A Succinct Account

: Folk-lore And Legends Scotland

Sir,--I heard very much, but believed very little of the second sight;

yet its being assumed by several of great veracity, I was induced to make

inquiry after it in the year 1652, being then confined in the north of

Scotland by the English usurpers. The more general accounts of it were

that many Highlanders, yet far more Islanders, were qualified with this

second sight; and men, women, and children, indistinctly, were subject to
it, and children where parents were not. Sometimes people came to age

who had it not when young, nor could any tell by what means produced. It

is a trouble to most of them who are subject to it, and they would be rid

of it at any rate if they could. The sight is of no long duration, only

continuing so long as they can keep their eyes steady without twinkling.

The hardy, therefore, fix their look that they may see the longer; but

the timorous see only glances--their eyes always twinkle at the first

sight of the object. That which generally is seen by them are the

species of living creatures, and of inanimate things, which be in motion,

such as ships, and habits upon persons. They never see the species of

any person who is already dead. What they foresee fails not to exist in

the mode, and in that place where it appears to them. They cannot well

know what space of time shall intervene between the apparition and the

real existence. But some of the hardiest and longest experience have

some rules for conjectures; as, if they see a man with a shrouding sheet

in the apparition, they will conjecture at the nearness or remoteness of

his death by the more or less of his body that is covered by it. They

will ordinarily see their absent friends, though at a great distance,

sometimes no less than from America to Scotland, sitting, standing, or

walking in some certain place; and then they conclude with an assurance

that they will see them so, and there. If a man be in love with a woman,

they will ordinarily see the species of that man standing by her, and so

likewise if a woman be in love. If they see the species of any person

who is sick to die, they see them covered over with the shrouding sheet.

These generals I had verified to me by such of them as did see, and were

esteemed honest and sober by all the neighbourhood; for I inquired after

such for my information. And because there were more of these seers in

the isles of Lewis, Harris, and Uist than in any other place, I did

entreat Sir James M'Donald (who is now dead), Sir Normand M'Loud, and Mr.

Daniel Morison, a very honest person (who are still alive), to make

inquiry in this uncouth sight, and to acquaint me therewith; which they

did, and all found an agreement in these generals, and informed me of

many instances confirming what they said. But though men of discretion

and honour, being but at second-hand, I will choose rather to put myself

than my friends on the hazard of being laughed at for incredible


I was once travelling in the Highlands, and a good number of servants

with me, as is usual there; and one of them, going a little before me,

entering into a house where I was to stay all night, and going hastily to

the door, he suddenly slipped back with a screech, and did fall by a

stone, which hit his foot. I asked what the matter was, for he seemed to

be very much frighted. He told me very seriously that I should not lodge

in that house, because shortly a dead coffin would be carried out of it,

for many were carrying of it when he was heard cry. I, neglecting his

words, and staying there, he said to other of his servants he was sorry

for it, and that surely what he saw would shortly come to pass. Though

no sick person was then there, yet the landlord, a healthy Highlander,

died of an apoplectic fit before I left the house.

In the year 1653 Alexander Monro (afterwards Lieutenant-Colonel to the

Earl of Dumbarton's regiment) and I were walking in a place called

Ullapool, in Loch Broom, on a little plain at the foot of a rugged hill.

There was a servant walking with a spade in the walk before us; his back

was to us, and his face to the hill. Before we came to him he let the

spade fall, and looked toward the hill. He took notice of us as we

passed near by him, which made me look at him, and perceiving him to

stare a little strangely I conjectured him to be a seer. I called at

him, at which he started and smiled. "What are you doing?" said I. He

answered, "I have seen a very strange thing: an army of Englishmen,

leading of horses, coming down that hill; and a number of them are coming

down to the plain, and eating the barley which is growing in the field

near to the hill." This was on the 4th May (for I noted the day), and it

was four or five days before the barley was sown in the field he spoke

of. Alexander Monro asked him how he knew they were Englishmen. He said

because they were leading of horses, and had on hats and boots, which he

knew no Scotchman would have there. We took little notice of the whole

story as other than a foolish vision, but wished that an English party

were there, we being then at war with them, and the place almost

inaccessible for horsemen. But in the beginning of August thereafter,

the Earl of Middleton (then Lieutenant for the King in the Highlands),

having occasion to march a party of his towards the South Highlands, he

sent his Foot through a place called Inverlawell; and the fore-party,

which was first down the hill, did fall off eating the barley which was

on the little plain under it. And Monro calling to mind what the seer

told us in May preceding, he wrote of it, and sent an express to me to

Lochslin, in Ross (where I then was), with it.

