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

Biggar and the House of Fleming
Chapter XIII - Biggar Schools and Libraries

THE instruction of the people of Biggar in the secular branches of education, in the times preceding the Reformation, when some even of the dignified clergy were scarcely, able to read, was, no doubt, very limited and imperfect. It would perhaps be too much to assert that the means of education were then altogether awanting in Biggar. We know that Malcolm Lord Fleming, who founded the Collegiate Church of Biggar, ordained that one of its prebendaries should be teacher of the Grammar School. This School, in all probability, existed previous to that period, and was, no doubt, continued at the Reformation, as it was an enactment both of Parliament and the Church that a school should be planted in every parish. The readers who were appointed to many of the parishes of Scotland on account of the paucity of properly qualified and regularly ordained pastors, in many instances acted also as schoolmasters for some years after the introduction of the new ecclesiastical system. It is, no doubt, on this account that the parish schoolmasters in many parishes, continued to act as readers down to a very recent period.

It is worthy of notice, that at one time a law existed in Biggar, that no seminary of learning should exist in the town and parish, except the Public or Parish School. In 1722 the various Acts on the subject were renewed by the Baron’s Court, in the following terms, viz.: ‘The whilk day, the Bailie renews the former Acts of Court in favour of the Public School in Biggar, and discharges all private schools within the same to be kept, under the pain of five punds Scots, totiea quoties' These enactments evidently did not carry with them the sympathy of the whole inhabitants, as parties appeared, from time to time, who violated them, and received a portion of public support. We, therefore, find that on the 28th of March 1747, Mr James Philips, the parochial schoolmaster, laid a complaint before Mr Robert Leckie, the Bailie, that ‘diverse and sundrie private schools were kept in the town and neighbourhood, to the great hurt and prejudice of the said Mr Philips, the legal schoolmaster.'' The Bailie, therefore, ‘inhibited and discharged all and sundry the private schoolmasters, within the said town and paroch, from holding and keeping schools, for the future, excepting in as far as in such parts of learning the said Mr James Philips was not capable to teach, and that under the penalty of L.12 Scots, for each transgression, toties quoties.'

These enactments appear to us at the present day to be somewhat arbitrary and injurious. They infringed the liberty of the subject; they prevented well qualified men from communicating useful knowledge, and thereby earning an honest subsistence, and benefiting society; while they deterred the inhabitants from countenancing and supporting useful and meritorious instructors, put a check on the diligence and attention which are generally evoked by wholesome opposition, and restricted the education of youth to a person who might be objectionable from the want of talent, activity, impartiality, or good temper.

These local enactments were most likely based on an Act passed by the Scottish Parliament in 1567. The object of this Act was to provide ‘that the youth be brocht up and instructit in the feir of God and gude maneris;’ and, therefore, it was statutedand ordained, ‘that all sculis to burgh and land, and all universities and collegia, be re-formit, and that nane be permittit nor admittit to have charge and cure thereof, in tyme cuming, nor to instruct the youth privately or openlie, but sic as salbe tryit be the superintendents, or visitouris.’ The patrons and clergy having thus got a control over the instructors pf youth, exercised it rigorously in many places down to the middle of last century. The parish schoolmasters of Biggar being invested with an almost entire monopoly in the article of education, were evidently disposed not to allow the laws in their favour to remain a dead letter. They caused edict after edict to be sent forth, backed with all the terrors of the Baron’s Court, to dislodge or scare away any poor wight that might be disposed to communicate his store of information to the youths of the town. This state of things has passed away, and any person is now at liberty to open a school in the parish for imparting instruction in such branches of learning as he may be proficient, or the inhabitants may require. The consequence of this has been, that Biggar, for well nigh a century, has always had one or two adventure schools, taught by men who, if they did not possess great learning, were, at least, distinguished for industry, fidelity, and success.

Notwithstanding the desire of the parish schoolmasters of Biggar to enjoy a monopoly in the supply of instruction to the young, an additional school was for many years maintained, even under the auspices of the Kirk Session, at Edmonston. The schoolmaster there appears to have had a small salary, for in the Session records, under date Sd July 1730, we find the following entry:—‘The Laird of Edminstone (James Brown) produced a discharge for the sum of L.5 Scots, being one half year salarie, from Martinmas 1729 to Whitsunday 1730, for a schoolmaster in Edmistone, due by contract between the Session of Biggar and the Laird of Edmistone.

Few of the early Biggar schoolmasters are remembered by the inhabitants. Schoolmasters are a quiet unambitious race, who pass through life doing a vast amount of good, but, in general, leave few tangible memorials behind them. We mill, therefore, very briefly notice a few of those men who, in their day and generation, contributed’not a little, during-the last two centuries, to form the minds of the Biggar youths, and to uphold the character of the town and parish for intelligence and sagacity.

After the Reformation, the readers of Biggar—to whom we -have referred in a former part of this work—most likely acted also as schoolmasters. It is not, however, till after the formation of the Presbytery of Biggar, in 1644, that we obtain any direct references to the schoolmasters of Biggar.

