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Col is computed to be thirteen miles in length, and three in breadth. Both the ends are the property of the duke of Argyle, but the middle belongs to Maclean, who is called Col, as the only laird.
Col is not properly rocky; it is rather one continued rock, of a surface much diversified with protuberances, and covered with a thin layer of earth, which is often broken, and discovers the stone. Such a soil is not for plants that strike deep roots; and perhaps in the whole island nothing has ever yet grown to the height of a table. The uncultivated parts are clothed with heath, among which industry has interspersed spots of grass and corn; but no attempt has been made to raise a tree. Young Col, who has å very laudable desire of improving his patrimony, purposes some time to plant an orchard; which, if it be sheltered by a wall, may perhaps succeed. He has introduced the culture of turnips, of which he has a field, where the whole work was performed by his own hand. His intention is to provide food for his cattle in the winter. This innovation was considered by Mr. Macsweyn as the idle project of a young head, heated with English fancies; but he has now found that turnips will really grow, and that hungry sheep and cows will really eat them.
By such acquisitions as these, the Hebrides may in time rise above their annual distress. Wherever heath will grow, there is reason to think something better may
draw nourishment; and by trying the production of other places, plants will be found suitable to every soil.
Col has many lochs, some of which have trouts and eels, and others have never yet been stocked ; another proof of the negligence of the islanders, who might take fish in the inland waters when they cannot go to sea.
Their quadrupeds are horses, cows, sheep, and goats. They have neither deer, hares, nor rabbits. They have no vermin except rats, which have been lately brought thither by sea, as to other places; and are free from serpents, frogs, and toads.
The harvest in Col, and in Lewis, is ripe sooner than in Sky, and the winter in Col is never cold, but very tempestuous. I know not that I ever heard the wind so loud in any other place; and Mr. Boswell observed that its noise was all its own, for there were no trees to increase it.
- Noise is not the worst effect of the tempests; for they have thrown the sand from the shore over a considerable part of the land, and it is said still to encroach and destroy more and more pasture; but I am not of opinion, that by any surveys or land-marks, its limits have been ever fixed, or its progression ascertained. If one man has confidence enough to say, that it advances, nobody can bring any proof to support him in denying it. The reason why it is not spread to a greater extent, seems to be, that the wind and rain come almost together, and that it is made close and heavy by the wet before the storms can put it in motion. So thick is the bed, and so small the particles, that if a traveller should be caught by a sudden gust in dry weather, he would find it very difficult to escape with life.
For natural curiosities I was shewn only two great masses of stone, which lie loose upon the ground; one on the top of a hill, and the other at a small distance from the bottom. They certainly were never put into their present places by human strength or skill; and though an earthquake might have broken off the lower stone, and rolled it into the valley, no account can be given of the other, which lies on the hill, unless, which I forgot to examine, there be still near it some higher rock, from which it might be torn. All nations have a tradition, that their earliest ancestors were giants, and these stones are said to have been thrown up and down by a giant and his mistress. There are so many more important things of which human knowledge can give no account, that it may be forgiven us, if we speculate no longer on two stones in Col.
This island is very populous. About nine-and-twenty years ago, the fencible men of Col were reckoned one hundred and forty ; which is the sixth of eight hundred and forty; and probably some contrived to be left out of the list. The minister told us, that a few years ago the inhabitants were eight hundred, between the ages of seven and of seventy. Round numbers are seldom exact. But in this case the authority is good, and the errour likely to be little. If to the eight hundred be added what the laws of computation require, they will be increased to at least a thousand; and if the dimensions of the country have been accurately related, every mile maintains more than twentyfive.
This proportion of habitation is greater than the appearance of the country seems to admit; for wherever the eye wanders, it sees much waste and little cultivation. I am more inclined to extend the land, of which no measure has ever been taken, than to diminish the people, who have been really numbered. Let it be supposed, that a computed mile contains a mile and a half, as was commonly found true in the mensuration of the English roads, and we shall then allot nearly twelve to a mile, which agrees much better with ocular observation.
Here, as in Sky, and other islands, are the laird, the tacksmen, and the under-tenants.
