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Old World Scotland
Chapter I. On Wine and Ale


DE QUINCEY, who has some claims as an authority on intoxicants has opined that our northern climates have universally the taste latent, if not developed, for powerful liquors. He may be right; but, as a matter of fact, the taste has developed very slowly. In early times it prevailed chiefly in climates where the grape was grown, or in latitudes where bang and similar brews fired the savage breast. Moreover, once a race has made choice of its liquor, it clings thereto with a more than superstitious tenacity, and may be induced to change even its religion with less reluctance and a lighter sense of misgiving. It seems ultimately to be less a matter of appetite or gustation than of sentiment. By its connection with the rites of hospitality and the main episodes of social life the liquor of a people becomes in some sort the symbol of its patriotism and its nobler human feelings. Doubtless the increase of travel, the inter- mixture of races, and the intercommunion between nations may tend partly to obliterate such predilections; but now, as of old, it will generally be found that, at least in the case of intoxicants, the adoption, even partially, by one nation of another's liquor is to some extent an evidence of reciprocal respect and goodwill. It was not till after the accession of Dutch William to the throne of England that Englishmen began to develop that affection for gin which in the beginning of the eighteenth century led to such extraordinary excesses. The English vogue for Scottish whisky also has been at least coincident with a better appreciation of the Scot. Possibly some of the more ardent of the Southron votaries of the liquor have a lurking suspicion that it has a not very remote connection with the Scot's persistency and "cannieness"; that while "the haillsome parritch" is perhaps in some degree responsible for his stamina, whisky even more than Calvinism has been his main discipline and inspiration. Historically, however, whisky is not more the national liquor of Scotland than the kilt is the national dress, or Gaelic the national language. The only difference is that, while the dress and language of the Highland Celt seem alike destined to disappear at no distant date, whisky has not only survived the conquest of the Highlands, but has extended its empire to the Lowlands as well.

Originally the national liquor of Lowland Scotland, as of "Merrie England," was ale, the universal liquor of the Saxons. There is abundant evidence that ale was the universal beverage in the Lowlands as early as the thirteenth century, and the presumption is that its use in Caledonia was coeval with the arrival of our Saxon forefathers. True, among the nobles wine was very much in use from the thirteenth century onwards, and for several centuries it was drunk among the upper classes more generally in Scotland than in England. The Scottish vogue for wine was greatly owing to the friendly relations between Scotland and France. The staple was claret, though Malvoisie, Canary, Madeira, and other wines were imported at an early period. Still, claret never became the Scots national liquor, and although occasionally sold by Edinburgh vintners at a very early period it could not be had in good country inns till the eighteenth century. In "The Friars of Berwick," which may be assigned to the end of the fifteenth or beginning of the sixteenth century, the silly friars," Robert and Allan, are regaled in the wonder good hostelrie" without the town on "stoups of ale with. bread and cheese"; and there was evidently nothing better on tap, for among the materials brought by the amorous Friar John for his surreptitious feast with the landlady, while the other friars were supposed to be asleep in the loft, were—

"Ane pair of bossis [Earthen bottles.] O good and fine
They hold ane gallon-full of Gascon wine."

That ale was at this period considered good enough even for the richest merchants may also be inferred from the "Priests of Peebles." The successful trafficker therein described had waxed

Sae full of woridis wealth and win
His hand he wash in ane silver basin";

but in regard to his table provisions it is deemed sufficient to state that his wife had no doubt of dearth of ale nor bread."

In the regulations issued by the Scottish Privy Council on August 27, 1602—about a century later—for, the meals of the masters and bursars of the University of Glasgow ale is the only liquor recognised: "The first meis, consisting of the FYVE MAISTERIS, sall have to thair dijoyne [French Déjuiner.] ane quhyte breid of ane pund wecht in a sowpe, with the remains of a peice beif or mutton resting of the former day, with thair pynt of aill amangis thame. To thair denner they sal have ordinarlie qnhyt breid anench, with fyve choppnis of sufficient guid and better nor the common sell aill in the town, with ane disehe of bruise, and ane uther of skink [Strong soup without vegetables, resembling beef-tea.] or kaill, a piece of soddon niuttoun, another of beif, salt or fresche, according to the season, ane roist of beif, salt or fresehe, according to the season, ane roist of veill or muttoun with a foull or cunyng, [Rabbit.] or a pair of dowis [Pigeons.] or chilckins, or uther siclyk secund rost as the seasoun gevis. And siclyk to thair supper." According to our modern notions, the solids on which the masters fared were more sumptuous than the liquids. The only meal at which liquor was allowed to the bursars was dinner: "ane quart of of aill." From the Acts passed by Parliament in the sixteenth century regulating the price of ale so that the seller might have no undue advantage of the buyer, it is plain that the liquor was regarded as a necessary article of diet. In those pre-Lawsonian years the design of the Acts was to encourage, not discourage, its use. Drunkenness does not appear to have been a popular vice. It was by no means severely dealt with even by the Reformers; and although after the Reformation regulations were passed in Edinburgh and other cities closing all taverns and alehouses at ten o'clock, this was a mere corollary of a regulation for clearing the streets at this hour; there was no intention to interfere with or limit the consumption of ale. In like manner an Act passed in 1605 reducing the number of ale-houses on the borders was intended merely to diminish the resorts of thieves and rievers. Even the Covenanter Nicoll regarded the placing, in 1659, of an addtiona1 impost on ale by the town of Edinburgh as a positive act of impiety, at which at the same instant "God frae the heavens declared His anger by sending thunder and unheard tempests and storms."

