Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Scottish Reminincenses
Chapter VI


Medical Men. Sandy Wood. Knox. Naim and Sir William Gull. A broken leg in Canna. Changes in the professoriate and students in the Scottish Universities. A St. Andrews Professor. A Glasgow Professor. Some Edinburgh Professors—Pillans, Blackie, Christison, Maclagan, Playfair, Chalmers, Tait. Scottish Schoolmasters.

Among the professions that of medicine has long held a high place in Scotland. Its reputation at home and abroad has been maintained for a century and a half by a brilliant succession of teachers and practitioners. The schools of medicine in Edinburgh and Glasgow continue to attract students from all quarters of the British Islands, and from our colonies. Every year hundreds of medical graduates are sent out from the Universities, and they are now to be found at work in almost every corner of the wide globe.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century one of the noted medical characters in Edinburgh was the surgeon eulogised by Byron in the couplet:

Oh! for an hour of him who knew no feud,
The octogenarian chief, the kind old Sandy Wood.

He was greatly admired for his medical skill, and beloved for his kindly nature. His popularity saved him once from instant death. During a riot, the mob, mistaking him for the provost, were preparing to pitch him over the North Bridge, when he shouted out to them, ‘I’m lang Sandy Wood; tak’ me to a lamp and ye’ll see.’ He used to take a constitutional walk to Restalrig in the evenings, and frequently met a tailor carrying a bundle, whom he invariably saluted with, ‘Weel, Tam, are ye gaun hame wi’ your wark?’ The tailor rather resented this monotonous enquiry, and one day he had his revenge. Noticing the tall figure of the well-known surgeon walking at the end of a funeral procession, he instantly made up to him to ask, ‘ Weel, doctor, are ye gaun hame wi’ your wark ? ’

Rather later came the times of Burke and Hare, with the terrors of the resurrectionists. A prominent individual in Edinburgh at that time was Robert Knox the anatomist, to whose dissecting room the bodies of the victims murdered in the West Port were sold. He was for many years a successful lecturer, but afterwards got into difficulties, when he tried to retrieve his position by announcing courses of lectures, or a single lecture on a sensational subject. When one of the teachers in the medical school, who had introduced the practice of illustrating his lectures with models, was discoursing on the anatomy of the ear, Knox posted up a notice that on a certain day he too would give a lecture on the human ear, illustrated with the modern methods of demonstration. When the day came, the lecture-room was crowded with students on the outlook for amusement. The lecturer began his demonstration by holding up an ear, which he had obtained from a human subject, and pointing out the leading features in its structure. At a particular part of his lecture he gave a signal, and the door behind him was opened by two men who carried in a monstrous and grotesquely shaped model of an ear. It was set down on the table, and in a little while Knox, holding up the ear he had already exhibited, said, ‘ This, gentlemen, is the human ear according to God Almighty, and that (pointing to the huge model), and that is the human ear according to Dr. .’

There was once a good deal of rivalry between the medical staff of the Universities and the extra-mural schools of medicine. On one occasion, a University professor, wishing to make fun at the expense of a distinguished member of the non-university school, told a story of a man who consulted a famous surgeon as to constant pains in the head. The surgeon pronounced that the complaint could be completely cured by the removal of the brain and the excision of some diseased parts. The man consented to the operation, and was told to come back in ten days, when the renovated brain would be ready for him. The ten days elapsed, however, and gradually grew into three weeks without the patient having returned. At the end of that time the surgeon met him on the street, and anxiously enquired why he had never re-appeared. The man answered that, since the operation, he had obtained a government appointment, and thought that as he was getting on very well without the brain, he had better remain as he was. A titter of course went through the audience, in the midst of which the extramural lecturer, against whom the tale was pointed, rose and calmly said, ‘May I enquire of the speaker whether the crown appointment in question was a University professorship?' The laugh was thus most effectively turned the other way.

