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Reminiscences of Cromar and Canada

RIVERS that rise in distant watersheds, and Plunge and hurry, or wind their ways more slowly, to the sea, have often been taken as pictures and parables of life, the life of a man, or the composite life of families or clans or races of men. All the rivers run to the sea, yet the sea is not full.

If it were given to us to choose from all rivers the one that should picture and typify life, much could he said for the Scottish Dee, vivacious, sparkling, temperamental, even headstrong, but strongly individual, and without a dull mile or an ugly prospect from sources to sea. Born in romance in the trickling streamlets of snowy mountains and the slopes of a thousand heathered hills.

"In many a place
Its rivulets dance their wayward round.
With beauty born of murmuring sound."

With hide-and-seek and charming escapades, in splash and dash of rapids and cascades, they lass an impetuous youth. In passionate spate, they make even the great grey rocks scour out channels for their waters. Artists haunt their delightsome banks and anglers their laughing shallows. Gladly the turn the useful wheels that grind the miillers' corn. Still with the youthful sparkle of its tributary streamlets, the full river threads, it way by hill and croft, least farmstead and hamlet, to the great grey city where ships from far ports, harbour in its waters, then on, "Below the kirk, below the mill, below the lighthouse top,'' until its heather-browned waters interweave with the welcoming waves of the eternal sea.

Midway in the course of this river Dee lies the valley of Cromar, and here, in the earlier part of the nineteenth century, four family streams met that have more or less flowed together since that time. The Farquharsons, Fletchers, Stewarts and Maitlands neighboured, intermarried, suffered together the upsets of the repeal of the Corn Laws passed through the "Ten Years' conflict" and the Disruption, and in the second half of that remarkable century founded homes near together in far Canada, chiefly in the townships of Tilbury Eaat and Raleigh, in the County of Kent, Ontario.

What were the sources of their four family streams? From what bubbling springlets on what distant hills did they flow? Whence came these positive personalities, their outlook on life, their humour, their wisdom, their principles, their faith? What can be learned and told of these strearnlets that met at Cromar, flowed together for a time and are now inevitably diverging?

To recall, and search out and write these histories, none is so well fitted as "Uncle Donald" Farquharson, who brings to them the exactness of one versed in the law, the keen scent of an antiquarian, and the kindly sympathies of one who loves his fellow men. Up to fourscore and beyond, all that he has met and lived through has interested him deeply. From boyhood he has carried the stories, and the atmosphere, of those who were then fourscore. As eldest son, and from longest and closest contact, he inherits most from "Grandfather" Charles Farquharson, in whom, more than in any other known to present generation, lived the history and traditions, the poetry and song, the humour and proverbial wisdom of our people. And to these recollections and inheritances he has diligently added the gatherings from wide reading. Moreover, in his own household, all four family streams are equally blended.

The book promises some record of four families of Cromar, but gives much more. To one who would search out his ancestors and know them, even a bare genealogical list of names, such as the chapter in early Bible history about who begat whom, is of some interest. But how much better to be shown the very manner of men and women they were, the very deeds of their doing, the very words of their lips. What is even more difficult, and of still greater value, is his reconstruction for us of the little worlds they lived in, their glimmering early lights growing brighter, their crude scratchings of the soil becoming scientific agriculture, their hovels in time changing to houses, their feuds and savagery giving place to ordered life, their schools and schoolmasters, their churches and ministers, their laws and their landlords, their customs and beliefs, even the witches and warlocks of their earlier day.

Quite apart from the four families, there is a general and Permanent value in such reminiscences about the Aberdeenshire of two past centuries, and, more vaguely, of three. In these days of the King at Balmoral, American tourists on every loch, London anglers in every stream, and auld Scotia furnishing "heids o' depairtments," and jokes, for the Anglo-Saxon world, it is difficult to realize that the Highlands were discovered some centuries after America, that some of the ancestors here portrayed for us, were as remote from the England of their day as we are from Afghanistan, and that Lowland Scots of even the later eighteenth century, if they were forced to travel in the Highlands, prepared by making their wills.

And of almost equal general value are the stories of the emigrations that filled the wildernesses of Ontario, of the self dependent lives of the pioneers, the conquest of the forests and marshes, the ashes and black salts, and the first seedlings raked in between the tree stumps.

So much the author has tried to give, and admirably succeeded in giving. Something he did not try to give, all who know him will delight to find also in his book, his own ways of thinking, his interpretation of events, his philosophy of life, his standard of morals, his own faith, his own much-beloved self. For this as much as for anything he set out to tell will the book be valued by all of kindred blood, and many of other life streams as well.

To any in the four families who have a sense of history, who delight to look both back and forward, and to keep the romance and philosophy of the past alive within the present, this record will be a source of perpetual interest. At times we may have caught ourselves wondering how the newer generations could quite get a grasp of life aright without the traditions that came down to its, the fairy lore, the pawky humour, the ripe wisdom, the broad doric. Here they are, and no longer dependent upon our hazy recollections. Here by the wondrous magic of a printed book our children and children's children for generations to come may have a living picture of some of the sources of their race and blood.

There are, it is true, some people, otherwise excellent, kind parents, and upright citizens, who have little interest in such backward going thoughs. Frederick Locker-Lampson, much as he liked and respected the generation that followed him, scarcely knew which was more trying, "their languid endurance of a family story, or their inaccurate repetition of it." So he "buried his treasure,'' his family ''confidence," in print, not trusting, to use another figure, "his frail cargo, of memories to oral tradition." "At all events," he continues, "I have now done all I have strength to do--more than most men would think worth doing at all But if in some far-off day, any honest man or quick witted women of my stock.... should chance upon this book of mine . . . and be pleased to read it indulgently and with the faintest tincture of gratitude, my cold shade will be satisfied and seek no farther reward for his labour".

That, of course, Was among the more prosaic Sassenach. In the far flung members of the four families of Cromar we may be sure "the blood is strong, the heart is Highland" enough to ensure, both now and in years to come, a much warmer welcome and a better cherishing of this family record.

Here, then, from the author and his generation, and from those who \vent before, to us and our generation, and to those who will follow after, comes this unique gift, this record of all that can he recalled out of the deepening shadows of a past that is especially ours.

"O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
My great example, as it is my theme!
Though deep, yet clear: though gentle yet not dull:
Strong without rage: without o'erflowing, full."


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