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INTRODUCTION TO THE PIRATE.
to go to bed, since his rising was at this season so early, we doubled the extreme northern terinination of Scotland, and took a rapid survey of the Ilebrides, where we found many kind friends. There, that our little expedition might not want the dignity of danger, we were favoured with a distant glimpse of what was said to be an American cruiser, and had opportunity to consider what a pretty figure we should have made had the voyage ended in our being carried captive to the United States. After visiting the romantic shores of Morven, and the vicinity of Oban, we made a run to the coast of Ireland, and visited the Giant's Causeway, that we might compare it with Staffa, which we had surveyed in our course. At length,
about the middle of September, we ended our voyage in the Clyde, at the port of Greenock.
And thus terminated our pleasant tour, to which our equipment gave unusual facilities, as the ship's company could forın a strong boat's crew, independent of those who might be left on board the vessel, which perunitted us the freedom to land wherever our curiosity carried us. Let me add, while reviewing for a moment a sunny portion of my life, that among the six or seven friends who perforined this voyage together, some of them doubtless of different tastes and pursuits, and remaining for several weeks on board a small vessel, there never occurred the slightest dispute or disagreement, each seeming anxious to subunit his own particular wishes to those of his friends. By this mutual accommodation all the purposes of our little expedition were obtained, while for a time we might have adopted the lines of Allan Cunningham's fine sea-song,
“The world of waters was our home,
And merry men were we!” But sorrow mixes her memorials with the purest remembrances of pleasure. On returning from the voyage which had proved so satisfactory, I found that fate had deprived her country most unexpectedly of a lady, qualified to adorn the high rank which she held, and who had long admitted me to a share of her friendship. The subsequent loss of one of those comrades who made up the party, and he the most intimate friend I had in the world, casts also its shade on recollections which, but for these imbitterments, would be otherwise so satisfactory.
I may here briefly observe, that my business in this voyage, so far as I could be said to have any, was to endeavour to discover some localities which might be useful in the " Lord of the Isles," a poem with which I was then threatening the public, and which was afterwards printed without attaining remarkable success. But, as at the same time the anonymous novel of “ Waverley” was making its way to popularity, I already augured the possibility of a second effort in this department of literature, and I saw much in the wild islands of the Orkneys and Zetland which I judged might be made in the highest degree interesting, should these isles ever become the scene of a narrative of fictitious events. I learned the history of Gow the pirate froin an old sibyl (the subject of Note G, end of this volume), whose principal subsistence was by a trade in favourable winds, which she sold to mariners at Stromness. Nothing could be more interesting than the kindness and hospitality of the gentlemen of Zetland, which was to me the more affecting, as several of them had been friends and correspondents of iny father.
I was induced to go a generation or two farther back, to find materials from which I might trace the features of the old Norwegian Udaller, the Scottish gentry having in general occupied the place of that priipitive race, and their language and peculiarities of manner having entirely disappeared. The only difference now to be observed betwixt the gentry of these islands, and those of Scotland in general, is, that the wealth and property is more equally divided among our more northern countrymen, and that there exists
INTRODUCTION TO THE PIRATE.
a mong the resident proprietors no men of very great wealth, whose display of its luxuries might render the others discontented with their own lot. From the same cause of general equality of fortunes, and the cheapness of living, which is its natural consequence, I found the officers of a veteran regiment who had maintained the garrison at Fort Charlotte, in Lerwick, discomposed at the idea of being recalled from a country where their pay, however inadequate to the expenses of a capital, was fully adequate to their wants, and it was singular to hear natives of merry England herself regretting their approaching departure from the melancholy isles of the Ultima Thule.
Such are the trivial particulars attending the origin of that publication which took place several years later than the agreeable journey in which it took its rise.
The state of manners which I have introduced in the romance was neces. sarily in a great degree imaginary, though founded in some measure on slight hints, which, showing what was, seemed to give reasonable indication of what must once have been, the tone of the society in these sequestered but interesting islands.
