Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

History of Curling
Chapter I - The origin of the game

"We are sons o' the true hearts that bled wi' the Wallace
And conquered at brave Banockburn wi' the Bruce
Thae wild days are bane, but their memories call us.
So we'll stand by langsyne and the guid ancient use.

"And we'Il hie to the spiel, as our faithers afore us,
Ye sons o' the men whom foe never could tame;
And at nicht round the ingle we'll raise the blithe chorus
To the land we lo'e weel and our auld Scottish game."

Principal Sharp.

"Hail! Scotland, wi' thy ancient play
When winter cleeds the plain!
Thy buirdly race shall ne'er decay
While Curling doth remain."

Irvine Miscellany.

''Sic Scoti: alii non aeque felices."

Motto, Duddingston C. C.

n enquiry into the origin and antiquity of the game of curlin is not only an appropriate introduction to a work that is written with the aim of being a handbook to the game, but is also a chapter of interest and importance in the history of our nation. Without trenching on what we may here-after have to say "in praise of curling," we may here affirm that no other game so well illustrates the national character, or tends so much to its healthy development; and, if this be so, then the history of the game has an intimate connection with the history of our people. In the pages of the historian, such influences are too often ignored, and attention directed to those great and striking events that are supposed to be the only constituent elements of a nation's history. It ought not to be so; and, therefore, in gathering together such information as is available on the past and present of this most truly national of all our amusements, we hope to have the approval of the historian as well as of "the brethren of the broom." At the outset of our enquiry, we find that there are no facts by which we can determine precisely the antiquity of the game or the manner in which it was at first played. This is not perhaps to be wondered at for, as a writer on our other great national game—golf—remarks, [Historical Notice for the Thistle Golf Club, Edinburgh, 1824.] "If the origin of the most valuable institutions of civilised life, the laws and usages of the most enlightened nations, are lost in the mist of antiquity, eluding the researches of the philosopher and historian, it was not to be expected that any distinct record would be found setting forth the invention and progress of a mere popular recreation." Our author is evidently tainted with the vice to which we have referred. He does not esteem the games of a country-as Fletcher the patriot esteemed the sons—of greater importance than its laws. He depreciates the national importance of both golf and curling by his phrase, "mere popular recreations," against which we protest; but, in the general nebulous haze that surrounds all the "origins," we need not be surprised to find "our ain game" floating in shapeless, unrecognisable form, unable to give any clear account of itself. In the case of the game of curling, it is as well, however, to bear in mind that while it is a game of great antiquity, and can be traced back for nearly 400 years, it was only about the middle of last century that it began to take on the dignity of a truly national game. Unlike its neighbour—golf, which, barring the gutta, has been played in much the same method from the beginning, and unlike lawn tennis, which is simply the revival of a game played centuries ago in a form that required as much skill as the present—curling has so completely developed out of its ancient node, that it is only by the help of an evolutionary theory, which requires great faith on our part, that we can trace connection between the modern and the ancient barge. Since the game, through the rounding of the stone fully a century ago, made such a break away from the style of previous centuries, its progress has been remarkable. It has taken a firm hold on the national character, and has drawn around it a literature of its own well worthy of attention. If we find, as is the case, that prior to the middle of last century we have scant records of the game, we need not therefore suppose that much of value has gone amissing. When Edward I., taking advantage of his position as arbiter between Bruce and Baliol in their contention for the throne of Scotland, carried off to England such records as he could lay hold of, and destroyed them that he might thus destroy our nationality, he doubtless put out of the way much that might have dispersed the mist from our early Scottish history; but we as curlers need not suppose that any curling records perished at his hands, or that anything particularly precious has been lost since his time. With no authentic facts, as we have said to determine accurately the history of curling, our enquiry into its origin and antiquity resolves itself very much into a question of Etymology.

"Many ancient customs," says Dr Jamieson, [Preface to Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, Edin., 1808.] "otherwise unknown or involved in obscurity, come to be explained or illustrated, from the use of those words which necessarily refer to theta." This is true, but the opening sentence of the Preface to Jamieson's great work suggests another view of the study of words. "Some," he says, "affect to despise all etymological researches, because of their uncertainty." Etymology seems to be like curling—a slippery game: it is not safe to depend on it very mach for historical information, or for proofs of antiquity. Herodotus tells a story of ancient Egypt, which may be read as a warning by etymological historians. The Egyptians used to boast that their language was the most ancient. Psammitichus, their King made a practical test which destroyed their boast. He placed two infants apart from human society, their attendants being forbidden to speak in their hearing. One day, when about two years old, they ran to their keeper, crying "Bekkos," "Bekkos." This being Phrygian for bread, the palm of antiquity was given by Psammitichus to the Phrygians. But the test was not satisfactory. Deprived, in the circumstances, of natural nurses, the infants were suckled by goats, and their first cry, it was said by some Philistines, was just an imitation of the bleat of the goat. The Germans however recognise in it their word bakken — bake: the Scotch would have it that the bairns demanded baiks; while certain etymologists claim the word as the Sanscrit root whence the English "cook;" and a sly Englishman finishes off by suggesting that it may have been a feeble attempt to call for breakfast [In the circumstances the Spanish, as far as we know, have not put tobacco into the mouths of the young people, nor have the Greeks suggested such an early worship of Bacchus.] So we are told Etymology or Philology has acted the Psammiticlins for this curling nation. We have boasted of curling as "Scotland's ain game," as of unknown antiquity, and certainly indigenous; but away beyond the gabble of historians we have been taken by Etymology to find that we are mistaken. The infancy of curling breaks out, we are told, in a language which proves that the game Is not ours in origin, but that it belongs to another country. Like Psammitichus with the Egyptians, the test has been applied, as far as we can see, by one of ourselves, and after its application the origin of curling is still left in Egyptian darkness. No other nation has attempted to filch from us our reputation or lay claim to the origination of curling. Perhaps no other would care to do so; but, if the Egyptians submitted to the verdict of their King in favour of the Phrygians, the Scots have certainly not agreed to the statement that the earliest words in use at curling prove it to have been imported into our country by the Flemings. For this is what it amounts to. The statement, as far as we can judge, was first made by the Rev. John Ramsay (1777-1871), who has given the earliest account we possess of the history of curling. [Ant Account of the Game of Curling. By a member of the Duddingston Curling Society. Edinburgh, 1811.] Ramsay, no doubt, found a difference of opinion on the subject among curlers before he wrote, but the opinion as to the Continental origin of the game was first distinctly formulated in his work.

