REMINISCENCES OF A HIGHLAND PARISH.*
IT happens occasionally that we take up half listlessly a book the title-page of which is not inviting, which has no new facts to tell ns, no new theories to propound, We read on, may be for some hundred pages, and put the book down conscious that "the wandering voice" has whispered to us something we dii not pro- pose to hear, that we have been touched, like the man in the fable, with a sword so fine we did not feel it, till our divided self tried once more to move on at our wonted pace. Dr. Macleod has gathered a few sprigs of heather from an ancient Highland home, preserved them in a small vial of subtle ether, which we suppose may be condensed mountain air, and sent them into this London hothouse not even labelled, "With care." We advise all persons troubled with brains to pause before examining the sprigs or tasting the ether. Seriously, it is impossible to read this little unpretentious volume without looking back on the progress our much lauded civilization has made during the last fifty years, and forward to what it may reasonably be expected to make in the next fifty, and not ask, for the moment at least, " Cui bono ?"
Like the puzzled child stammering over the long syllables he cannot pronounce, we feel inclined to give it all up, and go back to " M" for "mother." But unfortunately there is no retreat, the gates of the Garden of Eden are closed behind us, and there is nothing for it but fairly to face the inevitable future. Dr. Macleod gives fair warning to all who believe there is nothing worth bringing "out of the Northern wilderness into the Canaan of civilized life" to shut his book and accompany him no further ; those who care to know more, he takes with him to the Highland manse of a hundred years ago,—in the time before sheep-farming was the custom in the Highlands, but when the young cattle ranged at will over the hills, and the families followed their cows and their sheep to the grassiest, greenest, shadiest nooks the mountains afforded, and there spent the summer months in joyous industry, which knew no lack of "want-begotten rest."
"The songs of the Gaelic muse," says Dr. Macleod, "are gene- rally sad and sombre, but those composed and sung during these summer migrations are truly blithe and joyous, depicting a life of simple and genuine happiness." Nor was this life one of mere -animal existence, with no higher end or aim. While the English peasant was sunk deep in the slough of ignorance, from which we have not yet rescued him, the Highland lad was sucking in know- ledge at the parish school, the master of which was himself pro- bably a scholar of no mean attainments, invariably required to be able to prepare young men for the Scottish Universities by instruct- ing them in the elements of Greek, Latin, and mathematics.
• Reminiscences of a Highland Parish. By Norman Macleod, D.D. London: Alexander Suallan.
But in Skye a hundred years ago (in a population where all the Adams delved and all the Eves span, the minister gentleman and scholar living by the produce of the small farm, the minister's wife attending to the dairy and the spinning) the village schoolmaster did not suffice for all the mental requirements of the rising genera- tion, and the tenantry who wished their sons hereafter to attend the Scottish Universities associated themselves together to obtain for them a tutor, who lived alternately at different farms, and thus, as Dr. Macleod tells us, the burden of supporting him was divided among the fathers of the boys. "In autumn he accompanied his more advanced pupils to Aberdeen, to attend the University, superintended their studies during the winter, and in spring returned with them to their Highland homes, to preserve the tame routine." Their long journeys were compassed on foot, with the aid of an occasional friendly boat ; their living must have been bard at times, the topmost garret, and the coarsest oat-bread, with well-worn clothes,—the accompaniments of many a student's life, whose necessary allowance of some twenty pounds was generally the result of his mother's thrift and his father's self-denial. No unworthy sons of the soil they proved most of them, as many a battle-field in the world's history since can testify. The manse itself, with all the busy life which went on around and inside it, is admirably sketched. Dr. Macleod has all its traditions buried in his heart, and is, we suspect, no mean authority for every word he writes.
