Scots Week-End To the Stranger within
God send ye mair sense and me mair siller
THAT there may be no
misunderstanding or offence, let it be said at once that the following
remarks are not intended for that growing section of Scotland's
population, the English who are settled among us. These are not
"strangers", but, in the Scottish phrase, "incomers". All such are advised
not to read this section, and that for two reasons. In the first place,
applied to them, our admonitions would be an impertinence. Secondly,
ardent as is the native Scot's love and admiration for Scotland, it is
lukewarm compared with that of the English incomer, who is so inordinately
sensitive to the slightest breath of criticism of the land of his adoption
that he might even discern satire in our blameless words. And this is but
natural. Abuse Scotland to a Scot, and he may tolerate it, even acquiesce
in it-he is, as Dr. Johnson pointed out, not responsible for the accident
of his birth: but venture even to criticise Scotland to an English incomer
and you disable his judgment, and invalidate his taste, than which nothing
is less forgivable. There are said to be in the remote North congregations
so careful for the purity of public worship that they glue up the leaves
of the pulpit Bible containing the Paraphrases lest any strange minister
should offer to employ the abominations in praise of God. The English
incomer ought to do likewise with these pages of The Scots Week-End. They
are not meant for him, but for those who are truly strangers within our
gates, who come to Scotland for a little while, chiefly to play there
rather than to pray, and go away again, sometimes to speak well of us as
hosts and play-providers, sometimes ill; sometimes to return, sometimes
And now, stranger, having
stated what you are not, let us consider more precisely what you are. You
are of every colour, race and culture. When you are not a British subject
you are most probably an American; but in the great majority of cases you
can and do call yourself an Englishman. This means, inter alia,
that you find it difficult, when you find it worth while trying at all, to
pronounce a pure vowel, and that your aspirates are not all they might be.
(Excuse us, Sir or Madam, but you do, and they are not.) And to make up
for this you sometimes slip in a consonant. You have, even in your own
high places, been known to refer to your admirable legal system as the
lore of England.
But let these things pass.
It is nothing to the purpose to classify you according to your
pigmentation, your allegiance or your particular way of mispronouncing a
noble language. What matters here is your motive in coming among us, and
on this principle you belong to one or other of two categories - you are
either a "sportsman" or a "tourist". If you are the former we could
address you at some length and with even more vigour of expression. In
either event it is improbable that you will pay any attention to our
strictures. We submit them, however, in brief, neither for your sakes nor
our own, but for that which is dearer than either to every Scotsman - the
principle of the thing.
By a "sportsman" we
understand (a) a wealthy English tradesman or (b) an American trust
magnate or (c) a Levantine money-broker or (d) the parasite, male or
female, of any of these, who comes to Scotland because it abounds in
beautiful and edible wild creatures that can be "preserved", that is to
say, encouraged to breed in order that they may be slaughtered by him (or
her), not because he (or she) is hungry, but because it is such good fun.
We abstain from cavilling here at a liking for blood-sports - it is a
taste that has been shared by many estimable men in all ages - but if you
come to Scotland to pursue them, there are one or two things we wish you
would bear in mind.
In the first place,
remember that so that you, the stranger, may have your pleasure (for
which, praise God, you are made to pay through the nose) huge tracts,
amounting to several millions of acres, that once supported men and cattle
have been laid waste, and that for the most part these wastes are
rigorously policed by your hirelings. Without your permission we set foot
on our native heaths at our peril. This we can understand, for it is
essential that the game you pay for should not be disturbed in
multiplying; but you, in return, must understand that we resent as
unnecessary our being stopped on the King's highway by your gamekeepers
and impertinently questioned. In Scotland we have long been taught that
"he that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city", or, as
Horace has it, Animus, nisi paret, imperat. Whether this in all
circumstances is a good thing for us is perhaps debatable. There can be no
question that in these circumstances it is a good thing for you, ensuring,
as it does, that your throat remains unslit. Consider this, and do not
assume that because you do not belong to Scotland therefore Scotland
belongs to you. Putting aside the bad logic, such an assumption is in the
Does this studiously
moderate statement of the position sound somewhat harsh? Are you really,
belying your behaviour, a good fellow at heart, whose gaucherie is merely
a result of your lack of imagination? If so we ask you to find some means
of letting us see it.
There is a story - perhaps
it ought to rank with our Celtic legends - that once upon a time an
English clergyman of means, who was also a Christian, acquired a small
sporting estate in our Highlands. So attached was he to the place, the
people and their ways, that he not only became an elder in the local
parish church, but even sat for several years as a member of the General
Assembly. (How he squared accounts with his bishop is not told.) We do not
suggest that you should follow thus far the example of this man of God.
Not everybody finds the atmosphere of a kirk-session congenial. But there
are limits in the same direction that you might reach without harming
yourselves or us. We admit the possibility that, unlike our clergyman, you
do not like us. There have been some of us who have not liked you. Or, not
disliking us, you may feel that you lack spiritual contacts with us. There
was an old Scot who wrote that "there is nocht twa nations undir the
firmament that are mair contrar and different fra utheris nor is Inglis
men and Scottis men", and some good English writers have said the same. In
either circumstances you have no choice but to keep aloof from us, even
while you occupy our ground. If you feel a foreigner, by all means be a
foreigner in Scotland. But let us point out that even this implies an
acceptance on your part of the customary obligation of a foreigner to walk
delicately among his hosts. You cannot, Sir or Madam, both eat our oatcake
and have it.
