History of Curling Chapter III - Historical and
"In ancient days fame tells
That Scotland's heroes were na slack
The heads o' stubborn foes to crack,
An' mak the feckless flee, boys !
Wi' brave hearts beating true and warns,
They aften tried the curling charm,
To cheer the heart an' nerve the arm
The roarin' rink for me, boys!"
It boots not whence the curler
If curler keen an' staunch he be,
Frae Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales,
Or Colonies ayont the sea
A social britherhood are we,
An' after we are deid an' Bane,
We'll live in literature an' lair,
In annals o' the channel-stare."
"Our fathers in the clays of
Bravely themselves in battle bore,
And dearly loved the friendly splore.
To give and take be ready still,
To strike a foe still have the will,
Still guard a friend with all your skill."
Rev. G. Murray (Balmaclellan).
leave no stone unturned that might illustrate the History of Ancient Curling
has been our endeavour in the foregoing chapter. By a study of the different
types thus brought under notice, the development of the game may be
distinctly traced. The testimony of the rocks is not, however, to be too
much depended on. Curlers who worship antiquity may hesitate before making
Stirling; their Mecca, because of the venerable black Caaba-stone that is
enshrined in the Macfarlane Museum there. The stone itself is old, but the
date (1511) inserted in it seems comparatively new; and this may be the case
with other specimens that put in claims to great antiquity. We must now look
beyond words of doubtful origin that are used in play, and stones of
doubtful age that are preserved in museums, to historians and poets, whose
works may be expected slowly but surely to reflect the customs and
amusements of the people. Such information as these convey cannot but prove
valuable, and we are therefore dealing with the records of the game in the
order of their importance, when we proceed to notice the evidences of its
origin and progress that are found in our literature. Supposing that what we
have stated as to the obscurity of this form of winter amusement before the
invention of the circular-stone is correct, we do not expect to find much
notice taken of it in its earlier staves. In this we are not disappointed,
No mention is made of
the game of curling by any of our Scottish historians and poets previous
to the year 1600,
So far our present chapter must prove a case of
"snakes in Iceland." Its negative nature cannot be satisfactory to curlers,
who believe that their favourite amusement was one at which our
monarchs—when we had them all to ourselves—"disdained not to play," and that
curling was a national game perhaps before we in Scotland were a nation. We
are sorry, for their sakes, that we cannot go further back; but as for
curling, we see nothing to be gained by pushing its claim to antiquity,
nationality, and Royal patronage too far. The popularity of the game rests
on its merits. It has the future before it, as the winter game of this and
other countries; and in our present inquiry it is better to clear the
ground, though it may not please our antiquarian brethren to find their pet
traditions destroyed. We have already stated that curling of a kind was
engaged in, during the sixteenth century, when the kuting-stone, or
piltycock, was in use. No illusion is however made to it, in the history or
poetry of that period; and before the sixteenth century we have no evidence
either from ancient stones, or from ancient writers, that such a game or the
germ of it was in existence. This the keen historian does not wish to
believe. He is determined to force the testimony, and so we, find him "owre
a' ice," in his wild pursuit of references. Here is a passage from Sir
Richard Broun, one of the best and most enthusiastic of early writers on
"Of the remote antiquity of the game of curling,
we have the most legitimate proof from Ossian:- 'Fly, son of Morven, fly!
Amid the circle of stones, Swaran bends at the stone of might.' Either the
game then is much more ancient than has hitherto been dreamed of—or else
Macpherson has been most unhappy in his allusion!"
We have looked in vain for this interesting
passage as quoted by Broun, but "the stone of might" is a common expression
in Ossian's Poems. The words of Starno and Swaran (Ca-lodin, Duan I.) are
"not in vain, by Loda's stone of power." In Fingal (Duan III.) we read of
the "gray-haired Snivan that often sang round the circle of Loda; when the
stone of power heard his voice, and battle turned in the field of the
valiant." These references, it appears, are to acts of worship performed by
the Fingalian heroes.[Clerk's Ossian, Vol. I. p. 78; Vol. II. p. 136.
Blackwood, 1870. Clerk's translation has "stone of spectres" for
Macpherson's "stone of power."] Broun need not have been at the trouble of
transforming Scandinavian crom-lecs into Caledonian channel-stanes. Is it
not plain that Swaran was a curler-"Swaran of lakes," who, "slowly stalking
over the stream, whistled as he went"? Was it not a signal for a curling
match to begin when "Launderg rolled a stone the sign of war"? Why did the
son of Maben not penetrate further into ancient literature, and find in the
Fall a proof that our first parents tried the "slippery game" in the garden
of Eden? [Broun should have been credited with a joke, had we not found from
a MS note to a proposed second edition of his work, that he prepared to
enlarge on the point, and to add some remarks on the popularity of the poems
of Ossian with Napoleon Bonaparte and Lord Byron. Since his time, "the stone
of might," and "the circles of Loda," are often found doing duty in curling
songs. The Rev. Mr Muir of Beith, in the following spirited lines, gives a
happy account of another transformation of "the stone of might." The lines
were published in Broun's work with the motto from Ossian prefixed.
"In the days o' lang syne, as some auld stories
At Yule when the feel's are a' kiver'd wi' snaw;
Nae bonspiel was ken'd but the horn brightly sparkling,
And wild bursts o' joy sounding loud thro' the ha'.
But the watch-fire blazed red on the high top o'
The signal weel kenn'd to prepare for dread fight,
For Norseman had sworn, 'mid the circles of Loda,
He would force us to bend at the stone of his might.
"But wi' braid sword and targues we met them at
And our laddies bare ad the big stane o' his might!
"To the ice of Loch Tankard our buirdly braw
First bare the big whin-stave, and marked out the tee,
Syne drew the dread hog-score, the hack and the circle
Around which our fathers oft sported wi' glee.
"And ilk year sin sync in the dark dreary
When the such blasts o' lioreas begin first to bite,
Wi' loud roaring noise round the circles of Loda
We bend, but in sport at the stone of his might.
"While our stones loudly rattle we are ready for
If the foe dare to try the dread force of our might."
The words in italics are repeated as the song is
sung to the air of Spanking Jack. Gaitfel is the highest mountain in the
Isle of Arran. Loch Tankard is the ancient naive of Kilbirnie
All supposed references to curling, previous to
the seventeenth century, may be treated like this mythical allusion from
Ossiann—they are unworthy of serious attention. Hail the game been of any
great importance in the century previous, then it is more than likely that
we should have heard of it, as we hear of archery, If football, and other
Archery is the oldest of our national
amusements. In early times it could scarcely, however, be regarded as a
sport, for it was practised by the people, at the command of Parliament, as
the chief method of defence against our enemies before gunpowder came into
use. Football is next in antiquity, being prohibited in favour of the
practice of archery before we hear of golf. [James I. Pan. 1. cap. 17, A.D.
1424.] Then, along therewith, the game of golf is "cryed downe" as
interfering with archery—both Vein; denounced as "unproffitable sportes."
[" It is decreeted and ordained that the
Waapon-schawinges be halden be the Lordes and Baronnes, Spiritual and
Temporal, four times in the yeir. And that the Fute-ball and Golfe be
utterly cryed downe, and not to be used. And that the bow-markes be maid at
ilk Parish Kirk a pair of Buttes and schutting be used. . . . . And that all
men that is within fiftie, and past twelve yeires, sall use
schutting."—James II. Parl. 14. cap. 64 (1457).
"It is thought expedient . . . . that the Fute-ball
and Golfe be abused in time cumming."—James M. Par!. 6. cap. 44 (1471).
"It is statute and ordained that in na place of
the Realme there be used Fute-ball, Golfe, or uther sik unprofitable sportes."—James
IV. Pan. 3. c. 32 (1491).]
Curling is not so ancient as these; and, if it
did exist as an amusement in the fifteenth century, it never came under the
ban of Parliament. Curlers need not be sorry to find that their game is
later in the field. Archery was a game of war; its practice on the part of
the people, by Act of Parliament, did not make it popular, and now it has
almost died out. Football has not escaped connection with bloodshed and
crime. Golf and football [The game of football was much indulged in by the
Border youth, but, unfortunately, at the assemblies held for such purpose,
many of their most daring exploits were planned, and crimes which might
otherwise never have been perpetrated, owe their origin to the meetings of
the hot-blooded Borderers for this apparently innocent amusement. The murder
of Sir John Carmichael of that Ilk, Warden of the West Marches, by the
Armstrongs, was agreed to at a football match at which they were present, on
Sunday, June 15, 1600.—Armstrong's History of Liddesdale, Eskdale, etc.,
Vol. I. p. 83; Douglas, Edin., 1883. Pitcairn's Criminal Trials, Vol. II. p.
364.] were both, in their days of ancient popularity, "cryed downe" by the
Lordis, spiritual and temporal, and prohibited as interfering with the duty
of the people to practise the art of national self-defence. But curling,
"the child of day, of honour, and of sociality," has no antecedents like
these to be ashamed of, and we ought to be proud that it has come down to us
with no stain upon its character. The little loss of antiquity which some
are so eager to deny, is really a gain of dignity, for which curlers ought
to feel thankful. We are better without "historical references " when these
are blots upon our good name.
The traditions as to the royal patronage of
ancient curling require a little attention. It is generally supposed that
several of the Stuart kings were "keen curlers." The wish, we fear, has been
father to the thought. For the sake of those monarchs, as much as for the
glory of the game, we would gladly believe that they knew the virtue of the
channel-stane, but our investigations scarcely permit us to do so.
James I. (1394-1431)—in whose time, it is said
by some, the game of curling was introduced from Flanders—was not only an
accomplished poet and musician, but he also excelled in all manly
exercises—such as archery, wrestling, throwing the stone and the hammer,
walking, running, and horsemanship, and "in all honest sports and solace
that could enliven the spirits of his followers." [Bower Scotichronicon. Bk.
xvi. ch. 28, 30.] We have no account of his prowess on the ice. "Feasting,
Baines, tournaments, and every species of feudal revelry," marked the great
occasions of his reign, and the Christmas festivities that were closed in
gloom by the dark and cruel steed which deprived Scotland of one of the best
of rulers "were unusually splendid." [Tytler's Scottish Worthies, III. 44.]
