WE have seen how the Orcadians are mainly Norse. Landing on Caithness, once a shelf of wild Catti, or on its Sutherland, we find clans like the Gunns, the Keiths, and the Mackays, plainly or possibly of Viking stock, and a swarm of Sinclairs whose chiefs came from the south as confessed Normans. The greatest of the Macaulays, who seems to set little store by his Scottish descent, boasted his clan as sons of Olaf. All along the north-west coasts and in the islands we must note how common are Norse place-names, given by godfathers who often brought gifts of fire and sword to the christening, or again, as in more than one authentic instance within historic records, might be shipwrecked Danes settling down by accident in some no-man’s corner. Who can say what crews from other European lands may not have found or forced the same hospitality? As soldiers rather, Scots went much abroad in early days, and some of them came back again, not always leaving behind women and children of uncouth speech. Cromwell’s men, by the way, did not scunner to look upon Highland daughters of Heth. We catch modern Saxons intruding here, who, after a generation or two, —so experience shows in our own time,—may grow as ardent Gaels as ever chorused “Auld Lang Syne” at Highland gatherings. If one desire some idea of the cross-strains in this miscellany of population, let him read Skene’s Highlanders as corrected by his recent editor, Dr. Macbain, and by the author himself in his more mature Celtic Scotland. It is far from clear how much Pict and how much Scot went to the making of a Gaelic-speaking race, which, the harder one looks at it, the more puzzlingly suggests that hero described by a modern ballad-maker—
In a knot himself he ties,
With his grizzly head appearing in the centre of his thighs,
Till the petrified spectator asks in paralysed alarm,
Where may be the warrior’s body, which is leg and which is arm.
To the hopeless question, Who were the Picts? there are two main schools of answering guesswork one holding them an older stock, displaced or overlain by Gaels; the other taking them as a Celtic people, reinforced from Ireland or elsewhere. As to the Celts, ethnologists have a good deal to say and sing, but by no means in chorus. Shall we trust the Milesian tale of their coming from Spain, bringing their courteous manners and that watchword mañana, honoured in the Hebrides as in Iberian lands – a consideration for Buckle’s handling of Scottish and Spanish characteristics? Did their race flourish in Etruria when the Romans were still kilted in wolf-skins? Are we to look for their ancestors in Greece, as Professor Blackie would have liked to believe? Were they not rather Phoenicians, a race notoriously given to emigration? Did they start farther back in the blessed Mesopotamia, perhaps walking straight out of the Garden of Eden, since the purest Gaelic has been seriously defined as that spoken by Adam”?
I wonder that no more has been made of a kinship between Gaelic and Arab customs—the proud independence of clans living in ancestral feuds chequered by rules of scrupulous hospitality, the division of work among men and women, the raids in which young swashbucklers win their spurs by booty of black cattle and camels; there are several such points likening those Bens to Macs a little mummified by a dry climate, who would soon learn to skip over bogs and to abuse factors instead of pashas. The Wahabi sect of Arabia has some correspondence with Scottish Presbyterianism as kept pure in the Highlands. The Arab burnous could easily be tinted as a plaid ; and in some parts of Arabia, it appears, a kind of philabeg is worn. In the Highlands there is a stunted love for a horse; and the seaside Arab can manage a dhow as well as our West Islanders. The matter of language of course presents some difficulty, but ethnologists are skilled in getting over difficulties.
Egypt and Scythia are other cradles suggested for the Celt, for whom also has been claimed a filial interest in the mysterious traces of the Hittites. Descent from Chaldean or Accadian sages had better be reserved for the Lowland Scots, so prominent as lawgivers or instructors in the modern world. Speculators of past generations always had the lost Ten Tribes to draw upon. Joseph, certainly, is recorded as wearing tartan in his youth, and being carried off to market in Egypt by Macgregors of the period. Higher criticism, on the other hand, has quenched the pretensions of those chiefs who fondly looked back on their ancestors as using a private boat at the flood, that may well have affected this land of Ararats. A Highland tourist of a century ago tells how his host entertained him with a boastful tale of the antiquity and grandeur of the clan Donnachie, known to ignorant Sassenachs as Robertson. The bored guest tried to change the subject with, “I am of the clan Adam, which I believe is the oldest of them all.”—”So are the Hottentots!” quoth the offended chieftain, and went on with his long genealogy.
