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Traits and Stories of the Scottish People
By the Rev. Charles Rogers LL.D., FSA Scot (1867)


Encouraged by the success of my "Familiar Illustrations of Scottish Life," and at the request of my Publishers, I have prepared the present work. I have been indebted to many sources of information— some rare, others familiar. Possessing a store of Scottish traditions which have been transmitted in my own family, I have used these amply. My friend, Dr. Hugh Barclay, Sheriff Substitute of Perthshire, has again favoured me with a budget of interesting Lore.

The Work may not be unacceptable. A new story adds to the sources of human enjoyment. The Traits and Characteristics of a people are worthy of preservation. The Scots were formerly a most peculiar race. Their domestic habits and social customs differed materially from those of the south. Their legal system and ecclesiastical arrangements still differ; but international prejudices are subsiding. I know of only one living Scotsman who bears a grudge at England and protests against southern supremacy. Scottish grumbling has yielded to English generosity. The Rose and the Thistle have been intertwined, and grow lovingly together.

In the course of a few generations the distinctive peculiarities of Scotsmen will entirely disappear. During the last half-century there have been changes of a remarkable description. English manners have been penetrating northward. Many northern customs, "more honoured in the breach than the observance," have become obsolete. Domestic comforts have been increasing. ( Certain obnoxious social practices have disappeared^ others have been ameliorated: The superfluous population have, in the mercantile centres of the south, and in our prosperous Colonies, successfully employed their energy and intelligence. The plain fare of brose and bannocks has prepared the Scotsman to endure hardships, and, irrespective of comforts by the way, to press on to the goal of honour and emolument.

In the present Work have been described the Traits and Peculiarities of the Scots during the latter half of the past Century and earlier portion of the present. There are likewise Illustrations of the habits of conspicuous persons at earlier periods, and some Anecdotes relating to men of genius and learning who have lately departed from the scene.

The manners and customs of the peasant population of the Scottish Lowlands were first delineated by Mrs. Elizabeth Hamilton in "The Cottagers of Glenburnie," while Mrs. Grant, of Laggan, in her "Letters from the Mountains," depicted the peculiarities of the Scottish highlander. Sir Walter Scott followed, describing in his own inimitable manner the entire edifice of Caledonian society. He has left nothing undone. Yet the historical inquirer may be interested to discover further illustrations of the evidence, on which the great, novelist has founded the Characters in his Fictions.

The deep religious earnestness of the Seventeenth Century considerably waned after the termination of the struggles which ceased at the Revolution. From the middle till the close of the Eighteenth Century, Scotland could lay no claim to religious superiority. The bulk of the people were uncultivated and rude. Licentiousness prevailed among all classes. Riotous excess became the characteristic of a gentleman.

The upper ranks dined early and sat late. When the substantiate of dinner were consumed, the gentlewomen were expected to return to the spinet or the distaff. The punch-bowl, now copiously filled, was placed before the host. There was a succession of public and family toasts and numerous sentiments, to all of which a glass of the potent liquor was drained off. The drinking-glasses of the period contained twice as much as those of the present time. Special toasts were drunk with peculiar honours,—each guest mounting upon his chair, and resting his right foot upon the table, quaffed his liquor; he then raised his glass aloft in upturned fashion, and gave nine loud huzzas. On such occasions the overthrow of the table was not an unfre-quent occurrence.

When tea or coffee was announced, the host accompanied his guests to the drawing-room. The younger gentlemen tarried with the ladies, but the seniors soon returned to the dining-room to renew their potations. There were instances in which hard drinkers died in their chairs. A West country laird at one of these social meetings was seized with apoplexy and immediately expired. "The laird's looking unco gash," said the host, who had at length remarked the altered appearance of his guest. "'Deed is he," answered a neighbour, "for he's been with his Maker this hour and mair. I didna like to spoil the fun by speaking o't." This anecdote, which is perfectly authentic, presents a shocking picture of the convivial habits of the last century.

