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McIan's Highlanders At Home
Introduction


DOCTOR JOHNSON undertook a journey to the Highlands of Scotland and the Hebride Isles, in 1773, curious to see a people whose military habits, simple and vigorous rules of government, and primitive manners, had, after their last daring attempt, in 1745, to restore the exiled line of Scottish kings, brought them so prominently under public notice.

Remarking that mountainous countries contain the original and oldest race of men, who from the nature of their territories, and their warlike habits, are not easily conquered, he observes, that "to the southern inhabitants of Scotland the state of the mountains and the islands is equally unknown with that of Borneo or Sumatra; of both they have only heard a little, and guess the rest. They are strangers to the language and the manners, to the advantages and the wants of the people, whose life they would model, and whose evils they would remedy." "Never perhaps," he elsewhere adds, "was any change of national manners so quick, so great, and so general, as that which has operated in the Highlands by the last conquest and the subsequent laws." True as this may be, much still remains of that system of antiquated life, characteristic of those who have not advanced beyond the primitive state in which mankind in alpine situations is long retained, by the difficulty of access to their secluded homes. Toilsome as travelling in the rugged and sequestered regions of Caledonia was at that time, especially to such a man as Johnson, he stoutly encountered the obstacles of the way: now, the Highlands can be traversed in most parts by the best of roads, and its coasts explored by means of numerous steamboats.

Considerable attention was drawn to this part of the kingdom by the amusing journey of the Doctor, and the works of subsequent writers; but the volumes of Sir Walter Scott have done more to attract tourists to the scenes he has depicted than was perhaps ever accomplished by any writer. Not only have natives crowded to these romantic scenes and hospitable tribes, but foreigners of highest distinction have been attracted to this portion of the northern world. Her Gracious Majesty and Illustrious Consort unbend the bow of Royal etiquette amid the quietness of a mountain retreat, breaking the monotony of seclusion by the healthful and exhilarating pursuits peculiar to a Highland life, deriving entertainment from the athletic and convivial performances of their loyal Gaelic subjects. The stream of visitors flows annually to the north, and the Highlands are better known in part to many than their native countries; but this knowledge does not often extend beyond the mere exterior aspects of the land and its inhabitants. Guide books, pictorial illustrations, and historical productions, have appeared in imposing abundance for the gratification of the inquirer; but the social state of the Celtic population of Britain is still comparatively but little known. In order to become acquainted with the peculiarity of their manners and customs, a lengthened and familiar intercourse with the people is requisite. The rapidity of steam conveyance permits but a slight knowledge of a country or its inhabitants; and even by the sportsman, who sojourns among the mountains during the shooting season, much is to be learned that does not meet his transient view.

Most of the European nations are now so highly civilized and refined, that it is quite refreshing to meet with those who are yet simple and unsophisticated. The Gael have preserved a peculiar language, a singular garb, and a mode of life alike to the nomadic, pastoral state of the most ancient people; and rapid as the march of innovation has been, they still retain much of their primitive features. If they cannot boast a literary history, they retain an oral record which in antiquity sets other nations distant far. When Mr. Stone and Mr. Hill, neither of them natives, gave to the world several translated portions of that beautiful poetry which MacPherson some years after more industriously collected, arranged, and published, it was not dreamt that the Highlanders were in possession of national poetry the most ancient in Europe, and could glory in the immortal Ossian as their countryman. Is it less matter of pride for them, that when the Christian world had almost been overwhelmed, in the sacred fane of St. Columba the religion of the cross was preserved in purity to re— enlighten the nations of the west?

It is deemed the more useful thus to place on record the games, the sports, the pastimes, the social and domestic employments of the Gaelic tribes, inasmuch as in the progress of improvement and change they may at last be swept away. It will be long, however, ere the manners of this people are assimilated to those of the Saxon race, if they ever can be entirely so, but assuredly the changes produced on others must gradually affect them; and laudably as individuals and associations strive to keep in vigour the ancient spirit of the people by the encouragement of their national language, poetry, music, dress, and amusements, they have gradually declined since the breaking up of the bond of clanship,—the patriarchal rule, that natural safeguard of the pristine manners which so remarkably distinguished the Gaelic population. The legal abolition of this antique system produced, in the course of thirty years, "a rapid, incredible, and total change," in the state of Highland society, rendering all record of their peculiar and decaying manners, an acceptable acquisition to the present and succeeding generations.

In the former publication, entitled "The Clans," this once formidable branch of the Celtic race, was exhibited in its genealogies, military character, social state and importance; the peculiarities of the costume and arms were illustrated with graphic skill; and striking views were presented of their former strength, alliance, and influence.

The GAELIC GATHERINGS display in the following pages the people engaged in their domestic employments,—in their pastoral, agricultural, piscatorial, and hunting occupations; and in their sports and recreations— they indicate otherwise the nature of the country and character of the people.

"The Clans" and "The Gatherings" comprise such a series of historical illustrations of the Highlanders as few other nations can show of themselves or approach in interest, and the pictorial accuracy and effect of the prints, with the research and lucid detail of the letterpress, recommend these works to the use of tourists, native or foreign, render them elegant and desirable productions for the table of the drawing room, and highly valuable as books of authentic reference to the historian and general inquirer.


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