Turning in quite another direction for an ancestry, might one not make out much in common between those bellicose clans and the Red Indian tribes of America? But when it comes to facts and figures, one is not sure that the Highlanders can boast any clearer title than that of ” Children of the Mist.” And if this seem an unworthy pedigree, let them remember the proud Roman whose fabled ancestor brought little but legends to cement a foundation of Latins, Sabines, and Etruscans, that became built so high by materials from all the ends of the earth.
To travel through Scotland, it has been well said, is to travel through the Waverley Novels. The north end of the kingdom, however, makes an exception, which lay beyond Sir Walter’s ken, but for one swoop he took round the islands. Perhaps because it was frame for none of his stories, this region from Caithness to Kintail is less visited by tourists, though it contains such grand scenes as the Cave of Smoo, Loch Maree, and the worn-down mountains of Torridon. It is a smaller edition of the rest of Scotland, its sea-bound lowlands facing to the east, its highlands to the west, where their jutting promontories and deep fiords seem made to dovetail into the opposite island shores, with which this side was long closely connected in peace and war, bringing about an interfusion of enterprisingly restless neighbours. On the other side, landward, a remarkably sharp division marks the province of the Gael from that of the ex-Goth.
Horace himself would be puzzled to find a lucid order for the history of the North-Western Highlands, so obscurely entangled are its thickets of legend and so dim often its clearings of chronicle. We catch vague glimpses of a struggle between the mainland power of the Earl of Ross and that of the Macdonald Lords of the Isles. More than once these titles became fused, till their rival powers died out, and they were both merged in the crown. The famous battle of Harlaw was not so much a struggle between Highlander and Lowlander as an attempt on the part of the Lord of the Isles to seize the Earldom that had invaded his water-walled domains. When adventurous James V., sailing in person to Stornoway, had been able to over-awe but hardly to master those quarrelsome western Rodericks, Red and Black, the task of training or exterminating them was offered in turn to Huntly, to Argyll, and to the company of Fife gentlemen, who in the Lewis imitated the enterprise and the failure or Elizabeth’s Virginia colonists. Then out of the welter of anarchy arose one dominant name, to play over the northern islands and mountains the same absorbing part as the Campbells in the south.
Who were those Mackenzies of Kintail, that, passing over to Lewis, grew to be better known by the title of Seaforth? Like the Campbells, they were at one time fain to claim descent from a Norman family, that of the Irish Fitzgerald. But this clan has had the fortune to possess an historian on the premises, so to speak, in the person of the late Alexander Mackenzie, one of the most zealous and industrious of Highland antiquaries. He declares the Fitzgerald origin “impossible,” and takes back the “Sons of Kenneth” to one O’Beolan, or Gilleoin, who married the daughter of Rollo, the pirate earl, before Norsemen became Normans. This origin is admittedly nebulous; but when the epoch gets into its teens, Sons and daughters of the line appear as clearly intermarrying with Bruces, Grahams, St. Clairs, and other Lowlanders, some of whom were little better than English barons, the Plantagenet blood of Normandy and the MacAlpine royalty being among their infusions, which also filter down from kings of Norway, France, and the Isle of Man. Through a shadowy ancestral Gillanders, “servant of St. Andrew,” in the far background, the Clan Ross, alias Andrias, is made out a senior branch of the same stock ; and there is a less famed Clan Matheson that would have itself known as the original tree.
Not to give the reader a headache over genealogical tables more involved than the story of the “Ring and the Book,” one may ask him to consider if the youths and maidens of those names were alabaster grandsires all through the centuries when Viking Jaris ruled the islands and swept their raids over half Scotland. Such considerations go to bear out the comparison of Highland purity of race to an old knife well provided, in the course of time, with another handle and more than one new blade. A fitter metaphor would be a faded and partly re-dyed tartan, whose intricate pattern of crossing stripes is hardly distinguishable without spectacles. Unless in metaphors, at long range, I am not disposed to argue with Celtic historians, who, from Dr. Johnson perhaps, have learned his trick of knocking you down with the butt end of a pistol when it misses fire. But surely enough has been said to show how these much-vexed questions of genealogy give footing no firmer than the bogs of Gaeldom and Gaildom.
