The Cruise of the Betsey
by Hugh Miller
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We returned, taking in our way the cliffs of Marwick Head, in which I detected a few scattered plates and scales, and which, like nine-tenths of the rocks of Orkney, belong to the great flagstone division of the formation. I found the dry-stone fences on Mr. Garson's property still richer in detached fossil fragments than the cliffs; but there are few erections in the island that do not inclose in their walls portions of the organic. We find ichthyolite remains in the flagstones laid bare along the way-side,—in every heap of road-metal,—in the bottom of every stream,—in almost every cottage and fence. Orkney is a land of defunct fishes, and contains in its rocky folds more individuals of the waning ganoid family than are now to be found in all the existing seas, lakes, and rivers of the world. I enjoyed in a snug upper room a delectable night's rest, after a day of prime exercise, prolonged till it just touched on toil, and again experienced, on looking out in the morning on the wide flat basin around, a feeling somewhat akin to wonder, that Orkney should possess a scene at once so extensive and so exclusively inland.

Towards mid-day I walked on to the parish manse of Sandwick, armed with a letter of introduction to its inmate, the Rev. Charles Clouston,—a gentleman whose descriptions of the Orkneys, in the very complete and tastefully written Guide-Book of the Messrs. Anderson of Inverness, and of his own parish in the "Statistical Account of Scotland," had, both from the high literary ability and the amount of scientific acquirement which they exhibit, rendered me desirous to see. I was politely received, though my visit must have been, as I afterwards ascertained, at a rather inconvenient time. It was now late in the week, and the coming Sabbath was that of the communion in the parish; but Mr. Clouston obligingly devoted to me at least an hour, and I found it a very profitable one. He showed me a collection of flags, with which he intended constructing a grotto, and which contained numerous specimens of Coccosteus, that he had exposed to the weather, to bring out the fine blue efflorescence,—a phosphate of iron which forms on the surface of the plates. They reminded me, from their peculiar style of coloring, and the grotesqueness of their forms, of the blue figuring on pieces of buff-colored china, and seemed to be chiefly of one species, very abundant in Orkney, the Coccosteus decipiens. We next walked out to see a quarry in the neighborhood of the manse, remarkable for containing in immense abundance the heads of Dipteri,—many of them in a good state of keeping, with all the multitudinous plates to which they owe their pseudo-name, Polyphractus, in their original places, and bearing unworn and untarnished their minute carvings and delicate enamel, but existing in every case as mere detached heads. I found three of them lying in one little slaty fragment of two and a half inches by four, which I brought along with me. Mr. Clouston had never seen the curious arrangement of palatal plates and teeth which distinguishes the Dipterus; and, drawing his attention to it in an ill-preserved specimen which I found in the coping of his glebe-wall, I restored, in a rude pencil sketch, the two angular patches of teeth that radiate from the elegant dart-head in the centre of the palate, with the rhomboidal plate behind. "We have a fish, not uncommon on the rocky coasts of this part of the country," he said,—"the Bergil or Striped Wrasse (Labras Balanus),—which bears exactly such patches of angular teeth in its palate. They adhere strongly together; and, when found in our old Picts' houses, which occasionally happens, they have been regarded by some of our local antiquaries as artificial,—an opinion which I have had to correct, though it seems not improbable that, from their gem-like appearance, they may have been used in a rude age as ornaments. I think I can show you one disinterred here some years ago." It interested me to find, from Mr. Clouston's specimens that the palatal grinders of this recent fish of Orkney very nearly resemble those of its Dipterus of the Old Red Sandstone. The group is of nearly the same size in the modern as in the ancient fish, and presents the same angular form; but the individual teeth are more strongly set in the Bergil than in the Dipterus, and radiate less regularly from the inner rectangular point of the angle to its base outside. I could fain have procured an Orkney Bergil, in order to determine the general pattern of its palatal dentition with what is very peculiar in the more ancient fish,—the form of the lower jaw; and to ascertain farther, from the contents of the stomach, the species of shell-fish or crustaceans on which it feeds; but, though by no means rare in Orkney, where it is occasionally used as food, I was unable, during my short stay, to possess myself of a specimen.

Mr. Clouston had, I found, chiefly directed his palaeontological inquiries on the vegetable remains of the flagstones, as the department of the science in which, in relation to Orkney, most remained to be done; and his collection of these is the most considerable in the number of its specimens that I have yet seen. It, however, serves but to show how very extreme is the poverty of the flora of the Lower Old Red Sandstone. The numerous fishes of the period seem to have inhabited a sea little more various in its vegetation than in its molluscs. Among the specimens of Mr. Clouston's collection I could detect but two species of plants,—an imperfectly preserved vegetable, more nearly resembling a club-moss than aught I have seen, and a smooth-stemmed fucoid, existing as a mere coaly film on the stone, and distinguished chiefly from the other by its sharp-edged, well-defined outline, and from the circumstance that its stems continue to retain the same diameter for a considerable distance, and this, too, after throwing off at acute angles numerous branches, nearly equal in bulk to the parent trunk. In a specimen about two and a half feet in length, which I owe to the kindness of Mr. Dick of Thurso, there are stems continuous throughout, that, though they ramify into from six to eight branches in that space, are quite as thick atop as at bottom. They are the remains, in all probability, of a long flexible fucoid, like those fucoids of the intertropical seas that, streaming slantwise in the tide, rise not unfrequently to the surface in fifteen and twenty fathoms water. I saw among Mr. Clouston's specimens no such lignite as the fragment of true coniferous wood which I had found at Cromarty a few years previous, and which, it would seem, is still unique among the fossils of the Old Red Sandstone. In the chart of the Pacific attached to the better editions of "Cook's Voyages," there are several entries along the track of the great navigator that indicate where, in mid-ocean, trees, or fragments of trees, had been picked up. The entries, however, are but few, though they belong to all the three voyages together: if I remember aright, there are only five entries in all,—two in the Northern and three in the Southern Pacific. The floating tree, at a great distance from land, is of rare occurrence in even the present scene of things, though the breadth of land be great, and trees numerous; and in the times of the Old Red Sandstone, when probably the breadth of land was not great, and trees not numerous, it seems to have been of rarer occurrence still. But it is at least something to know that in this early age of the world trees there were.

