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Popular Superstitions of the Highlands

"Was ne’er in Scotland heard a seen
Sic dancing and deray;
Nouther at Falkland on the green,
Nor Peebles at the play."

INTERESTING as a christening undoubtedly is to the parents of the child, it is, neither in a public nor private sense, so happy an occasion as that which we are about to describe. If there is any thing under the sun in which true happiness really consists, we are told it is in the consummation of a marriage, where the parties, uninfluenced by sordid motives, are entirely brought together by the magnetic power of love. Of such a description the Highland marriages are in general. The lower classes, being pretty equal in their circumstances, policy and interest have less influence in their marriages than is the case with any other rank of people; and consequently the parties are left more to the unbiased dictates of their own voluntary choice.

When a couple of young lovers propose to get married, the nearest relations of both parties meet to take the case into consideration; and, in general, it is no difficult matter for the lovers and their advocates to get a decision consonant to their inclinations. This is called the booking ("leuruch") or contract, which is very often ratified by no other covenant than a few bottles of whisky. If the parties come to an understanding, the lovers are immediately declared bride and bridegroom; and some Tuesday or Thursday in the growth of the moon is fixed upon for the celebration of the nuptials. Meanwhile, to sustain the dignity of the bridal pair, from motives of policy as well as of state, they select from their kinsmen two trustworthy persons each, who are delegated to the other—the male to protect the party from being stolen, (a practice once common, and not yet extinct,) and the female to act as maid of honour and lady of the bedchamber on the bridal occasion.

A few days prior to the bridal day, the parties, with their attendants, perambulate the country, inviting the guests, on which occasion they meet with marked attention from old and young. The invitations are all delivered to the parties propria persona at their firesides; and if the wedding is to be a cheap one, a small present is sometimes offered to the bride, and accepted of.

On the morning, of the wedding-day, some lady,. who is above the ordinary level, and who has been constituted mistress of the ceremonies for the day, arrives to deck the bride in her splendid habiliments. She is received by the clean white bride, previously prepared for her by a duck in the cold bath; and, retiring to the wardrobe chamber, she is speedily metamorphosed from a "sonsy country lassie" into a downright lady—at least, if muslins and ribbons are all that is requisite to confer this distinction, she is entitled to it. The bridegroom, too, at his apartments, has his own decorators, who deck him out most splendidly with marriage favours and other ornaments suitable to the occasion.

Meanwhile, repeated vollies of musketry summon the guests to the wedding. Mounted on his palfry, each "crony" shapes his course to the house to which he was invited; while droves of youngsters flock along the road, whose hearts at every shot are bounding with joy. On their arrival, they are ushered into the breakfasting apartment, to partake of the forenoon’s entertainment, consisting of good milk porridge and cream, on which they fare very sumptuously. After this mid-day repast, they are led to the ball-room, or dancing apartment, to share in its enjoyment. Here the bride or bridegroom, is seated at the upper end of the ball-room, and receives the company, as they successively arrive, with great pomp and ceremony; and the dancing and mirth is prolonged for some hours.

At the time appointed, the bridegroom selects a party of young men, who are dispatched to summon the bride and her party to the marriage ceremony. Their approach is announced by showers of musketry opened upon them by some of the bride’s men, and returned, most of the guests being furnished with pistols. The bride’s party accordingly prepare themselves for the procession. The bride is mounted upon some canny charger behind an expert rider; drams go round to her health and prosperity; and, the company being all in readiness, she leaves her native residence for another, amidst the cheers and feu-de-joie of the assembly. Marching to the sound of the inspiring bagpipes, and the discharge of fire-arms, the brides party proceed to the place appointed for the marriage. The bridegroom’s party follow at some little distance; and, both arrived at the appointed place of rendezvous, the bridegroom’s party stand in the rear till the bride’s party enter the meeting-house, agreeably to the rules of precedence, which on this occasion are decidedly in favour of the bride in all the proceedings of the day.

Soon as the Hymeneal knot is tied, the candidates for the honour of wonning the kail, as they call it, drive of pell-mell for the bridegroom’s house, horsemen and footmen promiscuously. Both parties, now mingled together, proceed with multitudinous jovialty towards the bridegroom’s, the scene of the future festivities of the night. A volley of fire-arms announce their arrival; and the company assembled at the door, to welcome the bride, assail her with a basket of the bridal bread and cheese, the properties of which are well known. The bridal pair are then seated at the upper end of the banquet, and the guests are arrayed, according to their quality, around the far-extending tables, formed of doors, chests, and cart bottoms, sustained by sturdy supporters of wood or stone; and wooden beams and deals for chairs, in common form. The more plebeian part of the guests, freely disposed of in the stables or byres, make themselves very comfortable with their cheer.

Shortly the waiters come round the circle, presenting each with a spoon, which he must carefully return when done with it. The spoon is followed with the hardly-contested kail. Alter this, a remove of savoury broth is presently brought in; of which all having partaken, the still more delicious "hotch-potch" succeeds. Then follow fowl of every feather, and every beast and creeping thing—

"Hind and fore spalls of a sheep
Drew whittles frae ilk sheath;
Wi’ gravie a’ their beards did creep,
They kempit wi’ their teeth."

The dinner being over, the "shemit reel" is the next object of attention. All the company assemble on the lawn with flambeaux, and form into a circle. The bridal pair and their retinue then dance a sixsome reel, each putting a piece of silver into the musician’s hand. Those desirous may then succeed, and dance with the bride and the two maids of honour; and are gratified at the commencement and termination of each reel by the usual salutes.

In the meantime, the stewards of the feast having removed the temporary erections from the dancing apartments, the shemit reel being over, the guests re-occupy their seats in the original order; and dancing and mirth is again resumed. Tartan plaids, spreading in every corner, invite the fair to take shelter in those most congenial to their inclinations. The jovial smiling bowl, now reeking in a corner, allures to its side its votaries—the circling glass adds additional stimulus to the riotous spirit of the company. In short, Pleasure presents herself for courtship in all her luring forms.

As the night advances, the company grows still more happy. The numerous ills of the human lot, which at other times so much afflict them, now cause them no concern; on the contrary, they are entirely full of its pleasures. Hence, all the corners of the house, instead of declamations against the infirmities of age, or the badness of the times, are full of the happiest communications. Opportunities long sought for declaring secret friendship have now occurred, and the warmth with which they are expressed forcibly bespeak their fervency. Two patriarchs "had long indulged the hope of seeing an honourable alliance betwixt their families. Both honest and respectable, the union of their children would be a highly suitable match; and should such a desirable event ever occur, there was a black stocking in secret, which would spew on the occasion of the wedding." In another, you may see two hearty grey-beards, whose locked hands and contacting noddles show the closeness of their friendship, relating to each other, with much complacency, those tales of "auld langsyne" in which they themselves acted so prominent a part. In another corner, the fond lover, with his dearly beloved locked in his affectionate embrace, melting her heart with his wooing strains; and in another, the vocal choir, whose throats of steel vociferate their harmonious ditties on the gratified ears of the company; while, on the top of a bed, or at the back of the door, the juvenile part of the guests, assembled in tumultuous rabble, will also join their voices in the general uproar.

On the floor the dancers are beyond compare. Fired with emulation who shall win the dance, every nerve and muscle is put in active exercise. The lads are gaining greater agility every successive reel; while, in the language of the poet,

"The lasses bab'd about the reel,
Gart a’ their hurdles wallop,
And swat like ponies when they speel
Up braes, or when they gallop."

This scene lasts for some hours, until the presence of day warns the bride to prepare for the bedding. Wishing, if possible, to elude the public gaze, she attempts to steal away privately, when, observed by some vigilant eye, her departure is announced, and all push to the bridal chamber.

The door is instantly forced open, and the devoted bride, divested of all her braws, and stripped nearly to the state of nature, is placed in bed in presence of the whole company. Her left stocking is then flung, and falls upon some individual, whose turn to the Hymeneal altar will be the next. The bridegroom, next led in, is as rapidly demolished, and cosily stowed alongside of his darling. A bottle and glass being then handed to the bridegroom, he rewards the friendliness of those who come forward to offer their congratulations, with a flowing bumper. When the numerous levee have severally paid their court, they retire, and leave the young couple to repose.

On returning to the grand scene of festivity, we shall find that the aspect of the company there has suffered no small alteration during our absence. Overpowered by the peculiar influence of the ardent friendship which fills the elder branches of the company, those boisterous expressions of esteem which recently occupied them so much, have declined into the calmest complacency. Overcome by the most unspeakable sensations; the tongue, which was lately so voluble, has totally failed. Those legs, which but a few hours ago displayed the greatest agiIity, have now refused their office; and, the whole machine is become perfectly unwieldy and unmanageable:

"In their mawes there was na mank;
Upon the firms some snor’d;
Ithers frae aff the bunkers sank,
Wi’ een like collops scor’d."

Seated by the victorious bowl, the Far Cuil is still engaged in his musical vocation. With bow alternately above and below the strings, he is earnestly employed at Tullochgorum, while cries for the same spring, proceeding from the dancers on the floor, incessantly ring on his ears. Insensible to time or measure, some of the young people still wallop on the floor, and unabated clamour reigns throughout the house.

Meanwhile, all the avenues leading from the town are thronged with retiring guests "careering" on their way home; and the company is ultimately reduced to the immediate friends and relations of the young couple, who wait to offer their morning congratulations. When the bridal pair are supposed to have reposed themselves sufficiently long, they are warned to get up, to prepare for the breakfast and the morning levee. On entering the grand breakfasting parlour, the whole concourse of friends receive them with showers of compliments and congratulations, accompanied by such gifts as may be convenient; and yesterday’s scene of festivity is again renewed, and prolonged for the day.

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