HOW did the Bagpipe first
find its way into Britain?
It followed in the
footsteps of the Celt. There were two main Celtic invasions of Great
Britain in the early days, with a considerable interval between the two,
and many minor incursions during the centuries that followed.
There was also, for a
long time, a constant going and coming carried on between the Celts in
their new-found island home, and their friends and relatives who were
left behind; and in this way the old traditions and customs peculiar to
the race were kept alive: they had all things in common, so to speak,
because the Celt of one tribe shared his knowledge with the Celt of
another tribe ; and this is not difficult to believe, when we remember
that in those days there were no people so wedded to their own ways, so
conservative in their habits, or so clannish towards each other as the
Celtic peoples, and none so gifted with imagination or so musical. So
lasting, indeed, are those racial characteristics,
that, even to-day, it is
possible for a man of great authority on the fine arts—like Sir Hubert
Parry —to say in all sincerity, that in spite of the advances which the
world has made since the old days of which we write, the Celtic leaven
still leavens the lump. “Celtic music,” he says, “is the most human, the
most varied, the most poetical, and the most imaginative in the world.”
While written history
then is silent as to the precise date of the introduction of the Bagpipe
into Britain, we need not despair of fixing an approximate date for
ourselves. There is little doubt that it arrived on our shores long
before the Roman invasion, and this deduction we can safely make, if we
can prove—which we have already done in the preceding chapter—that the
Celt knew of the Bagpipe long before the Roman—we are not speaking here
of its invention—and if we can prove that the different Celtic tribes
kept in touch with each other long after they had broken away from the
main body. In this latter case, if the Pannonians, or the Umbrians, or
other Celtic body played on the Bagpipe—as history asserts that they
did—their pipers would spread the custom among the other Celtic tribes,
if these had not got a knowledge of it for themselves at the
Now, if you examine any
good map of the ancient world, you will at once see how well Celt kept
in touch with Celt. You will there find a range of Celtic colonies,
extending in an almost unbroken succession—like so many links in a
chain—from the shores of the Black Sea to the English Channel, so that
the different offshoots remained each within easy hail of the other, and
communication between the most distant tribes would be easy and
Along this Celtic chain,
the Bagpipe travelled, and it is from these same old Celtic
resting-places that my collection of Bagpipes has been gathered, and in
these countries to-day, almost without exception, the Bagpipe still
flourishes. And, indeed, I have found this combination of Celt and
Bagpipe so persistent, that I have come to say, “Tell me where the old
Celt settled, and I will tell you where to look for the Bagpipe.”
The Pipe, after spreading
over the greater part of Europe, had at first a very chequered career,
more especially in the large centres of population, for it was ever a
favourite with the scattered pastoral peoples. It was, in fact, a useful
weapon to the shepherd, and all but indispensable, because “As sheepe
love pyping, therefore shepherdes use the Pypes when they walk with
their sheepe.” But in the town, fickle fashion ruled, and as the Pipe’s
main use was now to while away time for the “Weary Willies” of society,
it had its continual ups and downs, now basking in the sunshine of
royalty, now treated as a pariah and an outcast.
It is not our intention
to deal here with the many ups and downs which fell to the lot of the
Bagpipe during its long career, but we would only remark, that the
higher the wave of popularity on which it was borne, the deeper was the
succeeding trough of neglect into which it fell. Take the following—one
example out of many—in illustration of this. When at the height of its
fame in the seventh and eighth centuries, the Bagpipe might be heard at
all important games and high festivals throughout Europe—wherever, in
short, men were gathered together, even when the gathering was one of
war; but from the ninth to the eleventh centuries the same
instrument—without rhyme or reason perceptible—fell into complete
disuse, and was almost unheard of in town or court. The usual revival
followed this long period of repose, beginning in the eleventh century,
and continuing well on into the thirteenth century, in the early years
of which an event took place which had ultimately an important influence
upon the Bagpipe in France.
In a secluded valley far
away among the mountains, a little boy was born of humble parents. Colin
Muset was his name. As he grew up he developed a genius for piping, and
soon far outstripped his only teachers—the poor shepherds around.
Stories of the boy’s marvellous playing leaked out, and at length
reached the court of France, and the ears of the king himself, who sent
for Colin, and finding that his skill was even greater than report had
made it out to be, offered him a post of honour in the royal household,
which Colin accepted.