A medical professor having been appointed Physician to Queen Victoria, the announcement of this honour was written up on the blackboard of his class-room just before the hour of lecture. A wag among the students, seeing this notice, wrote in large letters underneath it—‘God save the Queen!’

It is not unusual for medical men to have two practices, one in this country, and one abroad. A man may attend a circle of patients during the summer in London, at Harrogate or in the north of Scotland, and another circle during the winter on the Riviera, in Italy or in Egypt. One able physician, for example, had an excellent practice for half of the year at Nairn and for the other half in Rome. He was on a friendly footing with Sir William Gull, whose patients, worn out with the distractions of London, were sent up to him to be looked after in the salubrious climate of the Moray Firth. A lady resident of Nairn, who believed herself to be far from well, and to be suffering from some complaint which the local doctor did not understand, insisted upon going to London and consulting Sir William Gull. That eminent physician diagnosed her case and prescribed; 'What you chiefly require, madam' he said, 'is to live for a time in a dry bracing climate. There is one place which I am sure would suit you admirably, and that is Nairn in the north of Scotland.’

One of the difficulties of life among the smaller islands of the Hebrides has long been the inadequacy of medical attendance." A stranger who first enters the region, and realises from some painful experience what are the conditions of the people in this respect, may be forgiven if at first he may be inclined to think that the authorities, whose duty it should be to provide such attendance, share the opinion of Churchill that—

The surest road to health, say what they will,
Is never to suppose we shall be ill.
Most of those evils we poor mortals know
From doctors and imagination flow.

It must be remembered, however, that many of the islands are too small, and many of the districts too thinly inhabited to provide work for a resident practitioner, even if the funds for his salary were readily procurable. All that has hitherto been attempted is to place a doctor in some central position whence, commanding as wide an area as he can be supposed able to undertake, he may be ready to proceed to any case where his services may be required. But the distances are sometimes considerable, and the weather often stormy, so that for days at a time no boat can pass from one island to another. Even under the most favourable skies, it often happens that when a message arrives, urgently requesting the attendance of the medical man, he is found to be engaged with another serious case in an island some leagues distant, from which he may not be expected to return for some days. An instance which happened a few years ago in the little island of Canna will illustrate this feature of social life in the Inner Hebrides.

One of the workmen engaged in building a dry-stone dyke met with a serious accident. The materials he had to use consisted of large rounded boulders and blocks of basalt, which required some little care to adjust in order that the structure might remain firm. When the wall had been raised to its full height, a portion of it gave way, and some large masses of heavy basalt fell on the workman, smashing one of his legs. His companions on extricating him from the ruins, saw the serious nature of the injuries. But there was no doctor on the island, nor anywhere nearer than at Arisaig, a distance of some twenty-five miles across an open sea. No time was lost in getting the poor man carried into a boat, which two of his comrades navigated to the mainland. On arriving there, however, they found that the doctor had gone away inland and would not be back for a day or two. As there was no time to lose, the boatmen at once set out for Tobermory in Mull, where the next medical man was to be obtained. They had to traverse a tract of sea which is often rousfh. Even in calm weather more or less commotion may always be looked for in the water round the Point of Ardnamurchan— the ‘headland of great waves.’ It was some thirty-six hours after the accident before the poor sufferer was at last placed in medical hands. The first thing to be done was, of course, to amputate the mangled leg. The patient stood the operation well, and in two or three weeks was sufficiently recovered to be able to be taken back to Canna. His two faithful comrades, who had waited on with him at Tobermory, had him carried down to the pier, where their boat was ready for him, When he came there he looked all round him with some anxiety, and at last exclaimed, ‘But where’s my leg?’ ‘Your leg! in the kirkyard, to be sure.’ ‘But I maun hae my leg.’ ‘ But I tell ye, ye canna hae your leg, its been buryit this fortnicht in the graveyard.’ ‘Weel’ said the lameter, steadying his back against a wall, ‘I’ll no stir a fit till I get my leg. D’ye think I’m to gang tramp-tramping aboot at the Last Day lookin’ for my leg.’ Finding persuasion useless, the unhappy boatmen had to interview the minister and the procurator-fiscal, and obtain authority to dig up the leg. When the lost limb came up once more to the light of day, it was in such a state of decomposition that the men refused to have it in the boat with them. Eventually a compromise was effected. A second boat was hired to convey the leg, and with a length of ten yards of rope between them, was towed at the stern of the first. In this way the procession reached Canna.

