Humour and Heroism
Chapter V - Religion and
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
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
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
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
See the front of battle lower;
See, approach proud Edward's power.
Chains and slavery !
By oppression's woes and
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
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
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.
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
Oh an I were where Gadie runs,
At the back o' Bennachie.
I wish I were where Gadie
'Mong fragrant heath and yellow whins, (whins = gorse)
Or brawlin' down the bosky linns, (bosky linns = wooded pools beneath a
At the back o' Bennachie.
O mony a day in blithe
O mony a day in simmer's prime.
I've wandrin wiled away the time.
Ance mair, ance mair, where
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
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
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
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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