I walked on to Stromness, and on the following morning, that of Saturday, took boat for Hoy,—skirting, on my passage out, the eastern and southern shores of the intervening island of Graemsay, and, on the passage back again, its western and northern shores. The boatman, an intelligent man,—one of the teachers, as I afterwards ascertained, in the Free Church Sabbath-school,—lightened the way by his narratives of storm and wreck, and not a few interesting snatches of natural history. There is no member of the commoner professions with whom I better like to meet than with a sensible fisherman, who makes a right use of his eyes. The history of fishes is still very much what the history of almost all animals was little more than half a century ago,—a matter of mere external description, heavy often and dry, and of classification founded exclusively on anatomical details. We have still a very great deal to learn regarding the character, habits and instincts of these denizens of the deep,—much, in short, respecting that faculty which is in them through which their natures are harmonized to the inexorable laws, and they continue to live wisely and securely, in consequence, within their own element, when man, with all his reasoning ability, is playing strange vagaries in his;—a species of knowledge this, by the way, which constitutes by far the most valuable part,—the mental department of natural history; and the notes of the intelligent fisherman, gleaned from actual observation, have frequently enabled me to fill portions of the wide hiatus in the history of fishes which it ought of right to occupy. In passing, as we toiled along the Graemsay coast, the ruins of a solitary cottage, the boatman furnished us with a few details of the history and character of its last inmate, an Orkney fisherman, that would have furnished admirable materials for one of the darker sketches of Crabbe. He was, he said, a resolute, unsocial man, not devoid of a dash of reckless humor, and remarkable for an extraordinary degree of bodily strength, which he continued to retain unbroken to an age considerably advanced, and which, as he rarely admitted of a companion in his voyages, enabled him to work his little skiff alone, in weather when even better equipped vessels had enough ado to keep the sea. He had been married in early life to a religiously-disposed woman, a member of some dissenting body; but, living with him in the little island of Graemsay, separated by the sea from any place of worship, he rarely permitted her to see the inside of a church. At one time, on the occasion of a communion Sabbath in the neighboring parish of Stromness, he seemed to yield to her entreaties, and got ready his yawl, apparently with the design of bringing her across the Sound to the town. They had, however, no sooner quitted the shore than he sailed off to a green little Ogygia of a holm in the neighborhood, on which, reversing the old mythologic story of Calypso and Ulysses, he incarcerated the poor woman for the rest of the day till evening. I could see, from the broad grin with which the boatman greeted this part of the recital, that there was, unluckily, almost fun enough in the trick to neutralize the sense of its barbarity. The unsocial fisherman lived on, dreaded and disliked, and yet, when his skiff was seen boldly keeping the sea in the face of a freshening gale, when every other was making for port, or stretching out from the land as some stormy evening was falling, not a little admired also. At length, on a night of fearful tempest, the skiff was marked approaching the coast, full on an iron-bound promontory, where there could be no safe landing. The helm, from the steadiness of her course, seemed fast lashed, and, dimly discernible in the uncertain light, the solitary boatman could be seen sitting erect at the bows, as if looking out for the shore. But as his little bark came shooting inwards on the long roll of a wave, it was found that there was no speculation in his stony glance: the misanthropic fisherman was a cold and rigid corpse. He had died at sea, as English juries emphatically express themselves in such cases, under "the visitation of God."


Hoy—Unique Scenery—The Dwarfie Stone of Hoy—Sir Walter Scott's Account of it—Its Associations—Inscription of Names—George Buchanan's Consolation—The mythic Carbuncle of the Hill of Hoy—No Fossils at Hoy—Striking Profile of Sir Walter Scott on the Hill of Hoy—Sir Walter, and Shetland and Orkney—Originals of two Characters in "The Pirate"—Bessie Millie—Garden of Gow, the "Pirate"—Childhood's Scene of Byron's "Torquil"—The Author's Introduction to his Sister—A German Visitor—German and Scotch Sabbath-keeping habits contrasted—Mr. Watt's Specimens of Fossil Remains—The only new Organism found in Orkney—Back to Kirkwall—to Wick—Vedder's Ode to Orkney.

We landed at Hoy, on a rocky stretch of shore, composed of the gray flagstones of the district. They spread out here in front of the tall hills composed of the overlying sandstone, in a green undulating platform, resembling a somewhat uneven esplanade spread out in front of a steep rampart. With the upper deposit a new style of scenery commences, unique in these islands: the hills, bold and abrupt, rise from fourteen to sixteen hundred feet over the sea-level; and the valleys by which they are traversed,—no mere shallow inflections of the general surface, like most of the other valleys of Orkney,—are of profound depth, precipitous, imposing, and solitary. The sudden change from the soft, low, and comparatively tame, to the bold, stern, and high, serves admirably to show how much the character of a landscape may depend on the formation which composes it. A walk of somewhat less than two miles brought me into the depths of a brown, shaggy valley, so profoundly solitary, that it does not contain a single human habitation, nor, with one interesting exception, a single trace of the hand of man. As the traveller approaches by a path somewhat elevated, in order to avoid the peaty bogs of the bottom, along the slopes of the northern side of the dell, he sees, amid the heath below, what at first seems to be a rhomboidal piece of pavement of pale Old Red Sandstone, bearing atop a few stunted tufts of vegetation. There are no neighboring objects of a known character by which to estimate its size; the precipitous hill-front behind is more than a thousand feet in height: the greatly taller Ward Hill of Hoy, which frowns over it on the opposite side, is at least five hundred feet higher; and, dwarfed by these giants, it seems a mere pavior's flag, mayhap some five or six feet square, by from eighteen inches to two feet in depth. It is only on approaching it within a few yards that we find it to be an enormous stone, nearly thirty feet in length by almost fifteen feet in breadth, and in some places, though it thins, wedge-like, towards one of the edges, more than six feet in thickness,—forming altogether such a mass as the quarrier would detach from the solid rock to form the architrave of some vast gateway, or the pediment of some colossal statue. A cave-like excavation, nearly three feet square, and rather more than seven feet in depth, opens on its gray and lichened side. The excavation is widened within, along the opposite walls, into two uncomfortably short beds, very much resembling those of the cabin of a small coasting vessel. One of the two is furnished with a protecting ledge and a pillow of stone, hewn out of the solid mass, while the other, which is some five or six inches shorter than its neighbor, and presents altogether more the appearance of a place of penance than of repose, lacks both cushion and ledge. An aperture, which seems to have been originally of a circular form, and about two and a half feet in diameter, but which some unlucky herd-boy, apparently in the want of better employment, has considerably mutilated and widened, opens at the inner excavation of the extremity to the roof, as the hatch of a vessel opens from the hold to the deck; for it is by far too wide in proportion to the size of the apartment to be regarded as a chimney. A gray, rudely-hewn block of sandstone, which, though greatly too ponderous to be moved by any man of the ordinary strength, seems to have served the purpose of a door, lies prostrate beside the opening in front. And such is the famous Dwarfie Stone of Hoy, as firmly fixed in our literature by the genius of Sir Walter Scott, as in this wild valley by its ponderous weight and breadth of base, and regarding which—for it shares in the general obscurity of the other ancient remains of Orkney—the antiquary can do little more than repeat, somewhat incredulously, what tradition tells him, viz., that it was the work, many ages ago, of an ugly, malignant goblin, half-earth half-air,—the Elfin Trolld,—a personage, it is said, that even within the last century, used occasionally to be seen flitting about in its neighborhood.