Not a word, however, is heard of curling among all the "gamyn and gle."
As far as we are aware, no suggestion has been
made that James II. or James III. knew anything of the game. Tradition is,
however, determined to have it that James IV. (1472 - 1513) was a curler,
and, no doubt, if the game had been in any degree popular in his reign,
James would have been found enjoying it, in its season, as he enjoyed other
popular games. That the King curled, and that he left a silver curling-stone
to be played for annually by the parishes in the Carse of Gowrie as a token
of his appreciation of the game, are common traditions. We can find no
evidence to warrant belief in their truth. Curling was cheap, and even His
Majesty may have been able to play a game free of expense when the principal
implements were of nature's own making; but a silver stone as a trophy for
the Carse of Gowrie curlers could not have got through the meshes of the
Lord High Treasurer's net, and we find no mention of it, or of any curling
outlay, alongside the items of the King's expenditure on golf, archery, and
the like. [Archery and shooting at the butts, shooting with the crossbow,
and culveryng, playing at the golf and football, not only occur continually,
but in all of them the King himself appears to have been no mean
proficient.—Tytlers Scottish Worthies, III. 3.12.] Brown, in referring to
this tradition (Memorabilia, p. 62), speaks of the Gowrie trophy as if it
were then (1830) in existence. If so, it must since have disappeared. In its
absence we may be pardoned for calling it a myth and without it we have no
evidence to prove that James IV. curled anywhere else than in the
imagination of Sir Richard Brown, or some early writer on the game.
In a second edition of the Memorabilia, this
writer had in view a supposed allusion to curling in the time of James V.
(1511-1542) in Pitscottie's Chronicles of Scotland. The chronicler,
referring to some sports which were held at St Andrews in 1530, when the
King received an embassy from his uncle, Henry VIII., says (II. 347-8):
"In this yeir cam an Inglisch ambassadour out of
Ingland, callit lord Williame, ane bischope, and tither gentlmen to the
numller of thrie scoir horss, quhilkis war all able, wailled gentlmen, for
all kynd of pastime, as schotting, louping, wrastling, rolling, and casting
of the stone. But they war weill assayed in all these or they went home and
that be tiiair awin provocatioun, and almost evir tint, quhill at the last
the kingis mother favoured the Inglismen, becaus shoe was the king of
Inglandis sister: and thairfoir shoe tuik ane waigeour of archerie vpoun the
Inglischmanis handis, contrair the king hir cone, and any half duzoun
Scottismeu, aither noblmen, (entlmen, oryeanianes; that so many Inglisch men
sould schott againes thame at riveris, buttis, or prick honnett. The king,
heiring of this boncpeill of his mother, was weill content. So thair was
laid an hundreth crounes, and ane tuu of wyne pandit on everie syd."
Broun's argument from the above passage is:-
"If bonspiel was a word applied to curling in
the sixteenth century, as in the nineteenth, it carries the antiquity of the
game 130 years further back than the notice of it by Gibson in his edition
of Camdens Brittannoia." [Broun had by this time (1532) evidently
found that his statement on p. 10 of his book—`'The earliest notice of
curling is by Calnbder" in his Brittannia (published 1607) —was incorrect.
To this mistake reference is made in a later note, p. 90. ]
The word was not, however, applied to curling,
as a reference to Jamieson's Dictionary, where the passage is given, might
have shewn. It was applied to a match of archery, and the use of it in this
connection may be handed over for consideration by those who think that the
word bonspiel, now almost invariably applied to great curling matches, helps
to prove the foreign origin of our national game. If that is all that can be
advanced to prove that the "King of the Commons " was a curler, then he also
must be given up. Besides, had curling been played by the Court in the time
of James V., or in that of his father James IV., we should most undoubtedly
have found some reference to it in the poems of Sir David Lindsay
(1490-1555), one of whose duties was to arrange and superintend the Royal
sports. But the good old poet says nothing about it; and it does not appear
that he had found the secret, known only to curlers, of warding off the
severities of winter, and making the season of frost the most delightful in
the whole circle of the year, for it is thus he complains pathetically in
his Prologue to the Dreme (1528) [Laing's Edition of Lindsay. 2 vols., 1871.
I. 7.] :—
Quhar art thow May, with June thy syster schene
Weill bordonrit with dasyis of delyte
And gentyll Julie, with thy mantyll grene,
Enamilit with rosis red and quhvte?
Now auld and cauld Januar, in dispyte,
Reiffis from us all pastyme and plesour:
Allace! quhat gentyll hart may this indure?"
What curler would give "auld Januar," were it
only "cauld" enough, for all the other months of the year?
Of James VI. (1567-1625) golfers may well be
proud. He is their own peculiar patron, and some of their clubs are named
after him. He appointed a club-maker [William Mayne, 1603.] for himself, and
a ball-maker [James Melville 1618.] for the nation, and did much for the
"Royal and ancient game." He also has been credited with a knowledge of
curling. In the year 1844, when a large company met to do honour to the
worthy representative of one of the best old Jacobite families—Sir Patrick
Murray Thriepland of Fingask—the president of the meeting (C. Robertson), in
proposing the health of the Prince of Wailes—then a boy little over two
years of age—thus forcibly commended to His Royal Highness's tutors the
example of James VI.:
"He [the Prince] has scarcely begun his
education, but you will all agree with me in maintaining that if, in the
progress of that education, he is not made a 'keen, keen curler'—if he is
not thoroughly initiated into all the mysteries of that health-restoring,
strength-renovating, nerve-bracing, blue-devil-expelling, incomparable name
of curling—his education will be entirely bungled and neglected. I think
that the Royal Grand Club should take that subject into its earliest and
most serious consideration. We would all deprecate Royal degeneracy. His
ancestors were distinguished for the countenance they gave to the manly and
ennobling exercises and pastimes peculiar to Scotland. It is true that some
of them—such as James III., James IV., and James V. for some time
discountenanced some of the amusements, for the purpose of encouraging the
practice of archery when the country was at war; but James VI. rose in all
the glory of curling, as well as golfing, grandeur, and greatness; he was
not only a distinguished golfer, but a `keen, keen curIer.' He knew how to
keep his own side of the rink, to sweep the rink, his neighbour's stone from
the score to the tee, his adversary's past it. Let the young Prince go and
Most excellent advice! Every curler hopes that
the time may come when the education of our princes shall include their
initiation into the mysteries of curling, and when no monarch who cannot "gie
the curler's grip" shall be allowed to ascend the throne. Scotland ought to
insist on this, in these days when national wrongs are all being righted. It
would be well, however, not to rest our demand on the example of James VI.,
put forward with true Jacobite feeling at the Feast of Fingask. There may be
poetry in the statement, but there are no historical facts to support it.
"Henry DarnIe," says Broun, [Memorabilia, p.
62.] "during the severe winter he was forced to spend at Peebles, was much
employed in curling, chiefly on a meadow--now, we understand, part of the
This is the last tradition of the Royal
patronage of ancient curling (if we may include the silly young lord in our
list, because of his unfortunate marriage). There is such a circumstantial
air about it that there may perhaps be more in it than in some of the other
traditions. By those who had no good to report of Queen Mary, it was said
that, a few days after Darnley's murder, she "was seen playing Golf and
Pallmall in the fields beside Seton." [Inventories of Mary Queen of Scots.
Pref. p. 70. 1863.] That her husband had been a curler, and—like many
curling husbands—neglectful of his spouse during the frost, may have been
the fair widow's excuse for such conduct. Let all curlers be warned! But
Darnley's curling is perhaps more mythical than Queen Mary's golf; and we
have no proof to shew that Peebles was at the play as far back as 1565,
though the roaring game has been known and practised in that ancient town
for a long time.
Curlers are, of all men, most loyal. The first
and last lesson on the rink is obedience to the "ruling monarch," and such
training makes them obedient to the powers that be. They are proud of the
Royal patronage now extended to the game; but it will be as well for them to
abandon those doubtful traditions as to the kingly countenance given to
curling by the Stuarts. Curling owes nothing, as far as we can see, to any
Royal support given to it in its infancy. That many of the gentry were keen
curlers in the early days of the game is abundantly evident from our present
chapter. In curling they were, however, following their cottars rather than
their kings, for curling at the first was the game of the poor: it cost
little or nothing. Golf, on the other hand, was expensive; it was the game
of the rich. [James VI., in giving James MelviIIe the monopoly of
ball-making, stipulated "that the said patentaris exceed not the pryce of
four schillingis money of this realm." It is remarkable to find that so
expensive a game was so popular, even among the poorer classes, in ancient
times.] Let us only hope that while golf has been so cheapened by the use of
guttapercha, that it is spreading far and wide, curling is not, by expensive
ponds and exclusive clubs, getting beyond the reach of the poorer classes.
If this shall ever be the case then the glory shall have departed from the
game, for it shall have lost the grand power it now possesses of uniting in
the closest brotherhood the different classes of the community.
Between the years 1600
and 1700, we have here and there references to curling-stones, and to
persons who were curlers, but no account of the game.
When we do come to find from historical and
poetical allusions, that curling existed in the seventeenth century, we have
to be content with small mercies. The references are like angels' visits,
"short and far between." Dissertations, songs, and even sermons, on the
subject are in these days "as plentiful as blackberries," and their authors,
however sanguine, do not expect more than a passing notice for their
productions; but those precious little blinks that show us—though but
dimly—our forefathers on the curling-rink must not be so lightly esteemed.
They are valuable because they are so ancient and so rare. So far as we can
judge, the earliest reference to curling is to be found in a "quaint and
curious" work, which was written in 1620, and published eighteen years
later, entitled The Muses Threnodie, or, mirthfull Mournings, on the
death of Master Gall. containing varietie of pleasant poeticall
descriptions, morall instructions, historical narrations, and divine
observations, with. the most remarcable antiquities of Scotland, especially
at Perth. By George Adamson. Printed at .Edinburgh in King James
College, by George Anderson, 1638.
[An edition of this work, with valuable notes by
James Cant, was published at Perth in 1774. The main portion of the poem is
also to be found in Perth: its Annals and its Archives, by David Peacock.
Richardson, Perth, 1849.
