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Nether Lochaber
Chapter XXXIII


A non "Laughing" Summer—Rheumatic Pains—Old Gaelic Incantation for Cattle Ailments.

The best thing, perhaps, that can be said of our summer up to this date [July 1872], is that it has, upon the whole, been amiable and summer-like; has, after the manner of a love-lorn maiden, wept much and often smiled, although, until within the last day or two, it has never actually laughed. You loved it, and couldn't help yourself, but your love wanted warmth and fervour, just because of its want of jocundity and joyousness. Even in our climate, summer is not summer by the mere reading of the thermometer, however sensitive and delicate its mercurial indications ; one wants brilliant sunshine, with cloudless, or almost cloudless skies, to make up a summer as a summer proper ought to be. The poets of the East and South always speak of summer and summer scenes as "laughing," while in more northern and less favoured lands your poet is content to describe otherwise exactly similar scenes and situations as simply "smiling," "gentle," "sweet," "quiet," and so forth, so that an acute critic, by attending to this alone, could tell, were other proofs entirely wanting, whether a poet was born under northern skies, or lived and loved, soared and sang, in sunnier and more southern climes. Horace has—

—"rmhi angulus ridet."

His " corner," observe, does not merely smile ; it " laughs " under the bright blue Italian sky. Lucretius has—

—"tibi rident æquora ponti;"

which Creech and Dryden, hards of a colder clime, have rendered "smiles," hut which literally and truly is honest, open, joyous "laughter " in the southern hard. Metaetasio has—

"A te fioriscono
Gli erbosi prati;
E i flutti ridono
Nel mar placati."

"Ridono," observe—laughter again—like his earlier countrymen, Horace and Lucretius. Our British poets rarely venture to make spring or summer do more than smile; they are afraid of the laughter of the south, as being quoad hoc an over-bold hyperbole. "We can only quote at this moment two instances in which the laughter of more favoured lands is boldly introduced. John Langhorne, a poet and miscellaneous writer of the last century, author of the Fables of Flora, very beautifully says—

"Where Tweed's soft banks in liberal beauty lie,
And Flora
 laughs beneath an azure sky."

And Chaucer, the father of English poetry, has the following :—

"The busy larke, messager of daye,
Salueth in hire song the morwe gray;
And fyry Phebus ryseth up so brighte,
That al the orient
 laugheth of the light."—

Very finely modernised by Dryden thus :—

"The morning lark, messenger of day,
Saluted in her song the morning grey;
And soon the sun arose with beams so bright
 
That all the horizon laughed to see the joyous sight."

Our summer, then, thus far, has not been a "laughing," but, at the best, a merely smiling summer. There has been but little actual sunshine, rarely such a thing as a blue, unclouded sky ; but, if we do not err, if the wish be not altogether father to the thought, a splendid autumn, glad and golden—summer and autumn in one, like the companion scenes in a stereoscope, in close and kindly combination—is in store for us. Even as it is, the country is very beautiful, and the rains of the west, if superabundant, are at least perfectly harmless to any one in ordinary health, no matter how often you get drenched through and through, as the saying is, provided always you do not idly saunter or sit down for any length of time in wet clothes; neglect this precaution, however, and you may look out for an attack of rheumatism, and the taste of pains to which the tortures of the rack were but a joke—pains as fiery and intense as those threatened against the foul-mouthed Caliban in the Tempest. You recollect what Prospero says—

"Hag-seed hence!
Fetch us in fuel; and be quick, thou wert best
To answer other business.
Shrug'st thou, malice?
If thou neglect'st, or dost unwillingly
What I command,
 I'll rack thee with old cramps;
Fill all thy bones with aches;
 make thee roar
That beasts shall tremble at thy din!"

Get wet, then, as often and as much as you like, in the "West Highlands, but don't sit down or idle about in wet clothes, is a friend's advice; otherwise, you will soon have a pretty correct idea of the nature of the cramps and aches of which even the brutal Caliban had such a horror that he exclaims :—

''No, 'pray thee!—
I must obey: his art is of such power,
It would control my dam's god, Setebos,
And make a vassal of him."

Supplementary to our last paper on the spells and incantations of the Highlands, the following has been sent to us by our kind correspondent, Mr. Carmichael, of the Inland Revenue, Island of Uist, a gentleman of whom highly honourable mention is made in Mr. Campbell's West Highland Tales, and in some of the notes to the Rev Dr. Clerk's Ossian. Mr. Carmichael is more conversant, perhaps, than anybody else with the antiquities and folk-lore of the Outer Hebrides. The incantation that follows was taken down by Mr. Carmichael from the recitation of " an honest, unsophisticated old Banarach, or dairymaid, in North TJist, who is even yet occasionally consulted about sickly cows " :—

In English—

A Healing Incantation for Diseases in Cattle. 

Christ and His Apostle and John,
These three of most excellent glory,
That ascended to make supplication
Through the gateway of the city,
Fast by the right knee of God's own Son.
As regards evil-eyed women;
As regards blighting-eyed men;
As regards swift-speeding elf-arrows;
Two to strengthen and renovate the joints,
And three to back (these two) as sureties—
The Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost.
To four-and-twenty diseases are the reins of man and beast (subject);
God utterly extirpate, sweep away, and eradicate them
From out thy blood and flesh, thy bones and marrow,
And as Christ uplifted its proper foliage
To the extremities of the branches on each tree-top,
So may He uplift from off and out of thee
Each (evil) eye, each frowning look, malice and envy—
From this day forth to the world's last day. Amen.

"It is not always an easy task," writes our correspondent, "to write from the dictation of partially deaf and toothless old women," and we perfectly agree with him. "Ostail," in the first line of the above spell, we take to be an insular form of Abstol, voc.— Abstoil or Abstail—the Apostle par excellence, namely, Paul. Mr. Carmichael appends the following elucidatory note :—"This ora or spell can be used for either man or beast, and is guaranteed to effect a cure in any case ! In the case of a four-footed animal a worsted thread is tied round the tail, and the bra or incantation repeated. The "snathaile" (snathainn, a thread), as this charm is called, undergoes much mysterious spitting, handling, and incantation by the woman from whom it is got. Therann or spell is muttered over it at the time of "consecration." Usually two threads (da shnathaile) are given, and if the first is not quite successful, the second is sure to be effectual! "


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