"We have all the evidence," he says (pp. 18-19) "which etymology can give in favour of its Continental origin. The terms, being all Dutch or German, point to the Low Countries as the place in which it most probably originated, or, at least, from whence it was conveyed to us. For if it was not introduced from the Continent, but was first invented in this country, it must have been at a time when the German and Low Dutch were the prevailing languages. Now, though the Saxon was once pretty general in this country, and there are still many Dutch words in our language, yet those German dialects were never so general as to make it credible, that our countrymen, in any particular invention, would employ them alone as the appropriate terms. In the history of inventions, such a phenomenon is not to be found. had there been only one or two foreign terms, these would not have militated much against the domestic origin of the game, but the whole of the terms being Continental, compel us to ascribe to it a Continental origin."

The italics in this passage are ours, and they show on what basis the Continental origin of our great national game is supposed to rest. Without further enquiry this statement is simply repeated, time after time, by writers on the subject,

["Curling is a comparatively modern amusement in Scotland, and does not appear to have been introduced till the beginning of the sixteenth century, when it was probably brought over by the emigrant Flemings."Encyc. Metrop. (Brewster) vol. xvii. p. 469.

"Powerful etymological evidence supports its foreign origin. The terms, being all butch or German, point to the Low Countries as the place whence we, at least, derived our knowledge of is supposed that the Flemings were the people who, in the fifteenth or about the beginning of the sixteenth century, introduced Curling into this country. "—A Descriptive and Historical Sketch of Curling," &c. Kilmarnock, 1825.

Sir R. Broun gives both sides without his own opinion, but suggests that some Scottish traveller may have introduced the game on his return from the Continent.—Memorabilia Curliana Mfabenensia. Dumfries, 1830.

Dr Cairnie remarks, `After all we have seen or heard, we may say that its introduction or commencement is involved in mystery. "—Essay on Curling. Glasgow, 1833.

Mr J. Brown, in his History of the Sanquhar Curling Society (Dumfries, 1874), is inclined "to regard Scotland as the birthplace of Curling."

Dr James Taylor, after strongly combating the Continental theory, concludes, "There is good reason to believe that Curling originated in Scotland, probably in the south-western district of the country, which has always been its stronghold."—Curling!—the Ancient Scottish Game. Edinburgh, 1884.]

and accepted by them as gospel—they follow the first historian like a flock of sheep; and even those whose amor Scoticae will not hear of such a low view of the origin of the game, do not attempt to meet him on his own found, or to overthrow his argument from etymology.

Let us therefore look at the etymological argument by itself, apart from any historical facts that may be brought forward in its support. On the face of it, the assertion that the whole vocabulary of the curler is a foreign one, is absurd, and overshoots the marl:. The curler's language, as he plays the old game, is certainly peculiar. It would defy the wisest philologist to explain its formation. Even a native, if he were unacquainted with the game, might, front the shores of the loch that resounds with the shout of the bonspeil, suppose that the players were foreigners, so peculiar is their language. The curling lingo is, however, essentially native. It drags into its service words and phrases that look very queer in their new employment, and piles on the agony for philologists by the strange use it makes of these servant-words; but, for all that, the native Doric is, and has always been, the staple speech of the curler; and, while its use since the union of the kingdoms has been gradually dying out it has been preserved by curlers more truly than by any others. Nay, more—as if the game could not be properly played without it—the native dialect has accompanied it to those other countries into which it has so happily been transferred in later times. To assert that the whole vocabulary of our national game is Continental is just as much as to assert that our whole national vocabulary is the same: it proves too much.

