Reminiscences and the Bagpipe Chapter XXV The Nativity and the Bagpipe
IT is a curious and
interesting fact, that tradition associates piping with two of the
greatest events which ever happened in the worlds history: the Nativity
and the Crucifixion. And it is more than passing strange, that Christ
Himself should supply those, who like myself believe in the tradition of
the shepherds piping on Christmas morn, with a very important link in
the chain of evidence.
As I pointed out in last
chapter, it has been asserted that the Bagpipe was unknown to the Jews,
or at least that there was no evidence that it was known, and that it
could not therefore be the instrument which these poor shepherds played
Christs reference to it
in the parable of the Prodigal settles the question for all time : it
shews clearly, that in His day the Bagpipe was well known to the
pastoral peoples in Palestine, and further, that it was an instrument of
some repute, otherwise it would not be found in the home of the rich and
Now, with regard to the
traditions which have gathered round the birth and the death of our
Lord, sacred and profane writers are at one in asserting that strange
and hitherto unheard of phenomena marked these events.
The Zampogna of Italy: the Old Sumphonia of
Bought in Rome and presented to the Author by Mrs Aitkkn of Gartcows,
The world, which was
satiated with and heartily sick of its own licentiousness, was expecting
and eagerly watching for the advent of a deliverer, and the expected at
length came to pass, but not in the expected way. No earthly, no human
pomp and glory, found room for display in a cold rude manger. The simple
birth was a distinct disappointment to the Jews, with their love of
phylacteries and fondness of outward display. It was different, however,
We read in the Gospel of
St. James of strange happenings which took place at the birth of Christ:
of how the world stood motionless in awe and wonder ! Of how the song of
bird, and the lowing of calf, and the bleat of lamb, was hushed; and the
chatter of women was turned into silence. And there were workmen lying
on the earth with their hands in a vessel andto give the very words of
St. James, they are so extraordinary!those who handled did not handle
it, and those who took did not lift, and those who presented it to their
mouth did not present it, but the faces of all were looking up; and I
saw the sheep scattered, and the shepherd lifted up his hand to strike,
and his hand remained up ; and I looked at the stream of the river, and
the mouths of the kids were down and were not drinking ; and everything
which was being propelled forward was intercepted in its course.
To the shepherds on the
plains of Bethlehem a glimpse of the real glory of the event was shewn;
wonderful sights were seen, and angel voices spoke glad tidings. To
these lonely midnight watchers, guarding their flocks from the attack of
wild beast, or roaming thief, the hush and the darkness were suddenly
broken into. A great light shone round about them, and out of the midst
of it came a voice like a trumpet callthe voice of the Herald Angel
proclaiming Peace on earth, to men of goodwill. Quickly these two
phenomena came, and as quickly they fled, and once more all was still on
the plains, but for the tumultuous beating of over-joyous hearts, and
once more all was darkness but for the glorious light which shone
within, never more to be quenched.
As the great, the
all-absorbing, truth dawned upon these simple folk in all its radiancy,
they felt their joy too great to be pondered in their hearts; it must
have some outward expression, and what better way than Christs way in
the parable of the Prodigal Son.
So, tuning up their
Bagpipes, while the wondering sheep gathered around, they gave vent to
their surcharged feelings in sweet strains of praise that startled for
the second time on that eventful night the starry silence of the skies.
This beautiful tradition
is still kept alive in the Roman Catholic Church.
In Rome, or in any of the
great cities in Italy, it is the habit of the people to erect at
Christmas time a grotto representing the manger in which Christ was
born. In it they place a live ox and a live ass, while Mary is
represented by a young woman with a baby in her arms.
Some distance beyond is a
green patch with shepherds piping ; these pipers are always present ;
they represent the shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem.
At Christmas time, too,
the shepherds come down in numbers from the hills to the towns, and
there they stand all day long playing before the little shrines of the
Virgin and her Child, which are to be seen at the corners of the
An Englishman oncewith
more money possibly than sensibilitya well-groomed, pompous
Englishman!said with a sneer to one of these humble players, Who are
you playing to? The shepherd pointed to the shrine of the Virgin Mary.
What! said the Englishman, do you think a grown-up woman could enjoy
such wretched music as yours? Ah! said the poor man, "it is to the
child I am playing; children are easily pleased.
In my experience, nothing
pleases the little ones more than the Bagpipe.
I remember once coming
home late for dinner. I found the house quiet and deserted. The mother
had gone out with the children to some entertainment. Nobody seemed to
expect me, so, tired and worried, I threw myself down before the fire to
rest. At that moment my eye fell on one of the many Bagpipes which I
keep lying about. Ah! I thought, now for a tune! its the very thing
I want. Fiat justitia, ruat ccelum. Should the heavens rain, I will have
a tune. So, taking up the Pipe, I soon played myself back into a
comfortable state of mind. I had scarcely laid the instrument down when
a knock at the door announced the nurse. Please, sir, do you want
anything to eat? My sensations decidedly tend that way, I said; but
where have you been? Where is everybody? Out, sir; I am left alone
with baby, and when she discovered that her mother had gone out, and the
rest of the children with her, she got into a state of panic, and it has
been the cry with her ever since, Hold babys hand, nuss! Hold babys
hand! But this is what I wanted to tell you, sir. You had not been
playing many seconds, when she said to me, Let doe babys hand, nuss!
Oo can doe now! Babys doin to seep! and she did go to sleep while
you were still tuning up.
I could not resist the
temptation of having a peep into the nursery, and stole upstairs on
tip-toe, and there lay the little onethe lately, wide-eyed,
terror-stricken one with a smile upon her lips, sound asleep;
dreaming, perhaps, of the piper-shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem : a
little pink spot upon her sweet cheek alone hinting at the late storm,
through which she had passed.
Children as a rule do
love the Bagpipe, as I have had innumerable opportunities of proving;
but it may be, as the poor Italian piper said, only because they are
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