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
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
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
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
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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