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Scottish Women in Bygone Days
Life in the Eighteenth Century

FEW improvements have been more far-reaching in their consequences than the making of good roads. Roads led to social intercourse and freedom; roads allowed men and women to move about.

Roads have done more than anything else to bring about civilization, and to develop internationalism, and for women it meant the difference of living shut up between November and March, and of being able to get about. Before roads existed women had perforce to content themselves within their own domains.

In olden days, if ladies went out at all they travelled on horse-back, even when going to church or paying visits. They rode on pads behind their husbands or servants. The "loupin’-on stane ", a small erection of wood or masonry for the accommodation of ladies in mounting or dismounting, was to be seen at the door of country houses.

Even in the eighteenth century, when roads were more plentiful, no lady was supposed to walk out if the roads were muddy. No lady could be seen with muddy boots or dirty skirts, and in an age when mud abounded and skirts were long, no lady who left her own house could hope to present a spotless appearance. A woman was admired, not for athletic feats, but for appearing neat, fragile and drooping. If the weather was poor or the roads muddy, the well-behaved lady sat at home.

In Amos Barton [Scenes of Clerical Life. George Eliot.] Mrs. Patten says—" I hate the sight o’ women going about trapesing from house to house in all weathers, wet or dry, and coming in with their petticoats dagged and their shoes all over mud." This expressed the common feeling.

The incomparable heroine, Eliza Bennet, in Pride and Prejudice, [Jane Austen.] scandalized her friends by walking in one wet day to pay them a morning call bespattered with mud; and Emma, in another novel, never walked but in her father’s avenue if the day were damp. In Scotland, ladies were accustomed to being imprisoned for months at a time.

Roads in Scotland were few and far between; as late as Somerville’s day (1741-1814) he tells us that the only turnpike road in Scotland was the one from Edinburgh to Glasgow. "Parish roads, even to the church and market, were unfit for wheel carriages and were in bad weather quite impracticable." The rivers had few bridges. The river Tweed had only two, one at Peebles, the other at Berwick, a distance of about sixty miles.

Little wonder ladies did not travel much, for he further ] tells us that travellers who tried to ford the river when in flood were frequently drowned.

At a very early period, the Legislature of Scotland enacted laws regulating the labour necessary to be bestowed upon the public roads within the realm. It was easier to make laws than to carry them out, for the enforcement of the statutes depended upon the gentlemen of the different counties, who were more concerned with their own affairs than with road improvements.

After the Union, about the year 1732, the Government began to open up the country by roads made by the military; these roads extended over 800 miles, and were mostly confined to the Highlands. Later on, after the ‘45, General Wade, to occupy his troops and subdue the Highlands, made more roads, including the famous one between Inverness and Inveraray; an obelisk was erected near Fort-William bearing the couplet:

"Had you seen these roads before they were made,
You would hold up your hands and bless General Wade !!!"

The poet Robert Burns’s epigram on the rough roads betwixt Kilmarnock and Stewarton is well known:

"I’m now arrived—thanks to the gods
Through pathways rough and muddy;
A certain sign that makin’ roads
Is no’ this people’s study:
Yet though I’m no’ wi’ Scripture cram’d
I’m sure the Bible says
That heedless sinners shall be damn’d
Who do not mend their

With roads few and far between, and poor at that, it causes no surprise to read that there were few diligences or public conveyances.

When General Wade travelled over one of his new Highland roads, "the natives, seeing the postillions and coachmen, paid their homage to them, and wholly disregarded the General and his friends, whom they considered to be of no consequence, from their being shut up in the coach."

Men walked or rode and women sat at home.

The first mention of a coach coming into Scotland was in 1598, in the suite of the English Ambassador, and they became general after 1610. " At that period, Philip Anderson of Stralsund, in Pomerania, offered to bring coaches and waggons, with horses to draw, and servants to attend them, provided he had the exclusive privilege of keeping these carriages, which was accordingly secured to him by a royal patent, for fifteen years, during which he ran coaches between Edinburgh and Leith at a fare of ten pence each person."

By 1763, there was a coach which set out once a month for London, a distance of 400 miles, which took sixteen or eighteen days, "although," says the old chronicler, to show the great advance that had taken place, "the mail coach performs the distance in forty-nine hours, and some coaches in less time."

Chambers recounts that as late as 1792 there were only a couple of diligences between Edinburgh and Glasgow. They proceeded leisurely along the roads, and as time was not as valuable in the eighteenth century as it is in the twentieth, people were quite content.

Passengers dined and drank tea on the road.

This slowness led to at least one romance.

A handsome young Glasgow girl was going to Edinburgh; she had booked her seat, when a lover whom she did not favour, hearing that she had done so, booked all the remaining places; thus for the whole day he became the young lady’s sole companion.

He used his opportunity, entertained her to dinner, and made himself so agreeable, that before many months had passed she had accepted his hand, and later on she became his wife. It was, however, an unfortunate journey for her, as the marriage was not a success. The lady a few years later became celebrated as Clarinda, the correspondent of the poet Burns.

