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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
The Provost and the Soldier


ONE, Jeremiah Armstrong, a soldier of the 72nd, came to Glasgow with his regiment (circa 1806-8). When present with his corps at divine service in the High Church one Sunday forenoon, instead of pulling out his Bible, he deliberately took out a pack of cards and spread them before him. This singular behaviour did not pass unnoticed by Dr. William Taylor, the officiating minister, and the sergeant, Peter M’Alister, of the company to which he belonged. The latter, in particular, commanded him to put up his cards; and, on his refusal, conducted him after service to the house of Provost James Mackenzie, in the neighbourhood to answer for his conduct. He was remanded to the guard-house, and ordered to appear before the magistrates in the council chambers next morning.

"Well, soldier," said the provost, "what defence have you to make for this strange, scandalous conduct? If you have none, you deserve to be severely punished for it?"

"Please your lordship, will you allow me to speak?" asked the soldier.

Certainly," said the provost, "by all means, let us hear what you have got to say."

"Well, please your lordship," said the soldier, "I have been eight days upon the march, with a bare allowance of only sixpence a day, which your honour will surely allow is scarcely sufficient to maintain a man in meat, drink, washing, and other necessaries, and, consequently, that he must be without a Bible, or a Prayer Book, or any other book. There is nothing for it, therefore, but to make the best use of my cards."

On saying this the soldier pulled out his pack of cards, and presenting an ace to the provost (who seemed somewhat taken aback with this liberty), he said with an air of dignity:

Our lordship, permit me to explain—when I see an ace, it reminds me there is only one God, and when I look upon a tuo or three, the former puts me in mind of the Father and the Son; the latter of the Father; Son, and Holy Ghost. A four please your lordship, calls to my remembrance the four evangelists; a five, the five wise virgins (there were ten, indeed, but five, your lordship will remember, were wise, and five were foolish); a six informs me that in six days God created the heavens and the earth; a seven, that on the seventh day He rested from his labours, and beheld all that He had made very good; an eight, of the eight righteous persons preserved from the Deluge; a nine, of the nine ungrateful lepers cleansed by our Saviour (ten were cleansed, but only one returned to offer his tribute of thanks); and a ten (scandalously called by some ‘the curse of Scotland’) should only dutifully remind us of the Ten Commandments."

This discourse, so far as it went, astonished the worthy provost, who had never seen or heard the cards so handled before. The soldier then took out the knave from his pack, placed it beside him, and passed on to the queen, on which he observed as follows:

"The queen, your lordship, reminds me of the Queen of Sheba, who came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; as her companion the king does of the great King of Heaven, and of our own King George the Third, by the grace of God, King of Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith."

The provost at this point became greatly attracted, smiled, and said:

"Well, you have given me, perhaps, a very accurate description of all the cards except the knave." To which the soldier replied:

"If your lordship will not be angry with me, I might answer that as well as any others in the pack !"

"Go on," said the provost.

"Well," said the soldier, "the greatest knave is the sergeant who has brought me before your lordship."

The sergeant, on hearing this, was for drawing his sword, but the town’s officer interposed.

The provost, amazed at the man’s ability, as were all in the Council Chamber, bade the sergeant shake hands with him; and the soldier, on this, begged the sergeant’s pardon, and said he would never liken him to a knave again.


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