Wednesday, 11 May 2011

How things are in the Lews (part 3)

But it is only on leaving Stornoway and penetrating into the other parts of the island that one comes on the more curious features of society here. What would you think now of naked little boys playing along the side of the public road -in puris naturalibus as we used to say in the classics? Yet I saw this only the other day within a few miles of Stornoway. The thing is rare of course, but it exists. A clergyman told me that on the way last week to the Butt of Lewis, or on his way back (I forget which), he had seen men and women in the same state of innocence. The cotter's houses too are strange habitations for the 19th century to find here. Low and moundlike, built usually of turf and covered with thatch, they give a village much the appearance of a Kaffir Kraal. Each hut has but one door or aperture by which the human beings and cattle go in and the peatsmoke tries to get out. The family sleep under one end of the roof and are sometimes separated from the lower animals (at least from the larger species of them) by a csreen of board or tattered blanket. These people speak nothing but Gaelic, and in the remoter parts of the island are in a state of almost Egyptian darkness as to the outer world. It is said that when Lady Matheson, some years ago, paid a visit to Uig, she found that the natives had never heard of Prince Albert; so she caused a small Gaelic tract to be prepared for distribution, conveying this and other useful items of information. These cotters, however, are for the most part happy and contented. Their wants are few, they have plenty to eat and drink, and notwithstanding all the circumstances described, their morality will bear very favourable comparison to with that of the people of the South, who would no doubt call them barbarians. Illegitimacy is almost unknown amongst them, they would almost seem, as one said, to have been born before the Fall. Crime is rare, and at present, I am told, the prison at Stornoway is empty.

Glasgow Herald, 5 July 1867, page 4

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