THE RAIDERS' COUNTRY
I.-WHY WE ARE WHAT WE ARE
Between Dee and Cree.
BETWEEN Dee and Cree–that
is our Ganaway. A link of Forth were almost worth it all. The uninstructed
conceives of Galloway as but a parish somewhere in broad and Scotland. To
the native it is–as its wild Picts were in the national line of battle–the
very vanguard of empire.
When we meet each other
far over seas, or even in such outlandish parts as Edinburgh, to be of
Galloway warms our hearts to one another, and not unfrequently, perhaps,
uncorks the "greybeard." But when we of one part of that wide province meet
one another down in Galloway itself we are a little apt to walk round each
other, and growl and snarl like angry stranger curs at one another's heels.
For to the man from the Rhynns, the man from the East Side that looks on
Nith is but a border thief. And with regard to a man from Dumfries itself,
the question is not whether any good can come out of such a Nazareth, but
rather whether any evil can come out of anywhere else.
However, we are forgetting
Ayrshire. To belong to Dumfries is indeed a crime in the eyes of every true
son of the ancient and independent province. But yet there is a kind of pity
attached to the ignoble fact, as for men who would have helped the matter if
they had been consulted in time, but who now have to face the fault of their
parents as best they may.
The case is, however,
entirely different with an Ayrshireman. He is an Ayrshireman by intent. For
him there can be no excuse. For his villainy no palliation. Is there not in
the records of Scottish law a well-authenticated case in which one Mossman
was hanged on May 20, 1785, upon the following indictment ;–
1. That the prisoner was
found on the king's highway without cause.
2. That he "wandered in
3. "That he belonged to
The last count was proven
and was fatal to him. And with good reason. Many an honester man has been
hanged for less.
I remember a very
intelligent old native of Kirkcudbright telling me that the reception of
Burns's poems in Galloway was much retarded by the prejudice against an
Ayrshireman, and was indeed never completely overcome during the poet's
The Rest of the World.
Other parts of the country
were little regarded by the true sons of Stewartry and Shire. There were
known to be such districts as "Lanerickshire and the wild
Heelants," but they were ill
thought of. People who said that they had been there were looked on "a
thocht agley," as we might look at one who, with no record for conspicuous
daring, asserted that he had been
to the summit of Mount Everest Accounts of their travels were received with
conspicuous and almost insulting unbelief. "Oh, ye hae been in the Heelants,
say ye?" “Ow, aye,–umpha–aye!"
Edinburgh was known, of course. It was a bad
place, Edinburgh. A Gallowayman only went there once. The place he visited
was the Grassmarket, where the king's representative presented him with the
loan of a long tow-rope for half-an-hour.
So that though most of the Galloway lairds of
any degree of respectability in the olden times had had their little bit of
trouble in the days before the Union, most of them preferred to be "put to
the horn" (that is, proclaimed rebel and traitor to the realm and the king's
majesty by three blasts upon the horn at the Cross of Edinburgh), rather
than come up and risk getting their necks mixed up with the" King's tow."
It was a very far cry to Cruggleton and a
farther to the Dungeon of Buchan, and the region of Galloway was not healthy
for king's messengers. The enteric disease called "six inch 0' cauld steel
in the wame 0' him" was extraordinarily prevalent in the district, and
anyone who was known to carry the king's writ or warrant about his person
was almost certain to suffer from it.
It was told of Kennedy of Bargany that on one
occasion his man John had cruelly assaulted an innocent traveller upon the
highway, and was brought before the Sheriff Court at Wigton for the offence.
Bargany appeared to defend his man, and his plea of innocence on behalf of
John was that the man assaulted "Iookit like a Sheriff's offisher or a
lawvyer." John got off.
All Galloway is divided into three parts-the
Stewartry, the Shire, and the parish of Balmaghie. Some have tried to do
without the latter division, but their very ill-success has proved their
error. The parish of Balmaghie is the Cor Cordium of Galloway. It is the
central parish–the citadel of Gallovidian prejudices. It was the proud
sanctuary of the reivers of the low country
before the Reformation. Then
it became the headquarters of the High Westland Whigs in the stirring times
that sent Davie Crook back to watch the king's forces on the English border.
From its Clachanpluck every single man marched away to Rullion Green, very
few returning from the dowsing they got on Pentland side from grim
long-bearded Dalyell. It was the parish that for many years defied,
indiscriminately, law courts and Church courts, and kept Macmillan, the
first minister of the Cameronian Societies, in enjoyment of kirk, glebe, and
manse in spite of the invasion of the emissaries of Court of Session and the
fulminations of the Erastian Presbytery of Kirkcudbright.
Balmaghie was a great
place for religious excitement in the old days–though, as one of the
historians of the county says, it is remarkable with what calmness the
people of Balmaghie have taken the matter since.
The adjoining parts of
Galloway–the Stewartry and the Shire–are important enough in their way. They
cannot all be Balmaghies, but they do very well. The Stewartry was in
ancient time the more important of these two larger divisions. Its rental
and taxable value were to the Shire in the proportion of nine to five.
But, strangely enough, it
was not proud of the fact, and has often since tried to get the valuation
reduced. This shows how little conceit of themselves Stewartry men have. If
you want to see real conceit you must go to the neighbourhood of Glenluce,
and ask who makes the best bee-skeps in Scotland.
The Eighteenth Century in
Now a word as to time. The
eighteenth century did not begin in 1701 according to the received opinion.
It really began with William of Orange coming over from The Holland in the
year of the" glorious revolution," and settling the country down into that
smug respectability which for a good while played havoc with the old
picturesque interest. Yet in Galloway there always remained elements of
special interest, owing to the remote and independent nature of the country.
On the other hand, it was
Walter Scott who put an end to the eighteenth century. The Waverley Novels
were a great civiliser, and by making the old world the world of literature,
Scott convinced people in Scotland that they were living in modern times–for
many had lived contentedly all their lives and never known it. They were as
surprised to hear it as M. Jourdain was when he found out that for a long
season he had been talking prose.
"Guy Mannering" was the
instrument by which Scott cultivated Galloway out of the eighteenth century.
Yet the local colour of the book is slight, and to a born Gallovidian hardly
recognisable. For Scott did not know Galloway. He got Galloway legends from
Joseph Train, that careful and most excellent literary jackal; but he
dressed them up in the attire of Ettrick Forest. He thinks, for instance,
that the hills of Galloway are smooth, green-breasted swells, like Eildon or
Tinto; and there is nothing to show that he even suspected what fastnesses
lie hid from the ken of the ordinary romancer and topographer about the
Dungeon of Buchan and Loch Enoch.
So in this wide field of
the eighteenth century it is not easy to give a general idea of how the
people of the double province lived. There was indeed a great advance in all
the comforts of living in Galloway during the eighteenth century-though not
so great, perhaps, as during the nineteenth.
The Old Names.
The ancient gentry of
Galloway, of true Galloway blood, were never a very numerous race, and some
of the greatest names were extinct long before the eighteenth century. The
Douglasses, of course, the greatest of all, had had neither art or part in
Galloway since the fifteenth century. The great house of the Kennedies of
Cassilis had retired upon Ayrshire. Gone were the days when
"Frae Wigton to the toun 0'
Ao' laigh doon by tbe
cruives 0' Cree,
Nae man may howp a lodging
Unless be coort wi'
But in the eighteenth
century there were still Agnews in Lochnaw as there are to this day,
Stewarts in Garlies, MacDowalis in Garthland, M'Kies in Myrtoun and in
Barrower, Maxwells in
Mochrum and Monreith, and of course there were the great politicians of the
time–the Dalrymples of Stair in the old Cassilis stronghold of Castle
In the upper Stewartry the
well-known names were those of the Gordons of Lochinvar and Kenmure–of
Earlstoun, and of Culvennan. On the Dumfries Marches the Maxwells held sway,
and the Murrays of Broughton were rapidly acquiring land in the south.
The baronage were mostly
content to Iive quietly on their estates in a kind of "bien" hospitality and
good-fellowship. One of the big houses could account for a sheep a week,
besides many pigs and an odd "nowt beast" or two in the "back end." But even
in the great houses porridge and milk and homely oatcake were still the
commonest of fare. We find, for instance, a Galloway soldier of
Marlborough's mourning in a far land that in these outlandish parts they had
neither "farle of cake," nor yet a "girdle" to bake it on. The great houses
were mostly defenced, and such were the exigencies of the time that sieges
were not unknown–the gipsies and outlaw clans of the hills making no scruple
to come down, "boding in fear of weir," and to assault any man's house
against whom they had a grudge.
The position of many of
these Galloway gentry was little different from that of a feudal baron. In
the seventeenth century two and three "merklands" were still granted to
likely young fellows who would settle down on the estates of a knight, under
pledge to be his men and breed lusty loons to wear the leathern jack, and
ride behind him when he went to leave his card on a brother baron with whom
he might have a difference. This, says Sir Andrew Agnew of Lochnaw, in his
excellent " Hereditary Sheriffs of Galloway," is the origin of the phrase–
"Ye are but a bow '
This was a telling sarcasm
against undue pretensions to pedigree, based on a tradition that a Gordon of
Lochinvar and Kenmure, anxious to increase his vassalage, gave any
likely-looking young fellow willing to take his name at least three acres
and a cow–together with a boll of meal yearly. From which it will be seen
that the supposed Radical innovation of "three acres and a cow," used as a
bribe, was really feudal in origin, and began, as many wise and good things
did, in the province of Galloway.
Still this was a better
custom than the charge which is enshrined in another Galloway story; "Ye gat
the price 0' it where the Ayrshireman gat the coo." The admirable Trotter
has the story thus: “There was a queer craitur that they caa Tam Rabinson
leeved at Wigton, and he had a kind 0' weakness; but he had some clever
sayings for all that. Also, like most Gallowaymen, he disliked the
Ayrshiremen for what he considered their meanness and their undoubted habit
of taking people's farms over their heads. One day Tam found a very big
mushroom, and was taking it home to his mother. So when he came to the
corner end, a lot of men were standing about, and a big Ayrshire dealer of
the name of Cochrane among them that had the habit of tormenting Tam, and
trying to make a fool of him. Seeing Tam with the big mushroom, Cochrane
" 'Hullo, Tammock, what
did you pay for the new bannet? '
" 'The same price that the
Ayrshireman payed for the coo,' says Tam.
" 'An' what did he pay for
the coo?' asks Cochrane.
" 'Oh, naething! ' says
Tam, 'he juist fand it in a field I' "
Which was a saying
exceedingly hard for an Ayrshireman and a cattle-dealer to stomach.
The Bonnet Lairds.
The bonnet lairds were a
well-known class in Galloway, and were mostly the sternest and most
unbending of Whigs. They were reared exactly like the ordinary farmers, but
their farms belonged to themselves, though a certain service was given to
some of the great barons in return for steadfast protection. Some of these
rose to considerable honour. For instance, there was Grierson of Bargatton,
in Balmaghie, who on more than one occasion was returned to Parliament as
one of the representatives of the Stewartry.