In 1646, Mr Andrew Threpland was schoolmaster of this parish.' He was, perhaps, an aspirant to the work of the ministry; for on the 14ih of January of that year, he appeared before the Presbytery and delivered a' discourse in Latin, and underwent an examination m Chronology, in the Hebrew and Greek languages, and in the interpretation of difficult passages of Scripture. He acquitted himself so much to the satisfaction of the Presbytery, that a very favourable certificate was ordered to be given to him by the clerk. The next schoolmaster with whose name we are acquainted, was James Reid. We know that he held the Offices both of schoolmaster and reader, and that he had resigned his situation, and retired on a small allowance, previous to the year 1675. He was succeeded by Thomas Carmichael. The Earl of Wigton’s proportion of his salafy was *ye soume of thretie-three pund six shillings and eight pennies/ The next schoolmaster appears to have been John Watson. He is mentioned as presenting himself at a conjoined meeting of the Presbyteries of Biggar and Peebles, held at the Hills of Dunsyre, on the 27th of June 1689, and stating that he wanted a door to the kirk; but the Presbytery decided that they could not interfere in the matter. It is more than likely that he kept his school in a part of the Parish Kirk, and it was, no doubt, on this account that he was so anxious to procure a proper door for that edifice. The circumstance of the kirk standing without a door may be taken as a proof of the disrepair into which it had fallen during the times of persecution, and the incumbency of the curates. From the date 1697, on the latch of the present strong door, studded with large-headed nails, as shown in the vignette to the present voltimle, it would seem to have been put up a few years after the period referred to. Shortly after this period, Alexander Forsaith, or Forsyth is mentioned in the records of Presbytery as the parish schoolmaster. In 1695, the Earl of Wigton presented Mr Thomas Fleming to the office. The Presbytery was rather surprised at this step, as Forsyth was still in the discharge of his duties, and consequently the office was not Vacant. The members of Court, therefore, refused to take Mr Fleming on trials; but a short time afterwards Mr Forsyth was induced to resign, and Mr Fleming was immediately installed. The next schoolmaster appears to hive ten Mr George Grant. After his settlement, in 1720, Mr Alexander Wardlaw, one of the Bailies of Biggar, at a meeting of the Head Court of the Barony, held on the 4th of February of that year, gave the following deliverance regarding the emoluments of the School, viz.:— ‘ And considering that the dues of the said scoall is too small incuradgement for fitt and quallified persons in the said office; and it being agreed to by the heritors present att this Head Court, that the dues of the said scoall should be augmented to the said Mr George Grant and his successors in office; therefore, it is statut and ordained that the dues of the said scoall shall be quarterly in tyme coming, viz., for the teaching of each boy in the Latine tongue,, tuenty shillings Scots, per quarter; and for the teaching of each lad or lass in Inglish, ten shillings Scots, per quarter; and for the teaching of each lad or lass in arith-matick, fyfteen shillings Scots, per quarter; and it is declared, that the yearly sellarie due to the scoallmaster is ane hundred punds Scots, by and attour the dues of said scoalL—And this Act is ordained to stand in all tyme coming/ The next schoolmaster of the Parish School of Biggar was Mr John Girdwood, a son of Mr Daniel Girdwood, schoolmaster, Carnwath. He was presented to the office by the Earl of Wigton in 1730. It was the practice of these times that the schoolmaster should be precentor in the Parish Church. Mr Girdwood, considering himself unqualified to lead .the psalmody, refused to accept the appointment, unless he was allowed to find a substitute in his office as precentor. This liberty appears to have been granted.

Mr James Philips, to whom we have already referred as complaining, in 1747, against the existence of private schools, was most likely the next parish schoolmaster. One of the parties who appears to have roused his discontent, was Mr John Scott This person was an exciseman, and greatly excelled as an arithmetician. He published a work on this subject, but copies of it are now extremely rare. He opened a school in Biggar, and his fame as a man of figures attracted a large attendance. Many of the Biggar worthies that flourished during the close of last century were wont to ascribe their skill in arithmetic to the zeal and abilities of their instructor Mr Scott He was the instructor of Mr James Smith, who was originally a weaver, but who afterwards was factor for Smollet’s estate at Symington, and a distinguished land-measurer at Biggar for half a century.

For many years daring the latter half of last century, Biggar rejoiced in the instructions of a parish dominie called Mr John Porteous. He wag a man of eccentric habits and some talent He had a turn for poetical composition, and published a poem, entitled ‘ The Christian Life,’ but we cannot speak of its merits, as, after repeated inquiries, we have been unable to find a copy. He took an active part in the general agitation against Popery in the year 1779. At that time the whole of Scotland was put into a flame by a proposal made to repeal the penal statutes against the Roman Catholics.

Societies, or Committees of Correspondence, for defence of the Protestant interest, were formed in Edinburgh and other towns, and under their auspices resolutions and petitions were got up and published by many towns, parishes, public bodies, etc. The town and parish of Biggar, of course, sent forth a short declaration on the subject. It is dated Biggar, February 8th, 1779, and is signed by John Porteous, preses, and John Telfer, clerk. It may be noticed that John Dickson, Esq., advocate, Coulter, took a leading part in this movement. He drew up a pamphlet, entitled ‘ A Short View of the Statutes at present in Force in Scotland against Popery; the Nature of the Bill proposed to be brought into Parliament for Repealing these Statutes; and some Remarks showing the Propriety and Necessity of Opposing such Repeal, with a few Hints on the Constitutional and Prudent Mode of Opposition.* This pamphlet went through two editions, and was widely circulated.

Since the days of Porteous, the ferula of the Parish School has been successively wielded by Messrs Johnstone, Scott, Gray, Wilkie, and \ Morrison; while the adventure schools havtf been conducted by Messrs Spence, Robertson, Slimon, Alton, Campbell, Ingram, Bogle, Brown, Scott, Blair, Ramage, and Crichton. It is worthy of notice, that on a vacancy taking place in the Parish School in the early part of the present century, Dr A. R. Carson, who afterwards held the office of Rector of the High School of Edinburgh, and became distinguished for his eminent scholarship, and his success as a public instructor, appeared as a candidate; but the Presbytery of Biggar considered that at that time he did not possess sufficient qualifications to fit him to hold such a situation.

Biggar, besides male teachers, has long had a succession of laborious and painstaking female instructors, who have taught sewing and other branches of a female education. One of these, some forty years ago, was a Mrs Logan, a retired, prudent, gentle matron, with two children. She had a passage of romance in her history, in the desertion, restoration, and death of her husband. This passage being related to a fair authoress, was woven by her into an interesting story, which was inserted in two successive numbers of 'Chambers’s Journal’ for November 1858, under the title of ‘The Second Widowhood.’ The writer has brought in a few fictitious incidents for the sake of effect; but many of her statements are in the main correct. Mrs Logan’s settlement at Biggar—‘ a moorland village,’ the writer is pleased to call it—her opening a school, and the branches of education she taught, the return of her husband on a Sabbath forenoon, her hasty summons from the church, and the illness and death of her husband, are all stated very nearly as they occurred. The following reference in these articles to the progress of education in Biggar since the time at which Mrs Logan opened her school, though a little exaggerated, is understood to be based on fact:—At that time there were only two pianos in the district; now they are as common as tables. Then, neither in Mrs Armour’s school, nor in that of her masculine competitor, did the pupils quote Milton, or read memoirs of Shelley,—they do both now; and it is not uncommon to find Macaulay’s ballads done into crochet-work covers, reposing on tables under the shadow of bead-baskets.’

Education, of late years, has unquestionably made progress at Biggar. The branches of learning taught are more numerous, and the mode of tuition is more efficient. It is a rare thing for the child of any of the settled inhabitants to grow up without receiving, at least, the rudiments of education. From time to time, Biggar schools have sent forth not a few pupils who have, in after years, become clergymen, surgeons, lawyers, authors, editors, etc.; while many others who have betaken themselves to industrial and commercial pursuits, have risen in their professions, and realized considerable fortunes. We will very briefly sketch the career of one or two of the scholars ot Biggar School.

