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Scots Humour and Heroism
Chapter I - Is Scotland the Best Country in the World to be Born in?


Long ago, it is said, the people of Athens were asked to record two votes, one for the best man in the State— the man most suited for high position in respect to character, ability, energy and so forth — and the second vote for the second best. The citizens all voted, we are told, each giving the first place to himself, as the cleverest and most trustworthy man in the State. But the second votes were all registered for Themistocles, — who thus came victoriously into office.

Something like this would very likely happen if the inhabitants of all civilized countries were invited to name what they deemed the best land to be born in; and were to give another vote to decide which was the second best.

We ought all to give our suffrages for our own country first. That would be only fair and right. Anything short of that would savour of lack of patriotism on our part. But no doubt the great majority of people would agree to accord Scotland the second vote - which would bring in the Land of Cakes at the head of the poll.

And yet, is Scotland so exceedingly popular? Yes, and No. Occasionally people here and there awaken to the "pervasiveness" of Scotland, and write to the papers. Quite recently someone discovered that all holders of high office in England but six were connected with North-Britain. Then some one else wrote to the Times that these six were of Scottish descent or were married to Scotswomen.

Objection is sometimes taken to the Scot as being masterful and enterprising, that he is always found, as they put it, "carrying on the affairs of the Empire." That phrase expresses a mysterious principle which has been at work for centuries. If ever you see an enterprise specially successful anywhere - "a going concern" - no matter where, in Tibet, or Peru, or at the sources of the Nile, there is certain to be a gentleman from the North of the Tweed at the helm of affairs. In politics, or law, in commerce, or in science it is just the same.

Other nationalities - English, Welsh, Irish - get a look in now and then; still for the actual working of any money-making business you will find matters entrusted either to a Lowlander or a Highlander, but assuredly to some kind of a Scot.

A. G. Gardiner, the author of those lively sketches "Prophets Priests and Kings", of ten years ago, was scarcely exaggerating when he said

"To be born a Scotsman is to be born with a silver spoon in the mouth. It is to be born, as it were, into the governing family. We English are the hewers of wood and drawers of water for our Caledonian masters. Formerly they used to raid our borders and steal our cattle, but they kept to their own soil. In those happy days an Englishman had a chance in his own country. To-day he is little better than a hod carrier. The Scotsmen have captured not our cattle, buth, the British Empire. They sit in the seats of the mighty. Westminster is their washpot, and over Canada do they cast out their shoe. The head of the English Church is a Scotsman, and his brother of York came out of a Scotch Presbyterian manse. The Premier is usually a Scotsman and, if not Scotch, he sits for a Scotch constituency, and the Lord Chancellor, the keeper of the King's conscience, is a Scotsman too.

London has become an annexe of Edinburgh, and Canada is little more than a Scotch off-hand farm. Our single satisfaction is that whenever we want a book to read we have only to apply to Skibo Castle and Mr. Carnegie will send a free library by return. It is a pleasant way he has of reminding us that we want educating."

Underneath this playful badinage there lurks a great deal of truth. The details are, of course, a trifle out of date at the moment ; but the principle holds.

When Tammas Buchanan returned from a week's stay in London, whither he had been sent by his firm to carry out some delicate business negociations, the neighbours were eager to know what he thought of the people in the South. "Tell us, Tammas, hoo (1) did ye fin' (2) the English? What like warr' they, noo?"

"English!" exclaimed Tammas. "Mon, A (3) dinna ken onything about them. A had naething to do with the English. A only had to deal with the heids (4) o' the departments."

(1) hoo = how. (2) fin' = find. (3) A dinna ken = I do not know. (4) heids = heads.


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