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

Scotland and the Scots
Some More Characteristics - Religious, Poetic, Brave, Honest, Conservative

IT used to be a standing joke in the West of Scotland to aver that every native of Paisley was born a poet. Judging by the number of rhymsters and poets which that good old town has given to the world, there was, no doubt, a modicum of truth in the remark, and it was so agreeable to the ears of the Paisley folks that they liked it, and believed it, and almost swear by it to the present day. I have often thought, however, that the poetic wealth of Paisley has loomed up larger than that of many other Scottish towns, from the fact that the "bodies" had a clearer idea of the value of "guid black prent" than their neighbors and used it freely, while the poets of other places were content to circulate their literary efforts in manuscript, or to repeat them at the social gathering or around the ''festive board." Dundee, for instance, has been the home of a large array of singers, good, had and indifferent, from the time the Wedderburns wrote their "Guid and Godly Ballates," until George Gilfillan forever laid down the harp. Aberdeen has furnished quite a regiment of rhymsters, so has Forfar, so has Leith, so has Edinburgh and Glasgow and many others, while Ayr can boast of one poet among her contingent who is worth, in himself, a whole legion.

Scotland has well been called the "land of song." Every battle-field, river, loch, glen, town or village, has had its story or its praises chanted in rhyme, and even the smallest clachan has, or has had, its own particular poet who has made it the theme of some of his verses. Sometimes a poet, not content with a single town will weave into a song an entire country side. Thus "Burne, the violer," in his quaint, seventeenth century ballad, sings of "Leader Haughs and Yarrow " and all the places within a day's journey -

Park, Wanton-wa's, and wooden-cleuch,
The East and Wester Mainses,
The wood of Lauder's fair eneuch,
The corns are good in the Blainslies,
There aits are fine and sold by kind,
That if ye search all thorough Mearns,
Buchan, Marr, nane better are
Than Leader Haughs and Yarrow.

* * * * * *
"Sing Erslington and Cowden knowes,
Where Homes had ance commanding;
And D ygrange with the milk white ewes,
Twixt Tweed and Leader standing:
The bird that flees through Reedpath trees,
And Glcdswood banks ilk morrow,
May chant and sing sweet Leader Haughs
And bonny howms o' Yarrow."

"This song", wrote Robert Chambers, "is little better than a string of names of places, yet there is something so pleasing in it, especially to a 'south-country man,' that it has long maintained its place in our collections." The imaginative, thoughtful temperament of the people finds its highest utterance in poetry, and this, when it does not make its presence seen in the shape of rhyme, is felt in the graceful ease with which the Doric falls into rhythm. Some of the words in common use in Scotland are in themselves, expressive of the highest poetic sentiment and such a phrase as "auld lang syne" conveys to the listener who is acquainted with its full and untranslatable meaning a complete and perfect poem. Poetry is not a thing of lines and rhymes, quaint conceits, happy images and more or less extravagant allusions, as it is generally supposed to be. It is a nameless, undefinable quality that touches the heart and rouses in the breast of the listener or reader a deep sense of human sympathy or love. It is heard as truly in the voice of the milkmaid, singing at her toil as in the swelling notes of a grand cathedral organ. It sounds in the human ear as sweetly when murmured in the cottage, as when it re-echoes through the palace, and it is equally at home in both, for it recognizes no merely human, artificial distinctions. It needs the aid of neither education nor culture to make itself appreciated, for it is not of mortal origin, but part of the divine birthright and the common property of all who desire to possess it.

Among the singers of Scotland every class has been, and, even yet, is represented. James I., James V., and James VI., rank among royal poets, and even Mary, "Queen of Scots," as she is affectionately called, is said to have found time amid her earlier frivolities and later sorrows to commit her thoughts to verse. Noblemen, like the great Marquis of Montrose, the Earl of Glencairn, the Earl of Stirling, and in our clay, like the Marquis of Lorne, and the Earl of Southesk; country gentlemen like Drummond of Hawthornden and Mure of Rowallan; ministers of the Gospel like John Home, whose tragedy of "Douglas" is still seen on the stage, and John Skinner, whose "'I'ullochgorum" is one of the classics of Scottish song; lawyers like Sir Walter Scott, and Lord Neaves; merchants like Allan Ramsay, and William Cross; farmers like Robert Burns and Adam Skirving, and peasants like James Hogg and David Siller, have all in turn attuned the lyre and drew from it the sweetest sounds. Even in the unpoetical atmosphere of the cities, from loom, bench and forge, amidst all the grim realities which face those who have to toil day after day for a pittance, the burden of their lives, and of other lives, has been softened and me]- lowed by the songs they have woven in their brains while their hands were busy with material things.

