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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter VI. - Scoti Vagi


HIGHLANDERS followed with hearty goodwill the leadership of ministers and elders in educational matters. They were passionately attached to their own language, and thought that the Highlands, without Gaelic to wake the echoes of its rocks and fairy-haunted corries, would lose all romance and charm, although scenery, grouse, deer, and fishing waters still remained. But they always desired to be bi-lingual, so that they might through their surplus youth invade the Lowlands and the wide world. They had always in peace and war been carrying on that invasion, and they little dreamed a time would come when the Lowlands and England and Ireland and foreign countries would invade their mountain lands, or when Gaelic would either be extinguished or verge upon extinction before their descendants understood that with its disappearance Gaeldom would be deprived of a soul-element and make a belated rally to try to arrest that peril. Before they had many schools at home, they used to send their children to serve as herds in the Lowlands in order that they might learn the "Beurla," and it was the custom for large numbers of their grown men and women to go to the Lowlands yearly to earn wages as harvesters, and at the same time to enlarge their knowledge of the sort of English spoken there. When they got schools of their own where pure book English was taught, there was no further cause for going to the Lowlands to learn "Beurla." Englishmen, who as sportsmen, or visitors on other accounts, came to the Highlands from the date of Dr Johnson's journey downwards, found Highlanders who spoke English at all, speaking pure book English with some of the mountain tongue's accents clinging to it in a way frequently pleasing to their ears, while they found the "Beurla" of the neighbouring Lowlands in some districts horribly harsh and hardly intelligible to them. But from time immemorial there had been a permanent necessity for the surplus population, bred and brought up in the Highlands and Isles, to seek outlets and means of existence in the Lowlands or the wide, wide world. "Scoti Vagi" the ancestors of the Highlanders had been of old, and "Wandering Scots" the surplus population of Highlands and Isles had to be for all ages while the old conditions lasted; and while the abler wanderers sought scope for ambition, and the less aspiring better means of subsistence, in the Lowlands and in far countries, the old love of adventure and self-reliance inspired the race as a whole; Swarms of Highlanders went to the last Crusade under the two Celtic Earls Atholl and Galloway. In succeeding ages swarms of them served and fought in France and Germany. As soon as King James ascended the throne of Queen Elizabeth, adventurous Highlanders found their way to India and the Colonies or plantations as they were then called. And wherever Highlanders went they drew more of their race after them. Banishment of Highlanders who were rebellious or unruly at home strengthened the British possessions abroad. The Highlanders captured at Preston were sent to Maryland, and were sold as bondsmen for seven years to the planters. When their term expired some of these ex-bondsmen returned home, and some remained in the land of their exile and called out friends from home to join them there. Upwards of fifty years ago. Mr Shiels, R.S.J. who before 1866 spent many years in the south of the United States painting portraits, told me that when he was in Maryland he was informed that in a corner of that State there was a community of several thousands who still spoke Gaelic in their homes and retained many Highland customs. Those who were banished to Barbadoes. Jamaica, and other West Indian Islands were not founders of Gaelic-speaking communities like those banished to Maryland, or General Oglethorpe's Carolina emigrants, or the later emigrants to Cape Breton and Nova Scotia, but they undoubtedly drew many other Highlanders after them.

In his description of James the Fourth to his sovereign Ferdinand, the Spanish ambassador, DOB Pedro de Ayala. enumerates the many learned and foreign languages which that charming, chivalrous, and rash King of Scots could speak, and says: "His own Scotch language is as different from English as Arragonese is from Castilian. The King speaks besides, the language of the savages who lirv in some parts of Scotland and in the Islands. It is different from Sootab m Binayan b from Castikn." Doit Pedro accepted without investigation the epithets applied to the Highlanders by the Lowlanders, who had some justification in raids, spoliations and clan feuds, and civil war commotion, for calling the Highlanders "savages." In Hill Burton's "History of Scotland" the old race rancour between Lowlands and Highlands manifests itself without much abatement. But Hill Burton and other Lowland and general historians overlook the fact that a long-continued pacific Highland invasion, meeting there with the primitive survivals of the Britons of Strathclyde, and the Picts of Galloway, celticised Lowland Scotland itself to an extraordinary degree. Let anyone look at the present day names in assessment rolls, at the shop signs, the office and firm names, and count up those which are unmistakeably Gaelic pushing the semi-disguised forms aside and he will be driven to the conclusion that the Celtic element in the present day population of Scotland is stronger than any other one.

The adoption of Chatham's scheme for enlisting Highland valour in defence of the British Empire, by raising Highland regiments commanded by Highland gentlemen whom the men were ready to follow anywhere, and with them to do whatever mortal courage, obedience, and endurance could achieve in war, laid the foundation for broad Imperial patriotism in the Highlands, and brought such a new glory and strength to the British Army that, all down from the capture of Quebec to Waterloo, the Government looked upon Gaeldom as a nursery of soldiers, and in various ways discouraged emigration especially to the United States. Proprietors who by raising quotas of men got commissions for themselves or their sons and relations, and who moreover cherished kindly sympathies and frequently community of hereditary ties with their tenants, likewise discouraged emigration. And although the steady old migration to the Lowlands, and since the Union of the Crowns to England, went on in a stronger stream from year to year, and a large number of the young men went into the Army and Navy, the population of the Highlands became more and more crowded than it ever had been before, between 1760 and the end of the century. Meanwhile the sheep regime, by absorbing the great upland shealings and leading to the consolidation of the winter-town holdings, was aggravating the crowding, and by degrees the profits of domestic industries were departing. But during the long war with France prices for wool, sheep, cattle, horses, and surplus of crops, had so much gone up that while old leases lasted the tenants prospered. Whenever the leases expired rents went up, and on the heels of higher rents, prices went down as the time of inflation was followed by depression.


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