Throughout the Highlands the desire to be buried among one’s own kith and kin remains wide-spread and deep-seated. And it would also appear that a Highlander cannot bear that the parts of his body should be interred in different places. The Canna dyke-builder only gave expression to the general feeling.

In due time the natives felt it necessary to celebrate in an appropriate way the recovery and return of their fellow-islander, and the re-interment of the leg in its native soil. With an ample provision of whisky, a banquet was held, and continued till a late hour. On the way back from this orgy, the hero of the accident stumbled across a heap of stones, and broke the wooden leg that had replaced his own. Partly from this fresh accident, but largely, no doubt, from the effects of the debauch, the man could not regain his cottage, but lay where he fell until, in the morning light, he was picked up and helped home.

That gradual modification of the national characteristics which is observable in all parts of the social scale, has not allowed the Universities to escape. On the one hand, the professoriate is now constantly recruited from the south side of the Tweed, by the selection.

More ludicrous still was the desire of the Highland porter in Glasgow who, as Dr. Norman Macleod relates, ‘sent his amputated finger to be buried in the graveyard of the parish beside the remains of his kindred. It is said also that a bottle of whisky was sent along with the finger, that it might be entombed with all honour.’ either of Englishmen or of Scotsmen who have been trained at the English universities. On the other hand, a considerable proportion of the students, more particularly in medicine, come from England, Wales, Ireland, and the colonies; some of them even hail from the Continent and from India.1 As the non-Scottish leaven thus introduced has no doubt tended to enlarge the culture of the teachers and perhaps to soften the asperities of manner in the taught, the change has been welcomed. The reproach that used to be levelled at the nation that it was too clannish and acted too much on the principle of its own unsavoury proverb of ‘ keeping its ain fish-guts for its ain sea-maws,’ certainly cannot justly be brought against its educational institutions. For many years the obvious and earnest endeavour has been to secure the best men, no matter from what part of the globe they may come. The gradual obliteration of the peculiarly Scottish characteristics of the Professors and students is part of the price to be paid for the general advancement. Yet we pay it with a certain measure of regret. There was a marked originality and individuality among the Professors of the older type, which gave a distinctive character to the colleges where they taught, and in some degree also to their teaching.

The statistics for Edinburgh University during 1903 show that of the 1451 students of medicine 677 or over 46 per cent, belonged to Scotland; 333, or nearly 23 per cent., were from England and Wales; 118 from Ireland; 72 from India; 232, or about 16 per cent., from British Colonies; and 19 from foreign countries.

About the middle of last century the Professor of Mathematics in the University of St. Andrews was an able mathematician and a singularly picturesque teacher. He spoke not only with a Scottish accent, but used many old Scottish words, if they were effective in making his meaning clear. If, for instance, he noticed an inattentive student, looking anywhere but at the black-board on which he was demonstrating some proposition, he would stop and request the lad to ‘ e’e the buird ’ (look at the board). He lectured in a dress suit, and as he always wiped his chalky fingers on his waistcoat, his appearance was somewhat brindled by the end of the hour. One of his old students gave me the following recollection of an incident that took place in the classroom. A certain student named Lumsden was one day conspicuous for his inattention. The professor at last stopped his lecture, and addressed the delinquent thus: ‘Mr. Lumsdeil, will you come forrit here and sit down on that bench there in front o’ me. I have three reasons for moving you. In the first place, you’ll be nearer my een ; in the second place, you’ll be nearer my foot; and in the third place, you’ll be nearer the door.’