The country roads were impossible for ladies for nearly six months of the year, but ladies in towns had difficulties too to contend with.

The roads there were filthy and badly kept. In Glasgow no lady walked abroad unattended by a maid, in the eighteenth century, to protect her from the unwelcome attentions of the gay; or if it were evening, without a lantern to steer her steps along the ill-lit, badly-paved streets. There were no flagged pavements, and the thoroughfares were allowed to remain in a state of great filth; in many were deep ruts filled with mire, and the gutters were made the receptacle of putrid accumulations.

What was true of Glasgow was true of all towns— "They were dirty and abominable and no place for ladies," writes Gray. When a lady accepted an invitation to drink tea with a friend she had her difficulties to overcome.

Tea drinking had become fashionable by the middle of the eighteenth century. "It was," says a Glasgow writer, "a favourite drink with ladies in 1790," but it was for a long time a luxury and expensive, "so," he goes on, "the ladies partook of it in a clandestine manner with bolted doors."

In 1728 Mrs. Delaney records that in London "the man at the Poultry has tea of all prices—Bohea from thirteen to twenty shillings, and green from twelve to thirty."

But it was later before it was advertised in Scotland.

In the Courier of 1795, tea was advertised as sold at London’s East India Tea warehouse, Sprull’s Land, Trongate, Glasgow, at 3/6 to 5/- a pound if black, and 3/6 to 12/- a pound if green. Chocolate was 3/6 to 5/- a pound.

In Pepys’s Diary, he records, on 28th September, 1660, having " sent for a cup of tea (a China drink)" of which he had never drunk before.

Waller, writing on some tea commended by Catherine of Braganza, says :—

"The best of herbs and best of Queens we owe
To that bold nation, which the way did shew,
To that fair region where the sun does rise.
The Muse’s friend, Tea, does our fancy aid,
Repress the vapours which the head invade,
And keep the palace of the soul serene."

Her Majesty may have helped to popularize tea drinking, but it was known in England before the Restoration.

Amongst the Argyll Papers is an account of the Countess of Argyll’s, dated 15th June, 1690; among the entries is one for " 6 ounces and a half tea, £10 16s. 0d. Scots." This must be the first notice of tea in Scotland. The writer adds that tea was introduced into Scotland in 1666 after the Restoration and sold at £3 till 1707.

A few of the nobility and the Countess may have known tea, but it was not common until much later.

It was generally said to be introduced into Scotland some time after the eighteenth century, and it made rapid progress after the year 1715.

It was long unpopular with the old-fashioned people, who either rejected it or required a little brandy to qualify it. A story was told of one gentleman who, though he despised tea himself, offered it to his guests; and upon their choosing it, he said: "Well, get the kettle for them."

Before the year 1714, it was fashionable in Edinburgh when ladies visited to give them a glass of wine and a slice of cake. At the first introduction of tea, it was common for the young ladies of a family to have tea-drinkings after the old folks had gone to bed.

Somerville mentions that tea was used both in the higher and middle class households for breakfast, "but among the latter," he says, "it was only beginning to be used in the afternoon and then only when they had company." He says that his father had told him that, when his mother was ill, the physician attending her had ordered her to have tea; a great luxury, for it was then sold at 25/- a pound. He gives the date as 1710.

Tea was indeed an expensive luxury.

In 1735, at Wigtown, "The Council resolve to discourage the growing practice of smuggling and tea drinking."

The tenants of William Fullarton of Fullarton, in Ayrshire, entered into the following bond :—" We, being all farmers by profession, think it needless to restrain ourselves from indulging in that foreign and consumptive luxury called tea; for when we consider the slender constitutions of many of higher rank, amongst whom it is used, we conclude that it would be but an improper diet to qualify us for the more robust and manly parts of our business; and therefore we shall only give our testimony against it, and leave the enjoyment of it

altogether to those who can afford to be weak, indolent and useless."

In the Siatistical Account, emphasis is laid upon the decline of morals, said to be due to the drinking of tea and whiskey.

Many objections were raised as to the new fashion of tea drinking. It was considered an effeminate beverage and an enjoyment that meant waste of money. The Female Spectator, 1745, declares "the tea table costs more to support than would maintain two children at nurse; it is the utter destruction of all economy, the bane of good housewifery and the source of illness. Scandal, the poets declared, went hand in hand with tea drinking.

"Still as their ebbing malice it supplies,
Some victim falls, some reputation dies."

And Young declares :—

"Tea! how I tremble at thy fatal stream
As Lethe, dreadful to the love of fame.
What devastations on thy banks are seen!
What shades of mighty names which once have been!
A hecatomb of character supplies
Thy painted altars’ daily sacrifice,"

By 1744 it had become a common drink, and many people feared the consequences of tea drinking would lead to enfeebled constitutions. Accordingly, Lord President Forbes led a campaign to end the evil. The campaign was directed against "this improper diet, expensive, wasteful of time, and calculated to render the population weakly and effeminate."

The campaign was pushed vigorously in towns, parishes and counties, where resolutions were passed condemning tea as a beverage and urging the drinking of ale.

