THE Bagpipe is an
instrument of great antiquity. All authorities are agreed upon this.
The great Highland
Bagpipe, which is the perfected pipe, is also a handsome instrument when
decorated with silk tassel and fluttering ribbon, and bright tartan
cover. And the piper, with shoulders well back and head erect, is a
pleasing sight as he marches backwards and forwards to the rhythm of the
There is an old proverb
that says, “Handsome is as handsome does,” and here the Bagpipe takes
precedence of such puny competitors as harp or fiddle; for of all
Scotland’s instruments, what other can compare with it for usefulness?
For centuries it has done the nation’s turn handsomely.
It has always been where
war’s alarms were thickest, from the day when it led the clansmen at the
bloody battle of Harlaw, or piped reveille in Prince Charles Edward
Stuart’s camp, or carried a message of hope to the beleaguered garrison
of Lucknow ; to but yesterday, when it cheered on the sons of the empire
at Elandslaaghte, and stayed the rout on that disastrous day at
But again! What other
instrument in times of peace has entered so closely into the daily life
of the old Scottish Celt? Sweetening the toils of his labours with its
old-world songs ; enlivening his hours of recreation with its merry
strathspeys and reels; soothing the burden of his sorrows with its
At once the saddest and
the liveliest of instruments, this “antique” appeals from a past that is
gone for ever, and—in all its old-world panoply of neuter-third scale
with droning bass—challenges attention, and claims a hearing, and will
not be denied.
At one time the welcome
inmate of the palace, the companion of kings and princes; at another
time a dweller in the slums, the associate of wandering minstrels and
At one moment the darling
of the upper classes, made of costly woods inlaid with precious stones,
or fashioned with beautiful ivory, with silver keys attached, and
clothed in purple velvet rich with the embroidery of fair hands. Anon!
The herdboy’s plaything, made of “ane reid and ane bleadir,” deposed
from its high position, and driven out of society as “a rude and
When fallen upon evil
days, the piper of yore, shouldering his “pipes,” and shaking the dust
of the city from off his feet, retired to the old home among the
mountains, where he was sure of a welcome from the lonely goatherd,
whose favourite instrument it was from the earliest of ages ; whose
invention it was; and where he could bide his time waiting for better
days. The Bagpipe has in this way survived the royal displeasure, the
neglect of the great and wealthy, the denunciation of bard and minstrel,
and the criticism of hostile musicians; and it is still a living force
in the world.
A Jew, who once visited
Strathglass in the Highlands, nearly a hundred years ago, was much
struck with the power which this rude instrument wielded over the
Now this Jew hated
Bagpipe music as he hated the Evil One. When his Highland host, profuse
in hospitality to the last, sent a piper to play him some miles on his
way at leaving, he returned his hospitality by saying ungraciously—only
after he left the Highlands well behind him, you may be sure—“My young
Highlander played me on the road five miles, and I would gladly have
sunk the portable screech-owl appendage.”
He hated the very name of
Bagpipe. To him in his ignorance this love of the Highlander for the
Pipe was incomprehensible. He felt himself completely out of touch with
a people who could appreciate such music. It annoyed him; and in his
wrath he cried aloud, “To think that this squeeling pig in a poke should
be the great lever of a people’s passion.”
We want no better
testimony than this of the Jew —prejudiced as he was—to the influence
and power of the Bagpipe in olden times. “The great lever of a people’s
passion ” it was in all verity.
And should this not be
Its history is one of
which every Scotsman should be proud.
Its power over the
Highlanders in Strathglass and elsewhere was not a mere flash in the
pan. More than once, as history tells us, the soldier refused to advance
in battle except to its music; and under its influence the dying man has
often cut his moorings, and drifted out into the unknown sea with a
smile on his face.
Its influence over men’s
passions goes back to early times as well.
Nor has this power been
exerted upon only one race, nor confined to only one age. Centuries ago
civilised Europe adopted it as the instrument of instruments. All sorts
and conditions of men: Greek, Latin, Roumanian, Bulgarian, Austrian,
Hungarian, German, Frenchman, Spaniard, fell under the influence of its
sway, and sang or danced to its pipings.
And centuries before
this, while history still “lisped in numbers,” the Bagpipe was held in
high repute. For are we not told of kingly feet dancing to its music as
early as the second century before Christ, and of royal hands fingering
the chanter in the first century of the present era? It is of this
instrument then that I would speak.,
A handsome instrument
One of the oldest musical
instruments in the world, but to all seeming blessed with perpetual
youth. It is fresh and vigorous to-day as when it sounded in the ears of
Rome’s Imperial master, or when, still earlier, Antiochus, the proud
Syrian monarch, danced to its measures. Nor would our late noble Queen,
Victoria the Great, have kept a piper if she did not delight in its
strange quaint music, so different indeed in character, and in its
effect upon the listener, from the cultivated melodies of to-day.
The Highland Bagpipe is
as old as the Highlander himself, in spite of what the modern critic
says, and notwithstanding the silence of the historian.
The Celt took it with him
to the Highlands when he migrated there, along with his household gods,
and many another thing not mentioned in history, and not yet labelled in
the collections of the antiquary.