I was fortunate in a fine breezy day, clear and sunshiny, save where the shadows of a few dense piled-up clouds swept dark athwart the landscape. In the secluded recesses of the valley all was hot, heavy and still; though now and then a fitful snatch of a breeze, the mere fragment of some broken gust that seemed to have lost its way, tossed for a moment the white cannach of the bogs, or raised spirally into the air, for a few yards, the light beards of some seeding thistle, and straightway let them down again. Suddenly, however, about noon, a shower broke thick and heavy against the dark sides and gray scalp of the Ward Hill, and came sweeping down the valley. I did what Norna of the Fitful Head had, according to the novelist, done before me in similar circumstances, crept for shelter into the larger bed of the cell, which, though rather scant, taken fairly lengthwise, for a man of five feet eleven, I found, by stretching myself diagonally from corner to corner, no very uncomfortable lounging-place in a thunder-shower. Some provident herd-boy had spread it over, apparently months before, with a littering of heath and fern, which now formed a dry, springy conch; and as I lay wrapped up in my plaid, listening to the rain-drops as they pattered thick and heavy atop, or slanted through the broken hatchway to the vacant bed on the opposite side of the excavation, I called up the wild narrative of Norna, and felt all its poetry. The opening passage of the story is, however, not poetry, but good prose, in which the curious visitor might give expression to his own conjectures, if ingenious enough either to form or to express them so well. "With my eyes fixed on the smaller bed," the sorceress is made to say, "I wearied myself with conjectures regarding the origin and purpose of my singular place of refuge. Had it been really the work of that powerful Trolld to whom the poetry of the Scalds referred it? or was it the tomb of some Scandinavian chief, interred with his arms and his wealth, perhaps also with his immolated wife, that what he loved best in life might not in death be divided from him? or was it the abode of penance chosen by some devoted anchorite of later days? or the idle work of some wandering mechanic, whom chance, and whim, and leisure, had thrust upon such an undertaking?" What follows this sober passage is the work of the poet. "Sleep," continues Norna, "had gradually crept upon me among my lucubrations, when I was startled from my slumbers by a second clap of thunder, and when I awoke, I saw through the dim light which the upper aperture admitted, the unshapely and indistinct form of Trolld the dwarf, seated opposite to me on the lesser couch, which his square and misshapen bulk seemed absolutely to fill up. I was startled, but not affrighted; for the blood of the ancient race of Lochlin was warm in my veins. He spoke, and his words were of Norse,—so old, that few save my father, or I myself could have comprehended their import,—such language as was spoken in these islands ere Olave planted his cross on the ruins of heathenism. His meaning was dark also, and obscure, like that which the pagan priests were wont to deliver, in the name of their idols, to the tribes that assembled at the Helgafels.... I answered him in nearly the same strain, for the spirit of the ancient Scalds of our race was upon me; and far from fearing the phantom with whom I sat cooped within so narrow a space, I felt the impulse of that high courage which thrust the ancient champions and Druidesses upon contests with the invisible world, when they thought that the earth no longer contained enemies worthy to be subdued by them.... The Demon scowled at me as if at once incensed and overawed; and then, coiling himself up in a thick and sulphurous vapor, he disappeared from his place. I did not till that moment feel the influence of fright, but then it seized me. I rushed into the open air, where the tempest had passed away, and all was pure and serene." Shall I dare confess, that I could fain have passed some stormy night all alone in this solitary cell, were it but to enjoy the luxury of listening, amid the darkness, to the clashing rain and the roar of the wind high among the cliffs, or to detect the brushing sound of hasty footsteps in the wild rustle of the heath, or the moan of unhappy spirits in the low roar of the distant sea. Or, mayhap,—again to borrow from the poet,—as midnight was passing into morning,

"To ponder o'er some mystic lay, Till the wild tale had all its sway; And in the bittern's distant shriek I heard unearthly voices speak, Or thought the wizard priest was come To claim again his ancient home! And bade my busy fancy range To frame him fitting shape and strange; Till from the dream my brow I cleared, And smiled to think that I had feared."

The Dwarfie Stone has been a good deal undervalued by some writers, such as the historian of Orkney, Mr. Barry; and, considered simply as a work of art or labor, it certainly does not stand high. When tracing, as I lay a-bed, the marks of the tool, which, in the harder portions of the stone, are still distinctly visible, I just thought how that, armed with pick and chisel, and working as I was once accustomed to work, I could complete such another excavation to order in some three weeks or a month. But then, I could not make my excavation a thousand years old, nor envelop its origin in the sun-gilt vapors of a poetic obscurity, nor connect it with the supernatural, through the influences of wild ancient traditions, nor yet encircle it with a classic halo, borrowed from the undying inventions of an exquisite literary genius. A half-worn pewter spoon, stamped on the back with the word London, which was found in a miserable hut on the banks of the Awatska by some British sailors, at once excited in their minds a thousand tender remembrances of their country. And it would, I suspect, be rather a poor criticism, and scarcely suited to grapple with the true phenomena of the case, that, wholly overlooking the magical influences of the associative faculty, would concentrate itself simply on either the-workmanship or the materials of the spoon. Nor is the Dwarfie Stone to be correctly estimated, independently of the suggestive principle, on the rules of the mere quarrier who sells stones by the cubic foot, or of the mere contractor for hewn work who dresses them by the square one.

