magical. There
was instantly a blanket-like kindliness and a balminess in the air
that was delicious. The birds, that a little before could only chirp
dolorously, burst out into loud and jubilant song, the cattle lowed
in their pastures, wild-flowers seemed to laugh with quiet delight,
and the very boom of the big waves as they broke on the beach had a
pleasant music in it. It has continued to rain more or less ever since,
so that with regard to mere personal comfort one is ready to cry "Hold,
enough!" but so far as the interests of agriculture and pasturage
are concerned, not a drop too much has fallen. The fact is that,
frequent as is the complaint about what people are pleased to speak
about as our superabundant rainfall, we require it all. We question
if a diminution of our annual rainfall by a third, say, or even by
a fifth of its amount, would, from a practical and utilitarian point
of view, be any improvement, but the reverse. A shrewd south country
shepherd, with whom we had a long crack on Saturday, was right when,
speaking of the rain, he remarked that "it would be a puir country
for sheep at ony rate, if we had much less o't frae year's end
to year's end." How ill the drought of April and May agreed with
us here may be understood from the fact that there was an unusual
amount of sickness amongst the people; while the leanness of sheep
and kine bore sad and emphatic witness to the scarcity of succulent
pasture, and the general backwardness of the season is to this moment
noticeable from our window as we write, for neither the lilac nor the
hawthorn is yet in bloom, nor are potatoes, even the earliest planted,
any more than just becoming discernible in regular drills. We should
say that vegetation is generally quite a fortnight later than usual,
and only an exceptionally fine summer and early autumn can bring
about a fairly seasonable harvest-time. Dum spiro, spero, however,
is a good maxim, and we shall hope that, even if harvest is late, the
ingathering may be all the more pleasant and abundant. The drought,
however, and persistent east wind, it is but fair to confess, were
rather favourable than otherwise to the fruit trees of all kinds in
garden and orchard. Bud and blossom were, to use a military term, held
in check until after the middle of May, thus escaping the night frosts
usual in the early part of the month. All sorts of fruit trees and
berry bushes are consequently only now in full bloom, and a large fruit
crop may very confidently be looked for, though it may be a little
later than usual in attaining to perfect ripeness. Did you ever, by
the way, good reader, look at an apple tree in full blossom on a calm,
dewy night by candle-light? Recently we had occasion to go into our
garden towards midnight in search of a bird that had escaped from his
cage during the day. Coming under a large apple tree in full bloom,
we held up the open lantern in our hand and peered a-tiptoe among
the branches in hopes of getting a sight of the foolish runaway. Him
we did not find then, but the apple tree, bending under its weight of
blossoms "dew besprent," was the most beautiful thing we ever saw, and
we called everybody about the place to come and look at it, and they
all agreed that the sight was as beautiful as it was new to them. If
you have an opportunity try it for yourself, and you will thank us
all your life long for calling your attention to a thing of beauty,
which the poet is not wrong in assuring you "is a joy for ever."

We didn't get our bird in the apple tree, but we were in great good
luck notwithstanding, for who chanced to come the way next morning
but Mackenzie the bird-catcher, who soon discovered the runaway's
whereabouts in a neighbouring copse, and whistled him back to hand
as easily as a shepherd whistles back his truant collie. It is a
goldfinch, a magnificent singer, whom we have long had as a cage-bird;
and being unaccustomed to liberty, it was all the easier enticing him
back to his cage, although we much doubt if any man in the kingdom
could have done it so immediately and with such unfaltering confidence
in his own power to do it as Mackenzie, who knows wild-bird music
better than any one else we ever met, and can imitate it in its every
twist and turn, chirp or cheep or chant, so deftly and unmistakeably as
to deceive the birds themselves, each after his kind, the severest test
to which such an accomplishment could be put. If there be any truth in
the old doctrine of metempsychosis, Mackenzie, having shaken off the
"mortal coil" of his present form, is pretty sure to reappear as a
rock-linnet, redpole, or goldfinch. Like an honest man, who knows and
acknowledges the value and force of an Act of Parliament, he hadn't
on this occasion much to show us, but what he had was in part at least
interesting, and captured in early spring. One curiosity was a linnet
with one wing pure white, which he would insist upon was a different
species from the ordinary linnet, because he had caught so many with a
sinister or dexter, one or other, wing white or variegated. We fought
a hard battle in trying to convince him that it was a mere accidental
bit of colouring, due probably to some hurt received in its downy
days, or at all events before its first moult; and made it no more a
different species than an accidental hurt, which causes a man to go
lame, makes him anything else than a specimen of homo sapiens all the
same. Arguing, however, with men of Mackenzie's stamp is rather uphill
work. He listened, to be sure, with a politeness and attention which
seems to us to be inseparable from the character of the true practical
naturalist, and seemed to give acquiescence in all we asserted, but
we shouldn't wonder a bit if he remained of his own opinion still. A
rather rare bird was a specimen, in excellent condition and feather,
of the grey crow, at one time quite a common bird along the shores
of the West Highlands, but owing to the incessant war waged against
them by shepherds, gamekeepers, and vermin-trappers, now become so
rare that we stopped our pony to have a good look at a pair that we
saw the other day near Strontian, at the head of Loch Sunart. If you
want a specimen of any British bird, just commission Mackenzie to get
it for you. He will only bring you a specimen that is perfect of its
kind, and if you only give him time he will succeed in getting it,
even if he walked a thousand miles in the pursuit.

With reference to our explanation of the term study applied to a small
plateau, a well-known spot at the top of Glencoe, a correspondent
writes as follows:--"You do not seem to be aware that study is the
word in common use in Lowland Scotland for an anvil as well as amongst
the unlisping Celts. I wonder you forgot Burns' well-known lines--

    'Nae mercy, then, for airn or steel;
    The brawnie, bainie, ploughman chiel,
    Brings hard owrehip, wi' sturdy wheel
        The strong forehammer,
    Till block and studdie ring and reel
        Wi' dinsome clamour.'"

We are much obliged to our friendly correspondent. The quotation
proves that the Lowland Scotch as well as the Highlanders have a
difficulty with the lisping sound of th, preferring the simpler and
more natural sound of d.

A gentleman from Badenoch greatly amused us the other day by his
account of a certain superstitious observance on the part of a "wise
woman" in his neighbourhood. The gentleman's wife was sitting with
her baby, only a few weeks old, in her lap. It was of course a marvel
of a baby; for bigness and beauty the finest baby, like all babies,
that ever was seen, and of which its parents were naturally and very
excusably as proud as proud could be. The "wise woman" of the place had
called to see the child, and congratulated the parents on their good
luck. The crone got a chair opposite to that occupied by the happy
mother, while the father looked on and smiled with becoming dignity
and pride. As the old woman was looking at the child, it chanced to
yawn, bored probably by the amount of attention paid to it, and getting
sleepy. As it yawned, the old woman got up from the chair, and walking
over to the "infant phenomenon," coolly and deliberately spat in its
face! The mother was horrified; the father in a rage asked what the
deuce she meant by spitting in his son's face? The old lady quietly
answered that the yawn was owing to an evil influence at that moment
at work with the child, and her spitting in its face was the readiest
and most effectual way of saving it from one or more of the mischievous
tricks which ill-natured fairies are so fond of playing off on babies
that are "beautiful exceedingly," and more especially when they are
overmuch petted and bepraised by their parents and friends. The "wise
woman" was at once liberally supplied with the refreshments usual
on such occasions, and as soon as possible dismissed, care being
taken the while not to offend her, which might have been a serious
matter for baby and all concerned. It is not a little curious that
although in all countries to spit at one is expressive of the utmost
detestation and contempt, yet in the superstitions of the Lowlands
of Scotland, as well as in the Highlands, to spit on a person or
thing, under certain conditions and circumstances, is supposed to be
counteractive of evil influences, and therefore a highly commendable
act. We have seen a woman spit on the nets in a boat as it left the
shore, to ensure a successful fishing; and when hand-line fishing,
a man who has had little luck and is getting impatient, as he baits
his hook afresh, spits on it before dropping it again into the sea,
in the belief that good luck attends the act. An old woman who has
just bound up a bruised or broken limb, whether of man or beast,
will sometimes finish the operation by spitting on the bandage. In
the superstitions of most countries, such involuntary and apparently
causeless acts as sneezing and yawning are attributed to supernatural
agencies, and spitting at the sneezer or yawner is still sometimes
practised as a counter-charm by the oldest and most learned professors
of such lore, an older superstition probably than the more common
practice of invoking the Divine blessing on the subjects in such
cases. Questionable, therefore, and rude as at first sight seemed
the act, we assured our Badenoch friend that the "wise woman," in
acting as she did, meant his bairn no evil or disrespect at all,
but the very contrary.


    Caught in a Squall on Loch Leven--Potatoes and Herrings: How
    to cook them--A day in Glen Nevis--A visit to Uaimh Shomhairle,
    or Samuel's Cave--The Cave-Men.

The reader may remember that we concluded our last with a hopeful and
jubilant note, believing that really fine weather--a long track of
it, perhaps--was just at hand. We much regret having to say that our
meteorological vaticinations proved utterly incorrect. It still rains
[July 1877], not constantly, indeed, but with sufficient persistence
to make everybody miserable, and to reduce our hopes of a good harvest
almost to zero. Yesterday, for example, we had occasion to cross the
Loch in our boat. It was a nice bright day enough at starting, with a
fresh breeze from N.W., which carried us along at racing pace. All of
a sudden the heavens became black and threatening; a terrible squall
almost capsized us ere we had time to sing out to our companion to let
go "everything by the run." He did, fortunately, let go just in time,
and grasping an oar ourselves, and calling on him to take another,
we had her head turned to the wind and waves as quietly but as quickly
as possible. Thus we held her, just like a horse by the reins, while
the squall lasted, and cunningly took advantage of its drift to get to
the Appin shore. We managed to reach it, but in very sorry plight, as
you shall hear. With the squall had come rain, literally the heaviest
we ever saw, which drenched us to the skin; every drop big enough to
fill as it fell the largest of thimbles, and driven by the squall,
remember, it fell with the force of a spent bullet. As "drookit" and
drenched we landed, and crawled with all the miserable, and woebegone,
and shambling gait of the really and thoroughly through-and-through
wet, you would have laughed in the teeth of all the rain had you
only met us; and we much doubt if any one who did not know us would
just then have been disposed to appraise ourselves and our whole
belongings at the value of a much bigger coin of the realm than a
shabby florin. And this is just the sort of weather it continues to
be. You cannot depend upon it for an hour. It is sunshine and blue
above just for five minutes; it is all of a sudden gloomy and black
as Erebus, and raining so multitudinously that you are fain to draw
the skirts of your coat anyhow over your head and run for the nearest
shelter. When we are to have better weather let the meteorologists,
who ought to know, say.

