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The Heather in Lore, Lyric and Lay
Heather Jock


THERE scarcely exists a locality in Scotland without its "Heather Jock." The individual bearing this significant sobriquet whom I remember was a tough-looking tyke, who eked out a livelihood making Heather besoms and "reenges," acting as a whilom chiropodist, spearing eels in their season, and spending the few bawbees he earned on Scotch whiskey.

But Heather Jock finds a place in the literature and the songs of Scotland. R. B. Cunningham Grahame, in the "Saturday Review," thus pictures him as he was known to that writer in the person of William Brodie, bred a weaver at the Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, who turned peddler, and afterward transmigrated himself into a wandering singer and buffoon under the name of Heather Jock. "No one asked his reasons, but accepted him as he was, with headdress like an Inca of Peru, stuck all around with pheasants' and peacocks' feathers, bits of looking-glass, adorned with Heather, and fastened underneath his jaws with a black ribbon; with moleskin waistcoat, bee in his bonnet, humor in his brain; with short plaid trousers, duffel coat, and in his hand a rude Caduceus made of a hazel stick, in the centre a flat tin heart, set round with jingling bells, and terminating a tuft of Heather. In figure not unlike a stunted oak of the kind depicted in the arms of Glasgow, or such as those which grow in Cadzow Forest, and under which the white wild cattle feed, as they have done since Malcolm Fleming slew one with his spear and saved the King.

"The minstrel's features of the western Scottish type, hard as flint, yet kindly; eyes like dullish marbles made of glass such as the children in Bridge of Weir called bools; his hair like wire; his mouth worn open, and his nose a trap for snuff; hands out of all proportion large, and feet like planks; his knees inclining to what the Scotch call 'sbauchlin,' and imparting to his walk that skipping action which age sometimes bestows on those who in their youth have passed a sedentary life, the true faux bassu, although without the hump, having acquired the carriage of hunchback by diligence or sloth. In fact, he seemed a sort of cross between the low class Indian, such as one sees about a town in South Dakota, and an ourang outang, which had somehow got itself baptized. From Kilmalcolm to Mauchline, from DaIry to Ayr, at a Kilwinning papings; at races, meets, fairs, trysts; at country house or moorland farm, to each and all he wandered and was welcome. His repertory was composed of one song—Annie Laurie—sung with humorous effects at breakneck speed, jingling his bells and jumping about from side to side, just like a Texan cowboy in Sherman, Dallas, or some Pan Handle town, during the process of a barroom fight to dodge the bullets. At the end he signified his wish to lay him down to die for the object of his song, and did so, elevating, after the fashion of expiring folk, his feet into the air and wiggling to and fro his boots, adorned with what the Scotch call 'tackets.' He died at the age of eighty-two."

Of a different character was the Heather Jock depicted in the following old Scottish ballad, the authorship of which has been lost:

Heather Jock

Heather Jock was stark and grim,
Fought wi' a' would fecht wi' him;
Swank and supple, sharp and thin,
Fine for gaun against the win'.
Tawnie face and touzie hair,

In his cleadin' unco bare;
Curs'd and swore whene'er he spoke,
Nane could equal Heather Jock.

Jock kent ilka bore and bole,
Could creep through a wee bit hole;
Quietly pilfer eggs and cheese,
Dunts o' bacon, skeps o' bees;

Sip the kirn and steal the butter,
Nail the hens without a flutter;
Na! the watchfu' wily cock
Durstna craw for Heather Jock.

Eppie Blaikie lost her goun,
She coft sae dear at borough town;
Sandy Samson's Sunday wig
Left the house to rin the rig.
Jenny Baxter's blankets a',
Took a thought to gang awa';

And a' the weans' bit printed f rocks-
Wha was thief but Heather Jock?

Jock was nae religious youth,
For at the priest he thraw'd his mouth;
He wadna say a grace nor pray,

But play'd his pipes on Sabbath day.
Robb'd the kirk o' bean and book,
Everything would lift he took;

He didna leave the weather-cock,
Sic a thief was Heather Jock.

Nane wi' Jock could draw a tricker,
'Mang the muirfowl he was sicker;

He watch'd the wild ducks at the springs,
And hang'd the hares in hempen strings;
Blaz'd the bums and spear'd the fish,
Jock had mony a dainty dish;

The best o' moorfowl and blackcock,
Aye grac'd the board of Heather Jock.

Nane wi' Jock had ony say,
At the neive or cudgel play;
Jock for bolt nor bar ne'er staid,
Till ance the jail his courage laid;
Then the judge, without delay,
Sent him aff to Botany Bay,

And bade him mind the laws he broke,
And never mair play Heather Jock.

Chorus.
Heather Jock's noo awa',
Heather Jock's noo awa',
The muircock noo may crousely craw,
Since Heather Jock's noo awa'.


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