By Robert Cowie (1874)


It is with much diffidence, and a deep sense of its many imperfections, that I venture to offer tnis little work to the public. As the reader will observe, it consists of two distinct parts, written at widely different times, and for very different purposes. Part L was prepared, in Edinburgh, in the winter of 1865-66, and submitted to the Medical Faculty of that University, on my Graduation in the latter year, as M.D. This circumstance will, I trust, plead my apology for the apparent egotism, which I fear characterises some of the remarks, for the chief merit of a Thesis is held to consist in the original and personal observations it contains.

Two or three months before the Thesis was even in, the substance of Chapter VIII. (“On Small-pox,” &c.) was sent to the late Sir James Y. Simpson, Baronet, the illustrious Professor of Midwifery, who was pleased to manifest a great interest in the subject, and afterwards, at the ceremony of defending the Thesis, to speak in commendatory terms of that presented by me.

In 1867, I was induced to send the substance of Chapter VI., entitled “Health and Longevity,” to the International Medical Congress, which met at Paris, chiefly because that learned assemblage specially desired papers on the subject it treats from different parts of Europe. This paper was favourably received at the time, but I heard nothing more of it till in July 1870, when I received a letter from M. Adolph Berg, a Physician of Zealand, Denmark, stating that he had read an abstract of it in U Union Medicate (a Paris Medical Journal) for 1867, and requesting to be informed whether it had been published in English. This brought up the question of the publication of the Thesis.

On shewing it to the Publisher, whom I had occasion to see at the time, that gentleman was of opinion the essay , should be published, but suggested it would be more interesting to the general public were I to append some Topographical Notes. This I agreed to, and hence the origin of Part II., which has gradually extended to a length on which I certainly did not calculate when I commenced it. It has been written during the last winter, amid many interruptions, and under all the disadvantages inseparable from residence in Shetland. One of these was distance from the printer, from which cause several typographical errors have, unfortunately, crept into the text With the exception of one or two verbal alterations, the Thesis appears exactly as it was given in. Only one part has been re-written, viz., the latter portion of the Chapter on “Religious and Ecclesiastical History” and that because, in its original form, it appeared to be defective.

However much I may have failed, it has been my earnest endeavour to do impartial justice to all parties and all interests. If these pages are in the smallest degree the means of exciting a kindly interest in my native Islands, my labours in preparing them will be abundantly rewarded.

R. O.
Lerwick, May 1871.

I used to go to the Shetland Islands once a year for 6 years. I never got to see much of it as I only arrived in the early evening and it was an hours taxi trip to get to Lerwick and so pretty much just booked into the hotel and had some dinner. In the morning I had to see the local wholesaler and then there was just time to get back to the airport in time for my flight back. I always regretted not having more time to explore the island.

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