There is an old and frequent proverb, though rarely heard now-a-days,
to the effect that "there goes reason to the roasting of eggs,"
the meaning of which, as we apprehend it, is that the smallest
culinary operation is of importance, and should be gone about with
judgment and care. If the proverb, however, in its actual words,
as a mere popular saw, is very much forgotten, it is a good sign of
our time that its spirit at least is in this our own day claiming
no little attention, as the establishment of "cookery classes," and
the praiseworthy attempts to disseminate culinary lore amongst the
people, abundantly testify. It has been said that the man who makes
two blades of grass to grow where only one blade grew before is a
benefactor to his species, and equally so, would we venture to assert,
is he a benefactor to the human race who shows how any single article
of food, usually cooked and served in an unsatisfactory and tasteless
fashion, may, with no extra expense and little extra trouble, be made
palatable and savoury. The other day, landing from our boat, we went
into a cottar's house close by the sea, in a neighbouring district,
just as the gudewife was preparing the family dinner. A pot of new
potatoes was boiling on the fire, and as she knew that it would take
us still some time to get home, she very good-naturedly invited us
to wait a little and take a share with herself and her husband of the
dinner about to be served, a bit of hospitality as frankly accepted as
it was kindly offered. Looking now and again into the boiling potato
pot, and listening with inclined ear to the sound, actually musical
in such a case, of its boil and bubbling, she was ready at the proper
instant to snatch it off the fire, and, carrying it to a corner of the
kitchen, she poured off the water, and immediately re-hung it over
the fire again, shortening the chain by which it was suspended by a
link or two, that the fire might not, now that it was waterless, have
too much effect upon it. She then got some half-dozen fresh herrings,
caught early that morning--herrings large, and beautiful, and silvery
scaled as a salmon--and drying them nicely with a cloth, she placed
them flat-wise side by side on the top of the potatoes in the pot,
the lid of which she was careful to make fit tightly by means of a
coarse kitchen towel, which served at once to cover the contents, and
to cause the lid to fit so tightly that all the steam was effectually
retained. For the time being, in short, the pot by this ready expedient
may be said to have been hermetically sealed. During a quarter of
an hour, perhaps, and while the gentleman and ourselves carried on
a lively conversation, the wife kept an attentive eye on the pot,
never once lifting the lid, however, but from time to time raising or
lowering a link of the chain as in her judgment was necessary. All
being ready at last, she took the pot off the fire, and set it on a
low stool in the middle of the floor. She then lifted the lid and
the cloth, and the room was instantly filled with a savoury steam
that made one's mouth water merely to inhale it. Occupying each a
low chair, we were invited to fall to, to eat without knife, or fork,
or trencher, just with our fingers out of the pot as it stood. It was
a little startling, but only for a moment. After a word of grace we
dipped our hand into the pot, and took out a potato hot and mealy,
and with the other we took a nip out of the silvery flank of the
herring nearest us. It was a mouthful for a king, sir! We have in our
day a thousand times dined well and heartily both at home and abroad,
but we greatly question if we ever enjoyed a dinner half so much as
that. The savouriness of that potato and herring feast will haunt
us till our dying day. What struck us was simply this: A new potato
and fresh herring as usually served is something terribly insipid;
as we got it that day it was a meal for an emperor. We actually felt
inclined to lick our fingers after every mouthful, than which surely
there could be no higher praise of any food whatever. Let such of our
readers as have the opportunity just try a potato and herring cooked in
the manner stated, eating it digitally, with their own proper fingers,
and they will thank us, if they are honest, for bringing so savoury
and delicious a dish to their knowledge.

One of the finest glens in all the West Highlands is Glen Nevis,
which, opening out in the direction of the old Castle of Inverlochy,
extends eastwards and inland, the valley gradually narrowing into
glen and gorge as you proceed, for nine or ten miles, presenting at
every turn and standpoint throughout its many windings a succession
of the most striking and beautiful pictures imaginable, so striking
and startling at times, and new at least in some of their details,
that a genuine lover of mountain scenery wishes that he could devote
an entire day to every separate mile of its extent, rather than have to
hurry through it all in something like half a dozen hours, which is the
way the thing is usually done. It is like being dragged, as happened to
us once, by a nervous and impatient lady friend of ours, at a sort of
half trot through a picture gallery, where, if you had your own way,
you would gladly lounge and linger till the custodier of the place,
perhaps, came respectfully to hint that the afternoon was far advanced,
and that shutting-up time was at hand. With the entrance to Glen Nevis,
as far as the mansion-house, we had long been familiar, and once at
least we had a bird's-eye glance into the glen proper itself, from
the summit of Dundearduil, which we had approached from the south in
order to examine its curious and still inexplicable vitrifications. It
was not, however, till Friday last, that we had an opportunity of
thoroughly exploring the glen through all its windings, and coming
with little difficulty to the conclusion already expressed, that of
all our West Highland glens, it is, perhaps, the most beautiful and
(Glencoe always apart) the most deserving of a thorough and leisurely
examination. We were fortunate in having hit upon a highly favourable
day--not too bright, for glaring sunshine and unclouded brightness
amongst mountain scenery is a great mistake--and no less fortunate in
our companions, each one of them blessed with eyes that, open, could
really see, and hearts that, duly appealed to, could truly feel; who
knew full well what they had come to do, and from first to last did
it admirably. Barely, we should say, has the noble glen exposed its
stern grandeur and innumerable beauties under favourable skies, to the
glad and earnest gaze of more intelligently appreciative spectators;
and more rarely still, perhaps, have the splendid falls of the Nevis
borne burden to peals of honester or merrier laughter than we indulged
in as over the well-plenished luncheon basket we fortified ourselves
for the ascent of the upper gorges,--a somewhat "stiff" climb, but
neither really difficult nor dangerous. When we say that at Glen Nevis
House our party was joined by Mr. Macpherson--fear a ghlinne e féin,
the goodman of the glen himself, as the Highlanders say--who kindly
accompanied us throughout, and to whom every foot of the glen was
as familiar as the floor of his own dining-room, many of our readers
will understand how really pleasant and enjoyable, coeteris paribus,
must have been our upland wanderings on that delightful day.

We have no intention of entering on anything like a minute
or photographic description of Glen Nevis, for which, indeed,
half-a-dozen Nether Lochaber columns would hardly suffice; we can
only hurriedly glance at what most instantly and indelibly struck
us in the day's excursion. First of all, we were all struck by the
exceeding pellucidity and crystal clearness of the waters of the
Nevis. Nowhere else did we ever see a mountain stream so beautifully
transparent. Standing on the brink of any selected pool, many feet
in depth, you distinguished the smallest pea-sized pebble, its veins,
scratches, and striations, as distinctly as if you had it on the palm
of your hand, under a lens, and within less than a foot focus of
your eyeball! And all this remarkable pellucidity, observe, not in
one particular pool, or in any one particular stretch of the river,
but throughout all its beautiful windings. Another remarkable feature
of the glen is the manner in which its natural birch woods grow. They
occupy a pretty broad belt almost half-way up the mountains, leaving a
still broader belt between themselves and the river banks comparatively
bare and treeless. In all the other Highland glens with which we
have any acquaintance, whatever of wood there is always begins,
as seems most natural, at the river banks, where it is thickest and
most luxuriant, growing away and upwards on either side to a greater
or less altitude, according to the nature of the soil and the shelter
to be had from the prevailing winds. And speaking of winds, this is
the place to observe that of all our glens Glen Nevis is perhaps the
stormiest, the wind in a gale not blowing steadily, but in fitful
gusts and whirlwind-wise, striking in from the corries right and
left, and meeting in the centre with a force and fury unimaginable by
non-residenters. How do you know, the reader may ask, for it was calm
and quiet enough during your visit on Friday? True, and yet we failed
not to notice a very striking proof of the storminess at times of Glen
Nevis notwithstanding. As you pass the forester's house at Auchreoch,
lift up your eyes, and please observe how carefully, how thoroughly,
closely, compactly, and painstakingly it is thatched; and observe
further and over all a network of wire as thick and strong as that
used in our overland telegraphy, and to the end of each wire as it
almost reaches the ground in front and at the back of the house,
please notice suspended a large stone, water-worn boulders from the
river below, each of a hundredweight or more, and you will not fail,
we think, to understand how we so confidently decided that Glen Nevis
at times must be an exceedingly stormy place. If you assert that
other Highland glens may be quite as stormy in the season of storms,
we shall not contradict you; what we do say is this, that never did a
house-roof speak to us so eloquently of furious and frequent storm and
whirlwind as did the roof of that house at Auchreoch, and a very good
house it is, and a very pretty place to the bargain. A little beyond
Auchreoch, and to the left of the path, there is a bit of wild and
rugged rock scenery well worth attention. Here and there, over the
face of what seems the hard impenetrable rock, many trees grow and
flourish as if through the very heart of the granite. The explanation
of course is, that the rock which seems so homogeneous and solid at
a distance is in reality fissured and fractured in all directions,
and that in these fissures the trees find soil and food enough to
sustain a wonderfully luxuriant growth and opulence of foliage for
such a situation. About a mile further up the glen, we separated from
our companions for a while, we having determined to cross the Nevis
at this point in order to visit Uaimh Shomhairle, or Samuel's Cave,
the entrance to which was pointed out to us by Mr. Macpherson in
the face of the opposite steep. To get across the river we had to
strip until in a state of almost puris naturalibus, and even then it
was somewhat dangerous, a single false step might have been attended
by very serious consequences. With a little circumspection and care,
however, we got safely over, and half-dressed and barefooted we climbed
the rock like a chamois, and in less than ten minutes we were standing
at the mouth of the celebrated cave. Samuel's Cave is in fact two
caves, the outer and smaller one, with a broad portal that admits
abundant light and air, forming a sort of vestibule or antechamber
to the inner cave. Provided with one or two old newspapers and some
wax vestas, we improvised a couple of rude torches which we carried
with us as we crept through a narrow opening by which alone access
is obtained into the inner antrum. Lighting one of these torches,
which answered our purpose quite well enough, we explored the cave at
leisure, closely scrutinising the walls and roof as high as we could
reach, in the hope of perhaps finding some scratch or sculptures,
however rude, to prove that the place had been inhabited in the times
of the "cave-men." Nothing of the kind, however, was discernible. The
cave in its every part is exceedingly damp and cold, with green, slimy
roof and walls, where not even the hardiest wild beast of mountain or
forest would think of taking up its abode, far less any human being
with the faintest notion of the value of warmth and comfort. There
are scores of lesser caves and fissures in the rocks around where
one would elect to live by reason of their dryness, in preference
to the big and pretentious Samuel's Cave, which, as a mere cave,
is perhaps interesting enough, and not unworthy of a visit; otherwise
it is a "sell," in exploring which no one can spend more than the
shortest five minutes to any good purpose. In the times of civil
wars and clan feuds it is conceivable that one or more outlawed and
"broken" men might find the outer cave a secure and not altogether
unpleasant place of shelter to pass a night in where no better might
be. As a place also to hide one's more valuable goods and chattels in
an emergency, the cave may at times have had its value and use. It
never, depend upon it, was inhabited for any length of time by
any human being. A week of it would kill the stoutest, robustest
savage that ever trod the Caledonian wilds. An additional proof, if
additional proofs are wanting, that Samuel's Cave can never have been
"inhabited" in any proper sense of that term, or even much frequented
for any purpose whatever, is to be found in the fact that there is
not a vestige of a path either from the river bank below or from the
hill above leading towards it. Had it at any time been much in use
for any purpose, there must have been a path leading to it either
from above or from below, and some traces at least, however faint,
of such a path, must still exist. We searched and searched, above and
below, and round and round, and no trace or vestige at all of such
a path could we find. Go, good reader, and see the cave by all means
when you have the opportunity; it is a fair enough cave as caves go;
but take our word for it that the attempt to invest the vast dark,
damp, slimy antrum with any archæological interest is the greatest
delusion in the world.


    Showers in Harvest Time--Magnificent Sunset--Night sometimes
    seeming not to descend but to ascend--Death of M. Leverrier--The
    Discovery of Neptune--Pigeon cooing at Midnight--The Owl at
    Noon--Cage-Birds singing at Night.

