« PreviousContinue »
weather is not pleasing. Half the year is deluged with rain. From the autumnal to the vernal equinox, a dry day is hardly known, except when the showers are suspended by a tempest. Under such skies can be expected no great exuberance of vegetation. Their winter overtakes their summer, and their harvest lies upon the ground drenched with rain. The autumn struggles hard to produce some of our early fruits. I gathered gooseberries in September ; but they were small, and the husk was thick.
The winter is seldom such as puts a full stop to the growth of plants, or reduces the cattle to live wholly on the surplusage of the summer. In the year seventy-one they had a severe season, remembered by the name of the Black Spring, from which the island has not yet recovered. The snow lay long upon the ground, a calamity hardly known before. Part of their cattle died for want, part were unseasonably sold to buy sustenance for the owners; and, what I have not read or heard of before, the kine that survived were so emaciated and dispirited, that they did not require the male at the usual time. Many of the roebucks perished.
The soil, as in other countries, has its diversities. In some parts there is only a thin layer of earth spread upon a rock, which bears nothing but short brown heath, and perhaps is not generally capable of any better product. There are many bogs or mosses of greater or less extent, where the soil cannot be supposed to want depth, though it is too wet for the plough. But we did not observe in these any aquatic plants. The valleys and the mountains are alike darkened with heath. Some grass, however, grows here and there, and some happier spots of earth are capable of tillage.
Their agriculture is laborious, and perhaps rather feeble than unskilful. Their chief manure is seaweeda.
which, when they lay it to rot upon the field, gives them a better crop than those of the Highlands. They heap sea-shells upon the dunghill, which in time moulderinto a fertilising substance. When they find a vein of earth where they cannot use it, they dig it up, and add it to the mould of a more commodious place.
Their corn grounds often lie in such intricacies among the crags, that there is no room for the action of a team and plough. The soil is then turned up by manual labour, with an instrument called a crooked spade, of a form and weight which to me appeared very incommodious, and would perhaps be soon improved in a country where workmen could be easily found and easily paid. It has a narrow blade of iron fixed to a long and heavy piece of wood, which must have, about a foot and a half above the iron, a knee or flexure with the angle downwards. When the farmer encounters a stone, which is the great impediment of his operations, he drives the blade under it, and bringing the knee or angle to the ground, has in the long handle a very forcible lever.
According to the different mode of tillage, farms are distinguished into long land and short land. Long land is that which affords room for a plough, and short land is turned up by the spade.
The grain which they commit to the furrows thus tediously formed, is either oats or barley. They do not sow barley without very copious manure, and then they expect from it ten for one, an increase equal to that of better countries; but the culture is so operose that they content themselves commonly with oats; and who can relate without compassion, that after all their diligence they are to expect only a triple increase? It is in vain to hope for plenty, when a third part of the harvest must be reserved for seed.
When their grain is arrived at the state which they must consider as ripeness, they do not cut, but pull the harley : to the oats they apply the sickle. Wheel carriages they have none, but make a frame of timber which is drawn by one horse with the two points behind pressing on the ground. On this they sometimes drag home their sheaves, but often convey them home in a kind of open pannier, or frame of sticks upon the horse's back.
Of that which is obtained with so much difficulty, nothing surely ought to be wasted; yet their method of clearing their oats from the husk is by parching them in the straw. Thus with the genuine improvidence of savages, they destroy that fodder for want of which their cattle may perish. From this practice they have two petty conveniences: they dry the grain so that it is easily reduced to meal, and they escape the theft of the thresher. The taste contracted from the fire by the oats, as by every other scorched substance, use must long ago have made grateful. The oats that are not parched must be dried in a kiln.
The barns of Sky I never saw. That which Macleod of Raasay had erected near his house was so contrived, because the harvest is seldom brought home dry, as by perpetual perflation to prevent the mow from heating.
Otheir gardens I can judge only from their tables. I did not observe that the common greens were wantin , and suppose, that by choosing an advantageous exposition, they can raise all the more hardy esculant plants. Of vegetable fragrance or beauty they are not yet studious. Few vows are made to Flora in the Hebrides.
They gather a little hay, but the grass is mown late; and is so often almost dry and again very wet, before it is housed, that it becomes a collection of withered stalks
without taste or fragrance; it must be eaten by cattle that have nothing else, but by most English farmers would be thrown away.
In the islands I have not heard that any subterraneous treasures have been discovered, though where there are mountains, there are commonly minerals. One of the rocks in Col has a black vein, imagined to consist of the ore of lead ; but it was never yet opened or essayed. In Sky a black mass was accidentally picked up, and brought into the house of the owner of the land, who found himself strongly inclined to think it a coal, but unhappily it did not burn in the chimney. Common ores would be here of no great value; for what requires to be separated by fire, must, if it were found, be carried away in its mineral state, here being no fuel for the smelting-house or forge. Perhaps by diligent search in this world of stone, some valuable species of marble might be discovered. But neither philosophical curiosity, nor commercial indus: try have yet fixed their abode here, where the importunity of immediate want, supplied but for the day, and craving on the morrow, has left little room for excursive knowledge, or the pleasing fancies of distant profit.
They have lately found a manufacture considerably lucrative. Their rocks abound with kelp, a sea-plant, of which the ashes are melted into glass. They burn kelp in great quantities, and then send it away in ships, which come regularly to purchase it. This new source of riches has raised the rents of
maratime farms; but the tenants pay, like all other tenants, the additional rent with great unwillingness; because they consider the profits of the kelp as the mere product of personal labour, to which the landlord contributes, nothing However, as any man may be said to give what be
gives the power of gaining, he has certainly as much right to profit from the price of kelp as of any thing. else found or raised upon his ground.
This new trade has excited a long and eager litigation between Macdonald and Macleod, for a ledge of rocks, which, till the value of kelp was known, neither of them desired the reputation of possessing.
The cattle of Sky are not so small as is commonly believed. Since they have sent their beeves in great numbers to southern marts, they have probably taken more care of their breed. At stated times the annual growth of cattle is driven to a fair, by a general drover, and with the money, which he returns to the farmer, the rents are paid.
The price regularly expected, is from two to three pounds a head: there was one sold for five pounds. They go from the islands very lean, and are not offered to the butcher till they have been long fatted in English pastures.
Of their black cattle some are without horns, called by the Scots, humble cows, as we call a bee an humble bee, that wants a sting. Whether this difference be specific, or accidental, though we inquired with great diligence, we could not be informed. We are not very sure that the bull is ever without horns, though we have been told that such bulls there are. What is produced by putting a horned and unhorned male and female together, no man has ever tried that thought the result worthy of observation.
Their horses are, like their cows, of a moderate size. I had no difficulty to mount myself commodiously by the favour of the gentlemen. I heard of very little cows in Barra, and very little horses in Rum, where perhaps no care is taken to prevent that dimimution of size, which must always happen where the