The quantity of wine which about the beginning of the sixteenth century came into the general market appears to have been comparatively small. In 1508 the Edinburgh magistrates decided that the vintners should appoint four or five persons of their faculty to buy the "Hule hoip" of wine and divide it equally. For a long while after, however, the king (or queen), the prelates, and the nobility claimed wine almost as a perquisite of their own. In the reign of Mary Stuart regulations were more than once passed, not only fixing its price but forbidding the importers to sell their supply until the "Queen, prelates, earls, lords, and barons be first stakit"; and when the wine duties were imposed in 1608 the nobles were specially exempted from payment. It is curious, and perhaps edifying, to note that John Knox, strongly as he denounced the luxurious and sensuous habits of the Catholic clergy of his time, retained till his dying day that relish for French wine which he had no doubt acquired when a priest. Much as he railed against the French mote in Queen Mary's eye, he was all unconscious of the beam of French claret in his own. Amid the stern and severe thoughts which seemed to form the staple of his meditations on his deathbed, as recorded by Richard Bannatyne, the pleasant and kindly homeliness of the following incident stands out in curiously piquant relief: "The Setterday," says Bannatyne, "John Dune and Archibald Stewart come in about twelve houris, not knowing how seike he was; and for thair cause come to the table, which was the last tyme that ever he sat at ony thereafter; for he caused pierce ane hoggeid of wine which was in the seller, and willed the said Archibald send for the same so long as it lasted, for he would never tarie [live] until it were drunken."

Ultimately there were three varieties of Scots ale—small, household, and strong but it is the household ale alone—the "tippenny" of the Act of Union, of Allan Ramsay and of Robert Burns—that is properly entitled to the name and dignity of the national liquor. Ale of a corresponding quality to that of Allsopp or Bass did not become a common beverage in Scotland till comparatively recent times. Until the union of the crowns there was practically no commercial intercourse between the two kingdoms. it was with the utmost difficulty that James VI., in 1599, could persuade Elizabeth's minister Cecil to grant the required license for the transportation to Holyrood of "twelve tuns of double London beer" (stout, no doubt) for the "King's dearest spouse," she, it was pathetically pleaded, being "daily accustomed to drink of the same''; but on his advent to the English throne such restrictions were greatly modified. In 1610 an Act passed by the Privy Council to regulate the price of English beer in Scotland set forth that importers should "sell each tun of the said beer for £6, so that the retailer thereof may sell the same for 18d. the pint, the penalty to be £20 for each tun sold for more than £6." Probably the design and result of such an enactment, was to greatly diminish the importation of English beer; at any rate the Customs Act of 1063 had a very prejudicial effect on this and other exports and manufactures. The question as to the duty to be paid on Scots ale gave rise to considerable discussion in the debate on the Seventh Article of Union. The one party held that it should be taxed at the same rate as English ale, the other at the same rate as English small beer; but when the question was examined in committee a medium duty was agreed on. Subsequent changes in the excise duties on malt led in Glasgow to serious riots, and inspired the Jacobites with delusive hopes of a successful rising.

Ale and claret are the liquors chiefly sung by Ahlaii Rainsay and by Robert Fergusson. As every schoolboy does not know, honest Allan immortalised two Edinburgh alewives —Maggie Johustoun, who kept the famous golfers' house of call near Bruntsfield Links-

"Aften in Maggie's at hy-jinks [A drinking game.]
We guzzled scuds,
Till we could scarce wi' hale-out drinks
Cast aff our duds."

and Lucky Wood in the Canongate, who

"Ne'er gae in a lawin [Reckoning.] fause,
Nor stoups a' froath aboon the hause,
Nor kept dowd tip [Stale tipple.] within her waws,
But reaming swats [New ale.]
She ne'er ran sour jute, because
It gies the batts." [Colic.]