The weather continues wonderfully fine for the season [October 1877],
and with the exception of the potato-lifting, all our harvest labours
are at length concluded. The ingathering has upon the whole been
highly satisfactory, far more so than any one could have had the
courage to predict up to the very advent of this our autumnal summer,
which has already lasted just thirty days, uninterruptedly sunny
and dry, without any more serious break than a mere passing shower,
which invariably did more good than harm. More good? the reader
exclaims interrogatively, how can a shower do good, how can it be
otherwise than harmful in harvest time? Patience, courteous reader,
and we shall explain. It is a case of something of this kind. You are
driving along the road; the horse in the shafts before you is upon
the whole a steady-going and willing animal enough, but you have let
him have it just his own way for the last half hour, and dreaming,
perhaps, of fresh fields and pastures green, he has for the moment
forgotten your existence, and begins to lag. His usual pace of a good
eight miles an hour is now hardly over five, and what in such a case
shall you do? You drop the lash gently across his flank, as light and
gently as falls the angler's cast on the waveless pool; you are too
much of a Christian and a gentlemen--the terms are or ought to be
synonymous--to do otherwise until it is absolutely necessary. Your
horse forgets his dream; becomes instantly alive to the work before
him; gathers himself together, and with a responsive toss of his head
and a lively play of ears, goes along at rather more than his average
speed until the next stage is reached; knowing full well that the
hand that laid on that serpent-like lash so tenderly, can lay it on in
very different fashion, hot and heavy enough when occasion calls. Or,
dropping metaphor, let us state the matter plainly, thus:--Here in
Lochaber, and we suppose it is just the same over all the Highlands,
when really fine weather comes, we are for the first few days up and
doing, busy enough. But as one fine day succeeds another, we are very
ready to fall into the error that after all it is best to take things
leisurely. Where's the need, we ask ourselves, for so much hurry and
bustle? The fine weather has lasted a week; it may last a month,
is indeed likely so to last; it is no more like rain to-day than
it was yesterday; and thus we lapse, often unconsciously, perhaps,
into a spirit of dilatoriness and procrastination, out of which only
a lowering sky, and a shower that for all we know may become a flood,
can fairly rouse us. You slept long, for instance, this morning;
you dawdled over your porridge and milk at breakfast time, and it
is now noonday. But see! the heavens yonder in the north-west are
suddenly overcast; an ominous gloom creeps over the Outer Hebrides;
a few drops of rain have already fallen, one on the back of your left
hand, on which placing the index finger of your right, you can find
that it is wet, that it is rain; a second on your cheek with a soft,
tepid thud; and a third right into your open, uplifted eye, and you
straightway start into activity and life. All hands on deck! is the
cry. You rush into the field amongst the stooks; you bustle about
cheerily, and calling all hands into your service, for idlers are now
out of place, you cart and carry away as fast as you can into your
barn or stack-yard, and by sunset, so expeditiously have you worked,
that the field from head-rig to head-rig is but bare and stookless
stubble. It was after all but a passing shower; the gloom has given
place to cloudless blue; you have been cheated, so to speak. But what
matters it? Your crop is safely stacked or housed, and were it not for
the passing shower and temporary mid-day gloom, your stooks were still
afield, running a risk there was no reason they should run; and so,
good reader, you will understand how a slight shower in the season of
ingathering may not always be an evil, but a very good thing indeed;
and only a few such passing, labour-inciting showers have we known
here for a whole month, and that is much to say when the month is to
be counted from mid-September to mid-October.

And, O gentle reader, we only wish you were with us here to see for
yourself, propriis oculis, for no pen can describe it, one or more
of the many magnificent sunsets we have had in the course of this
same bypast month of fine weather. The sunsets of the equinoctial
seasons, both vernal and autumnal, are almost always beautiful,
more particularly those of the autumnal equinox; but never before,
we think, have we seen them so startling, gloriously beautiful, so
gorgeously magnificent, as on several occasions lately. A few evenings
ago, as we were busy in our study, a young lady burst in upon us in
a state of great excitement, begging us to throw aside our pen for a
little, and come out to see the exceeding glory of the setting sun. We
readily complied of course, and taking the young lady by the hand we
made a race of it till we reached our "coigne of vantage," a grassy
green knoll, a favourite standpoint when any celestial phenomenon
of importance to the W. or S.W. of us is to be observed. The scene,
in truth, was indescribably beautiful, and we stood in speechless
admiration, not unmingled with awe, in sight of the most glorious
sunset our eyes ever beheld. Before us lay the whole expanse of the
Linnhe Loch, shimmering as if gently aboil in a flood of pale golden
light. Beyond, rose what seemed the one vast unbroken range of the
mountains of Ardgour, Kingerloch, and Morven, bathed in a rich dark
purple hue, that for the moment so thoroughly obliterated every trace
of their native ruggedness, that our companion prettily observed,
"Haven't you the idea, sir, as I have, that if one were only near
enough these beautiful mountains to pat them lovingly with the hand,
they would feel to the touch soft and warm as a roll of velvet?" a
thought, unconsciously perhaps, tinged with poetry, though the
woman pure and simple comes out very unmistakeably in the reference
to the "roll of velvet." In the far background, thirty miles away,
rose the glory and pride of Mull (Blackie's favourite island of all
the Hebrides), the huge mountains of Benmore and Ben-na-Bairnich,
their base and middle zones ink-black, their shoulders dark orange,
here and there curiously streaked with threads of pearly light, their
summits and sloping ridges fringed with living fire. Above, the whole
western heavens was full of vast continents, peninsulas, isthmuses,
and islands of cloud, all afire at their edges, with firths, ferries,
and Mediterraneans of liquid gold between. As the full-orbed sun, fiery
and red, slowly sank to the horizon, the clouds were rent asunder as
if by the very excellency of the glory that beat upon them; some of
them assuming fantastic shapes, in which a lively imagination had no
difficulty in tracing striking resemblances to the hugest animals of
our own and past ages, a monster saurian in sharply defined silhouette,
being so marvellously outlined that our fair companion sketched it on
the spot, as a memento of a sunset that neither of us is likely ever
to forget. As the sun's lower limb seemed just to touch and rest an
instant on the highest peak of the Kingerloch range, a large mass
of cloud immediately above him rapidly assumed a columnar shape,
perpendicular to the plane of the horizon, and, as the splendid orb
dipped and disappeared, this huge "pillar of cloud" became a perfect
Ionic column, sharply outlined, and admirably correct in all its
proportions from base to entablature, and all aglow with living fire;
shaft and pediment with richest crimson; frieze and architrave and
cornice with the glow of molten mettle at "white heat" as it issues
from a blast furnace. There was, truth to say, something terrible
about the scene, a wild and weird combination of the sublime and
beautiful such as Edmund Burke never beheld even in his dreams. It was
impossible, in the presence of the "terrible majesty" of that glory,
to avoid thinking of the awfulness that must appertain to a scene of
which all of us shall one day be spectators, when the "elements shall
melt with fervent heat," and the "earth also, and the works that are
therein," shall be consumed with fire. The succeeding afterglow of
that same evening was singularly beautiful. The mountains of Appin and
Glencoe were for a time bathed from their summits to their shoulders
in the richest purple and gold, making them look so soft and warm,
that for the moment their actual ruggedness was utterly forgotten, and
one felt towards them a far stronger and tenderer sentiment than mere
admiration. And very curiously, as we gazed, did the night immediately
succeed the afterglow, for of twilight there was none--there rarely
is indeed in autumn, as the old Highlanders were too observant not
to notice, for what saith the old and well-known rhyme?--

    "Mar chlorich a ruith le gleann,
    Tha feasgar fann, fogharaidh."

The meaning of which is, that no longer lasts the autumnal twilight
than it takes a stone to roll adown the mountain steep into the glen
below. We generally speak of the night's descending; we say the falling
night, the darkness fell, &c., as if the darkness came down from above,
and sometimes, doubtless, it does seem so to fall--to descend like a
curtain. On this occasion, however, and frequently, we have noticed,
in the autumnal season, the night did not seem so much to descend
as to ascend, like an exhalation from out the entrails of the earth;
the blackness of gorge and corrie and glen slowly creeping upwards,
banishing the gold and purple as it ascended, just as you have seen
the earth's shadow in an eclipse of the moon obliterate the silvery
radiance of the lunar disc--finally reaching ridge and summit and
loftiest peak, and lo, it was night, the ruddy orb of Mars over the now
ink-black top of Buachaille-Etive putting the fact beyond all question;
and, while our fair companion went for a stroll along the beach, gaily
singing a merry roundelay as became her innocence and her years, we
retired in a mood of mind that, while it was pleasant upon the whole,
had yet a tinge of sadness about it, to our study and our books.

France has recently lost one of her greatest men by the death of
M. Leverrier, her distinguished astronomer, the most distinguished
astronomer, it is not too much to say, of the present century. Many,
indeed, achieved greater triumphs with the telescope, for with the
telescope Leverrier did comparatively little; it was as a mathematical
astronomer that he was unrivalled. He came first prominently into
notice while still a young man, with his cometary investigations, and
his researches into the motions of the planet Mercury, constructing
tables by which transits of the latter can be predicted with such
absolute correctness that the mean error never exceeds sixteen
seconds of time. But it is with the discovery of the planet Neptune
that Leverrier's name is imperishably associated. The case briefly
stated was this:--It was found, after a time, that the planet Uranus,
discovered by Sir William Herschel, did not actually follow the orbit
which theory had assigned to it. It had a mysterious trick of leaving
the computed track, and describing a greater orbit, if the law of
gravitation was to hold good, than the tables founded on that law
warranted. Astronomers were puzzled to account for the vagaries of an
orbit that, according to their theory, ought to be well-behaved, and
staid and steady-going as any other member of the solar system. What
could the perturbations of Uranus mean? was the question asked; and
at the suggestion of his friend the distinguished Arago, Leverrier
undertook to answer it, and in due time did answer it in such wise
as filled the world with astonishment and admiration. Resolutely
grasping with his task, Leverrier laboured long and laboured hard to
resolve the mystery, and as a first step with this result, that the
problem was utterly unresolvable on any other conceivable theory or
conjecture than that another planet, albeit unknown to astronomers,
and hitherto as unsuspected as it was unseen, existed exterior to
Uranus, and that it was to the attraction or disturbing influence of
this hitherto undreamt-of orb that the perturbations and mysterious
vagaries of Uranus could alone be ascribed. A memoir stating the
conclusion arrived at, and all the calculations leading towards it,
was read before the Royal Academy of Sciences in June 1846, and the
young and daring astronomer straightway resumed his labours, of which
the aim was now to determine the elements of the orbit of the unknown
planet, in the existence of which he now believed as firmly as in
that of the visibly perturbed orb Uranus itself. The astronomical
world shook its head dubiously, and waited. Did such a planet really
exist, and if it did, could this daring Frenchman find it? M. Leverrier
meantime laboured on, and finally mastering every difficulty, he gave
the computed plans of orbit, the mass and natural position of his
constructed world, if in truth, that is, such a world existed. This
was in a second memoir to the Academy of Sciences on the last day
of August 1846. Towards the end of the following month (September
1846), Leverrier wrote to M. Galle, of Berlin, requesting him to
level the powerful telescope under his charge at a particular point
of the heavens, and there, in effect, said the wonderful Frenchman,
you will find the cause of the perturbations of Uranus, a new and
distant world, hitherto undreamt of and unseen by mortal eye, but
existing all the same. M. Galle, on the first favourable opportunity,
directed his telescope as requested, and there, within less than a
single degree of its computed place, and flinging back its light from
the enormous distance of more than three billions of miles, was the
planet of Leverrier's analysis, with a diameter, magnitude, and orbit
all as calculated and predicted. It was a glorious triumph, the most
wonderful achievement in the annals of a science where all is wonder.

Publicly and privately has this query been put to us--Is it
unusual to hear a pigeon cooing at midnight, and the owl hooting in
bright noonday? We answer very unhesitatingly that it is unusual,
so unusual in the case of the owl at least, that in a quarter of
a century's familiar and friendly intercourse with our wild-birds
under all possible circumstances, we have never heard an owl hoot
except "darkling," as Milton has it, that is, from out the darkness
or sombre shade. Even at night, if the moon is shining bright, it
never hoots from a spot on which the moonbeams fall in full flood;
it selects the deepest shadow even in faint moonlight when uttering
its eerie notes. It will hoot in twilight, and it will hoot when
the heavens are bright ablaze with the most brilliant coruscations
of the aurora, but never, so far as our experience has extended,
does it hoot in honest daylight or even in moonlight, except when,
as we have said, it is itself in deep shade. We have kept pets of all
our native species of owls, and most interesting pets they make, and
though, when angry or in any way out of sorts, it will utter a ready
hiss, ending in a curious rasping guttural, we have never known it to
hoot except in the darkness of night, and, more rarely, in the dim,
uncertain light of evening or morning twilight. The cooing of a pigeon
at midnight, while it may be said to be unusual, is yet a thing that,
under certain circumstances, may be heard at any time. Many birds,
captives in cage or aviary, frequently sing short and incomplete
strophes of their special song in the warm stillness of summer nights,
evidently in their dreams. Others, in their natural state of freedom,
about the time of the longest day, when there is hardly any night
in our latitudes, may be heard singing, generally unconnectedly,
and in a faint, uncertain key. The pigeon will coo at any time when
brooding, if rudely disturbed in any way, just as a brooding hen will
purr and scold if you annoy her or her nest at any hour of the day or
night. The cooing of a pigeon, therefore, at midnight is nothing very
wonderful. The hooting of an owl at noonday, however, is surprising,
and a thing which, although we live in a district where owls are
plentiful, is altogether unknown in our experience.


