Friday, 19 June 2009

Review: - Martin MARTIN "A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland"

Publ: 1981 - facsimile of 2nd ed. 1716
Genre: Scotland, topography,
Pages: 392
Found by Serendipity
Rating: ***** **

I read this book a few years ago and was using it as a reference - then got hooked again.

It gives an insight as much into the early late seventieth / early eighteenth centuries as it does to the Western Isles and their customs, geography and history. It was alleged by Martin that 'Those Isles have never been described till now , by any Man that was a Native of th Country, or had travel'd them.' His descriptions of the habits and beliefs of the inhabitants are fascinating. And unlike many early travellers he is not especially condescending of the natives who he considered very industrious.
First published in 1703, this book is particularly noted for its information on the St. Kilda archipelago. Martin's description of St Kilda, which he visited in 1697, had also been published some years earlier as A Late Voyage to St. Kilda (1698). Dr Johnson took a copy of the book on his tour but believed him to be credulous, and indeed, some of his descriptions of second sight and other superstitions appear to be this way.

"Women were antiently deny'd the use of Writing in th Islands, to prevent Love-Intrigues; their Parents believ'd, that Nature was too skilful in that matter and needed not the help of Education; and therefore that Writing would be of dangerous consequence to the weaker Sex."

MARTIN MARTIN was a native of Bealach, near Duntulm, Skye. He appears to have come from the Highland middle class, the tacksmen, who were factors on lairds' estates. His brother may have been tacksman at Flodigarry on Skye.
Martin graduated MA from the University of Edinburgh in 1681. Nothing seems to be known of him in his later years, except that he entered Leiden University in 1710, and there graduated as MD, afterwards residing in London until his death, unmarried, in 1719.

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