BY ALEXANDER FRASER, TORONTO.
THE purpose I have in view is
to point out some of the influences that have helped to form the
best side of Scottish character, believing that these influences are of
general application, with equally happy results, and that they ought to be
cultivated by the young in Canada as in every other country. But it will
be necessary to say something as to what Scottish character, as
distinctive in itself, is, and where its foundations lie.
Ian Maclaren, who has so graphically described many phases of Scottish
character in such books as "The Bonnie Brier Bush," "The Days of Auld Lang
Syne," "Kate Carnegie," etc., in a lecture
delivered a few years ago in Toronto, picked out for emphasis the "dour"
side of the average Scot. The Scots' dourness does not consist of a love
for contention or obstruction, nor from a desire to be disagreeable.
Indeed, on the contrary, not a few of the virtues of the Scottish
character arise from, or are associated with it. Etymologically, the word
is easy enough, being derived from durus the Latin word for
"hard,"—meaning hardy, vigorous, inflexible, firm as a rock. Here you have
some valuable qualities which are discernible in the Scot. If the Scot
should lack somewhat of the mental agility of, say the Frenchman, he can
generally be relied upon. He lacks neither in firmness of will or force of
character, and these are essential to the man who desires to forge ahead.
The "dourness" of Ian Maclaren have been made
the pivot merely for these remarks, but in itself it is 'an interesting, a
somewhat picturesque indeed, feature of Scottish character. Intrepidity,
boldness, endurance, austerity, pertinacity, have been ascribed to it, and
even Burns finds in it the sting of the north wind when he says in "A
'Winter Night" :-
"When biting Boreas, fell and dour,
Sharp shivers through the leafless
When Phoebus gies a short-liv'd
Far south the lift;
Dim.dark'ning thro' the flaky show'r,
Or whirling drift.
And Anthony Trollope gives the English application of it in a well- turned
epigram, worth quoting for its moral :-
"I've been harsh-tempered and dour enough, I know; and its only fitting as
they should be hard and dour to me where I'm going."
But all these fail to give an exact equivalent of the characteristic
implied by dour, which is distinctly Scotch and is practically without a
synonym. Some of its best aspects are a reserve of mind, described by
Burns in his "Epistle to a Young Friend," thus
"Ay free, aff ban', your story tell,
When wi' a bosom crony;
still keep something to yoursel'
Ye scarcely tell to ony,"
a strength of character, not easily worsted, and a patience that can wait.
No one can speak of Scottish character without referring to the national
In the proverbial literature of the nation these sayings are common:
"Better greet (cry) ower your gudes than after your gudes."
"Canny stretch, soon reach."
"If you dinna see the bottom dinna wade."
"Measure twice, cut but ance."
"Ne'er put a sword in a foolish man's hand."
"Ne'er put your hand farther out than your sleeve will reach."
"Silence and thoughts hurt nae man."
"Take care of an ox before, an ass behind, and a monk on all sides."
These pithy and wise sayings speak for themselves. They embody what might
be put in a volume on the grace of caution. Another proverb on this
virtue, "Better rue sit, than rue flit," which, put in English reads,
"Better to remain where you are than to repent of removing," or "A bird in
the hand is worth two in the bush." Even in religious matters, and the
average Scot is nothing if not religious, the caution of his people crops
In a small town near Aberdeen, a revival preacher having on one occasion
met a respected minister of the Gospel, put to him the most momentous
question that can be put to man, though sometimes perhaps put lightly:
'Have you found Christ?' The minister remarked that it was rather
difficult to answer that question off-hand, but asked if he had done so
himself. The answer was in the affirmative. How long since?' enquired the
minister. 'About six weeks ago,' replied the
man. 'Oh well,' said the minister with earnestness, 'a thud six weeks old
has not much to say worth listening to!' and
walked away." As an example of the incautious minister on the other hand
the following anecdote may be told: - "A certain
minister in the City of Aberdeen, was one day, many years ago, walking
along Union Street with a friend. He saw a priest, the late Rev. Charles
Gordon, who was much respected by all classes, walking towards them. The
minister remarked to his friend,_ 'Here's Mr. Gordon, the priest, coming
along the street, I'll be at him about the Virgin Mary.' His friend
advised him' to let the priest alone, but the advice was rejected, and the
following dialogue ensued: —Minister: 'Good morning, Father Gordon.'