    October Storms--Cablegram Predictions--Indications of
    coming Storms--Geordie Braid, the St. Andrews and Newport
    Coach-driver--The Naturalist in Winter--Drowned Hedgehogs: Spines
    become soft and gelatinous--Lophius Piscatorius--Disproportion
    between head and body in the Devil-Fish a puzzle--An Itinerant

The storms of the latter days of October [November 1877] were
exceedingly severe along our western seaboard, and terribly so, as
more than one correspondent assures us, amongst the Hebrides. It is
worth noting with what marvellous punctuality these Trans-atlantically
telegraphed storms reach our shores. They are "up to time," with
all the precision almost of our best appointed mail trains; quite as
punctual, at all events, to their predicted time on several occasions
lately as our ocean mail-carrying steam ships to their appointed dates
of arrival. This last October storm, for example, was telegraphed as
being due on our British shores on or about Saturday, the 27th, and
so correct, considering all the difficulties of such meteorological
vaticinations, was the prediction, that the storm actually reached us
here on the evening of the 26th, increasing in intensity throughout
the night and until mid-day of the 27th, the very day fixed upon,
when it blew with all the force of a hurricane, and the rain fell in
torrents, accompanied, too--that none of the essentials of a great
storm might be wanting--by vivid lightning, and thunder peals loud
enough to make the deafest hear, or at all events feel, for it is no
exaggeration to say that the very ground seemed at times to thrill
responsive to the aërial concussion. The 26th had dawned bright and
clear, and so continued throughout the day; one of those "pet days,"
in short, not uncommon at this season,--the sea, too, calm and glassy
as a mirror. In the afternoon, however, we were called out from the
tea-table to look at a phenomenon which had already attracted the
attention of some of our more observant neighbours, and about which
they wanted our opinion, as they had some thoughts of going a herring
fishing. The phenomenon in question was this: Not a breath of air
was stirring, Loch Linnhe was unruffled by the slightest zephyr, and
yet a heavy surge quite suddenly began to break along the beach with
a sudden boom that was remarkable in such a calm. A somewhat similar
phenomenon, lasting but for a short time, however, is observed in our
lochs when, on a calm summer evening, one of the Messrs. Hutcheson's
paddle steamers--the "Chevalier," for instance--passes at full speed
close in shore. What could this swell and surge, troubling a loch
otherwise calm as a mill-pond, mean? You might have safely carried
a lighted candle exposed and lanternless along the beach on which
that heavy swell with hollow boom was breaking--breaking in great
green waves that showed not a bell or fleck of foam on their crests
until they thundered on the shingle. It was, in a word, a phenomenon
for which there was no apparent adequate cause. The sea, had it been
in keeping with all its visible surroundings, should have been calm
and still; on the contrary, it was restless and perturbed, and there
lay the mystery. Even had we recollected nothing of the telegraphed
storm, it was easy of solution, and our instant interlocutor, as
the law courts have it, was this: "A storm in the Atlantic, my good
friends. Calm as it is here, there is a storm, and a wild one, depend
upon it, outside yonder island of Mull, for all it basks so peacefully
in the golden sunset. Nothing else can adequately account for such
a swell on our calm inland waters on an evening so summer-like and
warm; and when I tell you that a storm likely to reach our shores
to-morrow has been telegraphed from America several days since, I
conclude that it is that very storm fast approaching us that causes
this swell upon our shore. It must be just at hand; so haul up your
boats high and dry; take down your nets from the drying-poles, and
put them in a place of safety. Stay thankfully at home, and let the
herring fishing stand over till the predicted gales have come and
gone. Many a gallant fellow at this moment afloat would be glad to
have his foot like you on terra firma: a chas air talamh tioram were
the words,--his foot on dry land." With some such remarks as these,
we sent the men home, still wondering, however; and within a couple of
hours the storm was upon us with a loud prolonged shriek, that showed
how thoroughly in earnest it was. Timeously warned, no danger was
done in our district, and we are now unanimous in speaking with the
utmost respect of the Atlantic cable in connection with storm warnings
from the Western Continent. These telegraphic warnings from America,
by the way, of coming storms are of the utmost importance and value,
more particularly to the western shores of the British Islands. We
have no doubt at all that on the western seaboard of Scotland alone
many valuable lives were saved, as well as much valuable property,
by the submarine cable notice that put us all on our guard with
reference to the gale that raged on the 27th of October, and for
several days subsequently. We wonder if from Britain or the Continent
any of the terrible easterly storms of last winter were telegraphed
to America--timeously and purposely telegraphed, that is--so as to
be of benefit to our Transatlantic cousins, as their recent telegrams
have been to us. We fear not. But now at least it is surely a matter
of the merest courtesy and cousinly goodwill that we be prepared and
ready to send them betimes telegraphic messages of all our easterly
storms, in return for similar favours on their part in respect to
those that are westerly.

Reading over the foregoing paragraph, which the reader may see was
written currente calamo--at a gallop, as it were, and without a check,
as the foxhunter says--we find that we have used the often-quoted Latin
phrase terra firma; words which rarely fail to make us smile in their
connection with an anecdote current in St. Andrews in our early college
days. It was to this effect: The driver of a two-horse coach that ran
at that time between St. Andrews and Newport was a George Braid, a
respectable old man, familiarly known to everybody, and notably to the
University students, as "Geordie," a liberty with his Christian name
which Mr. Braid in nowise resented, for he was intelligent and shrewd,
and knew that he was thus spoken of and addressed out of goodwill
and kindly regard rather than otherwise. Frequently patronised on his
route by learned professors and lively students, Geordie had picked
up many big words and learned phrases, which he was fond of using in
his family, and, as the Catechism says, amongst his "inferiors and
equals." In connection with frequent storm and shipwreck on the wild
east coast, it was the most natural thing in the world that Geordie
should often have heard from the lips of some of his learned "fare"
the words terra firma, with which he associated a general idea of
protection, comfort, and safety. One terrible night of snow and storm,
having driven a large coachful from Newport to the city, Geordie, when
he had duly seen to his cattle, and paid a short visit to the bar of
the "Cross Keys" hostelry, wended his way by the West Port to his home,
which lay beyond the old city walls. His wife, a brisk and eident bit
body, had a roaring fire and a cheery welcome for her goodman on his
entrance, while his children gathered round him to help him off with
caps, coats, leggings, and all the other belongings of the outer man of
a driver in the good old coaching days. Reduced at last to something
like his natural dimensions, Geordie, having sufficiently rubbed his
purple hands before the fire, looked benignantly around and exclaimed,
"Ah! Meg, my woman, you and the bairns hae muckle cause to be thankful
to your Maker that ye hae terra firma abune your heads this night! Its
just awfu' out yonder by the Guard Brig and Strathtyrum." We have met
with not a few in our day with a strange craze for using words and
phrases of which they evidently knew as little of the real meaning
and proper application as honest Geordie Braid with his terra firma.

The new moon of the 5th, aided by a wind that at times almost amounted
to a gale, gave us along the western seaboard three very high tides
in succession; that of the afternoon of the 6th, however, being the
highest. The naturalist who is fairly diligent on such occasions
is pretty sure to meet with more or less interesting matter for
thoughtful study; nor, so far as our own experience extends, need
the entries in one's note-book, even for what is called the "dead"
season of mid-winter, be fewer in number, or less interesting or
instructive than those of the pages devoted to the summer season
itself. We have known naturalists whose note-books presented little
but a dreary succession of blank pages for the winter half-year,
and who thought it odd that we should be surprised at it. It has been
said that the laws of disease are as beautiful as those of health, and
that peace has its victories as well as war, and we have no hesitation
in saying that to the true naturalist the winter season, if fairly
and diligently encountered, is in its way just as interesting as
the summer, and that the observer who has all his wits about him,
and who goes to work with a will, may have his "victories" even in
the season of the winter solstice--victories as important in their
way and gratifying as are those of midsummer itself, when the days
are at their longest, when summer seas are calm and summer woods are
green. In the course of half an hour's ramble on the beach the other
day, we fell in with some curious waifs, each of which might be made
the text of an interesting monograph. Three drowned hedgehogs, for
example, was a somewhat startling "find" to turn up in a swathe of
seaware that the advancing tide was slowly rolling up the shingle. One
was full-grown, a female; the other two, both males, were but half or
three parts grown. What brought them there? was the natural question;
for a hedgehog, dead or living, on the sea-shore under high-water mark,
is as odd and out-of-place an object as would be a mackerel far up the
hills amongst the heather. The following is probably a satisfactory
enough explanation of the mystery:--Hedgehogs, which twenty years ago
were quite unknown in Lochaber, are now plentiful. A pair, captured
on Lord Abinger's lands at Torlundy, were sent to us some dozen or
fifteen years ago as a great curiosity; and in this district then
they were a curiosity, so much so, that we can recollect that during
the time they remained in our possession as exceedingly tame and most
interesting pets, people from all parts of the country used to come
in order to have a close look at the black-snouted, spine-armoured
hedge pigs, as Shakespeare calls them, the graineag or repulsive
one of the midland Highlanders of Athole and Strathspey, where the
animal has always been plentiful. They have now become so common in
this district that a hedgehog is no more accounted a rarity than is
a stoat or a weasel. Hedgehogs are fond of making their cozy nests
of moss, grass fibres, and fallen leaves, near the roots of trees and
bushes growing on the banks of rivers and mountain streams. These last
have of late been frequently swollen beyond their usual bounds by the
heavy rains; and in a spate of this kind poor Mrs. Hedgehog and her
youngsters were caught napping, and carried away by the torrent to
the sea, and ultimately cast ashore by the wind and waves, where we
found them in their winding-sheet of slimy sea-wrack, and for a moment
wondered how it came to pass that they lay there, like poor Ophelia,
"drown'd, drown'd." One remarkable circumstance connected with these
drowned hedgehogs was this: we found to our surprise that we could
handle them with impunity; their spines, so formidable in the living
animal, being quite soft and gelatinous to their very tips. This is
by no means the case with the spines of such hedgehogs as are killed
by trap, or otherwise on land. In this latter case the spines retain
their point and prickliness, as in the living animal, till in the
process of decay they separate from their sockets in the skin, and
drop in brittle, broken fragments to the ground. A question, then, for
future investigation is this,--Do the spines of all drowned hedgehogs
lose their prickliness and point, and become soft and gelatinous? If
so, has fresh water alone this effect, or is it necessary that the
animal should be some time immersed in salt water?

Within a short distance of the drowned hedgehogs, lay a large
angler or fishing-frog, the Lophius piscatorius of ichthyologists,
and a frequent waif on our shores after a gale. It had evidently been
caught by the storm in shallow water, and been beaten to death by the
weight and force of the waves, for it was in excellent condition,
and there was nothing to indicate death in any other way. Why in
this fish such a huge head, with its formidable array of recurved
teeth, and such a cavernous, capacious gullet, should be joined to a
body comparatively so diminutive, is a puzzle that has never yet been
satisfactorily solved; nor can we ourselves, up to this present moment,
advance even a plausible conjecture in explanation of an anomaly that
must have attracted the attention of thousands. The disproportion
between the immense head and the small and slender body is as great
as if you erected a porch lofty and wide enough to serve as the main
entrance to a cathedral, and vestibule to correspond, in order to
enter a dwelling consisting after all but of a single bedroom. Or,
to put it in another way, it is as if you built a large mill, with
the most powerful machinery possible, in order to grind sufficient
meal for the daily consumption of a single dyspeptic customer. The
fishing-frog, has, we believe, been of late successfully introduced
into more than one of our many aquaria, but we are not aware that any
satisfactory explanation of the difficulty which we are considering
has as yet been arrived at. A full and sufficient explanation, however,
you may be sure there must be, if we only know enough of the animal's
economy to get at it.