Lord President Forbes and his friends fulminated against tea in vain; the women were not invited to join the anti-tea leagues, so while the men declaimed, they brewed their tea, drank it and enjoyed it, and gradually the husband joined his wife at her cup, and by the middle of the century it had become fashionable. Ladies gave tea parties called four o’clock, and supper parties from six o’clock to eight o’clock, at which tea was drunk. Cups were slender china bowls without handles, teaspoons were numbered, and all good housewives kept a wooden bowl, so that they might wash the cups themselves after the departure of their guests.

The diet of the middle class was much more varied in the eighteenth century than it had been before that period.

Turnips were introduced into Scotland in 1730. Potatoes, too, made their appearance about this date. A prejudice existed against the potato: it was commonly said that no mention had been made of them in the Bible, therefore they were not meant to be used on the table. Potatoes were first grown in the Lothians about 1740, in gardens. They were not planted in fields until 1754. By the end of the century the potato was in general use. Kail was the staple dinner dish of the working people. Round every cottage was a kail-yard.

Smollett gives us the following description of the diet of the Scottish peasant, who, he says, looks healthy and as well dressed as the peasants in some parts of Burgundy, France or Italy.

"The country people of North Britain," he says, "live chiefly on oat-meal, and milk-cheese, butter, and some garden stuff, with now and then a pickled herring, by way of delicacy; but flesh-meat they seldom or never taste, nor any kind of strong liquor, except twopenny, at times of uncommon festivity. Their breakfast is a kind of hasty-pudding, of oat-meal, or pease-meal, eaten with milk. They have commonly pottage to dinner, composed of cale or cole, leek, barley, or big (kind of barley), and butter, and this is reinforced with bread, and cheese made of skimmed milk. At night they sup on sowens or flummery of oat-meal." [Humphrey Clinker.]

In Burns’s Hallowe’en there is a mention of buttered sowens wi’ fragrant lunt".

Sowens were prepared by taking the mealy sid, or hull of the ground oat, which was then steeped in slightly heated water for about two days. It was then wrung out, and the liquor put through a dish with a perforated bottom, called a search; if it was too thick, fresh cold water was added. It was then put on to boil; it was constantly stirred until it thickened and became like a paste. A little salt was added, and it was then served.

An Aberdeen ploughman’s bill of fare at the same period was as follows :— [Anecdotes and Facts of Scotland and Scotsmen. Mitchell.]

Breakfast all the year round—Pottage made of boiling water thickened with oatmeal, and eaten with milk or ale, or else brose, made of shorn cabbage or coleworts left over night. To these dishes they add oatcakes and milk, or, if milk is unattainable, ale or small beer.

Dinner—Sowens with milk, for a first course, and for a second, oatcakes, milk or kale.

Supper in winter—Kale brose, eaten by the fireside, where men and maids eat and talk together. Second course, kale and oatcakes.

In summer there is but one course, which consists of pottage and milk or oatcakes and kale. The kale was thus prepared: red cabbage or cole-worts were cut down and shorn small; they were then boiled with salt and water, and thickened with a little oatmeal, and were so served Brose was oatmeal put into a bowl or wooden dish, where the boiling liquor of the cabbage or coleworts was stirred in, till the meal was wet.

At the harvest they sometimes had for a treat thick broth made of barley and turnip, instead of sowens, and if they lived near a seaport, they frequently had some fish, which they ate with butter and mustard.

At the festivals they occasionally had meat, and on the feast called Clyak-feast, a holiday that was celebrated after the last of the corn was cut, it was an established rule that there must be meat, both roasted and boiled.

This bill of fare shews how restricted was the diet of the ordinary country person; but apparently they throve upon it, for other writers besides Smollett comment upon the healthy-looking Scottish peasantry.

For the well-to-do, the diet by the middle of the eighteenth century had greatly improved.

For dinner parties to which ladies were invited, the dinner hour changed from one to two, and later even to four o’clock.

The table was covered with a fine white double damask cloth, which was removed when the repast ended. The well-kept, polished table was the peculiar pride of the mistress of the house.

Silver forks did not exist; indeed, steel two-pronged forks were in the late eighteenth century still a rarity.

Catherine, Duchess of Queensberry, although a lover of her husband’s native Scotland, did not approve of some of the Scottish customs; she complained that many people conveyed their food from their plates to their mouths with a knife instead of a fork. Writing from Edinburgh to her friend Lady Sussex in 1734, she says :—" I have not met with anyone in this country who doth not eat with a knife and drink tea."

This Duchess of Queensberry was a woman noted in London and Edinburgh society. Many stories are told about her; she was a well-known beauty and fastidious in her habits. Apparently she resented the want of manners that led people to prefer a knife to a fork. One of her great friends was the poet Gay; he writes to his friend Swift and begs him, for the Duchess’s sake, to use his fork. "Suffer nobody for the future," he says, "to put their knives in their mouths," and Swift promises obedience, but begs Gay to tell "her Grace that when he dined he always thought of her, but it was difficult to obey her injunctions when the forks had only two prongs and the sauce was not very consistent."