Among the Glasgow professors towards the middle of the century, one with a marked individuality was Allan Maconochie, afterwards Maconochie Wei wood. Coming- of a race of lawyers, for he was the son of one Scottish judge and the grandson of another, he took naturally to the bar, and became Professor of Law in 1842. Being prompt and decisive in his business habits, he soon acquired a considerable practice as referee and arbiter in disputed cases among the mercantile community of Glasgow, and thus saved the disputants the long delays and heavy expenses of the Court of Session. He gave himself up with much energy to the work of his chair, and to college business during the session, but as soon as the winter term was over, he used to depart at once for the Pyrenees, where he possessed a chateau, and where he would spend most of his time until he had to resume his professional labours in this country. During these years of residence abroad, he acquired facility in speaking Spanish, and he would make long solitary excursions, mingling freely among the people.

In the year 1854 his father, Lord Meadow-bank, succeeded to the Fife estates of Garvock and Pitliver, and then took the surname of Welwood. About the same time the reform of the Scottish universities began to be mooted, and as the professor looked forward with much dislike to some of the proposed innovations in the constitution and arrangements of these institutions, he resigned his chair and established himself as a country gentleman at Pitliver, near Dunfermline. Having lost his first wife, he had lately married Lady Margaret Dalrymple, daughter of the Earl of Stair. I was a frequent guest at Pitliver, and much enjoyed his racy reminiscences of Glasgow and of his experiences in Spain. One of these last which he told me seems worthy of now being put on record as an instance of the courage and boldness of a peaceable Scottish professor.

During the ‘forties’ of last century, Spain was convulsed with revolution. Maconochie had a strong desire to travel through some of the disturbed districts and see the state of the country for himself. He accordingly arranged to make a long detour and cross the frontier to a French town, where his wife was to await his coming. Disguising himself as a miner, he procured a bag, a pick, and a few pieces of rough stone. His money he carried with him in gold, which he enclosed in lumps of plaster of Paris, coloured and dirtied to look like bits of natural rock. Thus accoutred he set out on his journey, and passed through the districts where the insurrection was hottest. At night he would come into a village inn, filled with insurgents, and throwing his bag into a corner would retire to see after his horse. Coming back to the chamber where the warriors were assembled, he sometimes found them examining the contents of his bag and holding some of his specimens in their hands, with an exclamation about their weight—‘Plomo, plomo’; they were sure the stones must be bits of lead-ore. He would then join in the talk, and so disarm all suspicion of his nationality that he had no difficulty in gathering from them all the information he wanted, while they on their side took him for a Castilian miner prospecting through the country for metals.

In this way he travelled through all the tract he wished to see, and had come at last to the Spanish town nearest to the frontier place where he was to meet his wife. He now discarded his disguise, and attired himself in ordinary costume. The horse that had carried him was a sorry nag which he had chosen to be in harmony with the general outfit of his supposed occupation. He now made himself known to the mayor of the town and asked his assistance to procure a good horse. It so happened that a fine animal, which had belonged to a government official recently deceased, was for sale, but the price asked for it was beyond the means of those who would fain have bought it. The professor, however, had money enough with him to acquire the horse, and to fit himself for the rest of his journey. A guide was procured to conduct him through the mountains, and he was advised to go armed and to be constantly on his guard. In particular, he was warned on no account to stop at the top of the last pass, whence the road descended in sharp zig-zags into the plain of France. All went well until he came to that very place, when his guide said they must halt a little. This he refused to do, but insisted on his companion riding on in front of him. They had not „ gone far down when voices from above called on them loudly to stop. The guide turned round, put his horse across the narrow road, and on Maconochie trying to brush past him drew out a pistol from his belt. The professor, suspecting some action of this kind, was on the alert, with his hand already on his own pistol, which he at once discharged at the breast of the guide, who rolled off his horse into the bushes below. Realising now the plot against him, and that there were accomplices above, he put spurs to his horse, and dashed down the road. So steep was the descent, and so shaded with trees and bushes, that he could only be seen at the bends, at each of which a shower of bullets whizzed past him. He succeeded in keeping ahead of his assailants, who continued to pursue and fire at him until they were almost within gunshot of the French sentries.