The Mackenzies first come into note as seated at Kintail, in the south-west corner of Ross. Here the “Five Sisters of Kintail” now look frowningly down on a stranger’s deer forest, once held by Mackenneths on somewhat doubtful terms from the Earls of Ross; and so long as the Lordship of the Isles lasted, they were vassals also of that power. Their stronghold was the castle on Eilean Donan, where Loch Duich and Loch Long separate as inner recesses of Loch Aish, a beautifully winding sheet of blue water, “fringed with golden seaweed,” beneath the shade of grassy cones that shut in one of the fairest Highland scenes. Here they lived at hot feud with Glengarry and other neighbours, exchanging tit for tat of raids and revenges till, in the beginning of the seventeenth century, Kenneth Mackenzie took a rise in the world by shifty arts to win royal favour, as well as by unscrupulous readiness to do without it. When the Fife Undertakers failed to lay out the turbulent Lewis, this chief, presently created Lord Kintail, got a commission of fire and sword to play civilising agent there. The last act of the Macleods’ defence was at the islet of Berrisay, when the Mackenzies forced its garrison to surrender by exposing their wives and children upon a rock overwhelmed by the tide.
Thus set astride on both sides of the Minch, the head of the victorious clan took from the Lewis his higher title Earl of Seaforth, whose ups and downs went mainly with those of the house of Stuart. As loyal Cavaliers, though they began by withstanding Montrose, the Seaforths suffered exile and forfeiture under Cromwell. Again they shared the misfortunes of James II., rewarded by a paper Marquisate. The fifth Earl was at Sheriffmuir, and made an attempt to prolong the struggle in his own country. Four years later the banished chief returned to Lewis to lead the rising of 1719, that, quickly stamped out, is not known to every schoolboy, though a little prudence or luck might have made it as formidable as that of i5, and more famous, had not a cannon ball cut short Charles XII. of Sweden’s design to join the enterprise.
With three hundred Spanish soldiers, the vanguard of an Armada some thousands strong driven back to Spain by the winds that have more than once favoured our Protestant throne, and with a few hundreds of his own clan, Seaforth invaded the mainland by way of Glenshiel. He was joined by some other Highlanders, including a party of Macgregors under Rob Roy, while loyal clans like the Rosses and Munros rallied to support a force of English and Dutch soldiers which marched against the rebels from Inverness. The encounter was a drawn match; Scott seems to go too far in saying that the Jacobites had the best of it ; but Seaforth being seriously wounded, and some of his followers not very keen in the cause, the rebels dispersed at nightfall, the Spanish soldiers surrendering next day. It was on this occasion that a wounded Munro officer on the Whig side was saved by the devotion of his servant, as mentioned by Burt, the poor fellow shielding his master’s body with his own and receiving several balls before they were both rescued by a sergeant, who had sworn on his dirk to rescue the chieftain at all risks. Another trait of Highland manners appears in one body of clansmen having been lent to Seaforth by an obliging neighbour, but for a single day only. With such auxiliaries even victory could be of little profit.
Seaforth, again driven into exile, was pardoned and allowed to end his days in Scotland. His son had the gratitude to hold aloof from Prince Charlie in 1745, and though some of the Mackenzies took part in the rising, the mass of the clan was kept quiet by Lord President Forbes of Culloden, who perhaps did more than any other man to check the movement that had its checkmate at his home. The next chief, who received an Irish peerage, presently advanced to the former title of Earl of Seaford, showed his loyalty by raising and commanding a famous regiment. With him the original line died out but a collateral heir was created Lord Seaford, and after being half-ruined by keeping company with the Prince Regent, died without male issue in 1815. The chiefship of this clan, as of others, fell into a chaos of dispute, as to which the reader must be referred to its history above mentioned. “Who will, may hear Sordeflo’s story told.” That authority pronounces for the stock of Allangrange; but the most prosperous branch is now grafted into the ducal house of Sutherland, which has succeeded Seaforth as chief title in the Northern Highlands.
