A JOURNEY TO THE WESTERN ISLANDS OF SCOTLAND by Samuel Johnson
In the morning we found ourselves under the Isle of
Col, where we landed; and passed the first day and night with Captain Maclean, a gentleman
who has lived some time in the East Indies; but having dethroned no Nabob, is not too rich
to settle in own country.
Next day the wind was fair, and we
might have had an easy passage to Mull; but having, contrarily to our own intention,
landed upon a new Island, we would not leave it wholly unexamined. We therefore suffered
the vessel to depart without us, and trusted the skies for another wind.
Mr. Maclean of Col, having a very numerous family, has, for some
time past, resided at Aberdeen, that he may superintend their education, and leaves the
young gentleman, our friend, to govern his dominions, with the full power of a Highland
Chief. By the absence of the Laird's family, our entertainment was made more difficult,
because the house was in a great degree disfurnished; but young Col's kindness and
activity supplied all defects, and procured us more than sufficient accommodation.
Here I first mounted a little Highland steed; and if there had been
many spectators, should have been somewhat ashamed of my figure in the march. The horses
of the Islands, as of other barren countries, are very low: they are indeed musculous and
strong, beyond what their size gives reason for expecting; but a bulky man upon one of
their backs makes a very disproportionate appearance.
From the habitation of Captain Maclean, we went to Grissipol, but
called by the way on Mr. Hector Maclean, the Minister of Col, whom we found in a hut, that
is, a house of only one floor, but with windows and chimney, and not inelegantly
furnished. Mr. Maclean has the reputation of great learning: he is seventy-seven years
old, but not infirm, with a look of venerable dignity, excelling what I remember in any
His conversation was not unsuitable to his appearance. I lost some
of his good-will, by treating a heretical writer with more regard than, in his opinion, a
heretick could deserve. I honoured his orthodoxy, and did not much censure his asperity. A
man who has settled his opinions, does not love to have the tranquillity of his conviction
disturbed; and at seventy-seven it is time to be in earnest.
Mention was made of the Earse translation of the New Testament,
which has been lately published, and of which the learned Mr. Macqueen of Sky spoke with
commendation; but Mr. Maclean said he did not use it, because he could make the text more
intelligible to his auditors by an extemporary version. From this I inferred, that the
language of the translation was not the language of the Isle of Col.
He has no publick edifice for the exercise of his ministry; and can
officiate to no greater number, than a room can contain; and the room of a hut is not very
large. This is all the opportunity of worship that is now granted to the inhabitants of
the Island, some of whom must travel thither perhaps ten miles. Two chapels were erected
by their ancestors, of which I saw the skeletons, which now stand faithful witnesses of
the triumph of the Reformation.
The want of churches is not the only impediment to piety: there is
likewise a want of Ministers. A parish often contains more Islands than one; and each
Island can have the Minister only in its own turn. At Raasa they had, I think, a right to
service only every third Sunday. All the provision made by the present ecclesiastical
constitution, for the inhabitants of about a hundred square miles, is a prayer and sermon
in a little room, once in three weeks: and even this parsimonious distribution is at the
mercy of the weather; and in those Islands where the Minister does not reside, it is
impossible to tell how many weeks or months may pass without any publick exercise of