The celebrated Drummond of Hawthornden was an
intimate friend of Henry Adamson's, and in 1636 he urged the publication of
the poem in a letter to the author, in which he says:—"These papers
....appear unto me as Alcibiadis Sileni, which ridiculously look with the
faces of Sphinges, Chimeras, Centaurs, on their outsides: but inwardlie
containe rare artifice, and rich jewels of all sorts for the delight and
weal of man."]
This poem is an old Scottish in Memoriam,
differing in more ways than in the exuberant verbosity of its title from
that of Tennyson. in our laureate's long lament over the loss of his friend
Arthur Henry Hallam, we have a poetical account of modern ideas in religion
and philosophy. In Henry Adamson's Threnodie over the death of his friend
James Gall, we have a history of Perth more practical than poetical. The
earlier is to the later work "as moonlight unto sunlight, and as water unto
wine," but the similarity of their mode of sorrowing associates the two in
When Henry Adamson dedicated his Recreations to
his native town of Perth and its civic rulers in the year 1637, he styles
himself "Student in Divine, and Humane Learning." This, at the age of 56,
was a modest estimate of his position,. though it should never be too late
for any one to use the designation. Modesty, however, does not altogether
explain its use by the poet. He was destined for the ministry, and was a
good classical scholar as his work spews, but he got no further than the
office of Reader in the kirk of Perth. From this office he seems to have
been suspended for a. time, owing to an unfortunate love-affair. By his
future conduct he was able, however, to redeem his reputation, and when lie
died in l 637—a —a year before his poem was published—his loss was deeply
lamented by his friends, who all "held him in high esteem for his wit,
learning, and amenity of manners and disposition." George Ruthven
(1546-1638), physician and surgeon in Perth (a relative of the Earl of
Gowrie, who was murdered there in 1600 for alleged treason), was one of
Adamson's dearest friends. He seems to have been a. prototype of Captain
Grose, with "a fouth o' auld nick-rackets," which he called his Gabions,
some useful, some ornamental, and all inseparable from his personality.
James Gall (1595(?)-1620), the friend of both, was a merchant in the town,
well-connected—like Adamson —an accomplished scholar, and a pleasant
companion. He shared the fate of those who are beloved by the rods, and died
of consumption at an early age, though his dear old friend the physician
tried all he could to save him, by the special skill of Apollonian arts,
collecting herbs on Kinnoull and Moredun hills, and administering them to
his patient without any good result. It was a "doleful day" to Adamson and
Ruthven when they lost James Gall. The uses Tirenodie is their united
lamentation over his death, but Ruthven is made to appear as chief mourner,
and, of course, his Gabion must share his grief.
"Of Master George Ruthven the teares and
Amids the giddie course of Fortunes turnings,
Upon his dear friends death, Master James Gall,
Where his rare ornaments bear a part, and wretched Gabions all."
This is the superscription of the chief poem
which, as we have noticed, develops into a rhyming account of Perth —the
story being interrupted now and then by the old doctor's wail:
"Gall, sweetest Gall, what ailed thee to die?"
As the gabions are so important, our poet,
however, before entering on the larger theme, devotes a brief introductory
poem to a description of there. It is "The Inventarie of the Gabions, in M.
George, his Cabinet, [Adamson's work is generally called Gall's Gabions, but
this is a misnomer for Rut/ercn's Cabions. " The curiosities of all kinds
with which Ruthven's closet was stocked lie called his gabions, a quaint
word peculiar to himself."—Cant.] and as we read the
There were brave men before Agamemnon, and no
doubt there were heroes on the "watrie plaines" before George Ruthven, but
to him let curlers doff their Tangy o' Shanters as the first of the
brotherhood, until some older hero shall dispute his claim to the honour.
Perth has much to be proud of in the part she has played in the history of
our country. It is not the least of her distinctions that three hundred
years ago George Ruthven taught her citizens, both by precept and example,
what neither the sons of Æsculapius nor their patients yet fully understand,
how much curling and such healthy recreations can do to make men cheerful
workers and "jolly good fellows;" and how the "grassy links" and the "frosen
watrie plaines" must be visited by us with our gabions if we are to do any
good in the world and attain to a venerable old age. [In case the Fair City
should ever think of making itself fairer by a statue in Ailsa of Ruthven,
it may be of advantage to state that "M. George was a bonnie little man."—
V. Threnodie, P. 26.]
The names of two divines follow that of the
Perth doctor in the early references to curling. This will not surprise
curlers, who are aware of the weakness of the "cloth." "Frae AIaidenkirk to
John o' Groat's," says an old proverb, "nae curlers like the clergy." Their
keenaness seems to be a matter of apostolical succession, and that of a kind
which does not cause strife, but which unites them in brotherhood. It seems
to have done this from the very first, for at the head of the long line of
clerical curlers we find an Episcopalian bishop and a. Covenanting minister
"The lawn-robed Prelate and plain Presbyter
Erewhile that stood apart."
shaking hands on the ice, which bridges over the
great religious gulf that lies between them. Henry Adamson's volume, with
its reference to Ruthven and his curling friends, was published in 1638.
This was a memorable year in the see-saw conflict between Prelacy and
Presbytery which so long kept the country in misery. The Presbyterians, in
the famous Assembly which then met at Glasgow, under the guidance of
Alexander Henderson, set the King, Charles I., and the Marquis of Hamilton,
His Majesty's (2ommissioner, at defiance, and determined to make a clean
sweep of the bishops. Instead, however, of sweeping them away because they
were bishops, the Assembly put them to mock trial upon charges that in most
cases affected their moral character. The proceedings were all faithfully
recorded at the time by Pobert Baillie (1599-1662), minister of Kilwin ring,
a member of the House. In his Letters
[Letters and Journals containing an Impartial
Account of Public Transactions, Civil, Ecclesiastical, and Military, in
England and Scotland, from the beginning of the Civil Wars in. 1637 to the
year 1663. These were first published in 1775. Laing's edition, from which
we quote (Vol. 1. pp. 103-164) was published in 3 vols., 1841-42. Buckle
(Miscellaneous and Posthumous Work,, II. '241) calls Baillie the most
learned and one of the most moderate of the Presbyterian clergy," and this
seems a just account. In 1661 Baillie was elected Principal of Glasgow
we read, under date 11th December 1638 "Orkney's
process came first before us: he was a curler on the ice on the Sabbath day:
a setter of tack, to his sones and grandsones for the prejudice of the
Church: he oversaw adulterie, slighted charming, neglected preaching and
doing of any good there; held portions of ministers' stipends for building
Not a good account this of a bishop or of any
other roan, but it must be taken with a grain of salt. George Grahame, [t
George Grahaine, AM., translated from See of 1)unblane to Orkney 1613.
Member of Court of High Commission, 1615, 1619, 1634. He voted in Parliament
4th August 1621, for confirming the five articles of Perth was deposed by
the General Assembly 11th December 1638, and disclaimed Episcopal government
11th February following, prudently preserving his estate of Gorthie and
other property. Died between 1644 and 1647. . . . From the bishop are
descended the families of Blair-Drummond, Methven, and Watt of Skaill.—Dr
Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scot., 1870. V. 458.] for such was "Orkney's"
other name, does not give a very good impression of himself in his
Vicar-of-Bray-like willingness to renounce his Episcopacy that he might
retain his property. But he was not so bad as his neighbours, for the
charges against him were light compared with many that were preferred
against other prelates in that Assembly. It sounds strange to hear of a
bishop curling on the ice on the Sabbath day, but even if the charge had
been true, it did not follow that "Orkney had a double dose of original
silo. The rigid observance of the clay of rest, which has been such a strong
feature of Scotland since that time (though happily modified of late), was
only beginning then to show its horns. It was an importation of English
Puritanism, and not known to Knox and the early reformers. The day was more
of a festival than a fast, and after attending church people were free to
amuse themselves. The bishops shared this freedom, ["They had not that
respect for the sanctity of the Sabbath which has always been characteristic
of Presbyterian Scotland. They aped the greater laxity of Episcopal England.
They saw no evil in a ride on horseback, or a hand at whist, on the Sabbath
; the Bishop of Orkney indulged in curling, and the minister of Glassford
encouraged his parishioners to dance and play at the football when the
sermon was done."—Cunningham's Church History (1854), Vol. H. chap. iii. p.
104.] and Grahame on some stray visit to his former See of Dunblane, where
the game had even then been long; known, as the old stone of "1551"
testifies, may have had a fling with some of his friends on a Sabbath
afternoon, without losing their respect or his own peace of conscience. To
the " soft impeachment " brought against him we should suppose a good many
members of that stern Assembly might have pled guilty. Most likely " the
lads frae Kilwinnin wad send the stanes spinnin " even in those times, for
curling reputations are not made in a day, and if Robert Baillie was the
good minister we take him to have been, lie would himself be a curler, and
charitably disposed to this curling prelate. We shall suppose, for the sake
both of the Assembly and of the bishops, that the charge was departed from
as not heinous, rather than from want of proof. At any rate it came to
William Guthrie of Pitforthy (1620-1665) is one
of the most honoured in the list of our Scottish worthies. Covenanting
ministers are generally supposed to have been grim, sour, narrow, and
totally opposed to worldly recreations and amusements. The description does
not apply to Guthrie. He was a devoted pastor, giving up his paternal estate
to a younger brother, that lie might more freely devote himself to his work.
He was a successful and able preacher, whom people flocked from great
distances to hear, and so beloved by the people of Fenwick, of which parish
he was the first minister, that "They turned the corn-field of his glebe to
a little town : every one. building a house for his family upon it that they
might live under the drop of his ministry."
(Would that aII glebes were so populated in
these degenerate glebe-feuing times) But Guthrie was also fond of all manly
exercises and amusements, and these he made subservient to the nobler ends
of his ministry.
"He made them," says his biographer, [Dunlop, in
Memoir prefixed to Guthrie's work, The Christian's Great Interest. Glasgow,
17735, p. xii.] "the occasions of familiarizing his people to him, and
introducing himself to their affections and, in the disguise of a sportsman
he gained some to a religious life, whom he could have little influence upon
in a minister's gown; of which there happened several memorable examples.'
