Part 6 out of 8
_There's aye water where the stirkie drouns._ Where certain effects
are produced, there must be some causes at work--a proverb used to show
that a universal popular suspicion as to an obvious effect must be
laid in truth.
_Better a finger aff than aye waggin_'. This proverb I remember as a
great favourite with many Scotch people. Better experience the worst,
than have an evil always pending.
_Cadgers are aye cracking o' crook saddles_ has a very Scottish
aspect, and signifies that professional men are very apt to talk too
much of their profession.
The following is purely Scotch, for in no country but Scotland are
singed sheep heads to be met with: _He's like a sheep head in a pair
_As sure's deeth_. A common Scottish proverbial expression to signify
either the truth or certainty of a fact, or to pledge the speaker to a
performance of his promise. In the latter sense an amusing illustration
of faith in the superior obligation of this asseveration to any other,
is recorded in the _Eglinton Papers_. The Earl one day found a boy
climbing up a tree, and called him to come down. The boy declined,
because, he said, the Earl would thrash him. His Lordship pledged his
honour that he would not do so. The boy replied, "I dinna ken onything
about your honour, but if you say as sure's deeth I'll come doun."
Proverbs are sometimes local in their application.
_The men o' the Mearns canna do mair than they may._ Even the men of
Kincardineshire can only do their utmost--a proverb intended to be
highly complimentary to the powers of the men of that county.
_I'll mak Cathkin's covenant wi' you, Let abee for let abee._ This is a
local saying quoted often in Hamilton. The laird of that property
had--very unlike the excellent family who have now possessed it for more
than a century--been addicted to intemperance. One of his neighbours, in
order to frighten him on his way home from his evening potations,
disguised himself, on a very wet night, and, personating the devil,
claimed a title to carry him off as his rightful property. Contrary to
all expectation, however, the laird showed fight, and was about to
commence the onslaught, when a parley was proposed, and the issue was,
"Cathkin's covenant, Let abee for let abee."
_When the castle of Stirling gets a hat, the Carse of Corntown pays for
that._ This is a local proverbial saying; the meaning is, that when the
clouds descend so low as to envelope Stirling Castle, a deluge of rain
may be expected in the adjacent country.
I will conclude this notice of our proverbial reminiscences, by adding a
cluster of Scottish proverbs, selected from an excellent article on the
general subject in the _North British Review_ of February 1858. The
reviewer designates these as "broader in their mirth, and more caustic
in their tone," than the moral proverbial expressions of the Spanish and
_A blate cat maks a proud mouse.
Better a toom house than an ill tenant.
Jouk and let the jaw gang by.
Mony ane speirs the gate he kens fu' weel.
The tod ne'er sped better than when he gaed his ain errand.
A wilfu' man should be unco wise.
He that has a meikle nose thinks ilka ane speaks o't.
He that teaches himsell has a fule for his maister.
It's an ill cause that the lawyer thinks shame o'.
Lippen to me, but look to yoursell.
Mair whistle than woo, as the souter said when shearing the soo.
Ye gae far about seeking the nearest.
Ye'll no sell your hen on a rainy day.
Ye'll mend when ye grow better.
Ye're nae chicken for a' your cheepin'_.
I have now adduced quite sufficient specimens to convince those who may
not have given attention to the subject, how much of wisdom, knowledge
of life, and good feeling, are contained in these aphorisms which
compose the mass of our Scottish proverbial sayings. No doubt, to many
of my younger readers proverbs are little known, and to all they are
becoming more and more matters of reminiscence. I am quite convinced
that much of the old quaint and characteristic Scottish talk which we
are now endeavouring to recall depended on a happy use of those
abstracts of moral sentiment. And this feeling will be confirmed when we
call to mind how often those of the old Scottish school of character,
whose conversation we have ourselves admired, had most largely availed
themselves of the use of its _proverbial_ philosophy.
I have already spoken of (p. 16) a Scottish peculiarity--viz. that of
naming individuals from lands which have been possessed long by the
family, or frequently from the landed estates which they acquire. The
use of this mode of discriminating individuals in the Highland districts
is sufficiently obvious. Where the inhabitants of a whole country-side
are Campbells, or Frasers, or Gordons, nothing could be more convenient
than addressing the individuals of each clan by the name of his estate.
Indeed, some years ago, any other designation, as Mr. Campbell, Mr.
Fraser, would have been resented as an indignity. Their consequence
sprang from their possession. But all this is fast wearing away.
The estates of old families have often changed hands, and Highlanders
are most unwilling to give the names of old properties to new
proprietors. The custom, however, lingers amongst us, in the northern
districts especially. Farms also used to give their names to the
tenants. I can recall an amusing instance of this practice
belonging to my early days. The oldest recollections I have are
connected with the name, the figure, the sayings and doings, of the old
cow-herd at Fasque in my father's time; his name was Boggy, _i.e._ his
ordinary appellation; his true name was Sandy Anderson. But he was
called Boggy from the circumstance of having once held a wretched farm
on Deeside named Boggendreep. He had long left it, and been unfortunate
in it, but the name never left him,--he was Boggy to his grave. The
territorial appellation used to be reckoned complimentary, and more
respectful than Mr. or any higher title to which the individual might be
entitled. I recollect, in my brother's time, at Fasque, his showing off
some of his home stock to Mr. Williamson, the Aberdeen butcher. They
came to a fine stot, and Sir Alexander said, with some appearance of
boast, "I was offered twenty guineas for that ox." "Indeed, Fasque,"
said Williamson, "ye should hae steekit your neive upo' that."
Sir Walter Scott had marked in his diary a territorial greeting of two
proprietors which had amused him much. The laird of Kilspindie had met
the laird of Tannachy-Tulloch, and the following compliments passed
between them:--"Yer maist obedient hummil servant, Tannachy-Tulloch." To
which the reply was, "Yer nain man, Kilspindie."
In proportion as we advance towards the Highland district this custom of
distinguishing clans or races, and marking them out according to the
district they occupied, became more apparent. There was the Glengarry
country, the Fraser country, the Gordon country, etc. etc. These names
carried also with them certain moral features as characteristic of each
division. Hence the following anecdote:--The morning litany of an old
laird of Cultoquhey, when he took his morning draught at the cauld well,
was in these terms:--"Frae the ire o' the Drummonds, the pride o' the
Graemes, the greed o' the Campbells, and the wind o' the Murrays, guid
Lord deliver us."
The Duke of Athole, having learned that Cultoquhey was in the habit of
mentioning his Grace's family in such uncomplimentary terms, invited the
humorist to Dunkeld, for the purpose of giving him a hint to desist from
the reference. After dinner, the Duke asked his guest what were the
precise terms in which he was in the habit of alluding to his powerful
neighbours. Cultoquhey repeated his liturgy without a moment's
hesitation. "I recommend you," said his Grace, looking very angry, "in
future to omit my name from your morning devotions." All he got from
Cultoquhey was, "Thank ye, my Lord Duke," taking off his glass with the
 Stoor is, Scottice, dust in motion, and has no English synonym; oor
is hour. Sir Walter Scott is said to have advised an artist, in painting
a battle, not to deal with details, but to get up a good _stoor_: then
put in an arm and a sword here and there, and leave all the rest to the
imagination of the spectator.
 Reach me a leg of that turkey.
 Clearing ashes out of the bars of the grate.
 Mentally confused. Muddy when applied to water.
 Preface to 4th edition of _Mystifications_, by Dr. John Brown.
 Lord Cockburn's _Memorials_, p. 58.
 Miss Jenny Methven.
 "Civil," "obliging."--Jamieson.
 _Dam_, the game of draughts.
 _Brod_, the board.
 The itch.
 The Scotticisms are printed in italics.
 Delicate in health.
 _Ver_, the spring months.--_e.g._ "This was in _ver_ quhen wynter
 A number.
 Young girls.
 Gallows birds.
 whistling noises.
 Distorted gestures.
 Honey jar.
 A kind of loose gown formerly worn.
 Amongst many acts of kindness and essential assistance which I have
received and am constantly receiving from my friend Mr. Hugh James
Rollo, I owe my introduction to this interesting Scottish volume, now, I
believe, rather scarce.
 Kelly's book is constantly quoted by Jamieson, and is, indeed, an
excellent work for the study of good old Scotch.
 This probably throws back the collection to about the middle of the
 Daw, a slut.
 Going or moving.
 Used as cowards(?)
 A dog's name.
 To skail house, to disfurnish.
 Being angry or cross.
 Know not.
 To aim at.
 A stroke.
 Potent or strong.
 Is angry.
 Worthless fellow.
 A sort of dagger or hanger which seems to have been used both at
meals as a knife and in broils--
"And _whingers_ now in friendship bare,
The social meal to part and share,
Had found a bloody sheath."
--_Lay of the Last Minstrel_.
 No lawsuit.
 Rue, to repent.
 Take after.
 Pasch or Easter.
 The proper orthography of this expression is deoch-an-doruis (or
dorais). _Deoch_, a drink; _an_, of the; _doruis_ or _dorais_,
possessive case of dorus or doras a door.
 It has been suggested, and with much reason, that the reference is
to a fly sticking on a wet or a newly painted wall; this is corroborated
by the addition in Rob Roy, "When the dirt's dry, it will rub out,"
which seems to point out the meaning and derivation of the proverb.
 A young bullock.
 Saddle for supporting panniers.
 Vol. i. p. 134.
 Stoop down.
 The way.
 Trust to.
 Even in Forfarshire, where Carnegies abound, we had Craigo,
Balnamoon, Pitarrow, etc.
 This custom is still in use in Galloway; and "Challoch,"
"Eschonchan," "Tonderghie," "Balsalloch," and "Drummorral," etc. etc.,
appear regularly at kirk and market.
CHAPTER THE SEVENTH.
ON SCOTTISH STORIES OF WIT AND HUMOUR.
The portion of our subject which we proposed under the head of
"Reminiscences of Scottish Stories of Wit or Humour," yet remains to be
considered. This is closely connected with the question of Scottish
dialect and expressions; indeed, on some points hardly separable, as the
wit, to a great extent, proceeds from the quaint and picturesque modes
of expressing it. But here we are met by a difficulty. On high authority
it has been declared that no such thing as wit exists amongst us. What
has no existence can have no change. We cannot be said to have lost a
quality which we never possessed. Many of my readers are no doubt
familiar with what Sydney Smith declared on this point, and certainly on
the question of wit he must be considered an authority. He used to say
(I am almost ashamed to repeat it), "It requires a surgical operation to
get a joke well into a Scotch understanding. Their only idea of wit,
which prevails occasionally in the north, and which, under the name of
WUT, is so infinitely distressing to people of good taste, is laughing
immoderately at stated intervals." Strange language to use of a country
which has produced Smollett, Burns, Scott, Galt, and Wilson--all
remarkable for the humour diffused through their writings! Indeed, we
may fairly ask, have they equals in this respect amongst English
writers? Charles Lamb had the same notion, or, I should rather say, the
same prejudice, about Scottish people not being accessible to wit; and
he tells a story of what happened to himself, in corroboration of the
opinion. He had been asked to a party, and one object of the invitation
had been to meet a son of Burns. When he arrived, Mr. Burns had not made
his appearance, and in the course of conversation regarding the family
of the poet, Lamb, in his lack-a-daisical kind of manner, said, "I wish
it had been the father instead of the son;" upon which four Scotsmen
present with one voice exclaimed, "That's impossible, for _he's
dead_." Now, there will be dull men and matter-of-fact men
everywhere, who do not take a joke, or enter into a jocular allusion;
but surely, as a general remark, this is far from being a natural
quality of our country. Sydney Smith and Charles Lamb say so. But, at
the risk of being considered presumptuous, I will say I think them
entirely mistaken. I should say that there was, on the contrary, a
strong _connection_ between the Scottish temperament and, call it if you
like, humour, if it is not wit. And what is the difference? My readers
need not be afraid that they are to be led through a labyrinth of
metaphysical distinctions between wit and humour. I have read Dr.
