Reminiscences and the Bagpipe Chapter VII The Why and the Wherefore
To mind the inside of a
book is to entertain one's self with the forced products of another
mans brain. Now, I think a man of quality and breeding may be much
amused with the natural sprouts of his own.
Lord Foppington in The
GENTLE READER, if you
wish to know the why and the wherefore of this little book, written in
our so-enlightened twentieth century, upon so archaic a subject as the
Bagpipe, these are to be foundif I have made myself at all
intelligiblein the introductory chapters.
As, however, you may not
care to wade through what are, after all, little better than
half-forgotten reminiscences, loosely strung together, and probably
interesting only to the writer of them, I will here state shortly the
reasons which have induced me to take up the penan instrument which I
most thoroughly detest!and appear before the world as an author at a
time of life when most men seek seclusion and ease.
The bag made from the whole skin of a
small doe or gazelle. The blow-pipe, which is carved, is the
leg-bone of a flamingo or other bird. The horns are used as
terminals to the double reed of the chanter.
The first reason then is
this. In my youth everything Highland was discouraged and held up.to
ridicule. The old language, the old dress, and the old music shared a
common fate. The Highland sentiments which found untrammelled expression
in private when we boys were alone of an evening, telling stories round
the garret fire, and which should have been treasured and guarded as a
something better than rubies, were ruthlessly stamped out. The
Highland instincts with which I was born, and which should have been
zealously fostered and nursed into full growth by my parents, were
And this book is the
outcome of the reaction which set in after mature years.
It is my protest against
a treatment which might have destroyedbut which, luckily for me, did
not do soall those Highland tendencies and aspirations of my youth, to
which I still cling as to something that is dearer than life, and which
makes it possible for me to-dayfor me, who, perforce, have lived the
better part of my life among the cities of the plainto turn mine eyes
to the hills, when in travail, as did of old the sweet Singer of
Israel, and to say in all sincerity and love, My hearts in the
My next reason is this!
Scotsmennot to say
Highlandershave shewn themselves, by their writings and otherwise,
wondrously ignorant of the main subject of this bookthe Bagpipe and
Take for example these
common wordsslogan, coronach, and pibroch.
Slogan, I need hardly
say, is the war-cry or gathering word of the clan. And yet in the latest
and only book on the Bagpipe, Mr Manson (p. 133) gravely tells us that
the piper began to play the slogan of the clan.
I hold in my hand at this
moment a piece of music sent to me from Aberdeen, and set to the
pipes, entitled General Hector MacDonalds Coronach.
Coronach, cronach, is a
crying or shouting together; from comh (together) and ranach (an
outcry). It is the wailing and clapping of hands by the old women
gathered round the bier. It is the kreen or keen of the Irish, and is
still practised in Ireland. It has nothing to do with pipe music and
never had ; and yet a gentleman who, if not a Highlander, appears
constantly in the Highland dress, and is looked upon by many as one of
the leading exponents of Highland music, writes a piece of Bagpipe
music, and calls it General Hector MacDonalds Coronach. How this
mistake in the meaning of the word coronach arose, or when, I do not
know, but it was some time after the 45. The earliest example known to
me occurs in a book written in 1783 by one W. F. Martyn, where he says
The Highland funerals were generally preceded by Bagpipes, which played
certain dirges called coronachs.
Now the dirge on the
Bagpipe is a lament (Gaelic, cumha) and not a coronach.
But even Logan in The
Scottish Gael, 1831, mixes up the cum ha or lament of the pipes with
the coronach or lament of the old women. In vol. ii.. pp. 284-5, he
says, The piobrachd, as its name implies, is properly a pipe tune, and
is usually the crunneachadh or gathering, but also - includes a cumha,
coronach or lament, and a failte, salute or welcome.
And to make sure that his
meaning shall not be mistaken, he adds, Their characters are much
alike, with the exception of the coronach, which is of course
particularly slow, plaintive, and expressive.
John Hill Burton, the
historian, makes a double blunder in the use of this word. He talks of a
war coronach. In his Life of Simon, Lord Lovat, published in 1847, we
read, Before these outragesperpetrated by Simonthe Frasers seem to
have been enjoying a degree of repose and tranquility, which in their
hot mountain blood must have been felt as an unwholesome stagnation. It
would be to the delight of their fierce natures that one morning the war
coronach was heard along Stratheric and Strathglass, and the crossterie
or fiery cross passed on. It may be said that the war coronach here
means war pipe, and not a pipe tune at all ; the word, of course, has no
Fifty years later, Dr.