The bonnet lairds lived
much as the better farmers did, but in some things they stood aloof. For one
thing, they locked their doors at night, which no farmer body was said to do
in all Galloway during the eighteenth century. They lived in the summer time
and in the winter alike on porridge and milk, flavoured with occasional
fries of ham from the fat "gussie " that had run about the doors the year
before. Sometimes they salted down a "mart" for the winter, and there was
generally a ham or two of "braxy" sheep hanging to the joists. Puddings,
both white and black, were supposed to be an article of dainty fare.
Sometimes the country folk
did not wait till the unfortunate animal was dead in order to provide
entertainment for their guests.
"Saunders, rin, man, and
blood the soo–here's the minister gettin' ower the dyke!" was the
exclamation of a Galloway goodwife on the occasion of a ministerial
It is told of the famous
Seceder minister, Walter Dunlop, of Dumfries, that he too loved good
entertainment when he went out on his parochial visitations.
Specially he liked a "tousy
tea "–that is, one with trimmings.
On one occasion he had to
baptize a bairn in a certain house, and there they offered him his tea–a
plain tea–before he began.
This was not at all to
Walter's liking. He had other ideas, after walking so far over the heather.
"Na, na, guidwife," he
said, " I'll do my work first–edification afore gustation. Juist pit ye on
the pan, an' when I hear the ham skirling, I'll ken it's time to draw to a
"But and Ben" with the Cow.
In the early part of the
eighteenth century the common people of Galloway lived in the utmost
simplicity–if it be simplicity to live but and ben with the cow. In many of
the smaller houses there was no division between the part of the dwelling
used for the family and that occupied by Crummie the cow, and Gussie the
But things rapidly
improved, and by 1750 there was hardly such a dwelling to be found in the
eastern part of Galloway. The windows in a house of this class were usually
two in number and wholly without glass. They were stopped up with a wooden
board according to the direction from
which the wind blew. The
smoke hung in dense masses about the roof of the "auld clay biggin'," and,
in lieu of a chimney, found its way occasionally out at the door. But many
of the people who lived in these little houses fared surprisingly well. The
sons were "braw lads" and the daughters "sonsy queans." They could dress
well upon occasion, and we are told in wonder by a southern visitant that it
is no uncommon thing to see a perfectly well-dressed man in a good plaid or
cloak come out of a hovel like an outhouse.
"The clartier the cosier"
was, we fear, a Galloway maxim which was held in good repute even in the
earlier part of the eighteenth century among a considerable section of the
Later, however, the small
farmers became exceedingly particular both as to cleanliness in food and
attention to their persons. We saw recently the dress worn to kirk and
market by a Galloway small farmer about 1790. It consisted of a broad blue
Kilmarnock bonnet, checked at the brim with red and white; a blue coat of
rough woollen, cut like a dresscoat of to-day, save that it was made to
button with large silver buttons; a red velvet waistcoat, with long flaps in
front; corded knee-breeches, rig-and-fur stockings, and buckled shoes
completed the attire of the douce and sonsy Cameronian farmer when he went
a-wooing in his own sober, determined, and, no doubt, ultimately successful
I have yet to speak of the
"ministry of the Word" and of the state of religion. Things were not very
bright in Galloway at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
We hear, for instance, of
a majority of a local Presbytery being under such famas that the Synod had
to take the matter up; and in several of the parishes of Galloway the manse
was by no means a centre of light and good example.
This was perhaps owing to
the state of the country after the Killing Time and the Revolution. Many of
the people of Galloway would not for long accept the ministrations of the
regular parish clergy, who
were ready to hold fellowship with "malignants." The Society men, Cameronian
and other, held aloof, and though, till the sentence of deposition was
pronounced against Mr. Macmillan of Balmaghie, they had no regular ministry,
their numbers were very considerable, and their influence greater still.
They knew themselves to be the salt of the earth, and we remember that even
thirty-five years ago the Cameronians of the remoter parts of Galloway held
themselves a little apart in a stiff kind of spiritual independence and even
pride, to which the other denominations looked up, not without a certain awe
But the effect on the
Cameronian boy was not always so happy. We were in danger of becoming little
prigs. Whenever we met a boy belonging to the Established Kirk (who learned
paraphrases), we threw a stone at him to bring him to a sense of his
position. If, as Homer says, he was a lassie, we put out our tongue at her.
Religion among the People.
But it is a more
interesting thing to inquire concerning the state of religion among the
people than into the efficiency of the clergy. In many of the best families,
and these too often the poorest, religion was instilled in a very high,
noble, and practical way indeed. Such a house as that of William Burness,
described in the "Cotter's Saturday Night," was a type of many Galloway
homes of last century.
Prayers night and mom were
a certainty, however early the field work might be begun, and however late
the workers were in getting home. On the Sabbath mom especially the sound of
praise went up from every cothouse. In the farm kitchens the whole family
and dependants were gathered together to be instructed in religion.
The "Caratches" were
repeated round the circle, and grandmother in the comer and lisping babe
each took their tum, nor thought it any hardship.
The minister expressed
national characteristics excellently well. But even he of the Cameronian
Kirk was to some extent affected by the tone of learning in the university
towns where he had attended the college, and "gotten lear" and
"understanding of the original tongues." But in the sterling qualities of
many an old Galloway farmer (who, perhaps, never had fifty pounds clear in a
year in his life, and whose whole existence was one of bitter struggle with
the hardest conditions) we get some understanding of how the religion of our
country, so stem and tender, so tempest-tossed and so victorious, stood the
strains of persecution and the frosts of the succeeding century of unbelief.
In the darkest times of indifference there were, at least in Scotland, many
more than seven thousand who never bowed the knee to Baal, and whose mouths
had never kissed him–though, so far as Galloway is concerned, let it not be
forgotten that even this comes with a qualification, like all things merely
human. For it is of the nature of Galloway to share with Providence the
credit of any victory, but to charge it wholly with all disasters. "Wasna
that cleverly dune?" we say when we succeed. "We maun juist submit!" we say
when we fail. A most comfortable theology, which is ever the one for the
most of Galloway folk, whom "chiefly dourness and not fanaticism took to the
hills when Lag came riding with his mandates and letters judicatory."
II.–WHAT WE SEE IN RAIDER
The hills of Galloway lie
across the crystal Cree as one rides northward towards Glen Trool, much as
the Lebanon lies above the sweltering plains north of Galilee; a land of
promise, cool grey in the shadows, palest olive and blue in the lights. By
chance it is a day of sweltering heat, and as we go up the great glen of
Trool the midday sunshine is almost more than Syrian.
The firs' shadows in the
woods fringing the loch about Eschonquhan are deliciously cool as the swift
cycle drives among them. We get but fleeting glimpses of the water till we
come out on the rocky cliff shelf, which we follow all
the way to the farmhouse of
Buchan. Trool lies much like a Perthshire loch, set between the granite and
the bluestone–the whin being upon the southern and the granite upon the
northern side. The firs, which clothe the slopes and cluster thick about the
shores, give it a beautiful and even cultivated appearance. It has a look
more akin to the dwellings of men, and that aggregation of individuals which
we call the world. Yet what is gained in beauty is more than lost in the
characteristic note of untouched solitude which is the rarest pleasure of
him who recognises that God made Galloway.
Trool is somehow of a
newer creation, and the regularity of its pines tells us that it owes much
to the hand of man. Loch Enoch, on the other hand. is plainly and wholly of
God, sculptured by His tempests, its rocks planed down to the quick by the
ancientest glaciers of "The Galloway Cauldron."
The road gradients along
Trool-side are steep as the roof of a house. From more than one point on the
road the loch lies beneath us so close that it seems as if we could toss a
biscuit upon its placid breast. The deep narrow glen may be flooded with
intense and almost Italian sunshine. But the water lies cool, solid, and
intensely indigo at the bottom. Far up the defile we can see Glenhead, lying
snug among its trees, with the sleeping giants of the central hills set
thick about it. Nor it is not long till, passing rushing burns and heathery
slopes on our way, we reach it.
Heartsome content within,
placid stillness without as we ride up–a broad straw hat lying in a friendly
way upon the path–the clamour of children's voices somewhere down by the
meadow–a couple of dogs that welcome us with a chorus of belated
barking-this is Glenhead, a pleasant place for the wandering vagabond to set
his foot upon and rest awhile. Then after a time, out of the coolness of the
narrow latticed sitting-room (where there is such a collection of good books
as makes us think of the nights of winter when the storms rage about the
hill-cinctured farm), we step, lightly following, with many expectations,
the slow, calm, steady shepherd's stride of our friend-the master of all
these fastnesses-as he paces upwards to guide us over his beloved hills.
The Hill Fastnesses.
It is warm work as we
climb. The sun is yet in his strength, and he does not spare us. Like
Falstaff, a fatter but not a better-tempered man, we lard the Iean earth as
we walk along. But the worst is already overpast when we have breasted the
long incline, and find beneath us the still blue circles of the twin lochs
of Glenhead. Before we reach the first crest, we pass beneath a great
granite boulder, concerning which we are told a remarkable story. One day in
autumn, some years ago, a herd boy came running into the farmhouse crying
that the day of judgment had come–or words to that effect. He bad heard a
great rush of rocks down from the overhanging brow of the crag-embattled
precipice above. One great grey stone, huge as a cothouse, had been started
by the heavy rains, and was coming downwards, bringing others along with it,
with a noise like a live avalanche. The master saw it come, and doubtless a
thought for the security of his little homestead crossed his mind. At the
least he expected the rock to crash downward to the great dyke which
protects his cornfields in the hollow. But the mass sank three or four feet
in the soft turf of a "brow," and there to this day it remains embedded. A
manifest providence! And the folk still acknowledge Providence among these
hills–so behindhand are they!
As we mount, we leave away
to the south the green, sheep-studded, sun-flecked side of Curleywee. The
name is surely one which is given to its whaup-haunted solitudes, because of
that most characteristic of moorland sounds-the wailing pipe of the curlew.
"Curleywee-Curleywee-Curleywee." That is exactly what the whaups say in
their airy moorland diminuendo, as with a curve like their own Roman noses
they sink downward into the bogs.
Waterfalls are gleaming in
the clefts–"jaws of water," as the hill folks call them-the distant sound
coming to us pleasant and cool, for we begin to desire great water-draughts,
climbing upwards in the fervent heat. But our guide knows every spring of
water on the hillside, as well as every rock that has sheltered fox or
eagle. There, on the face of that cliff, is the apparently very accessible
eyrie where nested the last of the Eagles of the southern uplands. Year
after year they built up there, protected by the enlightened tenants of
Glenhead, who did not grudge a stray dead lamb, in order that the noble bird
might dwell in his ancient fastnesses and possess his soul–for surely so
noble a bird has a soul–in peace. As a reward for his hospitality, our guide
keeps a better understanding of that great lsaian text, "They shall mount up
with wings as eagles," than he could obtain from any sermon or commentary in
the round world. For has he not seen the great bird strike a grouse on the
wing, recover itself from the blow, then, stooping earthwards, catch the
dead bird before it had time to fall to the ground? Also he has seen the
pair floating far up in the blue, twin specks against the supreme azure.