All dishes were placed simultaneously on the table. It was not till late in the century that two courses became fashionable, in the year 1786, a lady of fashion gave her guests a two-course dinner, an innovation which brought upon her much criticism. Said the critics:-

"Two courses are gross extravagance; what was good enough for our mothers is good enough for us. What are people coming to with their total disregard of old customs." It was only after the lady had humbly explained that, although she divided the meal into two, she provided no more and it cost no more, that she was allowed to introduce the change, which soon became popular. Port and sherry were the wines drunk, with occasionally a bottle of Madeira.

Oatcake and small beer were used daily. Drinking cold water was almost unknown in Scotland. Cheese and London porter concluded the meal.

Gentlemen rarely left the room sober, or until they were tipsy, or at least, as they described it, "muzzy".

They neither desired to nor were capable of joining the ladies after dinner. They were, says a Glasgow writer, "so intoxicated after dinner that their tongues were unable to take up the cumbrous word when called upon by their hostess to say whether they preferred tea or coffee."

Drink was a terrible curse in Scotland and produced curious results. One was the neglect of ladies by the gentlemen. "In consequence," [Scotland and Scotsmen. John Ramsay. ] says a writer (agreeing in this with Miss Mure), " of the fondness of the bottle, the company of the ladies was greatly neglected by the gentlemen." The ladies sat at home forsaken and alone while the gentlemen drank to excess in each other’s houses or in taverns. More estates were impoverished by hard drinking than by all the other expenses of a gentleman’s household.

Supper parties were favourite forms of entertainment in the eighteenth century. These resembled dinners, but were less pretentious and ceremonious. As the century grew old, the manners improved; drinking and swearing declined, gentlemen left the dining-room capable of joining the ladies, and then the drawing-room became the centre of attraction. There piano, song and glee brightened the evenings. Reels and country dances were taken part in by young and old.

Miss Mure [Family Papers at Caldwell. Vol. I.] describes marriages, baptisms and burials in her day—all occasions for great rejoicing. Of a baptism she writes :— "On the fourth week after the lady’s delivery she is set on her bed on a low footstool; the bed covered with some neat piece of sewed work or white satin, with three pillows at her back covered with the same. She is in full dress, with a lapped head dress and a fan in her hand. Having informed her acquaintance what day she is to see company, they all come and pay their respects to her, standing or walking a little through the room (for there’s no chairs). They drink a glass of wine and eat a bit of cake and then give place to others. Towards the end of the week all the friends were asked to what was called the Cummer’s [A corruption of the French term commère.] feast. This was a supper, where every gentleman brought a pint of wine to be drunk by him and his wife. The supper was a ham at the head and pyramid of fowl at the bottom. This dish consisted of four or five ducks at bottom, hens above, partridges at top. There was an eating posset in the middle of the table, with dried fruits and sweetmeats at the sides. When they had finished their supper, the meat was removed, and in a moment everybody files to the sweetmeats to pocket them. Upon which a scramble ensued, chairs overturned and everything on the table; wrestling and pulling at one another with the utmost noise. When all was quieted, they went to the stoups (for there was no bottles), of which the women had a good share. For though it was a disgrace to be seen drunk, yet it was none to be a little intoxicated in good company.

"A few days after this the same company was asked to the Christening, which was always in the Church; all in high dress; a number of them young ladies, who were called maiden Cummers. One of them presented the Child to the Father. After the ceremony they dined and supped together, and the night often concluded with a ball."

Public assemblies came into vogue about the middle of the century.

Daughters and sons of the county gentry came by coach or horseback; the dances commenced at five o’clock and closed at eleven o’clock. One very fashionable assembly was announced in Glasgow for eight o’clock, and "all the genteel parties" attending were invited to be punctual, and they were warned "that gentlemen do not appear in their boots and leave their sticks at the bar."

It was not only in Scotland that gentlemen considered boots suitable for evening parties. Lord Chesterfield, writing in 1735 to his son from Bath, says :—" They hunt all the morning, and appear often in the Publick Rooms in their boots and spurs, their leather caps and deerskin waistcoats." If the young bucks at Bath were so careless in their dress, is it any wonder Glasgow gentlemen had to be admonished not to appear in boots?

The great Nash of Bath busied himself drawing out rules and regulations for the dances. "No boots for gentlemen—no aprons for ladies." Gentlemen were further forbidden to wear swords, and with good cause; as long as they wore swords they drew them on the slightest provocation, and a dance would be interrupted in an unusual manner. The dances of the eighteenth century were stately—the minuet lasted upwards of two hours. Country dances abounded in which a due procedure was observed, ladies of rank dancing first. Reels were popular. "Both sexes were passionately fond of dancing."

Dancing was not encouraged by the stricter members of society, and a pamphlet from "a country gentleman" to one in the city points out the dangers and evils of dancing. "The dancers would become effeminate; they would not be able to serve their country in the useful arts and sciences." If they continued to dance, evil would befall the country, because "dancing would encourage vice and prodigality and thus prove scandalous to religion and of dangerous consequences to human society." Even in these good old days people scented danger and feared that the young people were on the downward grade.