Campbell's dissertation on the difference, in his Philosophy of
Rhetoric; I have read Sydney Smith's own two lectures; but I confess I
am not much the wiser. Professors of rhetoric, no doubt, must have such
discussions; but when you wish to be amused by the thing itself, it is
somewhat disappointing to be presented with metaphysical analysis. It is
like instituting an examination of the glass and cork of a champagne
bottle, and a chemical testing of the wine. In the very process the
volatile and sparkling draught which was to delight the palate has
become like ditch water, vapid and dead. What I mean is, that, call it
wit or humour, or what you please, there is a school of Scottish
pleasantry, amusing and characteristic beyond all other. Don't think of
_analysing_ its nature, or the qualities of which it is composed; enjoy
its quaint and amusing flow of oddity and fun; as we may, for instance,
suppose it to have flowed on that eventful night so joyously described
"The souter tauld his queerest stories,
The landlord's laugh was ready chorus."
Or we may think of the delight it gave the good Mr. Balwhidder, when he
tells, in his Annals of the Parish, of some such story, that it was a
"jocosity that was just a kittle to hear." When I speak of changes in
such Scottish humour which have taken place, I refer to a particular
sort of humour, and I speak of the sort of feeling that belongs to
Scottish pleasantry,--which is sly, and cheery, and pawky. It is
undoubtedly a humour that depends a good deal upon the vehicle in which
the story is conveyed. If, as we have said, our quaint dialect is
passing away, and our national eccentric points of character, we must
expect to find much of the peculiar humour allied with them to have
passed away also. In other departments of wit and repartee, and acute
hits at men and things, Scotsmen (whatever Sydney Smith may have said to
the contrary) are equal to their neighbours, and, so far as I know, may
have gained rather than lost. But this peculiar humour of which I now
speak has not, in our day, the scope and development which were
permitted to it by the former generation. Where the tendency exists, the
exercise of it is kept down by the usages and feelings of society. For
examples of it (in its full force at any rate) we must go back to a race
who are departed. One remark, however, has occurred to me in regard to
the specimens we have of this kind of humour--viz. that they do not
always proceed from the personal wit or cleverness of any of the
individuals concerned in them. The amusement comes from the
circumstances, from the concurrence or combination of the ideas, and in
many cases from the mere expressions which describe the facts. The
humour of the narrative is unquestionable, and yet no one has tried to
be humorous. In short, it is the _Scottishness_ that gives the zest. The
same ideas differently expounded might have no point at all. There is,
for example, something highly original in the notions of celestial
mechanics entertained by an honest Scottish Fife lass regarding the
theory of comets. Having occasion to go out after dark, and having
observed the brilliant comet then visible (1858), she ran in with
breathless haste to the house, calling on her fellow-servants to "Come
oot and see a new star that hasna got its tail cuttit aff yet!"
Exquisite astronomical speculation! Stars, like puppies, are born with
tails, and in due time have them docked. Take an example of a story
where there is no display of any one's wit or humour, and yet it is a
good story, and one can't exactly say why:--An English traveller had
gone on a fine Highland road so long, without having seen an indication
of fellow-travellers, that he became astonished at the solitude of the
country; and no doubt before the Highlands were so much frequented as
they are in our time, the roads sometimes bore a very striking aspect of
solitariness. Our traveller, at last coming up to an old man breaking
stones, asked him if there was _any_ traffic on this road--was it at
_all_ frequented? "Ay," he said, coolly, "it's no ill at that; there was
a cadger body yestreen, and there's yoursell the day." No English
version of the story could have half such amusement, or have so quaint a
character. An answer even still more characteristic is recorded to have
been given by a countryman to a traveller. Being doubtful of his way, he
inquired if he were on the right road to Dunkeld. With some of his
national inquisitiveness about strangers, the countryman asked his
inquirer where he came from. Offended at the liberty, as he considered
it, he sharply reminded the man that where he came from was nothing to
him; but all the answer he got was the quiet rejoinder, "Indeed, it's
just as little to me whar ye're gaen." A friend has told me of an answer
highly characteristic of this dry and unconcerned quality which he heard
given to a fellow-traveller. A gentleman sitting opposite to him in the
stage-coach at Berwick complained bitterly that the cushion on which he
sat was quite wet. On looking up to the roof he saw a hole through which
the rain descended copiously, and at once accounted for the mischief. He
called for the coachman, and in great wrath reproached him with the evil
under which he suffered, and pointed to the hole which was the cause of
it. All the satisfaction, however, that he got was the quiet unmoved
reply, "Ay, mony a ane has complained o' _that_ hole." Another anecdote
I heard from a gentleman who vouched for the truth, which is just a case
where the narrative has its humour not from the wit which is displayed
but from that dry matter-of-fact view of things peculiar to some of our
countrymen. The friend of my informant was walking in a street of Perth,
when, to his horror, he saw a workman fall from a roof where he was
mending slates, right upon the pavement. By extraordinary good fortune
he was not killed, and on the gentleman going up to his assistance, and
exclaiming, with much excitement, "God bless me, are you much hurt?" all
the answer he got was the cool rejoinder, "On the contrary, sir." A
similar matter-of fact answer was made by one of the old race of
Montrose humorists. He was coming out of church, and in the press of the
kirk _skailing_, a young man thoughtlessly trod on the old gentleman's
toe, which was tender with corns. He hastened to apologise, saying, "I
am very sorry, sir; I beg your pardon." The only acknowledgment of which
was the dry answer, "And ye've as muckle need, sir." An old man marrying
a very young wife, his friends rallied him on the inequality of their
ages. "She will be near me," he replied, "to close my een." "Weel,"
remarked another of the party, "I've had twa wives, and they _opened
One of the best specimens of cool Scottish matter-of-fact view of things
has been supplied by a kind correspondent, who narrates it from his own
The back windows of the house where he was brought up looked upon the
Greyfriars Church that was burnt down. On the Sunday morning in which
that event took place, as they were all preparing to go to church, the
flames began to burst forth; the young people screamed from the back
part of the house, "A fire! A fire!" and all was in a state of confusion
and alarm. The housemaid was not at home, it being her turn for the
Sunday "out." Kitty, the cook, was taking her place, and performing her
duties. The old woman was always very particular on the subject of her
responsibility on such occasions, and came panting and hobbling up
stairs from the lower regions, and exclaimed, "Oh, what is't, what
is't?" "O Kitty, look here, the Greyfriars Church is on fire!" "Is that
a', Miss? What a fricht ye geed me! I thought ye said the parlour
fire was out."
In connection with the subject of Scottish _toasts_ I am supplied by a
first-rate Highland authority of one of the most graceful and crushing
replies of a lady to what was intended as a sarcastic compliment and
smart saying at her expense.
About the beginning of the present century the then Campbell of Combie,
on Loch Awe side, in Argyleshire, was a man of extraordinary character,
and of great physical strength, and such swiftness of foot that it is
said he could "catch the best _tup_ on the hill." He also looked upon
himself as a "pretty man," though in this he was singular; also, it was
more than whispered that the laird was not remarkable for his principles
of honesty. There also lived in the same district a Miss MacNabb of
Bar-a'-Chaistril, a lady who, before she had passed the zenith of life,
had never been remarkable for her beauty--the contrary even had passed
into a proverb, while she was in her teens; but, to counterbalance this
defect in external qualities, nature had endowed her with great
benevolence, while she was renowned for her probity. One day the Laird
of Combie, who piqued himself on his _bon-mots,_ was, as frequently
happened, a guest of Miss MacNabb's, and after dinner several toasts had
gone round as usual, Combie rose with great solemnity and addressing the
lady of the house requested an especial bumper, insisting on all the
guests to fill to the brim. He then rose and said, addressing himself to
Miss MacNabb, "I propose the old Scottish toast of 'Honest men and
_bonnie_ lassies,'" and bowing to the hostess, he resumed his seat. The
lady returned his bow with her usual amiable smile, and taking up her
glass, replied, "Weel, Combie, I am sure _we_ may drink that, for it
will neither apply to _you_ nor _me_."
An amusing example of a quiet cool view of a pecuniary transaction
happened to my father whilst doing the business of the rent-day. He was
receiving sums of money from the tenants in succession. After looking
over a bundle of notes which he had just received from one of them, a
well-known character, he said in banter, "James, the notes are not
correct." To which the farmer, who was much of a humorist, drily
answered, "I dinna ken what they may be _noo_; but they were a' richt
afore ye had your fingers in amang 'em." An English farmer would hardly
have spoken thus to his landlord. The Duke of Buccleuch told me an
answer very quaintly Scotch, given to his grandmother by a farmer of the
old school. A dinner was given to some tenantry of the vast estates of
the family, in the time of Duke Henry. His Duchess (the last descendant
of the Dukes of Montague) always appeared at table on such occasions,
and did the honours with that mixture of dignity and of affable kindness
for which she was so remarkable. Abundant hospitality was shown to all
the guests. The Duchess, having observed one of the tenants supplied
with boiled beef from a noble round, proposed that he should add a
supply of cabbage: on his declining, the Duchess good-humouredly
remarked, "Why, boiled beef and 'greens' seem so naturally to go
together, I wonder you don't take it." To which the honest farmer
objected, "Ah, but your Grace maun alloo it's a vary _windy_ vegetable,"
in delicate allusion to the flatulent quality of the esculent. Similar
to this was the naive answer of a farmer on the occasion of a rent-day.
The lady of the house asked him if he would take some "rhubarb-tart," to
which he innocently answered, "Thank ye, mem, I dinna _need_ it."
A Highland minister, dining with the patroness of his parish, ventured
to say, "I'll thank your leddyship for a little more of that
apple-tart;" "It's not apple-tart, it's rhubarb," replied the lady.
"Rhubarb!" repeated the other, with a look of surprise and alarm, and
immediately called out to the attendant, "Freend, I'll thank you for
A characteristic _table_ anecdote I can recall amongst Deeside
reminiscences. My aunt, Mrs. Forbes, had entertained an honest Scotch
farmer at Banchory Lodge; a draught of ale had been offered to him,
which he had quickly despatched. My aunt observing that the glass had no
head or effervescence, observed, that she feared it had not been a good
bottle, "Oh, vera gude, maam, it's just some strong o' the aaple," an
expression which indicates the beer to be somewhat sharp or pungent. It
turned out to have been a bottle of _vinegar_ decanted by mistake.
An amusing instance of an old Scottish farmer being unacquainted with
table refinements occurred at a tenant's dinner in the north. The
servant had put down beside him a dessert spoon when he had been helped
to pudding. This seemed quite superfluous to the honest man, who
exclaimed, "Tak' it awa, my man; my mou's as big for puddin' as it is
Amongst the lower orders in Scotland humour is found, occasionally,
very rich in mere children, and I recollect a remarkable illustration of
this early native humour occurring in a family in Forfarshire, where I
used in former days to be very intimate. A wretched woman, who used to
traverse the country as a beggar or tramp, left a poor, half-starved
little girl by the road-side, near the house of my friends. Always ready
to assist the unfortunate, they took charge of the child, and as she
grew a little older they began to give her some education, and taught
her to read. She soon made some progress in reading the Bible, and the
native odd humour of which we speak began soon to show itself. On
reading the passage, which began, "Then David rose," etc., the child
stopped, and looked up knowingly, to say, "I ken wha that was," and on
being asked what she could mean, she confidently said, "That's David
Rowse the pleuchman." And again, reading the passage where the words
occur, "He took Paul's girdle," the child said, with much confidence, "I
ken what he took that for," and on being asked to explain, replied at
once, "To bake 's bannocks on;" "girdle" being in the north the name for
the iron plate hung over the fire for baking oat cakes or bannocks.
To a distinguished member of the Church of Scotland I am indebted for an
excellent story of quaint child humour, which he had from the lips of an
old woman who related the story of herself:--When a girl of eight years
of age she was taken by her grandmother to church. The parish minister
was not only a long preacher, but, as the custom was, delivered two
sermons on the Sabbath day without any interval, and thus saved the
parishioners the two journeys to church. Elizabeth was sufficiently
wearied before the close of the first discourse; but when, after singing
and prayer, the good minister opened the Bible, read a second text, and
prepared to give a second sermon, the young girl, being both tired and
hungry, lost all patience, and cried out to her grandmother, to the no
small amusement of those who were so near as to hear her, "Come awa,
granny, and gang hame; this is a lang grace, and nae meat."
