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A ruined chapel in Rasay.
ruinous chapel, unroofed, which never has been very curious. We here saw some human bones of an uncommon size. There was a heel-bone, in particular, which Dr. Macleod said was such, that if the foot was in proportion, it must have been twenty-seven inches long. Dr. Johnson would not look at the bones. He started back from them with a striking appearance of horrour'. Mr. M'Queen told us it was formerly much the custom, in these isles, to have human bones lying above ground, especially in the windows of churches. On the south of the chapel is the family buryingplace. Above the door, on the east end of it, is a small bust or image of the Virgin Mary, carved upon a stone which makes part of the wall. There is no church upon the island. It is annexed to one of the parishes of Sky; and the minister comes and preaches either in Rasay's house, or some other house, on certain Sundays. I could not but value the family seat more, for having even the ruins of a chapel close to it. There was something comfortable in the thought of being so near a piece of consecrated ground2. Dr. Johnson said, 'I look with reverence upon every place that has been set apart for religion;' and he kept off his hat while he was within the walls of the chapel'.
1 Lord Stowell told me, that on the road from Newcastle to Berwick, Dr. Johnson and he passed a cottage, at the entrance of which were set up two of those great bones of the whale, which are not unfrequently seen in maritime districts. Johnson expressed great horror at the sight of these bones; and called the people, who could use such relics of mortality as an ornament, mere savages. CROKER.
2 In like manner Boswell wrote: It is divinely cheering to me to think that there is a Cathedral so near Auchinleck [as Carlisle ].' Ante, iii. 472.
It is not only in Rasay that the chapel is unroofed and useless through the few islands which we visited we neither saw nor heard of any house of prayer, except in Sky, that was not in ruins. The malignant influence of Calvinism has blasted ceremony and decency together... It has been for many years popular to talk of the lazy devotion of the Romish clergy; over the sleepy laziness of men that erected churches we may indulge our superiority with a new triumph, by comparing it with the fervid activity of those who suffer them to V.-13 The
The eight crosses, which Martin mentions as pyramids for deceased ladies, stood in a semicircular line, which contained within it the chapel. They marked out the boundaries of the sacred territory within which an asylum was to be had. One of them, which we observed upon our landing, made the first point of the semicircle. There are few of them now remaining. A good way farther north, there is a row of buildings about four feet high; they run from the shore on the east along the top of a pretty high eminence, and so down to the shore on the west, in much the same direction with the crosses. Rasay took them to be the marks for the asylum; but Malcolm thought them to be false sentinels, a common deception, of which instances occur in Martin, to make invaders imagine an island better guarded. Mr. Donald M'Queen, justly in my opinion, supposed the crosses which form the inner circle to be the church's landmarks.
The south end of the island is much covered with large stones or rocky strata. The laird has enclosed and planted part of it with firs, and he shewed me a considerable space marked out for additional plantations.
Dun Can is a mountain three computed miles from the laird's house. The ascent to it is by consecutive risings, if that expression may be used when vallies intervene, so that there is but a short rise at once; but it is certainly very high above the sea. The palm of altitude is disputed for by the people of Rasay and those of Sky; the former contending for Dun Can, the latter for the mountains in Sky, over against it. We went up the east side of Dun Can pretty easily. It is mostly rocks all around, the points of which hem the summit of it. Sailors, to whom it was a good object as they pass along, call it Rasay's cap. Before we reached this mountain, we passed by two lakes. Of the first, Malcolm told me a strange fabulous tradition. He
fall.' Johnson's Works, ix. 61. He wrote to Mrs. Thrale:- By the active zeal of Protestant devotion almost all the chapels have sunk into ruin.' Piozzi Letters, i. 152.
A strange fabulous tradition.
said, there was a wild beast in it, a sea horse, which came and devoured a man's daughter, upon which the man lighted a great fire, and had a sow roasted at it, the smell of which attracted the monster. In the fire was put a spit. The man lay concealed behind a low wall of loose stones, and he had an avenue formed for the monster, with two rows of large flat stones, which extended from the fire over the summit of the hill, till it reached the side of the loch. The monster came, and the man with the red-hot spit destroyed it. Malcolm shewed me the little hiding-place, and the rows of stones. He did not laugh when he told this story. I recollect having seen in the Scots Magazine, several years ago, a poem upon a similar tale, perhaps the same, translated from the Erse, or Irish, called Albin and the Daughter of Mey.