Generally only one of the young was reared to eaglehood, though sometimes
there might be two. But on every occasion the old ones beat off their
offspring as soon as these could fly, and compelled their children to seek
pastures new. Some years ago, however–in the later seventies–the eagles left
Glenhead and removed to a more inaccessible rock crevice upon the rocky side
of the Back Hill 0' Buchan. But not for long. Disturbed in his ancient seat,
though his friends had done all in their power to protect him, he finally
withdrew himself. His mate was shot by some ignorant scoundrel prowling with
a gun, somewhere over in the neighbourhood of Loch Doon. We have no doubt
that the carcass is the proud possession of some local collector, to whom,
as well as to the original "gunning idiot," we would gladly present, at our
own expense, tight-fitting suits of tar and feather.
Behind us, as we rise
upwards into the realms of blue, are the heights of Lamachan and Bennanbrack.
Past the side of Curleywee it is possible to look into the great chasm of
air in which, unseen and far beneath us, lies Loch Dee.
We gain the top of the
high boulder-strewn ridge. Fantastic shapes, carved out of the gleaming grey
granite, are all about. Those on the ridges against the sky look for all the
world like polar-bears with their long Jean noses thrust
forward to scent the seals
on the floes or the salmon running up the Arctic 'rapids to spawn. To our
right, above Loch Valley, is a boulder which is so poised that it
constitutes a " logan" or rocking-stone. It is so delicately set as to be
moved by the blowing of the wind.
The Land of the Lochs.
Loch Valley and Loch
Neldricken form, with the twin lochs of Glenhead, a water system of their
own, connected with Glen Trool by the rapid torrential burn called the
Gairlin, that flashes downward through the narrow ravine which we leave
behind us to our left as we go upward. At the beginning of the bum, where it
escapes from Loch Valley, are to be seen the remains of a weir which was
erected in order to raise artificially the level of the loch, submerging in
the process most of the shining beaches of silver granite sand. But the loch
was too strong for the puny works of man. One fine day, warm and sunny, our
guide tells us that he was working with his sheep high up on the hill, when
the roar and rattle of great stones carried along by the water brought him
down the "screes" at a run. Loch Valley had broken loose. The weir was no
more, and the Gairlin bum was coming down in a ten-foot breast, creamy foam
cresting it like an ocean wave. Down the glen it went like a miniature
Johnstown disaster, while the boulders crashed and ground together with the
rush of the water. When Loch Valley was again seen, it had resumed its
pristine aspect–that which it had worn since the viscous granite paste
finished oozing out in sheets from the great cracks in the Silurian rocks,
and the glaciers had done their work of grinding down its spurs and
outliers. It takes a Napoleon of engineering to fool with Loch Valley.
From this point we keep to
the right, passing the huge moraine which guards the end of the loch and
effectually prevents a still greater flood than that which our master
shepherd witnessed. These mounds are full of what are called in the
neighbourhood "jingling stones." Without doubt they consist of sand and
shingle, so riddled with great boulders that the crevices within are
constantly being filled up and forming anew as the sand shifts and sifts
among the stones. As we proceed the sun is shining over the shoulder of the
Merrick, and we are bound to hasten, for there is yet far to go. Neldricken
and Valley are wide-spreading mountain lakes, lying deep among the hills
which spread nearly twenty miles in every direction. The sides of the glens
are seared with the downward rush of many waters. Waterspouts are common on
these great hills. It is no uncommon thing for the level of a moorland burn
to be raised six or ten feet in the course of a few minutes. A "Skyreburn"
warning is proverbial in the south country along Solwayside. But the Mid
Burn, and those which strike north from Loch Enoch tableland, hardly even
give a man time to step across their normal noisy brattle till they are
roaring red and it is twenty or thirty feet from bank to bank.
These big boulders, heaped
up on one another, often make most evil traps for sheep to fall into.
Sometimes it needs crowbars and the strength of men to extricate those that
happen to be caught there. The dogs that range the hills, questing after
white hares and red foxes, are quick to scent out these poor prisoners.
These prison-houses are named "yirds " by the shepherds. They are especially
numerous on the Hill of Glenhead, at a place called Jartness, which
overlooks Loch Valley. And indeed it is difficult anywhere to see a more
leg-breaking place. It will compare even with that paragon of desolation,
the Back Hill 0' Buchan. It is understood in the district that when the
Great Architect looked upon His handicraft and found it very good, He made a
mental reservation in the case of the "Back Hill o' Buchan."
But our eyes are upwards.
Loch Enoch is the goal of our desire. For nights past we have dreamed of its
lonely fastnesses. Now they are immediately before us. Enoch is literally a
lake in cloudland. Over-head frowns what might be the mural fortification of
some titanic Mount Valerien or Ehrenbreitstein. The solemn battlemented
lines rise above us so high that they are only dominated by the great mass
of the Merrick. It is hard to believe that a cliff so abrupt and stately has
a lake on its summit. Yet it is so. The fortress-like breastwork falls away
in a huge embrasure on either side, and it is into the trough which lies
nearest the Merrick that we direct our steps. As we go we fall talking of
strange sights seen on the hills. Our guide, striding before, stalwart and
strong, flings pearls of information over his shoulder as he goes, and to
the steady stream of talk the foot moves lighter over the heather. Beneath
us we have now a strange sight–in a manner the most wonderful thing we have
yet seen. On the edge of Loch Neldricken lies a mass of green and matted
reeds–brilliantly emerald, with the deceitful brilliancy of a "qua kin'
qua," or shaking bog, of bottomless black mud. In the centre of this green
bed is a perfectly-delined circle of intensely black water, as exact as
though cut with a compass. It is the Murder Hole, of gloomy memory. Here,
says the man of the hill, is a very strong spring which does not freeze in
the hardest winters, yet is avoided by man and beast. It is certain that if
this gloomy Avernus were given the gift of narration it would tell of lost
men on the hills, forwandered and drowned in its dark depths.
The Merrick begins to
tower above us with its solemn head as we thread our way upward towards the
plateau on which Loch Enoch lies. We are so high now that we can see
backward over the whole region of Trool and the Loch Valley basin. Behind
us, on the extreme south, connected with the ridge of the Merrick, is Buchan
Hill, the farmhouse of which lies low down by the side of Loch Trool. Across
a wilderness of tangled ridge-boulder and morass is the Long Hill of the
Dungeon, depressed to the south into the" Wolf’s Slock"–or throat. Now our
Loch Enoch fortress is almost stormed. Step by step we have been rising
above the rugged desolations of the spurs of the Merrick.
"Bide a wee," says our
guide, "and I will show you a new world." He strides on, a very sturdy
Columbus. The new world comes upon us, and one of great marvel it is. At
first the haze somewhat hides it–so high are we that we seem to be on the
roof of the Southern Creation–riding on the rigging of all things, as indeed
we are. Half-a-dozen steps and "There's Loch Enoch!" says Columbus, with a
pretty taste in climax.
Strangest sight in all this Galloway of strange sights is Loch Enoch–so
truly another world that we cannot wonder if the trouts of this uncanny
water high among the hills decline to wear tails in the ordinary fashion of
common and undistinguished trouts in lowland lakes, but carry them docked
and rounded after a mode of their own.
still evening Enoch glows like a glittering silver-rimmed pearl looking out
of the tangled grey and purple of its surrounding with the strength,
tenderness, and meaning of a human eye. The Merrick soars away above in two
great precipices, whereon Thomas Grierson, writing in 1846, tells us that he
found marks showing that the Ordnance surveyors had occupied their hours of
leisure in hurling great boulders down into the loch. There were fewer sheep
on the Merrick side in those days, or else the tenant of that farm might
with reason have objected. It seems, however, something of a jest to suppose
that this heathery desolation is really a farm, for the possession of which
actual money is paid. Yet our guide tells of an old shepherd, many a year
the herd of the Merrick, who, when removed by his master to the care of an
easier and lower hill, grew positively homesick for the stem majesty of the
monarch of South Country mountains, and related tales of the Brocken
spectres he had often seen when the sun was at his back and the great chasm
of Enoch lay beneath him swimming with mist.
Loch Enoch spreads out beneath us in an intricate tangle of bays and
promontories. As we sit above the loch, the large island with the small loch
within it is very prominent. The " Loch-in-Loch" is of a deeper and more
distinct blue than the general surface of Loch Enoch, perhaps owing to its
green and white setting upon the grassy boulder-strewn island. Another
island to the east also breaks the surface of the loch, and the bold jutting
granite piers, deeply embayed, the gleaming silver sands, the far-reaching
capes so bewilder the eye that it becomes difficult to distinguish island
from mainland. It increases our pleasure when the guide says of the stray
sheep, which look over the boulders with a shy and startled expression:
"These sheep do not often get sight of a man." Probably no part of the
Highlands is so free from the presence of mankind as these Southern uplands
of Galloway, which were the very fastness and fortress of the Westland Whigs
in the fierce days of the Killing.
east side of Loch Enoch the Dungeon Hill rises grandly, a thunder-splintered
ridge of boulders and pinnacles, on whose slopes we see strewn the very
bones of creation. Nature has got down here to her pristine elements, and so
old is the country, that we seem to see the whole turmoil of "taps and
tourocks "–very much as they were when the last of the Galloway glaciers
melted slowly away and left the long ice-vexed land at rest under the blow
of the winds and the open heaven.
in front of us the Star Hill, called also Mulwharchar, lifts itself up into
the clear depths of the evening sky–a great cone rounded like a hayrick. At
its foot we can see the two exits of Loch Enoch–the true and the false. Our
guide points out to us that the Ordnance Survey map makes a mistake with
regard to the outlet of Loch Enoch, showing an exit by the Pulscraig Burn at
the north-east corner towards Loch Doon–when as a matter of fact there is
not a drop of water issuing in that direction, all the water passing by the
northwest comer towards Loch Macaterick.
the levels of desolate, granite-bound, silver-sanded Loch Enoch lies a
tumbled wiIderness of hills. To the left of the Star is the plateau of the
Rig of Millmore, a wide and weary waste, gleaming everywhere with grey tarns
and shining "Lochans." Beyond these again are the Kirreoch hills, and the
pale blue ridges of Shalloch-on-Minnoch. Every name is interesting here,
every local appellation has some reason annexed to it, so that the study of
the Ordnance map–even though the official nomenclature enshrines many
mistakes is weighted with much suggestion. But no name or description can
give an idea of Loch Enoch itself, lifted up (as it were) close against the
sky–nearly 1700 feet above the sea–with the giant Merrick on one side, the
weird Dungeon on the other, and beyond only the grey wilderness stretching
mysteriously out into the twilight of the north.
with feelings of regret that we take leave of Loch Enoch, and, skirting its
edge, make our way eastward to the Dungeon Hill, in order that we may peer
down for a moment into the misty depths of the Dungeon of Buchan. A scramble
among the screes, a climb among the boulders, and we are on the edge of the
Wolf's Slock–the appropriately named wide throat up which so many marauding
expeditions have come and gone. We crouch behind a rock and look downward,
glad for a moment to get into shelter. For even in the clear warm August
night the wind has a shrewd edge to it at these altitudes. Buchan's Dungeon
swims beneath us, blue with misty vapour. We can see two of the three lochs
of the Dungeon. It seems as if we could almost dive into the abyss, and swim
gently downwards to that level plain, across which the Cooran Lane, the
Sauch Burn, and the Shiel Burn are winding through "fozy" mosses and
dangerous sands. It is not for any man to venture lightly at nightfall, or
even in broad daylight, among the links of the Cooran, as it saunters its
way through the silver flow of Buchan. The old royal fastness keeps its
across in the distance we can see the lonely steading of the Black Hill 0'
the Bush, and still farther off the great green whalebacks of Corscrine and
others of the featureless Kells range, deepening into grey purple with a
bloom upon them where the heather grows thickest, like the skin on a dusky
Dusk on Enoch.
