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Chapter 12: Of The Description Of Orkeney, And Shetland, With Sundrie Other Small Iles, And Of The Maners And Conditions Of The People Dwelling In The Same.

BEYOND the Iles of Scotland lie those of Orkeney, partlie toward the northwest, and partie toward the Almain seas. The principall Ile of these is called Pomonia, wherein is a bishops sée, and two strong castels. In these groweth no wheat, they are in like sort void of wood, howbeit all other graine groweth there verie plentifullie, they be without all venemous beasts also, neither can such as are brought thither liue anie while, more than in Ireland, which susteineth no creature that is aduersarie to mankind. Ouer and beside this, there are no frogs: as for éeles they are seldome found and to be seene in the Orchades. Hauing thus fallen into the ment n of Irel nd, I thinke it good among diuers other rare gifts of nature, to remember one thing that I haue prooued by experience to be done there (although the tractation of Ireland and hir commodities apperteine not to this place) which farre passeth all that euer I haue read in bookes.

Certes there is a loch, lin, or poole there, néere vnto the which by manie miles, there groweth neither herbe nor trée; howbeit such is the qualitie of this water, that if stake be pitched in the same, the nature thereof dooth within one yéeres space alter and change exceedinglie, for that part thereof which standeth in the ground is conuerted into hard stone, the same that is inuironed with water turneth into tough iron, onelie that portion which is aboue the said element reteining hir former wooddie substance, whereby it is often seene how in one and the same bodie, thrée distinct substances are found, that is to say, stone, iron, and wood, which farre excéedeth all credit. But to returne againe to our Orchades, whereof things of little or no lesse importance are to be rehersed, for sith there is great abundance of barley whereof they make the strongest ale that is to be found in Albion, and thereto knowne, that they are the greatest drinkers of anie men in the world; yet was there neuer drunken or man disguised with drinke séene there, neither anie foole, or person otherwise bereft of his wits through frensie or madnes. There is herevnto small vse of physicke: for mankind liueth there most commonlie vnto extreame age in sound and perfect health, whose bodies also are of strong constitution and verie white of colour.

The ewes that are to be found in these Ilands haue for the most part two or thrée lambs a péece at euerie eaning, and therewithall they haue in this countrie such plentie of foules both wild and tame, as the like number againe is not to be found in Britaine. Their horsses are litle greter than the French asses, but in their labour they excéed all other. What should I speake of the plentie of fish there to be had, which passeth all credit? among which there is one sort greater than anie horsse, of a maruellous and incredible sluggish desire to sléepe. This fish when shée prouideth to sleepe, fastneth hir huge teeth vpon some crag that lieth aboue the water, and then slumbreth or falleth into a most sound rest, which the seafaring men espieng, they foorthwith cast anchor, and then letting downe their ship-boats, they conueie themselues to the fish, and bore a great hole through hir taile, wherevnto they put one end of a cable, and so make it sure; the other end is fastened to a great anchor, which is let fall of purpose into the sea, and thus is their enterprise attempted yer long to be atchiued. For after this wound, it is not long yer the fish awaketh, who féeling hirselfe to be hurt, leapeth at once into the sea, thinking to hide and shrowd hir in the déepes: but being staid by the weight of the anchor, and indeuouring in vaine to breake the cable, she laboureth so vehementlie, that at the last she windeth hir selfe out of hir skin (for the which she is commonlie taken) and soone after also turneth vp hir bellie, yéelding hirselfe vnto the waues, and hir bodie to the mariners, who make an excellent oile of hir grease, and passing strong cables of hir hide or skin. Certes such is the force of rope made of the skin of this fish, that they will hold at a plunge no lesse than the Spanish sparto. Herein also they excéed the same, in that they will continue verie long without fretting asunder.