That Guthrie included curling among his athletic
accomplishments is well attested by the veritable kutingstone which he used,
and which is still preserved at Craufurdland Castle. This curious
potato-like specimen we have sketched at p. 36, and it will always be looked
upon as one of the most interesting relics of ancient curling. Later on in
the Memoir from which we have quoted it is said (p. xxv.) He used the
innocent recreations and exercises which them pre-railed, fishing, fowling,
and playing upon the ice, which at the same time contributed to preserve a
vigorous health, and while in frequent conversation with the best of the
neighbouring gentry, as these occasions gave him access, to bear in upon
them reproofs and instructions with an inoffensive familiarity."
The popularity of this old curling Covenanter,
not only with the poor, but with the rich, is shown by the fact that he was
allowed to remain in Fenwick, at the urgent entreaty of "some of the
greatest in the kingdom," long; after his brethren had been driven from
their parishes, but he had at last to turn out by the relentless order of
the Archbishop of Glasgow. His people would have fought for him, but like a
Christian and a curler, he counselled peace and submission to fate; and when
the soldiers came upon the scene, he "called for a glass of ale, and craving
a blessing himself, drank to the commander." Within a year after he died.
Let his memory live for ever among us, for a worthier than he never lifted
the channel-stane; and from William Guthrie may many in this and coming
generations learn how to sweeten their religion by the innocent recreation
"of" playing upon the ice."
The next brief reference to curling in the
seventeenth century gives us a glimpse of some lairds enjoying the Brame
together in the Border district in the year 1684. It is found in
Fountainhall's Decisions, [The Decisions of the Lords of Council and
Session, from June 6, 1678, to July 30, 1712, collected by the honourable
Sir John Lauder of Fountainrhall, one of the Senators of the College of
Justice, Edinburgh, 1759; Vol. I. p. 328. Lauder was counsel for the Earl of
Argyll at his trial in 1681, and a zealous supporter of the Protestant
religion. He was appointed Lord of Session (Lord Fountainhall) after the
Revolution. ] under (late December 30, 1684:-
"A party of the forces having been sent out to
apprehend Sir William Scot of Harden, younger, because Tarras and
Philiphaugh deponed that they communicated remotely their design to hire, as
a roan of good fortune: and one William Scott in Langhope, getting notice of
their coming, by the cadgers or others, he went and acquainted Harden with
it, as he was playing at the Curling with Riddel of Haining, and others; who
instantly pretending there were some friends at his house, left them and
fled. Haiuin; having related this, the said William Scot, and James Scot of
Thirlstone, old Harden's brother, are brought in this day to Edinburgh.
Thirlstone is liberate, as finding nothing to say to him, but William is put
in the irons, because he declined to tell who gave him advertisement of the
Curling lairds had thus their share of troubles
in these weary times as well as the curling clergy. Scot of Harden would
relish his Hogmanay "in the irons" as little as Grahame and Guthrie did
their deposition. Unlike his successor Beardie (the great-great-grandfather
of Sir Walter Scott), who is said to have taken a vow never to shave his
beard till the exiled family of Stuart was restored, and who lost his all in
the Jacobite cause, Sir William Scot, the curler of the seventeenth century,
seems to have been a supporter of the Earl of Argyll in his rebellion
against Charles II. Sir John Riddell of Raining was also disaffected, but
both appear to have got remission after James VI. ascended the throne. Very
soon after this and we come to the hog-line of Scottish history—the
Revolution of 1688, to which all these troubles of the seventeenth century
led—and then there opens up a brighter era for curlers, and for those who
did not curl. Those ancient worthies, who in the dark days cultivated the
culling art under difficulties now unknown to us-and who faithfully upheld
the cause •of curling till the clay of freedom, peace, and brotherhood saw
its recognition as a national game—will ever deserve honour from succeeding
generations of curlers; and none, we are sure, will grudge the little space
we have devoted to their memory.
In the same year in which allusion is thus made
to curling by Lord Fountainhall, we find a reference to the stone used in
the game, by Sir Robert Sibbald, M.D. (1639-1722), in his Scotia Illustrata
Sive Prodromus Historian Naturalis, published at Edinburgh in 1684. In Part
II. Book IV. Cap. III., p. 46, under the heading De Marmoribus, there occurs
the following in a list of different kinds of stone or marble to be found in
Scotland [It is not unlikely that this refers to the stone noticed by
Wallace in his work on Orkney, the reference to which comes next on our
list. Wallace's work was dedicated "To the much-honoured Sir Robert Sibbald
of Kipps, M. D.," etc., and in the dedication Wallace's son says, "It was in
compliance with your desire (when you were composing your Atlas) that my
father made this description, to give you an account of that countrey."] :-
"Lapis niger, quo super Glaciem luditur,
nostratibus a Curling stone."
The last reference of the seventeenth century
which falls to be noticed is found in an interesting and now very rare
little work, published by John Reid, Edinburgh, in 1693, and entitled—"A
Description of the Isles of Orly, ney, by Master Tames Wallace, late
Minister of Kirkwall. Published after his death by his son." At pp. 9-10 (In
the excellent reprint of this work, edited with notes by Dr Small, and
published by Brown, Edinburgh, in 1SS3. V. Chap. I. p. 11.¸) it is said-
"To the East of the Mainland Iyes Copinsha, a
little isle but very conspicuous to seamen, in which and in severell other
places of this Countrey are to be found in great plentie excellent stones
for the game called Curling."
In his Account of the Game of Curling (p. 23),
Ramsay gave this statement from Wallace's work as from Camden's Drittannia,
which was published as far back as 1607, and up till the year 1840 (Dr
Walker-Arnott of Arlary was the first to point out this mistake, in a
communication published by him in the Annual of 1840, though he also makes a
mistake in giving 1675 as the date of Gibson's translation of Camden,
instead of 1695. In the Annual of 1842 a Historical Sketch, drawn up at the
instance of the Committee of the Grand Club, appeared, and in
this—notwithstanding Dr Arnott's note—the old error is repeated (Ramsay, at
the Annual Dinner in 1844, also repeats the statement as to the mention of
the game by Camden in 1607). Dr Arnott complained to the Committee, and an
investigation into the subject was made. The Report of the investigation is
found in the Annual of 1847, signed by Professor Ferguson, and is decisive
as proving that Camden never mentioned the subject, but that, as noted
above, the passage was taken from Wallace's work, and inserted by Gibson in
his folio edition of Camden (1695), p. 1076. This incident in its early
history testifies to the usefulness of the Royal Club as a Court of Appeal
on all matters of interest to curlers.
In The Channelstane, Ser. III. pp. 58-62,
Captain Macnair has also very clearly pointed out the error regarding
Camden.) it was regarded by all writers on curling as the very earliest
historical reference to the game. This mistake seems to have arisen from the
fact that in 1695 an edition of Camden was published by Bishop Gibson
(Queen's College, Oxford), in which the statement occurs under "Additions to
the Orcades" (p. 1076), after the following explanation by the bishop (p.
"The isles of Orkney are generally so little
known, and yet withal so lightly touched upon by our author [Camden], that
the curious must needs be well pleased to see a further description of them.
Mr James Wallace is our authority—a person very well versed in antiquities,
and particularly in such as belong to those parts, where his station gave
him an opportunity of informing himself more exactly."
Camden himself had no notice of the
curling-stones of Copinsha, and their testimony to the game has therefore to
remain in the background as belonging to the close of the century. Mr
Wallace does not tell us how far the "great plentie" availed to supply
curlers in these early times, when they did not think of rounding or
polishing the stones; but as doubts have been thrown upon the fitness of
such sea-boulders as were found at Copinsha, for use on the ice, (In the
minutes of the Clunie Curling Club, under date 5th Jan. 1830, we find that
in recognition of their kindness in presenting him with a "fluted kettle,"
Principal Baird had presented the members with a pair of the "Copinsha
stones," to be played for as a prize. In doing so he writes (Ap. 5, 1829)
"A book printed 150 years ago, says that the
best curling-stones were to be got at Copinsha, an island in Orkney. I
passed near it last summer on a calm day, and sent a boat on shore for
fourteen suitable blocks. They were brought on board accordingly, and were
landed here. From two of the best blocks I have got a pair of curling-stones
(and they are very
beautiful) made and handled. I shall beg the
club to accept of them as a present from me to be competed for on the ice,
and to become the prize of the best player."
How it fared with these prize stones in the
Clunic Club—whether they were useful as they were beautiful, we do not
discover, but the notices that here follow are not in their favour.
"'We also saw lately a pair of curling-stones,
belonging to Principal Baird, which he brought from the Isle of Copinsha,
interesting to curlers as being associated with the first historical notice
of the game. Camden is mistaken. however, in calling them `excellent'—for
upon trial, according to a well-known connoisseur, they are found to be `not
worth a rap."' —Memor. Curl. ifaben. p. 62.
"The ancient sports and pastimes of Scotland are
frequently referred to by our old historians and poets; but among these we
find no notice of curling till 1607, when Camden, in his Brittannia, in
reference to the Isle of Copinsha, as it were, incidentally alludes to the
game, from the circumstance of a peculiar species of rock found in that
place being, as he states, used in making stones to play the game, but which
rock has since been found to be useless for any such purpose—a circumstance
which satisfactorily shews that the people knew nothing about
curling-stones, or of the right metal required for the foundation of a
weapon of tough but friendly warfare. "—Curler's Magazine, Dumfries, 1542,
we are not warranted in supposing that the Isle
of Copiiisha was the Ailsa ('raig of ancient curling, or that supplies were
forwarded from thence, to any great extent, to curlers in the South.
Wallace's statement may however, be held to prove that the game was known as
far north as Orkney in the end of the seventeenth century.
Between 1700 and 1800
the literary references to curling shew that it was generally practised
in Scotland. Several accounts of the came and of interesting bonspiels
are given; curling societies are formed; and curling is by the end of
the century entitled to be regarded as the great national winter game.