Now at last the sun is dipping beyond the Merrick, and all the valley
to the south, or rather the maze of valleys, grow dim in the shadow. Loch
Enoch has turned from gleaming pearl to dusky lead, or, more accurately
still, to the dull shimmer that one may see on so unpoetical a thing as
cooling gravy. So great are the straits of comparison to which the
conscientious artist in words is driven in the description of scenery. But
we must turn home-ward. The Merrick itself is dusking. Enoch falls behind
its hummocks of ice worn rocks. We descend rapidly into the valley which
leads to Loch Neldricken, threading our way till we come to the grave of the
wanderer Cameron, who lost his road and perished in a storm alone upon the
waste. The form of the body is still plainly to be seen upon the emerald
turf, and certainly the boulders around give good evidence of the power of
the winter storms. Our guide, with his strong hill voice, tells us of these
times of fear, when winter sends the spindrift of the snow hurtling across
the mountains. The storms here are rarely fatal to many sheep, partly
because it is the office of the shepherd to keep an eye upon the places
where the sheep are collected, but still more because of a very wonderful
piece of special adaptation. It is not upon these rough hills of boulder and
heather that many sheep are lost. Smoother hills are far more dangerous. The
overlapping rocks, tossed and set in fantastic congeries of crags, seem to
suck in the snow automatically. The granite blocks, lying all around, give
shelter, and as it were provide a thousand dustbins, into which the wind,
careful and untiring housemaid, sweeps the snow almost as it falls. At
least, since the "close cover" of the famous "sixteen drifty days," there
has been recorded here no great or widespread loss of the black-faced
sheep–the current coin of the hills.
Presently we are skirting the "silver sand" of Loch Neldricken, which, as
our guide says, would be good scythe sharpening, were it not that so much
better can be got at Loch Enoch. For from these uplands the "straikes" of
the lowland scythes are supplied with the pure flinty granite sand which
puts an edge upon the blades that cut the hay and win the golden corn. Emery
straikes are used for easy corn by some newfangled people who are ill to
satisfy with the good gifts by Nature provided. But the stalwart men who mow
in the water meadows know well that nothing can put the strident gripping
edge upon their blade like the true Loch Enoch granite sand.
dusking into dark as we master the final slope, and to the barking of dogs,
and the cheerful voices of kindly folk. we overpass the last hill dyke, and
enter the sheltering homestead of Glenhead, which looks so charmingly out
over its little crofts down to the precipice-circled depths of Loch Trool.
Buchts of the Mid Burn.
Ere we came
over the hill, however, we entered the sheep "buchts," a very fortress of
immense granite blocks, set upon a still more adamantine foundation of solid
rock–a monument of stem and determined workmanship. Indeed, something more
than sheep bars are needed to restrain the breed of sheep that is to be
found hereabouts–animals that by no means conduct themselves like slow-going
and respectable Southdowns or aldermanic Cheviots, but fight like Turks,
climb like goats, and run like hares, We remember taking a newly-imported
Englishman over a Galloway hill. We were climbing in the heat, when
suddenly, with a rush, a fearsome animal, with twisted horns half a yard
long, and a black and threatening face, rose behind us, leapt a wide
watercourse and disappeared up the precipice, amid a rattle of stones
scattering downward from its hoofs.
"What wild beast is that?"
asked our companion in some trepidation.
"A Galloway tip," we
"And what might a 'tip'
be, when he's at home?" "Only a sheep," we replied calmly.
The Englishman, accustomed
to the breed of Leicester, looked at us with a curious expression in his
"If I were you I would not
try to take in an orphan-and one far from home," he said. "We English may be
verdant, but at least we do know a sheep when we see one."
And to this day he does
not believe it was "only a sheep" that he saw on our slopes of granite and
As we lay asleep that
night, the sound of the wind drawing lightly up and down the valleys
breathed in upon us, and the subtle smell of honey came to us in the early
morning from the ranged beehives under the wall. Around was a great and
sweet peace–pure air refined by heather and the wild winds–content so
perfect that we wished to live for ever with the chief guide and his partner
divided between the travail of writing and the rest of reading.
But it is morning over
Glen Trool. The light has poured over from the east, flooding the valley.
But there is a mist coming and going upon Curleywee. Lamachan hides his
head. Only the "taps" towards Loch Dee are clear.
We are out amid the stir
of the farmyard with its pleasant familiar noises.
"D'ye see yon three stanes
on the hill atween it and the sky? " asks the Man of the Hills.
"We see them," we reply,
making out three knobs upon the ultimate ridges.
"Weel, yon's your road for
Loch Dee, but you'll hae to gang a guid bit back."
He is right–the canny
Galwegian–Loch Dee is over there, but it certainly is a "guid bit back."
It was easier to get the
direction of the three silent watchers on the hill crest than to keep
straight for them over the tangle of heather and moss which lies between.
The way to the loch seems to be over the white granite bed of a burn that
comes down from the rugged sides of Craiglee. Following it we reach the high
and precipitous side of the hill, and follow the bum up to the "lirk of the
hill" where the streamlet takes its rise. This burn, which comes over the
white rocks in sheets in wet weather, is named the Trostan. Near the summit
of Craiglee lies a little loch, high up among the crags–called the Dhu Loch;
sombre, dark, and impressive. From the jutting point of rock, called the
Snibe, which looks towards the north, we see the great chasm of the Dungeon
from the south. We can catch the glint of the Dungeon Lochs far to the
north–all three of them–while nearer the Cooran Lane and other burns seek
their ways through treacherous sands and "wauchie wallees" to Loch Dee,
which lies beneath us to the south. Seen from the Snibe, Loch Dee looks its
best. It has indeed no such remarkable or distinctive character as the
splendid series of lochs between Glenhead and Enoch. It would be but a wild
sheet of water 0n a featureless moor, were it not that it derives dignity
from the imminent sides of Craiglee and the Dungeon.
We reach the bottom by a
narrow cleft that leads downwards from the Snibe towards the loeb. It is
called the Clint of Clashdaan. Then comes a wading wet foot through some
boggy land grazed over by sheep (which must surely be born web-footed), till
we reach the boathouse on the western shore of Loch Dee. Beyond is a strip
of sand so inviting and delightful to the feet that in a few moments we are
swimming across the narrows of the loch. Then follows a run on the beach in
costume which might occasion some remark on Brighton beach, and a brisk rub
down with the outside of a rough coat of Harris tweed in lieu of a towel. In
a few minutes the steep sides of Curleywee are bringing out a brisk reaction
of perspiration. It had been our thought that from Curleywee it might be
possible to obtain a general view of the country of the Granite Lochs, but
the persistent downward sweep of the mist makes this impossible. Yet by
persevering along the verge we bave some very striking glimpses down into
the deep glen of Trool, at the upper end of which lie cosily enough the
farmhouses of Buchan and Glenhead. High up on the side of Curleywee, where
the whaup are crying the name of the mountain, like porters at a railway
station, we come upon two or three deep little pools in which the trouts are
rising. How they get up there is a question which others must settle. There
they are, and there for us they shall stop. If they got up the "jaws" which
come pouring over the side of the hill somewhat farther down, they are
certainly genuine acrobat–he descendants of some prehistoric freshwater
As soon as we leave the
ridge above, it is downhill steeply all the way till we come to hospitable
Glenhead, where by the burn the warm-hearted master is working quietly among
the sheaves. It does one good in the turmoil of the world to think that
there are kind souls living so quietly and happily thus remote from the
world, with the Merrick and the Dungeon lifting their heads up into the
clouds above them, and over all Loch Enoch looking up to God, with a face
sternly sweet, only less lonely than Himself.
III.-WHAT WE SAY THERE, AND
HOW WE SAY IT
No one can pass even a
short space of time among the people of our Galloway countryside without
being made aware, in ways pleasant and the reverse, of the great amount of
popular humour ever bubbling up from the heart of the common people. It is
to them the salt of intercourse, the grease on the dragging axles of their
life. Not often does it reach the stage of being expressed in literary form.
It is lost in the stir of farm-byres, in the cheerful talk of ingle-nooks.
You can hear it being windily exchanged in the greetings of shepherds crying
the one to the other across the valleys. It finds way in the observations of
passing ploughmen as they meet on the way to the mill, and kirk, and market.
For example, an artist is
busy at his easel by the wayside.1 A rustic is looking over his
shoulder in the manner of the free and independent Scot. A brother rustic is
in a field near by with his hands in his pockets. He is not sure whether it
is worth while to take the trouble to mount the dyke, for the uncertain
pleasure of looking at a mere picture. "What is he doing, Jock? "asks he in
the field of his better-situated mate. "Drawin' wi' pent!" returns Jock,
over his shoulder. "Is't bonny?" again asks the son of toil in the field. "
OCHT BUT BONNY!" comes back the prompt and decided answer of the critic. Of
consideration for the artist's feelings there is not a trace. Yet both of
these rustics will appreciatively relate the incident on coming in from the
field and washing
It was that
admirable Galloway artist and good friend Mr. W. S. M'George, A.R.S.A.
themselves, concluding with this rider: "An' he didna look
ower weeI pleased, I can tell ye! Did he, Jock?"
This great body of popular humour first found its way into
the channels of our historic literature mainly in the form of ballads and
songs–often very free in taste and broad in expression, because they were
struck from the rustic heart, and accordingly smelt of the farmyard, where
common things are called by their common names.