The grand feature of the Scottish muse is that it is intensely practical. It sings of real hills and valleys, and lakes and rivers, instead of the hills of Parnassus or of classic story, and of real personages—men and women—instead of mythological gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines. It has, of course, reflected the fashions of the years through which it has passed and at at times has sung of Jove, and Phyllis, but these were speedily forgotten, while the people continued to sing the praises of the Jockies and Jennies whose counterparts lived and moved around them. Take up a volume of Ramsay's "Tea-Table Miscellany," which is a faithful collection of such songs as were favorites at the time it appeared (1724) or were likely to become favorites because they conformed to the tastes of their day, and we will find that none of them which had such exalted personages as Strephon, Psyche, Chloe, Damon or Amaryllis for their heroes or heroines survive, while those which tell us of Roger, Patie, Peggy, and the like, continue to be sung or at least are held in sweet remembrance. The same condition of things presents itself when we look at the more pretentious productions of the poets. The "Quair" of King James I. is never read now except by antiquaries or literary students; neither are Gavin Douglas's "Palice of Honour" or Bellenden's "Proheme of the Cosmographé" but Blind Harry's Wallace long lingered in the popular favor and Sir David Lindsay, Henryson and Dunbar were remembered, and their works more or less known, until the middle of the last century. Then the progress of the printing press introduced very widely a new order of writers and the old idols of the people were reverently laid away. Since then, Scottish poetry has taken its cue from Robert Burns, who above all others, excelled in a knowledge of the Scottish heart, and delineated the thoughts, aspirations, joys and sorrows of the people as no man before or since has done, and from Sir Walter Scott whose charm as a depictor of Scottish scenery and a chronicler of Scottish historical and legendary lore has never been equalled. The one was the poet of the people and the future, the other of the country and the past. Conjointly they have reigned, and are likely to continue ever to reign as the "high priests of Scottish song."

In most instances, poetical composition is indulged in as a pastime, in Scotland. Many of the bards, especially those of the humbler classes, tell us that their verses were composed while engaged in their respective vocations, and written out in the evening's leisure as a relaxation after the toiling and moiling of the day. The heart has to give utterance to its thoughts, and the utterance seems naturally and without apparent effort to evolve into a song. We cannot conceive of Burns sitting down deliberately to write a poem, beating his brains for a subject, tearing his hair, clenching his fists, and struggling with all his might to find and fit rhymes. He seemed almost to pour out his imaginings without premeditation, or he had mentally so mastered each theme that, when he sat down to write, the words dropped from his pen without effort. A study of his manuscripts will amply confirm this for they bear comparatively few of those minor changes which indicate a struggle, and if we look closely at the structure of his verse we will find that he did not wrestle very much with his rhymes. When one did not come very handy he ignored it altogether and used whatever word best expressed his meaning, and yet in such cases we do not notice the defective or omitted rhyme, so great was the volume of song within him, so exquisite was his sense of rhythm. In looking over the manuscripts of some of Sir Walter Scott's poetry, too, we cannot help being struck by the apparent ease with which he wrote; whole passages of some of his finest works being before the world exactly as they first came from his pen, without blot or erasure.

In every age or era of the nation's history, we can find many evidences that the bulk of Scottish poetry represents the pastime of the Poets. Aytoun's "Massacre of ta Phairson " was written without any serious purpose. Ramsay's "Gentle Shepherd" was not conceived with any high notion of producing a Scottish drama which would be typical in the national literature. Honest Allan wrote simply to please himself and to while a few of the superfluous pennies from the pockets of the burgesses of Auld Reekie. To use his own words he wrote simply—

"To bring in, frae Lord and Lady,
Meikle fame and part of ready."

Lady Ann Lindsay, Sir Alexander Boswell, the Sempills and most of the aristocratic poets, as well as nearly all of the more democratic ones, wrote mainly for the gratification which they themselves received. Lady Nairne doubtless imagined that she had a mission, that of reforming and purifying the songs of the people, but of all her purifying little is now left. The people ignored her preaching, but loved her singing, and her songs, adapted in their turn to the popular taste by many nameless editors, will ever entitle her to a place in the annals of Scottish poetry. Of course all the Scottish bards aspire for fame, for that is a natural desire implanted in the breasts of all men, and some of them even dream of immortality, for that is also a natural instinct. But though both fame and immortality fade before them "like snaw-wreaths in thaw," they never forget their song, and keep up their cheerful lilt and tuneful measure, until they have parted company with time forever.