An hundred miles beyond the Orchades are the Shetland Iles, whose chiefe commodities stand onelie by fish which is dried in the sun. There are brought also into Scotland out of these Ilands great store of shéepes felles, oxe hides, gotes skinnes, and cases of martirnes dried in the sunne. And in the same maner the merchants of Holland, Zeland and Germanie, fetch them yéerelie by barter and exchange for other common and necessarie wares, with the people of that nation, who for maners and conditions resemble much the Orchanois. The same in like sort that is said of the Orchanois, concerning drunkennes and frensie, is verified on them, as is also their length of life, although not in so rare maner: sith these in stead of strong ale, content themselues with water, and verie slender diet. Beyond the Shetlands there are diuerse other Ilands of like condition, but without corne and all maner of flesh to féed vpon. These drie their fish in the sunne, and when they are through stiffe, they grind them to small powder, which they worke vp with water into loaues, and so vse the same in lieu of other bread. Their firing consisteth of the bones of such fishes as they take, and yet they content themselues in such maner with this their poore kind of liuelode, that they thinke their estate most happie in respect of such as inhabit in the maine.

Certes there is no quarrelling amongst these for wealth or gaine, but each one prouideth such store of fish in summer which he taketh himselfe, as shall find his familie, or kéepe his house in winter. They are void of all ambitious mood, and neuer troubled with ciuill or forren warres, as men that déeme firme peace and quietnesse, with mutuall loue and amitie, to be the chiefe felicitie to be sought for in this life, and to remaine herein, each one to his power dooth shew his whole indeuour. This finallie is to be added vnto their commendation, that they are simple, plaine, void of craft, and all maner of serpentine subtiltie, which endeth commonlie with mischéefe, and reigneth in the maine. Once in the yéere there commeth a priest vnto them from Orkeney, (of which diocesse they are) who ministrcth vnto them the sacrament of baptisme, and after a certeine time (hauing taken vp in the meane time his tithes in fish, which is their sole increase, and verie trulie paid) he returneth home againe the same way that he came.

If anie gifts of nature are to be numbred as parcels of worldlie riches and renowme, they are not without these also: for the people of these Iles are lustie, faire, strong of bodie, and high of stature, so that nature hath not failed to indue them with these things, and that in most excellent maner. What should I say of their health, which is and may be preferred aboue all treasure, as they well know that are oppressed with long and gréeuous infirmities ? For here among these men, you shall very seldome heare of sickenesse to attach anie, vntill extreame age come that killeth them altogither, and this is that exceeding benefit naturallie appropried vnto their carcases. As for their quietnesse of mind, it is alwaies such as is constant, & vnchangeable, and therefore incomparable vnto any riches or huge masse of worldlie treasure.

Herevnto furthermore, if it be true riches (as it is in déed) for ech one not to couet other mens goods, but to content himselfe with that which is his owne, and not to stand in need of anie thing, can anie man be found in anie other region more rich and fortunate than the Shetland men and these Ilanders? Finallie, if those be the true honors, and reuerend duties which the obedient sonne with great sinceritie and void of all flatterie, dooth shew vnto his good parents, and wherewithall the best sort doo maruellouslie reioise and delite themselues: and that these are also not wanting in these regions, can we iustlie say that these men doo lacke anie thing, or shall we not rather affirme with great assurance, that they rather stand in need of nothing that anie mortall man can iustlie wish or desire?

But if there be anie man that will accuse me of vntruth in the recitall of these things, as one that lieth lowd and by authoritie of a people dwelling far off, for so much as I my selfe was neuer in those Ilands, he shall vnderstand that I learned all these things of the reuerend father Edward bishop of the Orchades, with whome one of these Ilanders dwelled, who not onelie made a like rehearsall of these things with his owne mouth, but also verified the same in his owne person, for his height far passed the common stature of men, thereto he was excellentlie well featured in his lims, so white of skin ouer all, that he might contend in beautie with anie ladie of the land, and finallie so white and strong of bodie, that no man in all those quarters durst run or wrestle with him. Hereby also we may sée, how far they are deceiued which iudge them to be barbarous, and miserable creatures, that inhabit far from the tropike lines, for there are no people more happie than those that dwell in these quarters, as I haue proued alreadie.