Ramsay, writing in 1811, says:-
"At Edinburgh, where curlers are collected from
all the counties of Scotland, this amusement has been long,, enjoyed. And in
so great repute was it towards the beginning of the last century, that the
magistrates are said to have gone to it and returned in a body, with a band
of music before them, playing tunes adapted to the occasion. Then it was
practised) chiefly on the North Loch, before it was drained, and at
We find this statement repeated in all
succeeding accounts of the game, and it is highly creditable to the civic
dignitaries of the period to find that they gave such official patronage to
such an excellent and profitable amusement. It is a pity the old custom has
ceased. A minute search of the Town Council Records has given us no proof
that the magistrates gave such formal countenance to the game, but we see no
reason to disbelieve the statement. Up till the time of the Reform Bill of
1833, the Council Records, it seems, are very meagre. Processions on the
part of the Council were also commoner in those days than they are now, and
the Nor' Loch was a popular resort of the citizens in the time of frost. Sir
Richard Broun (Memorabilia, p. 62) supplements Ramsay's statement by saying
that on the occasion of the magisterial procession " the air played was The
Curlews March, since known by the name of The Princess Royal. In Songs for
the Curling Club held at Canonmills, to which we shall refer later on, the
first place is given to The Curlers March. Tune, Princess Royal. The March
is rather ponderous, but the enthusiasm of the "curling core" gives it
considerable animation, and it cannot fail to be interesting, as the
earliest curling song we meet with. The air Princess Royal may be recognised
as that to which the well-known naval song The Arethusa is sung. The music
of this song is generally ascribed to Shield, but as lie was not born till
1748 it is plain that this conflicts with Broun's statement that the air is
that to which the magistrates of Edinburgh marched in the beginning of last
century. The words of The Arethusa fix its date as not earlier than the end
of last century, as it describes a naval encounter with the French. We have
come to the conclusion that Shield was not the author of the tune, that lie
simply adapted it as he did in other cases (for in the operas which lie
wrote he was in the habit of introducing ancient or national melodies), and
that the music of The Princess Royal was really the property of the curlers,
and the accompaniment of their March. That it is the tune to which Broun
referred is proved by the fact that The Curlers March is suitable to it, and
probably to no other. Shield, as far as we can learn, never claimed it as
his. It is found in M 'Glashan's Collection, published in 1782. It is also
in Gow's Repository, (Gow's Repository of the Dance Music of Srotland,
Popular Edition (Book II. p. 45). Published by .John Purdie, Edinburgh.
Dedicated to the Duchess of Buccleuch by Neil Gov & Sons.) published in
1802, and as Shield was then alive it is very improbable that a few years
after the publication of The A.rdh tusa he would have allowed Neil Gow to
make use of an air composed by him, and to give it under a different iiaiiie
in a collection of the Dance Music of Scotland. (In the recollection of many
persons living the time as given in Gow often played as a country dance.) It
is only an act of justice, and one for which the brotherhood ought to be
grateful, that the tune should now be restored to its rightful owners, and
that the alliance between The Curlers March and The Princess Royal, for a
long time broken, should here be renewed. There is no difference between
this version from. Gow and that of Shield, except that in the latter a
change of key is necessary to adapt it to the pitch of the human voice, and
some slight simplification of the notes is needed to make it more suitable
" Tho' Sol now looks shyly, and Flora is gone
To Mother Root's lodgings, of turf, mud, and stone,
Where they two together,
Throughout the hard weather,
Unsocial as Vestals, keep house quite unknown.
Unlike are the curlers, now more social grown—
Unlike to recluses who winter alone
With mutual friendship glowing, to action prone,
Forth come they
Brisk and gay,
All in flocks like sons of the spry,
Inspired by the sound of the curling-stone!
"Tho' hedges around us, and trees everywhere,
Their hoary heads shaking o'er their arms quite bare,
Are all in a quiver,
As cold made them shiver.
We curlers are sportive, and youthful our air.
Since Pan has afforded abundance of clothes,
And Ceres vouchsafes acquavit e and brose,
Who cannot very weII, with the help of those,
On ice stay
All the day
Cold and care both driving away
The name of a curler unwarily chose.
"Tho' quitting, and shaking her cold northern
Of feather'd snows, where she long lay at rest
Her pinions awaiting
With hostile intent comes the full--fledg'd tempest.
To curlers determin'd their posts to maintain
And bravely resolv'd thro' a winter campaign
With hard fifty-pounders to answer again.
And to treat
With smart repulse and contempt meet
Such impotent bluster seellls perfectly vain!
Then sally out boldly, and form round our ring,
Like waters in frost we together will cling,
To corn bat proud Boreas,
Or who else may shore us,
Until we shall meet the return of the spring.
Now mark the dread sound as our columns move on
So solemn, so awful, so martial 's the tone,
The clouds resound afar whilst the waters groan!
Feels our shock,
As if stern Mars in transport spoke--
Such the thunder and crash of the curling-stone`!
"Our exercise o'er, to headquarters away,
Where old sullen Night. seems young, cheerful, and gay;
Her rival reproaching,
Cries, eat, drink, laugh dead, illy young brother scrub Day.
The squint-ey'd churl now no longer is seen
Obey the command of the sable-clad queen—
Profusion's preceded by beef and green.
And the bowl,
Does all our cares and fears con trolll,
Whilst gleefully we drink—'To all Curlers keen!"'
This ponderous March, as an argument in favour
of the creditable custom of the civic rulers of Edinburgh in the early part
of the seventeenth century, has pushed itself forward among the references
now under notice. In the strict order of tune, the earliest allusion of the
writers of this century to curling is that of "the Laird of Romanno a quaint
physician named Pennecuik, who wrote verses," and published their in 1715.
(A Geographical, Historical Description of the shire of Tweeddale. With a
Miscelany and Curious Collection of Select Scottish Poems. By A. I. M.D.
Edin. 1715. The lines quoted are at p. 59 in The Author's .Answer to his
brother JPs many Letters, diswasing him from staying longer in the Country,
and inviting him to come and settle his residence in Edinburgh (Old Reekie).)
Alexander Pennecuik, M.D. (1652-1722), was evidently—like George Rutliven,
that ancient curling doctor of happy memory—a supporter of the game from a
medical point of view. He prescribes it for himself and his patients in
"To Curie on the Ice, does greatly please,
Being a Manly Scottish Exercise,
It CIears the Brains, stirrs up the Native Heat,
And gives a gallant Appetite for Meat."
There we have the praise of curling in a
nutshell. "Curl," says the doctor, "and throw physic to the dogs." If
Peebles was not at the play in the time of Darnley, the folks of the
district evidently knew well the virtues of the game when the quaint
poet-physician lived among them two centuries ago. It is to be hoped that
they have not forgotten the old doctor's prescription, for it is a good one.
Allan Ramsay (1686-1758) clearly indicates that
curling in his time was recognised as the popular national winter game.
Allan spent his boyhood in a curling district —Craufurd floor. When he comes
to Edinburgh he makes archery his favourite amusement, and composes several
songs in its honour, but in the winter season he must have found time after
curling the wigs of the citizens, to have a curl with some of them on the
ice. It is more than likely that the poet knew the virtues of "Whirlie" (p.
38-9), for he must often have visited Sir John Clerk at Penicuik, (Ramsay
spent much of his time during his latter years with Sir John CIerk of
Pennycuik, and Sir Alexander Dick of Prestonfield, who courted his company;
because they were delighted by his facetiousness. Sir John, who admired his
genius and knew his worth, erected at his family-seat of Pennycuik an
obelisk to the memory of Ramsay.— The Life of Allan Ramsay. Preface to
Poems, 2 vols. Camden, CadelI, and Davies, 1880.) when curling was being
keenly carried on by the baronet and his neighbours. When he retired from
the Luckenbooths in 1755, to spend his declining years in the curious
octagonal mansion, which he had built on the Castle-hill, he must have heard
the roar of the curling core as they played on the Nor' Loch beneath, and
lie was not a curler if he kept the house on such occasions. It is true we
find the poet, after the magistrates have prohibited his playhouse in
Carrubbers' Close, in a metrical complaint to Lord President Forbes,
"When ice and snaw o'ercleads the isle,
Wha now will think it worth their while
To leave their gowsty country bowers,
For the anes blythsome Edinburgh's towers,
Where there's no glee to give delight,
And ward frae spleen the langsome night
For which they'll now have nae relief,
But soak at haune, and cleck mischief."
(Gentleman's magazine, 1737, p. 507.)
Curling might, for all that, have been the
"glee" that gave delight to day: it was the dulness of the evening that
vexed the heart of honest Allan. There was then no Northern Club in the
city, with the electric light turning night into day for curlers, or Ramsay
might have been comforted by the curling-pond, when the theatre was denied
In his Epistle to Robert Yarde of Devonshire,
the poet pursues quite a different strain. He writes to his friend:-----
Frae northern mountains clad with snaw,
Where whistling winds incessant blaw,
In time now when the curling-stare
Slides murmuring o'er the icy plat."
The dulness of the evenings is forgotten. With
curling bonspiels, and the happy feasts of fellowship that follow them,
winter in Scotland loses all its bitterness, and we can laugh in our
sleeve"`at the "gowks" who think that we are in misery during the frost, or
at any other time; indeed:-
"We wanted nought at a'
To make us as content a nation
As any is in the creation."
So it is now: so may it continue to be! Our
Scottish winter is delightful when we have our Scottish winter game. Allan
Ramsay was the first to celebrate the happy union, and we thank him for it.
In his poem on Health, dedicated to the Earl of
Stair in 1724, Ramsay has a good word to say of curling, as of other manly
games. Lethargus, the slothful, who "snotters, nods, and yawns " in his easy
chair close by the fire, is contrasted with Hilaris, the active, whose
constitution is braced by exercise, and made proof against the winter's
"Free air lie dreads as his most dangerous foe,
And trembles at the sight of ice or snow.
The warming-pan each night glows o'er his sheets,
Then he beneath a load of blankets sweats
The which, instead of shutting, opes the door,
And lets in cold at each dilated pore
Thus does the sluggard health and vigour waste.
* * * * *
But active Hilaris much rather loves,
With eager stride, to trace the wilds and groves
To start the covey or the bounding roe,
Or work destructive Reynard's overthrow
The race delights him, horses are his care,
And a stout ambling pad his easiest chair.
Sometimes to firm his nerves, he'lI plunge the deep,
And with expanded arms the billows sweep:
Then on the links, or in the estler walls,
He drives the gowff or strikes the tennis-balls.