The pillow I found lettered over with the names of visitors; but the stone,—an exceedingly compact red sandstone,—had resisted the imperfect tools at the command of the traveller,—usually a nail or knife; and so there were but two of the names decipherable,—that of an "H. Ross, 1735," and that of a "P. FOLSTER, 1830." The rain still pattered heavily overhead; and with my geological chisel and hammer I did, to beguile the time, what I very rarely do,—added my name to the others, in characters which, if both they and the Dwarfie Stone get but fair play, will be distinctly legible two centuries hence. In what state will the world then exist, or what sort of ideas will fill the head of the man who, when the rock has well-nigh yielded up its charge, will decipher the name for the last time, and inquire, mayhap, regarding the individual whom it now designates, as I did this morning, when I asked, "Who was this H. Ross, and who this P. Folster?" I remember when it would have saddened me to think that there would in all probability be as little response in the one case as in the other; but as men rise in years they become more indifferent than in early youth to "that life which wits inherit after death," and are content to labor on and be obscure. They learn, too, if I may judge from experience, to pursue science more exclusively for its own sake, with less, mayhap, of enthusiasm to carry them on, but with what is at least as strong to take its place as a moving force, that wind and bottom of formed habit through which what were at first acts of the will pass into easy half-instinctive promptings of the disposition. In order to acquaint myself with the fossiliferous deposits of Scotland, I have travelled, hammer in hand, during the last nine years, over fully ten thousand miles; nor has the work been in the least one of dry labor,—not more so than that of the angler, or grouse-shooter, or deer-stalker: it has occupied the mere leisure interstices of a somewhat busy life, and has served to relieve its toils. I have succeeded, however, in accomplishing but little: besides, what is discovery to-day will be but rudimentary fact to the tyro-geologists of the future. But if much has not been done, I have at least the consolation of George Buchanan, when, according to Melvill, "fand sitting in his chair, teiching his young man that servit him in his chalmer to spell a, b, ab; e, b, eb. 'Better this,' quoth he, 'nor stelling sheipe.'"

The sun broke out in great beauty after the shower, glistening on a thousand minute runnels that came streaming down the precipices, and revealing, through the thin vapory haze, the horizontal lines of strata that bar the hill-sides, like courses of ashlar in a building. I failed, however, to detect, amid the general many-pointed glitter by which the blue gauze-like mist was bespangled, the light of the great carbuncle for which the Ward Hill has long been famous,—that wondrous gem, according to Sir Walter, "that, though it gleams ruddy as a furnace to them that view it from beneath, ever becomes invisible to him whose daring foot scales the precipices whence it darts its splendor." The Hill of Hoy is, however, not the only one in the kingdom that, according to tradition, bears a jewel in its forehead. The "great diamond" of the Northern Sutor was at one time scarce less famous than the carbuncle of the Ward Hill. "I have been oftener than once interrogated on the western coast of Scotland regarding the diamond rock of Cromarty; and have been told, by an old campaigner who fought under Abercrombie, that he has listened to the familiar story of its diamond amid the sand wastes of Egypt." But the diamond has long since disappeared; and we now see only the rock. Unlike the carbuncle of Hoy, it was never seen by day; though often, says the legend, the benighted boatmen has gazed, from amid the darkness, as he came rowing along the shore, on its clear beacon-like flame, which, streaming from the precipice, threw a fiery strip across the water; and often have the mariners of other countries inquired whether the light which they saw so high among the cliffs, right over their mast, did not proceed from the shrine of some saint or the cell of some hermit. At length an ingenious ship-captain determined on marking its place, brought with him from England a few balls of chalk, and took aim at it in the night-time with one of his great guns. Ere he had fired, however, it vanished, as if suddenly withdrawn by some guardian hand; and its place in the rock front has ever since remained as undistinguishable, whether by night or by day, as the scaurs and clefts around it. The marvels of the present time abide examination more patiently. It seems difficult enough to conceive, for instance, that the upper deposit of the Lower Old Red in this locality, out of which the mountains of Hoy have been scooped, once overlaid the flag stones of all Orkney, and stretched on and away to Dunnet Head, Tarbet Ness, and the Black Isle; and yet such is the story, variously authenticated, to which their nearly horizontal strata, and their abrupt precipices lend their testimony. In no case has this superior deposit of the formation of the Coccosteus been known to furnish a single fossil; nor did it yield me on this occasion, among the Hills of Hoy, what it had denied me everywhere else on every former one. Sly search, however, was by no means either very prolonged or very careful.

I found I had still several hours of day-light before me; and these I spent, after my return on a rough tumbling sea to Stromness, in a second survey of the coast, westwards from the granitic axis of the island, to the bishop's palace, and the ichthyolitic quarry beyond. From this point of view the high terminal Hill of Hoy, towards the west, presents what is really a striking profile of Sir Walter Scott, sculptured in the rock front by the storms of ages, on so immense a scale, that the Colossus of Rhodes, Pharos and all, would scarce have furnished materials enough to supply it with a nose. There are such asperities in the outline as one might expect in that of a rudely modelled bust, the work of a master, from which, in his fiery haste, he had not detached the superfluous clay; but these interfere in no degree with the fidelity, I had almost said spirit, of the likeness. It seems well, as it must have waited for thousands of years ere it became the portrait it now is, that the human profile, which it preceded so long, and without which it would have lacked the element of individual truth, should have been that of Sir Walter. Amid scenes so heightened in interest by his genius as those of Orkney, he is entitled to a monument. To the critical student of the philosophy and history of poetic invention it is not uninstructive to observe how completely the novelist has appropriated and brought within the compass of one fiction, in defiance of all those lower probabilities which the lawyer who pleaded before a jury court would be compelled to respect, almost every interesting scene and object in both the Shetland and Orkney islands. There was but little intercourse in those days between the two northern archipelagos. It is not yet thirty years since they communicated with each other, chiefly through the port of Leith, where their regular traders used to meet monthly; but it was necessary, for purposes of effect, that the dreary sublimities of Shetland should be wrought up into the same piece of rich tissue with the imposing antiquities of Orkney,—Sumburgh Head and Roost with the ancient Cathedral of St. Magnus and the earl's palace, and Fitful Head and the sand-enveloped kirk of St. Ringan with the Standing Stones of Stennis and the Dwarfie Stone of Hoy; and so the little jury-court probabilities have been sacrificed without scruple, and that higher truth of character, and that exquisite portraiture of external nature, which give such reality to fiction, and make it sink into the mind more deeply than historic fact, have been substituted instead. But such,—considerably to the annoyance of the lesser critics,—has been ever the practice of the greater poets. The lesser critics are all critics of the jury-court cast; while all the great masters of fiction, with Shakspeare at their head, have been asserters of that higher truth which is not letter, but spirit, and contemners of the mere judicial probabilities. And so they have been continually fretting the little men with their extravagances, and they ever will. What were said to be the originals of two of Sir Walter's characters in the "Pirate" were living in the neighborhood of Stromness only a few years ago. An old woman who resided immediately over the town, in a little cottage, of which there now remains only the roofless walls, and of whom the sailors, weather-bound in the port, used occasionally to purchase a wind, furnished him with the first conception of his Norna of the Fitful Head; and an eccentric shopkeeper of the place, who to his dying day used to designate the "Pirate," with much bitterness, as a "lying book," and its author as a "wicked lying man," is said to have suggested the character of Bryce Snailsfoot the peddler. To the sorceress Sir Walter himself refers in one of his notes. "At the village of Stromness, on the Orkney main island, called Pomona, lived," he says, "in 1814, an aged dame called Bessie Millie, who helped out her subsistence by selling favorable winds to mariners. Her dwelling and appearance were not unbecoming her pretensions: her house, which was on the brow of the steep hill on which Stromness is founded, was only accessible by a series of dirty and precipitous lanes, and, for exposure, might have been the abode of Aeolus himself, in whose commodities the inhabitant dealt. She herself was, as she told us, nearly one hundred years old, withered and dried up like a mummy. A clay-colored kerchief, folded round her head, corresponded in color to her corpse-like complexion. Two light-blue eyes that gleamed with a lustre like that of insanity, an utterance of astonishing rapidity, a nose and chin that almost met together, and a ghastly expression of cunning, gave her the effect of Hecate. She remembered Gow the pirate, who had been a native of these islands, in which he closed his career. Such was Bessie Millie, to whom the mariners paid a sort of tribute, with a feeling betwixt jest and earnest."

On the opposite side of Stromness, where the arm of the sea, which forms the harbor, is about a quarter of a mile in width, there is, immediately over the shore, a small square patch of ground, apparently a planticruive, or garden, surrounded by a tall dry-stone fence. It is all that survives—for the old dwelling-house to which it was attached was pulled down several years ago—of the patrimony of Gow the "Pirate;" and is not a little interesting, as having formed the central nucleus round which,—like those bits of thread or wire on which the richly saturated fluids of the chemist solidify and crystallize,—the entire fiction of the novelist aggregated and condensed under the influence of forces operative only in minds of genius. A white, tall, old-fashioned house, conspicuous on the hill-side, looks out across the bay towards the square inclosure, which it directly fronts. And it is surely a curious coincidence, that while in one of these two erections, only a few hundred yards apart, one of the heroes of Scott saw the light, the other should have proved the scene of the childhood of one of the heroes of Byron,

"Torquil, the nursling of the northern seas."

The reader will remember, that in Byron's poem of "The Island," one of the younger leaders of the mutineers is described as a native of these northern isles. He is drawn by the poet, amid the wild luxuriance of an island of the Pacific, as

"The blue-eyed northern child, Of isles more known to man, but scarce less wild,— The fair-haired offspring of the Orcades, Where roars the Pentland with his whirling seas,— Rocked in his cradle by the roaring wind, The tempest-born in body and in mind,— His young eyes, opening on the ocean foam,— Had from that moment deemed the deep his home."

Judging from what I learned of his real history, which is well known in Stromness, I found reason to conclude that he had been a hapless young man, of a kindly, genial nature; and greatly "more sinned against than sinning," in the unfortunate affair of the mutiny with which his name is now associated, and for his presumed share in which, untried and unconvicted, he was cruelly left to perish in chains amid the horrors of a shipwreck. I had the honor of being introduced on the following day to his sister, a lady far advanced in life, but over whose erect form and handsome features the years seemed to have passed lightly, and whom I met at the Free Church of Stromness, to which, at the Disruption, she had followed her respected minister. It seemed a fact as curiously compounded as some of those pictures of the last age in which the thin unsubstantialities of allegory mingled with the tangibilities of the real and the material, that the sister of one of Byron's heroes should be an attached member of the Free Church.

On my return to the inn, I found in the public room a young German of some one or two and twenty, who, in making the tour of Scotland, had extended his journey into Orkney. My specimens, which had begun to accumulate in the room, on chimney-piece and window-sill, had attracted his notice, and led us into conversation. He spoke English well, but not fluently,—in the style of one who had been more accustomed to read than to converse in it; and he seemed at least as familiar with two of our great British authors,—Shakspeare and Sir Walter Scott,—as most of the better-informed British themselves. It was chiefly the descriptions of Sir Walter in the "Pirate" that had led him into Orkney. He had already visited the Cathedral of St. Magnus and the Stones of Stennis; and on the morrow he intended visiting the Dwarfie Stone; though I ventured to suggest that, as a broad sound lay between Stromness and Hoy, and as the morrow was the Sabbath, he might find some difficulty in doing that. His circle of acquirement was, I found, rather literary than scientific. It seemed, however, to be that of a really accomplished young man, greatly better founded in his scholarship than most of our young Scotchmen on quitting the national universities; and I felt, as we conversed together, chiefly on English literature and general politics, how much poorer a figure I would have cut in his country than he cut in mine. I found, on coming down from my room next morning to a rather late breakfast, that he had been out among the Stromness fishermen, and had returned somewhat chafed. Not a single boatman could he find in a populous seaport town that would undertake to carry him to the Dwarfie Stone on the Sabbath,—a fact, to their credit, which it is but simple justice to state. I saw him afterwards in the Free Church, listening attentively to a thoroughly earnest and excellent discourse, by the Disruption minister of the parish, Mr. Learmonth; and in the course of the evening he dropped in for a short time to the Free Church Sabbath-school, where he took his seat beside one of the teachers, as if curious to ascertain more in detail the character of the instruction which had operated so influentially on the boatmen, and which he had seen telling from the pulpit with such evident effect. What would not his country now give,—now, while drifting loose from all its old moorings, full on the perils of a lee shore,—for the anchor of a faith equally steadfast! He was a Lutheran, he told me; but, as is too common in Germany, his actual beliefs appeared to be very considerably at variance with his hereditary creed. The creed was a tolerably sound one, but the living belief regarding it seemed to do little more than take cognizance of what he deemed the fact of its death.

I had carried with me a letter of introduction to Mr. William Watt, to whom I have already had occasion to refer as an intelligent geologist; but the letter I had no opportunity of delivering. Mr. Watt had learned, however, of my being in the neighborhood, and kindly walked into Stromness, some six or eight miles, on the morning of Monday, to meet with me, bringing me a few of his rarer specimens. One of the number,—a minute ichthyolite, about three inches in length,—I was at first disposed to set down as new, but I have since come to regard it as simply an imperfectly-preserved specimen of a Cromarty and Morayshire species,—the Glyptolepis microlepidotus; though its state of keeping is such as to render either conclusion an uncertainty. Another of the specimens was that of a fish, still comparatively rare, first figured in the first edition of my little volume on the "Old Red Sandstone," from the earliest found specimen, at a time while it was yet unfurnished with a name, but which has since had a place assigned to it in the genus Diplacanthus, as the species longispinus. The scales, when examined by the glass, remind one, from their pectinated character, of shells covering the walls of a grotto,—a peculiarity to which, when showing my specimen to Agassiz, while it had yet no duplicate, I directed his attention, and which led him to extemporize for it, on the spot, the generic name Ostralepis, or shell-scale. On studying it more leisurely, however, in the process of assigning to it a place in his great work, where the reader may now find it figured (Table XIV., fig. 8), the naturalist found reason to rank it among the Diplacanthi. Mr. Watt's specimen exhibited the outline of the head more completely than mine; but the Orkney ichthyolites rarely present the microscopic minutiae; and the shell-like aspect of the scales was shown in but one little patch, where they had left their impressions on the stone. His other specimens consisted of single plates of a variety of Coccosteus, undistinguishable in their form and proportions from those of the Coccosteus decipiens, but which exceeded by about one-third the average size of the corresponding parts in that species; and of a rib-like bone, that belonged apparently to what few of the ichthyolites of the Lower Old Red seem to have possessed,—an osseous internal skeleton. This last organism was the only one I saw in Orkney with which I had not been previously acquainted, or which I could regard as new, though possibly enough it may have formed part, not of an undiscovered genus, but of the known genus Asterolepis, of whose inner framework, judging from the Russian specimens at least, portions must have been bony. After parting from Mr. Watt, I travelled on to Kirkwall, which, after a leisurely journey, I reached late in the evening, and on the following morning took the steamer for Wick. I brought away with me, if not many rare specimens or many new geological facts, at least a few pleasing recollections of an interesting country and a hospitable people. In the previous chapter I indulged in a brief quotation from Mr. David Vedder, the sailor-poet of Orkney, and I shall make no apology for availing myself in the present, of the vigorous, well-turned stanzas in which he portrays some of those peculiar features by which the land of his nativity may be best recognized and most characteristically remembered.


Land of the whirlpool,—torrent,—foam, Where oceans meet in madd'ning shock; The beetling cliff,—the shelving holm,— The dark insidious rock. Land of the bleak, the treeless moor,— The sterile mountain, sered and riven,— The shapeless cairn, the ruined tower, Scathed by the bolts of heaven,— The yawning gulf,—the treacherous sand,— love thee still, MY NATIVE LAND.

Land of the dark, the Runic rhyme,— The mystic ring,—the cavern hoar,— The Scandinavian seer, sublime In legendary lore. Land of a thousand sea-kings' graves,— Those tameless spirits of the past, Fierce as their subject arctic waves, Or hyperborean blast,— Though polar billows round thee foam, I love thee!—thou wert once my home.

With glowing heart and island lyre, Ah! would some native bard arise To sing, with all a poet's fire, Thy stern sublimities,— The roaring flood,—the rushing stream,— The promontory wild and bare,— The pyramid, where sea-birds scream, Aloft in middle air,— The Druid temple on the heath, Old even beyond tradition's birth.

Though I have roamed through verdant glades, In cloudless climes, 'neath azure skies, Or plucked from beauteous orient meads, Flowers of celestial dies,— Though I have laved in limpid streams, That murmur over golden sands, Or basked amid the fulgid beams That flame o'er fairer lands, Or stretched me in the sparry grot,— My country! THOU wert ne'er forgot.



[1] March 31, 1845.

[2] Professor Nicol of Aberdeen believes the Red Sandstones of the West Highlands are of Devonian age, and the quartzite and limestone of Lower Carboniferous.—See Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, February 1857.—W.S.

[3] Sir R. Murchison considers these rocks Silurian. See "Quarterly Journal" of the Geological Society, Anniversary Address.

[4] Probably one of the Isastrea of Edwards.

[5] See a paper by the Rev. P.B. Brodie, on Lias Corals, "Edinburgh New Philosophic Journal," April, 1857.

[6] The verses here referred to are introduced into "My Schools and Schoolmasters," chapter tenth.

[7] For a description of this pond see "My Schools and Schoolmasters," chapter tenth.

[8] These remarks refer to the poem "On Seeing a Sun-Dial in a Churchyard," which was introduced here when these chapters were first published in the "Witness," but, having been afterwards inserted in the tenth chapter of "My Schools and Schoolmasters," is not here reproduced.

[9] Mr. Peach has discovered fossils in the Durness limestone, which rests above the quartzite rock of the west of Scotland, that covers the Red Sandstone long believed to be OLD RED. The fossils are very obscure.—W.S.S.

[10] This second title hears reference to the extent of the author's geologic excursions in Scotland, during the nine years from 1840 to 1848 inclusive.

