Men are generally delighted with novelty, and what is represented under that plausible invitation seldom fails of meeting with acceptance. If we hear at any time a description of some remote corner in the Indies cried in our streets, we presently conclude we may have some divertisement in reading of it; when in the meantime, there are a thousand things nearer us that may engage our thoughts to better purposes, and the knowledge of which may serve more to promote our true interest, and the history of Nature. It is a piece of weakness and folly merely to value things because of their distance from the place where we are born: thus men have travelled far enough in the search of foreign plants and animals, and yet continue strangers to those produced in their own natural climate. Therefore I presume that this following relation will not prove unprofitable or displeasing, unless the great advantages of truth and unaffected plainness may do it a prejudice, in the opinion of such as are more nice and childish than solid and judicious.
The ingenious author of this treatise is a person whose candor and integrity guard him against all affectation and vanity; and his great desire to propagate the natural history of the Isles of Scotland, makes him relate, without any disguise, the several particulars that fell under his accurate observation. He was prompted by a generous curiosity to undertake a voyage through several isles to St. Kilda (the particular account whereof you have in the following treatise) and that in an open boat, to the almost manifest hazard of his life, since the seas and tides in those rocky islands are more inconstant and raging than in most other places. There is nothing related in the following account, but what he vouches to be true, either from his own particular observation, or else from the constant and harmonious testimony that was given him by the inhabitants; and they are a sort of people so plain, and so little inclined to impose upon mankind, that perhaps no place in the world at this day, knows such instances of true primitive honour and simplicity, a people who abhor lying tricks and artifices, as they do the most poisonous plants, or devouring animals.
The Author, perhaps, might have put these papers into the hands of some who were capable of giving them the politest turns of phrase, and of making some pretty excursions upon several passages in them; but he thought the intelligent and philosophick part of mankind would value the truth more in such accounts, than anything that can be borrowed from art, or the advantages of more refined language; and such do contemplate the books of Nature with so much diligence and application that they may admire the original spring of power and wisdom, that first set Nature itself in motion, and preserves its regular course in all its wonderful and various phenomena; and therefore it may reasonably be hoped, that the meanness of its dress will not be made use of as any considerable objection against this preliminary essay.
He himself was born in one of the most spacious and fertile isles in the West of Scotland; and besides his liberal education at the University, had the advantage of seeing foreign places, and the honour of conversing with some of the Royal Society, who raised his natural curiosity to survey the isles of Scotland more exactly than any other; in prosecution of which design he has already brought along with him several curious productions of Nature, both rare and beautiful in their kind, which were never seen nor known here before; and, perhaps, there be few that have the same advantages of doing it to purpose, he being generally acquainted with most of the better sort, and nearly concerned in such as would very willingly encourage endeavours of this and the like nature.
Chapter I - The Motives for the Voyage: Signs of a Storm: The Changes of the Wind: The Consequence of their Change: The Flight of the Fowls: How serving the Natives as well as a Compass: A Fight betwixt Two Solan Geese: The way the Inhabitants walk among the Rocks: The Manner of Landing: The Number of Eggs consumed in Three Weeks: Various Names of the Isle: Latitude, Climate, Seasons, Length and Breadth of it: The Bay: Force of the Sea: Four Arches, or Vaults: Chrystal, how it grows: A Female Warrior’s House: Fountains: Marks on the Cattel, &c., Fishes, Baits: Amphibia.
Chapter II - Of the inferior Isles and Rocks, their Product: Solan Geese, how Killed: A branch of the Officer’s Salary, Staller-house, Pyramids: Policy of the Inhabitants: An Earthquake: A Fountain: The taking away, or leaving the Eggs in the Nests by the Inhabitants, advances or retards the hatching of the Fowls by the space of Eighteen Days, sooner or later: Our progress to Borera: Every Solan Goose catch’d, is presently mark’d on the Foot by the Owner: Of Eddies: Tides: Land and Sea-Fowls, their description, various Properties, Seasons for their coming, and going away: Their Prognosticks of Winds, Storms, Calms, &c.: Barren Tribe of Solan Geese: The Solan Geese’s Centinels: Fulmar Oyl, its properties: Eggs, their various Properties and Effects.
Chapter III - Of the Inhabitants. Their Pedigree: Complection: Strength: Diseases: Cures: Plants: Religion: Notion of Spirits. Festivals: Anniversary Cavalcade: Chappels: Crucifix; Lots: Marriage: Baptism. Proprietor: Omer: Cubit: Envoy, his salary, Entry. Steward’s Retinue: His Residence: How far Limited. Tributary Cake. Mutton furnished by the Officer to the Steward every Sunday. Number of the Inhabitants: Their Kiln by turns. The Officer: His Precedence: Notion of Honour: The Danger attending this Notion. Dexterity in Climbing. Language. Habit. Burials. Ale, how Brewed. Fowls preserved. A Calculation of the Solan Geese consumed by the Inhabitants last Year. Five hundred Stone-Pyramids for several uses. The Inhabitants’ Food. Great lovers of Tobacco. Their Boat, how nicely divided. Fire-Penny: Pot-Penny. No Money used here. The Rock-Fowl: How presented by a Lover to his Mistress. The Mistress-Stone. Notions of all Foreign Objects. Divertisements.
An Account of one Roderick, supposed to have had Conversation with a Familiar Spirit, and pretending to be sent by St. John the Baptist with New Revelations and Discoveries.
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