A most amusing account of child humour used to be narrated by an old Mr.
Campbell of Jura, who told the story of his own son. It seems the boy
was much spoilt by indulgence. In fact, the parents were scarce able to
refuse him anything he demanded. He was in the drawing-room on one
occasion when dinner was announced, and on being ordered up to the
nursery he insisted on going down to dinner with the company. His mother
was for refusal, but the child persevered, and kept saying, "If I dinna
gang, I'll tell thon." His father then, for peace sake, let him go. So
he went and sat at table by his mother. When he found every one getting
soup and himself omitted, he demanded soup, and repeated, "If I dinna
get it, I'll tell thon." Well, soup was given, and various other things
yielded to his importunities, to which he always added the usual threat
of "telling thon." At last, when it came to wine, his mother stood firm,
and positively refused, as "a bad thing for little boys," and so on. He
then became more vociferous than ever about "telling thon;" and as still
he was refused, he declared, "Now, I will tell thon," and at last roared
out, "_Ma new breeks were made oot o' the auld curtains_!"
The Rev. Mr. Agnew has kindly sent me an anecdote which supplies an
example of cleverness in a Scottish boy, and which rivals, as he
observes, the smartness of the London boy, termed by _Punch_ the "Street
boy." It has also a touch of quiet, sly Scottish _humour_. A gentleman,
editor of a Glasgow paper, well known as a bon-vivant and epicure, and
by no means a popular character, was returning one day from his office,
and met near his own house a boy carrying a splendid salmon. The
gentleman looked at it with longing eyes, and addressed the boy--"Where
are you taking that salmon, my boy?" Boy--"Do you ken gin ae Mr. ----
(giving the gentleman's name) lives hereabout?" Mr. ---- "Yes, oh yes;
his house is here just by." Boy (looking sly)--"Weel, it's no for him."
Of this same Scottish _boy cleverness_, the Rev. Mr. M'Lure of Marykirk
kindly supplies a capital specimen, in an instance which occurred at
what is called the market, at Fettercairn, where there is always a
hiring of servants. A boy was asked by a farmer if he wished to be
engaged. "Ou ay," said the youth. "Wha was your last maister?" was the
next question. "Oh, yonder him," said the boy; and then agreeing to wait
where he was standing with some other servants till the inquirer should
return from examination of the boy's late employer. The farmer returned
and accosted the boy, "Weel, lathie, I've been speerin' about ye, an'
I'm tae tak ye." "Ou ay," was the prompt reply, "an' I've been speerin'
about _ye tae_, an' I'm nae gaen."
We could not have had a better specimen of the cool self-sufficiency of
these young domestics of the Scottish type than the following:--I heard
of a boy making a very cool and determined exit from the house into
which he had very lately been introduced. He had been told that he
should be dismissed if he broke any of the china that was under his
charge. On the morning of a great dinner-party he was entrusted (rather
rashly) with a great load of plates, which he was to carry up-stairs
from the kitchen to the dining-room, and which were piled up, and
rested upon his two hands. In going up-stairs his foot slipped, and the
plates were broken to atoms. He at once went up to the drawing-room, put
his head in at the door, and shouted: "The plates are a' smashed,
and I'm awa."
A facetious and acute friend, who rather leans to the Sydney Smith view
of Scottish wit, declares that all our humorous stories are about
lairds, and lairds that are drunk. Of such stories there are certainly
not a few. The following is one of the best belonging to my part of the
country, and to many persons I should perhaps apologise for introducing
it at all. The story has been told of various parties and localities,
but no doubt the genuine laird was a laird of Balnamoon (pronounced in
the country Bonnymoon), and that the locality was a wild tract of land,
not far from his place, called Munrimmon Moor. Balnamoon had been dining
out in the neighbourhood, where, by mistake, they had put down to him
after dinner cherry brandy, instead of port wine, his usual beverage.
The rich flavour and strength so pleased him that, having tasted it, he
would have nothing else. On rising from table, therefore, the laird
would be more affected by his drink than if he had taken his ordinary
allowance of port. His servant Harry or Hairy was to drive him home in a
gig, or whisky as it was called, the usual open carriage of the time. On
crossing the moor, however, whether from greater exposure to the blast,
or from the laird's unsteadiness of head, his hat and wig came off and
fell upon the ground. Harry got out to pick them up and restore them to
his master. The laird was satisfied with the hat, but demurred at the
wig. "It's no my wig, Hairy, lad; it's no my wig," and refused to have
anything to do with it. Hairy lost his patience, and, anxious to get
home, remonstrated with his master, "Ye'd better tak it, sir, for
there's nae _waile_ o' wigs on Munrimmon Moor." The humour of the
argument is exquisite, putting to the laird in his unreasonable
objection the sly insinuation that in such a locality, if he did not
take _this_ wig, he was not likely to find another. Then, what a rich
expression, "waile o' wigs." In English what is it? "A choice of
perukes;" which is nothing comparable to the "waile o' wigs." I ought to
mention also an amusing sequel to the story, viz. in what happened after
the affair of the wig had been settled, and the laird had consented to
return home. When the whisky drove up to the door, Hairy, sitting in
front, told the servant who came "to tak out the laird." No laird was to
be seen; and it appeared that he had fallen out on the moor without
Hairy observing it. Of course, they went back, and, picking him up,
brought him safe home. A neighbouring laird having called a few days
after, and having referred to the accident, Balnamoon quietly added,
"Indeed, I maun hae a lume that'll _haud in_."
The laird of Balnamoon was a truly eccentric character. He joined with
his drinking propensities a great zeal for the Episcopal church, the
service of which he read to his own family with much solemnity and
earnestness of manner. Two gentlemen, one of them a stranger to the
country, having called pretty early one Sunday morning, Balnamoon
invited them to dinner, and as they accepted the invitation, they
remained and joined in the forenoon devotional exercises conducted by
Balnamoon himself. The stranger was much impressed with the laird's
performance of the service, and during a walk which they took before
dinner, mentioned to his friend how highly he esteemed the religious
deportment of their host. The gentleman said nothing, but smiled to
himself at the scene which he anticipated was to follow. After dinner,
Balnamoon set himself, according to the custom of old hospitable
Scottish hosts, to make his guests as drunk as possible. The result was,
that the party spent the evening in a riotous debauch, and were carried
to bed by the servants at a late hour. Next day, when they had taken
leave and left the house, the gentleman who had introduced his friend
asked him what he thought of their entertainer--"Why, really," he
replied, with evident astonishment, "sic a speat o' praying, and sic a
speat o' drinking, I never knew in the whole course o' my life."
Lady Dalhousie, mother, I mean, of the late distinguished Marquis of
Dalhousie, used to tell a characteristic anecdote of her day. But here,
on mention of the name Christian, Countess of Dalhousie, may I pause a
moment to recall the memory of one who was a very remarkable person. She
was for many years, to me and mine, a sincere, and true and valuable
friend. By an awful dispensation of God's providence her death happened
_instantaneously_ under my roof in 1839. Lady Dalhousie was eminently
distinguished for a fund of the most varied knowledge, for a clear and
powerful judgment, for acute observation, a kind heart, a brilliant wit.
Her story was thus:--A Scottish judge, somewhat in the predicament of
the Laird of Balnamoon, had dined at Coalstoun with her father Charles
Brown, an advocate, and son of George Brown, who sat in the Supreme
Court as a judge with the title of Lord Coalstoun. The party had been
convivial, as we know parties of the highest legal characters often
were in those days. When breaking up and going to the drawing-room, one
of them, not seeing his way very clearly, stepped out of the dining-room
window, which was open to the summer air. The ground at Coalstoun
sloping off from the house behind, the worthy judge got a great fall,
and rolled down the bank. He contrived, however, as tipsy men generally
do, to regain his legs, and was able to reach the drawing-room. The
first remark he made was an innocent remonstrance with his friend the
host, "Od, Charlie Brown, what gars ye hae sic lang steps to your
On Deeside, where many original stories had their origin, I recollect
hearing several of an excellent and worthy, but very simple-minded man,
the Laird of Craigmyle. On one occasion, when the beautiful and clever
Jane, Duchess of Gordon, was scouring through the country, intent upon
some of those electioneering schemes which often occupied her fertile
imagination and active energies, she came to call at Craigmyle, and
having heard that the laird was making bricks on the property, for the
purpose of building a new garden wall, with her usual tact she opened
the subject, and kindly asked, "Well, Mr. Gordon, and how do your bricks
come on?" Good Craigmyle's thoughts were much occupied with a new
leather portion of his dress, which had been lately constructed, so,
looking down on his nether garments, he said in pure Aberdeen dialect,
"Muckle obleeged to yer Grace, the breeks war sum ticht at first, but
they are deeing weel eneuch noo."
The last Laird of Macnab, before the clan finally broke up and emigrated
to Canada, was a well-known character in the country, and being poor,
used to ride about on a most wretched horse, which gave occasion to
many jibes at his expense. The laird was in the constant habit of riding
up from the country to attend the Musselburgh races. A young wit, by way
of playing him off on the race-course, asked him, in a contemptuous
tone, "Is that the same horse you had last year, laird?" "Na," said the
laird, brandishing his whip in the interrogator's face in so emphatic a
manner as to preclude further questioning, "na; but it's the same
_whup_." In those days, as might be expected, people were not nice in
expressions of their dislike of persons and measures. If there be not
more charity in society than of old, there is certainly more courtesy. I
have, from a friend, an anecdote illustrative of this remark, in regard
to feelings exercised towards an unpopular laird. In the neighbourhood
of Banff, in Forfarshire, the seat of a very ancient branch of the
Ramsays, lived a proprietor who bore the appellation of Corb, from the
name of his estate. This family has passed away, and its property merged
in Banff. The laird was intensely disliked in the neighbourhood. Sir
George Ramsay was, on the other hand, universally popular and respected.
On one occasion, Sir George, in passing a morass in his own
neighbourhood, had missed the road and fallen into a bog to an alarming
depth. To his great relief, he saw a passenger coming along the path,
which was at no great distance. He called loudly for his help, but the
man took no notice. Poor Sir George felt himself sinking, and redoubled
his cries for assistance; all at once the passenger rushed forward,
carefully extricated him from his perilous position, and politely
apologised for his first neglect of his appeal, adding, as his reason,
"Indeed, Sir George, I thought it was Corb!" evidently meaning that
_had_ it been Corb, he must have taken his chance for him.
In Lanarkshire there lived a sma' sma' laird named Hamilton, who was
noted for his eccentricity. On one occasion, a neighbour waited on him,
and requested his name as an accommodation to a "bit bill" for twenty
pounds at three months' date, which led to the following characteristic
and truly Scottish colloquy:--"Na, na, I canna do that." "What for no,
laird? ye hae dune the same thing for ithers." "Ay, ay, Tammas, but
there's wheels within wheels ye ken naething about; I canna do't." "It's
a sma' affair to refuse me, laird." "Weel, ye see, Tammas, if I was to
pit my name till't, ye wad get the siller frae the bank, and when the
time came round, ye wadna be ready, and I wad hae to pay't; sae then you
and me wad quarrel; sae we may just as weel quarrel _the noo_, as lang's
the siller's in ma pouch." On one occasion, Hamilton having business
with the late Duke of Hamilton at Hamilton Palace, the Duke politely
asked him to lunch. A liveried servant waited upon them, and was most
assiduous in his attentions to the Duke and his guest. At last our
eccentric friend lost patience, and looking at the servant, addressed
him thus, "What the deil for are ye dance, dancing, about the room that
gait? can ye no draw in your chair and sit down? I'm sure there's
_plenty on the table for three_."
As a specimen of the old-fashioned Laird, now become a Reminiscence, who
adhered pertinaciously to old Scottish usages, and to the old Scottish
dialect, I cannot, I am sure, adduce a better specimen than Mr.
Fergusson of Pitfour, to whose servant I have already referred. He was
always called Pitfour, from the name of his property in Aberdeenshire.