Sixteen sons and daughters were born to the minister there, and around the hospitable roof were sheltered kinsfolk with far distant claims, old servants long past work, a tutor and a governess, and the constant friend or stranger. With an income less than a modern cook's added to the little farm "there was bread enough and to spare in the Highland manse," and " when hospitality demanded such a small sacrifice the boys would all go to the barn, and the girls to the chairs and sofas of parlour and dining room, with fun and laughter, joke and song, rather than not make the friend or stranger welcome." Dr. Macleod's silence is often greater than his speech ; he suggests reflections which he never makes ; and nothing in his book, perhaps, gives rise to more
awkward questioning than his sketch of "the Manse girls." We would commend that sketch to Belgmvian mothers, only they would not understand it. But it becomes every day a more imperative necessity that we should discover why the hugs social machinery we set in motion for the training of English girls is to
so large an extent a failure. Men pay yearly, not without a shrug, sums ten times larger than the Highland minister's entire income, that their daughters may be made proficient in many an " accom- plishment "for which they have no natural taste, and find too often as a result that they have, as Dr. Macleod aptly puts it, been "tying to a tree a number of branches without life, instead of developing the tree itself." But Philistinism has voted that the branches shall be tied on ; they can be made to look life-like and attractive for a year or two, to last a London season, perhaps two or three; and if
they fade afterwards, what then? Why,.nothing, except, perhaps, the tree itself has received a warp which it does not recover. There is something rotten at the very core of the system for which we sacrifice so much. Dr. Macleod has touched the sore place• with no unskilful hand ; better still, to all who have ears to hear, he suggests the remedy. The boys of the manse are not less happily described than the girls, but perhaps, after all, we are never more thoroughly at hotne than with the dogs. The two
terriers, Gaisgeach or Hero, and Cuileag or Fly, we feel on friendly terms with directly. Their intense individuality, Gais- geach a large terrier with wiry and black hair, Cuileag so small she might be carried in the pocket of a shooting jacket; Gaisgeach not presuming to enter the parlour, Cuileag accustomed to repose
in state on the hearth-rug; Gaisgeach the "prudent, honest police- sergeant," watching the house by night and day, evidently always ready to bark, "Cuileag full of reticence, who seemed to_think of nothing and do nothing, till seriously wanted ; " these creatures live before us, and one anecdote of Cuileag we must transcribe :— "There is another story about Cuileag which is worth recording. The minister, accompanied by her, went to visit a friend, who lived sixty miles off in a direct line from the manse. To reach the place he had to cross several wild hills, and five arms of the sea or fresh-water lochs stretching for miles. On their arrival the dog took her place, according to custom, on the friend's hearthrug, from which, however, she was ignominiously driven by a servant, and sent to the kitchen. She disappeared, and left no trace of her whereabouts. One evening, about a fortnight afterwards, little Cuileag entered the manse parlour, worn down to a skeleton, her paws cut and swollen, and hardly able to crawl to her master, or to express her joy at meeting all her dear old friends once more. Strange to say, she was accompanied into the room by Gaisgeach, who, after frolicking about, seemed to apologize for the liberty he took, and bolted out to bark over the glebe, and tell the other doge which had gathered round what had happened. How did Ouileag
discover the way home, since she had never visited that part of the country before? How did she go round the right ends of the lochs, which had been all crossed by boat on their onward journey, and then recover her track, travelling twice or thrice sixty miles? How did she live ? These were questions which no one could answer, seeing Cuileag was silent. She never, however, recovered that two weeks' wilderness journey. Her speed was ever after less swift, and her grip less firm."
Like most works written originally as occasional papers, the book is sketchy, and the chapters very slightly linked, with the care- lessness that was more mindful of the facts to be told than of an
artistic skill in the telling. We fancy this scarcely a defect, but rather the result of the highest art, which conceals art ; for it is usual with Dr. Macleod to make valuable statements as if unaware of their force, to utter them in writing or in speaking in the quiet, half-insouciant tone which hardly penetrates the ear of the mind till after a moment's pause, and then enters with double clearness in the succeeding silence. His notes on the Highland peasantry, though one-sided doubtless, are full of incidental hint and suggestion. He remarks the free-spoken loyalty of the Scottish peasant to his chief, no matter how poor ; and it is perhaps one of the highest characteristics of the Northern peasantry that they recog- nize instinctively gentle breeding, however steeped in poverty, and do not respect Philistinism, however disguised by wealth. This is perhaps also true of the poor everywhere, did we penetrate a little
more below the surface of things, but amongst ourselves the fear born of servility, and which cannot co-exist with reverence, produces
an artificial speech and manner of which the free-born Highlander would be ashamed. Here, at least, the Poor Law has done nothing bat harm. This one Highland parish alone, "which once had a population of 2,200 souls, and received only eleven pounds per annum from public (church) funds for the support of the poor, expends now under the Poor Law upwards of 600/. annually, with a population diminished by one-half." Other causes have of course combined. The tacksmen, who each supported with a help- ing hand their own poor, are now swept away to make room for the large sheep farmers ; and the unemployed remnant have found but a precarious living by flocking to the sea-shore, in the too often vain hope of becoming fishermen. The story of Mary of Unnimore tells but another variation of the same tale.
There is one chapter in this book which is a translation from the Gaelic of a Highland tale, or more properly allegory, the story of Oovan the son of Gorla. It would be impossible in a few lines to do adequate justice to the beauty of this little fable ; we can 'only hope that if Dr. Macleod has more like it in his possession, he will at no distant day be induced to publish them, though it will not be concerning this chapter alone that many will be inclined to say, "cloth he not speak parables ?"