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Scots Humour and Heroism
Chapter IX - The Highlands


If the Northern Kingdom, in its entirety, be reckoned - and with justice - as the most energetic portion of Great Britain, we shall not go far astray in calling the Highlands Scotland's Region of Romance. This, indeed, is a truism, accepted as such on both sides of the Grampians. It is borne out, too, by many a Lowland adage - such as that which tells us that "all the people North of the Border fall naturally into three grand categories: "the Good, the Bad, and - the Highlanders!"

Here we may perceive Lowland criticism frankly baffled - an unusual occurrence - and disposed to palm off upon us a jest instead of a judgment. Here the "Brither Scot" playfully evades the responsibility of saying anything about the People of the Mist. And he is wise to be careful, and refrain from rash pronouncements. For there is a radical difference between the two ethnic divisions of the nation; and Celt and Saxon have not always done each other justice. Sometimes they have failed to come into intellectual touch with one another at all or sympathize as fellow countrymen should.

The Geography of the matter is simple enough, Take a map and draw a line from near Aberdeen to near Glasgow. The mountainous country to the North and West is, roughly speaking, the Highlands; the less mountainous districts to the South and East form the Lowlands.

As for the Highlands, they well deserve their name The whole region they occupy rises steeply in broken, rolling straths and rugged peaks. Sometimes these are bare and flinty, sometimes richly clothed; but what one sees on all sides answers to Scott's happy description: "Land of brown heath and shaggy wood, - Land of the mountain and the flood."

This country of bold sierras and cliffs is diversified with swift rivers and great lakes. It is Norway on a smaller scale. Minutely intersected by torrents and lochs everywhere, it is torn in the West into a thousand Islands, the Hebrides.

The whole tract is clearly marked off from the Lowlands. The latter are rich, arable, and densely inhabited. In places, too (such as the Borders and Galloway) they too are quite hilly.

The Highlands are largely Celtic - with a considerable admixture of Norse, Danish, and Scandinavian blood. The Lowlands are predominantly Saxon, - with a large admixture of Norse and Celtic blood. The Celtic and the Scandinavian elements constitute the common factor. There is a Celtic fringe everywhere; for the Highlands and the Lowlands have reacted on each other, and intermarried for eight hundred years.

The Highlander is wont to call the Lowlander a Sassenach (Saxon), and to regard the Lowlands as a foreign country. The Lowlander retaliates by poking fun at the manners and customs, at the dress and language of the People of the Hills.

This he is able to do, for they are very unlike his own. The Gael speaks Gaelic - which closely resembles Erse, the language of Ireland. The remote Highlander learns English at school, as an Edinburgh school-boy learns French. When educated, he speaks the language excellently; and Highland English is proverbially musical and correct. Inverness for example, is renowned for its accent.

But when not trained, and merely left to pick up his English, the Highlandman talks a mixture of incorrect modern idiom and the exalted phraseology of the 18th Century. The result is delightfully grotesque, grandiose and obscure. He transposes the tenses, and for `yesterday' says 'to-morrow'. He confuses the genders, and calls everything "She", except his wife and child - whom he calls "Hims". He makes nouns qualify adjectives, and adverbs go with pronouns; and in general he puts the cart before the horse. One of his common phrases is "to be surely". His favourite word is "whatever".

Donald Bain was asked as to the quantity and quality of his potatoes. "They are chust ferry goot," he replied, "but ferry seldom whatever."

Gaelic happens to be one of those languages that rigorously assimilate neighbouring consonants. Your unsophisticated clansman carries this practice into his English; so that he mostly gets his d's and his t's and his f's and Vs, not to speak of his j's and his g's, all wrong somehow.

But the most startling point in the Highland dialect is that a man does not say "I," but refers to himself as "she" or "her".

A Highland workman once in a Glasgow factory let fall a copper roller, which was too heavy for him. This made him the butt of innumerable witticisms. The swift Highland anger flashed out in return: "How can a man can, when she canna can?"

A clerical tourist seeing a miserable crofter emerging from a tumble-down hut, inquired: "Where do you live?" "Where does she lif?" responded the Highlander with dignity. "As your Refference will doubtless haf obserfit, her residence is situated in ta immediate vicinity."

It is like Dr. Johnson talking in his sleep.

When educated, the crofter - who has a natural talent for language - is generally able to express himself with correct and dignified simplicity. People sometines speak of the "Sentiment of the Highlands" and the "Humour of the Lowlands" by way of pointing the contrast between them. Of course, this must not be pressed too far. For though pure Gaels do not care much for a joke, there are few pure Gaels; and Saxon sentiment is as strong as Celtic - for all it has a different range.

The sentiment of the Mountaineer is personal and idealistic; that of the Lowlander abstract and realistic.

While the Highlander is distinguished for his chivalry; the Lowlander will be noted for his energy. Both are affectionate, - the Highlander sometimes with a certain jealous exclusiveness; the Lowlander mostly with kindly tolerance or dry sarcasm, at all events, with patience.

If we want to understand something of idealism of the Highlands we must look into the wonderful story of their attachment to the Stuart Kings. In IM and again in 1745 they espoused the cause of the exiled Scions of that Royal House. It was all pure sentiment. But romance, daring adventure, personal devotion, knight-errantry carried half the country into enterprises as foolish as they were audacious, but chivalrous and unselfish in the last degree. The Rebellion of Forty-Five - in aid of the Young Pretender - still kindles the imagination. The Young Chevalier himself, only twenty four years of age, tall, handsome, and martial, with his flowing yellow hair and tartan dress, and with the fascination of his race in his manner, his courage, clemency, misfortune, gave to the ill-fated struggle that personal element that fired - perhaps still fires - so many hearts. The whole story reads like an incredible romance - a piece of dream-history that well may shame wiser but more calculating times.

"The landing of the young Prince Charles at Moidart," says Williams, "with only seven followers, the blaze of fiery loyalty that swept through the Highlands at his call, the extraordinary victories won by the sheer impetus and hand-to-hand onslaughts of the Highland clans, the picturesque entry into Edinburgh and the gallant court of Holyrood, the swift march into England, which seemed at one time to carry the Chevalier into St. James's Palace by its rush, the retreat and disorganization, and finally the woeful slaughter of Culloden, followed by the attainders and executions and the romantic adventures of the Prince in hiding in the mountains and islands - all contrived to create themes for song and poetry which have never been surpassed in modern history."

The effervescence of popular poetry that followed was characteristic. Its quantity was as remarkable as its quality; and it lasted long.

The distinctive note of personal loyalty is well presented in Lady Nairne's verse. Lady Nairne's father and mother had been married in exile; for more than one generation her family on both sides had been notable for their self-sacrificing endeavours in aid of the Stuarts. Hers is the best song written to the beautiful old air of Charlie is my Darling.

't Was on a Monday morning,
Right early in the year,
When Charlie cam' to our gude town,
The Young Chevalier.

Oh, Charlie is my darling,
My darling, my darling
Oh, Charlie is my darling,
The Young Chevalier.

As he cam' marching up the street,
The pipes played loud an' clear,
An' a' the folks cam' running out
To meet the Chevalier.

Wi' Hieland bonnets on their heads,
An' claymores bright an' clear,
They cam' to fight for Scotland's right
An' the Young Chevalier.

They've left their bonnie Highland hills,
Their wives and bairnies dear,
To draw the sword for Scotland's lord,
The Young Chevalier.

Oh, there were mony beating hearts
An' mony a hope an' fear,
An' mony were the prayers sent up
For the Young Chevalier.

Oh, Charlie is my darling,
My darling, my darling,
Oh, Charlie is my darling,
The Young Chevalier.


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