He must have died fifty years ago. He was for many years M.P. for the
county of Aberdeen, and I have reason to believe that he made the
enlightened parliamentary declaration which has been given to others: He
said "he had often heard speeches in the _House_, which had changed his
opinion, but none that had ever changed his vote." I recollect hearing
of his dining in London sixty years ago, at the house of a Scottish
friend, where there was a swell party, and Pitfour was introduced as a
great northern proprietor, and county M.P. A fashionable lady patronised
him graciously, and took great charge of him, and asked him about his
estates. Pitfour was very dry and sparing in his communications, as for
example, "What does your home farm chiefly produce, Mr. Fergusson?"
Answer, "Girss." "I beg your pardon, Mr. Fergusson, what does your home
farm produce?" All she could extract was, "Girss."
Of another laird, whom I heard often spoken of in old times, an anecdote
was told strongly Scottish. Our friend had much difficulty (as many
worthy lairds have had) in meeting the claims of those two woeful
periods of the year called with us in Scotland the "tarmes." He had been
employing for some time as workman a stranger from the south on some
house repairs, of the not uncommon name in England of Christmas. His
servant early one morning called out at the laird's door in great
excitement that "Christmas had run away, and nobody knew where he had
gone." He coolly turned in his bed with the ejaculation, "I only wish he
had taken Whitsunday and Martinmas along with him." I do not know a
better illustration of quiet, shrewd, and acute Scottish humour than the
following little story, which an esteemed correspondent mentions having
heard from his father when a boy, relating to a former Duke of Athole,
who had _no family of his own_, and whom he mentions as having
remembered very well:--He met, one morning, one of his cottars or
gardeners, whose wife he knew to be in the _hopeful way_. Asking him
"how Marget was the day," the man replied that she had that morning
given him twins. Upon which the Duke said,--"Weel, Donald; ye ken the
Almighty never sends bairns without the meat." "That may be, your
Grace," said Donald; "but whiles I think that Providence maks a mistak
in thae matters, and sends the bairns to ae hoose and the meat to
anither!" The Duke took the hint, and sent him a cow with calf the
I have heard of an amusing scene between a laird, noted for his
meanness, and a wandering sort of Edie Ochiltree, a well-known itinerant
who lived by his wits and what he could pick up in his rounds amongst
the houses through the country. The laird, having seen the beggar sit
down near his gate to examine the contents of his pock or wallet,
conjectured that he had come from his house, and so drew near to see
what he had carried off. As the laird was keenly investigating the
mendicant's spoils, his quick eye detected some bones on which there
remained more meat than should have been allowed to leave his kitchen.
Accordingly he pounced upon the bones, declaring he had been robbed, and
insisted on the beggar returning to the house and giving back the spoil.
He was, however, prepared for the attack, and sturdily defended his
property, boldly asserting, "Na, na, laird, thae are no Tod-brae banes;
they are Inch-byre banes, and nane o' your honour's"--meaning that he
had received these bones at the house of a neighbour of a more liberal
character. The beggar's professional discrimination between the merits
of the bones of the two mansions, and his pertinacious defence of his
own property, would have been most amusing to a bystander.
I have, however, a reverse story, in which the beggar is quietly
silenced by the proprietor. A noble lord, some generations back, well
known for his frugal habits, had just picked up a small copper coin in
his own avenue, and had been observed by one of the itinerating
mendicant race, who, grudging the transfer of the piece into the peer's
pocket, exclaimed, "O, gie't to me, my lord;" to which the quiet answer
was, "Na, na; fin' a fardin' for yersell, puir body."
There are always pointed anecdotes against houses wanting in a liberal
and hospitable expenditure in Scotland. Thus, we have heard of a master
leaving such a mansion, and taxing his servant with being drunk, which
he had too often been after other country visits. On this occasion,
however, he was innocent of the charge, for he had not the _opportunity_
to transgress. So, when his master asserted, "Jemmy, you are drunk!"
Jemmy very quietly answered, "Indeed, sir, I wish I wur." At another
mansion, notorious for scanty fare, a gentleman was inquiring of the
gardener about a dog which some time ago he had given to the laird. The
gardener showed him a lank greyhound, on which the gentleman said, "No,
no; the dog I gave your master was a mastiff, not a greyhound;" to which
the gardener quietly answered, "Indeed, ony dog micht sune become a
greyhound by stopping here."
From a friend and relative, a minister of the Established Church of
Scotland, I used to hear many characteristic stories. He had a curious
vein of this sort of humour in himself, besides what he brought out from
others. One of his peculiarities was a mortal antipathy to the whole
French nation, whom he frequently abused in no measured terms. At the
same time he had great relish of a glass of claret, which he considered
the prince of all social beverages. So he usually finished off his
antigallican tirades, with the reservation, "But the bodies brew the
braw drink." He lived amongst his own people, and knew well the habits
and peculiarities of a race gone by. He had many stories connected with
the pastoral relation between minister and people, and all such stories
are curious, not merely for their amusement, but from the illustration
they afford us of that peculiar Scottish humour which we are now
describing. He had himself, when a very young boy, before he came up to
the Edinburgh High School, been at the parochial school where he
resided, and which, like many others, at that period, had a considerable
reputation for the skill and scholarship of the master. He used to
describe school scenes rather different, I suspect, from school scenes
in our day. One boy, on coming late, explained that the cause had been a
regular pitched battle between his parents, with the details of which he
amused his school-fellows; and he described the battle in vivid and
Scottish Homeric terms: "And eh, as they faucht, and they faucht,"
adding, however, with much complacency, "but my minnie dang, she
There was a style of conversation and quaint modes of expression between
ministers and their people at that time, which, I suppose, would seem
strange to the present generation; as, for example, I recollect a
conversation between this relative and one of his parishioners of this
description.--It had been a very wet and unpromising autumn. The
minister met a certain Janet of his flock, and accosted her very kindly.
He remarked, "Bad prospect for the har'st (harvest), Janet, this wet."
_Janet_--"Indeed, sir, I've seen as muckle as that there'll be nae
har'st the year." _Minister_--"Na, Janet, deil as muckle as that't
ever you saw."
As I have said, he was a clergyman of the Established Church, and had
many stories about ministers and people, arising out of his own pastoral
experience, or the experience of friends and neighbours. He was much
delighted with the not very refined rebuke which one of his own farmers
had given to a young minister who had for some Sundays occupied his
pulpit. The young man had dined with the farmer in the afternoon when
services were over, and his appetite was so sharp, that he thought it
necessary to apologise to his host for eating so substantial a
dinner.--"You see," he said, "I am always very hungry after preaching."
The old gentleman, not much admiring the youth's pulpit ministrations,
having heard this apology two or three times, at last replied
sarcastically, "Indeed, sir, I'm no surprised at it, considering the
_trash_ that comes aff your stamach in the morning."
What I wish to keep in view is, to distinguish anecdotes which are
amusing on account merely of the expressions used, from those which have
real wit and humour _combined_, with the purely Scottish vehicle in
which they are conveyed.
Of this class I could not have a better specimen to commence with than
the defence of the liturgy of his church, by John Skinner of Langside,
of whom previous mention has been made. It is witty and clever.
Being present at a party (I think at Lord Forbes's), where were also
several ministers of the Establishment, the conversation over their wine
turned, among other things, on the Prayer Book. Skinner took no part in
it, till one minister remarked to him, "The great faut I hae to your
prayer-book is that ye use the Lord's Prayer sae aften,--ye juist mak a
dishclout o't." Skinner's rejoinder was, "Verra true! Ay, man, we mak a
dishclout o't, an' we wring't, an' we wring't, an' we wring't, an' the
bree o't washes a' the lave o' our prayers."
No one, I think, could deny the wit of the two following rejoinders.
A ruling elder of a country parish in the west of Scotland was well
known in the district as a shrewd and ready-witted man. He received many
a visit from persons who liked a banter, or to hear a good joke. Three
young students gave him a call in order to have a little amusement at
the elder's expense. On approaching him, one of them saluted him, "Well,
Father Abraham, how are you to-day?" "You are wrong," said the other,
"this is old Father Isaac." "Tuts," said the third, "you are both
mistaken; this is old Father Jacob." David looked at the young men, and
in his own way replied, "I am neither old Father Abraham, nor old Father
Isaac, nor old Father Jacob; but I am Saul the son of Kish, seeking his
father's asses, and lo! I've found three o' them."
For many years the Baptist community of Dunfermline was presided over by
brothers David Dewar and James Inglis, the latter of whom has just
recently gone to his reward. Brother David was a plain, honest,
straightforward man, who never hesitated to express his convictions,
however unpalatable they might be to others. Being elected a member of
the Prison Board, he was called upon to give his vote in the choice of a
chaplain from the licentiates of the Established Kirk. The party who had
gained the confidence of the Board had proved rather an indifferent
preacher in a charge to which he had previously been appointed; and on
David being asked to signify his assent to the choice of the Board, he
said, "Weel, I've no objections to the man, for I understand he has
preached a kirk toom (empty) already, and if he be as successful in the
jail, he'll maybe preach it vawcant as weel."
From Mr. Inglis, clerk of the Court of Session, I have the following
"I recollect my father relating a conversation between a Perthshire
laird and one of his tenants. The laird's eldest son was rather a
simpleton. Laird says, 'I am going to send the young laird abroad,'
'What for?' asks the tenant; answered, 'To see the world;' tenant
replies, 'But, lord-sake, laird, will no the world see _him_?'"
An admirably humorous reply is recorded of a Scotch officer, well known
and esteemed in his day for mirth and humour. Captain Innes of the
Guards (usually called Jock Innes by his contemporaries) was with others
getting ready for Flushing or some of those expeditions of the beginning
of the great war. His commanding officer (Lord Huntly, my correspondent
thinks) remonstrated about the badness of his hat, and recommended a new
one--"Na, na! bide a wee," said Jock; "where we're gain' faith there'll
soon be mair hats nor _heads_."
I recollect being much amused with a Scottish reference of this kind in
the heart of London. Many years ago a Scotch party had dined at
Simpson's famous beef-steak house in the Strand. On coming away some of
the party could not find their hats, and my uncle was jocularly asking
the waiter, whom he knew to be a _Deeside_ man, "Whar are our bonnets,
Jeems?" To which he replied, "'Deed, I mind the day when I had neither
hat nor bonnet."
There is an odd and original way of putting a matter sometimes in Scotch
people, which is irresistibly comic, although by the persons nothing
comic is intended; as for example, when in 1786 Edinburgh was
illuminated on account of the recovery of George III. from severe
illness. In a house where great preparation was going on for the
occasion, by getting the candles fixed in tin sconces, an old nurse of
the family, looking on, exclaimed, "Ay, it's a braw time for the
cannel-makers when the king is sick, honest man!"
Scottish farmers of the old school were a shrewd and humorous race,
sometimes not indisposed to look with a little jealousy upon their
younger brethren, who, on their part, perhaps, showed their contempt for
the old-fashioned ways. I take the following example from the columns of
the _Peterhead Sentinel_, just as it appeared--June 14, 1861:--
"AN ANECDOTE FOR DEAN EAMSAY.--The following characteristic and amusing
anecdote was communicated to us the other day by a gentleman who
happened to be a party to the conversation detailed below. This
gentleman was passing along a road not a hundred miles from Peterhead
one day this week. Two different farms skirt the separate sides of the
turnpike, one of which is rented by a farmer who cultivates his land
according to the most advanced system of agriculture, and the other of
which is farmed by a gentleman of the old school. Our informant met the
latter worthy at the side of the turnpike opposite his neighbour's farm,
and seeing a fine crop of wheat upon what appeared to be [and really
was] very thin and poor land, asked, 'When was that wheat sown?' 'O I
dinna ken,' replied the gentleman of the old school, with a sort of
half-indifference, half-contempt. 'But isn't it strange that such a fine
crop should be reared on such bad land?' asked our informant. 'O,
na--nae at a'--deevil thank it; a gravesteen wad gie guid bree gin
ye gied it plenty o' butter!'"