From ice with pleasure he can brush the snow,
And run rejoicing with his curling throw;
Or send the whizzing, arrow from the string—
A manly game, which by itself I sing.
Thus cheerfully he'll walk, ride, dance, or game,
Nor mind the northern blast or southern flame.
East winds may blow, and sudden fogs may fall,
But his hale constitution's proof to all.
He knows no change of weather by a corn,
Nor minds the black, the blue, or ruddy morn."
The poet's ideal of a healthy life is not,
however, complete. "Bodily exercise profiteth little" without the culture of
the mind, and so he wisely adds:-
"Here let no youth, extravagantly given,
Who values neither gold, nor health, nor heaven,
Think that our song encourages the crime
Of setting deep, or wasting too much time
On furious game, which makes the passions boil,
And the fair mean of health a weak'ning toil,
By violence excessive, or the pain
Which ruin'd losers ever must sustain.
"Our HiIaris despises wealth so won,
Nor does he love to be himself undone
But from his sport can with a smile retire,
And warm his genius at Apollo's fire
Find useful learning in the inspired strains,
And bless the generous poet for his pains.
Thus he by lit'rature and exercise
Improves his soul, and wards off each disease."
This complimentary reference by Ramsay to the
beneficial effect of the curling throw occurs at the close of the first
quarter of the century. It is close upon the beginning of the last quarter
before we find any other allusion to the game in our literature. Then, as we
have stated, curling; was fairly installed as our Scottish national winter
game, and ever since its progress has been remarkable. This long interval of
silence does not, however, imply that the amusement was neglected. We know
that it was not. It was a transition period in which the rough block was
gradually discarded, and the round stone brought into use. No mention is
made of it in the reign of George II. (1727-1760), but it must be remembered
that at that time the country was still disturbed by "civil disorder, and
political disaffections and antagonisms." With the final crushing of the
Jacobite Rebellion at Culloden, in 1746, the condition of the country admits
of the development of the game, which above all others is symbolic of
brotherhood, prosperity, and peace. The second and third quarters of the
eighteenth century may therefore be regarded as important in the history of
curling, though we hear so little of it at that time. John Frost seems to
have done all he could to advance the game, if we are to believe Andrew
Crauford's communication to Dr Cairnie, about a remarkable visitation of His
Majesty at Lochwinnoch and elsewhere.
"There was an extraordinary and tedious frost in
1745 or 1746. The inhabitants of the south side of the Loch walked over the
ice to the kirk on thirteen Sundays successively. The wells, fountains and
burns were dried up by hard frost. The people suffered great hardships. The
ice was bent, and bowed down to the bottom, because no water entered into
the Loch. The Curling ceased on account of the curve of the ice. James
Buntin of Triarne, Beith Parish (son of the Laird of Ardoch, Cardross
Parish, Dumbartonshire), was the father of Nicol Buntin, who lived in Beith,
and whose burial happened in this remarkable frost. The attendants at this
funeral had the drops from their noses frozen like shuchles (Anglice,
icicles). All events, through all the parishes surrounding Beith, for many
years subsequent to that frost, were dated from Nicol Buntin's burial."
It makes our teeth water to read of days like
these, and we may be sure that even in the most disturbed districts, curlers
would find times and opportunities for indulging in their amusement. Sir
Walter Scott, when he depicts the social life of this period in Guy
Mannering, does not omit to notice that even then curling matches were
common in Galloway, and the south of Scotland, in the age of Jacobites,
gipsies, and smugglers. Julia Mannering, as she confides the story of her
love to Matilda MSarchmont, suddenly introduces us to "a small lake at some
distance from Woodbourne now frozen over," and "occupied by skaters and
curlers, as they call those who play a particular sort of game upon the
"The scene upon the lake was beautiful. One side
of it is bordered by a steep crag, from which hung a thousand enormous
icicles, all glittering in the sun ; on the other side was a little wood,
now exhibiting that fantastic appearance which the pine-trees present when
their branches are loaded with snow. On the frozen bosom of the lake itself
were a multitude of moving figures—some flitting along with the velocity of
swallows, some sweeping in the most graceful circles, and others deeply
interested in a less active pastime—crowding round the spot where the
inhabitants of two rival parishes contended for the prize at curling: an
honour of no small importance, if we were to judge from the anxiety
expressed both by the players and bystanders."
In the next chapter Jock Jabos informs us, at
the instance of Glossin, that auld Jock Stevenson was at the "cock" —i.e.,
was skip of one of the rinks—and that "there was the finest fun among the
curlers ever was seen" (though Harry Bertram was too concerned about the
said Julia to pay any attention to the bonspiel). In this pleasant peep of a
curling match in the middle of last century, Scott writes with the knowledge
that makes his romances as valuable for historical information as they are
interesting in themselves. The conditions were not yet such as permitted of
curling making extensive progress; but the game was generally practised, and
matches between rival barons, or between neighbouring parishes, were
becoming common. As will be seen in our next chapter, a good many clubs had
also by this time been formed, with the object of uniting curlers in
brotherhood, and advancing the progress of the game.
When Pennant passed through Eskdale and
Liddesdale the country of Dandie Dinmont—in the year 1772, gathering
information about the manners and customs of the different districts of
Scotland, and "takin' notes" with a view to "prent them," he must have
fallen in with some keen curlers, for it is here lie remarks, "Of the sports
of these parts, that of curling is a favorite." (For remarks relating to
Eskdale, Pennant was indebted to John Maxwell, Esq. of Brooinholme, and Mr
Little of Langholme.—Pennant's Tour, Vol. II. p. 4.) Cattle-lifting had
given way before curling, and the district was none the worse for the
Pennant's description (vide p. 5 6) has
generally been quoted as the earliest, but this however appears to belong to
an account of the gave found in the Poem (Poems on Several Occasions. By
James Graeme. Edinburgh, 1773.) of James. Graeme (1749-1772), Graeme, who
was a student of divinity, and a native of Carnwath, Lanarkshire, died of
consumption at the age of 23, in the same season in which Pennant made his
tour; and the poems, which were written during his University holidays, were
published by his friend Dr Anderson in 1773, (Graeme's Poem on curling had
also been published anonymously in Ruddiman's Weekly Magazine. February
1771.) while Pennant's work was not published till 1774. The poetical merit
of this account of curling is not of the highest order, but the picture of
the brawny youth tugging the old channel-stave from the side of the loch
illustrates the ancient game, and the "hoary hero " fighting his battles
over again after the bon-spiel, is too faithful to be omitted. We therefore
give this earliest account as it is found at pp. 37--39 of Graeme's.
CURLING: A POEM.
"Fretted to atoms by the poignant air,
Frigid and Hyperborean flies the snow,
In many a vortex of monades, wind-wing'd,
Hostile to naked noses, dripping oft
A crystal humour, which as oft is wip'd
From the blue lip wide-gash'd: the handing sleeve
That covers all the wrist, uncover'd else,
The peasant's only Handkerchief. I wot,
Is glaz'd with blue-brown ice. But reckless still
Of cold, or drifted snow, that might appal
The city coxcomb, arm'd with besoms, pour
The village youngsters forth, joinnd and Ioud,
And cover all the loch: With many a tug,
The poud'rous stone, that all the Summer lay
Unoccupy'd along its oozy side,
Now to the mud fast frozen, scarcely yields
The wish'd-for vict'ry to the brawny youth,
Who, braggart of his strength, a circling crowd
Has drawn around him, to avouch the feat
Short is his triumph, fortune so decrees;
Applause is chang'd to ridicule, at once
The loosen'd stone gives way, supine he falls,
And prints his members on the pliant snow.
The goals are marked out; the centre each
Of a large random circle; distance scores
Are drawn between, the dread of weakly arms.
Firm on his cramp-bits stands the steady youth,
Who leads the game: Low o'er the weighty stone
He bends incumbent, and with nicest eye
Surveys the further goal, and in his mind
Measures the distance; careful to bestow
Just force enough; then, balanc'd in his hand,
He flings it on direct ; it glides along
Hoarse murmuring, while, plying hard before,
Full many a besoni sweeps away the snow,
Or icicle, that might obstruct its course.
But cease, my muse! what numbers can describe
The various game? Say, can'st thou paint the blush
Impurpled deep, that veils the stripling's cheek,
When, wand'ring wide, the stone neglects the rank,
And stops midway? His opponent is glad,
Yet fears a sim'lar fate, while ev'ry mouth
Cries off the hog, and Tinto joins the cry.
Or could'st thou follow the experienc'd play'r
Thro' all the myst'ries of his art? or teach
The undisciplin'd how to wick, to guard,
Or ride full out the stone that blocks the pass?
The bonspeel oer, hungry and cold, they lie
To the next ale-house; where the game is play'd
A gain, and yet again, over the jug;
Until some hoary hero, haply lie
Whose sage direction won the doubtful day,
To his attentive juniors tedious talks
Of former times;—of many a bonspeel bain'd,
Against opposing parishes; and shots,
To human likelihood secure, yet storm'd
With liquor on the table, he pourtrays
The situation of each stone. Convinc'd
Of their superior skill, all join, and hail
Their grandsires steadier, and of surer hand."
Robert Burns (1759-1796) does not say much about
curling. To the everlasting regret of the brotherhood of the rink, our
national bard has not dedicated any special song of praise to our national
game. A bonspiel has not secured a place among his inimitable pictures of
rural life. There is a great deal about winter in Burns: the season seems to
have had a strong effect on his mind. It is not, however, the crisp frosty
day—so dear to curlers, when the air is clear and the ice is keen, that
delights the poet's heart: it is the wilder aspect of winter that affects
him, and this because it answers to his feelings:-
Come winter, with thine angry howl,
And raging bend the naked tree
Thy gloom will soothe my cheerless soul,
When nature all is sad like me!"
At the sound of "chill November's surly blast,"
he sings the dirge Ian was made to mourn; and in the sauce tender strain of
sympathy the "winter-night "-
"When biting Boreas, fell and doure,
Sharp shivers through the leafless bower,"
hears hint lamenting over the sufferings of
beasts and birds, and the sorrows of the poor and the oppressed. A peculiar
lustre has been shed on our national game by the sympathy and charity that
have always attended on it. Curlers in their winter amusement remember the
needs of the suffering poor. It is therefore the more surprising to find
that Burns in his tenderness of heart did not give its weed of praise to the
game which so happily combines benevolence with enjoyment. Curling does not,
however, pass unnoticed by our national bard. That it was the common game of
winter may be inferred from the first two lines of The Vision (1786):-
"The sun had clos'd the winter day,
The curlers quat their roarin' play."
