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Autobiographical Reminiscences of David Johnston
Chapter I - Introduction


"Cope sent a letter frae Dunbar,
Charlie, meet me gin ye daur;
It's then I'll shew ye the airt o' war,
Gin ye meet me here i' th' mornin'."
A Challenge of the Eighteenth Century.

"O THAT mine enemy had written a book," was the splenetic utterance of one of the olden time. Now, I am by no means certain that I can lay claim to that degree of respectability which entitles one to an enemy. One of the aphorisms of my native land has it: "They are of sma' worth wha' hae nae enemies." Should I have the honor to possess an enemy, and fail to meet him in the true Caledónian fashion, face to face, and should these reminiscences ever meet his eyes, he may be informed, while he chuckles in his sleeve, that the remains of the dear lady who inspired this weakness lie in Rosehill cemetery, Chicago, Ill. I say and sing:

"Wha kens but this bit humble line
May kittle up the Sacred Nine
An' waukriffe Scottish muse.
'Tis penned to please my second bairn,
And tho' a wee o'er auld tae learn,
I couldna wee! refuse."

It is now thirty years since Maggie, in her witching way, extracted a promise from me to take such steps as should obviate similar complaints to those which I had often heard urged against the silence of my progenitors, on the passing events of their earlier days.

John Johnston, my father, was born in Tranent, East Lothian. in 1741, consequently must have been about four years of age when the last battle but one was fought in Scotland, and that at his parents' own door. (The defeat of Sir John Cope at the battle of Prestonpans, 1745, by Prince Charles Edward Stuart.) Subsequently, after reading about the wild romantic hiding in the Highlands of Charles Edward Stuart, after the battle of Culloden, among a poverty-stricken people, whose fidelity remained unshaken by the tempting reward of 30,000 pounds for his head—dead or alive—and admiring especially the elevated and romantic character of Flora McDonald, I became inordinately inquisitive concerning all the events of that troublous period of our history, and consequently troublesome to the easy-going democratic old gentleman, who cared but little who was king. I used to lay siege to him in this way, to get anything out of him:

"Faither, hoo auld was I when I had the measles?"

"Four years auld."

"D'ye remember your carryin' me oot to see Lord Elcho's funeral?"

"I do, my callant, but I'm sure ye ken but little aboot that; you were ower young."

"Young as I was, faither, I counted seventy-two carriages that followed the hearse, that hearse having 'Memento Mori' in gold letters on its side."

"Weel, what of that, Dauvid? I'm sure it would be far more profitable for you tae turn your attention tae the principles of fermentation, by whilk we can turn the guid gifts o' the Almighty tae the best advantage by making breed fit tae pit intae the stamach, instead o' wasting your time and troubling your head aboot wha shall govern th' kingdoms.three."

"But, faither, I only want to ken what ye saw, what ye heard, and what ye remember of the bloody work done around your, ain faither's door in the rising of 1745, which nowadays is in everybody's mouth, and you are the only Tranent man in the Nungate that kens onything aboot it."

"Weel, Dauvid, if- I should relate to you a' I saw, heard and remember of that tuilzie, will ye promise never to trouble me ony mair aboot wha sits on the throne, or wha aspires tae that uneasy seat? I'll just dae what I can tae please ye."

"Thank ye, faither, but would ye have ony objections tae a few o' ma frien's being present tae hear ye?"

"Your frien's! Wha are they?"

"Weel, Johnny Tamson, Willie McKay, Jock Purvis, Peter Elder, Jamie Shaw, Sandy Howden and - 'Stop!' said my father. 'In the name of the auld kirk, when are ye coming tae the end o' your list o' frien's? And hoo did ye acquire them, Dauvid?'"

The first half of the above question was answered by my stating that the largest number had yet to be named. To the other half—they had lent me books.

* * * * * *

Some score of neighbors, at the given hour, were seated in front of a cheerful fire of Pencaithland coal, all eager to hear an eye and ear witness of the horrors of civil war in its wild ravages on the peaceful plains of Lothian. My mother seemed to betray a little uneasiness, caused by my oversight in failing to consult her domestic convenience for so many neighbors at a time, and next day advised me "never tae invite ony mair folk than ye hae chairs or cutty stools tae seat them on." But it is wonderful what a thrifty housewife can do to restore order out of chaos, and to create happiness with limited means. It was given out that an interesting account of the way in which the Kilties handled their broadswords in support of Prince Charlie •on that day, whereon the good and pious Colonel Gardner fell close to his own estate at Prestonpans would be given in my faither's house.

My father had just set his sponge for the morn's batch, when coming ben, and greeting his neighbors present, I thought I could detect in his placid countenance something akin to surprise at the extent of his youngest son's list of acquaintances.

Indeed, I overheard a remark made (sotto voce) to my mother, never intended for my ear:

"Peggy, whatever may betide that daft callant of ours through life, he will never lack friends. God save us! he makes them by the baker's dozen."

What the dear old soul told us that night will be food for another chapter.

It might be well to remark here, that the invited guests came not alone. Willie Shaw, the tailor, must needs bring Jock Samson, the flesher, and his son-in-law, Tam Gourlay, the latter being tift at not being specially invited. Jock Purvis, the blacksmith, brought Jock Wilson, the cairtwright, and douce John Aitchison, the weaver. Poor Johnny Goodale, who was shortly after that date found perished under the snow near Grantsbraes, brought his boon crony o'er a taste o' the aquavit. RobieMurray, the baker, and Sandy Howden, the brewer—in short, all the Nungate was there to listen to a description of the battle of Preston-pans by an eye witness in the fourth year of his age. My mother, one of the best of housekeepers, was evidently disconcerted at the crowd of unexpected visitors, and I burned for very shame at being the sole cause of her perturbation, and often subsequently marveled at my escape of merited punishment; but I have sometimes thought that I stand indebted for impunity to a wee bit touch of the dear old gentleman's pride. Lest the reader should be at a loss to account for such interest called into play by the mere whim of a daft callant, he is reminded that in those days intercommunication was very limited, and the popular thirst for knowledge must have been increased from the very lack of these facilities which bless the present age. It is true that the massive brain of James Watt had matured into practical utility, but the greatest benefits arising from the potency of steam were reserved for a later and a happier epoch. Also true the active mind of Stephenson was ripening into that state of perfection which would enable him to bless the world with his revolutionizing locomotive, but failed as yet to conceive of a vessel with capacity to carry fuel enough to steam her across the Atlantic. True that Franklin had caught the electric spark, and trimmed his press so as to pave the way for these delightful literary advantages we are now enjoying. I am led to believe that the comparison of the past and present periods will serve to account for the credulity of the former, as manifested on that domestic occasion.


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