And here, surrounded by
the royal favour, he lived and taught, and made popular the Pipe, and
was loaded with honours and riches. There is no doubt that Muset was a
piper of note. He was the MacCrimmon of the thirteenth century. He also
made great improvements in the construction of the Bagpipe, altering the
scale and improving the reeds, and he is said to have been the first
inventor of the Bellows-Pipe.
Another great revival
took place about the time of the Louis’—Louis XIV. and XV. During these
two monarchs’ reigns, a regular craze for piping and the pastoral life
spread like an epidemic throughout Europe—kings and queens neglecting
the affairs of State, and shutting up their palaces, retired with their
courts to some sweet, sylvan glade, far removed from the busy haunts of
men, and putting themselves on an equality with their subjects, competed
with them as shepherds and shepherdesses; each fair lady, in quaint,
rustic fashion, striving to be more beautifully dressed than the other,
while their royal lovers competed with each other upon the Shepherd’s
Pipe. The Pipe was the little Bellows-Pipe or Musette.
Here they led the
simplest of lives—a healthy, bracing life—during the summer months. With
no shelter from the storm but the spreading bough of the greenwood tree,
and no bed but the soft, warm moss, and no covering but the forest
leaves, and no roof but the blue vault of heaven: with no food but the
simple fruits which the earth produced, and the warm, frothing goat’s
milk, fresh from the pail, and the clear water from the purling brook —
the only wine with which they quenched their thirst—an ideal life was
lived, while, for a time, the burdens of State and the cares of society
were left to look after themselves. Pastoral plays, written for the
occasion, were enacted nightly, and pastoral music for the Bagpipe was
composed in spates.
Their duties over for the
day, these amateur shepherds filled in their spare time with piping and
dancing. An artificial life, it might be in many ways, but a charming
This revival reached its
height in the reigns of Louis XIV. and Louis XV., only to be followed
once again by a gradual decline, which has lasted in France and the
Continent to the present day, leaving traces, however, which are still
apparent in the different countries, of the influence the Pipe once
wielded over men’s lives.
In Germany, for example,
although the Bagpipe is now all but confined to the museums, it has been
perpetuated on canvas in the sixteenth century by the great painter,
Albert Durer, among others, and immortalised in stone at Nuremberg, etc.
Albert Durer’s picture is too well known to require further notice here.
His piper, short kirtled to the knee, might well pass for a kilted
At Nuremberg there is a
fountain which is over three hundred years old, surmounted by a
life-size piper, dressed in his old minstrel’s cloak, with a one-drone
Bagpipe on which he is playing, thrown over his shoulder, and through
its chanter the sweet clear waters have flowed all these years.
The Hungarian Bagpipe: A
one-droned Pipe bought in Buda-Pesth.
I shew here a Bagpipe
from Buda-Pesth; a poor, feeble, one-drone Pipe, reeded with straws,
serving only to show that the Hungarians were once acquainted with it,
and that it can have made little or no advance in their hands for
hundreds of years. In Bulgaria—part of old Pannonia — the Pipe might
still almost be called the national instrument, and is very common. It,
too, is a very rude and homely instrument,, although much superior to
the Hungarian. The set of Bulgarian “Pipes” shewn is distinguished by
the peculiar leaden crook at the end of the chanter, and by the lead
ornamentation, which is only to be found in this country on very old
Bagpipes. In France piping still goes on in one or two places, but the
days of its glory have long since fled—days recalled to our memory as we
wander through the picture galleries of Paris, by the frequent brush of
the artist, who loved to depict pastoral life in the old days, with the
piper always presiding over the dance.
Chalumeau was the French
name for the Shepherd’s Bagpipe, but the Bellows-Pipe they named Musette.
I have three different forms of French Bagpipe, which are photographed
here. The first two — one from Auvergne, the other from Bretagne—are
blown by the mouth—the third is the famous Musette, or Bellows-Pipe of
France, and is made entirely of ivory, with silver keys attached to the
chanter, which has two octaves ; the Pipe has six drones.
The first Pipe—the French
Shepherd’s Pipe or Chalumeau — came to me in rather a nice way.
You will notice that it
has a drone placed alongside of the chanter, like its next neighbour,
the Brittany Pipe ; but it has also a second drone, inserted "separately
into the bag — evidently an after-thought on the part of its possessor.