Priest: 'Good morning. sir.' Minister: 'Well, what about the Virgin Mary,
to-day?' Priest: 'I don't know. What about her?' Minister: 'Ah, I wonder
at a man like you believing in her as ye do.' Priest: 'How?' Minister:
'She was just a woman. What was the difference between her and my mother,
for instance?' Priest: 'I don't know. Never saw her, but there is a great
difference between their sons!
Among the Scottish characteris- tics "close fistedness," which means
"greed" has been placed. I decline, on this point, to be drawn into
telling you that the Scot "keeps the Sabbath and everything else he gets
his hands on," because Max O'Rell, Rudyard Kipling, and the belated
after-dinner speakers have a joint copyright on that joke, but I shall
repeat to you a few earnest words on the subject which have been
exemplified in the Scottish life:-
Charity begins at hame, but shouldua end there.
Charity ne'er made a man poor, nor robbery rich, nor prosperity wise.
Giving to the poor increaseth a man's store.
Spend, and God will send;
spare, and be bare."
while the motto of one of the great Highland clans, the MacMillans, is:
Miseris succurere disco—"I learn to succour the needy," and
liberality has accompanied hospitality
throughout the land."
On the other hand, the following story is told to show that the stinginess
of the Scot includes even his devotions: On the west coast of Scotland two
Highlanders were out in a fishing boat not far from the land, when a gale
got up suddenly, and the men were nearly drowned. Duncan, on seeing the
danger, said, 'Pray, Donald.' 'Pray yourself,' rejoined Donald. Thereupon
Duncan closed his eyes and began thus: 'Oh, it's fifteen years that I did
nae ask a favour o' ye afore, and if ye grant this ane it may be as lang
afore I dae it again!' 'Come under no fresh obligations. Duncan; the
boat's ashore?' cried Donald."
I have not learned that greed is a
characteristic of any nation-taking the individuals that comprise a state.
To be careful in expenditures comes near to the Scottish quality of
thrift. Thrift is a great virtue. In the Scottish mind it is related to
frugality somewhat as prosperity is to economy.
"Frae saving comes having,
"Ken when to
spend, when to spare, and when to buy, and ye'll ne'er be bare."
"Want not, waste not."
"Wide will wear, but tight will tear— true of a
"Frugality is a fair fortune, and industry a good
"The foot on the cradle, the hand on
the reel, is the sign of a woman that means to
Thrift is thus exalted on
sound, reasonable grounds. You thrive by practising industry and economy.
As Isaac Watts has it: "Diligence and humility is the way to thrive in the
riches of the understanding, as well as in gold." To be thrifty in time is
one of the most needed lessons for the youth of to-day. How often in our
lives we regret, that precious moments were lost in our young days.
"An idle brain is the deil's smiddy,"
says the proverb.
All will concede to the Scot the character of being a practical man. A
long list of names might be cited, but a chronicle of names would be
tedious even of those of such distinction as Kelvin, Gladstone, Me- Adam,
Dr. Cullen, Telford, Naysmith, Black, James Watt, T. H. Drummond, Robert
Fulton, Lindsay of Dundee, the forerunner of Marconi; Pender, Bell,
Carnegie, Strathcona, Thomas Coutts, Henry
Duncan, and others not less famous in business. The two factors which have
moulded the practical side of the Scot, perhaps more than any others, have
been the comparative poverty of the country in early times, and its
comparative seclusion before the days of modern travel. The lack of
storied wealth conditioned a living on the strenuous exertions of the
people. They worked hard, endured privation and learned not only how to
place a fair estimate on the real prizes of life, but also in the school
of practical experience became expert in doing as well as in understanding
things. It would have been difficult to come across the head of a family
years ago who could not fend for himself and those entrusted to his care,
in the most difficult circumstances. That was to some
extent because of the ingrained habit of individual thinking indulged in
on the mountain side or valley while following the rural pursuits of the
day. There was communion with sublime thoughts amid the solitudes of
nature, and the problems of life were wrought out, every man for himself.
