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Some Reminiscences and the Bagpipe
Chapter XVIII — The Glamour of the Highlands


IN the preceding chapters we have tried to prove that the “generally accepted view that the Bagpipe is our National Instrument” is based upon good sound reasoning and solid fact, and not a mere fanciful notion to be lightly exploded. We have also tried to show that the Bagpipe had a large—a determining—influence upon the character and style of Highland music. We also gave it as our belief, that centuries of piping in the South were not thrown away upon the Lowland Scot, and that to this influence almost as much as to the Highland airs finding their way to the Lowlands, was due those Lowland airs of markedly national character which so much resemble the Highland ones, that Dr. MacCulloch and many others supposed them to be nothing more nor less than Gaelic airs altered to suit the southern ear, and not always improved by the tinkering to which they were subjected. We also tried to prove—and we hope not altogether in vain— that pipe-tune and Gaelic song were inextricably mixed together, the one indeed often passing into the other : that the two forms of music were in reality interchangeable, so that whether at feast or merrymaking, if by any chance the Piper failed to turn up, there were always plenty of lads and lassies to sing to the dancers the live-long night all the well-known strathspeys and reels, as songs with words.

That, in short, the “Port Phiob,” or Pipe tune, became the “Port net Beul,” or mouth tune, and this is the reason why the Free Church, although it exterminated pretty thoroughly the Bagpipe itself (let this be written to its discredit), failed altogether to put down Pipe music ; and why it must fail (if it is determined to pursue the same evil policy in the future as it has done in the past), unless it is prepared also in addition to burning the Pipe and the fiddle, to cut the throat of every Highland lad and lassie who can sing the old songs.

For this reason then,—in contradistinction to the views above quoted,—Gaelic songs, the music of which was written for the Pipe, and many of which have not yet reached the Lowlands, are to be heard here and there throughout the Highlands to-day; the one thing left, in a priest-ridden country, to these simple folks of much that was bright, helpful, and innocent in the past ; the one thing preserved to them in this strange way from the tyranny of the Protestant priest. It is—to our shame be it said— in the Catholic districts that the old music, and the old dance, and the old traditions are best preserved.

Now the Bagpipe is not the only good thing preserved from the old days which the Highlander has presented to his country.

Scotland owes much to its Highlands, and to the primitive people who live there. It may be honest ignorance that makes an occasional Lowlander unwilling to recognise the Highland Bagpipe as our national instrument; but there are gifts from the same source which he cannot avoid accepting, and for which he should write himself down “Your most obedient, humble servant,” whenever he sees a Highland face, or hears the Highland accent, or listens to the tuneful roar of the Great War Pipe.

But for the Highlander the old picturesque dress would ere now be a thing of the past, and the Scottish tartan would no longer wave.

The old Aryan speech, too, would have long since died out—a language which some scholars are now inclined to think may have been the original Aryan tongue.

But for the Highlander there would be no national dance. The reel, or strathspey, is to-day the only characteristic dance of Scotland.

True, in Shakespeare’s time there was a Scotch jig. He compares “a wooing, wedding, and repenting” to “a Scotch jig, a measure and a cinque-pace. The first suit is hot and hasty, like a Scotch jig, and full as fantastical.” But the Scot has long ago forgotten all about his own dance, and now he falls back upon the Highland fling when he wishes to show something distinctively Scottish to the inquisitive stranger.

Again, visitors from all parts of the world who come to see Scotland naturally bend their steps to the Highlands. They, of course, spend some days in Edinburgh, as being perhaps the most beautiful city in the world; and they give the Clyde a passing visit, not for its generous odours, which it gives off with too prodigal a hand, but for the sake of the wonderful industries along its banks ; and then it is “Ho! for the Highlands.”

It is Caledonia—the Scotland of the poets—which the traveller has come from afar to see.

Sir Walter Scott is on his lips, and in his heart, as he whispers to himself, when first his eye rests upon the great mountains,

“O! Caledonia, stern and wild ”

The very name of Caledonia is taken from a tribe of Piets who inhabited the country round Loch Ness, comprising Stratheric, The Aird, and Strathglass, a district which is now, and has been for hundreds of years, the Fraser country and the home of the Chisholms.

