Lives of Eminent Zoologists, from Aristotle to Linnus

Page 27 of 79

The favourable reception given to the work now mentioned, encouraged Mr Wray to prosecute his researches with more vigour, and induced him to extend his excursions through the greater part of England and Wales, as well as over a portion of Scotland. On these journeys or "simpling voyages," as he calls them, he was usually accompanied by some of his friends, and in particular by his pupil, Mr Willughby. The notes made on these hurried expeditions were afterwards published by Mr George Scott, under the title of "Select Remains of the learned John Ray;" and as they are not deficient in interest, one or two extracts from them may be not misplaced here:

"August the 17th (1661), we travelled to Dunbar, a town noted for the fight between the English and Scots. The Scots generally (that is the poorer sort) wear, the men blue bonnets on their heads, and some russet; the women only white linen, which hangs down their backs as if a napkin were pinned about them. When they go abroad, none[Pg 139] of them wear hats, but a party-coloured blanket, which they call a plad, over their heads and shoulders. The women generally to us seemed none of the handsomest. They are not very cleanly in their houses, and but sluttish in dressing their meat. Their way of washing linens is to tuck up their coats, and tread them with their feet in a tub. They have a custom to make up the fronts of their houses, even in their principal towns, with firr boards nailed one over another, in which are often made many round holes or windows to put out their heads. In the best Scottish houses, even the king's palaces, the windows are not glazed throughout, but the upper part only, the lower have two wooden shuts or folds to open at pleasure, and admit the fresh air. The Scots cannot endure to hear their country or countrymen spoken against. They have neither good bread, cheese, nor drink. They cannot make them, nor will they learn. Their butter is very indifferent, and one would wonder how they could contrive to make it so bad. They use much pottage made of coal-wort, which they call keal, sometimes broth of decorticated barley. The ordinary country houses are pitiful cots, built of stone, and covered with turves, having in them but one room, many of them no chimneys, the windows very small holes, and not glazed. In the most stately and fashionable houses, in great towns, instead of cieling, they cover the chambers with firr boards, nailed on the roof within side. They have rarely any bellows, or warming-pans. It is the manner in some places there, to lay on but one sheet as large as two, turned up from the feet upwards. The ground in the valleys and plains bears good corn, but especially[Pg 140] beer-barley, or bigge, and oats, but rarely wheat and rye. We observed little or no fallow-grounds in Scotland; some layed ground we saw, which they manured with sea-wreck. The people seem to be very lazy, at least the men, and may be frequently observed to plow in their cloaks. It is the fashion for them to wear cloaks when they go abroad, but especially on Sundays. They lay out most they are worth in cloaths, and a fellow that hath scarce ten groats besides to help himself with, you shall see come out of his smoaky cottage clad like a gentleman."

That this is a true character of the people of the southern division of Scotland in those days is very probable;—it is needless to say that things are much altered now. Still the picture applies in almost every particular to the inhabitants of several districts at the present day, although the men seldom plough in their plaids; but as the Scots cannot (any more than the English) endure to hear their country spoken against, we desist from making any reflections, merely wishing that they would strive to render it such as to merit the utmost praise.

The next extract which we shall present, has a reference to the Bass Rock, in the estuary of the Forth:

"August the 19th, we went to Leith, keeping all along on the side of the Fryth. By the way we viewed Tantallon Castle, and passed over to the Basse Island; where we saw, on the rocks, innumerable of the soland geese. The old ones are all over white, excepting the pinion or hard feathers of their wings, which are black. The upper part of the head and neck, in those that are old, is of a yellowish dun colour. They lay but one egg a-piece,[Pg 141] which is white, and not very large. They are very bold, and sit in great multitudes till one comes close up to them, because they are not wont to be scared or disturbed. The young ones are esteemed a choice dish in Scotland, and sold very dear (1s. 8d. plucked). We eat of them at Dunbar. They are in bigness little inferior to an ordinary goose. The young one is upon the back black, and speckled with little white spots, under the breast and belly grey. The beak is sharp-pointed, the mouth very wide and large, the tongue very small, the eyes great, the foot hath four toes webbed together. It feeds upon mackrel and herring, and the flesh of the young one smells and tastes strong of these fish. The other birds which nestle in the Basse are these; the scout, which is double ribbed; the cattiwake, in English cormorant; the scart, and a bird called the turtle-dove, whole-footed, and the feet red. There are verses which contain the names of these birds among the vulgar, two whereof are,

'The scout, the scart, the cattiwake,
The soland goose sits on the lake,
Yearly in the spring.'

"We saw of the scout's eggs, which are very large and speckled. It is very dangerous to climb the rocks for the young of these fowls, and seldom a year passeth, but one or other of the climbers fall down and lose their lives, as did one not long before our being there. The laird of this island makes a great profit yearly of the soland geese taken; as I remember, they told us £130 sterling. There is in the isle a small house, which they call a castle; it is inaccessible, and impregnable, but of no great consideration in a war, there being no harbour, nor[Pg 142] any thing like it. The island will afford grass enough to keep thirty sheep. They make strangers that come to visit it Burgesses of the Basse, by giving them to drink of the water of the well, which springs near the top of the rock, and a flower out of the garden thereby. The island is nought else but a rock, and stands off the land near a mile; at Dunbar you would not guess it above a mile distant, though it be thence at least five. We found growing in the island, in great plenty, Beta marina, Lychnis marina nostras, Malta arborea marina nostras, et Cochlearia rotundifolia."

In this sketch, short as it is, there are several inaccuracies, and yet it is on the whole more correct than some later accounts of the same interesting islet.

On the restoration of Charles II., when there was a prospect of peaceable times, and the church of England was re-established, Mr Wray took orders, though he continued a fellow of Trinity College. But his views of preferment were blasted by his resolution not to subscribe to the conditions implied in the Act of Uniformity, by which divines were required to declare that the oath entitled the Solemn League and Covenant was not binding on those who had sworn it. The reason of his refusal did not, however, arise from his having himself taken the oath, which he never did, having always believed it to be unlawful, but from his considering those who had taken it as still under an obligation to abide by it. In consequence of this opinion he deemed it proper to resign his fellowship in 1662.

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