[11] Since the above was written, I have seen an interesting paper in "Hogg's Weekly Instructor," in which the Rev. Mr. Longmuir of Aberdeen describes a visit to the Lias clay at Blackpots. Mr. Longmuir seems to have given more time to his researches than I found it agreeable, in a very indifferent day to devote to mine; and his list of fossils is considerably longer. Their evidence, however, runs in exactly the same tract with that of the shorter list. He had been told at Banff that the clay contained "petrified tangles;" and the first organism shown him by the workmen, on his arrival at the deposit, were some of the "tangles" in question. "These" he goes on to say, "we found, as may have already been anticipated, to be pieces of Belemnites, well known on the other side of the Frith as 'thunderbolts,' and esteemed of sovereign efficacy in the cure of bewitched cattle." Though still wide of the mark, there is here an evident descent from the supernatural to the physical, from the superstitious to the true. "Satisfied that we had a mass of Lias clay before us, we set vigorously to work, in order either to find additional characteristic fossils, or obtain data on which to form a conjecture as to the history of this out-of-the-way deposit; and our labor was not without its reward. We shall now present a brief account of the specimens we picked up. Observing a number of stones of different sizes, that had been thrown out, as they were struck, by the workman's shovel, we immediately commenced, and, like an inquisitor of old, knocked our victims on the head, that they might reveal their secrets; or, like a Roman haruspex, examined their interior,—not, however, to obtain a knowledge of the future, but only to take a peep into the past. 1. Here, then, we take up, not a regular Lias lime nodule, but what appears to have formed part of one; and the first blow has laid open part of a whorl of an Ammonite, which, when complete, must have measured three or four inches in diameter, and it is perfectly assimilated to the calcareous matrix. 2. Here is a mass of indurated clay; and a gentle blow has exposed part of two Ammonites, smaller than the former, but their shells are white and powdery like chalk. 3. Another fragment is laid open; and there, quite unmistakably, lie the umbo and greater portion of the Plagiostoma concentricum. 4. Another fragment of a granular gritty structure presents a considerable portion of the interior of one of the shells of a Pecten, but whether the attached fragment is part of one of its ears, or of the other valve turned backward, is not so easily determined. 5. Here is a piece of Belemnite in limestone, and the fracture in the fossil presents the usual glistening planes of cleavage. 6. Next we take up a piece of distinctly laminated Lias, with Ammonites as thick as they can lie on the pages of this black book of natural history. 7. Once more we strike, and we have the cast and part of the shell of another bivalve; but the valves have been jerked off each other, and have suffered a severe compound fracture; nevertheless we can have little hesitation in pronouncing it a species of unio. 8. Here is another piece of limestone, with its small fragment of another shell, of very delicate texture, with finely marked traverse striae. We are unwilling to decide on such slight evidence, but feel inclined to refer it to some species of Plagiostoma. 9. Here is a piece of pyrites, not quite so large as the first, and so vegetable-like in its markings, that it might be mistaken for part of a branch of a tree. This is also characteristic of the Lias; for when the shales are deeply impregnated with bitumen and pyrites, they undergo a slow combustion when heaped up with faggots and set on fire; and in the cliffs of the Yorkshire coast, after rainy weather, they sometimes spontaneously ignite, and continue to burn for several months. 10. As we passed through the works, on our way to the clay, we observed a sort of reservoir, into which the clay, after being freed from its impurities, had been run in a liquid state; the water had evaporated, and the drying clay had cracked in every direction. Here we find its counterpart in this large mass of stone; only the clay here, mixed with a portion of lime is petrified, and the fissures filled up with carbonate of lime; thus forming the septaria, or cement stone. We have dressed a specimen of it for our guide, who has a friend that will polish it, when the dark Lias will be strikingly contrasted with the white lime, and form rather a pretty piece of natural mosaic. 11. Coming to a simple piece of machinery for removing fragments of shale and stone from the clay, we examined some of the bits so rejected, and found what we had no doubt were fish-scales. 12. We have yet to notice certain long slender bodies, outwardly brown, but inwardly nearly black, resembling whip-cord in size. Are we to regard these as specimens of a fucus, perhaps the filum, or allied to it, which is known in some places by the appropriate name of sea-laces? 13. Passing on to the office, we were shown a chop of wood that had been found in the clay, and was destined for the Banff Museum. It is about eighteen inches in length, and half as much in breadth; and although evidently water-worn, yet we could count between twenty-five and thirty concentric rings on one of its ends, which not only enabled us to form some conjecture of its age previous to its overthrow, but also justified us in referring it to the coniferae of the vorwelt, or ancient world."

Mr. Longmuir makes the following shrewd remarks, in answering the question, "Whether have we here a mass of Lias clay, as originally deposited, or has it resulted from the breaking up of Lias-shale?" "The former alternative," says Mr. Longmuir, "we have heard, has been maintained; but we are inclined to adopt the latter, and that for the following reasons: 1. This clay, judging from other localities, is not in situ, but has every appearance of having been precipitated into a basin in the gneiss on which it rests, having apparently under it, although it is impossible to say to what extent, a bed of comminuted shells. 2. The fossils are all fragmentary and water-worn. This is especially the case with regard to the Belemnites, the pieces averaging from one to two inches in length, no workman having ever found a complete specimen, such as occurs in the Lias-shale at Cromarty, in which they may be found nine inches in length. 3. But perhaps the most satisfactory proof, and one that in itself may be deemed sufficient, is the frequent occurrence of pieces of Lias-shale, with their embedded Ammonites; which clearly show that the Lias had been broken up, tossed about in some violent agitation of the sea, and churned into clay, just as some denudating process of a similar nature swept away the chalk of Aberdeenshire, leaving on many of its hills and plains the water-worn flints, with the characteristic fossils of the Cretaceous formation."

[12] A description of Miss Bond and of her "Letters" here referred to, is given in the fifth chapter of "My Schools and Schoolmasters."

[13] The story here referred to is narrated in "Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland," chap. XXV.

[14] Scaur, Scotice, a precipice of clay. There is no single English word that conveys exactly the same idea.

[15] Mr. Dick has since disinterred from out the boulder-clays of the Burn of Freswick, Patella vulgata, Buccinum undatum, Fesus antiquus, Rostellaria, Pes pelicana, a Natica, Lutraria, and Balanus.

[16] That similarity of condition in which the hazel and the harder cerealia thrive was noted by our north-country farmers of the old School, long ere it had been recorded by the botanist. Hence such remarks, familiarized into proverbs, as "A good nut year's a good ait year;" or, "As the nut fills the ait fills."

[17] For this story, see "Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland," chap. XXV.