But we must stop; for hark! an itinerant fiddler has this moment
struck up "Bob of Fettercairn" just in front of our study window. He
plays admirably too, lovingly caressing the polished base of his
instrument--his bread-winner, poor fellow--with his wan and withered
cheek, and wielding a powerful, yet light and delicate, bow-hand;
and we must go and have a crack with him. Nor must you sneer at us
for so doing, gracious reader. The arrival even of a peripatetic,
out-at-elbows fiddler is an event of some importance in such a place
as this on a cold, grey November afternoon. We shall order him a big
bowl of tea, with something to eat, satisfied that if in so doing we
are not entertaining an angel unawares (though there is no reason that
we know of why an angel should not appear in peripatetic fiddler guise,
as well as in any other form), we are at all events entertaining one
who by his appearance manifestly needs something warm and comfortable,
and a little rest by a cheerful fireside at this season, not forgetting
the while that he is a capital fiddler--of some intelligence, too,
and full of capital stories we warrant him. Depend upon it that Homer,
who was after all but an inspired gaberlunzie, has many a time and oft
appeared in quite as sorry a plight, and with as little externally to
recommend him as this same itinerant fiddler; and think how proud and
glad you and we should be to have a chance of entertaining the blind
old Chian, wandering ballad-singer as he was! You must, therefore,
let us have our way with this poor old man, who, by the way, in not
blind, but, on the contrary, has a good large dark brown eye of his
own, so common, we have noticed, in people musically inclined, that
it may be called the musical eye; and if he is all we take him for,
and he and we got on well together, you may perhaps hear of him again.


    A Trip to Glasgow--Kelvin Grove Museum--Highland Association--A
    run to Rothesay--Rothesay Aquarium.

Favoured by the most splendid Christmas weather [January 1878],
piercingly cold, indeed, but beautifully bright and clear, a run
from Lochaber to Clydesdale on an agreeable errand is exceedingly
enjoyable. Our first day in Glasgow was devoted to the Kelvin
Grove Museum, which we had now an opportunity, for the first time,
of examining thoroughly and at leisure, and with which, as the
reader may believe, we were very much delighted. On handing our
card to Mr. Paton, the curator, we were received by himself and his
assistant, Mr. Campbell--the latter, of course, a Highlander--in
the friendliest manner; and a couple of hours were very pleasantly
and profitably spent in examining a really curious and valuable
collection, so admirably catalogued and arranged, that we believe
we saw and minutely studied everything to be seen as leisurely and
satisfactorily as was possible in the time at our disposal. Our friend
Mr. Snowie, of Inverness, had written us before leaving home that he
was sending some contributions to the museum, of which he begged us
to undertake the formal delivery, and see properly placed; and this
of course we had much pleasure in doing. These contributions are a
valuable acquisition to the museum, and are as follows:--(1.) Hoopoe
(Upupa epops, Linn.), a female, in fine plumage, and admirably set
up. This bird was captured by the boys at the Inverness Reformatory
School, and dying, notwithstanding it received all the attention
and kindly care that could be bestowed upon it, it passed into
Mr. Snowie's hands. (2.) Wild cat, stuffed, an excellent specimen,
with very prominent markings, trapped at Fasnakyle, on The Chisholm's
estate. (3.) A white blackbird, and an albino bunting, both shot
by Mr. T. B. Snowie near Inverness. (4.) Snipe and other marsh-bird
skins, shot by the same. (5.) Two small hares preserved in a bottle;
taken out of an unusually large-sized female shot at Dochfour in
September 1875; a very interesting preparation. (6.) Head of otter,
trapped on the River Peffer in 1876. (7.) Owl (Strix flammea, Linn.),
shot in October 1877 by Mr. T. B. Snowie. (8.) Egg of golden eagle;
this last, perhaps, the most welcome gift of all, as eagles' eggs
are now become so rare as readily to command prices ranging from £5
to £10 each. Attached to the museum proper there is a fresh-water
aquarium. In one of the tanks, in which several fine pike are
"interned," we noticed that one of the largest, who advanced to the
front of the tank, in order to examine as closely as possible a slip
of paper which we were trailing along the glass by way of bait, had
his muzzle, more particularly the anterior part of the upper jaw,
seriously disfigured by a fungoid growth of jelly-like appearance;
and calling the curator's attention to the fact, we made the remark
that the poor pike seemed too seriously diseased to live long. We
were surprised when told that the fish was none the worse for his
fungoid moustache; that it had been long in that way, and that all
that was needed was an occasional cleansing of the muzzle, as you
would wipe away a clot of jelly that had accidentally fallen on your
knife-handle at dessert, and the fish then seemed all right enough
until it grew again to such a size as to be an inconvenience.

Leaving the museum, we had but barely sufficient time for dress and
dinner before proceeding to take the chair at the Gathering of the
Clans in the City Hall, and a very splendid and enthusiastic gathering
it was. From floor to ceiling the huge building was crammed, and as
we took our seat and bowed in acknowledgment of the truly Highland
welcome that greeted us in the shape of round upon round of loud and
lusty cheers, we could not help feeling a little nervous and out of
sorts in realising the fact that we were for the moment "the observed
of all observers," and, by the kind partiality of the Highlanders
of Glasgow, made to occupy a position of which any one might well be
proud. We were soon at our ease, however, and found no difficulty in
discharging our duties in connection with a meeting which was from
first to last, and in all its belongings, a great success. The dancing
was excellent; the singing could hardly have been better; while the
pipe music was of itself well worth going a much longer distance to
hear than that which separates Nether Lochaber from the City Hall of
Glasgow. No other living man, perhaps, can play reels and strathspeys
as Donald Macphee can play them; and we do not think we ever heard
anything more admirably played than was Malcolm Macpherson's port
mòr or piobaireachd proper, Fhuair mi pòg's laimh mo righ, composed
at Holyrood in 1745 by Ewen Macdhomhnuil Bhuidhe, a Macmillan from
Glendessary and piper to Lochiel, on seeing his chief kiss Charles
Edward's hand at a levee held in the palace of his ancestors by
that Prince a day or two after the victory at Gladsmuir. Macpherson
played this piobaireachd so exquisitely that some of us felt our
eyes grow moist, and were in no wise ashamed of it, long ere he
had reached the difficult but beautifully managed fingering of the
concluding urlar. We have always had a warm regard for James Boswell,
Johnson's biographer, for this amongst other reasons, that, on his
own confession, music frequently affected him as it affected many of
us on this occasion. "Sir," growled Johnson, "I should never hear it
if it made me such a fool." But then a man, however great, cannot be
everything; and Johnson was not only not a Scotchman, but the very
antipodes of a Scotchman--he was an Englishman, proud and prejudiced,
and deaf and dead as a stone to the charms of music, whether vocal or
instrumental. When at Sleat, in Skye, many years afterwards, he made
the confession that "he knew a drum from a trumpet, and a bagpipe from
a guitar, which was about the extent of his knowledge of music." We
parted with our friends of the Highland Association on the best terms;
they were good-natured enough to say that they were pleased with us;
we certainly had every reason to be pleased with them.

We were astir betimes next morning, in order to fulfil an engagement
undertaken at the request of some naturalist friends in London--a
visit, namely, to the Aquarium at Rothesay, an admirably conducted
institution, one of the best in the kingdom. We expected to see a
great deal that could not well fail to interest us, and we did see a
great deal that pleased us very much indeed; the best proof of which
is that after several hours' wandering from tank to tank, it was with
a sigh of regret that our attention was called to the fact that it
was already time for us to put up our note-book and find our way as
quickly as possible to the pier, if we would overtake the Mountaineer
for Greenock, in order to reach Glasgow again that evening. Of all
the tanks, that which we lingered longest before, perhaps, was that
set apart for sea anemones, of which the collection is exceedingly
curious and interesting. All the specimens seemed perfectly healthy
and well-to-do, though, owing to the fact that the afternoon had now
become wet and dull, they were disinclined to display their beauties
in full. In another of the tanks, of which the most distinguished
inhabitant is a conger eel of a large size, we were much amused
with the conduct of a seven or eight pound cod, that seemed as if he
would willingly have spoken to us if he could. As soon as he became
aware of our presence, he came sailing out of a dark recess behind
a rocky promontory--a sort of Mull of Kintyre in miniature--which
is his usual howf, and advancing straight to the front of the tank,
put his nose to the glass, wagging his tail, and staring at us with
an expression of countenance so queer and comical, that it made us
laugh outright. "Well, Nether Lochaber, my boy," he seemed inclined
to say, "how are you? This is all very fine, but on the word of a
cod, believe me that I'd far rather be cruising about the shores
and shallows of Loch Linnhe, down yonder in your own neighbourhood,
than be confined here from year's end to year's end, to be stared at
by a lot of people who may pretend some interest in me from a purely
scientific point of view, but who, between ourselves, if the truth
were known, never see me but they straightway think of how I should
be boiled and served with sauce. Only the other day, for instance, a
lady visitor from Glasgow asked one of the attendants what he thought
might be my weight, and if he was of opinion that a cod out of an
aquarium tank would be quite as good eating as one direct from the
sea? When I hear talk of that kind, it hurts my feelings, I can tell
you." All this, and a great deal more, we fancied the cod would have
said if he could; and as we tapped the glass at his nose and bade him
a friendly good-bye, we almost persuaded ourselves that he responded
with a knowing wink, as with a single sweep of his tail he put about
and joined the conger in a brisk constitutional round and athwart the
tank--a tank so crystal clear, and clean and comfortable, as indeed
are all the tanks, that the inmates, abundantly and regularly fed,
ought to be happy enough, were it not that, like Sterne's starling,
they probably find the great drawback on their happiness in the fact
that after all they are prisoners, that they can't get out. We were
much delighted with the seal-house and its lively and intelligent
occupants. The shape of a seal's head is sufficient to convince
the most careless observer that it must contain a great deal of
brains; while its full and lively eye bespeaks a high and active
order of intelligence. Those at present in the Rothesay Aquarium,
three in number, are most interesting animals, and almost as tame as
lapdogs. It so happened that we entered their house at a time when they
were exceedingly active and lively, for they were well aware that a
large basket, which had just been carried to the side of their tank,
contained fresh fish of some kind or other for their dinner; and they
raced and leaped about in eager expectation of the treat, for they
were evidently hungry--always a good sign of an aquarium inmate. The
fish consisted of small flounders; and the agility and graceful ease
of the motions of these seals, as they dived and dashed after a fish,
which, while they were begging dog-like before us at one end of the
tank, we suddenly tossed to the other end, was so admirable that we
continued a long time to play at a sort of pitch-and-toss game that
was quite as agreeable to them as it could possibly be interesting to
us. We only ceased our part of the performance when we thought that
for the time they must have had enough, the seal being probably as
liable to indigestion as the result of a surfeit as is any other
animal. When, however, they found that they had nothing more to
expect from us, they showed their intelligence and nous by at once
commencing to climb out of their tank, at the very spot, too, where
it was easiest of accomplishment, on the side on which they knew
the fish-basket was placed. What could they now be after? was the
question we asked ourselves. One after another they got out and waddled
along the pavement, awkwardly indeed, but as quickly as they could,
past us, keeping their big and beautiful eyes steadily fixed on ours,
till they reached the basket, and in a moment each had seized a fish,
with which he instantly tumbled heels-over-head into the tank again
at the point nearest him, evidently afraid that we might try and
intercept him, and deprive him of a bonne bouche, which all of them
seemed perfectly well somehow to understand they had no right to take
in such reiving fashion. We noticed that when we threw a fish into
the tank, and one of them got hold of it, the other two endeavoured
to snatch it from him, and for the moment there was a wild tumult and
tumble, in which the water was lashed into foam. In this, however,
as far as we could judge, there was no manifestation of anything like
anger, or the slightest attempt to hurt or injure each other. It
was more like the rough and tumble play of children after a ball,
or something of that sort, which all may strongly desire to possess,
but which only one can have for the moment.