But perhaps the best anecdote illustrative of the keen shrewdness of the
Scottish farmer is related by Mr. Boyd in one of his charming
series of papers, reprinted from _Fraser's Magazine_. "A friend of mine,
a country parson, on first going to his parish, resolved to farm his
glebe for himself. A neighbouring farmer kindly offered the parson to
plough one of his fields. The farmer said that he would send his man
John with a plough and a pair of horses on a certain day. 'If ye're
goin' about,' said the farmer to the clergyman, 'John will be unco weel
pleased if you speak to him, and say it's a fine day, or the like o'
that; but dinna,' said the farmer, with much solemnity, 'dinna say
onything to him about ploughin' and sawin'; for John,' he added, 'is a
stupid body, but he has been ploughin' and sawin' a' his life, and he'll
see in a minute that _ye_ ken naething aboot ploughin' and sawin'. And
then,' said the sagacious old farmer, with much earnestness, 'if he
comes to think that ye ken naething aboot ploughin' and sawin', he'll
think that ye ken naething aboot onything!'"
The following is rather an original commentary, by a layman, upon
clerical incomes:--A relative of mine going to church with a Forfarshire
farmer, one of the old school, asked him the amount of the minister's
stipend. He said, "Od, it's a gude ane--the maist part of L300 a year."
"Well," said my relative, "many of these Scotch ministers are but poorly
off." "They've eneuch, sir, they've eneuch; if they'd mair, it would
want a' their time to the spendin' o't."
Scotch gamekeepers had often much dry quiet humour. I was much amused by
the answer of one of those under the following circumstances:--An
Ayrshire gentleman, who was from the first a very bad shot, or rather no
shot at all, when out on 1st of September, having failed, time after
time, in bringing down a single bird, had at last pointed out to him by
his attendant bag-carrier a large covey, thick and close on the
stubbles. "Noo, Mr. Jeems, let drive at them, just as they are!" Mr.
Jeems did let drive, as advised, but not a feather remained to testify
the shot. All flew off, safe and sound--"Hech, sir (remarks his friend),
but ye've made thae yins _shift their quarters_."
The two following anecdotes of rejoinders from Scottish guidwives, and
for which I am indebted, as for many other kind communications, to the
Rev. Mr. Blair of Dunblane, appear to me as good examples of the
peculiar Scottish pithy phraseology which we refer to, as any that I
have met with.
An old lady from whom the "Great Unknown" had derived many an ancient
tale, was waited upon one day by the author of "Waverley." On his
endeavouring to give the authorship the go-by, the old dame protested,
"D'ye think, sir, I dinna ken my ain groats in ither folk's kail?"
A conceited packman called at a farm-house in the west of Scotland, in
order to dispose of some of his wares. The goodwife was offended by his
southern accent, and his high talk about York, London, and other big
places. "An' whaur come ye frae yersell?" was the question of the
guidwife. "Ou, I am from the Border." "The Border--oh! I thocht that;
for we aye think the _selvidge_ is the wakest bit o' the wab!"
The following is a good specimen of ready Scotch humorous reply, by a
master to his discontented workman, and in which he turned the tables
upon him, in his reference to Scripture. In a town of one of the central
counties a Mr. J---- carried on, about a century ago, a very extensive
business in the linen manufacture. Although _strikes_ were then unknown
among the labouring classes, the spirit from which these take their rise
has no doubt at all times existed. Among Mr. J----'s many workmen, one
had given him constant annoyance for years, from his discontented and
argumentative spirit. Insisting one day on getting something or other
which his master thought most unreasonable, and refused to give in to,
he at last submitted, with a bad grace, saying, "You're nae better than
_Pharaoh_, sir, forcin' puir folk to mak' bricks without straw." "Well,
Saunders," quietly rejoined his master, "if I'm nae better than Pharaoh
in one respect, I'll be better in another, for _I'll no hinder ye going
to the wilderness whenever you choose_."
Persons who are curious in Scottish stories of wit and humour speak much
of the sayings of a certain "Laird of Logan," who was a well-known
character in the West of Scotland. This same Laird of Logan was at a
meeting of the heritors of Cumnock, where a proposal was made to erect a
new churchyard wall. He met the proposition with the dry remark, "I
never big dykes till the _tenants_ complain." Calling one day for a gill
of whisky in a public-house, the Laird was asked if he would take any
water with the spirit. "Na, na," replied he, "I would rather ye would
tak the water out o't."
The laird sold a horse to an Englishman, saying, "You buy him as you
see him; but he's an _honest_ beast." The purchaser took him home. In a
few days he stumbled and fell, to the damage of his own knees and his
rider's head. On this the angry purchaser remonstrated with the laird,
whose reply was, "Well, sir, I told ye he was an honest beast; many a
time has he threatened to come down with me, and I kenned he would keep
his word some day."
At the time of the threatened invasion, the laird had been taunted at a
meeting at Ayr with want of loyal spirit at Cumnock, as at that place no
volunteer corps had been raised to meet the coming danger; Cumnock, it
should be recollected, being on a high situation, and ten or twelve
miles from the coast. "What sort of people are you up at Cumnock?" said
an Ayr gentleman; "you have not a single volunteer!" "Never you heed,"
says Logan, very quietly; "if the French land at Ayr, there will soon be
plenty of volunteers up at Cumnock."
A pendant to the story of candid admission on the part of the minister,
that the people might be _weary_ after his sermon, has been given on the
authority of the narrator, a Fife gentleman, ninety years of age when he
told it. He had been to church at Elie, and listening to a young and
perhaps bombastic preacher, who happened to be officiating for the Rev.
Dr. Milligan, who was in church. After service, meeting the Doctor in
the passage, he introduced the young clergyman, who, on being asked by
the old man how he did, elevated his shirt collar, and complained of
fatigue, and being very much "_tired_." "Tired, did ye say, my man?"
said the old satirist, who was slightly deaf; "Lord, man! if you're
_half_ as tired as I am, I pity ye!"
I have been much pleased with an offering from Carluke, containing two
very pithy anecdotes. Mr. Rankin very kindly writes:--"Your
'Reminiscences' are most refreshing. I am very little of a
story-collector, but I have recorded some of an old schoolmaster, who
was a story-teller. As a sort of payment for the amusement I have
derived from your book, I shall give one or two."
He sends the two following:--
"Shortly after Mr. Kay had been inducted schoolmaster of Carluke (1790),
the bederal called at the school, verbally announcing,
proclamation-ways, that Mrs. So-and-So's funeral would be on Fuirsday.
'At what hour?' asked the dominie. 'Ou, ony time atween ten and twa.' At
two o'clock of the day fixed, Mr. Kay--quite a stranger to the customs
of the district--arrived at the place, and was astonished to find a
crowd of men and lads, standing here and there, some smoking, and all
_arglebargling_ as if at the end of a fair. He was instantly, but
mysteriously, approached, and touched on the arm by a red-faced
bareheaded man, who seemed to be in authority, and was beckoned to
follow. On entering the barn, which was seated all round, he found
numbers sitting, each with the head bent down, and each with his hat
between his knees--all gravity and silence. Anon a voice was heard
issuing from the far end, and a long prayer was uttered. They had worked
at this--what was called '_a service_'--during three previous hours, one
party succeeding another, and many taking advantage of every service,
which consisted of a prayer by way of grace, a glass of _white_ wine, a
glass of _red_ wine, a glass of _rum_, and a prayer by way of
thanksgiving. After the long invocation, bread and wine passed round.
Silence prevailed. Most partook of both _rounds_ of wine, but when the
rum came, many nodded refusal, and by and by the nodding seemed to be
universal, and the trays passed on so much the more quickly. A sumphish
weather-beaten man, with a large flat blue bonnet on his knee, who had
nodded unwittingly, and was about to lose the last chance of a glass of
rum, raised his head, saying, amid the deep silence, 'Od, I daursay I
_wull_ tak anither glass,' and in a sort of vengeful, yet apologetic
tone, added, 'The auld jaud yince cheated me wi' a cauve' (calf)."
At a farmer's funeral in the country, an undertaker was in charge of the
ceremonial, and directing how it was to proceed, when he noticed a
little man giving orders, and, as he thought, rather encroaching upon
the duties and privileges of his own office. He asked him, "And wha are
ye, mi' man, that tak sae muckle on ye?" "Oh, dinna ye ken?" said the
man, under a strong sense of his own importance, "I'm the corp's
Curious scenes took place at funerals where there was, in times gone by,
an unfortunate tendency to join with such solemnities more attention to
festal entertainment than was becoming. A farmer, at the interment of
his second wife, exercised a liberal hospitality to his friends at the
inn near the church. On looking over the bill, the master defended the
charge as moderate. But he reminded him, "Ye forget, man, that it's no
ilka ane that brings a _second_ funeral to your house."
"Dr. Scott, minister of Carluke (1770), was a fine graceful kindly man,
always stepping about in his bag-wig and cane in hand, with a kind and
ready word to every one. He was officiating at a bridal in his parish,
where there was a goodly company, had partaken of the good cheer, and
waited till the young people were fairly warmed in the dance. A
dissenting body had sprung up in the parish, which he tried to think was
beneath him even to notice, when he could help it, yet never seemed to
feel at all keenly when the dissenters were alluded to. One of the chief
leaders of this body was at the bridal, and felt it to be his bounden
duty to call upon the minister for his reasons for sanctioning by his
presence so sinful an enjoyment. 'Weel, minister, what think ye o' this
dancin'?' 'Why, John,' said the minister, blithely, 'I think it an
excellent exercise for young people, and, I dare say, so do you.' 'Ah,
sir, I'm no sure about it; I see nae authority for't in the Scriptures.'
'Umph, indeed, John; you cannot forget David.' 'Ah, sir, Dauvid; gif
they were a' to dance as Dauvid did, it would be a different thing
a'thegither.' 'Hoot-o-fie, hoot-o-fie, John; would you have the young
folk strip to the sark?'"
Reference has been made to the eccentric laird of Balnamoon, his wig,
and his "speats o' drinking and praying." A story of this laird is
recorded, which I do think is well named, by a correspondent who
communicates it, as a "quintessential phasis of dry Scotch humour," and
the explanation of which would perhaps be thrown away upon any one who
_needed_ the explanation. The story is this:--The laird riding past a
high steep bank, stopped opposite a hole in it, and said, "Hairy, I saw
a brock gang in there." "Did ye?" said Hairy; "wull ye hand my horse,
sir?" "Certainly," said the laird, and away rushed Hairy for a spade.
After digging for half-an-hour, he came back, quite done, to the laird,
who had regarded him musingly. "I canna find him, sir," said Hairy.
"'Deed," said the laird, very coolly, "I wad ha' wondered if ye had, for
it's ten years sin' I saw him gang in there."
Amongst many humorous colloquies between Balnamoon and his servant, the
following must have been very racy and very original. The laird,
accompanied by Hairy, after a dinner party, was riding on his way home,
through a ford, when he fell off into the water. "Whae's that faun?" he
inquired. "'Deed," quoth Hairy, "I witna an it be na your honour."
There is a peculiarity connected with what we have considered Scotch
humour. It is more common for Scotsmen to associate their own feelings
with _national_ events and national history than for Englishmen. Take as
illustrations the following, as being perhaps as good as any:--The Rev.
Robert Scott, a Scotsman who forgets not Scotland in his southern
vicarage, and whom I have named before as having sent me some good
reminiscences, tells me that, at Inverary, some thirty years ago, he
could not help overhearing the conversation of some Lowland
cattle-dealers in the public room in which he was. The subject of the
bravery of our navy being started, one of the interlocutors expressed
his surprise that Nelson should have issued his signal at Trafalgar in
the terms, "_England expects_," etc. He was met with the answer (which
seemed highly satisfactory to the rest), "Ah, Nelson only said
'_expects_' of the English; he said naething of Scotland, for he _kent_
the _Scotch_ would do theirs."
I am assured the following manifestation of national feeling against the
memory of a Scottish character actually took place within a few
years:--Williamson (the Duke of Buccleuch's huntsman) was one afternoon
riding home from hunting through Haddington; and as he passed the old
Abbey, he saw an ancient woman looking through the iron grating in front
of the burial-place of the Lauderdale family, holding by the bars, and
grinning and dancing with rage. "Eh, gudewife," said Williamson, "what
ails ye?" "It's the Duke o' Lauderdale," cried she. "Eh, if I could win
at him, I wud rax the banes o' him."