Walter C. Smith, writing in Kildrostan, says Eachain Macrimmon is
playing a coronach, as it were for a chief.
No wonder that with such
authorities before them, smaller writers are busy to-day perpetuating a
blunder, that an acquaintance with the great writers of the past should
have prevented them from ever making.
Simon, Lord Lovat, in a
letter to President Forbes, date 1745, writes, If I am killed here it
is not far from my burial place; and I will have, after I am dead, what
I always wished, the cronach of all the women in my country to convey my
body to the grave ; and that has been my ambition when I was in my
happiest situation in the world. This wonderful man, whose whole career
was full of strange happenings, and of whom it might be said with truth,
that Mens bad deeds are writ in brass, their good deeds writ in
water, had the unique experience of hearing his own coronach. Knowing
that their captured Chief was already as good as dead; knowing full well
that they would never see his face again, now that a cruel government
had got hold of him, the wail of the old women, singing his coronach,
followed the litter on which lay Morar Shimelong a helpless cripple
from goutas he was being carried through his own beloved country of
Stratheric on his way to London and the scaffold.
In Humphrey Clinker,
published about 1771, Smollet says: attended by the coronach of a
multitude of old hags who tore their hair.
And, again, Pennant, who
published his book in 1774, mentions the coronach or singing at
funerals. While Sir Walter Scott, in 1814, writes, Their wives and
daughters came clapping their hands, and crying their coronach, and
shreiking. These three things togetherthe shreiking, and crying, and
clapping of handsconstituted the coronach.
The third word, pibroch
(Gaelic, piobrachd or piobaireachd), is also being constantly misapplied
for Bagpipe and march.
I am often asked, How
is the piobrach getting on? meaning how is the Bagpipe getting on ; and
a few weeks ago I took the following quotation from a daily newspaper:
Ichabod is the watchword
for the Highlands and Islands, and the piobrach may skirl the lament,
Writers constantly talk
of marching to piobrachs, which is a little absurd, when we remember
that the piobrach is a piece of classical music, in which the time is
constantly varying from the largo or andante of the air (Gaelic, nrlar)
to the allegro of the closing movement, the crunluadh, and cannot
therefore be marched to.
In poetry this use of the
word piobrach is perhaps permissible.
Sound the piobrach loud
Frae John-o-Groats to Isle of Skye!
As this old song has it,
it is at least poetical, although it is really the Pipe which is
In Lord Byron we read,
For when the piobrach bids the battle rage; an expression that offends
neither eye nor ear, although not correct, strictly speaking.
And Miss Mary Campbell,
in The March of the Cameron Men/ that proudest and most patriotic of
Highland songs, makes the chorus repeat again and again :
I hear the piobrach
Deep oer the mountain and glen,
While light-springing footsteps are trampling the heath,
Tis the march of the Cameron men.
One poet, in that
well-known song, The Hundred Pipers, and a, and a, even goes the the
length of making the soldiers, after they had crossed a swollen river,
dance themselves dry to the piobrachs sound. Now piob is the pipe,
piobair the piper, and piobaireachd the pipers special music, and the
one should never be substituted for the other.
A third reason for taking
up the pen is this.
I have got together a
collection of Bagpipes belonging to various peoples and countries, which
will, in all probability, one day get scattered. It is the fate of most
collections of curios; and I wish to perpetuate by means of
photo-illustrations in this book not only the pipes, which are
interesting in themselves, but the many lessons to be learned from a
study of them.
And my last reason for
venturing upon the troublous sea of authorship, at this time, must also
be my justification.
I have got a message to
deliver to my brother Highlander!
When Mr Carnegie of Skibo
Castle was addressing the students of St. Andrews University as their
recently appointed Lord Rector, he spoke with the light of the flaring
torches reflected from a hundred opposing windows, bringing into relief,
out of the darkness, the faces of the great crowd that surged in the
street below. And he finished up a happy speech with words to this
effectLet your motto be, I will carry the torch of truth into the
dark places of the world. These words, spoken under such
circumstances, had an added significance that must have impressed itself
upon the receptive youths around. Now the history of the Bagpipe needs
illuminating badly. It is one of the dark places of the world, so to
speak. I believe that I can throw some light upon it. My torch may be
only a rushlight, but if it brings into view a single hidden truth,
however small, I have no right to hide it under a bushel. Let your
light so shine, that it may be seen of all men/ is the command of the
It is enough for me then,
that I think I have some truth to unfold, something new to say, or
something to say in a new way, and this must be, after all, my sole
justification for troubling an already book-ridden world with one more
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