[18] "In the River St. Lawrence," says Sir Charles Lyell, "the loose ice accumulates on the shoals during the winter, at which season the water is low. The separate fragments of ice are readily frozen together in a climate where the temperature is sometimes thirty degrees below zero, and boulders become entangled with them; so that in the spring, when the river rises on the melting of the snow, the rocks are floated off, frequently conveying away the boulders to great distances. A single block of granite, fifteen feet long by ten feet both in width and height, and which could not contain less than fifteen hundred cubic feet of stone, was in this way moved down the river several hundred yards, during the late survey in 1837. Heavy anchors of ships, lying on the shore, have in like manner been closed in and removed. In October 1836, wooden stakes were driven several feet into the ground, at one point on the banks of the St. Lawrence, at high-water mark, and over them were piled many boulders as large as the united force of six men could roll. The year after, all the boulders had disappeared, and others had arrived, and the stakes had been drawn out and carried away by the ice."—'Elements,' first edition, p. 138.

[19] The story of the Lady of Balconie and her keys is narrated in "Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland." chap. XI.

[20] This mode is described in a traditionary story regarding a gigantic tribe of Fions, narrated in "Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland," chap. IV.

[21] See "My Schools and Schoolmasters," chap XI.

[22] I can entertain no doubt that the angular groups of palatal teeth figured by Agassiz and the Russian geologists as those of a supposed Placoid termed the Ctenodus, are in reality groups of the palatal teeth of Dipterus. In some of my specimens the frontal buckler of Polyphractus is connected with the gill-covers and scales of Dipterus, and bears in its palate what cannot he distinguished from the teeth of Ctenodus. The three genera resolve themselves into one.

[23] There is a very admirable remark to this effect in the "Travelling Memorandums" of the late Lord Gardenstone, which, as the work has been long out of print, and is now scarce, may be new to many of my readers: "It is certain, and demonstrated by the experience of ages and nations," says his Lordship, in referring to the old principalities of France, "that the government of petty princes is less favorable to the security and interests of society than the government of monarchs, who possess great and extensive territories. The race of great monarchs cannot possibly preserve a safe and undisturbed state of government, without many delegations of power and office to men of approved abilities and practical knowledge, who are subject to complaint during their administration, and responsible when it is at an end; or yet without an established system of laws and regulations; so that no inconsiderable degree of security and liberty to the subject is almost inseparable from, and essential to, the subsistence and duration of a great monarchy. But it is easy for petty princes to practise an arbitrary and irregular exercise of power, by which their people are reduced to a condition of miserable slavery. Indeed, very few of them, in the course of ages, are capable of conceiving any other means of maintaining the ostentatious state, the luxurious and indolent pride, which they mistake for greatness. I heartily wish that this observation and censure may not, in some instances, be applicable to great landed proprietors in some parts of Britain."—Travelling Memorandums, vol. i. p. 123. 1792.

[24] The exciting effects of a poor soil, or climate, or of severe usage, on the productive powers of various vegetable species, have been long and often remarked. Flavel describes, in one of his ingenious emblems, illustrative of the influence of affliction on the Christian, an orchard tree, which had been beaten with sticks and stones, till it presented a sorely stunted and mutilated appearance; but which, while the fairer and more vigorous trees around it were rich in only leaves, was laden with fruit,—a direct consequence, it is shown, of the hard treatment to which it had been subjected. I have heard it told in a northern village, as a curious anecdote, that a large pear tree, which during a vigorous existence of nearly fifty years, had borne scarce a single pear, had, when in a state of decay, and for a few years previous to its death, borne immense crops of from two to three bolls each season. And the skilful gardener not unfrequently avails himself of the principle on which both phenomena seem to have occurred,—that exhibited in the beaten and that in the decaying tree,—in rendering his barren plants fruitful. He has recourse to it even when merely desirous of ascertaining the variety of pear or apple which some thriving sapling, slow in bearing, is yet to produce. Selecting some bough which may be conveniently lopped away without destroying the symmetry of the tree, he draws his knife across the bark, and inflicts on it a wound, from which, though death may not ensue for some two or three twelvemonths, it cannot ultimately recover. Next spring the wounded branch is found to bear its bunches of blossoms; the blossoms set into fruit; and while in the other portions of the plant all is vigorous and barren as before, the dying part of it, as if sobered by the near prospect of dissolution, is found fulfilling the proper end of its existence. Soil and climate, too, exert, it has been often remarked, a similar influence. In the united parishes of Kirkmichael and Culicuden, in the immediate neighborhood of Cromarty, much of the soil is cold and poor, and the exposure ungenial; and "in most parts, where hardwood has been planted," says the Rev. Mr. Sage of Resolis, in his "Statistical Account," "it is stinted in its growth, and bark-bound. Comparatively young trees of ash," he shrewdly adds, "are covered with seed,—an almost infallible sign that their natural growth is checked. The leaves, too, fall off about the beginning of September."






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—> The above six volumes are furnished in sets, printed and bound in uniform style: viz.,

HUGH MILLER'S WORKS, Six Volumes. Elegant embossed cloth, $7.00, library sheep, $8.00; half calf, $12.00; antique, $12.00.

MACAULAY ON SCOTLAND. A Critique, from the "Witness." 16mo, flexible cloth, 25 cts.



Would call particular attention to the following valuable works described in their Catalogue of Publications, viz.:

Hugh Miller's Works.

Bayne's Works. Walker's Works. Miall's Works. Bungener's Work.

Annual of Scientific Discovery. Knight's Knowledge is Power.

Krummacher's Suffering Saviour.

Banvard's American Histories. The Aimwell Stories.

Newcomb's Works. Tweedie's Works. Chambers's Works. Harris' Works.

Kitto's Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature.

Mrs. Knight's Life of Montgomery. Kitto's History of Palestin.

Wheewell's Work. Wayland's Works. Agassiz's Works.

William's Works. Guyot's Works.

Thompson's Better Land. Kimball's Heaven. Valuable Works on Missions.

Haven's Mental Philosophy. Buchanan's Modern Atheism.

Cruden's Condensed Concordance. Eadie's Analytical Concordance.

The Psalmist: A Collection of Hymns.

Valuable School Books. Works for Sabbath Schools.

Memoir of Amos Lawrence.

Poetical Works of Milton, Cowpar, Scott. Elegant Miniature Volumes.

Arvine's Cyolopaedia of Anecdotes.

Ripley's Notes on Gospels, Acts, and Romans.

Sprague's European Celebrities. Marsh's Camel and the Hallig.

Roget's Thesaurus of English Words.

Hackett's Notes on Acts. M'Whorter's Yahveh Christ.

Siebold and Stannius's Comparative Anatomy. Marco's Geological Map, U.S.

Religious and Miscellaneous Works.

Works in the various Departments of Literature, Science and Art.


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