Traits and Stories of the Scottish People By the Rev. Charles Rogers LL.D., FSA Scot
Encouraged by the success of my "Familiar
Illustrations of Scottish Life," and at the request
of my Publishers, I have prepared the present work.
I have been indebted to many sources of information
some rare, others familiar. Possessing a store of
Scottish traditions which have been transmitted in
my own family, I have used these amply. My friend,
Dr. Hugh Barclay, Sheriff Substitute of Perthshire,
has again favoured me with a budget of interesting
Work may not be unacceptable. A new story adds to
the sources of human enjoyment. The Traits and
Characteristics of a people are worthy of
preservation. The Scots were formerly a most
peculiar race. Their domestic habits and social
customs differed materially from those of the south.
Their legal system and ecclesiastical arrangements
still differ; but international prejudices are
subsiding. I know of only one living Scotsman who
bears a grudge at England and protests against
southern supremacy. Scottish grumbling has yielded
to English generosity. The Rose and the Thistle have
been intertwined, and grow lovingly together.
the course of a few generations the distinctive
peculiarities of Scotsmen will entirely disappear.
During the last half-century there have been changes
of a remarkable description. English manners have
been penetrating northward. Many northern customs,
"more honoured in the breach than the observance,"
have become obsolete. Domestic comforts have been
increasing. ( Certain obnoxious social practices
have disappeared^ others have been ameliorated: The
superfluous population have, in the mercantile
centres of the south, and in our prosperous
Colonies, successfully employed their energy and
intelligence. The plain fare of brose and bannocks
has prepared the Scotsman to endure hardships, and,
irrespective of comforts by the way, to press on to
the goal of honour and emolument.
the present Work have been described the Traits and
Peculiarities of the Scots during the latter half of
the past Century and earlier portion of the present.
There are likewise Illustrations of the habits of
conspicuous persons at earlier periods, and some
Anecdotes relating to men of genius and learning who
have lately departed from the scene.
manners and customs of the peasant population of the
Scottish Lowlands were first delineated by Mrs.
Elizabeth Hamilton in "The Cottagers of Glenburnie,"
while Mrs. Grant, of Laggan, in her "Letters from
the Mountains," depicted the peculiarities of the
Scottish highlander. Sir Walter Scott followed,
describing in his own inimitable manner the entire
edifice of Caledonian society. He has left nothing
undone. Yet the historical inquirer may be
interested to discover further illustrations of the
evidence, on which the great, novelist has founded
the Characters in his Fictions.
deep religious earnestness of the Seventeenth
Century considerably waned after the termination of
the struggles which ceased at the Revolution. From
the middle till the close of the Eighteenth Century,
Scotland could lay no claim to religious
superiority. The bulk of the people were
uncultivated and rude. Licentiousness prevailed
among all classes. Riotous excess became the
characteristic of a gentleman.
upper ranks dined early and sat late. When the
substantiate of dinner were consumed, the
gentlewomen were expected to return to the spinet or
the distaff. The punch-bowl, now copiously filled,
was placed before the host. There was a succession
of public and family toasts and numerous sentiments,
to all of which a glass of the potent liquor was
drained off. The drinking-glasses of the period
contained twice as much as those of the present
time. Special toasts were drunk with peculiar
honours,each guest mounting upon his chair, and
resting his right foot upon the table, quaffed his
liquor; he then raised his glass aloft in upturned
fashion, and gave nine loud huzzas. On such
occasions the overthrow of the table was not an
tea or coffee was announced, the host accompanied
his guests to the drawing-room. The younger
gentlemen tarried with the ladies, but the seniors
soon returned to the dining-room to renew their
potations. There were instances in which hard
drinkers died in their chairs. A West country laird
at one of these social meetings was seized with
apoplexy and immediately expired. "The laird's
looking unco gash," said the host, who had at length
remarked the altered appearance of his guest. "'Deed
is he," answered a neighbour, "for he's been with
his Maker this hour and mair. I didna like to spoil
the fun by speaking o't." This anecdote, which is
perfectly authentic, presents a shocking picture of
the convivial habits of the last century.