There are, however, some "foreign terms" that may seem to "militate," as Ramsay puts it, "against the domestic origin of the game." Let us select a few specimens of curling words that were in use at the time Ramsay formed his conclusion (and most of which still do duty) e.g., Boardhead, bonspiel, brough, bunker, channelstane, chuckle, cock; or cockee, cove, coal, colly or coal-score, crampit, curl, director, draw, hack: or hatch, hog, kuting, guoiting or coiting, rack, rink, skip, slug, tee or toesee, trickers, wick, witter or wittyr. It cannot be denied that there is a far-away sound about some of these. Some are no doubt of Dutch or German origin, as stated by Ramsay, but that they all connect the game with the Low Countries, and compel as to own its Continental origin, is an entire mistake, and may be net with a distinct denial. The great dictionary of Dr Jamieson had only been published a year or two before the "member of the Duddingston Club drew up his "account," and he must have rested his case against the native origin of curling very much on Jamieson. Now, while the Dictionary is a perfect storehouse for the student of Scottish literature, its references being very full and very reliable, Jamieson's etymologies are quite unreliable, and in many cases misleading. Some of Ramsay's derivations are, however, more far-fetched and absurd than anything found in the lexicologist's work, as for example:-

Curl, from the German Kurzweil: an amusement: a game: and Curling from Kurzweillen, to play for amusement.
Rink, from ancient Saxon hrink, hrineg, a strong man.

Jamieson, to his credit be it said, does not commit himself to such a couple of evident errors. There is one word among the number on which more stress has been laid than on any of the others, because it is said to imply a distinct connection between a game played in the Low Country and our game of curling. It is the word kuting, guoiting or coiting. Kilian, it would appear, in his Etymoligicon Teutonicae Linguae (1632), renders the German words Kluyten, Kallayten, "Ludere massis sire ylobi_s glaciatis: eertare discis in aquore ylaeiato."—to play with lumps or balls frozen: to contend with quoits on an icy plain. Kutiny or coiting, as will appear (Chap. II.), was for a long time, the name given to curling, and its primitive style was more allied to quoit-playing than its style is in modern times. The implements of the game were originally called coits; and so Jamieson throws out the suggestion (Diet.—sub voce, to coit)—"Can it be supposed that this west country name has been softened from Tent. Kluyten, certare discis in oequore glaciato?" Ramsay jumps at this suggestion, and regards it as further proof that all the evidence of etymology is in favour of the foreign origin of the game. :Now, it may be evidence—it is evidence—that Dutchmen had two kinds of ice-games: one apparently a kind of "shinty" played on the ice with snowballs, the other a kind of pitch-penny played with small quoits; but it is not etymological evidence; for kuting or coiting and kluyten or kalluyten can only be made one term by a very great stretch of imagination. Had our word cloyte or clyte, to squat down, been attached to the game at first, or had Kilian given us under Dutch cone a reference to something like our early curling, we might at once have granted. some connection between the ice-game of the Dutch and our own on etymological grounds; but on these grounds alone—and this is what we are now considering—the evidence is insuficient to prove that our curling was the game spoken of by Kilian, and that it was introduced from the Low Countries. Indeed Jamieson shrinks from his own suggestion when under the word Curling he acknowledges that Kilian's kluyten, though applied to a similar amusement, is a different name. Thus far our enquiry into etymology does not support the statement which ascribes the origin of curling to the Low Countries. The most thorough investigation of this statement since it was first hazarded by Ramsay is to be found in the Annals of the Parish of Lesmahago", 1864. The able author of this work (J. B. Greenshields) thus concludes:-

"After careful examination of these words . . . the conclusion appears certain that many of them do proceed from foreign roots: but the same remark is applicable to almost every word in the English language. Of the original language of our own country, it is sufficient to state that it was Celtic; but the venerable Bede, the Saxon historian, informs us that in his day four languages prevailed in Britain, viz., the Irish, the British or Cumraig, the Pictish or Scandinavian, and the Anglo-Saxon. Twice was the languishing Anglo-Saxon energy stirred up by the admixture of northern blood; and the `salt blood' which makes British youth turn almost instinctively to the ocean, and which forms so notable an ingredient in Britain's dauntless seamanship, is probably due in no small degree to the daring spirit infused by Scandinavian sea rovers (Northmen in Cumberland and Westmoreland p. 3). With the blood of Denmark came a mixture of the Danish language, and with the Norman conquest Norman French was partially introduced. That.foreigners in considerable numbers subsequently settled in our country is an undoubted historical fact; but, as the most skilful philologists pronounce the German, Danish, Swedish, and ancient Saxon, to be all of Gothic origin, and that the English language is mainly compounded of these, it does seem unwarrantable, from etymology alone, and in the absence of all historical proof, to decide upon the foreign origin of the game, seeing that our ancestors could not avoid using words of foreign derivation. `The whole fabric and scheme of the English language,' says that great authority, Dr Johnson, `is Gothic or Teutonic."'

In our desire to deal fairly with this question, and to place before curlers the whole case, we have not simply formed our own opinion on an unbiased investigation of the subject, but have secured the verdict of some of our ablest philologists on the words above given (with many others), and the assertion of Ramsay as to what is implied in them regarding the origins of curling. Professor Masson, whose opinion is of the greatest value, thus writes:-

"I see no proof in them collectively that the game came from the Continent. Most of the terms are of Teutonic origin in a general way; some are of French original; some might even he claimed as of Celtic original; and a few seem recent inventions by the natural nous of players of the game within the last century or so, to define recurring circumstances and incidents of the game previously unnamed.

"I do not think much can be made for your question on either side by chasing up etymologies. The matter seems mainly a historical one.

"Wherever there was ice, there must have been, since man existed, games on the ice; and the question is whether the particular game of Curling can be proved to have been in use anywhere out of Scotland, without clear derivation from Scotland. If it ever existed anywhere else, it ought to be found in that place now; for, the ice still remaining, the extinction of the game, if once in use, may be voted impossible. Curlers, therefore, ought to drive at this question—'Is there any CurIing now, or anything like Curling, anywhere in the world out of Scotland, except by obvious and provable derivation from Scotland?'