Mr. Maclean, the laird, has very extensive possessions, being proprietor, not only of far the greater part of Col, but of the extensive island of Rum, and a very considerable territory in Mull.
Rum is one of the larger islands, almost square, and therefore of great capacity in proportion to its sides. By the usual method of estimating computed extent, it may contain more than a hundred and twenty square miles.
It originally belonged to Clanronald, and was purchased by Col; who, in some dispute about the bargain, made Clanronald prisoner, and kept him nine months in confinement. Its owner represents it as mountainous, rugged, and barren. In the hills there are red deer. The horses are very small, but of a breed eminent for beauty.' Col, not long ago, bought one of them from a tenant; who told him that as he was of a shape uncommonly elegant, he could not sell him but at a high price; and that whoever had him should pay a guinea and a half.
There are said to be in Barra a race of horses yet smaller, of which the highest is not above thirty-six inches.
The rent of Rum is not great. Mr. Maclean declared that he should be very rich, if he could set his land at two-pence halfpenny an acre. The inhabitants are fiftyeight families, who continued papists for some time after the laird became a protestant. Their adherence to their old religion was strengthened by the countenance of the laird's sister, a zealous Romsnist, till one Sunday as they were going to mass under the conduct of their patroness, Maclean met them on the way, gave one of them a blow on the head with a yellow stick, I suppose a cane, for which the Erse had no name, and drove them back to the kirk, from which they have never since departed. Since the use of this method of conversion, the inhabitants of Egg and Canna, who continue papists, call the protestantism of Rum, the religion of the Yellow Stick.
The only popish islands are Egg and Canna. Egg is the principal island of a parish, in which, though he has no congregation, the protestant minister resides. I have heard of nothing curious in it, but the cave in which a former generation of the islanders were smothered by Macleod.
If we had travelled with more leisure, it had not been fit to have neglected the popish islands. Popery is favourable to ceremony; and among ignorant nations ceremony is the only preservative of tradition. Since protestantism was extended to the savage parts of Scotland, it has perhaps been one of the chief labours of the ministers to abolish stated observances, because they continued the remembrance of the former religion. We, therefore, who came to hear old traditions, and see antiquated manners, should probably have found them amongst the papists.
Canna, the other popish island, belongs to Clanronald. It is said not to comprise more than twelve miles of land, and yet maintains as many inhabitants as Rum.
We were at Col under the protection of the young laird, without any of the distresses which Mr. Pennant, in a fit of simple credulity, seems to think almost worthy of an elegy by Ossian. Wherever we roved, we were pleased to see the reverence with which his subjects regarded him. He did not endeavour to dazzle them by any magnificence of dress : his only distinction was a feather in his bonnet ; but as soon as he appeared, they forsook their work and clustered about him : he took them by the hand, and they seemed mutually delighted. He has the proper disposition of a chieftain, and seems desirous to continue the customs of his house. The bagpiper played regularly, when dinner was served, whose person and dress made a good appear
and he brought no disgrace upon the family of Rankin, which has long supplied the lairds of Col with hereditary musick.
The tacksmen of Col seem to live with less dignity and convenience than those of Sky; where they had good houses, and tables not only plentiful, but delicate. In Col only two houses pay the window tax; for only two have six windows, which, I suppose, are the laird's and Mr. Macsweyn's.
The rents have, till within seven years, been paid in kind, but the tenants finding that cattle and corn varied in their price, desired for the future to give their landlord money; which, not having yet arrived at the philosophy of commerce, they consider as being every year of the same value.
We were told of a particular mode of undertenure. The tacksman admits some of his inferiour neighbours to the cultivation of his grounds, on condition that, performing all the work, and giving a third part of the seed, they shall keep a certain number of cows, sheep, and goats, and reap'a third part of the harvest. Thus by less than the tillage of two acres they pay the rent of one.
There are tenants below the rank of tacksmen, that have got smaller tenants under them; for in every place, where money is not the general equivalent, there must be some whose labour is immediately paid by daily food.
A country that has no money, is by no means convenient for beggars, both because such countries are commonly