As soon as he arrived at the town, he sought the commandant and told his story. The officer, on learning where he had got his horse, told him that he owed his life to the animal, not merely for its speed. It appeared that the insurgents knew the horse well, and desired to procure it for one of their leaders. When they heard that it had been sold, they had evidently planned to possess themselves of it, and had arranged the ambush to which the professor of law had nearly fallen a victim. But it was the horse they wanted, not its rider. Had mere robbery been their object, they could easily have shot the horse, and whether or not they put a bullet through him also, they would have stripped him of all his possessions. But they purposely fired high for fear of wounding or killing the animal, which they had expected to be able to present to their leader.

Robert Chambers used wittily to classify mankind in two divisions—those who had been ‘under Pillans,’ and those who had not. I am glad to be able to range myself in the first class. Pillans was Professor of Latin (or Humanity as the subject used to be termed in Scotland) in the University of Edinburgh. Perhaos his name was most widely known from its having been unwarrantably pilloried by Byron in his E uglish Bards and Scotch Reviewers. He was a born educationist, far in advance of his time in certain departments of teaching, more particularly in his recognition of the place that should be assigned to geography in the educational system of the country. When I sat in his class-room he had reached his seventy-seventh year, and was no longer as able as he had once been to control a large gathering of lads fresh from school. But even then no one who was willing to learn could fail to find much that was suggestive in his prelections. As he sat in his chair behind his desk, his small stature was not observable. One only saw the round bald head, the rubicund cheeks, the mild blue eyes, the hands wielding a huge reading glass (for he would never consent to wear spectacles) and the shoulders wrapped round in his velvet-collared black gown. He was a scholar of the antique type, more intent on the subject, spirit, and style of his Latin favourites, than on grammatical niceties or various readings. How he loved his Horace, and how he took to his heart any student in whom he could detect the rudiments of the same affection! Having gained his friendship in this way, I saw a good deal of him in later years. He kept up the pleasant old custom of asking his students to breakfast with him. In later years I met some of his early friends at that meal, among them, Leonard Horner. I remember one morning having a talk with him about English literature, when he said, ‘ I have been all my life fond of poetry, and I find great solace in it still. But I must go back several generations for what really interests and pleases me. There is Tennyson, and another writer, Browning, that I hear people raving about. I have tried to read them, but I confess that I cannot understand much of them, and they give me no real pleasure. When I want to enjoy English verse, I go back to the masterpieces of Dryden and Pope.’ Pillans was one of the early pioneers in the organisation of infant-schools. He energetically combated the system of teaching by rote, and of compelling young children to burden their memories with genealogies and dates. He once remarked to me, ‘ I was in an infant-school lately, and you won’t guess what question I heard put to a class of little' tots, not more than four or five years old— “How long did Jeroboam reign over Israel?”’ The most perfervidly Scottish professor of my time was undoubtedly John Stuart Blackie, who taught a multifarious range of subjects, including some Greek, of which he was Professor. Although those of his students who really wanted to increase their knowledge of Greek would fain have been spared some of his disquisitions on the current politics or problems of the day, they could not but recognise his boundless enthusiasm, his cheery good nature, and his high ideals of life and conduct. In my time he wore a brown wig, which was so manifestly artificial that we used sometimes to imagine that it was coming off, and speculated on what the professor would be like without it. But in later years he allowed his own white hair to grow long, and with his clean-shaven face, his broad soft felt hat, and his brown plaid over his shoulders, he became by far the most picturesque figure in the Edinburgh of his time. He had been so much in Germany, and was so well versed in German life and literature, that he seemed naturally to assume the manner of a German professor. There was, indeed, a good deal of external resemblance between him and the late venerable historian Mommsen. But Blackie was distinguished from his more typical continental brethren by the boisterous exuberance of his spirits. Even in the classroom this feature could not be wholly repressed, but it reached its climax among friends at a dinner table, more especially at such gatherings as those of the Royal Society Club. After eloquent talk he would eventually be unable to remain seated, but would start up and march round the room, gesticulating and singing a verse of some Scottish song, or one of his own patriotic ditties.

