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Scenes and Legends of The North of Scotland
Chapter XXXII


"He heard amazed, on every side
His church insulted, and her priests belied,
The laws reviled, the ruling powers abused,
The land derided, and her foes excused,
|He heard and ponder’d. What to men so vile
Should be his language? For his threatening style
They were too many. If his speech were meek,
They would despise such vain attempts to speak:
These were reformers of each different sort."—Crabbe.

In former times people knocked one another on the head for the sake of their masters—fellows whom they had made too great to care at all about them; in the present age they have become so much wiser, that they quarrel on their own behalf alone. An entire people might be regarded in the past as an immense engine, with perhaps a single mind for its moving power; we may now compare every petty district to a magazine, stored like the warehouse of a watchmaker with little detached machines, each one furnished with a moving power of its own. But though politics and party spirit change almost every ten years, human nature is always the same;—aspects vary, and circumstances alter, but the active principle, through all its windings and amid all its disguises, is ever consistent with itself.

The people of Cromarty who lived ninety years ago were quite as unskilled in politics as their neighbours, and thought as little for themselves. They were but the wheels and pinions of an immense engine; and regarding their governors as men sent into the world to rule—themselves, as men born to obey—they troubled their heads no more about the matter. Even the two Rebellions had failed of converting them into politicians ; for, viewing these in only their connexion with religion, they exulted in the successes of Hanover as those of Protestantism, and identified the cause of the Stuarts with Popery and persecution. Their Whiggism was a Whiggism of the future world only; and the liberty of preparing themselves for heaven was the only liberty they deemed worth fighting for.

Principles such as these, and the dominancy of the Protestant interest, rendered the people of Cromarty, for two whole reigns, as quiet subjects as any in the kingdom. In latter times, too, there was a circumstance which thoroughly attached them to the Government, by shutting out from among them the Radicalism of modern times for well-nigh a whole age. The Scotch, early in the reign of George III, had risen high at court;— Earl Bute had become Premier, and Mansfield Lord Chief-Justice; and the English, who would as lief have witnessed the return of William and his Normans, grumbled exceedingly. The Premier managed his business like most other premiers;— the Chief-Justice conducted his rather better than most other chief-justices; but both gentlemen, says Smollett, “ had the misfortune of being born natives of North Britain; and this circumstance was, in the opinion of the people, more than sufficient to counterbalance all the good qualities which human nature could possess.” Junius, and Wilkes, and Churchhill, and hundreds more, who, with as much ill-nature, but less wit, were forgotten as soon as the public ceased to be satisfied with ill-nature alone, opened in full cry against the King, the Ministry, and the Scotch. The hollo reached Cromarty, and the town’s-folk were told, with all the rest of their countrymen, that they were proud, and poor, and dirty, and not very honest, and that they had sold their King; all this, too, as if they hadn’t known the whole of it before. Now it so happened, naturally enough I suppose, that they could bear to be dirty, but not to be told of it, and poor, but not to be twitted with their poverty, and that they could be quite as angry as either Junius or Church-hill, though they could not write letters like the one, nor make verses like the other. And angry they were—desperately angry at Whiggism and the English, and devotedly attached to the King, poor man, who was suffering so much for his attachment to the Scotch. Nothing could come amiss to them from so thorough a friend of their country; and when, on any occasion, they could not wholly defend his measures, they contented themselves with calling him an honest man.

On came the ill-fated, ill-advised American War, and found the people of Cromarty as loyal as ever. Washington, they said, was a rascal; Franklin, an ill-bred mechanic; and the people of the United States, rebels to a man. There was a ballad, the composition of some provincial poet of this period, which narrated, in very rude verse, the tragical death of two brothers, natives of Ross-shire, who were killed unwittingly by their father, a soldier of the Republic; and this simple ballad did more for the cause of the King among the people of Cromarty, than all the arguments in Locke could have done for that of the Americans; there was not an old woman in either town or parish who did not thoroughly understand it. The unfortunate father, Donald Munro, had emigrated to America, says the ballad, many years before; leaving his two infant sons with his brother, a farmer of Ross-shire. The children had shot up into active young men, when the war broke out; and, unable to pay for their passage, had enlisted into a regiment destined for the colonies, in the hope of meeting with their father. They landed in America; and finding themselves one evening, after a long and harassing march, within a few miles of the place where he resided, they set out together to pay him a visit; but in passing through a wood on their way, they were shot at from among the trees, and with so fatal an aim that the one was killed, and the other mortally wounded. A stout elderly man, armed with a double-barrelled rifle, came pressing towards them through the bushes, as a fowler would to the game he had just knocked down. It was their father, Donald Munro; and the ballad concludes with the ravings of his horror and despair on ascertaining the nature of his connexion with his victims, blent with the wild expressions of his grief and remorse for having joined in so unnatural a rebellion.

Even in this age, however, as if to show that there can be nothing completely perfect that has human nature in it, Cromarty had its one Whig;—a person who affirmed that Franklin was a philosopher, and Washington a good man, and that the Americans were very much in the right. Could anything be more preposterous? The town’s-folk lacked patience to reason with a fellow so amazingly absurd. He was a slater, and his name was John Holm;—a name which became so proverbial in the place for folly, that, when any one talked very great nonsense, it was said of him that he talked like John Holm. The very children, who had carried the phrase with them to the play-ground and the school, used to cut short the fudge of a comrade, or, at times, even some unpopular remark of the master, with a “Ho! ho! John Holm! John, however, held stiffly to his opinions, and the defence of Washington; and some of the graver town’s-men, chafed by his pertinacity, were ill-natured enough to say that he was little better than Washington himself. Curious as it may appear, he was, notwithstanding the modem tone of his politics, a rare and singular piece of antiquity;—one of that extinct class of mechanics described by Coleridge, “to whom every trade was an allegory, and had its own guardian saint.” He was a connecting link between two different worlds—the worlds of popular opinion and of popular mystery; and, strange as it may seem, both a ' herald of the Reform Bill, and a last relic of the age “in which” (to use the language of the writer just quoted) “ the detail of each art was ennobled in the eyes of its professors, by being spiritually improved into symbols and mementos of all doctrines and all duties.” John had, besides, a strong turn for military architecture, and used to draw plans and construct models. He was one evening descanting to an old campaigner on the admirable works at Fort George (a very recent erection at that time), and illustrating his descriptions with his stick on a hearth-stone strewed over with ashes, when by came the cat, and with one sweep of her tail demolished the entire plan. “Och, Donald!” said John, “it’s all in vain;” a remark which, simple as it may seem, passed into a proverb. When an adventure proved unsuccessful, or an effort unavailing, it was said to be “ All in vain, like John Holm’s plan of the fort.” But John’s day was at hand.—We, the people, are excellent fellows in our way, but I must confess not very consistent. I have seen the principles which we would hang a man for entertaining at the beginning of one year, becoming quite our own before the end of the next.

The American War was followed by the French Revolution, and the crash of a falling throne awakened opinion all over Europe. The young inquired whether men are not born equal; the old shook their heads, and asked what was to come next? There were gentlemen of the place who began to remark that the tradesfolk no longer doffed to them their bonnets, and tradesfolk that the gentlemen no longer sent them their newspapers. But the people got newspapers for themselves;— these, too, of a very different stamp from the ones they had been accustomed to; and a crop of young Whigs began to shoot up all over the place, like nettles in spring. They could not break into the meanings of all the new, hard-shelled words they were meeting with—words ending in acy and archy; but no people could understand better that a king is only a kind of justice of the peace, who may be cashiered for misconduct just like any other magistrate; that all men are naturally equal; and that one whose grandfather had mended shoes, was every whit as well-born as one whose grandfather was the bastard of an emperor. And seldom were there people more zealous or less selfish in their devotion than the new-made politicians of Cromarty. Their own concerns gave place, as they ought, to the more important business of the state; and they actually hurt their own heads, and sometimes, when the ale was bad, their own bellies, in drinking healths to the French. Light after light gleamed upon them, like star after star in a frosty evening. First of all, Paine’s Rights of Man shone upon them through the medium of the newspapers, with the glitter of fifty constellations; then the Resolutions of the Liberty and Equality clubs of the south looked down upon them with the effulgence of fifty more; at length, up rose the scheme for the division of property, like the moon at full, and, flaring with portentous splendour, cast all the others into comparative obscurity. The people looked round them at the parks which the modem scheme of agriculture had so conveniently fenced in with dikes and hedges; and spoke of the high price of potato-land and the coming Revolution.—A countryman went into one of the shops about this time, craving change for a pound-note. “A pound-note!” exclaimed the shopkeeper, snapping his fingers; —“ a pound-note!—Man, I widna gie you tippence for’t.” There was a young man of the place, the son of a shopkeeper, who had been marked from his earliest boyhood by a smart precocity of intellect, and the boldness of his opinions; his name (for I must not forget that, to borrow one of Johnson’s figures, I am walking over ashes the fires of which are not yet extinguished) I shall conceal. He was one of those persons who, like the stormy petrel of the tropics, come abroad when the seas begin to rise, and the heavens to darken; and who find their proper element in a wild mixture of all the four elements jumbled into one. He read the newspapers, and, it was said, wrote for them; he corresponded, too, with the Jacobin clubs of the south, and strove to form similar clubs at home; but the people were not yet sufficiently ripe. No one could say that he was disobliging or ill-tempered; on the contrary, he was a favourite with, at least, his humbler town’s-men for being much the reverse of both; but he was poor and clever, and alike impatient of poverty, and of seeing the wealth of the country in the hands of duller men than himself; and so the man who was unfortunate enough to be born to a thousand pounds a year had little chance of finding him either well-tempered or obliging. He had stept into the ferry-boat one morning, and the ferrymen had set themselves to their oars, when a neighbouring proprietor came down to the beach, and called on them to return and take him aboard. “Get on!” shouted the Democrat,  and let the fellow wait;—*tis I who have hired you this time.” “O Sir! it’s a shentleman,” said one of the ferrymen, propelling the boat stem-wards, as he spoke, by a back stroke of the oar. “Gentleman!” exclaimed the Democrat, seizing the boat-hook and pushing lustily in a contrary direction—“Gentleman truly!—we are all gentlemen, or shall be so very soon.” The proprietor, meanwhile, made a dash at the mdder, and held fast, but with such good-will did the other ply the boat-hook, that ere he had made good a lodgment he was drenched to the armpits. “Nothing like being accustomed to hardship in time,” muttered the Democrat, as, glancing his eye contemptuously on the dripping vestments of the proprietor, he laid down the pole and quietly resumed his seat.

There were about a dozen young men in the place who were so excited by the newspaper accounts of the superb processions of their south-country friends, that they resolved on having a procession of their own. They procured a long pole with a Kilmarnock cap fixed to the one end of it, which they termed the cap of liberty, and a large square of cotton, striped blue, white, and red, which they called the tricolor of independence. In the middle stripe there were inscribed in huge Roman capitals, the words Liberty and Equality; and a stuffed cormorant, intended to represent an eagle, was perched on the top of the staff. They got a shipmaster of the place prevailed on to join with them. He was a frank, hearty sailor, who saw nothing unfair in the anticipated division of property, and hated a pressgang as he hated the devil. “But how,” said he, “will we manage, after all hands have been served out, should a few of us take a bouse and melt our portions? just divide again, I suppose?” “Highly probable,” replied the revolutionists; “but we have not yet fully determined on that.” “I see, I see,” rejoined the sailor; “everything can’t be done at once.” On the day of the procession he brought with him his crew attired in their best, and with all the ship flags mounted on poles. The revolutionists demurred. "To be sure,” they said, “nothing could be finer; but then the flags were British flags.”  And-it,” said the master, “would you have me bring French flags?” It was no time, however, to dispute the point; and the procession moved on, followed by all the children of the place. It reached an eminence directly above the links; and drawing up beside an immense pile of brushwood, and .a few empty tar-barrels, its leader planted the tree of liberty amid shouts, and music, and the shooting of muskets, on the very spot on which the town gallows had been planted about two centuries before. No one, however, so much as thought of the circumstance; for people were too thoroughly excited to employ themselves with anything but the future; besides, a very little ingenuity could have made it serve the purpose of either party. After planting the tree, the brushwood was fired, and a cask of whisky produced, out of which the republicans drank healths to liberty and the French. “The French! the French! ” exclaimed the shipmaster.

“Well,-them, I don’t care though I do; here’s health to the French; may they and I live long enough to speak to one another through twelve-pounders!” All the boys and all the sailors huzza’d; the republicans said nothing, but thought they had got rather a queer ally. The evening, however, passed off in capital style; and, ere the crowd dispersed, they had burnt two fishing-boats, a salmon .coble, and almost all the paling of the neighbouring fields and gardens.

The day of the procession was also that of a Redcastle market; at that time one of the chief cattle fairs of the north. It was largely attended on this occasion by Highlanders from the neighbouring straths, many of whom had fought for the Prince, and remembered the atrocities of Cumberland; it was attended, too, by parties of drovers from England and the southern counties of Scotland, all of them brimful of the modern doctrines, and scarcely more loyal than the Highlanders themselves; it was attended, besides, by a Cromarty salmon-fisher, George Hossack, a man of immense personal strength and high spirit, now a little past his prime perhaps, but so much a politician of the old school, that he would have willingly fought for his namesake the King with any two men at the fair. But he was no match for everybody, and everybody to-day seemed to hold but one opinion. “Awfu’ expensive government this of ours,” said an East-Lothian drover; “we maun just try whether we canna manage it mair cheaply for ourselves.” “Ay, and what a blockhead of a king have we got!” said an Englishman ; “not fit, as Tom Paine says, for a country constable; but, poor wretch, we must turn him about his business, and see whether he can’t work like ourselves.” “Och, but he’s a limmer anyhow, and a creat plack whig! ” remarked an old Highlander, “and has nae right till ta crown. Na, na, Charlie my king !” Poor George was almost broken-hearted by the abuse poured out against his sovereign on every side of him ; but what could he do? He would look first at one speaker, then at another, and repress his rising wrath by the consideration, that there was little wit in being angry with about three thousand people at once. He had driven a bargain with two Englishmen, and on going in to drink with them, according to custom, was shown into a room which chanced at the time, unlike every other room in the house, to be unoccupied. The Englishmen seated themselves at the table; George cautiously fastened the door, and took his place fronting them. “Now, gentlemen,” said he, filling the glasses, “permit me to propose a toast:—Health and prosperity to George the Third.” He drank off his glass, and set it down before him. One of the Englishmen, a bit of a wag in his way, looked at him with a droll, quizzical expression, and took up his. “Health and prosperity,” he said, “to George the herd”—“Well, young man,” remarked George, “he is, as you say, a herd, and a very excellent oneallow me, however, to wish him a less unruly charge.” “Health and prosperity,” shouted out the other, “to George the-.” This was unbearable: George sprang from his seat, and repaid the insult with a blow on the ear, which drove both man and glass to the floor. Up rose the other Englishman—up rose, too, the fallen one, and fell together upon George; but the cause of the king was never yet better supported. Down they both went, the one over the other, and down they went a second, and a third, and a fourth time; till at length, convinced that nothing could be more imprudent than their attempts to rise, they lay just where they fell. George departed, after discharging the reckoning, leaving them to congratulate one another on their liberalism and their wit; and reached Cromarty as the last gleam of the Jacobin bonfire was dancing on the chimney-tops, to learn that there was scarcely more loyalty among his town’s-men than at the market, and that his favourite salmon-coble had perished among the flames about two hours before. I remember George —a shrewd, clear-headed man of eighty-two, full of anecdote and remark; and I have derived not a few of my best traditions from him. But he is gone, and well-nigh forgotten; and when the sexton of some future age shall shovel up his huge bones, the men who come to gaze on them may descant, as they turn them over, on modem degeneracy and the might of their fathers, but who among them all will know that they belonged to the last of the loyalists!

The day after the procession came on, pregnant with mystery and conjecture. Rider after rider entered the town, and assembled in front of the council-house ;—the town’s officer was sent for, together with the sergeant of a small recruiting party that barracked in one of the neighbouring lanes; they then entered the hall, and made fast the doors. The country gentlemen, it was said, had come in to put down the revolutionists. Shortly after, two of the soldiers and a constable glided into the house of the young democrat, and producing a warrant for his apprehension, and the seizure of all his papers, hurried him away to the hall—the soldiers, with their bayonets fixed, guarding him on either side, and the constable, laden with a hamper of books and papers, bringing up the rear. In they all went, and the door closed as before. The curiosity of the town’s-people was now awakened in right earnest, and an immense crowd gathered in front of the council-house; but they could see or hear nothing. At length the door opened, and the sergeant came out; he looked round about him, and beckoned on George Hossack. “George,” he said, “one of the London smacks has just entered the bay; you must board her and seize on all the parcels addressed to * * * * the Jacobin merchant; there is an information lodged that he is getting a supply of pikes from London for arming the town’s-people. Take the customhouse boatmen with you; and bring whatever you find to the hall. And, hark ye, we must see and get up an effigy of the blackguard Tom Paine; —try and procure some oakum and train-oil, and I’ll furnish powder enough to blow him to Paris.” Away went George, delighted with the commission, and returned in about an hour after, accompanied by some boatmen bearing two boxes large enough to contain pistols and pike-heads for all the men of the place. They were admitted into the hall, where they found the bench occupied by the town and county gentlemen—the soldiers ranged in the area in front, and the Republican, nothing abashed, standing at the bar. He had baffled all his judges, and had given them so much more wit and argument than they wanted, that they had ceased questioning him, and were now employed in turning over his papers. A letter written in cipher had been found on his person, and a gentleman, somewhat skilled in such matters, was examining it with much interest, while his more immediate neighbours were looking over his shoulders. “Bring forward the boxes, George,” said one of the gentlemen. George placed them both on the large table fronting the bench, and proceeded to uncord them. The first he opened was filled with gingerbread, the other with girls’ dolls and boys’ whistles, and an endless variety of trinkets and toys of a similar class. Some of the elderly gentlemen took snuff and looked at one another;—the younger laughed outright. “Have you deciphered that scrawl, Pointzfield?” inquired one of the more serious, with a view of restoring the court to its gravity. “Yes,” said Pointzfield dryly enough, “I rather think I have.”—“Treasonable of course,” remarked the other. “No, not quite that now,” rejoined the other, “whatever it might have been fifty years ago. It is merely a copy in shorthand of the old Jacobitical ballad, the Sow’s Tail to Geordie.” A titter ran along the bench as before, and the court broke up after determining that the Democrat should be sent to the jail of Tain to abide further trial, and that Paine should be burnt in effigy at the expense of the county. Paine was accordingly burnt; and all the children were gratified with a second procession and a second bonfire, quite as showy in their way as those of the preceding evening. The prisoner was escorted to Tain by a party of soldiers; and on his release, which took place shortly after, he quitted the country for London, where he' became the editor of a newspaper on the popular side, which he conducted for many years with much spirit and some ability. Meanwhile the revolutionary cause languished for lack of a leader; and, on the declaration of war with France, sunk entirely amid the stormy ebullitions of a feeling still more popular than the Republican one.

There are some passions and employments of the human mind which give it a sceptical bias, and others, apparently of a very similar x nature, which incline it to credulity. So long as the revolutionary spirit stalked abroad, it seemed as if every other spirit stayed at home. The spectre slept quietly in its churchyard, and the wraith in its pool; the dead-light was hooded by an extinguisher, and the witch minded her own business without interfering with that of her neighbours. On the breaking out of the war, however, there came on a season of omens ' and prodigies, and the whole supernatural world seemed starting into as full activity as the fears and hopes of the community. Armies were seen fighting in the air, amid the waving of banners and the frequent flashing of cannon; and the whole northern sky appeared for three nights together as if deluged with blood. In the vicinity of Inverness, shadowy bands of armed men were descried at twilight marching across the fields—at times half enveloped in smoke, at times levelling their arms as if for the charge. There was an ominously warlike spirit, too, among the children, which the elderly people did not at all like;— they went about, just as before the American war, with their mimic drums and fifes, and their muskets and halberts of elder, disturbing the whole country with uncouth music, and their zeal against the French. Then came the tug of war; trade sank; and many of the mechanics of the place flung aside their tools and entered either the army or navy. Party spirit died ; the Whigs forgot everything but that they were Britons; and when orders came that such of the males of the place as volunteered their services should be embodied into a kind of domestic militia, old men of seventy and upwards, some of whom had fought at Culloden, and striplings of fifteen, who had not yet left school, came to the house of their future colonel, begging to be enrolled and furnished with arms. In less than two days every man in the town and parish was a soldier. Then came the stories of our great sea victories: the glare of illuminations and bonfires; the general anxiety when the intelligence first arrived that a battle had been fought, and the general sadness when it was ascertained that a town’s-man had fallen. When the news of Duncan’s victory came to the town, a little girl, who had a brother a sailor, ran more than three miles into the country, to a field in which her mother was employed in digging potatoes, and falling down at her feet, had just breath enough left to say, “Mither, mither, the Dutch are beaten, and Sandy’s safe.” The report of a threatened invasion knit the people still more firmly together, and they began to hate the French, not merely as national, but also as personal enemies. And thus they continued to feel, till at length the battle of Waterloo, by terminating the war, reduced them to the necessity of seeking, as before, their enemies at home.

For more than twenty years the words Whig and Tory had well-nigh gone out; and the younger town’s-men were for some time rather doubtful about their meaning. At length, however, they learned that the Whigs meant the people, and the Tories those who wished to live by them, and yet call them names. The town’s-people, therefore, became Whigs to a man, execrated the Holy Alliance and the massacre at Manchester, drank healths to Queen Caroline and Henry Brougham; and though they petitioned against Catholic emancipation—for, like most Scotch folks, they had too thorough a respect for their grandfathers to be wholly consistent—they were yet shrewd enough to inquire whether any one had ever boasted of his country because the great statesmen opposed to that measure were his countrymen. The Reform Bill, however, set them all right again, by turning them full in the wake of their old leaders ; and yet, no sooner was Whiggism intrusted with the keys of office, than they began to make discoveries which had the effect of considerably modifying the tone of their politics. They began co discover—will it be believed?—that all men are not bom equal, and that there exists an aristocracy in the very economy of nature. It was not merely the choice of his countrymen that made Washington a great general, or Franklin a profound statesman. They have also begun to discover, that a good Whig may be a bad man; nay, that one may be at once Whig and Tory—a Tory to his servants and dependants, a Whig to his superiors and his country. For my own part, I am a Whig —a born Whig; but no similarity of political principle will ever lead me to put any confidence in the man to whom I could not intrust my private concerns; and as for the Whiggism that horsewhipped the poor woman who was picking a few withered sticks out of its hedge, it may wear the laurel leaf and the blue ribbon in any way it pleases, but I assure it—it won’t be of my party.


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