But in time these rose higher in the poems of Lindsay, in
some of Knox's prose–very grim and humorsome it is–and in Dunbar and
Henrysoun, mixed in each case with strong personal elements. Burns alone
caught and held the full force of it, for he was of the soil, and grew up
near to it. So that to all time he must remain the finest expression of
almost all forms of lowland feeling. As to prose, chap-books and pamphlets
innumerable carried on the stream, which for the most part was conveyed
underground, till, in the fulness of time, Walter Scott came to give
Scottish humour world-wide fame in the noble series of imaginative writings
by which he set his native land beside the England of William Shakespeare.
Scott a Literary Harvester.
Scott was the first great harvester of our old
national stock of humour, and right widely he gathered, as those know who
have striven to follow in his trail. Hardly
a chap-book but he has been through, hardly a
generation of our nationaI history that he has not touched and adorned. Yet,
because Scotland is a wide place, and Scottish humour also in every sense
broad, no future humorist need feel straitened within their ample bounds.
Of all the cherished delusions of the
inhabitant of the southern part of Great Britain with regard to his northern
brother, the most astonishing is the belief that the Scot is destitute of
humour. Other delusions may be dissipated by a tourist ticket and the ascent
of Ben Nevis–such as that, north of the Tweed, we dress solely in the
kilt–which we do not, at least, during the day; that we support life solely
upon haggis and the product of the national distilleries; that
the professors of Edinburgh
University, being "pauged fu' 0' lear," communicate the same to their
students in the Gaelic–a thing which, though not altogether unprecedented,
is, I am told, considered somewhat informal by the Senatus.
These may be taken as
examples of the grosser delusions which leap to the eye, and are received
upon the ear as often as the subject of Scotland arises in a company of the
untravelled, and, as we should say, "glaikit Englisher."
I should much like to say,
here and now, as Professor Blackie used to remark vigorously, that "every
person who despises Scottish national humour proves himself to be either a
conceited puppy or an ignorant fool." Personally I should like to add–"or
R.L. Stevenson on the Grey
There is a classical
passage in the works of Mr. R. L. Stevenson, which, with the metrical
psalms, the poems of Bums, and the Catechism, ought to be required of every
Scottish man or woman before they be on the allowed to think of getting
married. It is sad to see young people setting up house and so ilI-fitted
for the battle of life. The passage from Mr. Stevenson is as follows. I
protest that I never can read it, even for the hundredth time, without a
certain sympathetic moisture of the eye, for it might have been written of
Galloway, and even of Balmaghie :–
"There is no special
loveliness in that grey country, with its rainy, sea-beat archipelago; its
fields of dark mountains; its unsightly places, black with coal; its
treeless, sour, unfriendly-looking corn-lands; its quaint, grey, castled
city, where the bells clash of a Sunday, and the wind squalls, and the salt
showers fly and beat. I do not know if I desire to live there; but let me
hear, in some far land, a kindred voice sing out, 'Oh! why left I my hame?'
and it seems at once as if no beauty under the kind heavens, and no society
of the good and wise, can repay me for my absence from my country. And
though I would rather die elsewhere, yet in my heart of hearts I long to be
buried among good Scots clods. I will say it fairly, it grows upon me with
every year; there are no stars so lovely as Edinburgh street-lamps. The
happiest lot on earth is to be born a Scotsman. You must pay for it in many
ways, as for all other advantages on earth. You have to learn the
Paraphrases and the Shorter Catechism; you generally take to drink; your
youth, so far as I can make out, is a time of louder war against society, of
more outcry, and tears, and turmoil, than if you were born, for instance, in
England. But, somehow, life is warmer and closer, the hearth burns more
redly; the lights of home shine softer on the rainy street, the very names,
endeared in verse and music, cling nearer round our hearts. An Englishman
may meet an Englishman to-morrow, upon Chimborazo, and neither of them care;
but when the Scotch wine-grower told me of Mons Meg, it was like magic.
"From the dim shieling on
the misty island,
Mountains divide us and a
world of seas ;
Yet still our hearts are
true, our hearts are Highland,
And we in dreams behold the
Our humour lies so near
our feeling for our country that I would almost say, if we do not feel this
quotation–aye, and feel it in our bones–we may take it for granted that both
the humour and the pathos of Scotland are to be hid from us during the term
of our natural lives.
However, as Mr. Whistler
said when a friend pointed out to him a certain suggestion of the landscape
Whistlerian in an actual sunset–" Ah, yes, nature is creeping up!" So we may
say, with reference to its appreciation of Scottish humour, England is
certainly "creeping up." The numbers of editions of Scott, edited,
illustrated, and annotated, plain and coloured, prove it. It is always a
good brick to throw at a literary pessimist, to tell him the number of
editions of Scott that have appeared during the last half-dozen years. I do
not know how many there are–I have no idea–but I always say fifty-three and
four more coming, for that sounds exact, and as if one had all the
statistics up one's sleeve. If you say these little things with a confident
air, you are never contradicted. No one knows any different. It is a habit
worth acquiring. I am not proud of the accomplishment, but I don't mind
saying that I learned the trick from listening to the evidence of skilled
witnesses in His Majesty's Courts of Law.
Our Scottish Loyalty.
Let us "look for a moment
at our national humour of fact. We Galwegians were, for instance, a people
intensely loyal to our kings and queens. Yet, so long as they were with us,
we dissembled our affection. Alas, we never told our love! In fact, we
generally rebelled against them, so that they might have a good time hanging
us up in the Grassmarket and ornamenting the Netherbow with our heads. But
as soon as we had driven these same kings and queens into exile, we became
tremendously loyal, and kept up constant trokings with the exiled at
Carisbrook, in Holland, or drinking to "the king over the water." Our very
Galloway Cameronians became Jacobites and split on the subject, as our
Scottish kirks always did–being apparently of the variety of animalculae:
which multiply by fission. So we went on, till we got them back, and again
seated on the throne with a firm seat and a tight rein. Then we rebelled
once more, just to keep them aware of themselves. Thus our national humour
expressed itself in our history.
Our Southland Feuds.
Or again we had our family
feuds. It mattered not whether we were kilted Macs of the North, or
steel-capped, leathern jacked Kennedies and Douglasses of the South, we
loved our name and clan, and stood for them even against king and country.
But, nevertheless, we arose early in the morning and bad family worship,
like the respected and respectable Mr. John Mure of Auchendraine. Then we
rode forth, with spear and pistolet, to convince some erring brother of the
clan that he must not do so. I came upon a delightful entry from an old
family register the other day. It was much mixed up with religious
reflection, but it had this trifling memorandum interpolated to break the
placid flow of the spiritual meditation: "This day and date oor Jock stickit
to deid Wat Maxwell in Traquair! Glory be to the Father and to the Son! "
This also is a part of our
national humour of history.
A certain Master Adam
Blackadder was an apprentice boy in Stirling in the troublous times of the
Covenant. The military were coming, and the whole Whiggish town took flight.
"' 'I would have been for
running too,' says young Adam, being a merchant's loon. 'I would have been
for the running too, but my master discharged me from leaving the shop.
For,' said he, 'they will not have the confidence to take the like of you, a
silly young lad.' However, a few days thereafter I was gripped by two
messengers early in the morning, who, for haste, would not suffer me to tie
up my stockings, or put about my cravat, but hurried me away to Provost
Russel's lodgings–a violent persecutor and ignorant wretch! The first word
he spak to me (putting on his breeches) was, 'Is not this braw wark, sirr,
that we maun be troubled wi' the like 0' you?' I answered (brave loon,
Adam!), 'Ye hae gotten a braw prize, my lord, that has ciaucht a poor
'prentice I' He answered, 'We canna help it, sir; we must obey the king's
lawes !' 'King's lawes, my lord,' I says, 'there is no such lawes under the
sun I' For I had heard that, by the bond, heritors were bound for their
tenants and masters for their servants–and not servants for themselves (and
here Adam had him!). 'No such lawes, sirr I' says our sweet Provost; 'ye
lee'ed like a knave and traitour, as ye are. So, sirr, ye come not here to
dispute the matter. Away with him, away with him to the prison.'''
So accordingly they haled
away the too humorous apprentice of Stirling to Bridewell, where, as he
says, and as we should expect, he was never merrier in his life–albeit with
iron gates about him, and waiting on the mercy of the "sweet provost," whom
he surprised "putting on his breeks."
But how exquisitely
Scottish and humorous is the whole scene–the lad, not to be "feared," and
well content to get the better of the Provost in the battle of words,
derives an admirable satisfaction from the difficulties of his enemy, who
has perforce to argue while" putting on his breeks," a time when teguments,
not arguments, are most fitting. Meanwhile the Provost is grimly conscious
that he is getting the worst of it, and that what the 'prentice loon said to
him will be a sad jest when the bailies congregate round the civic
punchbowl. Yet, for all that, he is not unappreciative of the lad's national
right to say his say, and, not without some reluctance, silences him with
the incontrovertible argument of the "iron gates:" This also is Scottish and
national, and could hardly be native elsewhere.
The Humour of History.
As we go on to consider
these and other similar circumstances chronicled in our lowland history,
certain ill-defined but obvious sorts and kinds of national humour emerge.
They look at us out of all manner of unexpected places–out of the records of
the great Seal, out of the minutes of the Privy Council, out of the State
trials, out of the findings of Galloway juries. " We find that the prisoner
killit not the particular man aforesaid, yet that neverthelesse he is
deserving of hanging." On general grounds, it is to be presumed, and to
encourage the others! So hanged the acquitted man duly was, much as Mossman
was hanged, on May 20, 1785, because he " cam' frae Carrick!"
Disentangling some of
these threads of humour which shoot scarlet through the hodden grey of our
Southland records, we can distinguish four kinds of historical humour–first,
the humour which I propose, without any particular law or licence, to call
by analogy" Polter Humour." The best attested of all spectral apparitions is
a certain Galloway ghost–the spirit which troubled the cothouse of Collin,
in the parish of Rerrick, for many months, and was only finally exorcised
after many wrestlings with all the ministers of the country-side in
Presbytery assembled. It was a merry and noisy spirit, of the type called (I
am informed) the Polter Ghost, a perfect master of the whistling, pinching,
vexing, stone-throwing, spiritualistic athletic. Hence, following this
analogy, we may
considerable part of our lowland humour "Polter Humour." It is the same kind
of thing which, mixed with the animal spirits and primitive methods of the
undergraduate, leads him occasionally to thump upon the floor of philosophy
class-rooms in a manner most unphilosophic. I am, it may be, thinking of the
things that were in the good old times, when it was a mistake, trivial in
the extreme, to forget one's college note-book, but an offence capital to
leave behind one's stick. But still the historic Polter Humour of Scotland
is largely the humour of the unlicked cub, playing with such dangerous
weapons as swords and battle-axes, instead of bootlaces and blacking.
The Fiction of the
"There is no discourse
between a full man and a fasting. Sit ye doon, Sir Patrick Grey," says the
Black Douglas to the king's messenger, sent to Thrieve Castle to demand the
release of Maclellan of Bombie. Sir Patrick who mIght have known better,
sits him down. The Black Douglas moves his hand and his eyebrow once, and
even while the messenger is solacing himself with "doo-tairt" and a cup of
sack, poor Maclellan is had out to the green and beheaded. Sir Patrick
finishes, and wipes his five-pronged forks in the national manner underneath
his doublet. He is ready to talk business, and so is the Black Douglas–now.