In Ramsay's day there was no such thing as the modern "public.'' Ale, too, is the liquor quaffed in Fergusson's "Farmer's Ingle"

Weel kens the gudewife that the ploughs require
A heartsome meltith, [Meal.] an' refreshing synd [Draught.]
O' nappy [Strong or good.] liquor, o'er a bleezmg fire
Sair wark an' pourtith [Poverty—scant fare.] downa well be join'd.
Wi' buttered bannocks now the girdle reeks
I' the far nook the bowie [Cask of beer.] briskly roams."

In "Toddlin' Hame," which Burns thought the first bottle song that ever was composed, nothing stronger than ale is mentioned:-

"Fair fa' the gudewife, and send her gude sale!
She gies us white bannocks to relish her ale;
Syne, if that her tippenny chance to be sma',
We tak a guid scouro't and cat awa'."

But, though Ramsay could be "blythe and fain" upon beer, he in certain moods indicates a special appreciation of claret, especially in winter weather, when golf or howls were in abeyance :-

"Then fling on coals, and ripe the ribs,
And beek [Warm—by means of a blazing fire.] the house baith but and hen
That mutchkin-stoup it buds but drips,
Then let's get in the tappit hen. [A bottle shaped like a hen, and holding three quarts of claret.]
Good claret best keeps out the cauld,
And drives away the winter soon
It makes a man baith gash [Wise,] and bauld,
And heaves his soul beyond the moon."

In the eighteenth century claret was usually kept on tap in the best taverns. Fergusson sings of one in Dumfries famed for the liquor, and volunteers the opinion that, if that ''pleasant sinner" Q. H. F. had been alive,

"Nae mair he'd sing to auld Maceenas
The blinking een o' bonny Venus
His leave at ance hae ta'en us
For claret here."

Fergusson wrote some forty years later than Ramsay. Occasionally he mentions whisky and gin with approbation. It was perhaps the introduction of these more heady liquors that moved him to pen what is probably the earliest extant teetotal ode, his "Cauler Water," but his example in no wise corresponded with its precept and sentiment.

Dr. Somerville in his "Own Life and Times," referring to the period of his boyhood—about the middle of the eighteenth century—thus writes: ''In families of my own rank the beverages offered to ordinary visitors consisted of home-brewed ale and of a glass of brandy; or, where there was greater ceremony, claret and brandy punch" For a time the importation of French wine was stayed by the plague of Marseilles (1720); but the use of claret, thus partially interrupted in Scotland, was again, resumed, the real cause of its permanent decline as the beverage of the Scottish middle and upper classes being the outbreak of the great war towards the close of the century. Port or other stronger wines were comparatively little drunk in the north till the present century. Thus, a cargo of port, brought by Sir Laurence Dundas in 1743, failed to find a ready sale; the Scottish palate was then unused to it, and it was necessity rather than preference that ultimately gave it its vogue.

The quality of our forefathers' liquor must be taken into consideration in determining the significance of such anecdotes as are illustrative of their convivial habits. Perhaps the comparative weakness of the tipple was responsible for their longer sittings. Vinous intoxication is also by no means so immediately hurtful as that produced by the stronger liquors, although possibly the taste "latent if not developed for powerful liquors" may have led to special excess in the use of the light wines. Otherwise the drinking customs of the better classes in Scotland were closely modelled on those of the French. The tavern played quite as important a part in the social life of Edinburgh as the Cafe continues still to do in the social life of Paris or Marseilles. There the advocate discussed his client's business over a glass of claret or bottle of ale, and tavern dinners were a common diversion even of married men. In winter the wine was mulled and drunk hot, sugar being used with it before tea or coffee was popular. But with the invasion of strong waters, the respectability of the tavern departed.

In early times drinking in alehouses was of the same prolonged character as drinking in taverns, and for similar reasons. Whisky is far too potent and speedy in its effects for the old drinking game of chance ''high-jinks," Scourging a, nine- gallon tree," which is, being interpreted, drawing the spigot of a barrel of ale, and never quitting it till it be drunk out, was another roisterer's pastime; but (in spite of Burns's witness to its merits), with a staple of "tippenny" it must have been alike comparatively innocuous and unspeakably dreary. The excessive drinking indulged in at Lowland funerals in the eighteenth century seems to have been coincident with the transition from ale to whisky. The provision of refreshments was in many cases a necessity, on account of the long distances some mourners had to come. The ordinary was originally ale, with bread and cheese ; but when whisky began to be supplied on the same bounteous scale as the milder beverage, the consequences were sometimes appallingly ludicrous and sometimes hideously indecent.


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