A terrible story this is, in its early chapters, of bloodshed, rapine, and treachery, luridly illustrating those good old times of the poets. Of the many Mackenzies who have made their mark on modern history, two Sir Georges earned an uncanny renown as persecutors of the Covenanters, one of them better famed as founder of the Advocates’ Library. To their date belongs the “Doom of Kintail,” not less famous in the Highlands than the “Curse of Cowdray” in Sussex. The Seer of Brahan, who left other predictions said to have come true, was burned as a sorcerer by Lady Seaforth, under Charles II., and while being led to the stake he is recorded to have pronounced this “Doom”
I see a Chief, the last of his House, both deaf and dumb. He will be the father of four fair sons, all of whom he shall follow to the tomb. He shall live careworn, and die mourning, knowing that the honours of his House are to be extinguished for ever, and that no future Chief of the Mackenzies shall rule in Kintail. After lamenting over the last and most promising of his sons, he himself shall sink into the grave, and the remnant of his possessions shall be inherited by a white-coiled lassie from the East, and she shall kill her sister. As a sign by which it shall be known that these things are coming to pass, there shall be four great lairds in the days of the last Seaforth (Gairloch, Chisholm, Grant, and Raasay), one of whom shall be buck-toothed, the second hare-lipped, the third halfwitted, and the fourth a stammerer. Seaforth, when he looks round and sees them, may know that his sons are doomed to death, and that his broad lands shall pass away to the stranger, and that his line shall come to an end.
The Psychical Society might examine this most circumstantial and well-vouched case of the second sight. Mr. A. Mackenzie asserts that the Doom had been handed down for generations; and he quotes several witnesses, one of them Lord Lieutenant of the county, another Sir Walter Scott, as testifying to knowledge of its provisions before they came to pass in due time. The last Lord Seaford was partly deaf, and so taciturn as to pass for dumb. He had reason not to be light of speech. Four neighbouring lairds showed the infirmities mentioned by the seer. His four sons died one by one before their broken-hearted father. He was succeeded by his eldest daughter, widow of Admiral Hood, our naval commander in the East, who might be taken for “white-coifed” in her widow’s weeds. In a sense she did kill her sister, through a carriage accident when the heiress was driving. Thus were almost literally fulfilled the predictions that had so long hung over this family.
The “stranger” that became second husband to the daughter of Seaforth and took her name, was a Galloway Stewart, whose ancestor came into Scotland as a stranger indeed, a Norman adventurer, destined by fortunes of love and war to breed more kings than those weird sisters of Forres foresaw. As we go south from the Mackenzie country, we get among Frasers, Gordons, Cummings, Murrays, Grahams and other clans of Southron, Saxon, or Norman race, that pressed northwards to cut out homes for themselves in the mountains, and soon fell under the charm of misty religion, Gaelic, tartans, bare legs, bards, bagpipes and all, even as the same sentiment may be mastering the intruders from Chicago, or Cape! Court, who to-day conquer the Highlands at the edge of the dollar.
One of the most truly ancient clans is perhaps the “wild Macraes,” long ill famed for their robber prowess and for deft archery that could not stand against the Saxon long-bows. They seem, in some unexplained way, to have been hereditary allies or dependants of the greater Mackenzie name ; and it may be that they represent a prehistoric stock enslaved as Gibeonites by Celtic conquerors ; but they declare themselves to have served the Mackenzies in no less honourable rank than that of bodyguard, and one story goes so far as to make the original Gilleoin the son of an ancestral Macrath. Another account is that they were kinsfolk adopted by the Mackenzie chiefs in a scarcity of heirs. About a century ago, almost all the inhabitants of Kintail, the cradle of the Mackenzie power, bore the name of Macrae, which had ousted that of Macaulay and others once mixed with the dominant clan. When the Earl of Seaforth raised his famous regiment, so many of the men belonged to that subordinate sept, that it was spoken of as the “Macrae regiment”; and its mutiny at Leith in 1778 was known as the “Macrae affair.” These new soldiers had refused to leave the country till certain grievances were redressed. With pipes playing and plaids on poles for colours, they marched to Arthur’s Seat, and there held out for several days, provisioned by sympathisers in Edinburgh. In this case, the authorities had the good sense to conciliate them by satisfying their complaints ; then they marched down again, headed by their officers, and cheerfully embarked, not a man being brought to punishment, a leniency justified by their future conduct on many a battlefield.