Yet, now and again, there are exceptions to this condition of pleasant relaxation, and the poetry within makes life an awful tragedy to the singer. This is especially evident when a poet allows the desire for fame or immortality, or even for contemporary poetic recognition to become a craze, to be so prominent in his thoughts as to overshadow everything else. This was really what sent Michael Bruce to an untimely grave. To this also was due the suicide of Tannahill, next to Burns, the sweetest of Scotland's lyric bards. Whoever reads the life of that unfortunate genius will discover how this mad desire grew upon him so that it clouded his life, then darkened his intellect and found its quietus after the fatal plunge into the mill-pool at Ferguslie. To these men, and to others endowed like them, poetry was a terrible reality, a burning, all-devouring passion, a fateful curse.

But as I have said, the Scottish muse, on the whole, is cheerful rather than otherwise. In the past she was a hearty, honest, laughing country lass, ready to weep with those who weep, but quick to dry her tears and survey nature again with sparkling eyes. Sometimes, her laugh was rather loud, and her dress often a little—just a little--high-kilted. But she has outgrown the follies of her youth, and become a staid yet happy matron, singing cheerfully of her lot and her surroundings, and now and again stopping her lightsome song to throw her thoughts into the future, and to speculate on the world above her, where she may yet he permitted to sing another and a sweeter strain.

The courage of the inhabitants of Caledonia has been commended from the earliest times. Even in the dim ages of history we often find that their heroic, chivalrous qualities gave them a measure of fame among the semi-civilized and wild tribes of the European continent. Indeed but for this characteristic the people would never have been heard of in those primitive times, for it was only through deeds of heroism and daring that fame was won. Brute force then ruled the known world, and the most honored man was he who could best swing a club, or was most ruthless in his contempt for human life, and who laughed loudest at the very thought of fear or danger. From the very beginning of their authentic history, we find the Scots carrying on a struggle for independence. The Romans tried hard to reduce the country to the grade of a province, but failed, and were glad to build a wall between the Caledonians and the dwellers in the conquered fields in the central part of the island. The English also attempted the subjugation of the country, but without success, for the stubborn will of the people could neither be bent or broken by force of arms or the wiles of state-craft. Only once could Scotland be said to have lain, bruised and bleeding, at the feet of a conqueror, and that was due to the genius of Oliver Cromwell and the decisiveness of his victory at Dunbar in 1650. It must be remembered, however, that at that time, the country was far from being united. Political and religious feelings and differences ran high, and the great body of the people had hardly made up their minds how to act in the condition of things which the course of events had brought to pass. To use an auld proverb, "They were between the deil an' the deep sea." They wanted King Charles, and yet they did not want him. They wanted religious toleration according to the Presbyterian ideal. Charles promised it, Cromwell proclaimed it. They desired "the auld Stuarts back again," but they were not sure how the particular specimen of the auld Stuarts they had to deal with would behave when he got back. They hesitated, doubted, hoped, surmised, argued and prayed. Cromwell with masterly activity took advantage of their hesitation and before they knew it had them bound hand and foot under his rule. It was a grim lesson, but the people deserved it. The same indecision was again seen when Prince Charlie made his victorious march from Moidart to Prestonpans in 1745. But for the divided state of public sentiment such a triumphal procession would not have lasted over a day, and the Jacobite court at Holyrood would never have had all. The once favorite ballad which follows—written probably in the early part of the eighteenth century—shows how this division of sentiment among the people was well understood and appreciated:

The auld Stuarts' back again.
The auld Stuarts' back again;
Let howlet Whigs do what they can,
The Stuarts will be back again.
Wha cares for a' their creeshy duds
An' a' Kilmarnock's sowen suds?
We'll whack their hides an' fyle their fuds,
An' bring the Stuarts back again.

"There's Ayr an' Irvine, wi the rest,
An' a' the cronies i' the West,
Lord sic a scaw'd and scabbit nest
How they'll set up their crack again.
But wad they come, or dare they come
Afore the bagpipe an' the drum,
We'll either gar them a' sing dumb,
Or 'auld Stuarts' back again.'"