Think of the grit required by a man of 43 to decide upon a University
course in order that he might qualify to preach the Gospel, though at the
time he had forgotten the rudiments of the elementary education he had had
in the parish school as a boy, and had for thirty years shepherded his
flock on the lonely hills of Scotland. And yet he faced the ordeal as a
soldier would his duty, and he conquered, of course, but conquered
brilliantly, capturing a gold medal in Greek and one in mathematics. That
is one of similar cases that show how much the mental calibre of the
Scottish peasant owed to necessity and solitude.
A professor of my time, whose name, indeed, is in the
list of names I gave a moment ago, used to tell of a Lewis crofter who had
solved the problem of the earth's motions to his own satisfaction, and
perfectly, and had them demonstrated by a rude but sufficient apparatus of
his own construction. As an example of practical reasoning the following
anecdote is given: A minister, given much to contradiction, was debating
with a boatman, while crossing a river, about faith and works. The
minister contended that faith without works was good. "No, no," retorted
the boatman, with much seriousness, "faith without works 'ill no do. I'll
gie you an illustration. We'll call this oar 'faith' and this ither oar
'works.' Very weel. Tak' 'faith' first." The minister took the oar and
while rowing with it alone the boat went round and round. "Now," said the
boatman, "let's tak' 'works' next." The minister did so, and while rowing
with the oar they had called 'works' alone, the boat went round and round
the other way. "We will noo," continued the boatman," tak' 'faith' and
'works' thegether. "Noo," he exclaimed, as he rowed with both oars at the
same time, "we can get ower the water, an' this is the only way that we
can get ower the troubled ocean of the world tae the peaceful shores o'
Three main sources of Scottish character are obvious to
the reader" of Scottish history, a subject which ought to prove most
fascinating- and of practical value to citizens of Canada, in as much as
conditions. run somewhat parallel in the case of early Scotland and
Canada. For example: First, Canada is a country, as Scotland was, of
diverse and numerous races; second, here as there, there is a desire for
nation'- hood; third, to the south of this country lies a large, richer
and more populous country, just as England lies to the south of Scotland;
fourth, the attitude of the United States to Canada does not differ
materially, if you take the difference between the ancient and the modern
civilizations into account, from that of England to Scotland, from the
13th to the 16th century. Besides, the subject is of special interest in
itself as that of a country which has had a great deal to do with holding
Canada for the British crown, and latterly of participating largely and
conspicuously in the settlement and development of our beloved land of the
The first source, or perhaps I should say the main
foundation of Scottish character, may be taken as the struggle for
independence maintained by Scotland against England in the early days. In
those times might was right and the weak went to the wall. It was a code
of honour which even the meadowy Wordsworth describes as:
The good old rule, the simple plan,
should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can.
So England being the bigger fish fed on the Scottish
fry, and came near to effecting the conquest of the northern territory.
But as now, there were Scots who valued their independence and they stood
by their country. The Scots themselves were then a heterogeneous people.
The Scots proper, who' had given the country a name, were a small body of
colonists inhabiting the modern Argyleshire and a few strips of land on
the west coast. To the north were the Scandinavians; in the mid Highlands
the Picts or Caledonians; to the South or in the Low Lands were Celts,
Saxons, Normans and Danes. All these elements entered into the making of
the Scottish race. They had long waged internecine war among themselves
and the rancour and jealousies of ages made them to seem an easy prey to
the consolidated power of the Edwards. Now and again the independence of
the country had nigh been wrenched from their hands, and the spirit of
freedom had nigh succumbed, when William Wallace, Scotland's most heroic
historical figure, arose. Moray of Bothwell and Sir Simon Fraser, the
patriot, were his truest and most constant allies. Following him came
Bruce, who, while unable to compose, succeeded in overthrowing the
divergent and hostile factions of the kingdom and brought Scotland, as a
whole, under the sway of her own crown. The two characteristics which
shine through the war-clouds of those tempestuous days are the patriotism
and the perseverance of the Scottish people. England's hammer, instead of
crushing them, in reality welded them together. Of the nobles nothing can
be said. Only a few of them resisted the power of selfish interests. Many
of them, indeed, were not native to the soil, but held richer possessions
in England than they did in Scotland, but the gentry and the people who
were of the soil, were of sterling stuff and were purified and
strengthened by their fiery trials. It is altogether remarkable how
persistent the people were. The English King or his generals would make a
triumphant march from south to north throughout the land, seizing and
garrisoning castles, burning churches and cities and desolating the land.
Returning home with the pride of conquest, their first news would be the
resurrection of the Scots, the recovery of their castles and a retaliatory
raid into England for cattle, grain, and plenishings to replace those
destroyed by the British army. King Robert Bruce's story of the spider was
but another form of what took place almost every year on the part of the
insuppressible Scots. A country won by such sacrifice of blood and
treasure was sure to be beloved passionately by its people, and we are not
far wrong in finding the foundation of the patriotism of the Scot in the
struggles of those days. Then, it was for the land of their fathers that
they fought. One of the outstanding features of Scottish character is
filial love and reverence, and when that is blended with love of country
you have a patriotism worthy that of the Israelite for the Holy Land. The
memories of these times have lived through all the intervening ages in
tradition and song. Nothing could better indicate the power of patriotic
feeling when it becomes part of the national life, than the fact that the
most popular poets concentrate their power upon it. Take Tannahill. In
thinking of Wallace and the scenes of bloodshed through which he lived, he
Thou dark winding Carron, once pleasing to see,
me thou can'st never give pleasure again,
My brave Caledonians lie low
on the lea,
And thy streams are deep tinged with the blood of the
Farewell, ye dear partners of peril ! far- well
buried ye lie in one wide bloody grave,
Your deeds shall enoble the
place where ye fell,
And your names be enroll'd with the Sons of the
As to Robert Burns, he would be the poet laureate of
his country if for nothing else than his intense patriotism. He often
traces back to Wallace and Bruce. His "Scots Wha Hae wi' Wallace Bled," is
not merely the Scottish National Ode, but its anthem of national freedom.
Wha for Scotland's king and law
will strongly draw
Freeman stand, or freeman fa',
Let him follow
By oppression's woes and pains!
By our sons in
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be
Burns, again, and this time taking the view that the
union of England and Scotland in 1707 had been purchased from a corrupt
Parliament by English gold, lays the lash on thus:
Fareweel to a' our Scottish fame,
Fareweel even to the Scottish name
Sae famed in
What force or guile could not subdue,
Is wrought now by a coward few
For hireling traitor's
O, would, or I had seen the day
That treason thus
could sell us,
My auld grey heid had lain in clay
Wi' Bruce and
loyal Wallace! etc.
As Burns looked around on the glories of her scenery he
could not dissociate the moors and the mountains from those conflicts for
freedom which sunk so deeply into the nation's heart. He says:
"Her moors red-brown wi' heather bells,
an' braes, her dens and dells,
Where glorious Wallace, aft bure the
gree as story tells,
Frae Southron billies."
And Henry Scott Riddell, one of Scotland's sweetest, as
well as most stirring singers, tunes his lyre, and the beauties of nature
blend with past conflicts, too;
The thistle wags upon the fields
Where Wallace bore
That gave her foeman's dearest blood
To dye her auld
And looking to the lift (the sky), my lads,
He sang this
Auld Scotland's right, and Scotland's might
Scotland's hills for me.
They tell o' lands wi' brighter skies,
freedom's voice ne'er rang,
Gie me the hills where Ossian lies
Coila's minstrel sang.
For I've nae skill o' lands, my lads,
ken nae to be free,
Then Scotland's right, and Scotland's might,
Scotland's hills for me.
Such was the struggle for civil freedom. Almost as
severe was the cruel struggle for religious freedom, and that I shall
designate the second layer in the foundation of Scottish character. The
nation had reached manhood and had chosen its form of worship and its
religious beliefs when it had to fight for the possession of them. The
Reformation in Scotland was in its infancy when its tenets became the
subjects of controversy, of civil strife and of war. It is not part of
this paper to enter into the persecutions and sufferings of those grievous
times; they were sore, and hard to bear, but as gold is refined in the
fire, Scotland emerged from her religious trials purified and chastened.
If the influence of these contendings on the heart and soul was great, it
was equally apparent on the minds of the people. Each one must give a
reason for the faith that was within him, and he became versed in his
Bible and in the theological dialectics of the day. How these have
permeated the nation and left an impress not to be mistaken upon the
national character, need not be described. Looking back from the present
day when the tendency is for the seventies to soften, it may be that the
patriotic ardour of the remoter age has been preserved to a comparatively
greater degree than has the religious fervour of the covenanting times