It is made of ebony and ivory, and a kind of spotted cane. The
termination of the chanter is quite peculiar, and is an exact miniature,
in bone, of the end of the large Calabrian pipe. The decoration is of
lead, and a small mirror inserted into the stock is very “Frenchy” in
This curious little Pipe
is evidently in a transitional stage. The original drone is the one
which lies alongside the chanter, where the drone in early days was
always placed. The advantage, however, of having the drone removed where
it would not interfere with the fingering was evidently apparent to its
owner, but his conservatism prevented him from altering the old
arrangement, and so he simply added on a second drone.
I said above that this
French Bagpipe came to me in rather a nice way. It also came with quite
an interesting story attached.
Mademoiselle D-was a
Frenchwoman, endowed with all that vivacity and nameless charm which is
so characteristic of her race.
She had lived long enough
in Edinburgh to learn something of the Highlander, from frequently
seeing detachments of Highland soldiers marching in and out of the
Castle. She told me that she loved the kilt, and adored the Bagpipe. I
had the honour and pleasure of finishing her Highland education,
byteaching her some Highland quicksteps.
A very old specimen of A Two-Drone French Chalumeau From Avignon, in
France. The gift of Mademoiselle D'Artout.
One day when shewing her
my collection of Pipes, I pointed out to her the French Musette, with
its beautiful ivory chanter, and its ivory case of drones, and she was
astonished as well as gratified to think that the French had such
beautiful “Pipes” in the old days. But she was more astonished to be
told that the Bagpipe was still played in France.
“But no!” she said. “But
yes!” I answered. “In Picardy among other places, and in Brittany, and,”
I suggested, “probably also in Auvergne, where we are told that the
purest Celtic race of to-day exists. “Ah!” she said, “I may be going
back to France some day, to the district of Auvergne, and I will listen
for the Pipe. I promised long long ago, to go back if ever my old
nurse’s daughter should happen to get married, and she is now quite
In the following year,
the expected wedding took place in Avignon, south of Auvergne.
Mademoiselle D-, true to her promise, was there; and when she returned,
she brought back with her the little Bagpipe, with the two drones, which
you see in the picture.
Her story of the marriage
reads like a description of an old Highland wedding. The bride’s and
bridegroom’s parties came down from the hills in two separate
processions, meeting for the first time that day at the church door. The
one was headed by a fiddler, and the other by a piper. As Mademoiselle
D- walked up to the church where the wedding was to be held, the first
thing she heard was the sound of the “Pipes”; her delight was unbounded.
So, when the ceremony was
finished in church, she spoke to the piper, and arranged with him to buy
the Bagpipe, and take possession of it after the festivities were over.
She also saw, at the dance, two little tin plates being handed round.
The collections were for the musicians. The whole scene, in short, as
related to me by Mademoiselle D-, reminded me of the weddings of my
The invention of the
bellows, as an adjunct to the Bagpipe, spread to other countries from
France : unless, indeed, it was invented independently by each of these,
which is very improbable.
The Bellows-Pipe found
its way into Germany, Austria, Hungary, Roumania, and other countries by
the banks of the Danube.
It also penetrated into
England, Lowland Scotland, and Ireland; but the barrier of the Grampians
stayed its further course in Scotland. It proved a costly innovation—as
all so-called improvements have done, and are likely to do—by, for one
thing, lessening its usefulness; and there followed, in the track of
this improvement, the inevitable decline, and gradual disappearance of
this emasculated instrument, until to-day it is little more than a thing
of the past.
A ship’s captain from
Falkirk, who sailed regularly to the Black Sea, and who promised to look
out for foreign “Pipes” for my collection, met a Roumanian piper one
day, playing upon a Bellows Pipe in Bucharest, but being very Scottish,
he did not recognise it as a Bagpipe at all, because it was not blown by
The reason for the decay
of the Bellows Pipe is not far to seek: what it gains in sweetness, it
loses in power; and it is no longer, as I said before, a useful
instrument. With its correct sharps and flats, and its numerous keys,
giving the scale a greater range of notes, it lends itself to other than
Pipe music, and is thus at once brought into competition with more
precise, more powerful, and more modern instruments ; and it fails
naturally, in the inevitable contest, to hold its own.