That Burns knew the game, and that he understood
the value set by curlers on a good skip, may in the same way be inferred
from his Elegy on Tarn Samson (1786). Thomas was "one of the poet's
Kilmarnock friends—a nursery and seedsrnan of good credit, a zealous
sportsman, and a good fellow." He was still in the flesh when the poet,
following the example of Allan Ramsay and others, when they wished to honour
their friends, celebrated his virtues in an elegy. Amon; other virtues
Samson's prowess and reputation as a curler are thus referred to:-
"When winter muffles up his cloak,
And binds the mire like a rock;
When to the loughs the curlers flock
Wi' gleesome speed,
Wha will they station at the cock?
Tam Samson's dead!
He was the king o' a' the core,
To guard, or draw, or wick a bore,
Or up the rink like Jehu roar
In time o' need;
But now he lags on Death's `hog-score'
Tam Samson's dead! "
In his Thoughts on the Seasons (pp. 157-173)
published at London in 1789, David Davidson, a Kirkcudbright poet, has under
Winter done special honour to curling. He skews a thorough knowledge of the
game as it was practised in Galloway in his time, and his contribution to
its early literature is perhaps the most valuable handed down to us. Among a
great variety of amusements on the ice, some quite unknown in our time, in
which the Gallovidians then indulged, Davidson gives curling the first
"Forth to the frozen lake, on frolic keen,
The youthfu' swains repair—
A motley throng, On various sports intent, . .
Some shoot the icy fragments.—To the goal,
Some hurl the polish'd pebble.—Some the top,
Fast whirliing frae their thumbs, whip dext'rously
An' some, booid, frae the crushed bank dart on,
String after string, the sleek well-polish'd slide.
Hither, the manly youth, in jovial bands,
Frae every hamlet swarm.—Swift as the wind
Some sweep, on sounding skates, smoothly along,
In dinsome clang, circling a thousand ways,
Till the wide crystal pavement, bending, rains,
Frae shore to shore, by th' rush o' madden'd joy.
On sledges some hurl rapidly along,
Eager, an' turning oft' to 'scope the flaws,
An' dang'rous chinks, the wind air' sun have made.
But manliest of all ! the vig'rous.youth,
In bold contention met, the chaunelstane,
The bracing engine of a Scottish arm,
To shoot wi' might an' skill.—Now, to the lake,
At rising sun, with hopes of conquest flush'd,
The armed heroes meet.—Frae dale to doon
The salutation echoes—and, amain,
The baubee toss'd, wha shall wi' ither fight,
The cap'ring combatants the war commence—
Hence, loud, throughout the Vale, the noise is heard,
Of thumping rocks, an' loud bravadoes' roar."
In a parody of Chevy Chase (pp. 160-170), there
follows -after this prelude an account of a bonspiel oil Loch Carlingwark,
near Castle Douglas, between two rival chiefs, from opposite ends of the
county, Ben o' Tudor and Gordon of Kenmure, than which nothing better has
ever been written in the annals of the national game.
God prosper long the hearty friends
Of honest pleasures all;
A mighty curling match once did
At C**** w**kb efal.
To hurl the channelstane wi' skill,
Lanfloddan took his way;
The child that's yet unborn will sing
The curling of that day.
The champion of Ullisdale
A broad rash aith did make,
His pleasure, near the Cam'ron isle,
Ae winter's day to take.
Bold Ben o' Tudor sent him word
He'd match him at the sport.
The Chief o' Ken, on hearing this,
Did to the ice resort.
Wi' channelstanes baith glib an' strong,
His army did advance
'Their cranipets o' the trusty steel,
Like bucklers broad did glance.
A band, wi' besoms, high uprear'd,
Weel made o' broom the best,
Before them, like a moving woo
Unto the combat press'd.
The gallant gamesters briskly mov'd,
To meet the daring fae-
On -Monday they had reach'd the lake,
By breaking of the day.
The chieftains muster'd on the ice,
Right eager to begin
Their channelstanes, by special care,
Were a' baith stout and keen.
Their rocks they hurled up the rink
Ilk to bring in his hand
An' hill an' valley, dale an' doon,
Rang wi' the ardent band.
Glenbuck upo' the cockee stood
His merry men drew near
Quoth he, Bentudor promised
This morn' to meet me here.
But if I thought he would not come—
We'd join in social play.
With that the leader of the ice,
Unto Glenbuck did say
Lo, yonder does Bentudor come-
His men with crampets bright—
Twelve channelstanes, baith hard an' smooth,
Come rolling in our sight.
All chosen rocks of Mulloch heugh,
Fast by the tow'ring Screel-
Then tye your crumpets, Glenbuck cries
Prepare ye for the speal.
And now with me, choice men of Ken,
Your curling skill display—
For never was their curler yet,
Of village or of brae,
That e'er wi' channelstane did come,
But if he would submit
To hand to niere. I'd pledge this crag,
I should his winner hit.
Bentudor, like a warrior bold,
Came foremost o' them a'—
A besom on his shouther slung
On's hans twa mittens bra'.
An' with him forth came Tallochfern;
An' Tom o' Broomyshaw-
Stout Robert o' Heston, Ratcliff, and
Young John o' Fotheringhaw.
An' wi' the laird o' Cairnybowes,
A culler guid an' true,
Good Ralph o' Titherbore, an' Slacks,
Their marrows there are few.
Of Fernybank needs must I speak,
As ane of aged skill.
Simon of Shots, the nephew bold
Of Cairny on the hill.
With brave Glenbuck came curlers twelve
All dext'rous men of Dee.
Robin o' -Mains, Clim o' the Cleugh,
An' famd Montgomery.
Gamewell the brisk, of Napplehowes,
A valiant blade is he.
Harry o' Thorn, Gib o' the Glen,
The stoutest o' the three.
An' the young heir of Birnyholm,
Park, Craigs, Lanib o' the lin
Allan of Airds, a sweeper good;
An' Charley o' Lochfin.
Bentudor a Riscarrel crag,
Twice up the ice hurl'd he,
Good sixty cloth-yards and a span,
Saying, "so long let it be."
It pleas'd them a'—Ilk then wi'speed,
Unto his weapon flew
First, Allan o' Airds his whinstanc rock
Straight up the white ice drew.
A good beginning!"cries Glenbuck
Slacks fidging at the sight,
`Wi's bra' blue-rap, lent Airds a smack;
Then roared out, "good-night!"
Next Robin o' Mains, a leader good,
Close to the witter drew-
Ratcliff went by, an 'cause he miss'd,
Pronounc'd the ice untrue.
Gib o' the Glen, a noble herd,
Behind the winner laid
Then Fotheringhaw, a sidelin shot,
Close to the circle play'd.
Montgom'ry, mettlefu', an fain,
A rackless stroke (lid draw
But miss'd his aim, an' 'gainst the herd,
Dang frae his clint a flaw.
With that stepp'd forward Tullochfern,
An' (saying to hit, he'd try)
A leal shot ettled at the cock,
Which shov'd the winner by.
Clim o' the Cleugh, on seeing that,
Sten'd forth, an' frae his knee,
A slow shot drew, wi' muckle care,
Which settled on the tee.
Ralph, vexed at the fruitless play,
The cockee butted fast
His staiie being glib, to the loch-en',
Close by the witter past.
Ralph, vexed at the fruitless play,
The cockee butted fast
His stave being glib, to the loch-en',
Close by the Witter past.
Stout Robert o' Weston, wi' his broom,
Came stepping up wi' might
Quoth he, M;y Abbey-barn-fit
Shall win the speal this night."
With that brisk Gamewell, up the rink,
His well no/Id rock (lid hurl—
Which, rubbing Ratcliff on the cheek,
Around the cock did twirl.
Now stepp'd a noted gamester forth,
Fernybank was his name-
Wha said, he would not have it told
At C * * * * * w * * k, for shame;
That e'er the chief o' Ken should bear
The palm of victory
Then heezing his Kilmarnock hood,
Unto the cock drew he.
The stanes, wi' muckle martial din,
Rebounding frae ilk shore,
Now thick, thick, thick, each other chas'd,
An' up the rink did roar.
They closed fast on every side
A port could scarce be found—
An' many a broken channelstane
Lay scatter'd up an' down,
"Shew me the winner," crys Glenbuck;
An' a' behind star' aft
Then rattled up the rocking; crag,
An' ran the port wi life.
Bentudor flung his bonnet by,
An' took his stane Wi' speed
Quoth he, "my lads, the day is ours"
Their chance is past remead.
Syne hurlin' through the crags o' Ken,
Wi' inring, nice an' fair,
He struck the winner frae the cock,
A lang claith-yard an' mair.
The speal did last frae nine forenoon,
Till setting o' the sun
For when the horn scraich'd to her tree,
The combat scarce was done.
Thus did Bentudor an' Glenbuck,
Their curling contest end.
They met baith merry i' the morn'—
At night they parted friends.
The combat scarce was done.
Thus did Bentudor an' Glenbuck,
Their curling contest end.
They met baith merry i' the morn'—
At night they parted friends.
After this spirited ballad there follows (p.
171) an account of the social gathering of the curlers in the evening, which
in these early times was quite as important a part of the game as it is now.
"The sportive field is o'er.—Now, friendly, all
Conveened o'er a bowl of nect'rous juice,
Recount the fam'd achievements o' the day—
The song goes round.—Among the jovial sons
O' health an' peace, true mirth is melody.
Regardless of, or consonance or voice, the catch, the glee,
The martial tale is sung—an' frae the mouths
O' the concording company, applause abounds.
The laugh, the roar, the mirthfu' story, round
The wakefu' table spread.—The banter too,
For eminence in curling pow'r an' skill
Rings through the lighted donne.—Again, the hard,
The well-contested speal is called up—
The wide-spread table to the rink is turn'd;
An' bowls an' bottles, implements of war.