And when the poet, glowing with enthusiasm for his native land, word-paints it so that others may see and love it, as he sees and loves it, he seeks not for inspiration by the banks of the broad smooth-flowing Clyde, or of the winding Forth, or of the swift flowing Tay.

He seeks it not in the flat Lowlands teeming with great cities, nor in the carse lands, rich and fertile, and beautiful as these may be.

With true poetic instinct his eyes are drawn northwards. On the wings of his imagination he is away to the Highlands, that land of poetry and romance, and he sees as through a golden mist, the birch glen and heath-covered mountain, and quick-running streamlet that to-day a child can cross with safety, and to-morrow is a roaring torrent, uprooting trees in its fury, and tearing the mighty rock from its base. And with his heart beating in unison with the mighty throb of nature’s heart, an unerring instinct leads him to hall-mark Scotland for all men, and for all time, as the

 Land of brown heath and shaggv wood,
Land of the mountain and the flood.”

The glamour that the Highlands has cast over Scot- j land’s sons is well seen in the case of the Scot abroad.

The home - sickness which affects him is but natural, and is shared by the exile from other countries. But the craving for the tartan and the Bagpipe which characterises the exiled Scot, whether he be a Highlander or a Lowlander, is most pronounced, and is seldom or never absent. In Johannesburg, on Burns’ Night this year, as in past years, we expected—and our expectations were realised—to see cockie-leekie and haggis grace the board, and to hear the usual Burns oration.

But why should the great War Pipe of the Highlands be in evidence on such an occasion?

Because to these exiles it represents Scotland as a whole, and not merely the Highlands. Because, in their eyes, it is the national instrument. Because it is eminently Scottish.

And as abroad, so at home. Quite recently Lord Rosebery presided over a great gathering of Scots at the Holborn Restaurant, London. These Scots met to celebrate the Festival of St. Andrew.

In the speech of the evening the noble Lord quoted from a book written by one of the “bloody” Cumberland’s soldiers.

In this book, the squalor of Scotland, in those days, and more especially the evil smells to be met with in Edinburgh streets, were most graphically described.

“Malodours, which,” as the speaker said, “seem almost to reach from the book through the centuries, and strike the modern nose, as it bends over the page. In that very book they compare the music of the Bagpipes, to which we have listened with so much pleasure to-night, to the ‘ shrieks of the eternally tormented.’ I venture to say that there is no part of this Empire where the sound of the Bagpipe is not welcomed and hallowed at this moment. (Cheers.) There is no part of this Empire in which fond and affectionate hearts are not turning at this very moment with a warmer feeling than usual to the Land o’ Cakes.”

And what is this land to which the speaker’s heart warms?

The broad domains of Dalmeny, covered with luxurious woods and green pastures, and fertile farms, might well at such a time draw out all the love in this Scotsman’s heart: might well on this night of nights mean Scotland for him. But no ! If he sees Dalmeny, ’tis but for a moment. His eyes are lifted to the hills beyond. The Coolins, and Ben Nevis, and Ben Cruachan, with a hundred other Bens, make mute but powerful appeal, to which his heart as powerfully responds.

“Let me,” he says, “before I sit down, quote a stanza which I think one of the most exquisite that has ever been written about the Scottish Exile, and of which strangely enough we do not know the author. I am sure I shall not quote it correctly, but I will quote it sufficiently for my purpose.

"From the lone shieling on the misty island,
Mountains divide us and a world of seas.
But still our blood is strong, our heart is Highland,
And we in dreams behold the Hebrides.’'

Skye and the Outer Hebrides evidently dominate the speaker’s heart and brain, as his thoughts turn to the land of his birth.

Can you want any stronger testimony than this to the powerful fascination which the Highlands exert over the Scotsman, be he Highland or Lowland, be he at home or abroad? In a gathering of Scotsmen anywhere, you cannot in truth exclude the Highlander: you cannot forget the Highlands. Long may the tartan delight the eye, and the Bagpipe make itself heard at such meetings.

Shorn of these two—the tartan and the Bagpipe —our social meetings would lose much of their charm, and Scotland would be deprived of all that to-day reminds us of our once distinctive nationality.


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