It has died out in France
and Germany, and on the Continent, with the exception, perhaps, of
Roumania. It certainly still lingers on in these Islands; in
Northumberland, in Aberdeenshire, and in one or two parts of Ireland ;
but it has long lost the power to excite the admiration and enthusiasm
of men, as the good old-fashioned, old-world Highland mouth-blown Pipe
We shall now quit the
Continent—sketchy and altogether incomplete as our remarks on its
Bagpipes have been—and devote the remaining portion of this book to the
Pipe in Great Britain, and, above all, to the King of Bagpipes—the great
War Pipe of the Highlands.
It would require several
chapters to do justice to the History of the Bagpipe in England; but a
few lines must suffice here.
The earliest reference to
the English Pipe is one in an illuminated manuscript entitled “St. Graal,”
written in the thirteenth century. The Piper is drawn with the bag held
in front of him, as it always was held at first—the chorus has the bag
not only carried in front, but held clear of the body of the player,
according to one writer—there are two chanters, and one large
bell-mouthed drone attached to the bag.
The Celt in England
refusing, like his brother Celt in Scotland, to bow the knee to the
invader, was driven back slowly into the marshlands of Wessex and the
fens of Lincolnshire, and across the borders into Wales and Scotland,
where for many a long day he was able to keep the foe at bay. Here he
lived the old life, keeping up the old customs which he had refused to
give up at the bidding of the world, and the old music: and it is from
these places of refuge that the Celts’ special instrument, the Bagpipe,
emerges later on.
Having once made its
appearance, however, it soon became one of the most popular of
instruments in England; for we find the piper installed at the English
court as an honourable member of the king’s household as early as the
The Bagpipe was also much
sought after by the officers of the English navy in days gone by ; and
this partiality of the English sailor for the “Pipes” was continued as
late as the seventeenth century, when notices were to be seen all over
the country, calling upon pipers to join the navy. To-day, the old
custom still survives, and there are pipers on board several of H.M.
battleships. Lord Charles.
A Beautiful Specimen of the French Chalumfau. Made in the 17th Century.
From the Basque Country. Presented to the Author by Mr Sutherland of
A Beautiful Specimen of The Musette, or French Bagpipe of the 17TH
This Pipe is made
entirely of ivory, and has_ got a chanter of two octaves. The drones,
five in number, are enclosed in an ivory case, like the old shuttle-pipe
Beresford had the
well-known piper, M‘Crae, with him in the Mediterannean when in command
of the fleet there, a few years ago. The sailor finds no instrument more
to his taste when dancing “Jack-a-Tar,” and no music trips more sweetly
off the chanter than “The Sailor’s Hornpipe.”
The Bagpipe was never, so
far as we can determine, used by the English as a war instrument on
land. They used it, however, as a peace instrument in religious services
very generally at one time.
A piper frequently made
one of the church choir; and Chaucer, who makes the first literary
reference to the Pipe in England, tells us that a bagpiper — what more
fitting companion could the saints have?—marched, or rode, in front of
the bands of pilgrims on their way to some favourite shrine—a frequent
sight in those days—cheering on the weary-footed with his gay music.
Chaucer’s picture of the
lusty miller puffing and blowing on the Bagpipe, and rousing lone echoes
on the dusty road as he heads the long line of pilgrims, marching from
Southwark to Canterbury, and Beckett’s shrine, will live as long as the
English language itself.
Not only was the Bagpipe
used in religious services in early England, but the priest was himself
occasionally a piper. Brand, in his “Popular Antiquities,” says: “I know
a priest—this is a true tale that I tell you, and no lye—which, when any
of his friends should be married, would take his Backe-Pype and so fetch
them to church, playing sweetly afore them: and then he would lay his
instrument handsomely on the aultare till he had married them and said
masse: which thing being done, he would gently bring them home again
Let me finish this quaint
picture of the olden times, and at the same time shew how similar were
the customs in Scotland, by giving you a Scotch story of a priest, who
was also a piper, and not afraid to use the Bagpipe on solemn occasions.
The Rev. Mr M‘Donald, of
Ferintosh, was a famous piper in his day. He, however, began his
ministrations as piper where his English brother left off. He did not
play the company to church, but after he had married the couple, and got
the company safely back to the hall of feastings, he would take up his
Bagpipe and play to the dancers until a certain hour, which he first
fixed upon, when he would send the people home to bed, locking the door
behind him, so that they could not renew the festivities when his back
was turned, even if so inclined.
