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Sketches of The Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland


M, Page 87. Highland Weddings

The weddings were the delight of all ages. Persons from ten years of age to four score attended them. Some weeks previous to the marriage-day, the bride and bridegroom went round their respective friends, to the distance of many miles, for the purpose of inviting them to the wedding. To repay this courtesy, the matrons of the invited families returned the visit within a few days, always well supplied with presents of beef, bams, butter, cheese, spirits, malt, and whatever they thought necessary for the ensuing feast. These, with what the guests paid for their entertainment, and the gifts presented the day after the marriage, were often so considerable, as to contribute much to the future settlement of the young couple. On the wedding-morning, the bridegroom, escorted by a party of friends, and preceded by pipers, commenced a round of morning calls, to remind their invited friends of their engagements. This circuit sometimes occupied several hours, and as many joined the party, it might perhaps be increased to some hundreds, when they returned to the bridegroom's house. The bride went a similar round among her friends. The bridegroom gave a dinner to his friends, and the bride to hers. During the whole day, the fiddlers and pipers were in constant employment. The fiddlers played to the dancers in the house, and the pipers to those in the field.

[Playing the bagpipes within doors is a Lowland and English custom. In the Highlands the piper is always in the open air; and when people wish to dance to his music, it is on the green, if the weather permits; nothing but necessity makes them attempt a pipe dance in the house. The bagpipe was a field instrument intended to call the clans to arms, and animate them in battle, and was no more intended for a house, than a round of six-pounders. A broadside from a first rate, or a round from a battery, has a sublime and impressive effect at a proper distance. In the same manner, the sound of the bagpipe, softened by distance, had an inde-scribable effect on the minds and actions of the Highlanders. But as few would choose to be under the muzzle of the guns of a ship of the line or of a battery when in full play, so I have seldom seen a Highlander, whose ears were not grated when close to pipes, however much his breast might be warmed, and his feelings roused, by the sounds to which he had been accustomed in his youth, when proceeding from the proper distance.]

The ceremony was generally performed after dinner. Sometimes the clergyman attended, sometimes they waited on him : the latter was preferred, as the walk to his house with such a numerous attendance added to the eclat of the day. On these occasions the young men supplied themselves with guns and pistols, with which they kept up a constant firing. This was answered from every hamlet as they passed along, so that, with streamers flying, pipers playing, the constant firing from all sides, and the shouts of the young men, the whole had the appearance of a military array passing, with all the noise of warfare, through a hostile country. The young couple never met on the wedding-day till they came before the clergyman, when the marriage rites were performed, with a number of ceremonies too minute to particularize. One of these was to untie all the strings and bindings on the person of the bridegroom; nothing to be bound on that occasion, but the one indissoluble knot, which death only could dissolve. The bride was not included in this injunction. She was supposed to be so pure and true, that infidelity on her part was not contemplated. Such were the peculiar notions and delicacy of thinking among a people esteemed rude and uncultivated. As all these ceremonies, which were very numerous and very innocent, added much to the cheerfulness and happiness of the young people, I cannot avoid regretting their partial disuse. Nor can I help preferring a Highland wedding, where I have myself been so happy, and seen so many blithe countenances and eyes sparkling with delight, to such weddings as that of the Laird of Drum, ancestor of the Lord Sommerville, when he married a daughter of Sir James Bannatyne of Corhouse. On that occasion, sanctified by the puritanical cant of the times, there was "one marquis, three earls, two lords, sixteen barons, and eight ministers present at the solemnity, but not one musician ; they liked yet better the bleating of the calves of Dan and Bethel, the ministers' long-winded, and sometimes nonsensical graces, little to purpose, than all musical instruments of the sanctuaries, at so solemn an occasion, which, if it be lawful at all to have them, certainly it ought to be upon a wedding-day, for divertisement to the guests, that innocent recreation of music and dancing being much more warrantable, and far better exercise than drinking and smoking of tobacco, wherein the holy brethren of the Presbyterian (persuasion) for the most part employed themselves, without any formal health, or remembrance of their friends, a nod with the head, or a sign with the turning up of the white of the eye, served for the ceremony.'' [Memoirs of the Sommerville Family.] Such was a Scotch wedding towards the end of the seventeenth, and such, I hope, will not be Highland weddings of the nineteenth century, although now seldom countenanced by the presence of chiefs and landlords, as modern manners preserve a greater distance than in former days, when a more cordial communication subsisted between the higher and lower orders.

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