But Kilmarnock, Ayr, Irvine and the "cronies of the West" held the balance of power at that critical period, and as they did not sing "the auld Stuarts back again" they prevented the young Chevalier from obtaining any real hold on the country and led directly to his discomfiture. The 45, much as it has been sung and praised, was little better than a flash in the pan, a glint of bright light followed by a cloud of smoke. It was the divisions among the people that made it possible, and again the people paid dearly for their indecision when the brutalities of Cumberland won for him the epithet of "Butcher," and the martial and penal laws which followed Culloden interfered with not only civil but religious freedom.

Nearly all the battle-fields of Europe have been dyed with the blood of Scotsmen, serving either as troopers of fortune or as the appointed soldiers of their own land. Since the union of the kingdoms in 1703, they have borne more than their share in fightng the battles of Britain. They have ever been in the front rank, facing danger without hesitation, enduring fatigue without a murmur, and their loyalty and fidelity are always relied on implicitly by their officers. "Whatever man dare they can do" has often been said of the Highland Brigade in foreign lands, and the words of Lord Wolseley in writing of the Black Watch may be quoted as really applicable to them all—''Scotland and the Empire generally could not do too much for a corps that has done so much to build up and preserve the unity of the great Empire ruled over by the Queen. When in action with the Royal Highlanders one need take no trouble about the part of the field where they are engaged, for I have always then realized that what men could do they would accomplish. Officers and men work together with an entire and mutual confidence in one another that insures success. Whenever I go on active service I always try to have this splendid regiment with me, because I can rely upon it at all times and under all circumstances. Whenever I see the red heckle of the Black Watch I feel that I have there not only good friends, but also staunch comrades who will stand by one to the last." The colors of the Black Watch are inscribed with a list of battles which really summarize the military glory of Britain since that gallant corps was first organized on a field near Aberfeldv. "Mangalore," "Seringapatam," "Egypt," "Corunna," ''Fuentes d'Onor," "Pyrenees," "Nivelle," "Nive," ''Orthes," "Toulouse,'' "Peninsula," "Waterloo," "South Africa," "Alma," "Sevastopol," "Lucknow," "Ashantee," "Egypt, 1882," "Tel-el-Kebir." The Scots Greys, with their grand motto, "Second to None," carry us still further back into the story of Britain's wars, with such names on their colors as "Blenheim," "Ramillies," "Oudenarde,'' " Malplaquet" and "Dettingen." In the number of such honors inscribed on their colors the Highland regiments will far excell any similar number of regiments in the British army.

What a list of heroes has Scotland contributed to the common stock of Britain since the kingdoms were united The names of Sir John Moore, Ralph Abercrombie, Admiral Duncan, Dundas of Fingask, Sir John Hope, Sir George Murray, Sir James Simpson, Colin Campbell and Rose of Strathnairn rise at once to memory, and in the background is seen a veritable army of illustrious men, each one occupying an honored page in the annals of British military exploit and victory. During the Egyptian war of 1882 the Highland Brigade, under the command of Sir Archibald Alison (son of the celebrated author of the "History of Europe,') showed that officers and men were equally distinguished by the martial spirit and invincible bravery which had carried their ancestors in triumph over many a hard-fought field. When we read the modern record of the soldiers of Scotland we can realize that the ancient spirit is not dead, and that Scotland to-day is as much a nation of warriors as it was at any epoch in the "good old time."

But while the men have thus maintained the national character for bravery, the gentle sex has not been far behind when danger or circumstances demanded. The courage of the ladies of the struggling court of Robert Bruce yet thrills the heart, and who can read of the heroism of Black Agnes of Dunbar without wonder and admiration? Even Mary, Queen of Scots, with all her frailties, had a stout heart that could rise equal to any occasion which presented itself. Her behavior in the last dread moments of her life, when standing on the scaffold with the headsman, and around her scowled the grim countenances of the courtiers of her cousin Elizabeth, was marked by a calmness and a courage which the bravest could not have shown more distinctly, and which touched the hearts of not a few of the miserable spectators. Then the "ladies of the Covenant," as they have been called, furnish a whole gallery of types of female heroism. Marion Harvey, Margaret McLauchlan, Margaret Wilson, Isabel Alison and hundreds of others suffered martyrdom with as much true nobility, steadfastness and courage as can be found recorded anywhere; and such names as those of Lady Kenmure, Lady Grizel Bailie, Lady Graden, Lady Cavers, Lady Mary Johnston, Lady Culross and Lady Catherine Hamilton are still fondly recalled as those of loyal and true women who suffered much for conscience' sake, and who were ready to prove their devotion to their religion with their lives.