Not many years ago the
pipers of a Highland regiment took part in the performance of a sacred
cantata in York Cathedral, and their playing had a beautiful effect,
according to the reports in the daily papers, and was much admired by
the English audience.
Milton, and several other great writers, also mention the Bagpipe in
England. From drawings of the time, we learn that the Pipe was
composed at first of a simple chanter, or of a chanter and one
drone, similar to the Scotch and Irish Pipe of the same period.
The Northumbrian Small Pipes: The gift of Mr Marshall,
There are engravings of
the Bagpipe in many parts of England, as, for example, on a screen at
Oxford, of date, 1403; in Henry VII.’s chapel; at Cirencester, Hull,
Beverly, and many other places. In Exeter Cathedral there is a carving
in stone of the choir, with a piper in their midst. The date is the
The Drone Pipe, as it was
called, was in use in Lincolnshire until quite recently. It was also in
use in Northumberland until the middle of last century, when it was
superseded by the Northumbrian or “Small Pipe.”
The form of Northumbrian
Pipe which I shew on the opposite page, has a closed chanter, and is
quite peculiar to Northumberland. It is, in fact, the only example of
the closed chanter in the world. This form of Pipe is a great
improvement upon the older Pipe, with open chanter, a specimen of which
I also shew here.
The open chanter is an
older form of instrument than the closed chanter, and is at best but a
poor peepy-weepy sort of Pipe.
As a writer in 1796
says—“It slurs the notes, which is unavoidable from the remarkable
smallness of the chanter—not exceeding eight inches in length—for which
reason the holes are so near each other that it is with difficulty they
can be closed, so that in the hands of a bad player they (sic) become
the most shocking and unintelligible instrument imaginable.”
The modern Northumbrian
Pipe, with chanter closed at the bottom, is free from these defects, as
it plays all its tunes in the way called by the Italians staccato, and
cannot slur at all.
Both these Pipes—the last
survivals of the Bagpipe in England—are, I need hardly say, Bellows
The drones in
Northumbrian Pipes are sometimes enclosed in a case, like that of the
French Musette, and the Pipe is then known as the Shuttle Pipe.
The Bagpipe at one time
occupied an important place in the Irish economy also.
It was the war instrument
of the Kernes and was a two-drone instrument in the sixteenth century ;
it was blown by the mouth, and was identical in every way with the old
Northumbrian and Scotch Bagpipe.
The Irish piper, also,
was a man held in high esteem, and ranking as a gentleman.
The story of M‘Donel, the
Irish piper, is said to be quite authentic.
When he went abroad he
had his horse to carry himself to the place of entertainment, and a
servant to carry his Pipe.
One day a gentleman who
was having a large company to dinner engaged M‘Donel’s services to
entertain his guests.
With more than
questionable taste, considering the standing of the piper, he had a
table and a bottle of wine on it, and a chair set for him on the
landing, outside the dining-room door.
The piper’s pride was
roused when he saw the reception prepared for him; so quickly filling
his glass, he stepped into the room and drank off the wine, saying—“Mr
Grant, your health and company.” “There, my lad, he said to the servant
appointed to wait upon him, “is two shillings for my bottle of wine, and
a sixpence for yourself.”
With double bass regulator
and 27 keys. This Pipe is made of ebony and ivory with brass mountings,
and was said to have been a gift from the late Queen Victoria to one
Ferguson, a blind piper in Dublin.
He then mounted his horse
and rode off in state. But, with the adoption of the bellows by the
Irish piper a rapid decline in public estimation came about; and to-day
there is not one piper of any note in all the Green Isle. I shew here
several different forms of Irish Pipe, which explain themselves better
than I could do.
The large set, with no
fewer than twenty-seven keys on it, is said to have been a presentation
by late Queen Victoria to one Ferguson, a blind piper, who played in and
out of the large hotels in Dublin in the early part of last century.
Such a Pipe would cost anything from ^30 to ^50 and upwards, and it came
to be known as the Irish Organ. When played on as an organ, the chanter
was put out of use by having the neck of the bag twisted tightly, and
the piper devoted both hands to the keys of the regulators.