Saturday dinner-parties were common; they were
protracted till the Sunday had closed. Every guest
was expected to drink till he fell under the table.
When all had reached this degrading position, the
male attendants of the family entered and carried
them to their chambers. When the apartments were
insufficient for the number of guests, those who
were unaccommodated with beds were extended on the
floor, and covered, their neckcloths being loosened
to prevent the risk of suffocation. The servants
expected handsome gratuities from the guests as they
administrators of the law indulged in copious
libations of brandy and claret. "To be drunk as a
judge" was a proverb. The Senators of the College of
Justice continued their festivities until morning
hours. Circuit dinners terminated by the members of
the court sinking under the tables from which they
had been feasting.
suppers did not terminate till considerably after
midnight. On one occasion, at four a.m., the
Moderator of the Synod of Aberdeen requested Boots,
who is the youngest member of the court, to ring the
beH. The waiter appeared. "Is the kettle bilin'?"
inquired the Moderator. "It is, your reverence,"
responded the attendant. "See, then," added the
Moderator, "that ye keep it aye fou an' aye bilin'."
A distinguished clergyman of the capital was fond of
claret. Paying a morning visit to a parishioner, he
was entertained with a pint bottle of the liquor,
which the host pronounced to be very old. "It's unco
sma' o' its age!" said the reverend gentleman,
drunkenness abounded, profane swearing was common.
Persons of rank distinguished themselves by the
grandeur of their oaths. They swore loftily, but
were sometimes disconcerted. A landowner in
Roxburghshire was a noted swearer. Walking in his
demesne one day with a friend he was indulging his
habit, when one of the labourers on the estate
suddenly presented himself. The hind was known for
his piety. "Whisht," said the landowner, "let that
fellow pass; I am never free to swear when he is in
Illicit distillation was another practice consequent
on the national love of potent beverages. It was
lamentably prevalent. The idle highlander planted
his still in the remote glen or the mountain corrie,
and prepared his usquebaugh by the light of the
moon. He was an incorrigible offender. An
Argyleshire highlander was reproved by his minister
for engaging in this illegal traffic. "Ye mauna ask
me," said the smuggler, "to gie't up, for it
supports the family. My faither an' his faither
afore him made a drappie. The drink is gudefar
better for a bodie than the coorse big-still whusky.
Besides, I permit nae swearin' at the still, an' a'
is dune dacently an' in order. I dinna see muckle
harm in't." The speech contained arguments which
were cogent to the utterer, and determined his
parish minister in Fifeshire had succeeded in
obtaining the modification of a heavy penalty,
imposed on a parishioner who had a second time been
found guilty of smuggling. The offender had solemnly
promised to abandon the practice. When his
difficulty was overcome, he waited on the clergyman
to thank him for his intercession. "I hope, John,"
said the pastor, "that, as you have promised, you
will carefully avoid everything of this sort for the
future." "Surely, sir, surely," said John; but as he
was leaving the apartment he shook his benefactor
heartily by the hand, and exclaimed, as he made his
retreat, "Ye'll get a bottle o' the best o't yet."
Smugglers were generally detected through "informations"
communicated to the excise by their neighbours.
These received, as a reward, one-half the proceeds
of the confiscation, and their names were not
publicly divulged. I was informed by an aged
supervisor that nearly all his detections were made
consequent on the "informations" of neighbours. It
is difficult to conceive a state of society more
despicable than that in which there obtained such an
habitual violation of neighbourly confidence.