To this class belongs the following complacent Scottish remark upon
Bannockburn. A splenetic Englishman said to a Scottish countryman,
something of a wag, that no man of taste would think of remaining any
time in such a country as Scotland. To which the canny Scot replied,
"Tastes differ; I'se tak ye to a place no far frae Stirling, whaur
thretty thousand o' your countrymen ha' been for five hunder years, and
they've nae thocht o' leavin' yet."
In a similar spirit, an honest Scotch farmer, who had sent some sheep to
compete at a great English agricultural cattle-show, and was much
disgusted at not getting a prize, consoled himself for the
disappointment, by insinuating that the judges could hardly act quite
impartially by a Scottish competitor, complacently remarking, "It's aye
been the same since Bannockburn."
Then, again, take the story told in Lockhart's Life of Sir Walter Scott,
of the blacksmith whom Sir Walter had formerly known as a horse-doctor,
and whom he found at a small country town south of the Border,
practising medicine with a reckless use of "laudamy and calomy,"
apologising at the same time for the mischief he might do, by the
assurance that it "_would be lang before it made up for Flodden_." How
graphically it describes the interest felt by Scotchmen of his rank in
the incidents of their national history. A similar example has been
recorded in connection with Bannockburn. Two Englishmen visited the
field of that great battle, and a country blacksmith pointed out the
positions of the two armies, the stone on which was fixed the Bruce's
standard, etc. The gentlemen, pleased with the intelligence of their
guide, on leaving pressed his acceptance of a crown-piece. "Na, na,"
replied the Scotsman, with much pride, "it has cost ye eneuch already."
Such an example of self-denial on the part of a Scottish cicerone is, we
fear, now rather a "reminiscence."
A north country drover had, however, a more _tangible_ opportunity of
gratifying his national animosity against the Southron, and of which he
availed himself. Returning homewards, after a somewhat unsuccessful
journey, and not in very good humour with the Englishers, when passing
through Carlisle he saw a notice stuck up, offering a reward of L50 for
any one who would do a piece of service to the community, by officiating
as executioner of the law on a noted criminal then under sentence of
death. Seeing a chance to make up for his bad market, and comforted with
the assurance that he was unknown there, he undertook the office,
executed the condemned, and got the fee. When moving off with the money,
he was twitted at as a "mean beggarly Scot," doing for money what no
_Englishman_ would. With a grin and quiet glee, he only replied, "I'll
hang ye a' at the price."
Some Scotsmen, no doubt, have a very complacent feeling regarding the
superiority of their countrymen, and make no hesitation in proclaiming
their opinion. I have always admired the quaint expression of such
belief in a case which has recently been reported to me. A young
Englishman had taken a Scottish shooting-ground, and enjoyed his
mountain sport so much as to imbibe a strong partiality for his northern
residence and all its accompaniments. At a German watering-place he
encountered, next year, an original character, a Scotsman of the old
school, very national, and somewhat bigoted in his nationality: he
determined to pass himself off to him as a genuine Scottish native; and,
accordingly, he talked of Scotland and haggis, and sheep's head, and
whisky; he boasted of Bannockburn, and admired Queen Mary; looked upon
Scott and Burns as superior to all English writers; and staggered,
although he did not convince, the old gentleman. On going away he took
leave of his Scottish friend, and said, "Well, sir, next time we meet, I
hope you will receive me as a real countryman." "Weel," he said, "I'm
jest thinkin', my lad, ye're nae Scotsman; but I'll tell ye what ye
are--ye're juist an _impruived_ Englishman."
I am afraid we must allow that Scottish people have a _leetle_ national
vanity, and may be too ready sometimes to press the claim of their
country to an extravagantly assumed pre-eminence in the annals of genius
and celebrities. An extreme case of such pretension I heard of lately,
which is amusing. A Scotsman, in reference to the distinction awarded to
Sir Walter Scott, on occasion of his centenary, had roundly asserted,
"But _all_ who have been eminent men were Scotsmen." An Englishman,
offended at such assumption of national pre-eminence, asked indignantly,
"What do you say to Shakspeare?" To which the other quietly replied,
"Weel, his tawlent wad justifee the inference." This is rich, as an
example of an _a priori_ argument in favour of a man being a Scotsman.
We find in the conversation of old people frequent mention of a class
of beings well known in country parishes, now either become commonplace,
like the rest of the world, or removed altogether, and shut up in
poorhouses or madhouses--I mean the individuals frequently called
parochial _idiots_; but who were rather of the order of naturals. They
were eccentric, or somewhat crazy, useless, idle creatures, who used to
wander about from house to house, and sometimes made very shrewd
sarcastic remarks upon what was going on in the parish. I heard such a
person once described as one who was "wanting in twopence of change for
a shilling." They used to take great liberty of speech regarding the
conduct and disposition of those with whom they came in contact, and
many odd sayings which emanated from them were traditionary in country
localities. I have a kindly feeling towards these imperfectly
intelligent, but often perfectly cunning beings; partly, I believe, from
recollections of early associations in boyish days with some of those
Davy Gellatleys. I have therefore preserved several anecdotes with which
I have been favoured, where their odd sayings and indications of a
degree of mental activity have been recorded. These persons seem to have
had a partiality for getting near the pulpit in church, and their
presence there was accordingly sometimes annoying to the preacher and
the congregation; as at Maybole, when Dr. Paul, now of St. Cuthbert's,
was minister in 1823, John M'Lymont, an individual of this class, had
been in the habit of standing so close to the pulpit door as to overlook
the Bible and pulpit board. When required, however, by the clergyman to
keep at a greater distance, and not _look in upon the minister_, he got
intensely angry and violent. He threatened the minister,--"Sir, baeby
(maybe) I'll come farther;" meaning to intimate that perhaps he would,
if much provoked, come into the pulpit altogether. This, indeed,
actually took place on another occasion, and the tenure of the
ministerial position was justified by an argument of a most amusing
nature. The circumstance, I am assured, happened in a parish in the
north. The clergyman, on coming into church, found the pulpit occupied
by the parish natural. The authorities had been unable to remove him
without more violence than was seemly, and therefore waited for the
minister to dispossess Tam of the place he had assumed. "Come down, sir,
immediately!" was the peremptory and indignant call; and on Tam being
unmoved, it was repeated with still greater energy. Tam, however,
replied, looking down confidentially from his elevation, "Na, na,
minister! juist ye come up wi' me. This is a perverse generation, and
faith they need us baith." It is curious to mark the sort of glimmering
of sense, and even of discriminating thought, displayed by persons of
this class. As an example, take a conversation held by this same John
M'Lymont, with Dr. Paul, whom he met some time after. He seemed to have
recovered his good humour, as he stopped him and said, "Sir, I would
like to speer a question at ye on a subject that's troubling me." "Well,
Johnnie, what is the question?" To which he replied, "Sir, is it lawful
at ony time to tell a lee?" The minister desired to know what Johnnie
himself thought upon the point. "Weel, sir," said he, "I'll no say but
in every case it's wrang to tell a lee; but," added he, looking archly
and giving a knowing wink, "I think there are _waur lees than ithers_"
"How, Johnnie?" and then he instantly replied, with all the simplicity
of a fool, "_To keep down a din, for instance_. I'll no say but a man
does wrang in telling a lee to keep down a din, but I'm sure he does not
do half sae muckle wrang as a man who tells a lee to kick up a
deevilment o' a din." This opened a question not likely to occur to such
a mind. Mr. Asher, minister of Inveraven, in Morayshire, narrated to Dr.
Paul a curious example of want of intelligence combined with a power of
cunning to redress a fancied wrong, shown by a poor natural of the
parish, who had been seized with a violent inflammatory attack, and was
in great danger. The medical attendant saw it necessary to bleed him,
but he resisted, and would not submit to it. At last the case became so
hopeless that they were obliged to use force, and, holding his hands and
feet, the doctor opened a vein and drew blood, upon which the poor
creature, struggling violently, bawled out, "O doctor, doctor! you'll
kill me! you'll kill me! and depend upon it the first thing I'll do when
I get to the other world will be to _report you to the board of
Supervision there, and get you dismissed_." A most extraordinary
sensation was once produced on a congregation by Rab Hamilton, a
well-remembered crazy creature of the west country, on the occasion of
his attendance at the parish kirk of "Auld Ayr, wham ne'er a toun
surpasses," the minister of which, in the opinion of Rab's own minister,
Mr. Peebles, had a tendency to Socinian doctrines. Miss Kirkwood,
Bothwell, relates the story from the recollection of her aunt, who was
present. Rab had put his head between some iron rails, the first
intimation of which to the congregation was a stentorian voice crying
out, "Murder! my heed'll hae to be cuttit aff! Holy minister!
congregation! Oh, my heed maun be cuttit aff. It's a judgment for
leaving my godlie Mr. Peebles at the Newton." After he had been
extricated and quieted, when asked why he put his head there, he said,
"It was juist to look on wi' _anither woman_."
The following anecdote of this same Rab Hamilton from a kind
correspondent at Ayr sanctions the opinion that he must have
occasionally said such clever things as made some think him more rogue
than fool. Dr. Auld often showed him kindness, but being once addressed
by him when in a hurry and out of humour, he said, "Get away, Rab; I
have nothing for you to day." "Whaw, whew," cried Rab, in a half howl,
half whining tone, "I dinna want onything the day, Maister Auld; I
wanted to tell you an awsome dream I hae had. I dreamt I was deed."
"Weel, what then?" said Dr. Auld. "Ou, I was carried far, far, and up,
up, up, till I cam to heeven's yett, where I chappit, and chappit, and
chappit, till at last an angel keekit out, and said 'Wha are ye?' 'A'm
puir Rab Hamilton.' 'Whaur are ye frae?' 'Frae the wicked toun o' Ayr.'
'I dinna ken ony sic place,' said the angel. 'Oh, but A'm juist frae
there,' Weel, the angel sends for the Apostle Peter, and Peter comes wi'
his key and opens the yett, and says to me, 'Honest man, do you come
frae the auld toun o' Ayr?' 'Deed do I,' says I. 'Weel,' says Peter, 'I
ken the place, but naebody's cam frae the toun o' Ayr, no since the
year'" so and so--mentioning the year when Dr. Auld was inducted into
the parish. Dr. Auld could not resist giving him his answer, and telling
him to go about his business.
The pathetic complaint of one of this class, residing at a farm-house,
has often been narrated, and forms a good illustration of idiot life and
feelings. He was living in the greatest comfort, and every want
provided. But, like the rest of mankind, he had his own trials, and his
own cause for anxiety and annoyance. In this poor fellow's case it was
the _great turkey-cock_ at the farm, of which he stood so terribly in
awe that he was afraid to come within a great distance of his enemy.
Some of his friends, coming to visit him, reminded him how comfortable
he was, and how grateful he ought to be for the great care taken of him.
He admitted the truth of the remark generally, but still, like others,
he had his unknown grief which sorely beset his path in life. There was
a secret grievance which embittered his lot; and to his friend he thus
opened his heart:--"Ae, ae, but oh, I'm sair hadden doun wi' the bubbly
I have received two anecdotes illustrative both of the occasional
acutenesss of mind, and of the sensitiveness of feeling occasionally
indicated by persons thus situated. A well-known idiot, Jamie Fraser,
belonging to the parish of Lunan, in Forfarshire, quite surprised people
sometimes by his replies. The congregation of his parish church had for
some time distressed the minister by their habit of sleeping in church.
He had often endeavoured to impress them with a sense of the impropriety
of such conduct, and one day Jamie was sitting in the front gallery,
wide awake, when many were slumbering round him. The clergyman
endeavoured to draw the attention of his hearers to his discourse by
stating the fact, saying, "You see even Jamie Fraser, the idiot, does
not fall asleep, as so many of you are doing." Jamie, not liking,
perhaps, to be thus designated, coolly replied, "An I hadna been an
idiot, I micht ha' been sleepin' too." Another of these imbeciles,
belonging to Peebles, had been sitting at church for some time listening
attentively to a strong representation from the pulpit of the guilt of
deceit and falsehood in Christian characters. He was observed to turn
red, and grow very uneasy, until at last, as if wincing under the
supposed attack upon himself personally, he roared out, "Indeed,
minister, there's mair leears in Peebles than me." As examples of this
class of persons possessing much of the dry humour of their more sane
countrymen, and of their facility to utter sly and ready-witted sayings,
I have received the two following from Mr. W. Chambers:--Daft Jock Gray,
the supposed original of David Gellatley, was one day assailed by the
minister of a south-country parish on the subject of his idleness.