    Overland from Balluchulish to Oban on a 'Pet Day' in
    February--Story of Clach Ruric--Castle Stalker: an Old
    Stronghold of the Stewarts of Appin--James IV.--Charles

With all their tendency, in their every reference to the past,
to become laudatores temporis acti, the sturdy upholders of the
superiority of all that was, in comparison with anything and everything
that is, our weather-wise octogenarian friends here are all agreed that
so summer-like a February [1878] month they never knew before. It is
true that in making this admission they shake their heads sapiently,
and hint that no good can come of such an unnatural commingling of
the times and seasons. It will be well, they add, if before cuckoo day
(mun d'thig latha na cuaig) we haven't to pay for it all in the shape
of storm and cold at a time when these are as unseasonable and out
of place as is summer calm and summer sunshine now. It was amusing
to see these honest old croakers selecting the coziest nooks air chùl
gaoithe's air aodain gréine, as the Fingalian tale has it,--that is,
at the back of the wind and in the face of the sun--and thoroughly
enjoying the calm and sunshine at the very moment that they would
impress upon us the unnaturalness and unseasonableness of it all. The
first fortnight of February was, indeed, wonderfully fine; from the
beginning of the month up to the evening of St. Valentine's Day, more
like the close of April or early May than anything usually looked
for while the sun is still in Aquarius. Driving overland to Oban on
the 11th, and, by the ferries of Ballachulish, Shian, and Connel,
a very beautiful drive it is, hardly to be equalled elsewhere even
in the West Highlands; the day was so bright, and calm, and clear,
that while mavis and merle, and hedge-accenter and chaffinch greeted
us from copse and hedgerow with their rich and mellow song, the driver,
sitting beside us, couldn't help observing as we passed by Appin House,
"Na 'n robh chuag again a nis, bha 'n samhradh fhein ann!" "If we had
but the cuckoo now, it would be summer its very self!" On the beach,
a little above high-water mark, just under Appin House, and within an
easy stone's cast of the public road, there is an immense spherical
boulder of granite, to which there is attached a curious old story,
which invests with additional interest an object deserving enough of
attention for its own sake--for the sake, that is, of its huge size
and almost perfect spherical form, this latter peculiarity, in the
huge solid mass, making it the most remarkable thing of the kind on
the mainland, at least of the West Highlands. The story of the Appin
House boulder, or Clach Ruric as it is called, is, dropping minor
and unessential details, to the following effect:--Long, long ago
a Prince of Lochlin or Scandinavia, with a formidable fleet of war
galleys, made a descent upon the Hebrides, killing and plundering
everywhere with a ruthlessness known only, even in those days of
rude lawlessness, to the Vikings of the north. Having thoroughly
devastated the islands, Ruric--for such was the Prince's name--steered
for the mainland of Morven, and took up his residence in the castle
of Mearnaig, in Glensanda. In this stronghold, the ruins of which
still exist, he resolved to pass the winter, with the intention of
over-running and plundering the adjoining districts in the spring,
and afterwards sailing homewards in the calm of summer seas, for his
galleys were so deeply laden with booty that he feared to encounter
the turbulence of the North Sea at any other season. In the early
spring the cruel Northman was betimes astir, killing and plundering
with but little opposition throughout the districts of Kingerloch,
Sunart, and Ardgour, to the head of Lochiel. While of his numerous
fleet a single galley showed more than a foot and a span (troidh agus
rèis were the words of the narrator) of gunwale unsubmerged, Ruric was
unsatisfied, and to complete his ill-gotten freight he resolved on the
plunder of the opposite district of Appin, the smoke of whose dwellings
could be seen, and the lowing of whose numerous herds could be heard
(when the summer morning was still and the Linnhe Loch was calm) by
the pirate prince from the battlements of the castle of Mearnaig. One
morning Ruric anchored his galleys in the Sound of Shuna, and landing,
erected his tents on the green knoll now occupied by Appin House. With
this spot as his head-quarters, it was his intention to plunder
the district north and south of him at his leisure, believing that
he would meet with as little opposition here as he had already met
with elsewhere. The inhabitants of Appin, however, were partly on
their guard, and determined to resist, and if possible chastise, the
invader. And first conveying their old men, women, and children, with
their flocks and herds, into the fastnesses of the upland glens, they
resolved to watch the movements of the Norsemen, ready to fall upon
them whenever a favourable opportunity should offer. That same night,
as some cattle herds, acting as scouts, were on the hill immediately
above the tents of the invaders, one of them directed the attention
of his companions to a huge granite boulder with so slight a hold of
the hill crest, that, with some little labour, it might be let loose
at any time--a terrible messenger of wrath--amongst the tents of the
enemy below, whose shouts of laughter at that moment, and snatches
of rude song, proved that they had feasted plentifully and had no
apprehension of immediate death or danger in any form. After much
labour, the herdsmen managed so to dig about and undermine and loosen
the boulder in its bed on the hill-face, that, on a given signal,
their united strength sufficed to tilt it headlong over the steep,
leaping and thundering on its terrible path. The largest trees in
its course snapped before the boulder like reeds: when it came into
momentary contact with a rock, the sparks flew heavenward as if
from an exploded meteor! In a dozen of bounds it reached the tents
of the Norsemen, crushing, mangling, grinding into pulp or powder (a
pronnadh agus a bruanadh, are the Gaelic words) everything it touched,
and finally stopping where it now stands, to be long regarded by the
people of the district with a feeling akin to superstitious awe, and
to be known by the name of Clach Ruric. In the morning, the Norsemen
could only know by the mangled fragments of their bodies that their
Prince, with his two sons, and many of those next to him in power,
had met with a terrible death. Before the Appin men could gather in
sufficient force to attack them, the Norsemen unmoored their galleys,
chanting the death-song of their chief as they unmoored, and set sail
for Lochlin, never more to trouble the mainland of the West Highlands
with their invasions. The venerable seanachie from whom we picked up
this tradition, added that Castle Coefin, or Cyffin, in Lismore, is
so called after a Danish prince of that name, who also was connected
with Ruric's expedition, though in what manner he was unable to say.

Not far from Clach Ruric, on an island rock in the entrance to the
Sound of Shuna, are the ruins of another castle, of a later date,
however, and more recent interest than can be attached to the many
strongholds of the Viking period perched on the rocks and promontories
of this part of the West Highlands. This is Castle Stalker, or, in the
language of the district itself, Caisteal-an-Stalcaire, the Castle of
the Falconer or Fowler. The small rock-island on which it is built is
Sgeir-an-Sgairbh (the sea-rock, or skerry of the cormorant), from very
early times the gathering cry at once and rendezvous of the Stewarts
of Appin in all their maritime expeditions. Castle Stalker dates from
about the beginning of the reign of James IV., for whose convenience
and accommodation, when, as frequently happened, he extended his
hunting expeditions to this district, it was built. Stewart of Appin,
who was a great favourite with the king, was appointed hereditary
keeper, and the castle continued in the possession of the family until,
about the year 1645, the Mac Ian Stewart of that date, in a moment of
drunken folly, made it over to his wily neighbour, Donald Campbell of
the Airds, receiving in return the handsome and adequate equivalent
of an eight-oared birlinn, or small wherry! Stewart, when sober, would
have gladly cancelled so manifestly one-sided a barter-bargain at any
sacrifice, but Campbell, having got possession, kept it; while the
disgraceful transaction so stung the pride of the Stewarts that they
practically deposed the Baothaire (the silly one), as they nicknamed
the chief, from his chieftainship, by unanimously electing his cousins
of Invernahyle and Ardsheal to be their leaders in the subsequent
wars of Montrose. For a short time during Montrose's ascendancy in
the Highlands, and for a longer period towards the close of the reign
of Charles II., Castle Stalker was again in the possession of the
Stewarts; but at the Revolution the Campbells had it all their own way;
they repossessed themselves of the castle, and it has remained theirs
ever since. About forty years ago a gentleman of the family of Ailein
'Ic Rob of Appin, who had amassed a considerable fortune in the West
Indies, offered the then proprietor a large sum for the bare rock
and ruins of Castle Stalker, but the offer was refused.

From the wooded knoll to the left, as we entered the village
of Portnacroish, we heard some notes that, harsh as they were,
delighted us, for we had not heard them for many years; and the
reader will perhaps smile when we confess delight in association
with what was neither more nor less than the chattering of a pair
of magpies! Knowing that it must be magpie chattering and nothing
else, though the lively confabulators were for the moment invisible,
we got out of our conveyance, and on reaching an open glade we got
sight of a pair of these beautiful birds perched on the topmost
bough of an old ash tree; and so busy were they in the discussion
of what must have been a matter of grave and immediate importance,
that the usually shy and wary birds did not notice our approach till
we were quite close upon them, when, with a scream of alarm and an
indignant flirt of their tails, they glided in graceful curve, rather
than flew, over the tree tops and disappeared. So rare has the magpie
become in Lochaber and the immediately surrounding districts, that
a sight of a pair of these handsome and sagacious birds delighted
us exceedingly. We had little difficulty in concluding that their
lively chattering on that bright and beautiful morning was about no
less important a matter than the propriety of at once putting their
house in order and setting about the labours of incubation. If there
were any truth in popular superstition, that particular day ought to
have afterwards turned out a disagreeable one to us; for had we not
seen two magpies together, and what is more, did we not go out of our
way to see them, when we might have easily passed on unseen of them,
as they were invisible to us? In the south of Scotland the old pyet
rhyme is something like this--

    "One's joy,
    Two's grief,
    Three a wedding,
    Four death."

In the old sgeulachd the Gaelic rhyme is of similar import--

    "Chunnaic mi pioghaid a's dh-éirich leam;
    Chunnaic mi dhà 'sgum b'iargain iad;
    Chunnaic mi tri a's b'aighearach mi;
    Ach ceithir ri'm linn chan iarrainn iad."

In our own case, on that particular occasion, the superstition
could not have been more completely falsified by the event, for,
maugre the magpies, our trip to Oban was in its every circumstance as
agreeable and pleasant as it could well be. What a pity it is that
these beautiful birds, whose favourite residence, too, if they were
only permitted to live in peace, is the immediate vicinity of human
dwellings, should be of such evil repute that gamekeepers everywhere
consider themselves justified in accomplishing their utter destruction
by every means in their power. Their utter destruction we have said;
and it is only as to their total extirpation that we would venture on
a word of expostulation with gamekeepers and their employers. It is
true that the magpie is an enemy to winged game, being a cunning and
persistent nest-robber, an adroiter sucker of eggs than the proverbial
"grandmother" herself. That the gamekeeper should therefore dislike
them is the most natural thing in the world, and that, in gamekeeper's
own phrase, they should "be kept down" is proper enough. But we
cannot agree that it is necessary that the bird should be utterly
destroyed. Here and there on a wide estate an occasional pair of
magpies might surely be tolerated for the sake of their beauty and
amusingly lively manners, and on the divine principle of "live and
let live." For our own part, in approaching a gentleman's residence,
the sight of a pair of these birds flitting about "the old ancestral
elms" always intensifies our respect for the place and the owner.

Crossing Loch Creran, by the Ferry of Shian, we are in
Benderloch--classic ground, and archæologically the most interesting
spot, perhaps, in all the West Highlands. "Everything here is
beautiful," says Dr. Macculloch. "The distance between the ferries
of Shian and Connel is but five miles; but it is a day's journey for
a wise man." About half-way is Dùn-Mac-Uisneachain (the Fort of the
Son of Uisneach), one of the most interesting of our vitrified forts,
quâ such, and supposed to be the Beregonium of Hector Boethius, and
the site of the still older Selma, the "Hall of Swords" of Ossianic
song. That it was a place of importance long before the time of
the Dalriad Scots seems very certain; and, leaving Macpherson's
"Ossian" altogether out of the question, there occur in the old
Fingalian ballads, and tales of the Féinne, about the antiquity
of which there has never been dispute; numberless local references
which seem in a very remarkable manner to point to this spot as the
principal stronghold in Scotland (for they were of Ireland also) of
the Fingalians at one period, and that the most important, perhaps,
in their history. Within a short distance of Dun-Mac-Uisneachain,
and commanding it, is a steep, rocky eminence of considerable
height, called Dunvallary or Dunvallanry, the etymology of which
may be Dùn-bhail'-n-righ, the Fortified Place of the King's Town;
or Dùn-bhail' n 'fhrìth, the Fort of the Town on the verge of the
Hunting Forest. Stretching away towards Connel and Loch Etive is the
wide moorland flat of Achnacree, which, with its numerous cairns,
Druidical circles, monoliths, and other relics of the olden time, may
very well be the ancient "plains of Lora;" Lora itself, frequently
mentioned in Ossianic poetry, and meaning Luath shruth, the loud,
swift current, par excellence, meeting us face to face, so to speak,
in the turbulently impetuous rapids of Connel.


    Nest-building--Cunningham's Objection to Burns' Song, "O were
    my Love yon Lilac fair"--Birds and the Lilac-Tree--Rivalries of
    Birds--Birds and the Poets--The Nightingale.

A finer February month from first to last was never known in the West
Highlands. With an amount of sunshine that April might be glad of,
it was mild and open throughout; the sort of weather, in short,
that Thomson must have been dreaming about, when he invoked the
season of bursting bud and wildflower as "Gentle Spring, ethereal
mildness." March [1878], too, has come in, not lion-like, as the
meteorological proverb would have it, but "like a lamb," as it is
hoped it may continue and end. Everybody is now astir, and "speed the
plough" is the order of the day, as well, indeed, it may, for the bud
has already opened into leaf, and primroses are plentiful--so plentiful
that they may be gathered in handfuls from the hazel copse and woodland
glade. As for our wild-bird friends, they are in ecstasies with it all,
everywhere in full and fluent song, and making love with an ardour and
directness of purpose that rarely fails of its reward. Nest-building,
the most important and serious labour of their lives, but a labour of
love all the same, is being rapidly proceeded with, the God-taught
architects knowing not only to labour, but how best to labour,
frequently resting a space to refresh themselves with song:--

    "Song sweetens toil, however rude the sound,
      All at her work the village maiden sings;
    Nor while she turns the giddy wheel around,
      Revolves the sad vicissitudes of things."

And while speaking of birds, this is, perhaps, the proper place to
refer to a paragraph that appeared recently:--

"The Lilac Tree and Birds.--Burns has a song, 'Oh, were my love yon
lilac fair,' &c. Cunningham has remarked that Burns had made an unhappy
selection of a tree for sheltering his little bird; for the feathered
songsters are found to avoid the lilac when in flower, owing to its
peculiar smell. We confess we are not skilled enough in natural history
to attest the accuracy of Cunningham's assertion."--Paterson's Burns,
vol. iii.

Fully to appreciate Cunningham's objection, it is proper that we quote
the song in full; but before doing so, it may be observed that it is
founded on an older version, of which the best lines are retained,
as is the case with not a few of Burns' finest love-songs. Writing
to George Thomson in the summer of 1793, the poet says--

"Do you know the following beautiful little fragment in Witherspoon's
Collection of Scots Songs?--

    "'Oh, gin my love were yon red rose,
    That grows upon the castle wa.'"

"This thought is inexpressibly beautiful, and quite, so far as I
know, original. It is too short for a song, else I would forswear you
altogether, unless you give it a place. I have often tried to make
a stanza to it, but in vain. After balancing myself for a musing
five minutes on the hind legs of my elbow-chair, I produced the
following. The verses are far inferior to the original, I frankly
confess; but if worthy of insertion at all, they might be first in
place; as every poet who knows anything of his trade will husband
his last thought for a concluding stroke:--

    "Oh, were my love yon lilac fair,
      Wi' purple blossoms to the spring;
    And I a bird to shelter there,
      When wearied on my little wing.

    How I wad mourn when it was torn
      By autumn wild, and winter rude!
    But I wad sing on wanton wing
      When youthfu' May its bloom renew'd.

    Oh, gin my love were yon red rose,
      That grows upon the castle wa',
    And I mysel' a drap o' dew,
      Into her bonnie breast to fa'!

    Oh! there, beyond expression blest,
      I'd feast on beauty a' the night;
    Seal'd on her silk-saft faulds to rest,
      Till fleyed awa' by Phoebus' light."

Cunningham's ornithological objection to the song we believe to be
well founded; and it is not a little to his credit, as proving what
a close and clear observer of the habits of our song-birds he must
have been, that he was the first, so far as we know, to notice,
how reluctant they are to have anything to do with the lilac while
in flower, though at other seasons they perch upon it as freely as
upon other shrubs. We are not as sure, however, that our song-birds
object to the lilac because of anything disagreeable to them in the
perfume of its flowers. Except in the case of some of the Raptores,
birds as a rule are neither acute nor delicate of smell, our little
song-birds least of all perhaps. We rather think the reason of
their dislike to it is to be found, partly at least, if not wholly,
in the fact that while it is in flower, its bark, particularly along
the smaller branches and twigs, is covered with a slimy secretion or
exudation at once viscid and acrid; and if there is one thing more
than another which our wild-birds unanimously and with all their hearts
detest, it is to have their legs or toes come in contact with anything
glutinous or "sticky." Every bird-fancier knows how uncomfortable and
generally miserable is a bird just upon being taken off a limed twig;
not, observe, because he is a captive--thoughts of that may trouble
him afterwards--but immediately and in the first instance because
of the bird-lime about his toes. The first thing, therefore, that
the bird-catcher does is to cleanse the captive's feet and toes by
rubbing them gently between his finger and thumb with fine sand, and
afterwards washing them with water; an operation no sooner performed
and the bird restored to its cage, than it evinces its satisfaction
at being relieved from its state of intolerable discomfort in many
little ways that cannot well escape the notice of even the most
unobservant. We have known a newly captured chaffinch, placed in a
cage directly on being taken off the limed twig, and inadvertently
left uncared for till the evening, peck its toes until red flesh
appeared, in his attempts to rid them of the bird-lime attached to
them. But whether the song-bird's dislike to the lilac when in flower
be owing to its perfume or to the disagreeably glutinous exudations
of its bark in early summer, or to both combined, it is simply the
fact that such an aversion exists; and Allan Cunningham's objection
to the lilac in this connection is perfectly well founded. And even
if this particular objection had not been well founded, it would
have been better, we think, if Burns had selected some one or other
of our native flowering shrubs, such as the hawthorn, for example,
rather than a comparatively rare exotic like the lilac--rare now,
and rarer still a hundred years ago. If those who give any heed at all
to these matters will only consider the question, they will be ready,
we think, to confess that they never yet knew an instance of a bird's
nest in a lilac tree. About our own place here, where the lilac grows
to a large size, and flowers splendidly, we ourselves have never known
or heard of such a thing. Within the shelter of every other tree and
shrub of any consequence about the place, we have known our song-bird
friends to build at some time or other--never once in the lilac, nor,
it may be added, in the fuchsia, which in the warm shelter of this
genial spot grows to the dimensions of a tree, all the year round
too, without the slightest petting or special protection of any kind,
as hardy and self-reliantly as its companion hawthorns, hollies, and
hazels. The fuchsia is probably avoided for the same reason as the
lilac. It also exudes in spring and early summer a viscid secretion
almost as "sticky" and disagreeable, if you run your hand along a twig,
as that of the lilac itself; and, as we have already said, anything
of this kind is an utter abomination to the Insessores or perchers,
who are as particular about their feet and toes as ever was dainty
and delicate belle about the state of her hands and fingers.

Such of our readers as care about these things, and have the
opportunity, may very profitably and pleasantly give an occasional
half-hour to the doings of our song-birds at this season. Their little
love quarrels and rivalries are very amusing. All this forenoon a pair
of cock chaffinches have been bickering and quarrelling after their
fashion along the hedgerows and amongst the trees immediately opposite
our study window. The casus belli is of course a female, handsome
and coy, and fully conscious, you may believe, of her own value,
who keeps flitting about at a little distance, proud and pleased,
doubtless, to be the object of rivalry between a pair of such gay and
lively chaffinch beaux. Varium et mutabile, she has evidently great
difficulty in making up her mind as to which of the suitors she shall
select; her state of indecision being probably akin to that of the
renowned Captain Macheath in the Beggar's Opera:--

    "How happy could I be with either,
      Were t'other dear charmer away!
    But while you thus tease me together,
      To neither a word will I say."

The rival birds are in their gayest spring plumage; and when tired
of mere vulgar scolding and abuse, they try to sing each other down;
and then it is that they are well worth not merely the listening to,
but the looking at. Directly opposite the gean-tree near the top of
which the lady chaffinch sits preening her feathers, and occasionally
uttering a twink-twink of self-admiration, is an aged hawthorn,
on which the rivals select to hold their tournament of song; and
the energy and heart with which a bird sings in such a case must be
seen and quietly studied to be fully appreciated. Swaying lightly
each on his own bough, the rivals begin to sing as if their very
lives depended upon it; their throats swollen almost to bursting;
the feathers on their polls erected into a crest, and their whole
bodies tremulous to the very tips of the quill feathers of their wings,
as they pour forth a torrent of song so rapid, clear, and loud, that
all the other birds in the neighbourhood are for the moment silent,
as if they had purposely ceased their own aimless melodies to listen
to the impassioned strains of the competitors in the thorn. Of human
eloquence, Quintilian says, "Pectus, id est quod disertum facit"--the
heart (and not the brain) is that which makes a man eloquent; and even
more than of eloquence, with all the might of its "winged words," is
the same thing true of song. To be all it ought to be, and be at its
best, it must well up a living stream from the hot, impassioned heart;
not from the marble fountain of mere intellect, which, if always clear,
is not the less always cold. If ever song came, in Quintilian's phrase,
direct a pectore--from the heart, it is the song at this moment of
the rival competitors in yonder thorn. It is only when one has seen
and studied a bird singing after this fashion that the full force
and meaning of a line in Gray's Ode to Spring can be understood and
appreciated. Under the lens of a cold, critical analysis, the line
is sheer nonsense; in sight of the bird itself, as at this moment,
singing with all his might, heart and soul in every note, its truth
and beauty are at once apparent. The line is this--

    "The Attic warbler pours her throat,
    Responsive to the cuckoo's note."

Had not the poet seen, and closely and intelligently observed, a bird
in the act of loud and excited song, he would never have ventured
on an assertion that at first sight seems so curiously extravagant,
that a warbler "pours her throat." It is to be observed, however,
that the really beautiful and expressive phrase is not original, but
second-hand as regards Gray. He borrows it from Pope, in whose Essay
on Man (Ep. iii.), published ten or a dozen years before Grays ode,
occurs this line--

    "Is it for thee the linnet pours his throat?"

But it is a pity to separate the line from its context, and as the
passage is not too well known, we may be pardoned for quoting it:--

    "Has God, thou fool! worked solely for thy good,
    Thy joy, thy pastime, thy attire, thy food?
    Who for thy table feeds the wanton fawn,
    For him as kindly spread the flowery lawn;
    Is it for thee the lark ascends and sings?
    Joy tunes his voice, joy elevates his wings.
    Is it for thee the linnet pours his throat?
    Loves of his own, and raptures swell the note.
    The bounding steed you pompously bestride
    Shares with his lord the pleasure and the pride.
    Is thine alone the seed that strews the plain?
    The birds of heaven shall vindicate their grain.
    Thine the full harvest of the golden year?
    Part pays, and justly, the deserving steer:
    The hog, that ploughs not, nor obeys thy call,
    Lives on the labours of this Lord of all."

It will be seen that Gray makes his nightingale--his "Attic
warbler"--feminine, "pours her throat," while Pope, more correctly,
makes his linnet songster a mate, "pours his throat;" and Pope who,
indeed, from his habits of life, must have known more about birds than
Gray, is right, for it is the males of song-birds that sing, and not
the females. Milton makes the same mistake as Gray, and adds to the
blunder by saying that the nightingale sings "the summer long," which
it does not. It is curious that our English poets should so frequently
err, as Gray did, in attributing the melodies of song-birds to the
females instead of to the males. The explanation, we suppose, is that,
as amongst ourselves women as a rule are more musically inclined, and
usually have sweeter voices than men, even so the poets, knowing no
better, rashly conclude that the rule must hold good amongst song-birds
also. The very contrary, however, is the fact. It is the male bird
that always sings; the female attempts at song being extremely rare,
and when attempted always a failure, never for a moment to be compared
with the rich and long-sustained melodies of the male. Of all our
song-birds, the most frequently mentioned by the poets is, of course,
the nightingale, and almost invariably they make it a "she" instead of
a "he." One of the finest passages in English poetry is a reference to
the nightingale in The Lover's Melancholy of the dramatist John Ford
(d. 1639). We are fond of reciting this passage when "i' the vein"
for such things, but we always take the liberty of changing the
"she," "hers," and "her" of Ford, into the "he," "his," and "him"
of ornithological fact.