Here stands the winner by a bottle hid,
Immoveable, save by a nice inring-
There stands the tee—up through the port he came,
Wi' a' his might—on this he gently rubb'd
On that he brak an egg—front that to this,
From this to that, thump, thump, amidst the thrang,
At length the winner struck, wi' nettled smack
An' sent him birling up aboon the fire."
The proem finishes with this pious wish, in
which every true curler will join-
"Since jovial thus, the social sons of mirth,
The wint'ry minutes pass—be it my lot,
In some snug corner of my native land,
Unknowing, or servility or wealth,
Far frae the busy world, remote to dwell
Where, loud the sounding skate, upo' the lake,
Re-echoes frae ilk shore—where hurling sledge,
Upo' the icy pavement, boundeth far;
An' where the channelstane loud roaring, makes
The hamlet hyud depress'd wi' pensive cares,
Forget his every trouble in his job-.
There in some quiet retirement, would I•pass
The Winter's gloomy days, wi' social friends
O' sterling wit an' jest.-With them I'd join
In a' the various scenes o' rural mirth,
An' rural joy.—With them o' pliant soul,
I would of -Nature's boundless province sing—
Admiring still the season's gradual change
An' each fair object through the varied year."
In the year 1792 there was published a small
volume entitled, Songs for the Curling Club held at Canonmills.
To this we shall refer in our next chapter, but
it comes under our notice here as the first volume dedicated to the game of
In the Statistical Account of Scotland, which
was prepared by ministers of the Church of Scotland, under the editorship of
Sir John Sinclair, and which dealt with the country and the manners and
amusements of the Scottish people at the close of the century (1790-1799),
we have several notices of curling. These we give in their order.
CRAWFORDJOHN.—"Curling is a favourite diversion
among the commonalty: and even the gentlemen sometimes join in it." Vol. vi.
No. 32, p. 277. Rev. W. Miller.
MUIRKIRK.—"Their [the people's] chief amusement
in winter is curling, or playing stones on smooth ice: they eagerly vie with
one another who shall come nearest the mark, and one part of the parish
against another, one description of men against another, one trade or
occupation against another, and often one whole parish against another
—earnestly contend for the palm which is generally all the prize
except perhaps the victors claim from the vanquished, the dinner, and bowl
of toddy which, to do them justice, both commonly take together with great
cordiality, and generally without any grudge at the fortune of the clay, or
remembrance of their late combat with one another, wisely reflecting no
doubt that defeat as well as victory is the fate of war. Those accustomed to
this amusement or that have acquired dexterity at the game are extremely
fond of it. The-amusement itself is healthy: it is innocent: it does nobody
harm : let them enjoy it." Vol. vii. No. 54, p. 612. Rev. J. Sheppard.
DRYFESDALE.—"The principal diversion or
amusement is curling on the ice in the winter, when sometimes scores of
people assemble on the waters, and in the most keen yet friendly manner
engage against one another, and usually conclude the game and day with a
good dinner, drink and songs." Vol. ix. No. 28, p. 432. Rev. T. Henderson.
WAMPHRAY.—"We have but one general amusement,
that of curling on the ice: and the parishioners of lVamphray take much
credit to themselves for their superior skill in this engaging exercise.
After the play is over it is usual to make a common hearty meal upon beef
and greens, in the nearest public-house." Vol. xii. No. 41, p. 602.*- Rev.
BOTHWELL.—"Curling is their chief amusement in
winter." Vol. xvi. No. 17, p. 314.. Rev. M. Macculloch.
It is strange that these are all the notices of
the gains of curling in such an excellent publication as the old Statistical
Account. We know for certain that it was extensively practised in many of
the parishes whose ministers are silent on the subject, and it is a matter
of regret that so few references are made to it. The deficiency is a further
illustration of the slowness of historians to recognise the importance of
such things in parochial and national life. Now that the time has come for a
new publication (This was pressed on the attention of the public some years
ago, by Messrs Cochran-Patrick, F. J. G. Mackay, and others, but nothing has
yet been done,) wetting forth the condition, socially and otherwise, more
especially of our landward parishes, it is to be holed that greater justice
will be done to our national game and its influence in our rural districts.
Our endeavour in this chapter has been to give
an exhaustive account of Historical and Poetical References to curling up
till the close of the eighteenth century. The nineteenth century is the
period of the modern game; and the references in our literature, since the
publication of Ramsay's Account in the year 1811, would require a volume or
volumes to themselves. To complete our statement we may, however, include
two notices which occur previous to Ramsay's publication, and which refer to
curling as practised in the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the
present century. One is from A Minter' Season, by James Fisher, published in
1810. Additional interest is given to this description by a woodcut
representing the early game as played with stones shaped like reasons'
mallets (vide 1. p. 60. In a curious kind of blank verse prose, Fisher
(though blind) thus vividly depicts the curlers at their play :-
With tramps, and brooms, and stones, a crowd now
comes, with jocund glee, the long-projected speel to play, for beef and
greens, in manly sport ; the rink now chosen out, and distance fixed, the
tees both made, and hog-scores justly drawn, the best of three, 9 or 11 shot
games; agreed upon, the dinner to decide ; a piece of coin is then tossed
high in air, to show which side shall first begin the sport; or not so
heathenish this to know, a stone is played by one on either side, and now
the keen contested curling match begins; stones roar from tee to tee the ice
along—lye here; strike this; well done; guard that; well played, alternate
cry those who the game direct: soon as a stone the hog-score o'er has got,
and judged by those concerned to stop too short, sweep, sweep! there's all
the cry; how then the brooms are plied to sweep it on; but when the distant
score one does not reach, 'tis hog it off with laughter much and loud, and
still the healthful sport goes on, till three huzzas declare the victor
side; now off they go with appetite to dine, and drink, and spend in social
glee the evening all."
The following footnote to Fisher's notice of the
game gives a good account of the earlier style of play "For the information
of those of our southern neighbours who may not be acquainted with the game
of curlrng, so much practised in many parts of Scotland, it may not be amiss
to observe that the tramps are made of iron to go upon the feet, something
after the form of stirrup irons, with sharp prominences at the bottom to
prevent the curler from sliding iN hile engaged in play. The curling-stones
are of different forms and various weights, but always uniformly flat and
smooth on the bottom, with a handle of iron or wood affixed in the top: the
tee is of a circular form, with a small hole cut in the middle; the rink is
the distance betwixt the two tees, and is shorter or longer according as the
ice will admit; the hog-score is drawn at the distance of about four or five
yards from each of the tees."
The other notice of the early part of this
century, with which we close our chapter, is from British Georgics (1809)
(pp. 22-26), by James Grahame, the author of The Sabbath. Under .January,
the poet in elegant strains sings of the winter delights of Duddingston
Loch, and then favours us with what will ever be regarded as one of the
finest descriptions of the bonspiel ("Though I am no friend to idleness, I
ain humbly of opinion that innocent recreations ought to be encouraged: that
festivals, holidays, customary sports, and every institution which adds an
hour of importance, or of harmless enjoyment, to the poor man's heart, ought
to be religiously observed. To draw a picture of rural life, so truly and at
the same time so pleasingly as to render the original all object of higher
interest than it was before, is no easy task. The merit to which I lay claim
is that merely of fidelity."—Grahame, Prefix to Georgics, pp. ii.-iii.
Every one who reads these lines will feel that
the poet has done justice to his opinion, and that the merit he claims is
richly deserved.) :-
"But chiefly is the power of frost displayed
Upon the lake's crystalline broad expanse,
Wherein the whole reflected hemisphere
Majestically glows, and the full sweep,
From pole to pole, of shooting star is seen
Or when the noon-day sun illumes the scene,
And mountain hoar, tree, bush, and margin reed,
Are imaged in the deep. At such a time,
How beautiful, O Duddingston! thy smooth
And dazzling gleam, o'er which the skaiter skims
From side to side, leaning with easy bend,
And motion fleet, yet graceful: wheeling now
In many a curve fantastic; forward now,
Without apparent impulse, shooting swift,
And thridding, with unerring aim, the throng
That all around enjoy the mazy sport!
Dunedin's nymphs the while the season brave,
And, every charm enhanced,—the blooming cheek,
The eye beaming delight, the breathing lips
Like rosebuds wreathed in mist,—the nameless race
Of beauty venturing on the slippery path,
Heighten the joy, and make stern winter smile.
Scared from her reedy citadel, the swan,
Beneath whose breast, when summer gales blew soft,
The water-lily dipped its lovely flower,
Spreads her broad pinions mounting to the sky,
Then stretches o'er Craigmillar s ruined towers,
And seeks some lonely lake remote from man.
Now rival parishes and shrievedonis, keep,
On upland lochs, the long expected tryst
To play their yearly bonspiel. Aged men,
Smit with the eagerness of youth, are there,
While love of conquest lights their beamless eyes,
New-nerves their arms, and makes them young once more.
The sides when ranged, the distance meted out,
And duly traced the tees, some younger hand
Begins, with throbbing heart, and far o'ershoots,
Or sideward leaves, the mark; in vain he bends
His waist, and winds his hand, as if it still
Retained the power to guide the devious stone,
Which, onward hurling, makes the circling groupe
Quick start aside, to shun its reckless force.
But more and still more skilful arms succeed,
And near and nearer still around the tee,
This side, now that, approaches; till at last.
Two seeming equidistant, straws or twigs
Decide as umpires'tweeii contending coits.
Keen, keener still, as life itself were staked,
Kindles the friendly strife : one points the line
To him who, poising, aims and aims again
Another runs and sweeps where nothing Iies.
Success alternately, from side to side,
Changes; and quick the hours un-noted fly,
Till light begins to fail, and deep below,
The player, as he stoops to lift his coit,
Sees, half incredulous, the rising moon.
But now the final, the decisive spell,
Begins ; near and more near the sounding stones,
Some winding in, some bearing straight along,
Crowd justliug all around the mark, while one,
Just slightly touching, victory depends
Upon the final aim : long swings the stone,
Then with full force, careering furious on,
Rattling, it strikes aside both friend and foe,
Maintains its course, and takes the victor's place.
The social meal succeeds, and social glass
In words the fight renewed is fought again,
While festive mirth forgets the winged hours—
Some quit betimes the scene, and find that home
Is still the place where genuine pleasure dwells."
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