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Autobiographical Reminiscences of David Johnston
Chapter II


"Honor thy Father and thy Mother."

ALL, except my father, were eager for the recital, whose seat was evidently one of thorns. Even the cutty stool whereon I sat was anything but easy. My father's furtive glances brought home the painful consciousness of being the author of this dilemma, and made me regret the part I had taken in betraying his retiring, taciturn nature into a hasty promise, leading to such a painful scrape. However, the evening's entertainment went off with eclat to the speaker, and with delight to the audience (my mother not excepted). As for the guilty plotter of this drama, he was perfectly carried away. On the following day I put my foot in it again. Molding the batch placed beyond the reach of the third ear, and intending to be complimentary, I ventured a criticism on his narrative of the battle of Prestonpans as being second-handed.

"Second-handed! You young scapegrace, what do you mean by such a term applied to me?"

"Weel, faither, pardon me for the use of the wrong word. I was gaen to say that remembering but little yersel, you took up the thread of others and handled it grandly."

"Tuts, callant, for guid sake haud the tongue o' ye, and try and chaff thae baps a wee bit better than ye're daeing." After a long pause he added, "So you think they were pleased, Dauvid, wi' what I tell't them?"

"Pleased, father? They were delighted."

"Wee!, say nae mair aboot it, and if you should ever haver me into sic a position as that the second time it will be my fault, that's all."

It was clear that whatsoever the gratification the narrative of the previous evening imparted to the hearers, it was anything but pleasurable to the narrator. Indeed it was foreign to his nature, for I never knew him to patiently sit out a lengthy discourse of any kindónot even a good sermon preached by his favorite, Dr. Sibbald, of Christ-like memory; but he had given his word, and John Johnston's word was John Johnston's bond. He commenced by apologizing for his lack of memory, saying, "that for the little that I do know of the great battle I am beholden to others, especially to my father, Alexander Johnston, who remembered the rising of 1715 as well as that of '45, and who farmed a few acres of McCaddel of Cockenzie adjoining the low land whereon the battle of Preston-pans was lost and won. Also to my elder brother Alexander, who died in 1755, and who, accompanied by John Glen, his cousin, started on horseback for Edinburgh on the morning of the battle, little dreaming that the hostile armies would so soon meet, and strew their peaceful fields with the dead and the dying. Their business in Edinburgh over, the two young men prepared to take the road home, but were advised to remain in the city till morning, as the road would be full of stragglers dangerous to travelers. Apprehensive of danger at home the two young men dared that of the ten miles of road that lay between them and Tranent, and took the saddle. They met groups of wild-looking men, speaking a language they could not understand, some of whom were laden down with what they supposed to be the spoils of battle. They were joyful and peaceable, but much fatigued, yet the appearance of drunkenness was nowhere to be seen among them. Ascending the rising ground whereon the Prince and his army had bivouacked on the previous night, and arriving at the entrance of a steep lane called I3irsley Brae, which leads down to the valley, the chosen position of Sir John Cope, and within sight of their respective homes, they congratulated themselves on getting back safe to their own native Tranent. In the uncertain light of the gloaming three men in the Highland garb appeared in front of their horses, saluting civilly in broken English the two riders, 'Shentlemen, we stand in need of three horses to carry us to Holyrood Palace. Please dismount, quickly. Being tired in pursuing those runaway. red-coats we'll have to ride slow, and if you like to walk in our company, you can have your horses at the Canongate of Edinburgh, and all harges will be duly met at the Commissary Department of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, Commander-in-chief of the forces of his Majesty, by the grace of God King of England, Scotland and Ireland, in whose royal service we have the honor to be." In war circumlocution is shelved, and there being no alternative the riders took the pedestrian mode of locomotion, and vice versaed with the trio, for the third kilty seated himself on the crupper of the stoutest horse. Descending the hill to Musselburgh Links, they found the highroad obstructed by a large crowd, assembled to have a view of the prince, who, at Pinkie House, was preparing to hold his levee at Holyrood Palace. Many of the sightseers were mounted, and now was the chance for a third horse, to appropriate which was but the work of a few minutes. A sturdy farmer froth Dalkeith was selected for the honor of not gazing on the Prince, for which purpose he had ridden six miles, but serving the king by walking six miles at the heels of his own horse with the somewhat distant prospect of being remunerated out of a depleted exchequer. But "needs must when the Devil drives," and glittering claymores are potent in argument with the unarmed. Dismounting at the Watergate, the spokesman of the trio, who had it all their own way, thanked the trio who had nothing to say in the premises, and with a bow a la militaire, wished them good-night and pleasant dreams, without even a 'deoch au dorais' to cheer their weary retracing steps. My brother said that a peep into the Canongate was enough of Edinburgh that night. The result of the battle made all within its walls a perfect Pandemonium. While the Whigs hid their devoted heads the Tories were correspondingly uproarious, being, of course, joined by the Go-betweens, the largest class of the three.

Great was the anxiety at home on account of the long, mysterious absence of the boys, and great was the joy over their midnight return. My father, who was tender hearted, could never be induced to dwell upon the scenes he and all the neighbors witnessed on the following day, and he said, "I am sure ye wudna' like to hear them yersels, and what the laddie can mean by belittling his faither by fleetching him to blather before his betters, I am at a loss to discover. Of course, ye dinna want me to follow that handsome, brainless chevalier out of our ain Lothians, or tell you how he frittered away his time and advantages in practicing king-craft in the seat of his ancestors; how, having a' the help that Scotland could gie him, he took his wild Highlanders across the border and penetrated England as far as the toon o' Derby; how, at the council o'-war held there, he like a' the rest o' his daft family, confounding reckless bravery with the quality o' prudence, voted in opposition to a' his officers, and would insist upon marching south .and with his inadequate force taking London; how on their way back to the north, they met with reverses in Cumberland and finally met the Duke of Cumberland on the fatal field of Culloden, who with one fell swoop crushed the futile attempt to regain that power over the United Kingdom which was so justly forfeited by the Stuart-like conduct of his bigoted progenitor, James II of England, VII of Scotland."

Of the four specimens of that unhappy race as kings, we, as Scotchmen, have very little to be proud. From all repetition of such government, may the Lord deliver us!

Their predecessors, the Tudors, were tyrants, but there was dignity in their tyranny. The low, shuffling cunning of James I, who confounded his flippant controversial capacity with the quality of wisdom, compared unfavorably with the deceased Elizabeth. Of the baneful effect of their misrule poor auld Scotland came in for more than her share, and the bare remembrance of having furnished the raw material brings the blush of shame to the cheeks of a Scotchman.


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