A JOURNEY TO THE WESTERN ISLANDS OF SCOTLAND by Samuel Johnson
While we stood deliberating, we were happily espied
from an Irish ship, that lay at anchor in the strait. The master saw that we wanted a
passage, and with great civility sent us his boat, which quickly conveyed us to Ulva,
where we were very liberally entertained by Mr. Macquarry.
Ulva we came in the dark, and left it before noon the next day. A very exact description
therefore will not be expected. We were told, that it is an Island of no great extent,
rough and barren, inhabited by the Macquarrys; a clan not powerful nor numerous, but of
antiquity, which most other families are content to reverence.
The name is supposed to be a depravation of some other; for the
Earse language does not afford it any etymology. Macquarry is proprietor both of Ulva and
some adjacent Islands, among which is Staffa, so lately raised to renown by Mr. Banks.
When the Islanders were reproached with their ignorance, or
insensibility of the wonders of Staffa, they had not much to reply. They had indeed
considered it little, because they had always seen it; and none but philosophers, nor they
always, are struck with wonder, otherwise than by novelty. How would it surprise an
unenlightened ploughman, to hear a company of sober men, inquiring by what power the hand
tosses a stone, or why the stone, when it is tossed, falls to the ground!
Of the ancestors of Macquarry, who thus lies hid in his unfrequented
Island, I have found memorials in all places where they could be expected.
Inquiring after the reliques of former manners, I found that in
Ulva, and, I think, no where else, is continued the payment of the Mercheta Mulierum; a
fine in old times due to the Laird at the marriage of a virgin. The original of this
claim, as of our tenure of Borough English, is variously delivered. It is pleasant to find
ancient customs in old families. This payment, like others, was, for want of money, made
anciently in the produce of the land.
Macquarry was used to demand a sheep, for which he now takes a
crown, by that inattention to the uncertain proportion between the value and the
denomination of money, which has brought much disorder into Europe. A sheep has always the
same power of supplying human wants, but a crown will bring at one time more, at another
Ulva was not neglected by the piety of ardent times: it has still to
show what was once a church.