Furthermore, among the rocks and crags of these Ilesgroweth the delectable amber, calledSee Matthiolus vpon the first booke of Dioscorides capite de populo alba & nigra. Electrum, Chrysolectrum, or (as Dioscorides saith) Pterygophoron, indued with so vehement an attractiue force, that being chafed it draweth straw, flox, and other like light matter vnto it. This gum is ingendred of the sea froth, which is throwen vp by continuall repercussion of crags and rocks against the sea walls, and through perpetuall working of the waues groweth in time to become tough as giue, till it fall at the last from the rocke againe into the sea. Such as haue often viewed and marked the generation of this gum, whilest it hangeth on the rocke, affirme it to be like a froth and bubble of water without all massie sadnesse, because that as yet it is not sufficientlie hardened by the working of the element. Sometimes the SeatangleAlga. is found inuironed also withail, because it is driuen hither and thither by the working of the waues, and so long as it fléets to and fro in this maner, so long is it apt to cleaue to anie thing that it toucheth.

Two yeares before I wrote this booke, there came a great lumpe of amber into Buchquhane, in quantitie so big as anie horsse, which the heardmen that kept their cattell neere hand caught vp, & not knowing in déed what it was, they caried it home, and threw a portion thereof into the fire: finallie, perceiuing a swéet and delectable sauour to procéed from the same, they ran by & by to the priest of the towne where they dwelled, telling him how they had found a péece of stuffe which would serue verie well in stead of frankincense, wherewith to perfume his saints or rather Idols in the church. These men supposed that sir Iohn had béene more cunning than themselues, but contrarie to their expectation, it fell out that he was no lesse vnskilfull & void of knowlege than they; and therefore refusing the whole lumpe, he tooke but a small portion thereof, and returned the rest vnto them, whereby it came to little proofe and lesse gaine among the common sort, who suffered it to perish by reason of their vnskilfulnesse. Certes when they brake it in peeces, it resembled in color vnto the purest gold, & shined as if it had béene the laie or flame of a candle. Herein also the prouerbe was proued true, that the sow recks not of balme. But so soone as I vnderstood of the matter, I vsed such diligence, that one portion thereof was brought to me at Aberden. And thus much of the Hebrides, Orchades, and Shetland Iles subiect vnto the Scotish regiment.

I might (no doubt) haue made rehersall of diuers other strange things woorthie the noting in this behalfe: but I haue made choise onelie of the most rare and excellent, and so would finish this description, were it not that one thing hath fraied me right pleasant to be remembred, as an vncouth & strange incident, whereof maister Iames Ogilbie ambassadour from Iames our king (among other) vnto the king of France, hath certified me, and whereof he had experience of late, at such time as he was constreined by tempest of wether to get to land in Norweie. Thus standeth the case, being driuen (as I said) vpon the shore of Norweie, he and his companie saw a kind of people ranging vp & downe in the mounteins there, much like vnto those which diuers pictures giue foorth for wild men, hearie and vglie to behold. In the end being aduertised that they were sauage and wild beasts; yet neuerthelesse deadlie enimies to mankind: they vnderstood therevnto, that although in the day time they abhorred and feared the sight of man, yet in the night they would by great companies inuade the small villages & countrie townes, killing and sleaing so manie as they found, or where no dogs were kept to put by their rage and furie.

Certes such is their nature, that they stand in great feare of dogs, at whose barking and sight they flie and run away with no small hast and terror, wherefore the inhabitants are inforced to cherish great numbers of the said beasts, thereby to kéepe off those wild men that otherwise would annoy them. They are morouer of such strength, that sometimes they pull vp yoong trées by the roots to fight withall among themselues. The ambassadours séeing these vncouth creatures, were not a little astonished, and therefore to be sure from all inuasion, procured a strong gard to watch all night about them, with great fiers to giue light ouer all that quarter, till on the morrow that they tooke the sea, and so departed thence. Finallie, the Norwegians shewed them, that there was another people not far off, which liued all the summer time in the sea like fish, & fed of such as they did catch, but in the winter half (because the water is cold) they preied vpon such wild beasts as fed on the mounteins, which comming downe from the snowie hils to grase in the vallies, they killed with darts and weapons, and caried vnto their caues. In this exercise also they tie little boords to their féet, which beare them vp from sinking into the snow, and so with a staffe in their hands they make the better shift to clime vp and come downe from the crags & mounteins, whereof in that region there is verie great plentie and abundance.

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