There is a large tract of land, possessed as a common, in Rasay. They have no regulations as to the number of cattle. Every man puts upon it as many as he chooses. From Dun Can northward, till you reach the other end of the island, there is much good natural pasture unincumbered by stones. We passed over a spot, which is appropriated for the exercising ground. In 1745, a hundred fighting men were reviewed here, as Malcolm told me, who was one of the officers that led them to the field'. They returned home all but about fourteen. What a princely thing is it to be able to furnish such a band! Rasay has the true spirit of a chief. He is, without exaggeration, a father to his people.
There is plenty of lime-stone in the island, a great quarry of free-stone, and some natural woods, but none of any age, as they cut the trees for common country uses. The lakes, of which there are many, are well stocked with trout. Malcolm catched one of four-and-twenty pounds weight in the loch next to Dun Can, which, by the way, is certainly a Danish name, as most names of places in these islands are.
1 'Not many years ago,' writes Johnson, 'the late Laird led out one hundred men upon a military expedition.' Works, ix. 59. What the expedition was he is careful not to state.
Rasay's new-built mansion.
The old castle, in which the family of Rasay formerly resided, is situated upon a rock very near the sea. The rock is not one mass of stone, but a concretion of pebbles and earth, so firm that it does not appear to have mouldered. In this remnant of antiquity I found nothing worthy of being noticed, except a certain accommodation rarely to be found at the modern houses of Scotland, and which Dr. Johnson and I sought for in vain at the Laird of Rasay's new built mansion, where nothing else was wanting. I took the liberty to tell the Laird it was a shame there should be such a deficiency in civilized times. He acknowledged the justice of the remark. But perhaps some generations may pass before the want is supplied. Dr. Johnson observed to me, how quietly people will endure an evil, which they might at any time very easily remedy; and mentioned as an instance, that the present family of Rasay had possessed the island for more than four hundred years, and never made a commodious landing place, though a few men with pickaxes might have cut an ascent of stairs out of any part of the rock in a week's time.'
The north end of Rasay is as rocky as the south end. From it I saw the little isle of Fladda, belonging to Rasay, all fine green ground;-and Rona, which is of so rocky a soil that it appears to be a pavement. I was told however that it has a great deal of grass in the interstices. The Laird has it all in his own hands. At this end of the island of Rasay is a cave in a striking situation. It is in a recess of a great cleft, a good way up from the sea. Before it the ocean roars, being dashed against monstrous broken rocks; grand and awful propugnacula. On the right hand of it is a longitudinal cave, very low at the entrance, but higher as you advance. The sea having scooped it out, it seems
1 'I considered this rugged ascent as the consequence of a form of life inured to hardships, and therefore not studious of nice accommodations. But I know not whether for many ages it was not considered as a part of military policy to keep the country not easily accessible. The rocks are natural fortifications.' Johnson's Works, ix. p. 54.
Animals and climate of Rasay.
strange and unaccountable that the interior part, where the water must have operated with less force, should be loftier than that which is more immediately exposed to its violence. The roof of it is all covered with a kind of petrifications formed by drops, which perpetually distil from it. The first cave has been a place of much safety. I find a great difficulty in describing visible objects'. I must own too that the old castle and cave, like many other things of which one hears much, did not answer my expectations. People are every where apt to magnify the curiosities of their country. This island has abundance of black cattle, sheep, and goats; a good many horses, which are used for ploughing, carrying out dung, and other works of husbandry. I believe the people never ride. There are indeed no roads through the island, unless a few detached beaten tracks deserve that name. Most of the houses are upon the shore; so that all the people have little boats and catch fish. There is great plenty of potatoes here. There are blackcock in extraordinary abundance, moor-fowl, plover and wild pigeons, which seemed to me to be the same as we have in pigeon-houses, in their state of nature. Rasay has no pigeon-house. There are no hares nor rabbits in the island, nor was there ever known to be a fox', till last year, when one was landed on it by some malicious person, without whose aid he could not have got thither, as that animal is known to be a very bad swimmer. He has done much mischief. There is a great deal of fish caught in the sea round Rasay; it is a place where one may live in plenty, and even in luxury. There are no deer; but Rasay told us he would get some.
They reckon it rains nine months in the year in this island,
1 See post, Sept. 17.
2 In Sky a price was set upon the heads of foxes, which, as the number was diminished, has been gradually raised from three shillings and sixpence to a guinea, a sum so great in this part of the world, that, in a short time, Sky may be as free from foxes as England from wolves. The fund for these rewards is a tax of sixpence in the pound, imposed by the farmers on themselves, and said to be paid with great willingness.' Johnson's Works, ix. 57.