"John," said the minister, rather pompously, "you are a very idle
fellow; you might surely herd a few cows." "Me hird!" replied Jock; "I
dinna ken corn frae gerss."
"There was a carrier named Davie Loch who was reputed to be rather light
of wits, but at the same time not without a sense of his worldly
interests. His mother, finding her end approaching, addressed her son in
the presence of a number of the neighbours. 'The house will be Davie's
and the furniture too.' 'Eh, hear her,' quoth Davie; 'sensible to the
last, sensible to the last.' 'The lyin' siller'--'Eh yes; how clear she
is about everything!' 'The lyin' siller is to be divided between my twa
dauchters.' 'Steek the bed doors, steek the bed doors,' interposed
Davie; 'she's ravin' now;' and the old dying woman was shut up
In the _Memorials of the Montgomeries_, Earls of Eglinton, vol. i. p.
134, occurs an anecdote illustrative of the peculiar acuteness and
quaint humour which occasionally mark the sayings of persons considered
as imbeciles. There was a certain "Daft Will Speir," who was a
privileged haunter of Eglinton Castle and grounds. He was discovered by
the Earl one day taking a near cut, and crossing a fence in the demesne.
The Earl called out, "Come back, sir, that's not the road." "Do you
ken," said Will, "whaur I'm gaun?" "No," replied his lordship. "Weel,
hoo the deil do ye ken whether this be the road or no?"
This same "Daft Will Speir" was passing the minister's glebe, where
haymaking was in progress. The minister asked Will if he thought the
weather would keep up, as it looked rather like rain. "Weel," said Will,
"I canna be very sure, but I'll be passin' this way the nicht, an' I'll
ca' in and tell ye." "Well, Will," said his master one day to him,
seeing that he had just finished his dinner, "have you had a good dinner
to day?" (Will had been grumbling some time before.) "Ou, vera gude,"
answered Will; "but gin onybody asks if I got a dram after't, what will
I say?" This poor creature had a high sense of duty. It appears he had
been given the charge of the coal-stores at the Earl of Eglinton's.
Having on one occasion been reprimanded for allowing the supplies to run
out before further supplies were ordered, he was ever afterwards most
careful to fulfil his duty. In course of time poor Will became "sick
unto death," and the minister came to see him. Thinking him in really a
good frame of mind, the minister asked him, in presence of the laird and
others, if there were not one _great_ thought which was ever to him the
highest consolation in his hour of trouble. "Ou ay," gasped the
sufferer, "Lord be thankit, a' the bunkers are fu'!"
The following anecdote is told regarding the late Lord Dundrennan:--A
half silly basket-woman passing down his avenue at Compstone one day,
he met her, and said, "My good woman, there's no road this way." "Na,
sir," she said, "I think ye're wrang there; I think it's a most
These poor creatures have invariably a great delight in attending
funerals. In many country places hardly a funeral ever took place
without the attendance of the parochial idiot. It seemed almost a
necessary association; and such attendance seemed to constitute the
great delight of those creatures. I have myself witnessed again and
again the sort of funeral scene portrayed by Sir Walter Scott, who no
doubt took his description from what was common in his day:--"The
funeral pomp set forth--saulies with their batons and gumphions of
tarnished white crape. Six starved horses, themselves the very emblems
of mortality, well cloaked and plumed, lugging along the hearse with its
dismal emblazonry, crept in slow pace towards the place of interment,
preceded by Jamie Duff, an idiot, who, with weepers and cravat made of
white paper, _attended on every funeral_, and followed by six mourning
coaches filled with the company."--_Guy Mannering_.
The following anecdote, supplied by Mr. Blair, is an amusing
illustration both of the funeral propensity, and of the working of a
defective brain, in a half-witted carle, who used to range the province
of Galloway armed with a huge pike-staff, and who one day met a funeral
procession a few miles from Wigtown. A long train of carriages, and
farmers riding on horse-back, suggested the propriety of his bestriding
his staff, and following after the funeral. The procession marched at a
brisk pace, and on reaching the kirk-yard style, as each rider
dismounted, "Daft Jock" descended from his wooden steed, besmeared with
mire and perspiration, exclaiming, "Hech, sirs, had it no been for the
fashion o' the thing, I micht as weel hae been on my ain feet."
The withdrawal of these characters from public view, and the loss of
importance which they once enjoyed in Scottish society, seem to me
inexplicable. Have they ceased to exist, or are they removed from our
sight to different scenes? The fool was, in early times, a very
important personage in most Scottish households of any distinction.
Indeed this had been so common as to be a public nuisance.
It seemed that persons _assumed_ the character, for we find a Scottish
Act of Parliament, dated 19th January 1449, with this title:--"Act for
the way-putting of _Fenyent_ Fules," etc. (Thomson's Acts of Parliament
of Scotland, vol. i.); and it enacts very stringent measures against
such persons. They seem to have formed a link between the helpless idiot
and the boisterous madman, sharing the eccentricity of the latter and
the stupidity of the former, generally adding, however, a good deal of
the sharp-wittedness of the _knave_. Up to the middle of the eighteenth
century this appears to have been still an appendage to some families. I
have before me a little publication with the title, "The Life and Death
of Jamie Fleeman, the Laird of Udny's Fool. Tenth edition. Aberdeen,
1810." With portrait. Also twenty-sixth edition, of 1829. I should
suppose this account of a family fool was a fair representation of a
good specimen of the class. He was evidently of defective intellect, but
at times showed the odd humour and quick conclusion which so often mark
the disordered brain. I can only now give two examples taken from his
history:--Having found a horse-shoe on the road, he met Mr. Craigie, the
minister of St. Fergus, and showed it to him, asking, in pretended
ignorance, what it was. "Why, Jamie," said Mr. Craigie, good
humouredly, "anybody that was not a fool would know that it is a
horse-shoe." "Ah!" said Jamie, with affected simplicity, "what it is to
be wise--to ken it's no a meer's shoe!"
On another occasion, when all the country-side were hastening to the
Perth races, Jamie had cut across the fields and reached a bridge near
the town, and sat down upon the parapet. He commenced munching away at a
large portion of a leg of mutton which he had somehow become possessed
of, and of which he was amazingly proud. The laird came riding past, and
seeing Jamie sitting on the bridge, accosted him:--"Ay, Fleeman, are ye
here already?" "Ou ay," quoth Fleeman, with an air of assumed dignity
and archness not easy to describe, while his eye glanced significantly
towards the mutton, "Ou ay, ye ken a body when he _has anything_."
Of witty retorts by half-witted creatures of this class, I do not know
of one more pointed than what is recorded of such a character who used
to hang about the residence of a late Lord Fife. It would appear that
some parts of his lordship's estates, were barren, and in a very
unproductive condition. Under the improved system of agriculture and of
draining, great preparations had been made for securing a good crop in a
certain field, where Lord Fife, his factor, and others interested in the
subject, were collected together. There was much discussion, and some
difference of opinion, as to the crop with which the field had best be
sown. The idiot retainer, who had been listening unnoticed to all that
was said, at last cried out, "Saw't wi' factors, ma lord; they are sure
to thrive everywhere."
There was an idiot who lived long in Lauder, and seems to have had a
great resemblance to the jester of old times. He was a staunch
supporter of the Established Church. One day some one gave him a bad
shilling. On Sunday he went to the Seceders' meeting-house, and when the
ladle was taken round he put in his bad shilling and took out
elevenpence halfpenny. Afterwards he went in high glee to the late Lord
Lauderdale, calling out, "I've cheated the Seceders the day, my lord;
I've cheated the Seceders."
Jemmy had long harboured a dislike to the steward on the property, which
he made manifest in the following manner:--Lord Lauderdale and Sir
Anthony Maitland used to take him out shooting; and one day Lord
Maitland (he was then), on having to cross the Leader, said, "Now,
Jemmy, you shall carry me through the water," which Jemmy duly did. The
steward, who was shooting with them, expected the same service, and
accordingly said, "Now, Jemmy, you must carry _me_ over." "Vera weel,"
said Jemmy. He took the steward on his back, and when he had carefully
carried him half-way across the river he paid off his grudge by dropping
him quietly into the water.
A daft individual used to frequent the same district, about whom a
variety of opinions were entertained,--some people thinking him not so
foolish as he sometimes seemed. On one occasion a person, wishing to
test whether he knew the value of money, held out a sixpence and a
penny, and offered him his choice. "I'll tak the wee ane," he said,
giving as his modest reason, "I'se no be greedy." At another time, a
miller laughing at him for his witlessness, he said, "Some things I ken,
and some I dinna ken." On being asked what he knew, he said, "I ken a
miller has aye a gey fat sou." "An' what d'ye no ken?" said the miller.
"Ou," he returned, "I dinna ken wha's expense she's fed at."
A very amusing collision of one of those penurious lairds, already
referred to, a certain Mr. Gordon of Rothie, with a half-daft beggar
wanderer of the name of Jock Muilton, has been recorded. The laird was
very shabby, as usual, and, meeting Jock, began to banter him on the
subject of his dress:--"Ye're very grand, Jock. Thae's fine claes ye hae
gotten; whaur did ye get that coat?" Jock told him who had given him his
coat, and then, looking slily at the laird, he inquired, as with great
simplicity, "And whaur did ye get _yours_, laird?"
For another admirable story of a rencontre between a penurious laird and
the parish natural I am indebted to the _Scotsman_, June 16, 1871. Once
on a time there was a Highland laird renowned for his caution in money
matters, and his precise keeping of books. His charities were there; but
that department of his bookkeeping was not believed to be heavy. On
examination, a sum of half-a-crown was unexpectedly discovered in it;
but this was accounted for in a manner creditable to his intentions, if
not to his success in executing them. It had been given in mistake
instead of a coin of a different denomination, to "the natural" of the
parish for holding his shelty while he transacted business at the bank.
A gleam in the boy's eye drew his attention to a gleam of white as the
metal dropped into his pocket. In vain the laird assured him it was not
a good bawbee--if he would give it up he would get another--it was "guid
eneuch" for the like of him. And when the laird in his extremity swore a
great oath that unless it was given up he would never give another
halfpenny, the answer was--"Ech, laird, it wad be lang or ye gied
Another example of shrewd and ready humour in one of that class is the
following:--In this case the idiot was musical, and earned a few stray
pence by playing Scottish airs on a flute. He resided at Stirling, and
used to hang about the door of the inn to watch the arrival and
departure of travellers. A lady, who used to give him something
occasionally, was just starting, and said to Jamie that she had only a
fourpenny piece, and that he must be content with that, for she could
not stay to get more. Jamie was not satisfied, and as the lady drove
out, he expressed his feelings by playing with all his might, "O wearie
o' the _toom pouch_."
The spirit in Jamie Fraser before mentioned, and which had kept him
awake, shows itself in idiots occasionally by making them restless and
troublesome. One of this character had annoyed the clergyman where he
attended church by fidgeting, and by uncouth sounds which he uttered
during divine service. Accordingly, one day before church began, he was
cautioned against moving, or "making a whisht," under the penalty of
being turned out. The poor creature sat quite still and silent, till, in
a very important part of the sermon, he felt an inclination to cough. So
he shouted out, "Minister, may a puir body like me noo gie a
I have two anecdotes of two peers, who might be said to come under the
description of half-witted. In their case the same sort of dry Scotch
humour came out under the cloak of mental disease. The first is of a
Scottish nobleman of the last century who had been a soldier the greater
part of his life, but was obliged to come home on account of aberration
of mind, superinduced by hereditary propensity. Desirous of putting him
under due restraint, and at the same time of engaging his mind in his
favourite pursuit, his friends secured a Sergeant Briggs to be his
companion, and, in fact, keeper. To render the sergeant acceptable as a
companion they introduced him to the old earl as _Colonel_ Briggs. Being
asked how he liked "the colonel," the earl showed how acute he still was
by his answer, "Oh, very well; he is a sensible man, and a good soldier,
but he _smells damnably of the halbert_."