In one respect I was judged somewhat hastily, perhaps, when the character of Norna was pronounced by the critics a mere copy of Meg Merrilees. That I had fallen short of wbat I wished and desired to express is unquestionable, otherwise my object could not have been so widely mistaken; nor can I yet think that any person who will take the trouble of reading the Pirate with some attention, can fail to trace in Norna,—the victim of remorse and insanity, and the dupe of her own imposture, her mind, too, flooded with all the wild literature and extravagant superstitions of the north, something distinct from the Dumfriesshire gipsy, whose pretensions to supernatural powers are not beyond those of a Norwood prophetess. The foundations of such a character may be perhaps traced, though it be too true that the necessary superstructure cannot have been raised upon them, otherwise the remark would have been unnecessary. There is also great improbability in the statement of Norna possessing power and opportunity to impress on others that belief in her supernatural powers which distracted her own mind. Yet, amid a very credulous and ignorant population, it is astonishing what success may be attained by an impostor, who is, at the same time, an enthusiast. It is such as to remind us of the couplet which assures us that
“The pleasure is as great
Of being cheated as to cheat." Indeed, as I have observed elsewhere, the professed explanation of a tale, where appearances or incidents of a supernatural character are explained on natural causes, has often, in the winding-up of the story, a degree of improbability almost equal to an absolute goblin tale. Even the genius of Mrs Radcliffe could not always surmount this difficulty.
ABBOTSFORD, 1st May 1831.
The purpose of the following Narrative is to give a detailed and accurate account of certain remarkable incidents which took place in the Orkney Islands, concerning which the more imperfect traditions and mutilated records of the country only tell us the following erroneous particulars :
In the month of January 1724-5, a vessel, called the Revenge, bearing twenty large guns, and six smaller, commanded by JOHN Gow, or GOFFE, or SMITH, came to the Orkney Islands, and was discovered to be a pirate, by various acts of insolence and villainy committed by the crew.
for some time submitted to, the inhabitants of these remote islands not possessing arms nor ineans of resistance ; and so bold was the captain of these banditti, that he not only came ashore, and gave dancing parties in the village of Stromness, but, before his real character was discovered, engaged the affections, and received the troth-plight, of a young lady possessed of some property. A patriotic individual, JAMES Fea, younger of Clestron, formed the plan of securing the buccanier, which he effected by a mixture of courage and address, in consequence chiefly of Gow's vessel having gone on shore near the harbour of Calfsound, on the Island of Eda, not far distant froin a house then inhabited by Mr FEA. In the various stratagems by which Mr FEA contrived finally, at the peril of his life (they being well armed and desperate), to make the whole pirates his prisoners, he was much aided by Mr JAMES LAING, the grandfather of the late MALCOLM LAING, Esq., the acute and ingenious historian of Scotland during the seventeenth century..
Gow, and others of his crew, suffered, by sentence of the High Court of Admiralty, the punishment their crimes had long deserved, He conducted himself with great audacity when before the Court; and from an account of the matter by an eye-witness, seems to have been subjected to some unusual severities, in order to compel him to plead. The words are these : “ JOHN Gow would not plead, for which he was brought to the bar, and the Judge ordered that his thumbs should be squeezed by two men, with a whip-cord, till it did break; and then it should be doubled, till it did again break; and then laid threefold, and that the executioners should pull with their whole strength; which sentence Gowendured with a great deal of buldness.” The next morning (27th May 1725), when he had seen the terrible preparations for pressing him to death, his courage gave way, and he told the Marshal of Court that he would not have given so much trouble had he been assured of not being hanged in chains. He was then tried, condemned, and executed, with others of his crew.
It is said that the lady whose affections Gow had engaged went up to Lon. don to see him before his death, and that, arriving too late, she had the cour. age to request a sight of his dead body; and then, touching the band of the corpse, she formally resumed the troth-plight which she had bestowed. Without going through this ceremony, she could not, according to the superstition of the country, have escaped a visit froin the ghost of her departed lover, in the event of her bestowing upon any living suitor the faith which she had plighted to the dead. This part of the legend may serve as a curious commentary on the fine Scottish ballad which begins,
“There came a ghost to Margaret's door," &c. The common account of this incident farther bears, that Mr Fea, the spirited individual by whose exertions Gow's career of iniquity was cut short, was so far froin receiving any reward from Government, that he could not obtain even countenance enough to protect him against a variety of shain suits, raised against him by Newgate solicitors, who acted in the name of Gow, and others of the pirate crew; and the various expenses, vexatious prosecutions, and other legal consequences, in which his gallant exploit involved him, utterly ruined his fortune and his family; making his memory a notable example to all who shall in future take pirates on their own authority.
It is to be supposed, for the honour of GEORGE the First's Government, that the last circumstance, as well as the dates, and other particulars of the commonly received story, are inaccurate, since they will be found totally irreconcilable with the following veracious narrative, compiled from materials to which he himself alone has had access, hy
THE AUTHOR OF WAVERLEY.