Sheepstealing was a common vice of the last century,
though hanging was its legal penalty. Many ghost
stories had their origin in the sheep-stealer
throwing a white sheet over his shoulders, for the
threefold purpose of concealing his person and his
plunder, and of frightening those who might
otherwise have guessed his intent, and sought his
Deception largely prevailed. Many of the landed
gentry were noted bouncers. They magnified their own
importance by practising on the credulity of their
retainers. A laird or highland chief, who had once
visited London, or had been a few days on the
Continent, possessed sufficient materials to
astonish his dependants during the remainder of his
life. The peasantry were adepts in the art of
dissimulation. They generally boasted of their
independence, but were ready to obey the laird, both
in matters where obedience was due, and where
acquiescence in his wishes might more creditably
have been resisted.
small burghs the traders depended chiefly on a few
leading persons, to whom they attached themselves.
Unlike the highland clansmen, who clung to their
landless chiefs with the same ardour of affection as
when their hospitalities were administered to a
thousand followers, the lowland shopkeeper conserved
his personal interest by countenancing only the
opulent or those in authority. While Mr. James
Guthrie, minister of Stirling, the future martyr,
retained public favour, the burgesses flocked to his
ministrations. But when he incurred the displeasure
of the Court, his parishioners discovered that his
prayers lacked unction, and that his discourses were
unedifying. The Stirling butchers hounded him with
their dogs. His congregation permitted him to be
executed without venturing on any petition for his
old Municipal system was tainted with many
corruptions. Votes of electors for offices in the
Corporation were bought and sold. Bribery at
Parliamentary elections was so common that municipal
councillors regarded these unlawful gains as the
occasional perquisites of office. The rise, of
certain families in the smaller burghs may be traced
to the acceptance of bribes by their founders. There
was much contention among municipal rulers for
individual ascendency. They wasted the public funds
in interminable litigations. In the course of the
last century many of the Burghs were placed under
trust. When funds for political purposes were
required, burgh magistrates exposed their privileges
at public auction to the highest bidder. They sold
their Church Patronages. They sold their Landward
Superiorities. They bartered the public rights of
the burgesses to the neighbouring proprietors for
personal advantages. They violated hospital and
other charitable trusts. They sold the office of
chief magistrate to those who would promise best,
but did least, for the public benefit.
burghal picture was even exceeded in the rural
hamlets. There the roads or streets were nearly
impassable, the bridges were decayed or broken down,
and dungsteads were placed in front of every
dwelling. No hind of the last century possessed more
than one apartment; his peat fire blazed in the
centre, and the smoke, which was intended to find
egress by an aperture in the roof, more frequently,
after encircling the chamber, escaped by the open
door and unglazed windows.
the commencement of the present century began an era
of physical and moral reformation. Agriculture was
encouraged; commerce received new impulses. The
Clergy were now better educated, and better
acquainted with human affairs: they began to
exercise a salutary influence on the manners and
habits of the people. The farmer now united the
well-cultivated field with the well-kept garden, in
the tidy courtyard with the clean fireside. The hine
procured a better class of dwellings. Streets as
alleys were threaded with underground sewers, which
removed noxious vapours and more noxious disease. By
a system of thorough drainage, morasses and the beds
of lakes were converted into fields, producting rich
cereals and abundant pasture.
morals of the people have shared in the amelioration
of their physical condition. Drunkenness has
subsided; illicit distillation has ceased; the old
vices have departed, and the national virtues have
become more conspicuous.
Scotsmen have ceased to rejoice in national
isolation. Though continuing to glory in her
independence and ancient liberties, Scotland owns
that the proudest day of her history was that of her
union with England. The perfermdum ingenium remains,
but its acrimony has departed. Scotsmen proceed
everywhere; and wherever they are found, they are
esteemed for their probity and honour, and are
characterized by an energy which knows not how to
yield, and a determination which is invincible.
London, May 10, 1867.
Chapter I. - The Old Scottish Clergy.
John KnoxGeorge BuchananAndrew Melville and James
VI:David Ferguson and James VI.James Guthrie and
Charles II.Samuel Rutherford and Archbishop
Usher-William III. and Principal CarstairsJames VI.
and his "Book of Sports"John M'Vicar St. SerfThe
Laird of TillicoultryPeter BeatonDean Thomas
ForretJohn Gray and clerical hankingThe Earl of
AirlieDr. Hugh BlairRev. Mr. Gordon and the Duke
of CumberlandRev. William Veitch and Lord MintoAlexander
PedenRev. Robert ShirraPrecentors'
announcementsDr. Ritchie and the landownerDr
Samuel Charters and the boorDr. M'Cubbin and Lord
BraxfieldRev. William LeslieDr. Alexander
WebsterJohn Brown of Haddington's Courtship.
Chapter II. - Anecdotes of the Poets.
The Grave of OssianThe MSS. of OssianJames I. the
originator of Scottish musicJames III. and Sir
William Rogers James VI. a Patron of the PoetsThe
Earl of Stirling Drummond of HawthorndenSir Robert
AytounProfessor AytounProfessor WilsonLord
Robertson, John Gibson Lockhart, and Sir Walter
ScottScott and the Ettrick ShepherdScott and
Robert BurnsRecollections of Robert Burns"Bruce's
Address to his Army"Lady Nairn and her SongsMr.
Oliphant of GaskLady Anne Barnard Mrs. Agnes
LyonRobert FergussonAllan Ramsay and his
landlordThomas CampbellJohn LeydenJames Hogg
Allan Cunningham and CromekJames GrahameAlexander
and John BethuneMichael BruceRobert Pollok David
GrayAlexander SmithHugh MillerDr. Thomas
BrownDr. William TennantRobert TannahillRobert
AllanAlexander Wilson, and others.
Chapter III. Lawyers and the Law.
Pertinacity of Scottish suitorsThe Stirlingshire
lairds and the aged hawthornThe Dunblane
landownerAndrew Nicol and his midden heapMr.
Campbell of LaguineMiss Shed-don and her law
processSir James Campbell and his wife Lord and
Lady GrayLawyers' opinions about Law Erskine of
Grange Lord MonboddoDr. John Hunter of St.
AndrewsLord KamesKarnes's Habit of Gossip Lord
BracoLord Hermand's Irritability of Temper Lord
AuchinleckUnpublished Anecdotes of BoswellLord
HailesSir George Mackenzie and the Earl of ButeLord
President Dundas Lord Gardenstone Lord Braxfield
Lord EskgroveLord CockburnLords Jeffrey and Mon-creiff
Lord Chancellor Erskine Alexander Wedderburn, Earl
of RosslynHon. Henry ErskineJohn Clerk, Lord EldinJohn
Hagart of Bantaskine Hugo ArnotThe Advocate and
Professor GregoryThe Presbytery of Meigle Mr.
William Roger and John Gunn the FreebooterLord
Melville and Deacon Webster.
Chapter IV. About Royal Personages.
Queen Margaret AthelingJames I. and Richard
II.Jock HowisonJames II. and Bishop
KennedyRemarkable story of James IY. and Margaret
DrummondJames Y.James YI. and the Edinburgh
professorsPrince Charles Edward Miss Flora
MacdonaldGeorge IY.The Provost of Leith Queen
Victoria and the farmerThe Queen and the cottar's
wifePedigree of the Empress of the FrenchA
Sultana A blacksmith's daughter becoming an
Chapter V. - Eccentric Characters.
Henry David, Earl of Buchan, and Prince Charles
Edward David Stuart, Earl of BuchanJames
BoswellSir John DinelyFrancis Macnab, of MacnabMaster
of Cultoquhey and the Duke of Atholl Francis Semple
and the military commander James Sibbald Dr.
Walter Anderson and Principal RobertsonProfessor
Wilkie of St. AndrewsLord GardenstoneDr. Adam
SmithProfessor Hamilton of AberdeenDr. Thomas
BlacklockJohn Barclay and his wife Thomas
CouttsAlexander CrudenRev. G. R. Gleig and
Calvinistic TheologyHugh MillerDurham of LargoA
town-clerk of Stirling and the Earl of Menteith"William,
Lord Panmure-The Duke of Gordon as a gaberlunzie
Miss Stirling GrahamLord Jeffrey taken inSir Hugh
Lyon PlayfairThe "bully" and his conquerorA
curling-matchNeil GowNathaniel Gow and George IV.
Chapter VI. - The Wise and the Weak.
Rev. John Welch and Louis XIII.The preservation of
the RegaliaSir William Wallace in female attireSir
Alexander Boswell and the Burns' monument in
AyrshireBos-wellianaStory related by old Lord
ElchoRobert Pollok Dr. CullenLady Wallace and
David HumeProfessor , Davidson and his
studentsAndrew Gemmels and the recruiting
sergeantLord Melville and the barberMrs. Glen
Gordon and General HawleyLady Wallace and the
Edinburgh fashionsThe Farmer and the
SchoolmasterThe Three PortersThe Old Lady and the
MendicantBlind Alick of StirlingA Countess of
StrathmoreParsimony of Dr. GlenFamily Register of
a Northern FarmerAn Ignorant Examiner of Military
SchoolsIgnorance of a Scottish HistorianThe
Cobbler and his Nocturnal VisitorThe Poor Woman and
the SheriffScottish Rights.
Chapter VII. - Inscriptions, Rhymes, and Popular
II.James-Ill.Queen MaryThe Earl Marischal and
Abbey of DeerThe Regent Mar and Cambuskenneth Abbey
The Lord President DundasThe Stirling
traderTombstone inscriptionsInstances of
longevitySign-boards and finger-postsProvincial
rhymesStory of Lord ByronAn Earl of Aberdeen The.
late Earl of Leven and Craig ClatchartRhymes about
ccrtain localities Family characteristics Rhymes
about notable persons The three Jacobite ladies
A poetical booksellerThe rhyming shopkeepersHugo
ArnotRev. John Ross and his pulpit rhymes.
Chapter VIII. - Some Scottish Adventurers.
Adventurous spirit of the ScotsSir Robert AytounDr.
Douglas, Bishop of Salisbury James Macpherson
Dr. Andrew Bell Bishop Strachan Professor Beattie
Sir David WilkieLord Chancellor CampbellDr.
Robert Watt Governor MacraeJames Earl of GlencairnThe
Earl of StirlingRobert MenteithColonel
EdmondLieutenant General AndersonCallander of
CraigforthGeneral Scott William Forbes of
CallanderA Scotsman and the French
smugglingWilliam IV. and his Scottish courtier.
Chapter IX. - Unfortunate Men of Genius.
William Ged and the Edinburgh printersA Scottish
minister and the percussion cap - James Watt and the
Glasgow hammermenDr. James Anderson and his
discoveriesJames Smith of DeanstonHenry Bell and
the SteamboatWilliam PlayfairDr. SmollettRobert
MudieDr. Thomas DickWilliam ThomJohn YoungerMary
PyperAndrew ScottWilliam NicholsonIsobel
PaganStuart Lewis Thomas LyleWilliam
GlenAlexander HumePeter BuchanJohn
StruthersElliot AitchisonAndrew Park James
Chapter X. - Biographical and Historical Gleanings.
Lord ClydeDavid Roberts, R.A.James Nisbet, the
publisher Dr. James Mounsey and his monumentThe
Grand Duke Nicholas and the Scottish youthA
prophecy of Alexander PedenA prototype of Madge
WildfireStory of Jenny NettlesThe remains of Gil
MoriceJohnny Faa and the Countess of CassilisHelen
of KirkconnellBessy Bell and Mary GrayLord
LynedochDrummond of Hawthornden Escape of Lord
OgilvieThe Countess of Strathmore and her
groomLord Dalmeny's marriageChisholm of Cromlix
and his confidantCourtship of Dr. Abernethy" The
Boatie Rows"David MalletAllan Masterton.
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