FROM THE HEBRIDES TO THE HIMALAYAS.*
Arran six months of roaming on the west coast of Scotland, Miss Gordon-Cumming spent upwards of a year in travelling about India, and she has combined her recollections of the whole period of her wanderings in the imposing work which is before us. An interesting book needs no apology, but it is not her only excuse for putting together in one work her impressions of regions so far apart as the Hebrides and the Himalayas, that she visited the one immediately after visiting the other. A diligent student of old faiths, old customs, fairy-tales, and folk-lore, the same interest predominated with her in the East and in the West, and the motive of her book has been to trace the resemblances between the decaying superstitions of the one and the living beliefs and existing customs of the other. There are those to whom this account of the work may not appear attractive, but it is by no means lacking in the features of interest usually found in books of travel ; while in what may be called the archwological parts will be found a mass of curious information, gathered from even a wider range than the title indicates, and so presented as to be highly entertaining. There is nothing of Dry-as-dust about Miss Gordon-Cumming's writing—it is clear, lively, and graceful ; and it is but fair to her to add that she has been discreet in selecting points for description from a route the greater part of which was well beaten, and discreet, too, in dealing with the old-world matters which seem to turn the heads of most of those who meddle with them. In her archaeo- logical excursions, indeed, modesty has kept her clear of the worst cause of indiscretion and error ; she has been content not to theorise on her own account, taking the safer course— which is a sufficiently unsafe one—of following on each subject she deals with the lead of the most popular authorities. She may, perhaps, be open to the charge of having had nothing abso- lutely new to say either of West or East; but knowledge must some- how be popularised, and there would almost be an end of the making of books, if nothing were to be written about which has been written about already. No doubt, a careful study of the superstitions and traditional usages of the Hebrides, in which many traces of the old world are still lingering,—e.g., traces of marriage by pur- chase, and kinship through milk,—would yield something much more valuable than the present work. But a study of that sort requires the devotion of years and special qualifications which few persons possess, and it must be admitted that if it is among the moat absorbing, it is among the most thankless of undertakings. What Miss Gordon-Cumming has done was, we think, worth doing, and on the whole she has done it very well.
It is in her first volume, nominally devoted to the Hebrides, that arcbmolog,y is in the ascendant. She has cleverly depicted, both with pen and pencil, the more interesting of the Hebridean scenes she visited. She has culled judiciously from the stores of legend accumulated in those distant islands. Such history as they have had has not been overlooked by her, and in particular, she has given an excellent account of all that is known about Iona. But it is with the superstitions of the people, and the traces which re- main of the religious faiths, modes of living, and burial customs of their predecessors, that she mostly occupies herself—and through these it was not difficult to connect the Hebrides, not merely with India, but with nearly every portion of the globe. Serpent- worship, suggested by the so-called serpent-mound at Oban, stone- worship and dove-worship, suggested by Iona, Druidism and sun-worship, which she assumes to be the same, and of which, besides existing monuments, numerous relics are found in the lan- guage and customs of the Highlanders, are among the topics which she discusses at some length, while those which are slightly touched upon are too numerous for us even to mention. In general, her subjects are naturally brought in, and she has been fairly successful in giving to her disquisitions something of the appearance of gossip prompted by her surroundings. In her second volume, she has given more room to the incidents and impressions of travel, and of these she has produced a very lively record. Considering that a disposition to impart knowledge is her foible—a large tree, for example, setting her off into an account of all the enormous trees that have anywhere been mentioned—she has not been very diffuse upon Indian religion ; perhaps because the spectacular side of it to some extent diverted her from its history and dogmas. On the
- • From the Hebrides to the Himalayas. By Constance F. Gordon-Cumming. 2 trots. London: Sampson Low and Co.
other hand, the beliefs and customs of the Himalayan tribes start her afresh on her favourite speculations, and in one or two instances tempt her into very extensive surveys.
She found kelpies, fairies, mermen, and mermaidens, to say nothing of wise men and witches, still to some extent believed in by the Hebrideans. Neithe, the goddess of waters, does not seem to be at all believed in, but she nevertheless receives through- out the Highlands a certain amount of traditional commemora- tion. Though the sacred wells have lost their prestige, the bushes near them are still on certain days, out of regard to ancient custom, loaded with bits of cloth, the votive offerings that used to be made by worshippers to this divinity. The hen, the goose, and the hare were forbidden animals to the Celts, and in the High- lands the prejudice against eating the hare is not yet altogether extinct. In the Western Isles, the Evil-eye is as much dreaded as it is in the South of Europe ; and, indeed, throughout the north of Scotland, many a housewife, busy at her churn or other house- hold work, will " bustle away her goods at the approach of a dubious stranger," because she knows that there are people whose presence will prevent the butter from " coming" or the bread from baking. When mischief has been done, when the cows, for ex- ample, have had their milk taken from them, a witch is consulted as a matter of course, and the people have ready answers for those who dissuade them from calling in such assistance. " One woman will tell you how, when she had no family, she consulted the old cailliach, and soon afterwards became the joyful mother of children. Another will tell how her milk went from her, and the witch brought it back. She can bring luck, too, to the herring- boats, so that it would be rash economy to save her puckle of meal." So lately as 1871 a man brought an action in the Sheriff Court of Stornoway against a neighbour for accusing him of having by witchcraft stolen the milk from his cows. When a woman has store of milk beyond her neighbours, " Oh, she must have been drawing the tether!" they say ; "meaning that early on Beltane morn (May-day) she had gone forth secretly, dragging her cow's tether through the dewy grass, and muttering incanta- tions to secure good milk." It is still widely believed through- out the Highlands that there are old women who, to serve their private ends, can take the form of a hare or of a cat, and in that form can only be shot with silver bullets; and that a way to destroy the glamour of a witch is to " score " her, drawing blood, "above the breath." The last-mentioned belief led, only the other day, to a trial for murder in England ; and it must be confessed that, up to this point, there is nothing very peculiar in the Hebridean or Highland superstitions of which Miss Gordon-Cumming writes. Some of the remains of sun-worship which she, notices have more of a local character. Here are one or two of her facts taken at random. " Going to church" in Gaelic is still "going to the stones," a description that carries us back to the days of the Druids ; and a man in dire extremity is said to be " be- tween two fires of Baal," in allusion to the fate of certain criminals in the days of Druidic government. The use of the fire-churn or need-fire—an apparatus for getting fire by friction—as a charm against cattle-plague, is said to have been common so late as 1830 ; and the custom of passing children and cattle through the fire has not been long extinct. At the great sun festivals—Beltane, Mid- summer, Halloween, and the New Year, especially at the New Year—there is still, in some parts of the Highlands, " a dread of ill-luck in allowing a neighbour to take a 'kindling' off the hearth, or even a light for a pipe," which our author seems disposed to refer back to Druidic times ; but giving a " kindling" from the hearth seems to have been at all times regarded as a thing not to be done indiscriminately. The deisul, a round made in the direction of the sun's course for luck, was anciently in use everywhere in the Hebrides, and it is still kept up in Barra. It is practised in other places by way of charm. " When the cattle are sick, any wise woman' consulted invariably begins her prescription by an order for three turns round the cow-byre, with other ceremonies ;" and, quite recently, this was " earnestly recommended by the cow-herd to a gentleman in Ross-shire whose cows were ailing." The use of east and west in Highland speech is also ascribed by Miss Gordon-Cumming to the days of sun-worship, and at any rate it is curious. "If you ask a man into your house, you bid him come west, quite irrespective of the points of the compass. To bid him come east, however true geographically, would be gross insult, involving ill-luck. Once within the house, the host gives his guest a dram, and bids him put it west his throat,' im-
plying good-will to him in the swallowing of it. A lad courting a lass is said to be' putting it west upon her." And the old ver- sion of the Creed in Gaelic tells how our Lord went east into the place of the dead, and went west into heaven. The significance of the words is of course purely conventional now, just as is our own practice of the deisul at the dinner- table in passing the bottle.
In India, many things in the social arrangements of her own country-people impressed Miss Gordon-Cumming as curious, for example, the freedom permitted between unmarried ladies and gentlemen, and the rule which requires a new-comer to make the first call ; and some as being curiously ill-arranged, especially the hours for sailing, which are the hottest of the day. She found their out-of-door amusements, "the daily drive along the Mall, and the bi-weekly halt around the band-stand," the archery meetings, and, " worst of all, the deadly-dull races," woefully tiresome ; but there were the pedlars, jugglers, snake-charmers, by way of compensation, and besides, everything around was new, and subjects for sketches were innumerable. Sketching in the open air, she always had a crowd about her. Her servant never could disperse it, but could easily arrange it according to his notions of propriety. "He awarded reserved seats in the dress-circle to those whose drapery entitled them to such honour. Those whose whole garment consisted of a string and a coin were ignominiously expelled, but the smallest strip of linen was considered quite re- spectable." The scantiness of attire here indicated, she remarks, does not strike any Englishwoman as being indelicate, " the silky- brown colour of those living bronzes and the total unconsciousness of any lack of raiment " excluding any impression of that sort. After a stay at Meerut, she went to Simla, and on her way, had the good-fortune to be at Umballah while Lord Mayo was holding a Durbar there—the Durbar at which Shere All was received. The dress of the Afghan ruler, plain, and rather dirty, offered a curious contrast to the magnificence of the rajahs who were pre- sent Deeply impressed as he was with many things he saw, Shere All seems to have thought poorly of the looks of Eng- lish ladies. He went to a great ball at Peshawar, at which all the "beauty and fashion " of the place was present, and he is reported to have said that he saw the English, for all their pro- fessions, were just like other people, and kept their pretty women at home. Nearing Simla, our author remarks upon the unlovely aspect of the low spurs of the Himalayas, " vast, shape- less masses of dry, red earth, without a wreath of kindly vapour to add mystery to their ugliness ;" but before long she was in the midst of grand and beautiful scenes. Finding morning-calls in so billy a city as Simla more oppressive even than they had been in the plains, and the out-door life, if anything, more monotonous, she set off on an expedition up the moun- tains, and went higher than ladies usually go, going nearly, though not quite, to the Tibetan frontier. She went far enough to come upon Buddhism, upon which, like other travellers before her, she takes occasion to discourse, and to hear, if not to see, something of polyandry. But it was with the Patharis, who hold in a loose way to Hinduism, that she had most to do, and of them she has some interesting notices. Caste is not very strictly regarded among them ; but the caste of cobblers is looked upon as very degraded, cobblers being almost treated as slaves, compelled to do all manner of work, even to cultivating the land, which of course they are not allowed to own. Cultivation is to a great extent the work of women. The men tend the cattle, and they spin. " Every man you meet is invariably spinning. They work very slowly but incessantly, carrying a bundle of loose short wool in the breasts of their blouses," while a bit of stick serves for a distaff. Though believing in the multitudinous gods of Hinduism, their worship is chiefly paid to "the special god of each village, for whom a dwelling-place is prepared in the temples, a sort of ark wherein the veiled image dwells." "This is fastened to long poles, and taken out for a daily airing. Once a year it is carried in most solemn procession, when all the people of the village assemble and dance before the ark, from the greatest man to the least." After this a dissertation on the place of the ark in worship was inevitable, and we come upon much learning, gathered from Jacob Bryant, and later if not more trustworthy authorities. Something like the deisul of the Hebrides is regularly practised by the Patharis. " The villagers occasionally collect all their flocks into one great herd, and walking at its head, lead it slowly round the village, following the course of the sun. They gradu- ally quicken the pace to a run, and so go thrice or oftener right round the village." The same ceremony is used in case of sickness or accident. Thus, sheep or goats are solemnly led twice or thrice round a sick person, before being sacrificed to the demon which is suspected of having caused his ailment The Patharis seem to get their wives by purchase, and, as is common among backward races, husband and wife may not utter each other's names. When they go to work, the women have a short and easy method of stilling their babies. The mother carries her little one to a stream, and lays it down close to the stream on a green bank. " Then making a hollow reed or bit of bark act as a conduit, she diverts a tiny rill, which drips from a height of six or eight inches on the head of the chota baba, and soothes it into the calmest sleep." But enough of the Patharis. We shall only add that Agra, Delhi, Hardwar, and Benares were among the places which Miss Gordon-Cumming visited, and that she has given some excellent descriptions of the strange scenes which are of the every-day life of those wonderful cities.