The chief of the Macraes to-day has distinguished himself as Chairman of the Edinburgh School Board, and as a worthy Writer to the Signet, a hint how the wild Highlandman can enter into the conditions of modern life. It is always a satisfaction for an amateur to correct a professed genealogist, and I note that the Mackenzie historian above mentioned errs in promoting a younger brother to the Macrae chieftainship. My conscience pricks me that this wrong might have some relation to the story I set going, “with a cocked hat and stick.” More years ago than any of us will care to count, I was walking with those brothers, the younger by chance in the silk hat and such like of professional life, the elder more rustically arrayed. My story is that a client heaving into sight—so far true—the chief borrowed his brother’s headgear to make a becoming appearance, and for such accommodation sold his birthright.
I can see Sir Colin Macrae and other Highland friends laying hands on their dirks, or umbrellas, with a frown for one who makes light of sacred things. But I would ask them whether the education of a race does not lead to a shelving of childish toys, nursery fairy tales, and schoolroom squabbles. On week days, at least, we may be content with the sober trappings of city life, yet keep a show of tartan for holiday wear. “Saxon, or Dane, or whatever we be,” the Celtic element has a way of coming to the top as a smart feather in our cap, sometimes indeed as a bee in our bonnet. The Gael, adapting himself to trousers and pockets, need not forget his romance, his poetry, his picturesque points, as he does choose to forget some uglier traits of his past. If he call me a Sassenach reviler, I can tell him that I, too, have kindly Highland blood in my veins ; and let him tell me precisely what is Highland blood, which is more than I can. Wherever it first sprang, from China to Peru, I take it to be something like Orange Pekoe tea, for which, unmixed, our age has not so much use, but which gives a piquant flavour to that choice blend of humanity apparently destined to become the salt of the world.
This view of the Highlander’s mission will not commend itself either to Cockney caricaturists or to Pan-Celtic Congresses. But I find my own sentiment well expressed by one of the most eloquent voices of the Celtic Renascence, the author styled Fiona Macleod, long hidden in mist—now alas ! in silent darkness,— whose two names, perhaps unwittingly chosen, seem to record the union of Norse and Gaelic blood that makes the so-called Scottish Celt, incarnate pseudonym as he may be. To these words the arrantest Saxon should heartily say Amen.
The Celtic element in our national life has a vital and great part to play. We have a most noble idea if we will but accept it. And that is not to perpetuate feuds, not to try to win back what is gone away upon the wind, not to repay ignorance with scorn or dulness with contempt or past wrongs with present hatred, but so to live, so to pray, so to hope, so to work, so to achieve, that we, what is left of the Celtic races, of the Celtic genius, may permeate the greater race of which we are a vital part, so that with this emotion, Celtic love of duty, and Celtic spirituality, a nation greater than any the world has seen may issue, a nation refined and strengthened by the wise relinquishings and steadfast ideals of Celt and Saxon, united in a common fatherland, and in singleness of pride and faith.
Let me not be held guilty as trifling with certain matters which some of my countrymen seem to take over seriously. Far, indeed, be it from me and my friends to love Scotland better than truth ; but not less far would I hold aloof from the laughing hynas who snarl or grin at that native land and her people. I have tried to put good points and other points in the fairest light, for the information of strangers, often getting their notions of the country from misty reminiscences of poetry and fiction. And as I have more than once illustrated this account by verses quoted from two teachers of my youth, who wrote of the Highlands both in jest and in earnest, so let me end in the warm words of an old schoolfellow of mine
While huge Ben Nevis rears his sovereign crown,
And dark Glencoe looks sternly wrathful down,
And Skye’s grim crests in savage blackness frown—
While many an isle, in summer bliss serene,
Floats on its limpid floor of lustred sheen,
And hangs the enchanted wave and sky between—
While braes are purple, glens are green, and blue
The sea that mirrors all with heavenly hue,
Scotland! to thee my heart shall still be true.