The storm had ceased its wintry roar,
Hoarse dash the billows of the sea;
That long, narrow, and irregular island, usually called the Mainland of Zetland, because it is by far the largest of that Archipelago, terminates, as is well known to the mariners who navigate the stormy seas which surround the Thule of the ancients, in a cliff of immense height, entitled Sumburgh-Head, which presents its bare scalp and naked sides to the weight of a tremendous surge, forming the extreme point of the isle to the south-east. This lofty promontory is constantly exposed to the current of a strong and furious tide, which, setting in betwixt the Orkney and Zetland Islands, and running with force only inferior to that of the Pentland Firth, takes its name from the headland we have mentioned, and is called the Roost of Sumburgh ; roost being the phrase assigned in these isles to currents of this description.
On the land side, the promontory is covered with short grass, and slopes steeply down to a little isthmus, upon which the sea has encroached in creeks, which, advancing from either side of the island, gradually work their way forward, and seem as if in a short time they would form a junction, and altogether insulate Sumburgh-Head, when what is now a cape will become a lonely mountain islet, severed from the mainland, of which it is at present the terminating extremity.
Man, however, had in former days considered this as a remote or edulikely event ; for a Norwegian chief of other times, or, as other acDievounts said, and as the name of Jarlshof seemed to imply, an ancient
Earl of the Orkneys had selected this neck of land as the place for ztstablishing a mansion-house. It has been long entirely deserted, and he he vestiges only can be discerned with difficulty ; for the loose sand,
orne on the tempestuous gales of those stormy regions, has overblown, And almost buried, the ruins of the buildings; but in the end of the
venteenth century, a part of the Earl's mansion was still entire and abitable. It was a rude building of rough stone, with nothing about
it to gratify the eye, or to excite the imagination ; a large old-fashioned narrow house, with a very steep roof, covered with flags composed of gray sandstone, would perhaps convey the best idea of the place to a modern reader. The windows were few, very small in size, and distributed up and down the building with utter contempt of regularity. Against the main structure had rested, in former times, certain smaller compartments of the mansion-house, containing offices, or subordinate apartments, necessary for the Earl's retainers and menials. But these had become ruinous; and the rafters had been taken down for firewood, or for other purposes ; the walls had given way in many places ; and, to complete the devastation, the sand had already drifted amongst the ruins, and filled up what had been once the chambers they contained, to the depth of two or three feet.
Amíd this desolation, the inhabitants of Jarlshof had contrived, by constant labour and attention, to keep in order a few roods of land, which had been enclosed as a garden, and which, sheltered by the walls of the house itself from the relentless sea-blast, produced such vegetables as the climate could bring forth, or rather as the sea-gale would permit to grow; for these islands experience even less of the rigour of cold than is encountered on the mainland of Scotland ; but, unsheltered by a wall of some sort or other, it is scarce possible to raise even the most ordinary culinary vegetables ; and as for shrubs or trees, they are entirely out of the question, such is the force of the sweeping seablast.
At a short distance from the mansion, and near to the sea-beach, just where the creek forms a sort of imperfect harbour, in which lay three or four fishing-boats, there were a few most wretched cottages for the inhabitants and tenants of the township of Jarlshof, who held the whole district of the landlord upon such terms as were in those days usually granted to persons of this description, and which, of course, were hard enough. The landlord himself resided upon an estate which he possessed in a more eligible situation, in a different part of the island, and seldom visited his possessions at Sumburgh-Head. He was an honest, plain Zetland gentleman, somewhat passionate, the necessary result of being surrounded by dependents ; and somewhat overconvivial in his habits, the consequence, perhaps, of having too much time at his disposal ; but frank-tempered and generous to his people, and kind and hospitable to strangers. He was descended also of an old and noble Norwegian family, a circumstance which rendered him dearer to the lower orders, most of whom are of the same race; while the lairds, or proprietors, are generally of Scottish extraction, who, at that early period, were still considered as strangers and intruders. Magnus Troil, who deduced his descent from the very Earl who was supposed to have founded Jarlshof, was peculiarly of this opinion.
The present inhabitants of Jarlshof had experienced, on several occasions, the kindness and good-will of the proprietor of the territory. When Mr Mertoun—such was the name of the present inhabitant of the old mansion-first arrived in Zetland, some years before the story commences, he had been received at the house of Mr Troil with that warm and cordial hospitality for which the islands are distinguished. No one asked him whence he came, where he was going, what was his