Patrick Walker, a stem Presbyterian, denounced dancing as "an evil and horrible thing." He was peculiarly grieved at the young people dancing to a tune called the Cameronian March, which he conceived was a mockery of the name of the "godly Richard Cameron, reformer and preacher."

Dancing, he taught, was but a general symptom of the departure from the grave and correct habits of former days. "In our epoch," he says, "our Scripture and old Scots names are gone out of request, instead of father and mother, mamma and papa, training children from the start to speak nonsense and what they do not understand."

Poor Mr. Walker, he lived in degenerate days. He laments of the scandalous omission of the worship of God in parishes . . . "only a verse of a psalm hurried over on sabbath evenings, and a reading a chapter— some pray, many do not," and he goes on sadly, "and no, not one prayer till next Sabbath. Sabbath profanation is rampant. They throng the streets, and particularly the fields and ale houses, in and about sinful Edinburgh . . . many going to the fields before sermons, and after sermons the multitude hurries again to the fields."

So abstention from church is not a modem development; apparently people were fond of pleasure in all ages.

In 1720 a little book was written by Adam Petrie, entitled Rules of Good Deportment and Good Breeding. From it we learn many curious things. The book was dedicated to the magistrates of Edinburgh, acknowledging them to be " so thoroughly acquainted with all the steps of civility and good breeding, that it is impossible for the least misrepresentation of them to escape your notice." The author tells that "a courteous way gilds a denial, sweetens the sharpness of truth . . . sets off the defects of reason, varnishes slights, paints deformities . . in a word, disguises anything that is unsavoury." He reminds his readers that civility has a divine basis in the injunctions, "Be courteous to all men," and "Give honour to whom honour is due."

"A gentleman," Mr. Petrie says, "ought not to run or walk too fast in the streets, lest he be suspected of going a message." "When you walk with a superior, give him the right hand, but if it be near a wall, let him be next it."

"Do not come among women abruptly," he counsels, "without giving them time to appear to advantage: they do not love to be surprised." One should not enter the house or chamber of a great person with a great coat and boots, or without gloves, though "it is usual in many courts that they deliver up their gloves with their sword before they enter the court, because some have carried in poison on their gloves, and have conveyed the same to the sovereign that way."

Women are cautioned against approaching superiors of their own sex, with gown tucked up, "nor is it civil to wear a mask anywhere in company of superiors, unless they be travelling together on a journey." In that case, "when a superior makes his honours to her, she is to pull off her mask and return him his salute if it be not tied on."

A handkerchief is not to be offered to any except they desire it.

Noises and gesticulations are to be avoided. "If a lady of quality," says he, "advance to you, and tender her cheek, you are only to pretend to salute her by putting your head on her hoods; when she advances, give her a low bow, and when you retreat, give her another." He adds, " It is indecent to salute ladies but in civility."

He denounces "an irreligious tippling of coffee, tea and chocolate, in coffee-houses, because not one in a hundred asks a blessing on it."

Though he values good deportment and manners above all things, he denounces cards and dice, stage-plays and promiscuous dancing.

The poet, Allan Ramsay, delighted in dancing, and in his poems he speaks of "the jigs of the Assemblies."

The stricter ministers and the people were in opposition upon the subjects of dancing and the playhouse; "the ministers lost ground to their great mortification." And why did they lose ground? Apparently because "for the most part the ladies turned rebels to their remonstrances and continued to dance and attend plays."

A dance was given in Dundee in 1723. An Edinburgh newspaper thus describes the ladies :—

"Heavens, what a splendid scene is here,
How bright these female seraphs shine."

An annual ball was given by the Right Honourable Company of Hunters in the Palace of Holyrood House. There were two rooms for dancing, and two for tea, illumined with many hundred of wax candles. "In the Grand Hall, a table was covered at which sate a hundred and fifty ladies in a line."

In January, 1736, "the young gentlemen burghers of Aberdeen" gave a grand ball to the ladies, "the most splendid and numerous ever seen there," and the Aberdonians can further boast that "all this was conducted without the least confusion or disorder."

To the theatre or playhouse there was, of course, as much or more opposition than there had been to the assemblies.

Though opposed for some years, both by the magistrates and ministers, theatrical entertainments soon became popular and were supported by the leaders of fashion. On the opening in Edinburgh of the theatre in the Canongate, Macbeth proved a great favourite. The Jacobites received with loud peals of applause every word in the scene between Malcolm and Macduff, which they applied to their own views upon the times.

Allan Ramsay, the supporter of dancing, was equally conspicuous by his defence of theatricals. He was an enthusiastic believer in the stage and longed to see drama in Scotland a reality. He persuaded forty ladies and gentlemen each to lay down thirty shillings annually so as to start a theatre.

On 8th November, 1736, his hopes were realized, and a theatre in Carruber’s Close was opened, which, according to the Caledonian Mercury, was "as complete and finished with as good taste as any of its size in the three kingdoms."