The second anecdote relates also to a Scottish nobleman labouring under
aberration of mind, and is, I believe, a traditionary one. In Scotland,
some hundred years ago, madhouses did not exist, or were on a very
limited scale; and there was often great difficulty in procuring
suitable accommodation for patients who required special treatment and
seclusion from the world. The gentleman in question had been consigned
to the Canongate prison, and his position there was far from
comfortable. An old friend called to see him, and asked how it had
happened that he was placed in so unpleasant a situation. His reply was,
"Sir, it was more the kind interest and patronage of my friends than my
own merits that have placed me here." "But have you not remonstrated or
complained?" asked his visitor. "I told them" said his lordship, "that
they were a pack of infernal villains." "Did you?" said his friend;
"that was bold language; and what did they say to that?" "Oh," said the
peer, "I took care not to tell them till they were fairly out of the
place, and weel up the Canongate."
In Peebles there was a crazy being of this kind called "Daft Yedie." On
one occasion he saw a gentleman, a stranger in the town, who had a club
foot. Yedie contemplated this phenomenon with some interest, and,
addressing the gentleman, said compassionately, "It's a great pity--its
spoils the boot." There is a story of one of those half-witted creatures
of a different character from the humorous ones already recorded; I
think it is exceedingly affecting. The story is traditionary in a
country district, and I am not aware of its being ever printed.
A poor boy, of this class, who had evidently manifested a tendency
towards religious and devotional feelings, asked permission from the
clergyman to attend the Lord's Table and partake of the holy communion
with the other members of the congregation (whether Episcopalian or
Presbyterian I do not know). The clergyman demurred for some time, under
the impression of his mind being incapable of a right and due
understanding of the sacred ordinance. But observing the extreme
earnestness of the poor boy, he at last gave consent, and he was allowed
to come. He was much affected, and all the way home was heard to
exclaim, "Oh! I hae seen the pretty man." This referred to his seeing
the Lord Jesus whom he had approached in the sacrament. He kept
repeating the words, and went with them on his lips to rest for the
night. Not appearing at the usual hour for breakfast, when they went to
his bedside they found him dead! The excitement had been too much--mind
and body had given way--and the half-idiot of earth awoke to the glories
and the bliss of his Redeemer's presence.
Analogous with the language of the _defective_ intellect is the language
of the imperfectly formed intellect, and I have often thought there was
something very touching and very fresh in the expression of feelings and
notions by children. I have given examples before, but the following is,
to my taste, a charming specimen:--A little boy had lived for some time
with a very penurious uncle, who took good care that the child's health
should not be injured by over-feeding. The uncle was one day walking
out, the child at his side, when a friend accosted him, accompanied by a
greyhound. While the elders were talking, the little fellow, never
having seen a dog so slim and slight of form, clasped the creature round
the neck with the impassioned cry, "Oh, doggie, doggie, and div ye live
wi' your uncle tae, that ye are so thin?"
In connection with funerals, I am indebted to the kindness of Lord
Kinloch for a characteristic anecdote of cautious Scottish character in
the west country. It was the old fashion, still practised in some
districts, to carry the coffin to the grave on long poles, or "spokes,"
as they were commonly termed. There were usually two bearers abreast on
each side. On a certain occasion one of the two said to his companion,
"I'm awfu' tired wi' carryin'." "Do you _carry_?" was the interrogatory
in reply. "Yes; what do you do?" "Oh," said the other, "I aye _lean_."
His friend's fatigue was at once accounted for.
I am strongly tempted to give an account of a parish functionary in the
words of a kind correspondent from Kilmarnock, although communicated in
the following very flattering terms:--"In common with every Scottish man
worthy of the name, I have been delighted with your book, and have the
ambition to add a pebble to the cairn, and accordingly send you a
_bellman story_; it has, at least, the merit of being unprinted and
The incumbent of Craigie parish, in this district of Ayrshire, had asked
a Mr. Wood, tutor in the Cairnhill family, to officiate for him on a
particular Sunday. Mr. Wood, however, between the time of being asked
and the appointed day, got intimation of the dangerous illness of his
father; in the hurry of setting out to see him, he forgot to arrange for
the pulpit being filled. The bellman of Craigie parish, by name Matthew
Dinning, and at this time about eighty years of age, was a very little
"crined" old man, and always wore a broad Scottish blue bonnet,
with a red "bob" on the top. The parish is a small rural one, so that
Matthew knew every inhabitant in it, and had seen most of them grow up.
On this particular day, after the congregation had waited for some time,
Matthew was seen to walk very slowly up the middle of the church, with
the large Bible and psalm-book under his arm, to mount the pulpit stair;
and after taking his bonnet off, and smoothing down his forehead with
his "loof," thus addressed the audience:--
"My freens, there was ane Wuds tae hae preached here the day, but he has
nayther comed himsell, nor had the ceevility tae sen' us the scart o' a
pen. Ye'll bide here for ten meenonts, and gin naebody comes forrit in
that time, ye can gang awa' hame. Some say his feyther's dead; as for
that I kenna."
The following is another illustration of the character of the old
Scottish betheral. One of those worthies, who was parochial
grave-digger, had been missing for two days or so, and the minister had
in vain sent to discover him at most likely places. He bethought, at
last, to make inquiry at a "public" at some distance from the village,
and on entering the door he met his man in the trance, quite fou,
staggering out, supporting himself with a hand on each wa'. To the
minister's sharp rebuke and rising wrath for his indecent and shameful
behaviour, John, a wag in his way, and emboldened by liquor, made
answer, "'Deed, sir, sin' I ca'd at the manse, I hae buried an auld
wife, and I've just drucken her, hough an' horn." Such was his candid
admission of the manner in which he had disposed of the church fees paid
for the interment.
An encounter of wits between a laird and an elder:--A certain laird in
Fife, well known for his parsimonious habits, and who, although his
substance largely increased, did not increase his liberality in his
weekly contribution to the church collection, which never exceeded the
sum of one penny, one day by mistake dropped into the plate at the door
half-a-crown; but discovering his error before he was seated in his pew,
he hurried back, and was about to replace the coin by his customary
penny, when the elder in attendance cried out, "Stop, laird; ye may put
_in_ what ye like, but ye maun tak naething _oot_!" The laird, finding
his explanations went for nothing, at last said, "Aweel, I suppose I'll
get credit for it in heaven." "Na, na, laird," said the elder,
sarcastically; "ye'll only get credit for the _penny_."
The following is not a bad specimen of sly _piper_ wit:--
The Rev. Mr. Johnstone of Monquhitter, a very grandiloquent pulpit
orator in his day, accosting a travelling piper, well known in the
district, with the question, "Well, John, how does the wind pay?"
received from John, with a low bow, the answer, "Your Reverence has the
advantage of me."
Apropos to stories connected with ministers and pipers, there cannot be
a better specimen than the famous one preserved by Sir Walter Scott, in
his notes to _Waverley_, which I am tempted to reproduce, as possibly
some of my readers may have forgotten it. The gudewife of the inn at
Greenlaw had received four clerical guests into her house, a father and
three sons. The father took an early opportunity of calling the
attention of the landlady to the subject of his visit, and, introducing
himself, commenced in rather a pompous manner--"Now, confess, Luckie
Buchan, you never remember having such a party in your house before.
Here am I, a placed minister, with my three sons, who are themselves
_all_ placed ministers." The landlady, accustomed to a good deal of
deference and attention from the county families, not quite liking the
high tone assumed by the minister on the occasion, and being well aware
that all the four were reckoned very poor and uninteresting preachers,
answered rather drily, "'Deed, minister, I canna just say that I ever
had sic a party before in the hoose, except it were in the '45, when I
had a piper and his three sons--_a_' pipers. But" (she added quietly, as
if aside), "deil a spring could they play amang them."
I have received from Rev. William Blair, A.M., U.P. minister at
Dunblane, many kind communications. I have made a selection, which I now
group together, and they have this character in common, that they are
all anecdotes of ministers:--
Rev. Walter Dunlop of Dumfries was well known for pithy and facetious
replies; he was kindly known under the appellation of our "Watty
Dunlop." On one occasion two irreverent young fellows determined, as
they said, to "taigle" the minister. Coming up to him in the High
Street of Dumfries, they accosted him with much solemnity--"Maister
Dunlop, dae ye hear the news?" "What news?" "Oh, the deil's deed." "Is
he?" said Mr. Dunlop, "then I maun pray for twa faitherless bairns." On
another occasion Mr. Dunlop met, with characteristic humour, an attempt
to play off a trick against him. It was known that he was to dine with a
minister whose house was close to the church, so that his return back
must be through the churchyard. Accordingly some idle and mischievous
youths waited for him in the dark night, and one of them came up to him,
dressed as a ghost, in hopes of putting him in a fright. Watty's cool
accost speedily upset the plan:--"Weel, Maister Ghaist, is this a
general rising, or are ye juist takin' a daunder frae yer grave by
yersell?" I have received from a correspondent another specimen of
Watty's acute rejoinders. Some years ago the celebrated Edward Irving
had been lecturing at Dumfries, and a man who passed as a wag in that
locality had been to hear him. He met Watty Dunlop the following day,
who said, "Weel, Willie, man, an' what do ye think of Mr. Irving?" "Oh,"
said Willie, contemptuously, "the man's crack't." Dunlop patted him on
the shoulder, with a quiet remark, "Willie, ye'll aften see a light
peeping through a crack!"
He was accompanying a funeral one day, when he met a man driving a flock
of geese. The wayward disposition of the bipeds at the moment was too
much for the driver's temper, and he indignantly cried out, "Deevil
choke them!" Mr. Dunlop walked a little farther on, and passed a
farm-stead, where a servant was driving out a number of swine, and
banning them with "Deevil tak them!" Upon which, Mr. Dunlop stepped up
to him, and said, "Ay, ay, my man; your gentleman'll be wi' ye i' the
noo: he's juist back the road there a bit, choking some geese till
Shortly after the Disruption, Dr. Cook of St. Andrews was introduced to
Mr. Dunlop, upon which occasion Mr. Dunlop said, "Weel, sir, ye've been
lang Cook, Cooking them, but ye've dished them at last."
Mr. Clark of Dalreoch, whose head was vastly disproportioned to his
body, met Mr. Dunlop one day. "Weel, Mr. Clark, that's a great head o'
yours." "Indeed it is, Mr. Dunlop; I could contain yours inside of my
own." "Juist sae," quietly replied Mr. Dunlop; "I was e'en thinkin' it
was geyan _toom_."
Mr. Dunlop happened one day to be present in a church court of a
neighbouring presbytery. A Rev. Doctor was asked to pray, and declined.
On the meeting adjourning, Mr. Dunlop stepped up to the Doctor, and
asked how he did. The Doctor, never having been introduced, did not
reply. Mr. Dunlop withdrew, and said to his friend, "Eh! but isna he a
queer man, that Doctor, he'll neither speak to God nor man."
The Rev. John Brown of Whitburn was riding out one day on an old pony,
when he was accosted by a rude youth: "I say, Mr. Broon, what gars your
horse's tail wag that way?" "Oo, juist what gars your tongue wag; it's
fashed wi' a _wakeness_."
About sixty years ago there were two ministers in Sanquhar of the name
of Thomson, one of whom was father of the late Dr. Andrew Thomson of
Edinburgh, the other was father of Dr. Thomson of Balfron. The domestic
in the family of the latter was rather obtrusive with her secret
devotions, sometimes kneeling on the stairs at night, and talking loud
enough to be heard. On a communion season she was praying devoutly and
exclusively for her minister: "Remember Mr. Tamson, no him at the Green,
but oor ain Mr. Tamson."
Rev. Mr. Leslie of Morayshire combined the duties of justice of peace
with those of parochial clergyman. One day he was taken into confidence