    March Dust--Moons of Mars--Planetoids--Occultation of Alpha
    Leonis--Zodiacal Light--Snow Bunting--Old Gaelic Ballad of
    "Deirdri:" Its Topography.

If for the first few days March [1878] seemed inclined to emulate
the peaceful calm and sunshine of its predecessor, it very suddenly
assumed a more warlike aspect; a change came over the spirit of its
dream; it became boisterous and rude; snow, and sleet, and rain, and
storm battling in wild comminglement. It still continued what is called
"open" weather, however; there was no frost, no razor-edged and biting
winds, and vegetation was rather temporarily checked than seriously
hurt or hindered. After this wild burst, in vindication, it is to
be presumed, of the month's right to be called after the bellicose
Mars, things slowly but steadily improved, and the weather is now
such as permits us to get on with our spring work uninterruptedly and
pleasantly enough. We have not yet, however, had a sufficiency of the
"March dust," so proverbially invaluable at seed-time; and nowhere
perhaps so invaluable, so absolutely essential indeed, in its proper
season, as in the West Highlands. The day, however, is now lengthening
apace, and with a bright warm sun overhead, and brisk north-easterly
breezes, we shall doubtless soon have dust enough and to spare.

Our reference to Mars the war-god, reminds us that Mars the planet,
with whose fiery effulgence every one is familiar, has recently
had an accession of dignity such as the old-world star-gazers never
dreamt of in connection with the ruddy orb. It is found to have at
least two attendant moons, small, and so exceedingly difficult of
detection even by the aid of the best instruments, that it is only
under the most favourable circumstances that they can be observed. It
is more than suspected that a third, and even a fourth satellite,
exists, and the planet will in consequence be subjected to the
closest possible scrutiny at all the observatories at home and
abroad for some time to come, in order to determine with certainty
the number of its attendant moons, and whether they be two or more,
to decide their sidereal revolutions, their diameters, masses,
and inclinations of orbits. By reason of his retinue of satellites,
Mars is now exalted to equal dignity with Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus,
and Neptune; and by the discovery another point is scored in favour of
the nebular hypothesists. It was on the night of the 1st January 1801
that the first of the planetoids, Ceres, was discovered by Piazzi of
Palermo. Next year Olbers of Bremen discovered the second planetoid,
Pallas, and so constant and searching has been the scrutiny to
which the planetoidal zone, situated between the orbits of Mars and
Jupiter, has been subjected, that the number of these minor worlds
is now no less than 182, the last three in the series, Nos. 180,
181, and 182, having been discovered since the beginning of February
last. Of these three, two were discovered by French observers; the
third by Professor Peters of Hamilton College, U.S., America. This
last, however, is suspected to be only a rediscovery, so to speak;
to be identical with Antigone, discovered five years ago by the same
indefatigable observer. If this be so, the asteroidal series amounts
at present date to 181. In favour of the ingenious hypothesis that
accounted for the existence of these minor orbs by suggesting that
they might be the fragments of a large disrupted world--of a large
planet rent asunder by some terrible internal convulsion--a great deal
could be said while the number of fragments was under half a dozen
or even double that number, but when the fleet of orblets began to
be counted by the score, the disrupted world theory was dropped as
no longer tenable in the circumstances. The hypothesis of Olbers,
however--for it originated with the discoverer of Pallas--led to a
great deal of curious research that resulted in no little gain to
astronomical science; and if it had to be given up as insufficient
in the case of a planetoidal zone, it left us a legacy that may yet
be turned to good account, that such a catastrophe, namely, as the
disruption of a planetary world into fragments that in the shape of
minor orbs would continue to revolve in orbits coincident with that
of the parent globe, is not only possible, but, under certain easily
enough conceivable circumstances, a probable enough occurrence.

Occultations by the moon of planets and first magnitude stars are
always interesting phenomena, and for many years we have rarely
missed observing such conjunctions as they became due, even if
the hour was otherwise inconvenient, if only the weather chanced
to be favourable. Last week there were two occultations, which for
particular reasons we were very anxious to observe, and as the weather
was clear and bright we had but little fear of disappointment. The
stars to be occulted were Alpha and Delta Leonis, the one on the
night of the 16th, the other on the night succeeding. Alpha Leonis
is of the first magnitude, distinguished, like some others of its
class, from the mere alphabetical order of stars by its proper name
of Regulus. Up to within a quarter of an hour of the computed moment
of occultation or disappearance of the star behind the moon's disc,
the sky was clear; and as we stood at our post everything promised
a highly satisfactory and successful observation; but alas, as the
moon and star, in nautical phrase, were close aboard each other,
a huge bank of cloud, driven by a north-westerly breeze, swept over
the scene, effectually occulting moon and stars alike from the most
penetrating gaze. It was provoking enough, but there was no help
for it. An observer in our climate must make up his mind to frequent
disappointments of this kind. We were still in hopes that although the
immersion was thus hidden from us we might be more fortunate in the
case of the emersion--the reappearance, that is--of the star on the
moon's western limb. But it was no use. Two or three times, indeed,
the moon shone forth for a minute or two together from through an old
cathedral porch-like rent in the intervening wall of cloud, but only to
be again obscured; and thus it continued so tantalisingly promising,
that we stood to our post until a glance at the clock showed that
the moment of emersion was already past, and it was useless waiting
or watching any longer. The great object in closely watching these
occultations is to observe, with all possible certainty, if there
is any distortion or momentary projection on the moon's disc of the
planet or star occulted at the instant of immersion and emersion,
in order to decide if the moon has an atmosphere or not. We have seen
enough, we think, from our own observations during the last five and
twenty years, to lead us to the conclusion that such distortion and
projection is occasionally to be seen, and that therefore, contrary to
the general belief of astronomers, a lunar atmosphere very probably
exists, though it may be of greatly less weight and density than
our own. Looking over our astronomical note-book, we find that the
winter just past--let us hope that at this date we may so speak of
it--was remarkable for two things--the almost total absence, namely,
of auroral displays, and the exceeding brilliancy of the zodiacal
light. We have only two recorded instances of the occurrence of
the aurora borealis, both in December, and both but partial, faint,
and ill-defined. The zodiacal light, on the contrary, was remarkably
bright and noticeable on almost every evening in February and early
March, its apex reaching up to and beyond the Pleiades, and with an
outline clear and sharply defined as ever was sheaf of the brightest
auroral light. So noticeable was it on several occasions, that all
the people of the hamlet began to speak about it, and inquire what
it could mean, for its perfect quiescence, its appearance night after
night in the same quarter of the heavens, and the absence of anything
like accompanying storms or aerial disturbance, satisfied even them
that it was not the fir-chlis or "merry-dancers" as they used to know
them. Let us assure our Celtic readers that an attempt on our part to
explain the nature of the zodiacal light in Gaelic was no easy task;
and if the truth were known, we fear our prelection quoad hoc was a
sad failure.

We have received the following note from "A Constant Reader:"--

"Nether Lochaber.

"Sir--Would you kindly let us know, through the columns of the
Inverness Courier, the proper name of the accompanying little bird,
and what part of this country it is properly a native of. It is never
seen in Ross-shire but during very heavy snow, and then they fly about
in large flocks, and disappear again as soon as the snow is gone.--I
am, yours respectfully,

"A Constant Reader."

Neatly packed in a couple of lucifer match-boxes ingeniously conjoined,
the bird reached us, and the locale of its being shot or captured we
can only approximately indicate by the fact that the package bore the
post-mark "Garve." There was no difficulty in at once recognising
the bird as the snow-fleck or snow bunting, the Emberiza nivalis
of Linnæus, a common enough bird in early winter over the whole of
Scotland. Although it has been known to breed in Scotland, a few
being found all the year round along the summits of the Grampians,
and other mountain ranges to the north and north-west, it is probably
a bird of considerably higher latitudes than ours; visiting our shores
as a migrant in October or November, according as the winter is early
and severe or otherwise, and leaving us again in March or April. It
is a hardy little bird, of plain and rather sombre plumage, prettiest
in the act of flight, when the white on the edges and tips of the
tail-feathers, and quills, and secondaries, comes out in pretty bars,
contrasting pleasantly with the dark and chestnut brown, which may
be said to be the prevailing colour. The snow-fleck has hardly any
song beyond a tremulous twittering, and a few call-notes so loud and
shrill that in the strange and solemn calm that sometimes precedes a
snow-storm, they may be heard at a great distance. Our correspondent
should have stated where, when, and how the bird was got, a knowledge
of such matters vastly enhancing the interest and value of a specimen,
especially if it has any claims to be accounted a rara avis.

We are indebted to our excellent Celtic friend, Mr. William Mackay,
Inverness, for a copy of his exceedingly interesting monograph on
The Glen and Castle of Urquhart, one of the most interesting spots
in the Highlands. Mr. Mackay attempts to make Glen Urquhart classic
ground by associating the story of Dearduil and Clann-Uisneachean,
as related in the mediæval Gaelic ballads, with the locality, by
pointing out that there is a Dun Dearduil in the neighbourhood--a
place so called after the hapless heroine of the ballad story. But in
the old and unquestionably authentic ballads her name is not Dearduil
but Deirdri; Deirdir and Daordir. Dearduil is a much later form of
the name, not older, Mr. J. F. Campbell hints, than the Darthula of
"Ossian" Macpherson. But there are other Dun Dearduils besides that
referred to by Mr. Mackay; one, for instance, near us in Glenevis;
and it is to be observed that all the places so called are vitrified
forts. An old man in our neighbourhood, one of our best seannachies,
always speaks of the Glenevis vitrified fort as Dun Dearsail
or Dearsuil, and this is probably the correct form of the term,
closely connecting it with dears and dearsadh, to shine, a shining;
to beam and be effulgently aglow like flame of fire. Remembering
that all the places so called present more or less marked traces
of vitrifaction, in the formation of which fire and flame, on a
large scale, must have been the chief and most remarkable agents,
the name comes to have a fitting and appropriate enough meeting,
without the necessity of taking in the name of Deirdri or Dearduil
at all. Mr. Mackay next gives a translation of a couple of quatrains
from the oldest known version of the Clann-Uisneachan ballad; that,
namely, of the vellum manuscript in the Advocates' Library, bearing
the date 1238, and quoted in the Highland Society's Report on Ossian:--

             "Beloved land, that eastern land,
               Alba, with its lakes;
             Oh, that I might not depart from it;
               But I go with Naois.
             Glen Urchain, O Glen Urchain,
    It was the straight glen of smooth ridges:
    Not more joyful was a man of his age
             Than Naois in Glen Urchain."

Mr. Mackay will have it, of course, that this "Glen-Urchain" is his
Glen Urquhart. The Gaelic name of Urquhart, however, is invariably a
trisyllable; but this apart, the Glen-Urchain of Mr. Mackay has no
existence in the ballad from which he professes to translate. The
quatrain stands thus in the original:--

    "Mo chen Glen Urchaidh,
    Ba hedh in Glen direach dromchain;
    Uallcha feara aoisi
    Ma Naise an Glend Urchaidh."

It is Glen Urchaidh, observe, not Urchain; the Glenurchay
of Argyllshire, in short, not the Glen Urquhart or Urchadan of
Inverness-shire. This is further proved by the context, the immediately
preceding and succeeding stanzas, which speak of Glen Mason and
Glendaruel in Cowal; of Duntroon; of Innisstrynich on Loch Awe; of Eite
or Etive, &c. In so far, in short, as this story of Clann-Uisneachan of
Ireland has to do with Scotland, we find it connected with Argyllshire,
where indeed we should most naturally look for it; and chiefly with
Glen Etive and Loch Etive, where we have Dun-Mhac-Uisneachan; Grianan
Dheirdir; Caoille Naois; Eilean Uisneachan, &c. &c. In Argyllshire,
too, it was that the Clann-Uisneachan ballads were preserved till
discovered and taken down from oral recitation by the collectors. And
if Dun-Dearduil and "Glen-Urchain" must be given up as having no
connection with the ballads in question, so would it seem to follow
that some other etymology than any connection with the name of Naois,
must be found for Loch Ness, Inverness, &c.

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