"There is your man. Tell His Majesty he is most welcome to him," says the
Douglas; "it is a pity that he wants the head! " This, though doubtless
wholly invented by the historian, is a good example of the Polter Humour in
excelsis–the undergraduate playing with the headsman's axe instead of
the harmless necessary cudgel.
This is a primitive kind
of humour of savage origin; and how many varieties of it there are among
savage tribes, and amongst that largest of all savage tribes, the noble
outlaw Ishmaels of the world, Boys–Mr. Andrew Lang alone knows.
Of this Polter Humour,
perhaps the finest instances are to be found in the chap-books of the latter
half of the eighteenth century and the first ten years of the nineteenth. So
soon as Scott had made the Scottish dialect into a national
language, the edge seemed completely to go off these productions. With
one consent they became flat, stale, and unprofitable. Indeed, they can
hardly be called strictly "profitable" reading at the best. For it is like
walking down a South Italian lane to read them, so thickly do causes of
offence lie around. But for all that, in them we have the rough
give-and-take of life at the country weddings, the holy (airs, the kirns and
christenings of an older time. I never realised how great and clean Robert
Burns was, till I saw from what a state of utter depravity he has rescued
such homely topics as these. Yet in these days of family magazines we are
uneasily conscious that even Robert Bums has need to have his feet wiped
before he comes into our parlours. As a corrective to this over-refinement,
I should prescribe a counter-irritant in the shape of a short but drastic
course in the dialect chap-books of the final thirty years of the eighteenth
novels of Smollett is to be found the more (or less) literary expression of
this form of humour. True, one cannot read very much of it at a time, for
the effect of a score of pages acts physically on the stomach like
sea-sickness. But yet we cannot deny that there is this Polter element in
Scottish humour, though the fact has been largely and conveniently forgotten
in these days. There are, however, some few pearls distributed among an
inordinate number of swine-sties. Yet we can see the origin, or at least the
manifestation, of this peculiar humour in the old civic enactment which
caused it to be proclaimed that any citizen walking down the Canongate upon
the side-causeways after a certain hour of e'en, did so at "the peril of his
head" There is, also, to this day a type of sturdy, full-blooded Scot, who
cannot imagine anything much funnier than the emptying of a pail of "suds"
out of a window–upon some one else's head. Sometimes this gentleman gets
into the House of Commons, and laughs boisterously when another member sits
down upon his new and glossy hat, which cost him a guinea that morning.
the tales of James Hogg (who, though not of Galloway, deserved to be) there
are many examples of Polter Humour. Hogg is, in some of his many rambling
stories, the greatest example in literature of the Scottish picaresque. He
delights to carry his hero-who is generally nobody in particular, only a
hero–from adventure to adventure without halt or plot, depending upon the
swing of the incident to carry him through. And, indeed, so it mostly does.
"The Bridal of Polmood," for instance, is of this class. It is not a great
original work, like the "Confessions of a Justified Sinner," or a delightful
medley of tales like "The Shepherd's Calendar." But it is a sufficiently
readable story, at least as like the life of the times as Tennyson's courtly
knights are to the actual Round Table men of Arthur the King. In the
"Adventures of Basil Lee" and in "Widow Watts' Courtship," we find more of
the PoIter Humour. But, on the whole, the finest instance of Hogg's rattling
give-and-take is his briskly humorous and admirable story of "The Souters of
recent Scottish literature this rough and thoroughly national species of
humour has been almost banished. But there is no reason why, having cleaned
its feet a little, the Polter Humour might not be revived. There is plenty
of it, healthy and hearty, surviving in the nooks and comers of the hills.
The second species of Galloway (and Scottish) humour which I shall try to
discriminate is what, for lack of a better name, I shall call the Humour of
Irony. It is a quieter variety of the last. Of this sort, and to me an
exquisite example, is the advice Donald Cargill offered to Claverhouse as he
was riding from the field of Drumclog, after his defeat, as hard as his
horse could gallop. "Will ye no bide for the afternoon diet of worship?" A
jest which did credit to the grim old "faithful contender," considering that
he had been so lately a prisoner in the hands of John Graham himself. I am
sure that Claverhouse appreciated the ironical edge of the observation, even
if he did not forget the jester. But my Lord Dundee could be ironical
himself with some pith.
soldiers reported a squabble between two of their officers to Colonel
knew ye of the matter?' said Claverhouse. '" 'Ve saw it,' they replied.
how saw ye it?' he continued, pressing them.
were on guard, and, hearing both din and turmoil, we set down our pieces and
ran to see.'
"Whereupon Colonel Graham did arise, and gave them many sore paiks, because
that they had left their duty to gad about and gaze on that which concerned
manner, and in the same excellent antique style, it is told of Duke Rothes
that, finding that his lady was going just a step too far in the freedom
with which she entertained proscribed ministers under his very nose, he sent
her ladyship a message, that it behoved her to keep her "black-coated
messans" closer to her heel, or else that he would be obliged to kennel them
the finest instance of this humour is the well-known story, probably
entirely apocryphal, but none the less worthy on that account, of the
south-country laird, who, with his man John, was riding to market. (The tale
is, I think, in "Dean Ramsay," and, writing far from books, I quote from
memory.) The laird and John are passing a hole in the moor, when the laird
turns his thumb over his shoulder, and says, "John, I saw a tod gang in
ye, indeed, laird?" cries John, all his hunting blood instantly on fire.
"Ride ye your lane to the toon; I'll hawk the craitur oot! "
goes John for pick and spade, having first, of course, stopped the earth.
The laird rides his way, and all day he is foregathering with his cronies,
and "preeing the drappie" at the market-town–ploys in which his henchman
would ably and very willingly have seconded him. It is the hour of evening,
and the laird rides home. He comes to a mighty excavation on the hillside.
The trench is both long and deep. Very tired, and somewhat short-grained in
John is seated upon a mound
of earth, vast as the foundation of a fortress. "There's nae fox here,
laird!" says John, wiping the honest sweat of endeavour from his brow. The
laird is not put out. He is, indeed, exceedingly pleased with himself.
"'Deed, John," he says, "I wad hae been muckle surprised gin there had been
a fox in the hole. It's ten year since I saw the tod gang in there! "
Here the nationality of
the ironical humour consists in the non-committal attitude of the laird. It
is none of his business if John chooses to spend his day in digging a
fox-hole. It is, no doubt, a curious method of taking exercise when one
might be at a market ordinary. But still there is no use trying to account
for tastes, and the laird like a kindly man leaves John to the freedom of
his own will. History does not relate what were John's remarks when the
laird had fared homeward. And that, perhaps, is as well.
This, the Method Ironical,
with an additional spice of kindliness, is also Sir Walter's favourite mode
of humour. It is, for instance, the basis of Caleb Balderston, especially in
the famous scene in the house of Gibbie Girder, the man of tubs and
"Up got mother and
grandmother, and scoured away, jostling each other as they went, into some
remote corner of the tenement, where the young hero of the evening was
deposited. When Caleb saw the coast fairly clear, he took an invigorating
pinch of snuff to sharpen and confirm his resolution. 'Cauld be my cast,'
thought he, 'if either Bide-the-Bent or Girder taste that broche of wild
fowl this evening.' And then, addressing the eldest turnspit, a boy of
eleven years old, and putting a penny into his hand, he said, 'Here is twal
pennies, my man; carry tbat ower to Mistress Smatrash, and bid her fill my
mill wi' sneeshin', and I'll turn the broche for ye i' the meantime–an'
she'll gie ye a gingerbread snap for yer pains.'
"No sooner had the elder
boy departed on his mission, than Caleb, looking the remaining turnspit
gravely and steadily in the face, removed from the fire the spit containing
the wild fowl of which he had undertaken the charge, clapped his hat on his
head, and fairly marched off with it."
Comfort for Authors.
It will not surprise you
to hear that in Scott's own time this mode of humour was thought to be both
rude and undignified, and many were the criticisms of bad taste and the
accusations of literary borrowing that were made, both against this great
scene, and against similar other chapters of his most famous books. Their
very success promoted the rage of the envious. We find, for instance, the
magazines of the time full of the most ill-natured notices, which, in view
of the multiplied editions of the great Wizard, read somewhat strangely at
this day. Let me take one at random :–
"Scott is just going on in
the same blindfold way, and seems, in this as in other things, only to
fulfil the destiny assigned to him by Providence–the task of employing the
hundred black men of Mr. James Ballantyne's printing office, Coul's Close,
Canongate–for I suspect that this is the only real purpose of the Author of
I read this over when the
critics prove unkind. For these words are only the beginning of as
satisfactory a "slating" as ever fell to the lot of mortal writer.
But nothing tells us more
surely of the essential greatness of the master than the way in which, by a
few touches, he can so ennoble a humorous figure that he passes at a bound
from the humorous to the pathetic, and touches the springs of our tears the
more readily that up to that point he has chiefly moved our laughter.
Thus, at the close of
Scott's great humorous conception of Caleb Balderston, we have a few words
which like a beacon serve to illuminate all his past humours-his foraging,
his bowl-breaking, his unprecedented readiness to lie for the sake of the
glories of his master's house. It is the last scene in "The Bride of
Lammermoor " :–
" 'But I have a master,'
cried Caleb, still holding him fast, 'while the heir of Ravenswood breathes.
I am but a servant; but I was born your father's–your grandfather's
servant–I was born for the
family–l have lived for them–I would die for them! Stay but at home and all
will be well! '
" 'Well, fool, well!' said Ravenswood, I vain
old man; nothing hereafter in life will be well with me, and happiest is the
hour that shall soonest close it! '
"So saying, he extricated himself from the old
man's hold, threw himself on his horse, and rode out at the gate; but,
instantly turning back, he threw towards Caleb, who hastened to meet him, a
heavy purse of gold.
" I Caleb,' he said, with a ghastly smile, I I
make you my executor,' and again turning his bridle, he resumed his course
down the hill.
"The gold fell unheeded on the pavement, for
the old man ran to observe the course which had been taken by his master.
Caleb hastened to the eastern battlement, which commanded the prospect of
the whole sands, very near as far as the village of Wolf's Hope. He could
easily see his master riding in that direction, as fast as his horse could
carry him. The prophecy at once rushed on Balderston's mind, that the Lord
of Ravenswood would perish on the Kelpie's Flow, which lay halfway between
the tower and the links, or sandknolls, to the northward of Wolf's Hope. He
saw him, accordingly, reach the fatal spot, but he never saw him pass
"...Only one vestige of his fate appeared. A
large sable feather had been detached from his hat, and the rippling waves
of the rising tide wafted it to Caleb's feet.