In connection with the Jacobite rebellions the ladies of Scotland also showed their heroism. The part they played has been dwarfed, or hidden rather, by the romantic episodes in which Flora Macdonald—the most popular of all the heroines of Scotland—was the leading character. But still the stories of Lady Nithsdale, Lady Keith and many others reflect honor on courage and devotedness of the fair sex. The ladies were the warmest supporters whom Prince Charles had during his campaign in 1745-46, and their enthusiasm doubtless contributed in a great measure to the short season of success he enjoyed. In the words of a popular song, the women were ''a' gane wud," and often loudly sung the praises of the " Young Chevalier" even when their male relatives, with cooler judgment and wiser heads, were disposed to leave him and his cause severely alone. During the Indian mutiny the courage of the Scottish ladies whose fortunes were cast in the midst of the carnage and danger of that awful time has often been praised. The story of Jessie Brown at Lucknow has thrilled the civilized world, and although the episode on which her fame rests has been contradicted in many of its details, yet enough remains to show that Jessie did exist, was present in the Residency at Lucknow during its terrible siege, and went through the awful ordeal with a heart as brave at least as that of any of its male defenders, whether of high or low degree. In less stirring lives, those of the manse, the mission station or the cottage, we could find countless instances worth recording of the bravery and courage of Scottish women. But tales of heroism in ordinary life are so common that many must readily occur to any one who has mingled among the people, and it seems needless to quote any here.

No one can be truly described as brave who is not a lover of fair play, and this is also eminently a characteristic of the Scot. Exact justice between man man is a grand rule, and the more it is practised in every-day life the more independent and valuable does that life become. "Giff Gaff mak's guid frien's " is one of the most popular proverbs in Scotland, and wherever it is acted upon its advantages are obvious. In the world's anthem,"Auld Lang Syne," there occur two lines which emphasize the national love for fair play—

"And surely you'll be your pint-stoup.
And surely I'll be mine."

English critics have often attempted to interpret these lines, but failed to grasp their meaning. As a general rule they have tried to ridicule them, and hint pretty plainly that they illustrate the natural meanness of the Scot, because the one old friend would not give the other a pint-stoup until it was agreed that the compliment should be returned. Instead of this, however, it only shows the independence of the two. The one wanted to give the other a loving-cup and to receive the aine mark of friendship in return. Such a notion as economy never entered the heads of the cronies. They met, hailed each other as Scots do who have not forgathered for several years, and then proposed to celebrate their meeting by—as was very fashionable in Burns' day—"weeting it both conjointly and severally," as a law paper might describe the circumstance.

Speak to a Scot of fair play and you touch one of the corners of his heart. He believes in it, practises it, and when it is extended to him he generally returns it faithfully, honestly and sometimes perhaps with a little interest. At times, of course, self will 'the wavering balance shake just a little too much in one direction, but on whole it may safely be said that fair play in public or private life is recognized by Scots of all classes as a jewel, and as the best and safest rule in life.

Integrity, with which I classify steadfastness, religious sentiment and a hatred of shams, is a Scottish characteristic which, probably more than any other, has been most generally recognized, especially in these modern days. There is a story told of a Scot who assured his son that honesty was the best policy, and added solto voice that he had "tried baith." But I think there can be no doubt that this a fiction fastened upon the shoulders of the unoffending Sawney by some unscrupulous Englishman. "A good conscience is the best divinity " says all and much prized proverb and another inculcates that "honesty may be dear bought but can ne'er be an ill pennyworth." To be leal and true is one of the standard maxims of Caledonia and the theme for centuries has been preached from her pulpits and sung by her poets. That the people, as a whole, are honest is everywhere conceded. True, the Highland rievers made periodical descents upon the Lowlands and "lifted" good fat cattle and whatever else they could lay their hands upon. It is true, too, that the wild Borderers were guilty of the same offense in the fair land which lay to the south of them, and that the lairds and lords were always ready to steal as much of their neighbors' lands and goods as they dared to. But these things were all done in the good old times when

"They could take who had the power,
And they would keep who can."

In those days might was the prevailing law instead of right —or a smart attorney as at present.

It is the prevailing fashion to joke about the honesty of a Highlander, and the story is common about an individual named Sandy Macdonald, who was arrested for stealing a pair of tongs and who simply said in his plea that he had found them at the fireside. But what section of the country can show a single record of honesty, loyalty and trustfulness like that shown by the Highlanders of 1746 when they held the person of Prince Charlie sacred in their midst although a reward of £30,000 was freely offered among them for his betrayal? The story is unparalleled in the history of nations, and is the crowning glory in the annals of the North. It more than atones for all the sheep-stealing and rieving which have been made known to us, and proves that honor burned brightly in the breasts of even the poorest peasants in the "North Countrie." Then, if we want a recent instance, showing how the same sense of honor exists in the country at the present day, we have only to recall the failure of the City of Glasgow Bank. Sad as it was, that catastrophe was not without its redeeming point, for it proved the grit of the people. Immediately after the failure was announced, a meeting of the stockholders was held in Glasgow, and it was attended by men of almost every age, profession and trade, a truly representative gathering of modern Scots convened together under most unfortunate circumstances, and under an awful cloud of misfortune, brought about through no direct fault in any of themselves. In their deliberations, these men never lost sight of the determination to make good the losses of the bank in which they were partners. There was no squirming, no dodging of the issue, but a fair, square facing of the hitter reality. And what was the outlook? To most of them it was the loss of their all, to many it meant irretrievable ruin, to not a few it showed absolute want. But they accepted their fate like men, and the country came nobly to the assistance of the women and children and other helpless victims, and by liberal contributions raised a fund which tided the unfortunate ones over their immediate distress, and gave to all who needed it, at least a helping hand. The crash caused by the failure was a terrible one and for a day or two the commercial probity of Scotland was sneered at by other nations, but the country emerged from the disaster with flying colors. No one lost a penny by the failure who was not on the roll of the bank's books as holders of its stock and the kindly Christian charity of the whole nation never appeared so clear, so lovable, or so genuine as it did in its efforts to help these unfortunate shareholders to release themselves from the hard slough of poverty into which the sad event had so suddenly plunged them.

Religion is the principal factor in this quality of integrity. A Scotsman is nothing if not religious. He is a born theologian and takes a huge delight in construing problems and mysteries which people of other nationalities would think about with awe, or speak about with bated breath. Even when the Scot tries to shake off the good old-fashioned faith of his fathers for the sake of embracing some modernism, or for the privilege of nursing some fashionable doubt, the old theology laid down to him in his school-boy days through the medium of the Shorter Catechism and the tawse, sticks to him like a burr. I have heard mechanics at their work discuss knotty questions in theology with a degree of intelligence, religious information and logical acuteness which would have done credit to advanced students for the ministry. The Braes of Gleniffer, Glasgow Green and other places where artisans were wont to resort, could they tell the story of the disputations which have been waged on their green-sward, would bear evidence that the arguments were as often theological as political. In France, Spain, Italy, and even in England, theology is pretty much left in the hands of its special professors--the priests. Not so in Scotland. Every man is an enquirer—nay, even a professor, and no country in the world has produced more laymen who have taken an active and brilliant share in the work of the church. The case of Hugh Miller is an instance in point. In the troublous times of the Disruption no professed theologian or clerical politician on either side combatted the auld kirk more intelligently than he. The most abstruse questions were as marrow to his busy, thinking, piercing brain, and the knottiest of problems became clear and simple, as he detailed them in the columns of the Inverness newspaper. He was the literary champion of the Disruption, gave the Free Church its very name, and did more to establish and endow it among the people of Scotland than any other individual connected with it.

The majority of the Scottish ministers are drawn from the ranks of the people, and their connection with the people is always a close and nearly always a lovable one. The people do not regard their pastors as beings of a different order than themselves or as semi-sacred sort of personages. They accord all reverence to their office as ambassadors or ministers of God; they respect them for devoting their lives to the study of the Holy Writ, that they may the better explain and teach its important truths. The minister, to the credit of his class be it said, generally appreciates the situation and adapts it to his own comfort and the success of the cause to which he has given his life. Being removed by his position from the cares and worriments of business, or the jealousies of social life, he mingles freely among all classes and encourages each to constrain themselves and follow carefully in the narrow path—a path which his own footsteps invariably tread in all weathers and under all fortunes. In the palace of the peer and the cottage of the crofter the minister is equally welcome and equally at home, and he is as ready to discuss theological matters with the village blacksmith as with a co-presbyter. Such ministers as those of Scotland, going in and out among the people, on terms of equality and real friendship with them all, have had a wonderful effect in educating all classes up to their own high standard of morality, and in no other country under the sun do we find the people and the clergy working more zealously together to promote the national welfare.

Scotsmen are often taunted in religious circles with being the countrymen of so great an opponent of revealed religion as David Hume. A little examination, however, will show Hume's precise position in a better light than that in which it is generally held. The age in which he lived was one of change and doubt. The teachers of religion had not advanced in the world of thought as had other educated men, and held fast to many theories which the critical spirit of the time had rejected and which have long since been abandoned. Hume was, of all things, an analyst, and his keen, calm, logical mind probed things to their very bottom. He saw that much of what the clergy taught was erroneous, and animated by that discovery he doubted or derided, or ignored all they did teach. He was simply a seeker after truth, but the roads of his time were dark, and in his gropings he landed in a rut of unbelief, probably as much to his own sorrow as to the dismay of anyone else. David Hume was no gaping infidel, no ribald blasphemer like others who, in the present day, move in high places and delight in parading their weaknesses before large audiences for the double purpose of gratifying their pride and filling their purses. Hume was a thinker, a man of liberal mind and honest purposes, and however much we may deplore his avowed unbelief in many tenets taught by the theologians of his time, we cannot help confessing that these same theologians and the uncertain spirit of the period had more to do with bringing it about than any desire he personally entertained for being antagonistic to the faith of his kindred and the best instincts of his own pure heart.

In fact the who!e history of religion in Scotland is distinguished by its inflexible, unyielding, unflinching honesty. That was eminently demonstrated in 1843 when over 300 ministers, some of them old men almost bending over the grave, others just in their prime, and many only entering manhood, voluntarily relinquished their incomes, their homes, and imperilled their earthly prospects, for the sake of a principle, the truth of which was dearer to them than fortune, or even life itself. The same honesty was also seen in the struggle for the Solemn League and Covenant, and in that earlier Disruption of 1662, when the clergy left their kirks rather than remain in them after "presentation from the patron and collation from the bishop" as an order of Parliament demanded. This honesty animated Wishart, Knox, Henderson, Melville, Guthrie, Renwick and other heroes and leaders of the Reformation, and it made the people defy even the Court of Rome itself, at a time when the most powerful nations in Europe trembled at its nod.

It almost goes without saying that this honesty should be distinguished by an absolute hatred of shams of every form and degree. The Scotsman very often is blunt in his speech, so much so as to make him frequently appear almost rude. Thomas Carlyle, the greatest philosopher of our time, is possibly better known to the masses as a devoted assailant of shams, religious, political, historical and social, than anything else. When he said that there were "eight millions of people in England—mostly fools," he uttered a sentiment which was as blunt and ill-natured as it was possible to be, but the honesty of the words were so apparent that they have been incorporated into literature. Carlyle's hatred of shams rehabilitated Oliver Cromwell and placed him before the readers of history in his true position as a hero. John Knox, in his interviews with Queen Mary, has been accused of rudeness, but who will now dare say so after the light which Carlyle has brought to bear on his heroic character? Every word the Reformer spoke to his unhappy Queen was prompted by truth, and that truth his conscience impelled him to speak, and he did not care whom it hurt, or how skilfully an adversary might attempt to improve it. Here are some of Carlyle's words in connection with this subject:

The treatment which that young, beautiful and high chief personage in Scotland receives from the rigorous Knox, would to most modern men seem irreverent, cruel, almost barbarous. Here, more than elsewhere, Knox proves himself—here, more than anywhere, bound to do it—the Hebrew prophet in complete perfection, refuses to soften any expression, or to call anything by its milder name, or in short, for one moment to forget that the eternal God and His word are great, and that all else is little or is nothing, nay, if it set itself against the Most High and His word, is the one frightful thing that this world exhibits. He is never in the least ill-tempered with Her Majesty but she cannot move him from that fixed centre of all his thoughts and actions. Do the will of God and tremble at nothing; do against the will of God, and know that, in the immensity and the eternity around you there is nothing but matter of terror. Nothing can move Knox here or elsewhere from that standing-ground; no consideration of the Queen's sceptres and armies and authorities of men is of any efficacy or dignity whatever in comparison, and becomes not beautiful but horrible when it sets itself against the Most High.

There is an old saying which tells us that "Truth has a guid face but ragged claes," and another inculcates the profound axiom that "truth is the dochter o' time." The truth as spoken by John Knox, rough and rugged as it was, was still the truth and had it been heeded by the unfortunate Queen, it is likely that Fotheringay would have been robbed of its darkest tragedy and the memory of Queen Bess been relieved of one of its stains. The falsehoods which surrounded Mary have perished, but the influence of John Knox still lives and blesses not only Scotland, but the world. It was founded on the best of all foundations, and as time wears on, the truth which he professed seems clearer and brighter and softer, because we understand it better, and can judge of it by its fruits. The true always lives, it is always beautiful, and never fails to leave its impress, no matter how hard the soil is on which it alights, nor how weak the hand may be by which it is employed.

It seems not a little singular to describe the Scot as a natural conservative when he is regarded politically as one of the most pronounced liberal factors in British affairs. The term "canny," so often applied to Scotsmen, really means conservatism, but it is conservatism of the right sort, that which goes cautiously and steadily along the path of progress. A Scot hates to make a change of any kind. He leaves his early home, his native land, his accustomed haunts with regret. He even sees the changes which time works before his eyes with feelings akin to sadness. He sees the village through which he romped when a boy dishevelled and depopulated, the bonnie straths and hillsides turned into sheep-walks or deer grounds, the railway pierce its way through his most romantic glens, and his rivers turned into open sewers or mill-feeders, with a twinge of pain in his heart. Changes in Scotland are apt to sever too many kindly associations to yield much pleasure. The City Improvement Scheme which the late William Chambers introduced into Edinburgh was a measure whose value and beneficence have never been called in question. But with all its evident benefits its requirements were regretted by many citizens of both high and low degree because it would sweep away hundreds of the old landmarks of the city—houses which were full of the romance of history and tradition. How many kindly memories lost their last tangible evidence when th old College of Glasgow was turned into a railway depot? In many parts of Scotland there are melancholy reminders of the changes which are taking place. Some of these, such as Chambers' improvement scheme, may be excused or concloned on the plea of "progress" or ''the requirements of modern civilization." But there are others, like that of

"Bonnie Strathnaver, Sutherland's pride,"

which wring the heart of every patriot who looks upon them and inspire the hope that a time is coming when laws will be so framed or altered that the "clearances" which have disgraced the history of Scotland during the present century, will be perpetrated no more.

In religion, as in politics, the Scots are very careful in making changes. They hesitate .long about throwing overboard any of the landmarks which their fathers fought for. Even points of Scriptural interpretation which the researches of the most orthodox Biblical students of modern times have proved to be erroneous, are cherished in Scotland long after they have been abandoned by the rest of the Christian world. Such theories as the six literal clays of creation and the Mosaic chronology are still zealously believed in by a large body of the people and the "kist fu' o' whistles" is yet regarded with abhorrence by many good people when spoken of in connection with a Presbyterian kirk. But once the Scot makes up his mind to accept the change, he goes about it in no half-hearted manner, and very often places himself in advance of his age. If he leaves his own land and makes up his mind to settle permanently in another, he quickly adapts himself to the manners, customs and requirements of the country in which he finds his home. But be the change one of politics or law, or religion, the moment he accepts it he will strain every nerve in its behalf. He will set his goal before him and never take his eyes from it for an instant until it is reached. Possibly he may then discover he had made a mistake, but if he remains true to his early training he will seldom sit down helplessly and whine over it. When he does this and the world becomes too full of oppression and weariness for him, the sooner he is carried off to a brighter sphere the better. But this happens very rarely, for the Scot is not much given to crying over spilt milk. He rather accepts the condition of things without grumbling or despairing, determines to make the best of them, and generally succeeds in the long run.

There is something touching in the reverence the Scot entertains for the past, and his comparative thoughtlessness for the future, so far at least as this world is concerned. He always entertains the hope that things will remain in status quo in his own time, not with the silly impertinence of "after me the deluge," which animated the French king, but from a loathness to see things altered, except a little for the better, from the way in which they had been handed down to him by his fathers. In no part of the world are relics of the past more carefully treasured than in Scotland, and thus, holding fast to that which has been, while carefully scanning the horizon of progress for that which is to be beyond all doubt an improvement, Scotland is giving an example to the world which is deserving both of imitation and approval.

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