I had occasion once to be in company where a young lady was (excuse my

not naming of persons), and I was told there was a notable seer in the

company. I called him to speak with me, as I did ordinarily when I found

any of them; and after he had answered me several questions, I asked if

he knew any person to be in love with that lady. He said he did, but he

knew not the person; for, during the two days he had been in her company,

he perceived one standing near her, and his head leaning on her shoulder,

which he said did foretell that the man should marry her, and die before

her, according to his observation. This was in the year 1655. I desired

him to describe the person, which he did, so that I could conjecture, by

the description, of such a one, who was of that lady's acquaintance,

though there were no thoughts of their marriage till two years

thereafter. And having occasion in the year 1657 to find this seer, who

was an islander, in company with the other person whom I conjectured to

have been described by him, I called him aside, and asked if that was the

person he saw beside the lady near two years then past. He said it was

he indeed, for he had seen that lady just then standing by him hand in

hand. This was some few months before their marriage, and that man is

now dead, and the lady alive.

I shall trouble you but with one more, which I thought most remarkable of

any that occurred to me.

In January 1652, the above-mentioned Lieutenant, Colonel Alex. Monro, and

I, happened to be in the house of one William M'Clend, of Ferrinlea, in

the county of Ross. He, the landlord, and I, were sitting in three

chairs near the fire, and in the corner of the great chimney there were

two islanders, who were that very night come to the house, and were

related to the landlord. While the one of them was talking with Monro, I

perceived the other to look oddly toward me. From this look, and his

being an islander, I conjectured him a seer, and asked him at what he

stared. He answered by desiring me to rise from that chair, for it was

an unlucky one. I asked him why? He answered, because there was a dead

man in the chair next to me. "Well," said I, "if it be in the next

chair, I may keep my own. But what is the likeness of the man?" He said

he was a tall man, with a long grey coat, booted, and one of his legs

hanging over the arm of the chair, and his head hanging dead to the other

side, and his arm backward, as if it was broken. There were some English

troops then quartered near that place, and there being at that time a

great frost after a thaw, the country was covered all over with ice. Four

or five of the English riding by this house some two hours after the

vision, while we were sitting by the fire, we heard a great noise, which

proved to be those troopers, with the help of other servants, carrying in

one of their number, who had got a very mischievous fall, and had his arm

broke; and falling frequently in swooning fits, they brought him into the

hall, and set him in the very chair, and in the very posture that the

seer had prophesied. But the man did not die, though he recovered with

great difficulty.

Among the accounts given me by Sir Normand M'Loud, there was one worthy

of special notice, which was thus:--There was a gentleman in the Isle of

Harris, who was always seen by the seers with an arrow in his thigh. Such

in the Isle who thought those prognostications infallible, did not doubt

but he would be shot in the thigh before he died. Sir Normand told me

that he heard it the subject of their discourse for many years. At last

he died without any such accident. Sir Normand was at his burial at St.

Clement's Church in the Harris. At the same time the corpse of another

gentleman was brought to be buried in the same very church. The friends

on either side came to debate who should first enter the church, and, in

a trice, from words they came to blows. One of the number (who was armed

with bow and arrows) let one fly among them. (Now every family in that

Isle have their burial-place in the Church in stone chests, and the

bodies are carried in open biers to the burial-place.) Sir Normand

having appeased the tumult, one of the arrows was found shot in the dead

man's thigh. To this Sir Normand was a witness.

In the account which Mr. Daniel Morison, parson in the Lewis, gave me,

there was one, though it be heterogeneous from the subject, yet it may be

worth your notice. It was of a young woman in this parish, who was

mightily frightened by seeing her own image still before her, always when

she came to the open air; the back of the image being always to her, so

that it was not a reflection as in a mirror, but the species of such a

body as her own, and in a very like habit which appeared to herself

continually before her. The parson kept her a long while with him, but

had no remedy of her evil, which troubled her exceedingly. I was told

afterwards that when she was four or five years older she saw it not.

These are matters of fact, which I assure you they are truly related. But

these and all others that occurred to me, by information or otherwise,

could never lead me into a remote conjecture of the cause of so

extraordinary a phenomenon. Whether it be a quality in the eyes of some

people in these parts, concurring with a quality in the air also; whether

such species be everywhere, though not seen by the want of eyes so

qualified, or from whatever other cause, I must leave to the inquiry of

clearer judgments than mine. But a hint may be taken from this image

which appeared still to this woman above mentioned, and from another

mentioned by Aristotle, in the fourth of his Metaphysics (if I remember

right, for it is long since I read it), as also from the common opinion

that young infants (unsullied with many objects) do see apparitions which

were not seen by those of elder years; as likewise from this, that

several did see the second sight when in the Highlands or Isles, yet when

transported to live in other countries, especially in America, they quite

lose this quality, as was told me by a gentleman who knew some of them in

Barbadoes, who did see no vision there, although he knew them to be seers

when they lived in the Isles of Scotland.

Thus far my Lord Tarbat.