The terms of the game, on the supposition of its Scottish origin, are easily accounted for. The original inventors of the game, or of the germ of the present game, would use the words of their composite Scoto-English vocabulary—mostly Teutonic, but some French and some Celtic—for the purposes and situations of the game, just as they would for any other business; and as the game grew, other words would be added for new developments of it or new intricacies—some of these with no antique reference in them at all, but mere modern phrases of course."

Professor Mackinnon states his opinion thus:-

"The great majority of the words are not only Teutonic, but seem to me to be native. Hack, e.g., is an old English verb, and a noun used in the same sense is but what may be looked for. On the other hand bonspiel is foreign, and made up of bon (Fr.) and a form of the Teutonic spieler. I may say that in the West Highlands we have borrowed speil from the Norsemen in the sense of `a game.' Rink, evidently the same as ring, looks a loan from the Continent, though the Scotch often pronounce their medials pretty strongly, perhaps under Continental and Highland influences. On the general question: if the words were proved foreign, the presumption would be a strong one, that the name was imported—so strong indeed that it would "hold the field" until a native origin was proved by other evidence. But my knowledge does not enable me (it is to Celtic philology that I give chief attention) to say with any degree of confidence that the words you quote or many of them are borrowed into Scotch."

Professor Blaekie adds:-

I am no adept in the Scandinavian and other dialects of the Teutonic that skirt the Baltic. The presumption, however, seems quite plain that the vocabulary of a name that belongs to frozen water, should claim a descent from the nations whose skates were frequently their shoes for four months in the year, but whether in addition to this presumable kinship there may not have been a direct historical introduction of technical terms from Flanders, is a historical question which would require a detailed historical knowledge to decide."

A survey of the evidence thus far produced, seems to warrant our laying down the double conclusion

(1) That the proportion of words of Teutonic origin in the Curling vocabulary has been over-estimated;


(2) That, even if a great many are Teutonic, it does not follow that the game of Curling must have had its origin in the Low Countries.

The argument from etymology must, therefore, if left to stand alone, fall to the ground.

To complete our enquiry we must, however, go further afield; and, though we may have to trespass a little on our third chapter, it is necessary to investigate here in how far the etymological position, though weak in itself, may be supported by historical facts. "Curlers," says Professor Masson, "ought to drive at [This is a good curling expression, used no doubt unwittingly by the learned Professor, but all the more truly illustrating his statement.] this question, 'Is there any curling now, or anything like curling, anywhere in the world out of Scotland, except by obvious and provable derivation from Scotland?"' A good straight shot "up the howe" for it is a case of "chap and lie," is here sufficient. We may confidently say there is not; and, if any one has any objection to this direct negative, let hint "now speak out or be forever silent."

To the game on ice described in Kilian's Teutonic Dictionary we have already referred in discussing the point of etymology pure and simple. As to its resemblance to curling we may now quote Dr Cairnie:-

"The explanation referred to by the writers on this sport, as to the interpretation of the words kluyten, kalluyten, in Kilian's Dictionary, throws no light on the game we now call Curlinn. KiIian's definition of it is thus given: 'Ludere massis sire globis glaciatis in oequore glaciato. This sport certainly must have been different from our Curling; and now-a-days, from our want of frost, we should find it difficult to procure icy missiles to play with. We find the word Klyten in the Dutch language signifies a clod; and, had there been want of better materiel, it might be argued that iced clay clods had been originally in use for Curling." "We may notice," he adds in a note, "the remark of a noted stone-maker on the subject. He says that 'it must have been bairns' play, for that neither the ice nor clod-iced blocks would have stood the iiidge of an Ayrshire hammer."'  [Essay on Curling and Artificial Pond Ma/dug. Glasgow, 1833.]

The Icelanders had a ;acne called "Knattleikr." It was played upon the ice by means of what are called bowls. [To their diversions likewise belongs that called knattleikur, or playing with bowls on the ice."—Von Troil's Letters on Iceland (1750), p. 92.

"Knattleikr, a kind of cricket or trap-ball, a favourite game with the old Scandinavians. . . . The ice in winter was a favourite play-ground."Cleasby and Vigfusson's Icelandic-English Dictionary. Oxford, 1874.]

Such a parentage of curling is quite as feasible as the Continental one on etymological grounds; but it does not seem to exist now, and its relationship to curling must have been very distant. In the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual [To be afterwards referred to simply as the Annual.] for 1848, there is an interesting cominunication from Professor Ferguson, King's College, Aberdeen; and, as it is necessary to throw all the light on the subject possible, we transcribe it for our readers. It was addressed to the Professor by Thomas Purdie, and certainly describes the nearest approach to anything like curling that has come under our notice. It is as follows:—

"When I was in Munich, as I promised, I made a point of seeing the Curling Ponds and Curling Apparatus in use in that part of the world, and subjoin a description of the game as there practised, so far as may imperfect knowledge of German enabled me to understand it. In regard to such a subject the dictionary was of course useless, the technical terms in use having no place there among their more classic friends, and many of them having no equivalent even in the Curling language of our own country. I believe, however, you may depend on my information being pretty correct, as I was not content with a mere verbal description, but played a game on a barn floor with the man who takes charge of the Pond and Curling Stones, and vindicated the honour of Scotland by beating him with his own weapons and on his own ground. The game is a very ancient one, and is played generally throughout Bavaria, but more especially in the neighbourhood of Munich, the capital. It is common for gentlemen to have within their. grounds artificial ponds for the practice of the game. These consist generally of one rink, fifty or sixty yards long, which is the common generally between the Tees. The Tees, called Taube, are moveable, and the nearest stone counts wherever the Tee may be moved to. They are formed of square pieces of wood four inches long by two thick. The "stones" are made of wood, and are in German called "ice sticks," for an equally good reason that in Scotland we call them stones. You recollect some attempts being made to supply the place of stories with wooden fabrications: these naturally got the name "of wooden stones, and, when some (farina spirit attempts to introduce stones into Germany, I doubt not they will be called "stone sticks." Their sticks weigh from 12 to 25 lbs. English; run on a sole of from 10 to 13 inches, encircled close to the sole by a heavy rim of iron, to give weight and solidity. The handle is perpendicular, about 9 inches long and slightly curved at the top. The following drawing will give you some idea of the shape.

"There are from two to four players a side: the sides are chosen by ballot. Numbered balls are put into a box, and each man takes his side according to the number of his ball. The places of the players are fixed by playing one end, and each man ranks according to the distance his stick measures from the Tee. The first player is called Maier, the second Engmaier, the third Helfer, and the fourth, when there is one, also Helfer. The Maier directs the game, and his is reckoned the most important stick. The sides do not play aternately, as with us; but, when one side has the shot, the other must play till they take it out. Each side has a right to play the Maier stick twice. When all the sticks are played, including second playing of the Maier's —the party gaining the end counts six. If any party take the end without playing their Maier the second time-it counts nine. For example:—Suppose A and B to be on one side—C and D on the other. A plays, then C. If C has the shot B plays—If B takes the shot D plays—If D takes the shot, A plays his Maier, and supposing hire also to take the shot—C follows with his Maier—and on taking the shot counts six, and it requires another end, probably two to finish the game. Again, suppose A plays, then C—If A has the shot then D plays—If D take the shot, A plays his Maier--if he fail to take the shot, C and D count nine and the game is ended—the right of C to play his Maier not having been exercised. Again, suppose A and C play—A. has the slot—D plays, and afterwards C plays his Maier, both failing to take the shot, A and B count nine. The stakes are paid at the end of each game, and there is always some stake played for. 'The rinks played on are at least ten yards longer than with us, and it must require considerable force to propel the sticks. They are swung backwards and forwards in the hand before being thrown off.

"You will see, however, from the above, that it has little in common with our roaring game—no wicking, guarding, or running a port; arid, failed as Bavaria is for its brooms and broom girls, there is even no sweeping, so that their game is but child's play compared to our noble science. In fact we may consider the Bavarians to be in a state of heathenish ignorance on the subject of Curling—most degenerate soils of worthy sires, if the game has descended to them, as to us, from our common Gothic ancestors; and I conceive this to be a fair field for the missionary exertions of the Royal Grand Caledonian Curling Club, —the manifold corruption-, which have crept into their game rendering reformation of the utmost consequence, and the superiority of orthodox Curling so manifest as only to require exhibition to ensure conviction. Armed with a few copies of the 'Annual' translated into German, a few stones to show the pattern, I could undertake, in one winter, to convert the whole nation to the true faith."

These three—the Teutonic Kayuten or Kallityten of Kilian, the Icelandic Knattleikr of Von Troll, and the Bavarian game so minutely described by Mr Purdie, are all the instances we have yet heard of a kind of ice-game which might be considered as in any way related to curling, and they are clearly not derived from Scotland. But is it not as clear that our game of curling is not derived from any of them? Is the resemblance so strong that the argument from etymology, unable, as we have seen, to stand alone, draws from it sufficient support? No one, we presume, will venture to say so. "Wherever there was ice," says Professor Masson, " there must have been, since man existed, games on the ice; "and it is not improbable that the Scots Curling, the Dutch Klvylen., the Bavarian "Ice-Sticks," and the Icelandic Knattleiker, are all descendants from a common ancestor whose "period" is as ancient as the human race. Given a cold climate, where a man must exercise himself to keep his blood warm, an inherent tendency from Old Adam to throw stones," and a struggling aversion to that mischief which Satan provides for the unemployed, with a sheet of ice to disport upon—we have all the "makings" of our national game, without requiring to search far away for its origin.

[Since we have noticed most of the accounts of the origin of Curling, we should not omit that of the author of Sixty-six Years of Curling: being Records of North Woodside Curling Club, 1820-1886." Captain Crawford quietly passes by the Native versus Continental discussion, and skews how to question of origin has endless ramifications, by pitting field-labourers against masons as the most likely originators of the game. He dismisses the masonic origin as rather fanciful; and, if his support of the other side is liable to the same objection, it is at least a capital piece of evolutionary logic. . "We believe," he says, "that the game originated among rural workers and the tillers of the land, in those moorland districts where undrained lochs and tarns were numerous centuries ago. Let us suppose a hard frost sets in: the rural labourer finds his plough frozen in the furrow; the earth is hard as iron; everything is bound in the cold embrace of the frost king. The rural workers meet together in their enforced idleness.