The late Robert Forsyth, advocate, and author of works on various subjects, was a native of Biggar, and a scholar at the Parish School. His father was Robert Forsyth, bellman and gravedigger, to whom we have already referred; and his mother’s name was Marion Pairman. This worthy couple were united in marriage in 1764, and their only child, Robert, was born on the 18th January 1766. Their condition in life was very humble, and they had to struggle with all the disadvantages and sorrows of extreme poverty; but they resolved to give their son, who early showed an aptitude for learning, a good education, in order to qualify him for the work of the ministry. He was sent early to the Parish School; but being the son of a poor man, he was treated with marked neglect, and made small progress. He soon, however, became extremely fond of reading. He borrowed such books as his neighbours could supply, and read them in the winter nights to his parents, to Robert Rennie, shoemaker, and others, who commended him highly for his industry and ability, and thus encouraged him to renewed exertions. In this way he became acquainted with such works as ‘The History of the Devil,’ ‘Satan’s Invisible World Discovered,’ the histories of Knox, Cruikshanks, and Josephus, Ross’s * View of all Religions,’ the poems of Butler, Young, Milton, Ramsay, Pennicuik, and Sir David Lindsay. It is remembered at Biggar, that one evening he was busily engaged in reading aloud the poems of Sir David Lindsay, by the blaze of a piece of Auchenheath coal, after his mother had gone to bed, when that worthy matron said, ‘ O Robie, man, steek the boords o’ Davie Lindsay, and gies a blad o’ the chapter buik (the Bible)* or Til no fa’ asleep the nicht.’

As he made slow progress in his classical studies at the Parish School of Biggar, he was sent in his twelfth or thirteenth year to the Burgh School of Lanark, then taught by Mr Robert Thomson, a brother-in-law of the author of the 1 Seasons.’ Here he made more advancement in a few months than he had done for years previously. When attending this seminary, he returned to Biggar every Saturday, and remained till Monday. His aged grandmother was wont to ‘hirple’ out the Lindsaylands road to meet him on his way home; but young Forsyth sometimes spent a few hours in climbing trees at Carmichael, or looking for birds’ nests at Thankerton; and this sorely tried the patience of the old dame, as she sat by the wayside chafing at his delay, and longing for his return.

Forsyth then studied four years at the University of Glasgow, and manfully struggled with all the obstructions arising from the ‘res angusta dorm.' During one of these years, a severe and protracted storm of frost and snow occurred, and prevented all communication from place to place by means of carts. The Biggar carrier was consequently unable to pay his usual visits to Glasgow for several weeks. Old Forsyth was thrown into great distress regarding the state in which he knew his son would be placed from want of his ordinary supply of provisions. He therefore procured a quantity of oatmeal, and carried it on his back, along the rough tracks on the top of the snow, all the way to Glasgow, a distance of thirty-five miles, and just arrived when young Forsyth had been reduced to his last meal.

’After the usual attendance at the Divinity Hall, Edinburgh, Forsyth was licensed to preach the Gospel when he had attained his twentieth year. He was an eloquent, energetic, and popular preacher. He officiated several times in the church of his native parish, and he did so on one occasion when a severe disease had made sad ravages among the population, and had c&rried joff some of his friends and acquaintance. He therefore commenced the morning prayer with the words, ‘ Our fathers, where are they? We stand where our fathers have stood, aiid we worship where our fathers have worshipped. We look around us, and behold but the green mounds that cover them.’ ‘ He had scarcely uttered these expressions,’ we are told, ‘ when all around were overwhelmed by a burst of grief.’

He preached in a number of the pulpits of the Established Church in Edinburgh, and thus had an opportunity of bringing himself under the notice of men of power and influence; but year after year passed by, and no patron had discrimination and generosity enough to present him to a living. After long and anxious cogitation, he resolved to change his profession, and to seek for admission into the Faculty of Advocates. At that time the men of the Parliament House were more exclusive than they are at present. They cared little for a new adherent to their ranks, unless he came recommended by his connection with some aristocratic family. The idea of a sticket minister, and the son of a gravedigger, obtaining admission into their dignified order, was intolerable to the Duridases, the Forbeses, the Wedderburas, the Erskines, and others, who in those days ruled the roast in the Parliament House. One of their number, connected with the

Biggar district, but never distinguished for obtaining any great amount of practice, was specially opposed to Forsyth, and one day had the audacity to say, ‘ Who are you, sir, that would thrust yourself into the Facility? Are ye not the poor bellman’s son of Biggar?’ 'I am so,’ said Forsyth, coolly but sarcastically; and I have a strong suspicion that had you been a bellman’s son, you would have been your father’s successor.’ Forsyth was not discouraged by the rebuffs and opposition which he had to encounter. He still persisted in his application. He renounced his profession of a preacher, and thus removed one of the objections which had been urged against him; and Lord President Islay Campbell interfered in his behalf, so that his opponents were forced to give way, and he was admitted to trials, and passed in 1792.

For a long time he had little practice. He attached himself to the party called the Friends of the People, who sympathized with the principles of the French Revolutionists; and this subjected him to a larger amount of obloquy and persecution, and operated still more in preventing him from obtaining employment at the bar. He was not idle. He studied mechanics, botany, chemistry, etc., and engaged largely in literary composition. At an early period he had composed and published a poem, entitled ‘ Nature,’ and had made some progress with an epic poem in' celebration of the achievements of Sir William Wallace; but he destroyed this production before it was completed. For the ‘ Encyclopaedia Britannica’ he how wrote the articles ‘ Asia,’ ‘ Botany,’ 4 Britain,’ and (Agriculture,’ the last of which was afterwards enlarged, and published in two volumes. In 1805, he published a volume of considerable size, entitled ‘Principles of Moral Science.’ This volume is written in a clear, trenchant style, and contains many ingenious speculations and useful disquisitions; but it abounds with most untenable paradoxes and reckless assertions. Such doctrines as that there is no moral evil and no guilt in the eye of God, and that those persons only who have made a certain intellectual and moral progress will continue to exist in a future life, would, we suspect, have subjected him to the charge of heresy, had he remained a preacher in the Established Church. He wrote a Life of Dr Samuel Johnson, which was published in connection with an edition of the Doctor’s works in 1806; and that same year appealed his ‘Beauties of Scotland,’ in five volumes, illustrated with engravings. This work contains a large amount of interesting information regarding Scotland; but it has been superseded by several publications of the same kind, which have appeared since the period of its publication, particularly the ‘ New Statistical Account of Scotland’ In 1830 he published ‘Political Fragments;’ in 1834, a pamphlet, entitled ‘Remarks on the Church of Scotland;’ and in 1838 he wrote. ‘ Observations on the Book of Genesis,’ which, along with some sermons and a lecture, were published in 1846, shortly after his death.