Besides the genial Blackie, the Senate of Edinburgh University, when I was a member of it, contained some other less vociferous but extremely clubbable professors. Two of them deserve special mention here—Christison and Maclagan. Sir Robert Christison was excellent company, with his ample fund of reminiscence and anecdote. At the club-dinners Sir Douglas Maclagan never failed to regale us with one of his inimitable songs. He had a good voice, and sang with much expression and humour. His ‘ Battle of Glen Tilt’ was a source of endless pleasure to his friends, and he entered so thoroughly into the spirit of it that one could almost see the scene between the duke and his gillies on the one side, and the botany professor and his students on the other. Some of the touches in that ditty are full of sly fun, such, for example, as the description of the botanising:

Some folk’ll tak’ a heap o’ fash For unco little en’, man;

An’ meikle time an’ meikle cash For nocht ava’ they’ll spen’, man.

Thae chaps had come a hunder’ mile For what was hardly worth their while;

’Twas a’ to poo Some gerse ,that grew _ On Ben M‘Dhu That ne’er a coo Would care to pit her mouth till,

On rare occasions Christison and Maclagan sang a humorous duet in the most dolorous tones, acting the character of two distressed seamen begging on the street. It was comical beyond description.

Another of the luminaries in the Edinburgh University was Lyon Playfair, professor of chemistry, who, after quitting his chair and entering parliament, devoted himself mainly to politics, and was finally raised to the peerage. He too was a true Scot, though most of his life was passed in England. He enjoyed and could tell a good story, and relished it none the less if it bore against himself. In his later years he used to pay a yearly visit to America, and from one of these journeys he brought back the account of an experience he had met with among the Rocky Mountains of Canada, and which he would tell with great vivacity. He had halted at some station on the Canadian Pacific Railway, and in the course of a stroll had made his way to the foot of a heap of material that had been tumbled down from the mouth of a mine. He was poking out some of the pieces of stone with his stick, when a voice saluted him from the top of the bank, and the following conversation ensued;

‘Hey! what are ye daein’ there?’

‘I am looking at some of these bits of stone.’

‘But there’s nae allooance here.’

‘Is there not? I think you must be a Scotsman like me.’

‘Ay! man, and are ye frae Scotland? And what’s your name?’

‘My name is Playfair.’ ,

‘Maybe ye’ll be Lyon.’

‘Yes, that’s my name. How do you come to know it?’

‘Od, man, your name has travelt far faurer nor thae wee legs ’ll ever carry yoursell.’ When at the time of the Disruption the theological chairs were resigned by the professors who seceded to the Free Church, the classes of the new College which that church established in Edinburgh were held in a house next door to a well-known dentist Dr. Chalmers was one of those who had left the University, and he had an enthusiastic body of students in the new rooms. The applause with which they greeted the Professor’s bursts of eloquence proved, however, rather trying to the dentist and his patients, for the house partitions were none of the thickest. The story is told that a polite note was sent to Dr. Chalmers, asking whether it would be possible for him to moderate the noise made by his pupils. Next day the doctor, before beginning his lecture, explained the circumstances to his class, and begged them to remain quiet, ‘for' he added, ‘you must bear in mind that our neighbour is very much in the mouth of the public.’