The exhilarating winter air acts like a stimulant on their spirits, and the country-folk are full of fun. The loch and stream are frozen ; they venture on the ice for the purpose of sliding ; o:ie mirthful fellow seizes a boulder, he putts it along the ice, and he and his fellows are astonished at the distance it is carried on the smooth surface of the frozen waters. He challenges his companions to a test of strength, and they begin to select suitable stones from the beds of the rivers, and from the dry-stone dykes, and play one against the other, by hurling the stones along in rude fashion. Ultimately, they fix a mark at which the stone is to be thrown ; and in process of time the game becomes developed into an exhilarating pastime, where otherwise the country people would suffer from ennnui. The rude stone selected, from its natural adaptation for playing, soon becomes moulded into more fitting forms. It is chipped to a shape, its under-surface is polished ; a rude handle or grip is inserted ; and the enjoyment afforded in the bright winter days by meeting together in this friendly rivalry brings out the whole rural population to enjoy the fun. The farmer and the ploughman keep themselves in good humour during the enforced idleness of the winter. The village workers find their labour impeded by the frost as well as the ploughmen. The smith is unemployed, because all farm and rural labour is suspended, and he joins in the fun and frolic of the game. The joiner and the artizan of the district catch the infection, and play sides against one another. The laird and the parish priest enter into the enjoyment, and encourage the innocent and exhilarating pastime, which has many salutary social influences, and keeps the hands of the people out of mischief. If the frost continues for long periods, as it often does on the upland districts of Scotland, one hamlet challenges another to a game of Curling, as was also their 'wont in olden days to challenge each -other to games of shinty, football, and the like. Thus the game grew into district and national importance, and the implements of the sport, rude and primitive at first, have been developed into handsome and fitting accessories of the exhilarating recreation." ]

Those amusements we have mentioned are the ways in which other nations have protected themselves in times of cold, and this Curling is ours; but it is just as much proved that they got their games from us as that we got ours from them. We therefore conclude:

(3) That no game is proved to exist, or to have existed, in other countries, so much resembling Curling as to imply that the game was borrowed into our country.

In adding this to our former conclusions, we ought in justice to say that Ramsay, in supporting the Continental origin of the game, does not forget to deal with the objection; and he does so in these words:--

"Even though it do not exist on the Continent, and though no traces have been observed, by many of our countrymen who resided there, of its ever having existed, still this circumstance is far from being sufficient to prove that it is not of Continental origin. Within these two hundred years, the occupations, manners, and customs of the different countries of Europe have undergone the greatest revolutions. The vast improvements that have been made in agriculture and commerce, by giving employment to persons of all descriptions, have had a fatal influence upon our sports and amusements, particularly such as are practised in the open air. Hence many of the amusements of former times are now forgotten, or fast going into disuse. . . . . Curling, therefore, may have once flourished, where now, among an industrious and laborious people, it is completely forgotten."

So it may, and there is proof here and there that in parts of our own country it has (lied away after having been played for a time ; but it is not likely to have wholly disappeared from any country where it was ever practised; and Professor Masson's dictum may be set against Ramsay's explanation as much more likely to be true, viz., that the extinction of the game, if once in use, may be voted impossible. [Since this chapter was in type, the publisher of this work has a communication from J. G. Robbers, Amsterdam, of date April 2, 1889, in which there is this statement:—"The game `Curling' is quite unknown in our country. Mr H. C. Ragge, keeper of the library of the University in town, to whom I have applied for information on the subject, writes me to-play that he could not trace a similar game in the present or last century, and that he believes he may assume that curling or a game similar to it has never been in use in this country."]

Our task is not, however, done. "The matter," says Professor Masson, "seems mainly a historical one;" and Professor Blackie—"Whether . . . there may not have been a direct historical introduction of technical terms from Flanders, is a historical question which would require a detailed historical knowledge to decide." Is there, then, any direct historical evidence bearing on the introduction of curling from the Low Countries, and buttressing the philological argument, which in itself is weak? The upholders of the foreign origin of curlier; profess to have such evidence, fitting in exactly with their argument from philology, and, though destroying the idea of a national origin of the game, giving it, nevertheless, great antiquity. This evidence, as far as we can Make out, is furnished (though Ramsay gives no authority) in Buchanan's history of Scotland, [Aikman's Buchanan, Vol. II. Book X. p. 41.] where, describing the reign of James I. (1424-1431), the historian says --

"There was one admirable quality which the King possessed. In the midst of his most anxious solicitude about the greatest affairs, he thought nothing, however small, beneath his notice, from which any a(lvalltane could arise to the public. As dining the constant state of wa^fare in which Scotland had been engagecl, for nearly a hundred and fifty years from the death of Alexander, her cities had been wasted and burned, an^d her youth trained to arms, while the other arts had been neglected, lie invited tradesmen of every description from Flanders, and encouraged them to settle by rewards and immunities, and filled the almost deserted cities with artisans; the nubility, according to the ancient custom, residing on their estates. or did he by this restore oniy the ancient appearance and trade of the towns, but he likewise induced a great crowd of vagabonds to betake themselves to industry, and superseded the necessity of bringing, at a great expense, from abroad, what could with little cost be produced at home."

