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Scottish Reminincenses
By Sir Archibald Geikie (1904)


One who has sojourned in every part of a country and for sixty years has mingled with all classes of its inhabitants; who has watched the decay and disappearance of old, and the uprise of new usages; who has been ever on the outlook for illustrations of native humour, and who has been in the habit all along of freely recounting his experiences to his friends, may perhaps be forgiven if he ventures to put forth some record of what he has seen and heard, as a slight contribution to the history of social changes.

Literature is rich in Scottish reminiscences of this kind, so rich indeed that a writer who adds another volume to the long list runs great risk of repeating what has already been told. I have done my best to avoid this danger by turning over the pages of as many books of this class as I have been able to lay hands upon. In the course of this reading I have discovered that not a few of the ‘stories’ which I picked up long ago have found their way into print. These I have generally excluded from the present volume, save in cases where my version seemed to me better than that which had been published. But with all my care I cannot hope to have wholly escaped from pitfalls of this nature.

No one can have read much in this subject without discovering the perennial vitality of some anecdotes. With slight and generally local modification, they are told by generation after generation, and always as if they related to events that had recently occurred and to persons that were still familiarly known. Yet the essential basis of their humour may occasionally be traced back a long way. As an example of this longevity I may cite the incident of snoring in church, related at p. 86 of the following chapters, where an anecdote which has been told to me as an event that had recently happened among people now living was in full vigour a hundred years ago, and long before that time had formed the foundation of a clever epigram in the reign of Charles II. Another illustration of this persistence and transformation may be found in the anecdote of the wolf’s den (p. 292). The same recurring circumstances may sometimes conceivably evoke, at long intervals, a similar sally of humour; but probably in most cases the original story survives, undergoing a process of gradual evolution and local adaptation as it passes down from one generation to another.


Chapter I.
Social changes in Scotland consequent on the Union of the Crowns. Impetus given to these changes after Culloden in the eighteenth century, and after the introduction of steam as a motive power in the nineteenth. Posting from Scotland to London. Stage coach travelling to England. Canal travelling between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Loch Katrine in 1843. Influence of Walter Scott. Steamboats to London. Railroads in Scotland. Effects of steamboat development in the West Highlands.

Chapter II.
Traces of Paganisn. in Scotland. Relics of the Celtic Church; 'Deserts.’ Survival of Roman Catholicism in West Highlands and Islands. Influence of the Protestant clergy. Highland ministers. Lowland ministers. Diets of catechising. Street preachers.

Chapter III.
The sermon in Scottish Kirks. Intruding animals in country churches. The ‘collection.’ Church psalmody. Precentors and organs. Small congregations in the Highlands. Parish visitation. Survival of the influence of clerical teaching. Religious mania.

Chapter IV.
Superstition in Scotland. Holy wells. Belief in the Devil. Growth of the rigid observance of the Sabbath. Efforts of kirk-sessions and presbyteries to enforce Jewish strictness in regard to the Sabbath. Illustrations of the effects of these efforts.

Chapter V.
Litigiousness of the Scots. Sir Daniel Macnee and jury-trial. Scottish judges, Patrick Robertson, Cullen, Neaves, Rutherford Clark.

Chapter VI.
Medical Men. Sandy Wood. Knox. Nairn and Sir William Gull. A broken leg in Canna. Changes in the professoriate and students in the Scottish Universities. A St. Andrews Professor. A Glasgow Professor. Some Edinburgh Professors—Pillans, Blackie, Christison, Maclagan, Playfair, Chalmers, Tait. Scottish Schoolmasters.

Chapter VII.
Old and new type of landed proprietors in Scotland. Highland Chiefs—Second Marquess of Breadalbane; late Duke of Argyll. Ayrshire Lairds—T. F. Kennedy of Dunure; 'Sliddery Braes’; Smith of Auchengree. Fingask and Charles Martin. New lairds of wealth.

Chapter VIII.
Lowland farmers; Darlings of Priestlaw. Sheep-farmers. Hall Pringle of Hatton. Farm-servants. Ayrshire milk-maids. The consequences of salting. Poachers. ‘Cauld sowens out o’ a pewter plate.’ Farm life in the Highlands. A Skye eviction. Clearances in Raasay. Summer Shielings of former times. Fat Boy of Soay. A West Highlander’s first visit to Glasgow. Crofters in Skye. Highland ideas of women’s work. Highland repugnance to handicrafts.

Chapter IX.
Highland ferries and coaches. The charms of Iona. How to see Staffa. The Outer Hebrides. Stones of Callemish. St. Kilda. Sound of Harris. The Cave-mas?acre in Eigg. Skeleton from a clan fight still unburied in Jura. The hermit of Jura. Peculiar charms of the Western Isles. Influence of the clergy on the cheerfulness of the Highlanders. Disappearance of Highland customs. Dispersing of clans from their original districts. Dying out of Gaelic; advantages of knowing some Gaelic; difficulties of the language.

Chapter X.
The Orkney Islands. The Shetlands Islands. Faroe Islands contrasted with Western Isles. 'Burning the water.’ A fisher of men. Salmon according to London taste. Trout and fishing-poles. A wolfs den.

Chapter XI.
Scottish shepherds and their dogs. A snow-storm among the Southern Uplands. Scottish inns of an old type. Reminiscences of some Highland inns. Revival of roadside inns by cyclists. Scottish drink. Drinking customs now obsolete.

Chapter XII.
Scottish humour in relation to death and the grave. Resurrectionists. Tombstone inscriptions. 'Naturals’ in Scotland. Confused thoughts of second childhood. Belief in witchcraft. Miners and their superstitions. Colliers and Salters in Scotland were slaves until the end of the eighteenth century. Metal-mining in Scotland.

Chapter XIII.
Town-life in old times. Dirtiness of the streets. Clubs. Hutton and Black ?n Edinburgh. A feast of snails. Royal Society Club. Badies ‘gang lowse.’ Rothesay fifty years ago. James Smith of Jordanhill. Fisher-folk of the Forth. Decay of the Scots language. Receipt for pronouncing English.

Chapter XIV.
The Scottish School of Geology. Neptunist and Vulcanist Controversy. J. D. Forbes. Charles Maclaren. Hugh Miller. Robert Chambers. W. Haidinger. H. von Dechen. Aini Boue. The life of a field-geologist. Experiences of a geologist in the West Highlands. A crofter home in Skye. The Spar Cave and Coruisk. Night in Loch Scavaig.

Chapter XV.
Influence of Topography on the people of Scotland. Distribution and ancient antagonism of Celt and Saxon. Caithness and its grin. Legends and place-names. Popular explanation of boulders. Cliff-portraits. Fairy-stones and supposed human footprints. Imitative forms of flint. Scottish climate and its influence on the people. Indifference of the Highlander to rain. Dry rain. Wind in Scotland. Salutations on the weather. Shakespeare on the climate of Morayland. Influence of environment on the Highlander.

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