The late Professor Tait, so widely known and so affectionately remembered, used to cite one of the answers he received in a class-examination. The question asked was, ‘Define transparency, translucency and opacity,’ and the following was the answer. ‘I am sorry that I cannot give the precise definition of these terms. But I think I understand their meaning, and I will illustrate it by an example. The windows of this class-room were originally transparent; they are at present translucent, but if not soon cleaned, they will become opaque.’ The professor, in repeating this reply, laughingly said that he had allowed the man full marks for it.

The Scottish schoolmaster of the old type is probably as extinct as the parish school system under which he flourished. What with revised codes, inspectors, examinations, grants in aid, Board of Education and other machinery, the educational arrangements of Scotland have during the last half-century been transformed to a remarkable degree. There can be no doubt that on the whole, and especially in recent years, the changes have been in the right direction. Nevertheless, we may regret the disappearance of some of the characteristic features of the old regime. The parish schools served to commingle the different classes of the community, and there was a freedom left to the teachers which gave them scope in their methods and range of subjects, and enabled them to send up to the university numbers of clever and well-trained scholars. Untrammelled by the fear of any school-board or Education Department, the ‘dominie’ was left to develop his own individuality, which, though it sometimes took the form of eccentricity, was in most cases the natural outgrowth of a cultivated mind, and was a distinct benefit to his pupils. In the delightful Memories Grave and Gay of Dr. Kerr, who has spent his active life in practically furthering the cause of education in the country, an interesting account is given of the process of transformation, together with many, anecdotes of his experience of country schools and country schoolmasters.

To his ample stores those interested in the subject should turn.

In the early days of examinations an inspector came to a school, and in the course of the reading stopped to ask the class the meaning of the word curfew in Gray’s line:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day.

There was complete silence in the room. He tried to coax the boys on to an answer, but without effect; until the teacher, losing patience with them, exclaimed in vexation, ‘Stupit fules! d’ye no ken what’s a whatip?’ whaup being Scottice for curlew.

A clerical friend of mine was, many years ago, visiting a parish school in Argyleshire where Gaelic was taught as well as English. He spoke to them in Gaelic, and asked them to spell one of the words he had used. They looked in blank amazement at him, and gave no reply. At last the master, turning round deprecatingly to the clergyman, said, ‘ Oich, sir, there’s surely no spellin’ in Gaelic.’

A story is told in the north of Scotland of a certain school in which a boy was reading in presence of an examiner, and on pronouncing the word bull as it is ordinarily sounded, was abruptly corrected by the schoolmaster.

‘John, I’ve told you before, that word is called bull ’ (pronouncing it like skull).

‘Excuse me, sir,’ said the examiner, ‘I think you will find that the boy has pronounced it correctly.’

‘O no, sir, we always call it bull in this parish.’

‘But you must pardon me if I say that the boy’s pronunciation is the usual one. Have you a pronouncing dictionary? ’

‘Dictionary! O yes. Charlie, rin round to the house and fetch me the big dictionary. Meantime, John, go on wi’ the reading.’ So John went on with ‘ bull,’ and Charlie brought the dictionary, which the master turned up in triumph, ‘ There, sir, is the word with the mark above the u, and there are the words that it’s to be sounded like—put, push, pull (pronouncing these all like but, brush, dull). And now, John, you will go on wi’ bull.'

The questions put by the examiners are not always judicious. The man who asked ‘If Alfred the Great were alive now, what part of our political system would he be likely to take most interest in?’ need not have been surprised to receive the answer, ‘Please sir, if Alfred the Great were alive now, I think he’d be so old he wouldn’t take interest in anything.’

The difference between the pronunciation of Latin on the two sides of the Tweed used to give rise to curious confusion, whether we ‘gave up Cicero to C or K.’ I remember a boy who had previously attended a grammar school in Yorkshire and had come to the Edinburgh High School, being called on to read the introductory lines of the first book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. He began pronouncing in the English way, ‘Ante mare et tellus.’ ’What, what do you say?’ interrupted Dr. Boyd, ‘Aunty Mary,’ forsooth! ‘I suppose we shall have Uncle Robert next.’


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast