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
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
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
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:
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 ways."
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
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
Passengers dined and drank tea on
This slowness led to at least one
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
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
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
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
Some victim falls, some reputation dies."
And Young declares
"Tea! how I tremble at thy
As Lethe, dreadful to the love of
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,"
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
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
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
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
Silver forks did not exist; indeed,
steel two-pronged forks were in the late eighteenth century still a
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
To the theatre or playhouse there
was, of course, as much or more opposition than there had been to the
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
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
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
A story is told of the Middle Ages which illustrates
this : [Green’s Short History of the English
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.