Now, though Buchanan is more esteemed for his classical accomplishments than for historical accuracy, we have no. reason to doubt the facts here narrated. It was quite a common thing for the English and the Scottish Kings in those early times to "beg, borrow, or steal" Flemish peasants and tradesmen, not always with such high motives as are here ascribed to James I. of Scotland by Buchanan, but to curb the influence and power of their nobles, which always increased as the industrious classes diminished. On the other hand, the Flemings themselves were often led to seek refuge in England, Wales, and Scotland.

The year 1108 [Powell.] says an old Welsh historian, "did overflowe and Browne a great part of the Lowe countrie of Flanders in such sort that the inhabitants were driven to seeke themselves other dwellings : who came to Kind; Henrie and desired hint to give some voile place to remain in : who, being very liberal of that which was not his own, gave them the lands of Ros in Wyvet or West Wales, where Pembroke,. Teuby, and ltaverfordwest are now built, and there they remaine till this (laie, as may be well perceived by their speeche and conditions, farce differing from the rest of the countrie."

And Holinshed, evidently referring to the same or a similar inundation, writes:

"About this season (A.D. 1107), a great part of Flanders being drowned by an inundation or breaking in of the sea, a great number of Flemings came to England beseeching the King to have some void part assigned to them wherein they might inhabit. At the first they were appointed to the countrie being on the east part of the Tweed: but within four years after they were removed into a corner by the sea-side in Wales, called Pembrokeshire, to the end that they might be a defence there against the unquiet Welsh."  [The words in italics spew that Flemings were near us as far hack as the twelfth century.]

Giraldus Cambrensis favours us in addition with some insight into the character of these early emigrants:---

"The inhabitants of Haverfordwest," he says, "derived their origin from Flanders, and were sent by Henry I. to inhabit these districts: a people brave and robust, ever hostile to the Welsh: a people, I say, well versed in commerce and woollen manufactures: a people anxious to, seek gain by sea and land, in defiance of fatigue or danger: a hardy race equally fitted for the plough and sword : a people brave and happy," &c.

Religious persecution seems also from time to time to have driven refugees from the Low Countries into ours; and Samuel Smiles in his Huguenots states that "Colonies of Flemish fishermen having settled during the reign of Henry- II. at Brighton, Newhaven, and other places along the south coast, their lineage is still traceable there in local words, names, and places."

Curious documentary evidence can be adduced [Notes and Queries. Sec. IV. vol. S. p. 259. Chambers' Domestic Annals of Scotland, I. :352.] to show that, in the year 1601, at the instance of George Heriot, and others who were then Commissioners of the Royal Buralis of Scotland, Flemish workmen were brought from Norwich to Edinburgh, to introduce the manufacture of all sortis of claithis."

The influence of the Low Countries on our arts, industries, and literature, is as yet, we believe, an unwritten chapter of British history. To them we owe the printing press, and from them, we are told, Shakespeare got much of the information that enabled him to write his matchless plays. On many of our manufactures and arts they have impressed their versatility and skill; and agriculture, it is said, owes to them the method of drainage, to which its development is in great measure due.

The point, however, for us to determine now is whether we also owe to the Flemings our great national game. The answer to this question is the filial conclusion of the series which we have tabulated as we proceeded with this enquiry. It is that----

(4) No evidence is forthcoming to prove that Curling was introduced into our country by Flemish emigrants.

The period of 150 years, to which Buchanan refers as following the death of Alexander III. (1286), though lit up by Bannockburn was indeed a dark and troublous time, and we need not wonder that through that period no word is heard of any amusement on the ice in our "most distressful country." There was no "gamyn and gle," as the pathetic lines preserved by Wyntonn—the earliest we have in our another tongue—so touchingly relate:—

Quhen Alysander, oure Kyn, wes Bede,
That Scotland led in Iuwe and le, [Joy]
Away wes sons [Abundance] of ale and brede,
Of wyne and wax, of gamin and gle
Oure gold wes changyd into lede.
Chryst, borne in-to Virdynyte,
Succoure Scotland, and remede,
That stad [Placed.] [is in] perplexyte."

It is not unlikely that, when, under the able, though ill-fated, James I., the condition of matters was improved, when the cities that had been wasted and burned were filled with artisans, and the youth turned from arms to cultivate the arts—that amusement, which had been forgotten, would be revived. Forms of amusement hitherto undeveloped would also receive attention, and the Scots, and their Flemish friends, might exercise themselves together on ice in the cold season : but certainly the link that connects the origin of our curling with Flemish immigration is wanting,. It is only conjecture, and we do not see how the argument from etymology can receive from a mere conjecture such proof as to enable it to "hold the field." The member of the Duddingston Club who asserted the Continental origin of curling, to do him justice, does not base upon the immigration of these mechanics and manufacturers into our towns and villages, in the reigns of Henry V. and VI. of England, and Junes I of Scotland," any decided proof of his theory. "There is" he says "a very strong probability that the game of curling was introduced into this country the Flemings in the fifteenth or about the beginning; of The sixteenth century. This strong probability, as far as we can judge, must be reduced to a mere possibility, and nothing more; and, until some more direct evidence is forthcoming, we are not warranted in believing that the game had its origin in Scotland. Why, even in the time of Alexander III., there were Flemish settlers in our country; and we have seen that centuries before the time at which it is suggested that curling was introduced here, there were Flemish colonies in England and Wales, some so near us as to be settled inn the country lying on the east part the Tweed. How is it that no trace of it exists in England and Wales, if it was carried by Low Country people along with them and how is it that no earlier trace of it is found in our own country than the sixteenth century? Surely, if the game had been introduced by the Flemings in the time of James I, we should have expected to hear something of it in the time of James IV. (1488-1513), who himself personally took an interest in such games as he found among his people. But we hear nothing. Tytler [Vol. III., Lives of Scottish Worthies.] gives us an account of ancient times and amusements of the period, and, from the MS accounts of the Lord High Treasurer, gives references to some of them, but no mention is made of the game of curling; and, as we shall see hereafter, it is not noticed by any writer till about the beginning of the seventeenth century. It will be found, as we proceed, that the earliest date as yet discovered on a curling-stone of the primitive type is 1511, and it may be said that this Stirling stone is a discovery that adds another link to the evidence in support of the introduction of curling from FIanders at this time. It is to be hoped that other stones will be forthcoming; but in the meantime every stone of the kind found in this country is only evidence that the game, even in its earliest form, is "our ain" since neither in Wales, England, the Low Countries, nor anywhere else, are such relics cast up; for it is absurd to suppose that, if origin of curling where we have to leave other origins, in the mist and haze of an unknowable antiquity.