"The old man took it, dried it, and placed it
in his bosom."
Scott is the most unquotable of authors, yet I
should be prepared to stake his genius on a few passages like this, in
which, by one or two magic touches, his usual kindly and careless style
suffers a sea-change into something rich and rare–the irony of the gods and
of insatiable and inappeasable Fate. Then, indeed, one actually sees the
straw and stubble, the wood and stone of his ordinary building being
transmuted before our eyes into fairy gold at the touch of him who,
whatever his carelessness
and slovenliness, is yet the great Wizard of all time, and the master of all
who weave the Golden Lie.
I now come to a humour
which is less represented in the trials and tragical records which
constitute the main part of the inheritance of our tumultuous and unpeaceful
province. This, again. for lack of a better name, I call the "Humour of
The Humour of
It is hard to say when
this began; but probably with the first of the race–for the Galwegian has
ever been noted for making the most of his man-servant and his maid-servant,
his ox and his ass, and especially of the stranger within his gates.
Concerning the Scot's repute for haughtiness, John Major says in 152 I (I am
quoting from Mr. Hume Brown's admirable "Early Scotland ") ;–
"Sabellicus, who was no
mean historian, charges the Scots with being of a jealous temper, and it
must be admitted that there is some colour for this charge to be gathered
elsewhere. . . . A man that is puffed up strives for some pre-eminence among
his fellows, and when he sees that other men are equal to him, or but little
inferior, he is filled with rage and breaks out into jealousy. I do not deny
(says this most honest Major) that some of the Scots may be boastful and
puffed up, but whether they suffer more than their neighbours from such like
faults, I have not quite made up my mind. Sabellicus also asserts that the
Scots delight in lying; but to me it is not clear that lies like these
fIourish with more vigour among the Scots than among other people."
It is pleasant to see
Major, nearly four hundred years ago, as the Americans would say, "spreading
himself" like the rest of us, in praise of his own particular district of
Scotland, after having made out that, in spite of all faults and all
temptations, the Scots are yet the noblest people in the world. He is a
worthy predecessor of all such as celebrate their Thrums, their Swanston by
the Pentland edge, their Yarrow and Tweedside,
Lang Toun, their Barncraig and Gushetneuk and Drumtochty, their St. Serfs
has been celebrating the fish of the rivers of Scotland:–
“Mine own Gleghornie.”
"Besides these there are
the Clyde, the Tweed, and many other rivers, all abounding in salmon,
turbot, and trout. [How Mr. Andrew Lang would admire to catch a turbot in
the pool beneath the Kelso cemetery, where lies Stoddart, that mighty
angler.] And near the sea is plenty of oysters, as well as crabs, and
polypods of marvellous size. One crab or polypod is larger than thirty crabs
such as are found in the Seine. The shells of the jointed polypods that you
see in Paris clinging to the ropes of the pile-driving engines are a
sufficient proof of this. In Lent and in summer, at the winter and summer
solstice, people go in the early morning from mine own Gleghornie and the
neighbouring parts of the shore, drag out the polypods and crabs with hooks,
and return at noon with well-filled sacks."
The poor French nation!
One native polypod from "mine own Gleghomie II equal to thirty misbegotten
polypods of the Seine! And how much nobler 'tis to the polypodic mind to be
dragged out with hooks, and stuffed in a bag at the summer and winter
solstice than to cling to the ropes of wretched pile-driving engines in the
insignificant city of Paris. "Paris for pile-driving, Gleghomie for pleesure,"
is thus the motto for all true polypods!
And so was it ever, and
so, please the pigs, shall it be, so long as this sturdy knuckle-end of
Britain sticks out into the Arctic wash of the northern sea.
To every Scot his own
house, his own gate-end, his own ingle-nook is always the best, the most
interesting, the only thing domestic worth singing about and talking about.
So, deep in the lowland
nature, began the Humour or About-the-Doors. It is little wonder, then, that
the Scottish romancers have generally begun with descriptions or" their own
kail-yairds–which are the best kail-yairds–the only true kail-yairds,
growing the best curly greens, the most entrancing leeks and syboes, lying
fairest to the noontide heat, and blinked upon, as John Major says, by the
kindliest sun, the sun of “mine own Gleghomie."
It appears to me that John
Galt, with all his poverty of imagination, is yet the most excellent, as he
was the first of all these students of "my ain hoose," and "my ain folk."
Galt's names, his characters, the description of the places, delight
me like a bonny Scots song
sung by a bonny Scots lass–and that is the best kind of singing there is. I
care not so greatly for his plots. I can make my own as I go. I am not
greatly interested in what happens to the characters. But his Humour of
About-the-Doors interests me past telling; and I read Galt arching my back
by the fireside, like a pussy-bawdrons when she is stroked the right way. I
should like to see an edition of Galt reprinted–it would not need to be
edited, for learned comment would spoil it. I am persuaded that an edition
of all the Scottish books of Galt would sell tlHiay better than they ever
did in his own time.1
Yet I should be sorry,
too, for he is a fine, tangled, unexplored garden wild for the wandering
Autolycus, and for that I should miss him.
How admirable, for
instance, to pull down the first volume of Galt that comes to hand, is the
following description of the office-houses of an old Scottish mansion, as It
might be seen, even to this day, between Cree and Dee :–
" Of somewhat lower and
ruder structure was a desultory mass of shapeless buildings-the stable, sty,
barn, and byre, with all the appurtenances properly thereunto belonging,
such as peat-stack, dung-heap, and coal-heap, with a bivouacry of invalided
utensils, such as bottomless boyns, headless barrels, and brushes maimed of
their handles-to say nothing of the body of the cat which the undealt-with
packman's cur worried
In contrast with the usual fate of such suggestions. this hint, first thrown
out many year ago, ripened into an excellently printed edition of the more
worthy works of John Galt, published by Messrs. Blackwood of Edinburgh.
on Saturday se'enight. The garden was suitable
to the offices and mansion. It was surrounded, but not enclosed, by an
undressed hedge, which in more than fifty places offered tempting admission
to the cows, The luxuriant grass-walks were never mowed but just before
hay-time, and every stock of kale and cabbage stood in its garmentry of
curled blades, like a new-made Glasgow bailie's wife on the first Sunday
after Michaelmas, dressed for the kirk in the many-plies of her flounces."
Now there are people who do not care for this
sort of thing, just as there are folk who prefer the latest concocted
perfume to the old-fashioned southerowood that our grandmothef5 used doucely
to take to the kirk with them folded in their napkins. For me, I could not
spare the stave of a single barrel, nor the ragged remains of a single boyn.
I take them with a mouth like an alms-dish; and, like the most celebrated of
charity boys, I ask for more.
I need not point the moral or enter into the
history of the Humour of About-the-Doors in recent fiction. Mr. Stevenson,
in "Portraits and Memories," Mr. Barrie and Dr. Watson in all their books,
have chronicled how the world grew for them when they were growing, and how
the young thoughts moved briskly within them. Mr. Stevenson, being more
subjective, was interested mainly in these things as an extension and
explanation of his own personality. He saw the child he was, the lad he grew
to be, move among these surroundings, and they took substance and colour
from the very keenness and zest of his reminiscence. Mr. Barrie, stiller and
less ready to be the world's friend, waits round the comer, and grips
everything as it passes him. But all his life Mr. Stevenson adventured out
to seek strange lands. Already, as a child on the shores of an unseen Samoa,
he bad built him a lordly pleasure-house to the music of the five
waterfalls. For he was the eternal Argonaut, the undying treasure-seeker.
Each morning he woke and went out with the hope that to-day he would find a
new world. To him the sun never
grew old, and verily the hunter hunted the hill to the day's
ending ere he came to II lay him down with a will." Rare, very rare, but
almost heartbreaking when they do occur, are Mr. Stevenson's tendernesses
about his native land–
"Be it granted me to
behold you again in dying,
Hills of home! And to hear
again the caIl–
Hear about the graves of the
martyrs the pee-wees crying–
And hear no more at all! "
J. M. Barrie.
Mr. Barrie's feet, without
ever straying so far, yet carry him on the track of many a romance, woven of
tears and laughter when the world was young for us all. The skies may be
unkindly, the seasons dour, the steps steep, and the bread bitter–in Angus
and in Thrums, Hard the lot and heavy the sorrow there! Up the steps the
bowed woman goes to write a letter, in which the only cry of affection, "My
dear son, Queery," is never uttered by her lips, The bent-backed weaver
wheels his web up the brae with creaking wheelbarrow, and lo, in a moment
Thrums melts away–we see before us the Eden door, at which stands the angel
with the sword of flame, and Adam, bending to his mattock, is earning the
first bairn's bread in the sweat of his brow. There sits Jess by her window,
and there Leeby lies in her quiet grave, while never any more comes a "registrardy"
letter from London, when the blithe postman's knock had scarce time to fall
before flying feet were at the door to welcome Jamie's letter. For Jess is
Eve, the ancient mother, bearing her heavier burden. Because the secret of
Eve is that woman's sorrow only begins with the bringing forth, Then,
deepest and dreadest of all, there is Cain going out upon the waste–a
bloodless if not a guiltless Cain, who has only broken those three hearts
that loved him–and with them his own. I never want to read any more what I
once read of Jamie fleeing hot-foot over the commonty–yet, like a hunted
thing, ever and anon looking back through the darkness. I want to go
upstairs and look at some bairns that lie asleep, each in his cot–to make
There are other humours
which are sib to our Galloway people–and to them alone. These I cannot
presently deal with, for time would fail me to tell of the Humour of the
Out-of-Doors, tbe humour of byre and stable–the humour of "When the Kye
Comes Hame," of the lowsing-time, of Hallowe'en and the Holy Fair. I know
not whether there is as much of it now as there once was. They say that
there is not. I only know that there was enough and to spare in my young
time, and that we in those days certainly did not kiss-and-tell. We said
little about these jocund humours to our grave and reverend seniors. And now
when we are growing suchlike ourselves, I think analogy will help us to
believe that there are yet humours in the lives of our juniors as innocent
and gladsome, as full of primeval mirth as those of the departed days which
we now endeavour, generally so unsuccessfully, to recall.
The Novel Purpose.
I do not think that anyone
will succeed in setting down these things–the humours of his country, his
lost years, his lost loves, without finding the tears come as often to his
eyes as the smile to ]his lips. But he will not succeed only because he sets
himself to do it. He must be purposeful, yet conceal his purpose, and write
with his heart. Perhaps no great romance was ever written with what is known
as "a purpose." The purpose may indeed emerge, but it must not be thrust
before the reader's nose, else he will know that he has strayed into a
druggist's shop. And all the beauty of burnished glass, and all the
brilliancy of drawer labels will not persuade him that medicine is a good
steady diet. He will say, and with some reason, "I asked you for bread–or at
least for cakes and ale–and lo! ye have given me Gregory's Mixture!"
So he will walk out, and
not deal any more at that shop. save when he wants medicine–for some other
person. A lady once sent me a book, and she wrote upon it that she hoped it
would do me good. Now, I did not want it for myself particularly, but I had
a friend, a wicked lawyer, and I instantly recognised that this good hook
was the very thing for him. So I sent it to him; and he has never even
Thus is it true what the
"Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands
Scott did not write with
any purpose, save the primitive instinct to tell an entrancing story. And in
spite of Gervinus and cartloads of commentators, chiefly Teutonic, I do not
believe Shakespeare did either. On this point, however, I am open to
conviction; but, like that great ecclesiast, the late Dr. Begg, "I wad like
to see the man that could convince me! "
Finally, I desire to say a
few words upon the so-called Scottish dialect, not by any means as one who
speaks ex cathedria, but only in order to express my own feelings and
beliefs as a dialect-speaking and writing Gallovidian.
We are not of those who
look upon Scottish dialect as merely a corrupt kind of English. It would be,
indeed, much truer to say that modern English is a corrupt and much·
adulterated variety of Scots.
For the old Scottish
language has had a history both long and distinguished. In it the first of
Scottish romancers, John Barbour, wrote his saga-tales of Wallace and Bruce,
In it Dunbar sang songs; Robert Henrysoun, dominie and makkar, fabled; while
Ramsay, Bums, Scott, Hogg, and Galt carried down to this generation its roll
of noble names.
Of recent years, with the
increasing localisation of fiction, there has arisen a danger that this old
literary language may be broken up into dialects, each one of which shall
possess its interpreters, accurate and intelligent, no doubt, but out of the
true and legitimate line of the succession apostolic.
Now, what I understand to
be the duty of the Scottish romancer is, that he shall not attempt to
represent phonetically the peculiarities of pronunciation of his chosen
district, but that he shall content himself with giving the local colour,
incident, character, in the noble, historical, well-authenticated Scots
language, which was found sufficient for the needs of Knox, of Scott, and of
Bums, to name no other names, Leave to the grim grammarian (of Aberdeen)
his" fous" and "fats" and "fars." Let the local vocabulary-maker, excellent
and even indispensable man, construct cunning accents and
pronunciation-marks, Leave even great Jamieson alone, save for amusement in
your hours of ease. As M., Stevenson once said, "Jamieson is not Scots, but
mere Angus-awa'!" A pregnant saying, and one containing much solid sense.
There is another danger.
To write correctly and intelligibly the Scottish dialect is difficult. But
it is easy to be vulgar in dialect. Shall our noble literary language be
brought down by the vulgarisms of the local funny man to the condition of a
mere idiom? Certainly, if the people want it so, But there is no need to
call the jumbled rubbish Scottish dialect.
For myself, I love to
discern a flavour of antique gentlemanship about a man's written Scots,
something that takes me back to knee-breeches and buckled shoes, to hodden
grey and Kilmarnock bonnets. They might be a little coarse in those days,
but they were not vulgar.
And, indeed, there never
was a nobler or more expressive language than the tongue of the dear old
ladies who were our grandmothers and great-grandmothers in this our own
Galloway, Let us try to keep their speech equally free from Anglicisms which
come by rail, lrishisms which arrive by the short sea-route, from the
innuendo of the music-hall comic song, and the refinements of the
boarding-school–in fact, from all additions, subtractions, multiplications,
and divisions, by whomsoever introduced or advocated, There is an idea
abroad that in order to write Scottish dialect, it is enough to leave out
all final g's and to write dae for do–which last, I beg leave to add, is the
very hall-mark of the bungler!
Now this honest Doric of
ours is a sonsy quean, clean, snod, and well-put-on. Her acquaintance is not
to be picked up on the streets or at every close-mouth. The day has been
when Peg was a lady, and so she shall be again, and her standard of manners
and speech rank at least as high as that of her sister of the South.
The result may not show in
the repons of the Board of Trade; neither will it make Glasgow flourish yet
more abundantly, nor the ships crowd thicker about the Tail of the Bank. But
it will give broad Scotland a right to speak once more of a Scottish
language, and not merely English with a Dundee, a Gallowa', or a
“Doon-the-watter" accent. And, above all, it will give her again a
literature frankly national, written in her ancient language, according to
the finest and most uncorrupted models,
DOLE OF THE THIRTEEN HERRINGS
OF THE SEA-BOARD PARISHES
It was a clause in many
Galloway leases even down to the middle of last century (and for aught I
know it may extend to the present day) that the tenants were bound to give
the laird so many days' "peat-leading," for the stacking of what was till
recently not only the chief hut the only "fewal" of Galloway. The conditions
of that contract were often curiously minute–the laird on his part
undertaking to give the horses such and such feeds of corn–"good oots" being
generally specified, and to the men "bear" bread (the barley loaves of
Scripture) or oat-cakes, so many "farles" of a regulation size, with so many
cans of home-brewed beer to wash it down, the same that Mr. Cuninghame of
Duchrae found served at dinner by the Drumglass table-maid.1
A Grippy Laird.
Upon one sea-board
Galloway estate the laird, a shrewd man of the snell and grippy sort, had
limited his bounty severely to one can of beer, one farle: of oat-bread, and
one large herring. It can be imagined how popular the service of
"peat-leading" was among the dwellers upon that estate, who could very well
See the chapter
entitled, “An Eighteenth-Century Galloway Laird."
oat-cake at home, and as many herrings as they liked for "kitchen" thereto.
The laird, a man with a hump shoulder and one hand ever in the small of his
back, hopped about in a lively manner upon his stick to see that all did
their pan of th" work-and that none had too much to eat. The lady of the
house was a proud dame, who considered that tenants–well, should be kept in
their places. So one year it was intimated that the refreshment would he
served at the backdoor, and that instead of the fash of tables spread upon
the green in front of the house, each man should go in person to the
housekeeper and draw his ration of oat-cake, herring, and small beer.
those who know Scotland, and the intense Scottish pride about small personal
affronts, can understand the anger and contempt which this regulation caused
among the farmers' sons and even among the cottagers. Only a few availed
themselves of the refection, preferring to go hungry rather than suffer the
ignominy of the back-door and the housekeeper's dole. Henceforward only the
men on the estate and a few "day" carters drew their rations, so that the
little hopping laird rubbed his meagre miserly hands at the saving. All the
bold farmers' sons and sonsy ploughmen brought their own dinners wrapped in
a clean cloth, together with their flasks, and ate and drank somewhat
ostentatiously, standing each man by his horse's head in front of the
after this had gone on for many years, one day there appeared on the green
in front of the house a beggar woman with a brood of hungry children. She
had heard of the "peat-leading," which in Galloway is usually the scene of
merrymakmg and rude plenty. So, being "fremit " and not knowing her man, she
had come as a gleaner, sure of taking up at least one basket full of the
crumbs which fell from the rich man's table.
her and her little skirt-clutching swarm descended the laird, as it had been
a hawk-beaked bird of prey stooping from a perch. With one pounce, as it
were, he was upon the pitiful brood.
"Gang awa' oot 0' this, ye
Such was his salutation.
"Do ye no ken that I am a Justice 0' the Peace, and can commit ye for va-a-grants
and thieves! Hungry, are ye? Weel, gang to the Relieving Offisher! Gang to
the kirk-session! What for am I cessed in a great sum every year, if it be
na to relieve the like 0' you? No a single bite nor sup shall ye get here,
Aff wi' ye! 0ot 0' this! Faith, I will set the dowgs on ye! "
This he mingled with many
oaths and cursings (for he was a wild man of his tongue) till the blush of
shame mounted to the cheeks of his very servants, and as for the young
farmers' sons and cottiers within hearing, a black fierce angel burned in
But action comes slowly
and unreadily to the true Gallovidian. So it was not till the laird had
"shooed" the poor woman and her flock off the gravel, and was following them
volubly down the road, that one Alexander Barbour left the ranks, flinging
the reins of his team to his nearest neighbour.
"Here, honest woman," he
cried after the beggar wife, "loup into my cairt!"
To the Back-door!
And with that he began to
pile the astonished bairns one by one over the "shilbins" till all were
seated in a confused heap in the cart-bottom. The mother was soon beside
The laird, too astonished
by young Barbour's action even to curse, glowered blackly at him as he
strode away to the back-door of the mansion, where he presently demanded
thirteen herrings, thirteen farles of oat-cake, and thirteen glasses of
The laird, who, almost
unconsciously, had followed, asked if he had gone mad, while the housekeeper
held up her hands in horror at the mere words.
Then upon these two turned
young Alexander Barbour, a man slow to anger but white hot when he got
there–of that dour, sober Scottish temper which, once roused, is the most
terrible of all.
"Thirteen years have I led your peats, laird," he said, loud and clear that
all might hear, "and bite nor sup of yours have I not tasted. But every year
it has been my right to demand one herring, one far\e of cake, and one jug
of beer . Well. I take them all now-thirteen herrings, thirteen farIes, and
thirteen jugs of beer!"
" It is
ridiculous!" cried the laird. “It is rank wastry. Such a thing was never
in the lease?" demanded this Daniel so sharply come to judgment.
the laird, struck with a sudden pang of coming trouble, could only bow his
head. Of a surety it was so nominated in the bond. Every man knew it.
said Alexander Barbour, turning upon the housekeeper, "be quick, There are
others waiting. Bring out the provender according to count and tale! "
they brought it out.
in the Bond.
lads–the rest 0' ye!" cried Alexander Barbour, jerking his head upwards as a
signal, for his arms were full. And leaving only one or two for a guard
upon the horses, all who had refused the back-door and the housekeeper's
bounty for themselves, flocked about the porch to demand it for the poor
despised of the earth, while the laird hopped about more like a demented
crow than ever.
him there was no reprieve. For at each objection they turned upon him with
the question: "Is it so put down in the lease? "
THAN!" they cried, with a kind of solemn joy, "hoosekeeper, bring oot the
they brought them out, some drawing four–some seven, and some twenty
supplies, till the oat-cakes and the herrings gave out, and they drew the
fine wheat-meal scones, the baked bread, the mutton ham, and for beer they
had red wine, till a great gladness filled the whole assembly.
the midst of plenty the beggar wife was driven out of the laird's policies
upon the king's highway. A place was kept for her in a friendly barn, where
she had peace and plenty for many weeks, with her brood and her provender
there was no loud scoffing or merriment among that crowd of farmers' sons
and peat-leaders, though they had kept the wine and the small beer for
themselves. Solemnly they clinked the cannikin and drank the laird's good
health in front of his own windows, wishing him, with the fine Scots irony,
dry and stern, many returns of the present happy occasion, and, above all,
the contented mind of the cheerful giver.
that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord," quoted Alexander Barbour as he
lifted the reins, and "clicked" to his horse.
laird looked after him with things in his heart which it is fittest not to
write. Nor dared he even speak them, for Alexander Barbour was the son of
his best tenant, and the value of land was falling.
is the story of the Dole of the Thirteen Herrings, and a very true tale.