At this point we can hear
some of you protest: "But I do like you Scotch! How can you think
otherwise? Don't I turn up in force at every Highland Gathering of the
season to see you throwing the hammer and tossing the caber and hear the
pibroch sounding, sounding? Splendid chap the Highlander - finest on earth
- so handsome, brawny, courteous, dignified and all that."
While we submit to your
good opinion we should value it more if we could think that you knew what
you were talking about. The Highlanders who are still suffered to inhabit
their glens represent less than a quarter of the population of Scotland,
and even them you do not know by sight. The only Highlanders with whom you
are on speaking terms are the handful you employ as gamekeepers, and you
are far from knowing what these think of you. So, to be frank, are we. For
your Highlander's private opinions are as abstruse and unfathomable as
your cat's, though possibly, as far as you are concerned, much the same.
That is to say, it is improbable that he loves you, but he recognises that
you provide him with a semi-gentlemanly livelihood that does not feel too
like work. He has many virtues, but industry is not one of them. Neither
is candour. On the other hand, he may claim to be the only man who can be
a complete sycophant without forfeiting his dignity.
At this point, stranger, we
ought to beg your pardon. We have been talking too much on the assumption
that you are a sportsman, whereas the odds are a hundred to one that you
are nothing of the sort, but belong to the tribe of very welcome guests
who cheerfully bear with our weather, our licensing laws, our Sabbaths and
our funny or infuriating little ways, all because Scotland is still a home
of wild beauty.
The weather, let us point
out, we cannot help: it is, like the beauty, as God made it. But seeing He
has made it what it is, you may find it unreasonable that we should compel
you to go hungry and thirsty on Sunday to His Glory, especially as we
don't do it ourselves. We are prepared to admit that on a superficial view
your objection is plausible. But it is a deeply-rooted conviction of ours,
and, being such, its rightness may not be doubted, that on Sunday, eating
and drinking ought to be done only in the home. You may urge that you have
not got a home up yonder. We are sorry, but that is your misfortune, not
our fault. Having homes, of which we not infrequently tire during the
passage of the Sabbath, we ourselves have only to nip into our car and run
up to (say) Gleneagles for a round of golf and a good binge afterwards.
The notion that we are bigots is a vulgar error. We make exceptions but
only for ourselves.
As all this is intended for
your greater guidance; and for warning that shall include some measure of
encouragement, in spite of discouraging appearances, we ask rather your
thanks than your pardon for ending with a short series (no longer than the
Ten Commandments) of "Don'ts" for all who are citizens of the British
Commonwealth or of the United States of America:
1. Don't, if you are
English, keep telling us how much better educated we are than your own
country men. You ought to know that it is not true. We do. At the same
time . . .
2. Don't pretend
that you can't pronounce the guttural aspirates of our place names. You
can say loch if you like to try once or twice, and it sounds better than
3. Don't, on the
other hand, fancy that we shall admire as just your pronunciation if you
say that you play "goff" when you mean that you play golf. Books which
tell you that the l is silent are incorrect. In the Scots vernacular it is
vocalised, so that the game becomes gowf. But you are not required or
expected to speak the Scots vernacular.
4. Don't say Dunlop
or Kinloch or (worst of all) Cárnegie, for Dunlóp, Kinlóch and Carnégie.
Your education ought to instruct you that these duns, kins, cars, etc.,
are no more than common descriptive prefixes and never the significant
part of the name. Not that our place-names are not tricky. The Glasgow
water supply comes from a loch of which the name does not rhyme with
"latrine", however much you may be tempted to think so. And the London
bus-conductor who bids his Scottish fare alight at Eljin Avenue is
5. Don't claim
acquaintance or anything else with So-and-So "or any of that ilk", still
worse "any of his ilk". No such thing as an ilk exists or ever did exist.
"Of that ilk" means "of the same". It is an idiom used when a laird's
territorial designation is the same as his surname. Thus it is
permissible, as we sometimes use, to speak of "Macleod of that ilk". But
it will be safer for you to stick to "Macleod of Macleod".
6. Don't refer to
our places of worship as "kirks". We may sometimes speak of our
Establishment as the Kirk, because it is our native word. But to you it is
the Church of Scotland.
7. Don't, if you
mention our national bard, call him Bobby Burns. He never answered to that
name in life, nor do we call him by it since his death. Besides you don't
catch us saying Bill Shakespeare or Alf Tennyson.
8. Don't permit
yourself the use of the word pawky, not, at least, when you are striving
to select one of the few Scots words for which there is no exact English
equivalent. Pawky means neither more nor less than sly. It is, therefore,
uncomplimentary rather than otherwise. It conveys nothing, we trust, that
is specifically Scottish, either in regard to humour or to character.
9. Don't confuse or
identify a sporran with a filibeg. You may wear the filibeg without the
sporran, but you had better not try to wear the sporran without the
filibeg. The police object.
10. Don't let our
bad example or anybody else's well meant precept persuade you that you
must never call us and ours "Scotch", but always "Scottish" or "Scots".
This is a recent piece of pedantry. Like most pedantry it is born of
ignorance and nourished on snobbery. It has no authority in usage that can
properly be called Scotch, Scottish, Scots or good English. "Scotch" is
the normal form throughout Britain, and Sir Walter Scott, when he was
writing English, correctly designated himself a Scotchman. Pedantry has so
far prevailed that the Scotch Office has had to become the Scottish
Office, but we have not yet attained to Scots whisky, butter-Scots or
If in addition you can
remember that a gigot (locally pronounced jiggot) is a leg of mutton and
an ashet (assiette) the dish upon which it is served, you should get
through Scotland as comfortably and creditably as can be expected.
Fairweill thairfoir my hairt
fairweill and have gudnicht.
God graunt that we doe never rew
bot to have chosin richt.
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