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Scots Humour and Heroism
Chapter V - Religion and Patriotism


Religion has taken a deep hold of the nation. There are more men in the churches than elsewhere in Europe; and lay-help is given unstintedly. Merchant princes after their week's work will gladly conduct Bible classes and Prayer-meetings.

The democratic character of Presbyterianism is often seen in churches, where humble people take a considerable part in public affairs.

Of course the national character has had its influence on the forms under which Religion shows itself; and these forms again have interacted on the disposition of the people. Religious emotion is profound and strong in Scotland. It is not demonstrative or sentimental; and it is reserved in verbal expression. Under all the directness and simplicity of its worship it is essentially earnest and serious. Many of the churches used to be barn-like structures devoid of architectural grace; but the congregations that met in them had a high sense of the beauty of reverence. All over the country there is profound interest in all ecclesiastical concerns - and in doctrine and philosophy as well. Throughout the length and breadth of the land the Bible used to be exceedingly well known, and the Shorter Catechism too. Young people were taught to think on the great problems of human destiny. If there was danger of over-intellectualism this education at least produced strong men. Nowadays dogma is less emphasized; the devotional and especially the practical side of Faith have been proportionately brought forward. The aesthetic element of worship has moved the whole country for half a century, yet the essential simplicity of ritual is little altered.

Religion goes with patriotism; and who so fervently patriotic as the Scot? Fond as he is of travel, he never forgets the glens and the straths and the lochs and the moors of Bonnie Scotland, and the hazel copses where the laverock sings. Yet he goes everywhere.

Travel where you may, to Siberia or Patagonia or to the ends of the earth, you will find North-Britons settled there and doing well.

Wasn't it a MacLean that ruled Marocco some years ago? Whole colonies of Scots existed in Holland, Poland, Sweden and Central America before the Union. And, since then, Canada and New-Zealand have become almost provinces of Scotland.

Wherever a ship is designed or a bridge built, there is sure to be a Scot connected with the work. And if you live in a sea-port and want to have what the Scots call "a bit of a crack," you have only to go to any ship in the harbour and call "Mac, I want to see you"; and the engineer or assistant engineer will make his appearance.

Once upon a time two Lowlanders, who were great travellers, reached a remote and unheard-of town in the Caucasus, with an unpronouncable name.

There was no hotel in the place, so they went to the best shop they could find - which by the way was the one prosperous-looking house in the whole village.

Entering briskly they tried conversation with an active and intelligent woman who evidently had charge of the establishment. Difficulties however occurred. Their Russian was unintelligible. They tried German; she shook her head, she did not talk that language. She essayed French. They spoke French, too. But there are many varieties of this tongue - and the brands did not correspond.

Wearied out with these fruitless efforts they looked round in hopeless disgust, and one of them said to the other in his native Scotch: "Com awa', mon, naebody can talk onything but gibberish in this feckless place."

"Hoots laddies," said the buxom shop-owner with a laugh, "what for did ye no talk sense yirsels? And you frae Paisley too ! Come ben (come ben - come inside), and I'll see what I can do for ye."

They went ben' - that is, into the inner room -and were introduced to her Russian husband. And there they got a real Scottish welcome. Which is something that must be experienced in order to be understood. For overflowing, generous, spontaneous hospitality seems to be born in the blood of every man and woman in Scotland.

Stories, more or less true, of the Scot's ubiquity abound. It was Punch that used to prophesy that when the North-Pole would be discovered, a Scot would be found in possession of the spot.

Punch pictured him seated on an actual pole surveying the landscape calmly, and reading Burns at intervals. But let him travel as far as you please, his patriotism is undiminished, and his heart untravelled fondly turns to home. One signal mark of this is his clannishness.

Max O'Rell was fond of imagining what would happen if two Englishmen were stranded on an desert island.

He said if you returned after twenty years and found them still there, they wouldn't know each other, if they had not been introduced.

If two Scots, however, were stranded on a similar island, they would foregather in twenty-four hours and within a week would have organized a flourishing Caledonian Society. One would be President and the other Honorary Secretary.

Read Robert Louis Stevenson and you will see how the patriotic fire burns in hearts far away from Auld Reekie.

And Scottish History makes it old appeal. In Burns's time every one felt that the story of Bannockburn touched the nation's heart even after five hundred years. That is a remarkable test, and it may be applied still. Still the old song "Scots, wha ha'e" has the same magic; and Scottish regiments and Scottish crowds are moved by it as the grasses are moved by the wind.

Scots, wha ha'e wi' Wallace bled; (wha ha'e - who have)
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victory !

Now's the day, and now's the hour,
See the front of battle lower;
See, approach proud Edward's power.
Chains and slavery !

By oppression's woes and pains!
By our sons in servile chains !
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free !
Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow !
Let us do or dee ! (dee = die)

Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee !
Wha for Scotland's king and law
Freedom's sward will strongly draw,
Freeman stand or freeman fa?
Let him follow me !

What is fundamental in the Scottish nature?

Probably energy and idealism. Certainly - in some form - love of country.

The ideals are not materialistic. They concern themselves with such things as religion, freedom, education, friendship. But they are eminently practical.

The Scot is not content to admire the things that seem to him praiseworthy. He must do something to reach them; and he labours strenuously to turn out quick, thorough, good work on which you can rely. On this character of energy and idealism the stern, wild land has had its fitting influence.

Self-contained and forceful, life in these northern valleys has been moulded and disciplined by ages of hardship and toil. History here has been a long struggle of passion and of pain, of love and hatred, of self-sacrifice and endurance. Lawlessness and fidelity have often walked hand in hand; but some vision, some far-off ideal, - perhaps an illusive one, often a mistaken one, - has hardly ever been absent. And the severest upbringing has but enhanced the tenderness that clings to the Scottish memory of "home".

Oh ! an I were where Gadie runs,
Oh an I were where Gadie runs,
At the back o' Bennachie.

I wish I were where Gadie runs
'Mong fragrant heath and yellow whins, (whins = gorse)
Or brawlin' down the bosky linns, (bosky linns = wooded pools beneath a waterfall)
At the back o' Bennachie.

O mony a day in blithe spring time,
O mony a day in simmer's prime.
I've wandrin wiled away the time.

Ance mair, ance mair, where Gadie runs,
Where Gadie runs,
O let me die where Gadie runs
At the back of Bennachie.

The mountains are amongst the most impressive in Europe. They are not too large for the mind to grasp. Other ranges are far higher, but seem unreal and remote to the imagination.

The Swiss mountains, when one first sees them, look like pictures.

The Scotch mountain is always a mountain, endowed with a kind of life of its own. There are MacGregor's sheep dotting the green sward. Yonder is Archie Campbell's house. Archie is having trouble with his new collie. Towering far away is a craggy peak; and in the middle distance you see the stretches of purpling moor. We know it all. The imagination takes it all in.

The lochs and firths, which are numerous, add to the impressiveness of the Highlands; and it is beyond measure a surprise after climbing over rugged uplands to come upon a soft sylvan scene in some sheltered valley, - such as the Silver Strand at Ellen's Isle.

Then to the reader of Scottish History and Literature nearly every spot is classic ground.

It is not without reason that the standard expression of modern patriotism - surely the claim is not too great - should be from the pen of Sir Walter Scott

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said:
"This is my own, my native land!"
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand?

If such there breathe, go mark him well,
For him no minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim,
Despite those titles, power and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living shall forfeit fair renown,
And doubly dying shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung.
Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.

O Caledonia, stern and wild,
Meet nurse for a poetic child,
Land of brown heath and shaggy wood,
Land of the mountain and the flood,
Land of my sires! what mortal hand,
Can e'er untie the filial band
That knits me to thy rugged strand !

By Yarrow's stream still let me stray,
Though none should guide my feeble way,
Still feel the breeze down Ettrick break,
Although it chill my withered cheek,
Still lay my head by Teviot stone,
Though there forgotten and alone
The Bard may draw his parting groan.


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