In person Mr Forsyth was tall and commanding, his complexion was dark, his features strongly marked, and his constitution hardy and vigorous. He had an extensive knowledge of law, and was a powerful and successful pleader. In the latter part of his life, he, in a great measure, abandoned the more public part of his profession, and was principally known as a Chamber Counsel, great weight being attached to his opinions, whether oral or written. He became a rigid Conservative; and the bellman’s son, and one of the Friends of the People, was in the end considered a fit associate and coadjutor of the greatest aristocrats in the land.

The Bev. Henry Scott Riddell, who has risen to distinction by his poetical productions, was also at one time a scholar at Biggar Parish School. He was bom in 1798 at Sorbie, in the Vale of Ewes, Dumfriesshire. His father, who followed the occupation of a shepherd, shortly afterwards removed to Langshawburo, a sequestered spot in the wilds of Eskdalemuir; and here the poet heard the songs in the Ettrick Shepherd’s first publication so often read and sung, that he could repeat nearly all of them before he was able to read. His father had occasion to make several other changes in his herdings; and as they were all situated in solitary spots among the mountains of the south of Scotland, the education of the young poet was very desultory and imperfect His first regular occupation of life was the tending of his father’s cows at the farm of Cupplefoot, on the Water of Milk. By and by he rose to the higher trust, and more congenial rural employment, of herding sheep. He acted one year, while yet a boy, as assistant-shepherd at Glencotho, on Holmswater; and thus, for the first time, became acquainted with the Biggar district It was while resident at this place that he first made an attempt to write regular rhyme, by linking the names of the different localities of the farm together.

Mr Riddell’s occupation as a shepherd was favourable to the development of his latent poetic powers. The scenes amid which he daily moved, if not rugged and sublime, were, with their green mountains, their sequestered valleys, and brawling rills, full of wild pastoral beauty, and well fitted to invigorate the frame, and inspire the soul with lofty imaginings. As he grew up to manhood, the care of his flocks, the perusal of books, and the recording of his poetic conceptions, occupied his attention by turns, as he wandered among the mountains, or loitered in the sunny nooks and green bracken dells of Ettrick Forest, whither he had now been removed.

Regarding this period of his life he says,

‘My early years were passed far on
The hills of Ettrick, wild and lone;
Through summer’s sheen, and winter's shade,
Tending the flocks that o’er them stray’d;
In bold enthusiastic glee,
I sung rude strains of minstrelsy.’

Mr Riddell having, from the proceeds of his employment, saved a little money, and having at the death of his father received his portion of his effects, he resolved to put in execution a scheme which he had for some time contemplated, viz., acquiring a more accurate and extended education, and devoting himself to the profession of the ministry. On throwing aside (the crook and plaid,’ his early imbibed predilections induced him to come to Biggar, where he continued to reside for some years. He placed himself under the tuition of the late Mr Richard Scott, parochial schoolmaster, who was a good classical scholar, and a man of genial disposition and varied information, but of somewhat indolent habits. He had, especially, a rooted aversion to the drudgery of teaching little children such elementary knowledge as is contained in spelling-books. Mr Riddell, although arrived at the years of manhood, resolved to attend day by day in the school, amid all its din and distraction. He found the task which he had imposed on himself somewhat irksome; and in the bright days of summer, he says that he felt the solitary paths, woods, and wilds, not far distant from the town, eternally wooing his steps to retirement, and his mind to solitary contemplation. The following verses, expressive of his feelings, were written in Biggar school, and which, therefore, we venture to quote:—

'Discontented and uncheery,
Of this noise and learning weary,
Half my mind to madness driven,
Woos the lore by nature given.
’Mong fair fields and flowing fountains,
Lonely glens, and lofty mountains,
Charmed with nature’s wildest grandeur,
Lately wont was I to wander;
Wheresoever fancy led me,
Came no barrier to impede me;
Still from early morn till even,
In the light of earth and heaven,
Musing on whatever graces,
Livelier scenes or lonelier places,
Till a nameless pleasure found me,
Living like a dream around me;
How, then, may I be contented,
Thus confined and thus tormented?

'Still, oh! still, ’twere lovelier rather
To be roaming through the heather;
And where flowed the stream so glassy,
’Mong its flowers and margins mossy,
Where the flocks at noon, their path on,
Came to feed by birk and hawthorn;
Or upon the mountain lofty
Seated, where the wind blew softly,
With my faithful friend beside me,
And my plaid from sun to hide me,
And the volume ope’d before me,
I would trace the minstrel's story,
Or mine own wild harp awaken
Mid the deep green glens of bracken,
Free and fearlessly revealing
All the soul of native feeling.

’Stead of that eternal humming,
To the ear for ever coining—
Humming of those thoughtles beings,
In their restless pranks and pleaings,
And the sore-provoked Preceptor Roaring
Silence! o’er each quarter.
Silence comes, as o’er the valley,
Where all rioted so gaily,
When the sudden bursting thunder
Overpowers with awe and wonder,
Till again begins the fuss,

“Maister, Jock’s aye nippin’ us!”
I could hear the fountain flowing
Where the light hill-breeze was blowing,
And the wild winged plover wailing
Round the brow of heaven sailing,
Bleating flocks and sky-larks singing—
Echo still to echo ringing—
Sounds still, still so wont to waken,
That no note of them is taken,
Yet which seem to lend assistance
To the blessing of existence.

Who shall trow thee wise and witty,
Lore of the Eternal City,
Or derive delight and pleasure
From the blood-stained deeds of Csesar?
Thus bewildering his senses
'Mong these cases, moods, and tenses;
Still the wrong-placed word arranging,
Ever in their finals changing;
Out and in, with hie and hockings,
Like a loom for weaving stockings;
Latin lords and Grecian heroes—
Oh, ye gods, in mercy spare us!
How may mortals be contented,
Thus confined, and thns tormented I’

A number of the young men of Biggar, inspired with a rage for theatricals, formed themselves at that time into a dramatic company, and acted ‘ the Douglas Tragedy,’ and the farce of ‘ Bamaby Brettle. Some of them were good singers, and between the pieces gave several songs, one of which was Burns’s song, ‘ O let me in this ae Night,’ the two parts of which were sung by different performers, with the accession of proper stage scenery. Mr Riddell, being known as a songwriter, was solicited by these amateur actors to compose for them an appropriate lyric, which they might sing on their humble stage in one of the malt lofts of the Brewery. He accordingly, to an air of their own selecting, produced a piece in the form of dramatic plot, which, as he himself says, being sung by alternate voices, was well received, and enhanced his fame as a composer of lyric poetry.

At this time also, a Mr Watson, one of those gentlemen who are usefully employed in going from town to town teaching vocal music, came to Biggar, and opened an evening class for singing in the Parish School He was rather a good singer,—at least he was an enthusiast in his profession. ‘ Besides psalmody, he taught song-singing; but several of his songs were far from select, the music only rendering them passable. One of his songs was entitled the ‘ Plough Boy,’— a very poor production, but with rather a good air. Mr Riddell, who used to attend Watson’s class, compofed as a substitute the song of ‘ The Crook and Plaid ’ to the same air; And it immediately became popular with the Biggar singers, and ere long found its way over all Scotland.

Mr Riddell, while residing at Biggar, composed a Border Romance, which he submitted to the examination of the Ettrick Shepherd, and whose remark on returning it was, that there were more rawness and more genius in it than any work he had seen. He also contributed several papers to the ‘ Clydesdale Magazine,’ a periodical published at Lanark by William Murray Borthwiok, a son of the late John Borth-wick, farmer, Langlees, Biggar. One of his acquaintances while at Biggar, was the Rev. James Proudfoot, then parochial schoolmaster, Skirling, and now minister of the Free Church, Coulter, Mr Proudfoot had distinguished himself at College by carrying off a prize for the best poem on the subject of Waterloo; and a congeniality of taste and sentiment naturally led to a bond of intimacy between him and Mr Riddell, and in company they made a tour to Yarrow, and held converse with that gifted son of song the Ettrick Shepherd. Another of his Biggar associates was James Brown, weaver, Symington, a good poet, and an amiable man, of whom notice will be taken in another part of this volume. Mr Riddell was also on terms of intimacy with the family of a farmer in the neighbourhood; and for one of its members, who had the charge of one of the hirsels of his father’s flocks, he composed the well-known song, ‘The Wild Glen so Green.’ One of Mr Riddell’s school associates was Mr W. B. Clark, a native of Biggar, afterwards parochial incumbent of Half Morton, and, after the Disruption, for some time pastor of the Free Church, Maxweltown, Dumfries.* Through this intimacy he became acquainted with Mr Clark’s sister, Eliza, who, after a courtship of a goodly number of years, became his wife. A Mr Harrower, who was a son of Mary Black, Biggar, and who had realized a considerable fortune in Demerara, came home at this time, and took up his residence at Biggar. He soon formed an intimacy with Mr Riddell, invited him frequently to his table, and put his horse at his disposal. After the poet left Biggar to attend the University of Edinburgh, Harrower several times paid him a visit, and on one occasion brought with him two English friends. The whole party made a pilgrimage to the scene of the battle of Pinkie, and the Englishmen bantered Harrower and Riddell a good deal concerning the defeat which the Scots there sustained. Riddell, since he could not make a better of it, resolved at least to have the last word in the strife; and before he slept, composed, in support of his country’s cause, the popular song,

'Ours is the Land of Gallant Hearts.’

Mr Riddell, after attending the Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews, was licensed to preach the Gospel He was ultimately settled at Teviothead, as minister of a chapel erected by the Duke of Buccleuch; but, after labouring for a number of years in this situation, he was visited with severe affliction, which for a considerable period laid him aside from the discharge of his duties. On his recovery he did not resume his pastoral charge, to which another in the interim had been appointed. The dwelling-house which was built for him by the Duke of Buccleuch, he still continues to occupy, and receives from his Grace an annuity, with other perquisites. Mr Riddell’s publications are—* The Songs of the Ark;’ 4 A Monody on the Death of Lord Byron‘The Christian Politician, or the Right Way of Thinking and a volume of poems and songs. In 1855 he made a translation of the Gospel of St Matthew into the Scotch language, executed for Prince Lucien Bonaparte. More recently, he also foi* his Highness translated into the same language the Psalms of David and the Song of Solomon. As these translations were for linguistic purposes of the Prince, only a limited number of copies of each was printed.

All the emanations of Mr Riddell’s muse manifest much poetical power; they everywhere breathe an ardent attachment to liberty, to country, to rural scenes and domestic enjoyments. His larger pieces contain many choice sentiments and felicitous expressions, which we love to con over and over again; but, on the whole, and for our own part, we feel disposed to give the preference to his songs. It is in his lyrics that the divine inspiration of genius shines most conspicuously forth. In these, the ardour of patriotism, the affections of the heart, the beauties of nature, and the endearments of home, are developed in such glowing and apt illustrations, that they will charm

•He is now minister of Chalmers' Free Church, Quebec. and delight so long as lyric poetry holds a place in the literature of our country. As might be expected from the genial sympathies of the bard, he has always cherished a warm attachment to the Biggar district and its inhabitants. A short time ago, in a communication to ourselves, he said, ‘ My recollections concerning Biggar and its surrounding localities are vivid, manifold, and, I may add, pleasurable,— unless in so far as they are ipingled with my regret in leaving them, and for the departure of those friends from them with whom I was wont to associate in the days of other years. Still, these things are like what Ossian says of departed joys, “ They are sweet and mournful to the soul. In several poetical productions he has given expression to his regard to the scenes and the people of this district. We regret that our space only admits of our giving from these elusions a few extracts. In a poem entitled ‘ The Folk o’ the Clyde,’ he says:—

'O there is not a vale in the wide world in which
The hearts are so kind, and the scenery so rich,
Will its woodlands green, and its homes and its domes,
Where the wind wanders free, and the waterfall foams,
Where the wild wood is grand, if the moorland be grey,
And its bosom lies veiled in the beauty of day.
As bold as a bridegroom, and blythe as a bride,
And there is not a vale like the vale of the Clyde.

'The world frae Tintock gang ye and survey,
It's no fault of his, if sight fails by the way, .
But of all the scenes that may beam on the eye,
Yell see these the loveliest dose round him that lie;
For where is the beauty will ever excel
Its bowers in the bosom of wild Coulter Fell,
Where David sings sweetest of a' at eve-tide,
0’ the wild glen sae green, to the lads o’ the Clyde?

'And there are the maidens sae modest, yet free,
And sweet as the breath o’ the new-blown haw tree,
As fair as the wild flower, and blythe as the day,
And untainted as dew in the morning of May;
Wi’ blinks in the e’e that will ne’er let alane,
Till they warm a’ the heart, tho’ the heart were like stane ;
And if there ere now I had won not a bride,
I wad woo night and day at the lasses o’ Clyde.

'Ye lads o’ the hill, and the holm, and the shaw,
Ilong for your welfare while breath I shall draw ;
And when sleeps the bard that ye wont so to hail,
0 bring ae sweet daisy frae Clyde’s lovely vale,
And plant the fair flower on the turf o’ his tomb,
For methinks it will sweeten the sleep of its gloom ;
And may health, peace, and plenty, for ever betide
The warm generous hearts on the banks o’ the Clyde.’

In a song written for the Edinburgh Biggar Club, and sung at its anniversary meeting, 7th January 1848, he thus gave utterance to similar sentiments:—

'On Yarrow Braes and Ettrick Shaw beat leal, leal hearts and warm,
In men and dames, and lovely maids that cheer alike and charm ;
But lealer hearts and fairer forms are no in Scotland wide,
Than those that trace and sweetly grace the bonnie banks o’ Clyde.
1 The Tweed towb down his waters far alang yon mountain glen,
Where lonely rills and lofty hilla are roun* the hames o’, men ;
But Tintock rears a prouder crest, and guards a fairer tide,
In casting his broad shadow o’er the valley o’ the Clyde.

‘There glow the hearths as erst they glowed ere them we left behind,
Where love and worth combined to bless the kindest o’ the kind,
And bright intelligence lits up the fare the free provide,
When cantily they crack within the happy hames o’ Clyde.
(May peace and plenty dwell wi’ them who still are dwellers there,
May love the sunny ringlets wTeathe, and wit the hoary hair,
And sympathies that aye are young inmingle life's ain tide,
While harps are strung and sangs are sung upon the banks o’ Clyde

The only other extract which we will give is from a lengthened and very excellent poem, which he wrote for the same Club also in 1848:—

'Climb to green Bizzy berry’s top,
And say, as round you cast your eye,
If lovelier scene on Nature's lap
E’er spread its breast to Nature’s sky.
Lo! Coulter Fell and wild Cardon,
Themselves with heaven’s own hues invest,
And Tintock lifts his summit lone
Far ’mid the stillness of the west.

'Around lie stream, and glen, and grove,
And mansions fair, and woodland wide,
Reflecting smiles of light and love,
To hail the mountain of the Clyde.
Even Tweed’s lone hills, dark and sublime,
As if awakening from a dream,
Look longingly across the clime
To greet the guardian of our stream.

'But can the distant hill or dale
Forth in the soul sensations draw,
Such as awake when thought must hail
Our own blythe Biggar and Westraw?
O'er these, the haunts of early days,
Emotion into rapture swells,
While fondest feeling warmly says,
There worth with love and beauty dwells.

'From out these village homes and trees,
Afar the children's mingled hum,
Comes floating on the light hill-breeze,
As erst our own was wont to come.
And, lo! that venerable pile,
Grey with the garniture of years,
Gives forth its echo, hark ! the while,
Awakening other hopes and fears.
There sleep the loved of soul and heart,
The death-departed of žur line,
Who scorned to play a servile part
In aught, if secular or divine.

'Their power could foreign pride o’erawe,
And smile amid the triumphs won,
When Scotia's Lion raised his paw,
And shook his grey beard in the sun.
Their voice of freedom bore a sway,
And energy, they say, that shook,
When passing from the lip away,
The dial on yon Castle nook.'

It is only doing justice to the author of these poetic productions, here to state, that our limits only allowing us to adopt verses here and there out of each of them, they, as thus given, fail to develop the regular train of sentiment, and consequently to produce the same impression which they are calculated to do in their original condition.

The parochial school-house of Biggar was erected about the com* mencement of the present century. It is a building of two storeys, which formerly contained a large apartment for a school-room and accommodation for the teacher, rather beyond what the statute then prescribed. The school-room was by and by found to be rather small, and an addition was made to it some thirty-five years ago, but it did not altogether prove satisfactory. The Rev. John Christison, therefore, set vigorously to work to get a new and separate building erected; and in this he entirely succeeded. The school-house put up under his auspices, and mainly by his efforts, is one of the most elegant and commodious that can be found in the whole country. As the erection of this building is a notable event in the history of the town, and is most creditable to all parties concerned, we will quote a letter from Mr Christison to James Sommerville, Esq., S.S.C., Edinburgh, showing the steps which were taken to raise the necessary funds:—

Biggar, 10th February 1849.

'My dear Sir,—I received your letter the other day, wishing some information about the building of our Parish School, and I must apologize for not replying Booner. The heritors of this parish agreed to build a new >school-house, at an expense of L.340, on the site of the old one; but as this site had no playground attached to it, and was otherwise bad, I urged them to purchase a new one. They declined doing thia, but agreed to allow the parishioners, at their own expense, to furnish a new site, and to improve the style and accommodation of the building, if they chose. A subscription was immediately set on foot for these purposes, and went on with great spirit. In a short time we realized subscriptions in money to the amount of L.125. Besides this, everybody who had a hone assisted in driving materials; the value of the labour thus contributed was L.28. We had then a public sermon, at which a collection was made. We had a concert; and we were presented with the gratuitous services of the architects, Messrs Clark and Bell of Glasgow. We got by these means L.24. We had now raised L.177, and I had become liable to the contractors for L.60 more, trusting to the generous spirit which had already given bo much, and which did not appear to me to be yet exhausted. I was not deceived. Our next device was a sale of ladies1 work. Every needle in the parish, and not a few elsewhere, went cheerfully in the cause. A tempting show was set before the public, and at the close of the sale we found that it had yielded us L.59. We were still short, however, of what we required, for we had again gone ahead ; and when we were considering what we should do next, the young people of the parish took the matter out of our hands, by getting up a ball, and sending us the proceeds, which amounted to L.21. We had now raised in all L.257, which, added to the L.340 expended by the heritors, amounted to nearly L.600. With this we have built one of the best parochial schools in Scotland. We were fortunate in getting a beautiful site, and a very elegant design from Messrs Clark and Bell; and we adopted all the recent improvements as to ventilation, and the proportion of area to each child. The main school-room is 53 feet long, by an average breadth of 26 feet. We also built an additional class-room of 16 feet by 14, and a lobby, which may be occasionally used as a class-room, 16 feet by 11.

The class-room and a tower outside the building are, in the mean time, unfinished, but we do not despair of completing them by and by.* When these are finished, the whole will have cost about L.650.

'You may easily conceive that all this was not done without a struggle, but the result has richly repaid us. Not only has the direct benefit been great, but a very gratifying proof has been given of the readiness of the people to support and honour the cause of education.—I am, my dear Sir, yours truly, ‘ John Christison.


The want of a suitable apartment in which to hold a subsidiary,

These parts of the building were finished in a short time afterwards, and tbe tower was furnished with a clock, a proprietor in a neighbouring parish subscribing L.20 for this very useful object or, as it is now called, an adventure school, was long felt at Biggar. Those persons who attended the schools taught by Messrs Robertson, Slimon, Stephens, and Alton, will recollect the miserable apartments, dark, dirty, and confined, in which they were held. About thirty-five years ago, a somewhat better apartment was obtained in one of the office-houses connected with the Relief manse; but the ceiling of it was low, and it had no playground except the public road. The erection of a larger and more appropriate building had, therefore, become absolutely necessary, to keep pace with the educational wants of the parish and the progress of the times. The new Parish School contains accommodation for 180 children; but the number of children in the town and neighbourhood who ought to be at school was found to be 330, thus leaving 150 to be otherwise provided for. A scheme was, therefore, set on foot for the erection of a building, to be used as a school for the burgh. Liberal subscriptions were obtained from many of the most wealthy inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood, and a suitable site, of half an acre in extent, was obtained at the head of John’s Loan, on one of the small fragments of ground that the descendant of the Flemings still possessed in the parish. A suitable plan having been obtained, the foundation-stone was laid with masonic honours, by Br. Alexander Baillie Cochrane, Esq. of Lamington, assisted by the Lodge of Biggar Free Operatives, on the 27th of October 1859. The part of the building devoted to the purposes of tuition, including an industrial department, was finished in the autumn of 1860, and was opened in October of that year. It is capable of containing 120 scholars, and has cost L.500. A house for the accommodation of the teacher has since been erected, adjacent to the school The chief and indefatigable promoter of this undertaking has been the Rev. James Dunlop, M. A., of the South United Presbyterian Church; and it will stand, we hope, for many generations, a monument to his honour and a benefit to the district. Biggar has been fortunate in having two such clergymen as Messrs Christison and Dunlop, who felt and understood the educational wants of the district, who set to work with heart and hand to remove them,—who could not be driven from their design by any amount of lukewarmness or opposition, and who have now daily the satisfaction of seeing the beneficial effects of their labours, in the increased comfort and improvement of the youths of the town and parish with which they are connected.

The cause of education in Biggar has been promoted to some extent, among the poorer classes, by the benefactions of two individuals, whose example is worthy of imitation. One of these was William Law, skinner, Biggar, who built and occupied a house near the Cadger’s Brig, the lintel of the outer door still showing his initials and the date 1751. This individual, in 1767, mortified L.41 sterling for the education of poor children in the parish. The other person was William Nesbit, who had his dwelling in the School Green, and used to make a livelihood by hawking salt At his death, in 1817, he mortified L.40 for the same laudable purpose.

Another benefactor of the poor of Biggar, in respect to education, was the late Alexander Mitchell, Esq., tanner and currier, Glasgow. Mr Mitchell, it has been stated, was a native of the neighbouring parish of Kilbucho, and when young removed to Biggar with his father, who lived for some years in the Kirkstyle, and was employed as a kilnman at Biggar Mill. When Mr Mitchell acquired sufficient strength to toil for his daily bread, he was engaged as a labourer in the nurseries of Bailie Cree. He left Biggar, and proceeding to Glasgow, got employment in a tanner and currier’s establishment in that city. Here, by his steadiness, his shrewdness, and attention to business, he rose, by degrees, to be the head of the establishment which he had entered as a workman, as well as to be one of the directors of the City of Glasgow Bank. At his death, which took place in 1860, he left L.90,000, and among other legacies he bequeathed L.1000 to the Kirk Session of the Established Church of Biggar, to be invested for the support of education in that town. He further bequeathed *to the Kirk Session of the United Presbyterian Church at Biggar, in behoof of the school connected with that congregation, the sum of L.1000.’ These sums are not payable till after the decease of the testator’s widow. As two United Presbyterian Churches exist in Biggar, a difference of opinion has arisen as to the one indicated by the testator in his trust settlement Both of them, we believe, have laid claim to it, and it may be necessary to make an appeal to the gentlemen of the long robe before the controversy regarding it/ is settled.

A society, called the Edinburgh Biggar Club, which was instituted in 1847, has for one of its objects, the promotion of education in the parish of Biggar. On several occasions, it has given a number of books to the schools as prizes for the reward of merit,—a proceeding worthy of commendation, as it not only stimulated the scholars to industry, but distributed a number of useful works in various departments of literature among the families of the town, and thus conduced to the knowledge and mental improvement of both young and old. The Edinburgh Upper Ward Club for some years prosecuted the same object, by giving prizes to the schools; but, singularly enough, finding these not appreciated in some quarters, it discontinued them, and for several years it has given a sum of money to the most proficient scholar in the Upper Ward, for the purpose of enabling him still further to prosecute his studies. Mr John Jamieson, a native of Abing-ton, and for a number of years one of the partners of the firm of Gillespie, Moffat, and Co., Montreal, having realized a competent fortune, returned to his native district, and resided some time in the parish of Coulter. At his death, in 1848, he left the sum of L.600, to be invested for the purpose of founding a bursary in the University of Edinburgh. Candidates for this bursary must be the sons of schoolmasters, farmers, mechanics, etc., whose yearly income does not exceed L.100; and they must have been born and educated in the parishes of Biggar, Coulter, Lamington, Crawford, Crawfordjohn, Wis-ton, and Roberton. They require to undergo an examination in Greek, Latin, and arithmetic, and the successful competitor holds the bursary for four years ; the amount at present being L.21 per annum. The patrons are the Principal of the University and ten professors.

A number of years ago a society was established at Biggar, called ‘The Scientific Association/ Its object was to diffuse information on scientific subjects, by means of lectures, discussions, and books. After flourishing for some time, it fell into abeyance, and in 1854 was superseded by a similar institution, called the * Athenaeum,' which still exists, and has a library, a reading room, and a course of lectures on miscellaneous subjects, during the winter months. It is supported by an annual subscription of 5s. from each member. Institutions of this kind are with difficulty upheld in our largest cities; and it will certainly reflect credit on Biggar, if, with a population scarcely so large as is to be found in many a single street of these cities, it should be able to maintain its ‘Athenaeum’ in the same efficient state which it has hitherto done, and thus hand down to succeeding generations an institution productive of much rational entertainment, useful instruction, and mental improvement

Biggar has a number of other public libraries in addition to the one connected with the Athenaeum, but none of them are of a very old date. The Biggar Library, founded in 1797, principally by the exertions of the Rev. Patrick Mollison of Walston, Contains about 1000 volumes, and has been supported almost exclusively by the higher classes of the town and neighbourhood. The number of members is now few, and it is understood to have been in a languishing condition for some years. The present librarian is Mrs Tait Biggar Parish Library, was founded in 1800 by the working classes of the town and neighbourhood. This library, thirty-five years ago, had fallen very mueh into a state of dormancy. The members had dwindled down to eleven in number, the income had become a trifle, and the addition of new books had, in a great measure, ceased. The merit of restoring it to more than its primitive vigour is due to Mr Allan Whitfield, who, at the time referred to, was elected president That gentleman got a new catalogue and a new set of regulations drawn up and printed, and commenced an active canvass for entrants. The consequence was, that in the course of a year or two, the members were increased to fifty; and the library has continued down to the present time in a flourishing and satisfactory state. The number of members at present is upwards of ninety, and the volumes amount to fully 1200. The entry money is 6s., and the annual payment 2s. At one time this library was under the charge of John M‘Ghie, shoemaker, one of the most shrewd and intelligent men of his time in Biggar. He had read all the books in the library, and many of them several times over. As he was endowed with a most tenacious memory, he could give a summary of the contents of any one of them to which his attention might be directed, as well as a very correct estimate of its merits. His conversational powers were of a high order. It was a treat of no ordinary kind to sit beside him while engaged with his elshm and his lingle, and hear him discourse with fluency and critical acumen on poetry, philosophy, politics, religion, and general literature. He was a notable specimen of not a few men living in obscure corners of our country, and pursuing an humble vocation, who have, nevertheless, entered into the very depths of the great masters of literature, and have had a powerful influence in stimulating and moulding the minds of the generation around them. The present librarian is Mr James Small, shoemaker.

The Evangelical Library was founded in 1807, and, as its title imports, it is composed of books of a religious cast. It contains 900 volumes. The entry money and annual payment are 2s. each. This library is scarcely in so flourishing a state as could be desired. Biggar ^ Kirk Library contains upwards of 1100 volumes, and is supported by collections at evening sermons, delivered under the auspices of the Established Church. The Biggar Relief Juvenile Library has a very useful collection of books, amounting to nearly 700 volumes; and is conducted by a committee of the congregation. The entry money is 6d., and the annual payment 1s. 1d.

The existence of these libraries bears abundant testimony to the reading habits of the inhabitants, and the desire generally felt to spend their leisure hours in rational and profitable exercises. It is very desirable, however, that a movement should be set on foot to unite the most of these libraries into one institution. Were this done, and a suitable apartment built for their accommodation, and a fair remuneration given to a person to take charge of them, not only would the books be preserved from the risk of being dispersed, but an additional impetus would be given to that mental cultivation and rational amusement which are to be derived from the perusal of good books.

One of the branches of education long sedulously cultivated at Biggar is that of music, both vocal and instrumental An excellence in this department is one of the things in which the inhabitants have taken great pride. No town of so small a size has sent forth so many really good singers; and none has had a succession of better instrumental performers. So far back as 1513, mention is made of the piper and fiddler of Biggar, who played to James IV. on one of his visits to the town. When the Collegiate Kirk of Biggar was erected, one of its prebendaries was appointed to play the organ and to teach music, both to the singing-boys of the Kirk, and to the parishioners at large. After the Reformation, the parish schoolmaster was generally the precentor in the church, and, no doubt, the teacher of psalmody. When

John Girdwood was presented to the office of schoolmaster in 1730, as formerly stated, he refused to accept the appointment, unless he was allowed to find a substitute to precent for him in the church. About the beginning of last century, John Scott was the chief ‘ violer,’ or fiddler, of the parish. From the parish records we find that, in 1740, John Murray was one of the professional fiddlers of Biggar. At the commencement of the present century, John Simpson, a blind man, flourished as the chief musician. He fiddled at all the merry meetings in the country round, and could travel everywhere without a guide. Nay, what was very remarkable, though he was stone blind, he took great delight in the chase, and was often seen following the pack of hounds, which, for some time, was kept in the parish by Lord Elphinstone ; and seemed to enjoy the sport with as much relish as any one present.

Some thirty or forty years ago, one of the town fiddlers was Mr Thomas Davidson. He was not only a musician, but a tailor, weaver, optician, musical instrument maker, and philosopher. Two of his favourite tunes were the * Button Hole* and the * Hen’s March,’ which he played with comical grimaces and rare effect In his old age, he tried to learn to perform on the flute, but he complained that he constantly lost the blast; and therefore he invented a curious' apparatus for applying wind to the instrument with greater ease than by the usual mode of sounding it by blowing into the embrochure. He could thus sound the instrument, but the notes wanted the delicacy and precision produced by the ordinary mode of playing; so in the end he abandoned the task, as beyond the powers which he then possessed. Had he lived in the days of James IV., he could, with his uncommon times, his curious instruments, and his ingenious speculations, have afforded that mirthful monarch rare entertainment during his repeated visits to Biggar.

Another musician that flourished at the same period, was John Brown, usually denominated ‘ The Fiddler.’ He was a good performer, especially of reel, strathspey, and contra-dance tunes; and his services were in almost constant requisition at fairs, penny weddings, and dancing schools. Like most Biggar men of his time, he was shrewd, intelligent, and occasionally witty. Many of his good things are still remembered in Biggar. Let us merely give a specimen or two. On one occasion he was at a Broughton Fair, furnishing music, as usual, for penny reels in a bam. He got considerable supplies of usquebae during the day; and at night, after his labours were over, he had a carouse with some boon companions in the Green Inn. He at length set out towards Biggar when the morning was somewhat advanced, and by the way feeling squeamish and sick, he sat down by the roadside, and was seized with an apprehension that his final end was near. After ruminating for some time, he suddenly started up and exclaimed, ‘ If I maun dee, I may as weel dee gaun as sittin'.

On another occasion, after indulging in a round of rather hard drinking, he fell into the horrors. He viewed his conduct with anything but complacency. He considered that a feeling of sorrow and regret was not a sufficient atonement for his delinquencies, but that he was fairly entitled to receive some personal chastisement Labouring under this impression, he went forthwith to the late Mr James Paterson, commonly called Oggie,’ from having lived with his father on the farm of Oggscastle, near Carnwath. Having found him, he said, ‘ Jeames, I maun hae the len’ o’ a gun frae ye this morain'; I’m gaun to tak a bit daunder doon the length o’ Bogha’ Castle.' ‘ The len’ o’ a gun, John,' said James; 4that’s a very unusual request What on earth are ye gaun to dae wi’ a gun? Ye dinna mean to shute yersel’?’ ‘No exactly that, Jeames,’ said John; ‘but of coorse I mean to gie mysel’ a deevil o’ a fleg.’

Biggar has had several instrumental bands, who. for a time, have cultivated music with great spirit and success. These bands, in so small a town, are not easily kept up, as the young men are being constantly draughted off to fill situations in other districts, and their places in the band cannot be readily supplied. The consequence has been, that after flourishing a few years, they have, one after another, been broken up.

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