Saturday dinner-parties were common; they were protracted till the Sunday had closed. Every guest was expected to drink till he fell under the table. When all had reached this degrading position, the male attendants of the family entered and carried them to their chambers. When the apartments were insufficient for the number of guests, those who were unaccommodated with beds were extended on the floor, and covered, their neckcloths being loosened to prevent the risk of suffocation. The servants expected handsome gratuities from the guests as they departed.

The administrators of the law indulged in copious libations of brandy and claret. "To be drunk as a judge" was a proverb. The Senators of the College of Justice continued their festivities until morning hours. Circuit dinners terminated by the members of the court sinking under the tables from which they had been feasting.

Synod suppers did not terminate till considerably after midnight. On one occasion, at four a.m., the Moderator of the Synod of Aberdeen requested Boots, who is the youngest member of the court, to ring the beH. The waiter appeared. "Is the kettle bilin'?" inquired the Moderator. "It is, your reverence," responded the attendant. "See, then," added the Moderator, "that ye keep it aye fou an' aye bilin'." A distinguished clergyman of the capital was fond of claret. Paying a morning visit to a parishioner, he was entertained with a pint bottle of the liquor, which the host pronounced to be very old. "It's unco sma' o' its age!" said the reverend gentleman, significantly.

When drunkenness abounded, profane swearing was common. Persons of rank distinguished themselves by the grandeur of their oaths. They swore loftily, but were sometimes disconcerted. A landowner in Roxburghshire was a noted swearer. Walking in his demesne one day with a friend he was indulging his habit, when one of the labourers on the estate suddenly presented himself. The hind was known for his piety. "Whisht," said the landowner, "let that fellow pass; I am never free to swear when he is in sight."

Illicit distillation was another practice consequent on the national love of potent beverages. It was lamentably prevalent. The idle highlander planted his still in the remote glen or the mountain corrie, and prepared his usquebaugh by the light of the moon. He was an incorrigible offender. An Argyleshire highlander was reproved by his minister for engaging in this illegal traffic. "Ye mauna ask me," said the smuggler, "to gie't up, for it supports the family. My faither an' his faither afore him made a drappie. The drink is gude—far better for a bodie than the coorse big-still whusky. Besides, I permit nae swearin' at the still, an' a' is dune dacently an' in order. I dinna see muckle harm in't." The speech contained arguments which were cogent to the utterer, and determined his resolution.

A parish minister in Fifeshire had succeeded in obtaining the modification of a heavy penalty, imposed on a parishioner who had a second time been found guilty of smuggling. The offender had solemnly promised to abandon the practice. When his difficulty was overcome, he waited on the clergyman to thank him for his intercession. "I hope, John," said the pastor, "that, as you have promised, you will carefully avoid everything of this sort for the future." "Surely, sir, surely," said John; but as he was leaving the apartment he shook his benefactor heartily by the hand, and exclaimed, as he made his retreat, "Ye'll get a bottle o' the best o't yet."

Smugglers were generally detected through "informations" communicated to the excise by their neighbours. These received, as a reward, one-half the proceeds of the confiscation, and their names were not publicly divulged. I was informed by an aged supervisor that nearly all his detections were made consequent on the "informations" of neighbours. It is difficult to conceive a state of society more despicable than that in which there obtained such an habitual violation of neighbourly confidence.

Sheepstealing was a common vice of the last century, though hanging was its legal penalty. Many ghost stories had their origin in the sheep-stealer throwing a white sheet over his shoulders, for the threefold purpose of concealing his person and his plunder, and of frightening those who might otherwise have guessed his intent, and sought his detection.

Deception largely prevailed. Many of the landed gentry were noted bouncers. They magnified their own importance by practising on the credulity of their retainers. A laird or highland chief, who had once visited London, or had been a few days on the Continent, possessed sufficient materials to astonish his dependants during the remainder of his life. The peasantry were adepts in the art of dissimulation. They generally boasted of their independence, but were ready to obey the laird, both in matters where obedience was due, and where acquiescence in his wishes might more creditably have been resisted.

In small burghs the traders depended chiefly on a few leading persons, to whom they attached themselves. Unlike the highland clansmen, who clung to their landless chiefs with the same ardour of affection as when their hospitalities were administered to a thousand followers, the lowland shopkeeper conserved his personal interest by countenancing only the opulent or those in authority. While Mr. James Guthrie, minister of Stirling, the future martyr, retained public favour, the burgesses flocked to his ministrations. But when he incurred the displeasure of the Court, his parishioners discovered that his prayers lacked unction, and that his discourses were unedifying. The Stirling butchers hounded him with their dogs. His congregation permitted him to be executed without venturing on any petition for his release.

The old Municipal system was tainted with many corruptions. Votes of electors for offices in the Corporation were bought and sold. Bribery at Parliamentary elections was so common that municipal councillors regarded these unlawful gains as the occasional perquisites of office. The rise, of certain families in the smaller burghs may be traced to the acceptance of bribes by their founders. There was much contention among municipal rulers for individual ascendency. They wasted the public funds in interminable litigations. In the course of the last century many of the Burghs were placed under trust. When funds for political purposes were required, burgh magistrates exposed their privileges at public auction to the highest bidder. They sold their Church Patronages. They sold their Landward Superiorities. They bartered the public rights of the burgesses to the neighbouring proprietors for personal advantages. They violated hospital and other charitable trusts. They sold the office of chief magistrate to those who would promise best, but did least, for the public benefit.

This burghal picture was even exceeded in the rural hamlets. There the roads or streets were nearly impassable, the bridges were decayed or broken down, and dungsteads were placed in front of every dwelling. No hind of the last century possessed more than one apartment; his peat fire blazed in the centre, and the smoke, which was intended to find egress by an aperture in the roof, more frequently, after encircling the chamber, escaped by the open door and unglazed windows.

With the commencement of the present century began an era of physical and moral reformation. Agriculture was encouraged; commerce received new impulses. The Clergy were now better educated, and better acquainted with human affairs: they began to exercise a salutary influence on the manners and habits of the people. The farmer now united the well-cultivated field with the well-kept garden, in the tidy courtyard with the clean fireside. The hine procured a better class of dwellings. Streets as alleys were threaded with underground sewers, which removed noxious vapours and more noxious disease. By a system of thorough drainage, morasses and the beds of lakes were converted into fields, producting rich cereals and abundant pasture.

The morals of the people have shared in the amelioration of their physical condition. Drunkenness has subsided; illicit distillation has ceased; the old vices have departed, and the national virtues have become more conspicuous.

Scotsmen have ceased to rejoice in national isolation. Though continuing to glory in her independence and ancient liberties, Scotland owns that the proudest day of her history was that of her union with England. The perfermdum ingenium remains, but its acrimony has departed. Scotsmen proceed everywhere; and wherever they are found, they are esteemed for their probity and honour, and are characterized by an energy which knows not how to yield, and a determination which is invincible.

C. R.
London, May 10, 1867.


Chapter I. - The Old Scottish Clergy.
John Knox—George Buchanan—Andrew Melville and James VI:—David Ferguson and James VI.—James Guthrie and Charles II.—Samuel Rutherford and Archbishop Usher-William III. and Principal Carstairs—James VI. and his "Book of Sports"—John M'Vicar— St. Serf—The Laird of Tillicoultry—Peter Beaton—Dean Thomas Forret—John Gray and clerical hanking—The Earl of Airlie—Dr. Hugh Blair—Rev. Mr. Gordon and the Duke of Cumberland—Rev. William Veitch and Lord Minto—Alexander Peden—Rev. Robert Shirra—Precentors' announcements—Dr. Ritchie and the landowner—Dr Samuel Charters and the boor—Dr. M'Cubbin and Lord Braxfield—Rev. William Leslie—Dr. Alexander Webster—John Brown of Haddington's Courtship.

Chapter II. - Anecdotes of the Poets.
The Grave of Ossian—The MSS. of Ossian—James I. the originator of Scottish music—James III. and Sir William Rogers —James VI. a Patron of the Poets—The Earl of Stirling— Drummond of Hawthornden—Sir Robert Aytoun—Professor Aytoun—Professor Wilson—Lord Robertson, John Gibson Lockhart, and Sir Walter Scott—Scott and the Ettrick Shepherd—Scott and Robert Burns—Recollections of Robert Burns—"Bruce's Address to his Army"—Lady Nairn and her Songs—Mr. Oliphant of Gask—Lady Anne Barnard— Mrs. Agnes Lyon—Robert Fergusson—Allan Ramsay and his landlord—Thomas Campbell—John Leyden—James Hogg —Allan Cunningham and Cromek—James Grahame—Alexander and John Bethune—Michael Bruce—Robert Pollok— David Gray—Alexander Smith—Hugh Miller—Dr. Thomas Brown—Dr. William Tennant—Robert Tannahill—Robert Allan—Alexander Wilson, and others.

Chapter III. Lawyers and the Law.
Pertinacity of Scottish suitors—The Stirlingshire lairds and the aged hawthorn—The Dunblane landowner—Andrew Nicol and his midden heap—Mr. Campbell of Laguine—Miss Shed-don and her law process—Sir James Campbell and his wife —Lord and Lady Gray—Lawyers' opinions about Law— Erskine of Grange— Lord Monboddo—Dr. John Hunter of St. Andrews—Lord Kames—Karnes's Habit of Gossip— —Lord Braco—Lord Hermand's Irritability of Temper— Lord Auchinleck—Unpublished Anecdotes of Boswell—Lord Hailes—Sir George Mackenzie and the Earl of Bute—Lord President Dundas — Lord Gardenstone — Lord Braxfield— Lord Eskgrove—Lord Cockburn—Lords Jeffrey and Mon-creiff— Lord Chancellor Erskine — Alexander Wedderburn, Earl of Rosslyn—Hon. Henry Erskine—John Clerk, Lord Eldin—John Hagart of Bantaskine — Hugo Arnot—The Advocate and Professor Gregory—The Presbytery of Meigle —Mr. William Roger and John Gunn the Freebooter—Lord Melville and Deacon Webster.

Chapter IV. About Royal Personages.
Queen Margaret Atheling—James I. and Richard II.—Jock Howison—James II. and Bishop Kennedy—Remarkable story of James IY. and Margaret Drummond—James Y.—James YI. and the Edinburgh professors—Prince Charles Edward —Miss Flora Macdonald—George IY.—The Provost of Leith —Queen Victoria and the farmer—The Queen and the cottar's wife—Pedigree of the Empress of the French—A Sultana— A blacksmith's daughter becoming an Empress.

Chapter V. - Eccentric Characters.
Henry David, Earl of Buchan, and Prince Charles Edward— David Stuart, Earl of Buchan—James Boswell—Sir John Dinely—Francis Macnab, of Macnab—Master of Cultoquhey and the Duke of Atholl— Francis Semple and the military commander — James Sibbald — Dr. Walter Anderson and Principal Robertson—Professor Wilkie of St. Andrews—Lord Gardenstone—Dr. Adam Smith—Professor Hamilton of Aberdeen—Dr. Thomas Blacklock—John Barclay and his wife— Thomas Coutts—Alexander Cruden—Rev. G. R. Gleig and Calvinistic Theology—Hugh Miller—Durham of Largo—A town-clerk of Stirling and the Earl of Menteith—"William, Lord Panmure-—The Duke of Gordon as a gaberlunzie— Miss Stirling Graham—Lord Jeffrey taken in—Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair—The "bully" and his conqueror—A curling-match—Neil Gow—Nathaniel Gow and George IV.

Chapter VI. - The Wise and the Weak.
Rev. John Welch and Louis XIII.—The preservation of the Regalia—Sir William Wallace in female attire—Sir Alexander Boswell and the Burns' monument in Ayrshire—Bos-welliana—Story related by old Lord Elcho—Robert Pollok —Dr. Cullen—Lady Wallace and David Hume—Professor , Davidson and his students—Andrew Gemmels and the recruiting sergeant—Lord Melville and the barber—Mrs. Glen Gordon and General Hawley—Lady Wallace and the Edinburgh fashions—The Farmer and the Schoolmaster—The Three Porters—The Old Lady and the Mendicant—Blind Alick of Stirling—A Countess of Strathmore—Parsimony of Dr. Glen—Family Register of a Northern Farmer—An Ignorant Examiner of Military Schools—Ignorance of a Scottish Historian—The Cobbler and his Nocturnal Visitor—The Poor Woman and the Sheriff—Scottish Rights.

Chapter VII. - Inscriptions, Rhymes, and Popular Sayings.
Ancient calumnies—Wallace—Robert II.—James-Ill.—Queen Mary—The Earl Marischal and Abbey of Deer—The Regent Mar and Cambuskenneth Abbey — The Lord President Dundas—The Stirling trader—Tombstone inscriptions—Instances of longevity—Sign-boards and finger-posts—Provincial rhymes—Story of Lord Byron—An Earl of Aberdeen— The. late Earl of Leven and Craig Clatchart—Rhymes about ccrtain localities — Family characteristics — Rhymes about notable persons — The three Jacobite ladies — A poetical bookseller—The rhyming shopkeepers—Hugo Arnot—Rev. John Ross and his pulpit rhymes.

Chapter VIII. - Some Scottish Adventurers.
Adventurous spirit of the Scots—Sir Robert Aytoun—Dr. Douglas, Bishop of Salisbury — James Macpherson — Dr. Andrew Bell — Bishop Strachan— Professor Beattie — Sir David Wilkie—Lord Chancellor Campbell—Dr. Robert Watt —Governor Macrae—James Earl of Glencairn—The Earl of Stirling—Robert Menteith—Colonel Edmond—Lieutenant General Anderson—Callander of Craigforth—General Scott —William Forbes of Callander—A Scotsman and the French Revolution—Alexander Selkirk—Scottish smuggling—William IV. and his Scottish courtier.

Chapter IX. - Unfortunate Men of Genius.
William Ged and the Edinburgh printers—A Scottish minister and the percussion cap - James Watt and the Glasgow hammermen—Dr. James Anderson and his discoveries—James Smith of Deanston—Henry Bell and the Steamboat—William Playfair—Dr. Smollett—Robert Mudie—Dr. Thomas Dick—William Thom—John Younger—Mary Pyper—Andrew Scott—William Nicholson—Isobel Pagan—Stuart Lewis— Thomas Lyle—William Glen—Alexander Hume—Peter Buchan—John Struthers—Elliot Aitchison—Andrew Park— James Macfarlane.

Chapter X. - Biographical and Historical Gleanings.
Lord Clyde—David Roberts, R.A.—James Nisbet, the publisher —Dr. James Mounsey and his monument—The Grand Duke Nicholas and the Scottish youth—A prophecy of Alexander Peden—A prototype of Madge Wildfire—Story of Jenny Nettles—The remains of Gil Morice—Johnny Faa and the Countess of Cassilis—Helen of Kirkconnell—Bessy Bell and Mary Gray—Lord Lynedoch—Drummond of Hawthornden —Escape of Lord Ogilvie—The Countess of Strathmore and her groom—Lord Dalmeny's marriage—Chisholm of Cromlix and his confidant—Courtship of Dr. Abernethy—" The Boatie Rows"—David Mallet—Allan Masterton.

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