Alas for Allan Ramsay’s hopes, the undertaking was doomed to failure, owing to an Act of George II., which prevented any person from acting plays for hire, without authority or licence by letters patent from the King or his Lord Chamberlain." This unforeseen difficulty closed the playhouse, and in November, 1737, Ramsay advertised in the Caledonian Mercury "that there are to be Assemblies (dancing parties) in the new hall in Carruber’s Close; subscription tickets two for a guinea, to serve throughout the winter season."

Ramsay is said to have been the first person who established a lending library in Scotland.

In Glasgow the first attempt of the playhouse met with no greater success than they had had in Edinburgh, but for a different cause.

As early as 1728 the Beggar’s Opera was performed in Glasgow. They had a good audience the first night, but on other nights "got not so much as to pay their music." On the following Sabbath the ministers preached against going to such entertainments. Mr. Robb of Kilsyth preached on September 5th, and Mr. Woodrow finds comfort in this zealous brother, and thankfully records that "he spared none, as I hear."

The Beggar’s Opera failed, and the performers early in 1729 "eloped without counting with their creditors."

Woodrow had need of comfort, for soon we find him sadly lamenting the growing taste for the theatre. "It is," he wails, "a dreadful corruption of our youth, and an eyelet of prodigality and vanity," [Woodrow’s Analecta.]

Another worthy laments, "Women are much to blame for leading good men contrary, for would Glasgow now waste time in playhouses did not the women lead the way?"

Many men, since Adam led the way, have sheltered themselves behind "the woman," and have blamed her for their own backsliding.

In spite of the denunciations of Mr. Robb and Mr. Woodrow and other serious-minded men, the prejudice gradually died away, and people ceased to regard the playhouse and play-acting as sinful and detestable.

By 1762 Glasgow had a humble wooden theatre, followed soon by a more pretentious one. The famous Mrs. Bellamy was billed for the opening night. So strong, however, was the prejudice against acting in the eyes of the sanctimonious masses that, the night before the opening, the theatre was wilfully set on fire. Mrs. Bellamy was said to have lost a wardrobe and jewels valued at £900. If there were some who disapproved of theatres and actresses, there were others who favoured these arts, and through the kindness of some Glasgow ladies, she found herself possessed of "above forty gowns on the night of her appearance, with under-garments and presents of all kinds."

Theatres in all the principal towns were soon popular and securely established, and many celebrities visited Edinburgh and Glasgow, such as Mrs. Siddons, the Kembles and Mrs. Jordan.

In England at this period ladies played cards, and played for very high stakes, but in Scotland, though the ladies played cards, they seldom played for money.

Mrs. Grant of Laggan recounts in one of her letters how the Duchess of Gordon boasted that, though she played in England, yet when she came to Scotland she never saw company, played cards, or went out on a Sunday. Mrs. Grant notices that, as the Duchess gets nearer Scotland, she grows more and more decorous and particular in her conduct. She was evidently a believer in "when you are in Rome you do as the Romans do." Mrs. Grant notes various things: the Duchess, she writes, explained to a friend that she played cards in England, for there everyone did what they wanted to do and why not she? In Scotland, she preferred to do as the Scots did, and once in Scotland, she out-rivalled the strictest in her Sabbath observances.

"I stared," she said, "at these gradations of piety but was wise enough to stare silently." Mrs. Grant was a pawky, shrewd woman, and we can readily believe her look was expressive as she stared at the Duchess.

In towns, ladies amused themselves with dances, card-parties, dinners, suppers and plays. In the country, when weather permitted, they did the same on a smaller scale; but owing to the lack of roads, which prevented them getting about, and the lack of money, life in the country must have been exceedingly dull.

People, in whatever age they lived, have sought diversion and excitement. Even the inmates of religious houses in the middle ages desired recreation. These good men, wedded to a life of contemplation and prayer, sometimes longed for a break in the monotony of their surroundings.

A story is told of the Middle Ages which illustrates this : [Green’s Short History of the English People.]

Certain followers of St. Francis had arrived in England and were wandering round the country, preaching and exhorting the people to repent. Upon one occasion two foreign friars straight from the Continent made their way to the monks of Abingdon. They arrived at nightfall, knocked at the door and requested hospitality.

The monks were delighted, not recognizing the brethren as co-religionists, but thinking they were "jongleurs", the jesters of the day.

They welcomed the strangers, hoping for some diversion to end a monotonous day; prior, sacristan and cellarer all hastened to the door to bid them welcome and see their tricks.

Alas for the men who hoped for a break in their monotonous lives, they found their visitors had come to exhort, not to amuse. The disappointment was too great for them; the temper of the monks rose, and the good brothers "were kicked roughly from the gate to find their night’s lodging under a tree."

Just as those monks felt, so often must the lady have felt — anything for a change for variety; something to break the monotony and bring a little change into the even tenor of her life.

Whatever women felt, they were adepts at hiding their feelings. They early learnt that, if they were to please their lords, they must keep their desires within narrow dimensions. They learnt to make much of little. They canvassed every small event, not a detail was lost; gossip was eagerly retailed in an age which furnished few excitements and when small doings provided talk.

In these days the visit of the pedlar or packman was an event. He not only brought the goods to the door, but, better still, as he wandered from door to door he retailed the news and gossip of the countryside, gained in his rounds.

Wordsworth describes the Packman and his rounds in the Excursion :—-

"Smiles of good-will from faces that he knew
Greeted us all day long; we took our seats
By many a cottage-hearth, where he received
The welcome of an inmate from afar."

The itinerant salesman was the man from afar, the man with fresh tales, the passer-on of news. He was a man of importance and doubly welcome, as going from door to door he arrived with his goods and his budget of news, collected over the extent of his rounds. In an age when newspapers were few and far between, his coming would indeed be a welcome interlude on a dull day, whether he came to cottage or country-house.

People seized all chances of meeting and interchanging news. The country-folk forgathered in the churchyard before and after service to exchange gossip and transact small business. A story told by Dean Ramsay illustrates this. A lady, on hiring a servant-girl in the country, told her, as a great indulgence, she might attend church every Sunday, but that she must hurry home after the service. The lady was astounded when the girl retorted, "Then I canna engage wi’ ye, Mem, for ‘deed I wadna gi’e the crack i’ the kirkyard for a’ the sermon."

Another story tells of a man who used to attend church regularly, but had become irregular in his churchgoing. When taken to task for absenting himself he remarked, "There’s nae need to gang to the Kirk noo, for everybody gets a newspaper."

These stories throw a new light upon what is called "the regularity of church attendance in former days." It was not always spiritual food that the congregation hungered for, but a little rational intercourse and gossip about their neighbours’ affairs.

Another retailer of news was the tailor, who worked for most families for a week or two at a time. In the various houses he repaired and made the clothes for the family. Like the packman, he gathered a large store of gossip which he passed on to his patrons. In smaller houses and cottages even the poor vagrant was sure of a welcome, and was seldom refused a corner in the inglenook, and his supper, and later on a bed of straw in the byre, in exchange for his news.

Spinning was the constant occupation of women of all ranks, rich and poor alike; they span in kitchen or in parlour. Sharp mistresses were accustomed to stipulate, when giving arles to their servants, that they must rise and be at the spinning wheel by six o’clock in the morning.

In villages spinning was the social bond that united neighbours. At nightfall girls would drop into a neighbour’s house, each carrying their wheel, and as they sat and worked someone, generally an old woman, would repeat a tale, or talk and chaff would pass the time. About nine o’clock the lads would drop in to chat with their sweethearts or stare moodily at them, tongue-tied and shy, according to their dispositions. Courting and spinning were closely interwoven, and to this we owe some of our most beautiful songs, such as " My Nannie O!"

Many Scottish songs allude to the spinning wheel; for example :—

"As Jenny sat down wi’ her wheel by the fire,
An’ thought o’ the time that was fast fleein’ by ‘er,
She said to hersel’ wi’ a heavy hoch hie,
Oh! a’ body’s like to be married but me."

The "Spinning Wheel," by Robert Nicoll, shows the part the wheel played in the life of the Scottish house :—

"I winna sing o’ bluidy deeds an’ waefu’ war’s alarms,
For glancin’ swords and prancin’ steeds for me possess nae charms.
But I will sing o’ happiness, which fireside bosoms feel,
While listenin’ to the birrin’ soun’ o’ Scotland’s Spinnin’ Wheel.

The Spinnin’ Wheel! The Spinnin’ Wheel ! the very name is dear,
It minds me o’ the winter nights—the blythest o’ the year—
O’ cosie hours in hamely ha’s, while snaw is in the hill,
And sonsie lasses while they ca’ auld Scotland’s Spinnin’ Wheel.

The auld wife by the ingle sits an’ draws her cannie thread,
It hands her baith in milk an’ meal, an’ a’ thing she can need—
An’ gleesome scenes o’ early days upon her spirits steal—
Brought back to warm her withered heart by Scotland’s Spinnin' Wheel.

O, there is gladsome happiness while round the fire are set
The younkers—when ahint the backs a happy pair are met,
Wha wi’ a silent kiss o’ love their blessed paction seal—
While sittin’ in their truth beside auld Scotland’s Spinnin’ Wheel.

O! weel I lo’e the blackbird’s sang in springtime o’ the year—
O! weel I lo’e the cushat’s croon in merry May to hear;
But o’ the soun’s o’ love an’ joy there’s nane I lo’e sae weel,
There’s nane sae pleasant—as the birr o’ Scotland’s Spinnin’ Wheel."

Servant lassies in the eighteenth century worked hard, and considered themselves well paid with twenty shillings the half-year and an apron. One Glasgow writer tells us they were poorly clad and went bare-footed; considering the wage this is scarcely surprising.

Somerville tells that, in the houses of gentlemen of high rank, the maid-servants seldom wore stockings while at work. Charles Townshend used to describe a ludicrous scene when he went to pay his respects to Lord President Craigie in the Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, in 1758. He was received by what he called a "female porter without shoes or stockings."

Hospitality was profuse, and travellers were made welcome at many country-houses. At these meetings wine and spirits were drunk plentifully.

People might be poor, but there was endless hospitality. The landlords received a considerable amount of the payments from their tenants in kind. This allowed them to live abundantly and easily if they were country dwellers. Game, too, was plentiful, and every loch and river abounded with fish. These furnished supplies for the table of the big house, both in the Highlands and Lowlands. Smollett the novelist describes the fare at Cameron House, Loch Lomond. "We make free with our landlord’s mutton, which is excellent, his poultry-yard, his garden, his dairy, and his cellar, which are all well stored. We have delicious salmon, pike, trout, perch, par, etc., at the door, for the taking. The Firth of Clyde, on the other side of the hill, supplies us with mullet, red and grey, cod, mackerel, whiting and a variety of sea fish, including the finest herrings I ever tasted. We have sweet juicy beef, and tolerable veal, with delicate bread, from the little town of Dunbritton (Dunbarton) ; and plenty of partridge, grouse, heath-cock, and other game in presents." Truly an ample table in any age.

Somerville, speaking of his times, 1741 —1814, says:—"The poor especially are better fed, better clothed, and better lodged. Their diet is more ample, of more wholesome quality, and better dressed; their houses cleaner and more commodious; their clothes neater, and, by the general use of flannel, better adapted to the inclemency of a northern latitude." As we read we note that all the time the standard of material comfort was advancing, and with the improved dietary and with an attempt at some form of sanitation, and greater cleanliness, diseases such as smallpox, typhus and the other plagues that decimated the population declined, better health came with better conditions, and people gradually learnt that it was not God who sent plagues as a visitation, but man who, through his dirt and ignorance, called for such a calamity.

Certainly the culinary arts improved in the eighteenth century.

In "The Antiquary," Scott gives us a description of a feast beloved by Monkbarns, and one that would doubtless be a favourite in many a Scottish house in the early part of the century. "The dinner was such as suited a professed antiquary, comprehending many savoury specimens of Scottish viands, now disused at the tables of those who affect elegance. There was the relishing Solan goose, whose smell is so powerful that he is never cooked within doors . . hotch-potch, which was unanimously pronounced to be inimitable . . . fish and sauce and crappit-heads . . . chicken-pie . . . made after a recipe bequeathed to me by my departed grandmother of happy memory." And to end the repast, a glass of wine.

A breakfast which Smollett describes in Humphrey Clinker is staggering to our views. Mr. Bramble was staying in the Highlands, where the cheer was ample and the drink profuse. He describes the breakfast thus :—" One kit of boiled eggs; a second, full of butter; a third, full of cream ; an entire cheese, made of goat’s milk; a large earthen pot, full of honey; the best part of a ham; a cold venison pasty; a bushel of oatmeal made in thin cakes and bannocks, with a small wheaten loaf in the middle for the strangers; a large stone bottle full of whisky, another of brandy, and a kilderkin of ale. There was a ladle chained to the cream-kit, with curious wooden bickers, to be filled from this reservoir. The spirits were drunk out of a silver quaff, and the ale out of horns." Great justice, he tells us, was done to the meal, which fortunately was a hunter’s meal. The hunters must have had fair appetites, for we learn that one guest alone ate two dozen hard boiled eggs, with a proportionable quantity of bread, butter and honey. Smollett tells us that when the feast was ended, not one drop of liquor was left on the board. After the repast was over, tobacco was handed round and all the guests took a quid.

When such a feast is described, the thought presents itself that fortunately this was a feast, and that on ordinary occasions the fare was frugal, and in a land where money was far from plentiful, the ordinary person had to indulge in plain living and as much high thinking as was compatible with the habits of the country.

Somerville specially mentions in his Life that decencies of all kinds increased as the century grew older. People grew cleaner in their habits and more tolerant in their outlook.

Differences in social standing became less pronounced; the peasantry began to have their rights acknowledged, women began to desire education.

The great man could no longer command life and death over his tenants, though a story was told of a poor man some time before 1748, on the banks of the Spey, who was found fault with by his superior, the proprietor of Ballandalloch. He was put into a pit; the gallows was prepared; he thereupon drew a short sword that he had secreted, and declared he would kill the first man that put a hand on him. His wife, however, upon using this argument: "Come quietly and be hanged, and dinna anger the laird," prevailed on him to check his ferocity and submit to his fate.

In the Highlands the chief might be all-powerful, but in the Lowlands the lairds’ rights were being challenged and civilization was advancing, and more humane and liberal views were coming into practice.

A spirit of philanthropy was growing up. Hospitals, free schools and help for the poor and needy were coming to be regarded as necessities.

Women were beginning to study utility more than gentility; they were preparing to lead the way for the massed attack of the nineteenth century, which was to culminate in the throwing open of schools and universities, which in its turn was to lead to political freedom in the twentieth century.

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