Such an inquiry has not been uninteresting, for it has led us into corners of national history that we have not previously visited; but, after all, may we not add that Scotland's claim to the origination of the ;ante of curling is not affected, even though it were proved that in the sixteenth century we began to "throw stones" on the ice like the Flemings, and to speak of this exercise in a Flemish tongue. "That's no Curlin"' may well he said of each of these early forms of ice-names to which we have referrer. Each is further removed from our game than the "anthropoid ape" is from the cultured man of the nineteenth century.

It is not, therefore, the origin of the name, but the origin of the game but the germ of the game that is questioned; and, even if it were proved that the game of the sixteenth century was unoriginal, the originality of the game of curling, as we play it, and the credit of the development of germ, can never be taken from us. We do not, as a nation, invent every good thing, but we know a good thing when we see it. We are said to "keep the sabath, and everything else we can lay our hands on," and we are not ashamed of this trite definition of national character; but we add—"provided it is worth keeping." Be sure it is not for nought that we value and praise our national game, and jealously guard our interest in its origin and development. We know what it has done for us, and we know what its enjoyment will do for the generations that come after us; and so we are proud of its nationality. Like the ice-games of other countries, it may for centuries have been a mere germ floating about without form, and not worthy of notice by those who chronicled the beginnings of all that is now best in our nationial character, but it was in our country that the germ found its true development, and no other can take away the honour of its evolution from Scotland. "Soopin's everything," as we say upon the ice, and so here. Even though a Dutchman

may have delivered it from a Flanders crampit, it is to our credit that we did not suffer it to die a hog, as other nations have done, but sent it "snoovin's up the howe" through the "port," into the "parish," so that it now Iies a "pat-lid o' perfection" among games suiting our national character to a tee.

"Sic Scoti: alii non aeque felices."

Others have not carried it to such happy issues (though it is our fervent wish that the day may speedily come when the non of the old Duddlingston motto will be changed into mune); but in Scotland, by the attention we have given, to it, and the glory we have thrown around it in thousands of bloodless bolispiels; by the sociality, the robustness, the "smeddum" and the enthusiasm it has imparted to our national life, we have made it as truIy a national institution as the haggis, the parridge pat, the pibroch, or the "auld kirk"; and it is as truly our national game as the thistle is our national emblem, or Saint Andrew our national saint.

After all, "brither curlers," is it not, when we come to think of it, something to be thankful for that the inventor of curling; is unknown—that no Jove sent it forth from his powerful brain fully equipped, like Minerva, "stanes, an' besoms, an' a'" (though the poet, in our prefix, seems to have ascribed to Albyn Jove a feat of this description); but that the game has slowly evolved from stage to stage, through many imperfections, to its present perfect form, a tendancy to infinite variation being ever checked by a process of natural selection, and the survival of the fittest type? Is it not a blessing that we have not to march once a year, "besoms up," to the shrine of our great originator, like Birnum Wood coming to Dunsinane? What a mighty cairn would by this time have towered over his grave, if curlers had only known it! 'Blocks and boulders of the curling times of old—Sauquhar Blacks, Crawick Greys, Carsphairn Reds, Crawfordjohns, Crieff's, Burnocks, and Ailsas—all worsted in the wars, would have found a last resting-place there, till a veritable Tower of Babel threatened the skies.

"Then drain deep the cog, till the brain is a-whirling,
And pledge me, ye lovers o' Scotia's airs game,
To the memor of him, the inventor o' Curling,
Though the mists of oblivion envelop his name."

So saith one to whom it seemed good to honour the unknown by whirling through the switchback of the "cog," into the same regions of oblivion. We recommend no curler to go so far, or to be so foolish; for surely the intoxication of the living is a sorry commemoration of the dead: but, according to our curling motto, where we cannot be clear let us not be too keen, for controversy too often waxes in its keenness as it wanes in its clearness. At any rate, agreement over wine is better than war over words and, since the game itself is ours, with all the benefits that flow from it, we may leave its real origin in the darkness where it lies, and "fill ae bumper," at least, to the memory of its author—riot in solemn silence, for that always seems to us as gruesome as a cold shower-bath over a warm tumbler of toddy— but in the genial glow of gratitude that every true curler feels when lie thinks of what "Scotland's ain game" has done for his country, his kindred, and himself.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus