The Nativity of Jesus Christ. St Eugenia, virgin and martyr, about 257. St Anastasia, martyr, 304. Another St Anastasia.
Born. – Johann Jacobo Reiske, oriental scholar, 1716, Zorbig, Saxony.
Died. – Persius, satiric poet, 62 A.D.; Pope Adrian I., 795; Emperor Leo V., the Armenian, slain at Constantinople, 820.
The festival of Christmas is regarded as the greatest celebration throughout the ecclesiastical year, and so important and joyous a solemnity is it deemed, that a special exception is made in its favour, whereby, in the event of the anniversary falling on a Friday, that day of the week, under all other circumstances a fast, is transformed to a festival.
That the birth of Jesus Christ, the deliverer of the human race, and the mysterious link connecting the transcendent and incomprehensible attributes of Deity with human sympathies and affections, should be considered as the most glorious event that ever happened, and the most worthy of being reverently and joyously commemorated, is a proposition which must commend itself to the heart and reason of every one of His followers, who aspires to walk in His footsteps, and share in the ineffable benefits which His death has secured to mankind. And so though at one period denounced by the Puritans as superstitious, and to the present day disregarded by Calvinistic Protestants, as unwarranted by Scripture, there are few who will seriously dispute the propriety of observing the anniversary of Christ’s birth by a religious service.
A question, however, which has been long and eagerly agitated, is here brought forward. Is the 25th of December really the day on which our Saviour first shewed himself in human form in the manger at Bethlehem? The evidence which we possess regarding the date is not only traditional, but likewise conflicting and confused. In the earliest periods at which we have any record of the observance of Christmas, we find that some communities of Christians celebrated the festival on the 1st or 6th of January; others on the 29th of March, the time of the Jewish Passover; while others, it is said, observed it on the 29th of September, or Feast of Tabernacles. There can be no doubt, however, that long before the reign of Constantine, in the fourth century, the season of the New Year had been adopted as the period for celebrating the Nativity, though a difference in this respect existed in the practice of the Eastern and Western Churches, the former observing the 6th of January, and the latter the 25th of December. The custom of the Western Church at last prevailed, and both of the ecclesiastical bodies agreed to hold the anniversary on the same day. the fixing of the date appears to have been the act of Julius I., who presided as pope or bishop of Rome, from 337 to 352 A.D. The circumstance is doubted by Mosheim, but is confirmed by St Chrysostom, who died in the beginning of the fifth century. This celebrated father of the church informs us, in one of his epistles, that Julius, on the solicitation of St Cyril of Jerusalem, caused strict inquiries to be made on the subject, and thereafter, following what seemed to be the best authenticated tradition, settled authoritatively the 25th of December as the anniversary of Christ’s birth, the ‘Festorum omnium metropolis,’ as it is styled by Chrysostom. It is true, indeed, that some have represented this fixing of the day to have been accomplished by St Telesphorus, who was bishop of Rome 128-139 A.D., but the authority for the assertion is very doubtful. Towards the close of the second century, we find a notice of the observance of Christmas in the reign of the Emperor Commodus; and about a hundred years afterwards, in the time of Dioclesian, an atrocious act of cruelty is recorded of the last-named emperor, who caused a church in Nicomedia, where the Christians were celebrating the Nativity, to be set on fire, and by barring every means of egress from the building, made all the worshippers perish in the flames. Since the end of the fourth century at least, the 25th of December has been uniformly observed as the anniversary of the Nativity by all the nations of Christendom.
Though Christian nations have thus, from an early period in the history of the church, celebrated Christmas about the period of the winter-solstice or the shortest day, it is well known that many, and, indeed, the greater number of the popular festive observances by which it is characterised, are referrible to a much more ancient origin. Amid all the pagan nations of antiquity, there seems to have been a universal tendency to worship the sun as the giver of life and light, and the visible manifestation of the Deity. Various as were the names bestowed by different peoples on this object of their worship, he was still the same divinity. Thus, at Rome, he appears to have been worshipped under one of the characters attributed to Saturn, the father of the gods; among the Scandinavian nations he was known under the epithet of Odin or Woden, the father of Thor, who seems afterwards to have shared with his parent the adoration bestowed on the latter, as the divinity of which the sun was the visible manifestation; whilst with the ancient Persians, the appellation for the god of light was Mithras, apparently the same as the Irish Mithr, and with the Phœnicians or Carthaginians it was Baal or Bel, an epithet familiar to all students of the Bible.
Concurring thus as regards the object of worship, there was a no less remarkable uniformity in the period of the year at which these different nations celebrated a grand festival in his honour. The time chosen appears to have been universally the season of the New Year, or, rather, the winter-solstice, from which the new year was frequently reckoned. This unanimity in the celebration of the festival in question, is to be ascribed to the general feeling of joy which all of us experience when the gradual shortening of the day reaches its utmost limit on the 21st of December, and the sun, recommencing his upward course, announces that mid-winter is past, and spring and summer are approaching. On similar grounds, and with similar demonstrations, the ancient pagan nations observed a festival at mid-summer, or the summer-solstice, when the sun arrives at the culminating-point of his ascent on the 21st of June, or longest day.
In the early ages of Christianity, its ministers frequently experienced the utmost difficulty in inducing the converts to refrain from indulging in the popular amusements which were so largely participated in by their pagan countrymen. Among others, the revelry and licence which characterised the Saturnalia called for special animadversion. But at last, convinced partly of the inefficacy of such denunciations, and partly influenced by the idea that the spread of Christianity might thereby be advanced, the church endeavoured to amalgamate, as it were, the old and new religions, and sought, by transferring the heathen ceremonies to the solemnities of the Christian festivals, to make them subservient to the cause of religion and piety. A compromise was thus effected between clergy and laity, though it must be admitted that it proved anything but a harmonious one, as we find a constant, though ineffectual, proscription by the ecclesiastical authorities of the favourite amusements of the people, including among others the sports and revelries at Christmas.
Ingrafted thus on the Roman Saturnalia, the Christmas festivities received in Britain further changes and modifications, by having superadded to them, first the Druidical rites and superstitions, and then, after the arrival of the Saxons, the various ceremonies practised by the ancient Germans and Scandinavians. The result has been the strange medley of Christian and pagan rites which contribute to make up the festivities of the modern Christmas. Of these, the burning of the Yule log, and the superstitions connected with the mistletoe have already been described under Christmas Eve, and further accounts are given under separate heads, both under the 24th and 25th of December.
The name given by the ancient Goths and Saxons to the festival of the winter-solstice was Jul or Yule, the latter term forming, to the present day, the designation in the Scottish dialect of Christmas, and preserved also in the phrase of the ’Yule log.’ Perhaps the etymology of no term has excited greater discussion among antiquaries. Some maintain it to be derived from the Greek, ουλοι or ιουλος, the name of a hymn in honour of Ceres; others say it comes from the Latin jubilum, signifying a time of rejoicing, or from its being a festival in honour of Julius Caesar; whilst some also explain its meaning as synonymous with ol or oel, which in the ancient Gothic language denotes a feast, and also the favourite liquour used on such occasion, whence our word ale. But a much more probable derivation of the term in question is from the Gothic giul or hiul, the origin of the modern word wheel, and bearing the same signification, the Yule festival received its name from its being the turning-point of the year, or the period at which the fiery orb of day made a revolution in his annual circuit, and entered on his northern journey. A confirmation of this view is afforded by the circumstance that in the old clog almanacs, a wheel is the device employed for marking the season of Yule-tide.
In reference to the superstition anciently prevalent in Scotland against spinning on Christmas or Yule day, and the determination of the Calvinistic clergy to put down all such notions, the following amusing passage is quoted by Dr Jamieson from Jhone Hamilton’s Facile Traictise: ‘The ministers of Scotland – in contempt of the vther halie dayes obseruit be England – cause their wyfis and seruants spin in oppin sicht of the people upon Yeul day; and their affectionnate auditeurs constraines their tennants to yok thair pleuchs on Yeul day in contempt of Christ’s Natiuitie, whilk our Lord has not left vnpunisit; for thair oxin ran wod [mad], and brak their nekis, and leamit [lamed] sum pleugh men, as is notoriously knawin in sindrie partes of Scotland.’ In consequence of the Presbyterian form of church -government, as constituted by John Knox and his coadjutors on the model of the ecclesiastical polity of Calvin, having taken such firm root in Scotland, the festival of Christmas, with other commemorative celebrations retained from the Romish calendar by the Anglicans and Lutherans, is comparatively unknown in that country, art least in the Lowlands. The tendency to mirth and jollity at the close of the year, which seems almost inherent in human nature, has, in North Britain, been, for the most part, transferred from Christmas and Christmas Eve to New-year’s Day and the preceding evening, known by the appellation of Hogmanay. In many parts of the Highlands of Scotland, however, and also in the county of Forfar, and one or two other districts, the day for the great annual merry-making is Christmas.
In olden times, it was customary to extend the charities of Christmas and the New Year to the lower animals. Burns refers to this practice in ‘The Auld Farmer’s Address to his Mare,’ when presenting her on New-Year’s morning with an extra feed of corn:
‘A guid New-year, I wish thee, Maggie!
Hae, there’s a ripp to thy auld baggie!’
The great-grandfather of the writer – a small proprietor in the Carse of Falkland, in Scotland, and an Episcopalian – used regularly himself, every Christmas-morning, to carry a special supply of fodder to each individual animal in his stable and cow-house. The old gentleman was wont to say, that this was a morning, of all others in the year, when man and beast ought alike to have occasion to rejoice.
It is evident that the use of flowers and green boughs as a means of decoration, is almost instinctive in human nature; and we accordingly find scarcely any nation, civilised or savage, with which it has not become more or less familiar. The Jews employed it in their Feast of Tabernacles, in the month of September; the ancient Druids and other Celtic nations hung up the mistletoe and green branches of different kinds over their doors, to propitiate the woodland sprites; and a similar usage prevailed, as we have seen, in Rome. In short, the feeling thus so universally exhibited, is one of natural religion, and therefore not to be traced exclusively to any particular creed or form of worship.
The favourite plants for church decoration at Christmas are holly, bay, rosemary, and laurel. Ivy is rather objectionable, from its associations, having anciently been sacred to Bacchus, and employed largely in the orgies celebrated in honour of the god of wine. Cypress, we are informed, has been sometimes used, but its funereal relations render it rather out of place at a festive season like Christmas. One plant, in special, is excluded – the mystic mistletoe, which. from its antecedents, would be regarded as about as inappropriate to the interior of a church, as the celebration of the old Druidical rites within the sacred building.
THE CHRISTIAN AND OTHER ERAS IN CHRONOLOGY.
The Christian Era adopts a particular year as a commencement or starting-point, from which any subsequent year may be reckoned. It has no particular connection with Christmas-day, but it may suitably be noticed in this place as associated with that great festival.
All nations who have made any great advance in civilisation, have found it useful to adopt some particular year as a chronological basis. The Romans adopted for this purpose the year, and even the day, which some of their historians assigned as the date for the foundation of Rome. That particular date, designated according to our present chronology, was the 21st of April, in the year 754 B.C. They were wont to express it by the letters A. U. C., or Ab urbe condita, signifying ‘from the foundation of the city.’ The change effected in the calendar by the first two Cæsars, and which, with the alteration afterwards rendered necessary by the lapse of centuries, forms, to the present day, the standard for computing the length and divisions of the year, took place 47 B.C. or 707 A.U.C.
The Olympiads were a Greek mode of computing time, depending on chronological groups, each of which measured respectively four years in length. They began in 776 B.C., in commemoration of an event connected with the Olympic Games. Each period of four years was called an Olympiad; and any particular date was denoted by the number of the Olympiad, and the number of the year in it; such as the third year of the first Olympiad, the first year of the fourth Olympiad, and so on. The Greeks, like the Romans, made in ancient times their civil years a little longer or a little shorter than the true year, and were, like them, forced to reform their calendar occasionally. One of these reforms was made by Meton in 432 B.C., a year which corresponded to the fourth year of the eighty-sixth Olympiad; and another in 330 B.C. When the power of Greece sank to a shadow under the mighty influence of that of Rome, the mode of reckoning by Olympiads gradually went out of use.
The Christian Era, which is now adopted by all Christian countries, dates from the year in which Christ was born. According to Greek chronology, that year was the fourth of the 194th Olympiad; according to Roman, it was the year 753 A.U.C. – or 754, if the different dates for beginning the year be rectified. It is remarkable, however, that the Christian era was not introduced as a basis of reckoning till the sixth century; and even then its adoption made very slow progress. There is an ambiguity connected with the Christian era, which must be borne in mind in comparing ancient dates. Some chronologists reckon the year immediately before the birth of Christ, as 1 B.C.; while others call it O B.C., reserving 1 B.C. for the actual year of the birth. There is much to be adduced in favour of each of these plans; but it suffices to say that the former is the one most usually adopted.
The Julian Period is a measure of time proposed by Joseph Scalinger, consisting of the very long period of 7980 years. It is not, properly speaking, a chronological era; but it is much used by chronologists on account of its affording considerable facilities for comparing different eras with each other, and in marking, without ambiguity, the years before Christ. The number of years (7980) forming the Julian period, marks the interval after which the sun, moon, and earth will come round to exactly the same positions at the commencement of the cycle. The exact explanation is too technical to be given here; but we may mention the following two rules:- To convert any date B.C. into the Julian system, subtract the year B.C. from 4714, and the remainder is the corresponding year in the Julian period; to convert any date A.D. into the Julian system, add 4713 to the year of the Christian era.
The Mahommedan Era, used by most or all Mohammedan nations, dates from the flight of Mohammed to Medina – the 15th of July, 622 A.D. This date is known as the Hegira, or flight. As the Christian era is supposed to begin on the 1st of January, year 0, a process of addition will easily transfer a particular date from the Mohammedan to the Christian era.
For some purposes, it is useful to be able to transfer a particular year from the Roman to the Christian era. The rule for doing so is this: If the given Roman year be less than 754, deduct it from 754; if the given Roman year be not less than 754, deduct 753 from it; the remainder gives the year B.C. in the one case, and A.D. in the other.
In like manner it may be useful to know how to convert years of the Greek Olympiads to years of the Christian era. It is done thus: Multiply the next preceding Olympiad by 4, and add the odd years; subtract the sum from 777 if before Christ, or subtract 776 from the sum if after Christ; and the remainder will be the commencement of the given year – generally about the middle of July in the Christian year.
In regard to all these five eras (and many others of less importance), there is difficulty and confusion in having to count sometimes backwards and sometimes forward, according as a particular date is before or after the commencement of the era. To get over this complexity, the Creation of the World has been adopted, by Christians and Jews alike, as the commencement of a universal era. This would be unexceptionable, if authorities agreed as to the number of years which elapsed between that event and the birth of Christ; but so far are they from agreeing, that, according to competent authorities, there are one hundred and forty different computations of this interval! The one most usually adopted by English[-speaking] writers is 4004 years; but they vary from 3616 up to 6484 years. The symbol A.M., or Anno Mundi, signifying ‘year of the world,’ is arrived at by adding 4004 to the Christian designation for the year – that is, if the popular chronology be adopted. There are, however, three other calculations for the year of the world that have acquired some historical note; and the best almanacs now give the following among other adjustments of eras – taking the year 1863 as an example.
|Christian Era (A.D.),||
|Roman Year (A.U.C.),||
|Anno Mundi (Jewish account),||
|“ “ (Alexandrian account),||
|“ “ (Constantinopolitan),||
|“ “ (Popular Chronology),||
|Mohammedan Era (A.H.),||
On this Day in Other Sources.
The 25th day of December, this same year, [1391,] died John [I.], King of Castile, first of that name; and to him succeeded his eldest son Henry [III.], a child of 11 years of age, who thereafter became a virtuous and worthy prince. His 2nd brother, Don Ferdinand [I.], became thereafter, also, King of Aragon, and a most worthy and virtuous prince.
– Historical Works, pp.133-144.
In the General Assembly of the Kirk, convened at Edinburgh the 25th of December 1567, Alexander, called Bishop of Galloway, commissioner, was accused, “that he had not visited these three years bygone the kirks within his charge; that he had left off the visiting and planting of kirks, and he haunted court too much, and had now purchased to be one of the Session and Privy Council, which cannot agree with the office of a pastor or bishop; that he had resigned Inchaffray in favour of a young child, and set diverse lands in feu, in prejudice of the kirk.” The Bishop of Galloway “granted that he offended in all that was laid to his charge.”1
– Sketches, pp.204-219.
1 Booke of the Universal Kirk of Scotland, 112, 114. For the details of the active life of this trimming prelate, who was queen’s man or king’s man as each party was in power; who was a reformer for the same reason, or that he might legitimate his children ad marry their mother; but loved the benefices of the old church well enough to transmit them to his sons – see the careful and valuable notes of Mr. Duncan, Wodrow’s Biogr. Coll. 475. Maitland Club Edition. Bishop Alexander Gordon died in 1576.
Dec. 25 . – A few days before this date, the Earl of Mar was married at Alloa to Mary, the second daughter of the late Duke of Lennox, and sister of the Countess of Huntly. The king honoured the marriage with his presence, and spent his Christmas with the newly wedded pair. It is rather surprising to find Mar, who had always been on the ultra-Protestant side, allying himself to a daughter of the papist Lennox; but tradition informs us that the god of love had in this case overcome that of politics. There were also some natural obstructions, for the earl was a widower of five-and-thirty, while the bride was little more than a girl. The story is, that his lordship, finding the young lady scornful, became low-spirited to such a degree as to alarm his old school-fellow the king, for his life. Learning what was the matter, James told him in his characteristic familiar style: ‘By —, ye shanna die, Jock, for ony lass in a’ the land!’ He then used his influence as virtual guardian of the Lennox family, and soon brought about the match. From this pair have descended some of the most remarkable patriots, lawyers, statesmen, and divines to which our country has given birth.
– Domestic Annals, pp.124-176.
Dec. 25 . – Christmas was observed in Edinburgh at the command of the king, and two churches opened for service; but the attendance was scant. ‘The Great Kirk was not half filled, notwithstanding the provost, bailies, and council’s travels… The dogs were playing in the flure of the Little Kirk, for rarity of people, and these were of the meaner sort… Mr Patrick [Galloway] denounced judgments… famine of the word, deafness, blindness, lameness, inability to come to the kirk to hear and see, to fall upon those who came not to his Christmas sermon.’ – Cal.
– Domestic Annals, pp.177-227.
Dec. 25 . – There now being much anxiety about foreign invasion, some care was taken to ascertain the state of the national defences, and there was also a proposal to fortify various places, of which, it may be remarked, Leith was one. Sir John Stewart of Traquair, had been sent to inquire into the condition of Dumbarton Castle, and now reported as follows: ‘At his entry within the castle, he found only three men and a boy in ordinar guarding the same. The walls in the chief and most important parts were ruinous and decayed; the house wanting doors, locks, or bolts, and nather wind nor water tight; the ordnance unmounted, and little or no provision of victuals and munition (except some few rusty muskets) within the same.’
– Domestic Annals, pp.228-256.
It is made still more clear by an entry in the following century, which bears that “a number of women in the town having overlaid their children in their drunkenness the Presbiterie advise that the old Act touching the repentance be revised and put in execution.”1
– Old Glasgow, pp.189-215.
1 25th December, 1647.
Provided always, That nothing in this Act contained shall extend, or be construed to give Liberty to any Person whatsoever to wear or put on those Parts of the Highland Clothes, Garb, or Habiliments, which are called the Plaid, Philibeg, or Little Kilt, or any of them; but that the said recited Act shall, as to the Plaid, Philibeg, or Little Kilt, take Place, from and after the Twenty fifth Day of December, One thousand seven and forty eight.
And be it further enacted, That from and after the said Twenty fifth Day of December, it shall and may be lawful to and for any of His Majesty’s Subjects whatsoever, to take up and apprehend all and every such Person or Persons as they shall find wearing, contrary to Law, the said Highland Clothes or Garb, or any Part thereof, and forthwith to carry such Person or Persons before any of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the Shire or Stewartry, or Judge Ordinary of the Place where such Person or Persons shall be found or apprehended, who are hereby impowered to try and convict every such Offender in a summary Way.
– Acts Relating to Scotland, George II., 21st Year, Chapter 26, 1747.
Letter to the Northern Ensign.
SIR. – I my last, of the 18th ult. [ultimo mense (previous month)], upon the late member for the Northern Burghs, I stated that I was not half through, but that I would need to forbear. The Stafford House meeting has diverted my attention at present from following up the subject as I intended, so as to make the best use I can of this aristocratic movement in behalf of the African slaves while it was warm before the public. Many thanks to you and your Perth correspondent for your talented comments upon the hollow hypocrisy of this meeting and the injurious effects it will have, if their (so called) Christian affectionate address, headed by the Duchess of Sutherland, her two daughters of Argyle and Blantyre, Duchess of Bedford, Lady Trevellyan, Lady John Russell, and many more, be presented to their sisters, the ladies of America.
I believe your Perth correspondent has given us the true brief version or exact reply of the American ladies to this affectionate address – ‘Look at home.’ But I must go further and instruct the American ladies in what they should tell their English sisters to look at, at home. Not with a view to justify the American traffic in human beings – God forbid, but merely to tell them that they can meet this feminine, English, Christian, affectionate appeal, with the same argument that the Cannibal Queen met a French philosopher when he was remonstrating with her upon the hateful, horrifying, and forbidden practice of eating human flesh, and recommending her to discontinue and forbid the practice in her dominions. ‘Well,’ replied the Cannibal Queen, ‘Volaire, what is the difference between your people and us? You kill men, and allow them to rot; we kill men, and to crown our victory we eat them, and we find them as good for food as any other flesh; besides, our law demands of us to eat our enemies.’ Now, Sir,… the American ladies may justly reply and ask their English sisters, ‘What is the difference between you and us? We buy black African slaves; but when we buy them, we feed, clothe and house them. No doubt some of us whip them at times for disobedience or for our own caprice; but we heal their stripes, and take care of them, that they may do our work. But you, English sisters, you make white slaves paupers and beggars; and when you make them this, by depriving them of all means to live by their own industry, then you turn them adrift – you raze, plough-up, or burn down their habitations, and allow them to die (in hundreds,) the agonizing, lingering death of starvation on the road-sides, ditches, and open fields. Dear sisters, look at the history of Ireland for the last six or seven years, and you will see how many thousands you have allowed to die by hunger; and consider how many thousands more you would have allowed to die a similar death, had we not come to their rescue, and sent them food until we could remove them from your tender mercy and from your territories, to feed, clothe, and house them, and to find employment and fair remuneration for their labour among ourselves. Look for instance at an Irishman arraigned at the bar of justice for sheep- stealing, and his counsel offering to prove that before he stole the sheep, three of his children perished for want of food, and in the case of the last of them who died a sucking infant, the mother peeled the flesh off its legs and arms; she boiled it, and both she and her husband (the prisoner) ate it to save their own lives, and the mother died soon after. At this time you, our English Sisters, were riding upon chariots, rolling smoothly over your exensive, uncultivated, depopulated domains, upon the wheels of splendour, and cushions of the finest texture, and your husbands, sons, and daughters sharing of your festivities, luxuries, and unnecessary grandeur; expending more money and human food upon useless dogs and horses than would have saved thousands of the poor useful Irish (with the image of God upon them) from a premature agonizing death. We have read with horror of one of your husbands urging with might and main upon the government (who bestirred themselves at the time for fear the famine might cause disease among the Irish landlords,) to feed the people with curry powder; and you must recollect, when the curry powder scheme of destroying the Irish could not be approved of, that Sir A. Trevellyan was sent over to Ireland with the test starving commission, and conducted the Irish destruction with more humanity, for he allowed one pound of meal as meat and wages for every starving Irishman who would work ten hours per day at making roads, draining, and improving the estates of Irish landlords. Ah! English sisters, though we could bring no more against you, the public will judge and decide that you should be the defenders, and not the pursuers, int his case; but since you began to expose us, we will expose you to the letter, for there is no case or cases brought out against us in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ will all Harriet Beecher Stowe’s capabilities of colouring, that is equal to this. We tell you emphatically that our law would neither sanction or tolerate such inhuman cruelty – our religion forbids it; and that any man or number of men who would be guilty of such would be branded with infamy and chased from our states and from our societies as inhuman, irrational, irreligious, and immoral monsters, unworthy of christian society, or to have a voice in the civil or religious government of our country. But by taking a retrospective view of the history of your christianized nation, we find that inhumanity, oppression, cruelty, and extortion, are qualifications required to fit a legislator, commander, commissioner, or any other functionary to whom you may safely entrust the law making, the law administration, and the government of your people; but qualifications specially required to entitle them to dignified high sounding titles and distinction, as will be shown afterwards.’
‘ “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” has aroused the sympathy and compassion of the Duchess of Sutherland, Argyle, Bedford, and Ladies Blantyre and Trevellyan, and many thousands of the women of England, over the fate of Ham’s black children. But we would seriously advise the Duchess of Sutherland and her host to pause until Uncle Donald McLeod’s Cabin comes out, and until he himself comes across the Atlantic with it among the thousands of those and their offspring who have fled from their iron sway and slavery to our shores. He, poor man, has been expostulating with you for the last twenty years against your cruel, unnatural, irrational, unchristian, and inhuman treatment of the brave, athletic, Highland white sons of Japhet, but no English or Scottish Duchesses and Ladies took any notice of him, nor convened a meeting to sympathise with him or to remonstrate with Highland despotic slave-making proprietors to discontinue their unrighteous depopulation of the country, and their ungodly draining away of the best blood from the nation. Hence we aver that these ladies would never convene a sympathising meeting for the benighted Africans, should their own African Chiefs, kings, and queens destroy them by the thousand; but because they sell them, and we buy them and take care of them, English feminine hearts sympathise with them. This is a fine opportunity for Donald McLeod. Let him now speak out, and make haste, and we promise him a quick and an extensive sale for his Cabin of unvarnished facts.’
The Duchess of Sutherland got very warm on the subject. After she read the sympathising remonstrating address (which need not be quoted here, being long ago before the public), she with great emphasis said, ‘I hope and believe that our efforts, under God’s blessing, will not be without some happy result; but whether it will succeed or fail, no one will deny that we shall have made an attempt, which had for its beginning and end, “Glory to God in the highest, on earth, peace and good will to men.” ‘ It seems that effrontery is become very lofty and high-voiced under the protection of high-sounding English titles, when the Duchess of Sutherland could presume to mix such notorious hypocritical whinings as these with, ‘Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace and good will to men,’ for no other cause or design than to whitewash fro some public odium already out, or to screen from some that is expected, come from what quarter it may. Surely this cannot be the Duchess of Sutherland who pays a visit every year to Dunrobin Castle, who has seen and heard so many supplicating appeals presented to her husband by the poor fishermen of Golspie, soliciting liberty to take mussels from the Little Ferry Sands to bait their nets – a liberty which they were deprived of by his factors, though paying yearly rent for it; yet returned by his Grace; with the brief deliverance, that he could do nothing for them. Can I believe that this is the same personage who can set out from Dunrobin Castle (her own Highland seat), and after travelling from it, then can ride in one direction over thirty miles, in another direction forty-four miles, in another direction (by taking the necessary circuitous route) sixty miles, and that over fertile glens, valleys, and straths, bursting with fatness, which gave birth to, and where were reared for ages, thousands of the bravest, the most moral, virtuous, and religious men that Europe could boast of; ready to a man, at a moment’s warning from their chiefs, to rise in defence of their king, queen, and country; animated with patriotism and love to their chief and irresistible in the battle contest for victory. But these valiant men had then a country, a home, and a chief, worth the fighting for. But I tell her that she can now ride over these extensive tracts in the interior of the country without seeing the image of God upon a man travelling these roads, with the exception of a wandering Highland shepherd, wrapped up in a grey plaid to the eyes, with a colly dog behind him as a drill serjeant to train his ewes and to marshall his tups. There may happen to travel o’er the dreary tract a geologist, a tourist, or a lonely carrier, but these are as rare as a pelican in the wilderness, or a camel’s convoy caravan in the deserts of Arabia. Add to this a few English sportsmen, with their stag-hounds, pointer dogs, and their servants, and put themselves and their bravery together, and a company of French soldiers would put ten thousand of them to a disorderly flight to save their own carcasses, leaving their ewes and tups to feed the invaders! The question may arise, where those people, who inhabited this country at one period have gone? In America and Australia the most of them will be found. The Sutherland family and the nation had no need of their services; hence they did not regard their patriotism or loyalty, and disregarded their past services. Sheep, bullock deer, and game, became more valuable than men. Yet a remnant of them, or in other words a skeleton of them is to be found along the sea-shore, huddled together in motley groups upon barren moors, among cliffs and precipices, in the most impoverished, degraded, subjugated, slavish, spiritless condition that human beings could exist in. If this is really the lady who has ‘Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and good will to men,’ in view, and who is so religiously denouncing the American statute which ‘denies the salve the sanctity of marriage, with all its joys, rights, and obligations – which separates, at the will of the master, the wife from the husband, the children from the parent,’ – I would advise her in God’s name to take a tour round the sea skirts of Sutherland, her own estate, beginning at Brora, then to Helmsdale, Portskerra, Strathy, Farr, Tongue, Durness, Eddrachillis, and Assynt, and learn the subjugated, degraded, impoverished, uneducated, condition of the spiritless people of that sea-beaten coast, about two hundred miles in length, and let her with similar zeal remonstrate with her husband, that their condition be bettered; for the cure of all their misery and want is lying unmolested in the fertile valleys above, and all under his control; and to advise his Grace, her husband, to be no longer guided by his Ahithophel, Mr. Loch, but to discontinue his depopulating schemes, which have separated many a wife from her husband, never to meet – which caused many a premature death, and that separated many sons and daughters, never to see them; and by all means to withdraw that mandate of Mr. Loch, which forbids marriage on the Sutherland estate, under the pains and penalties of being banished from the county; for it has been already the cause of a great amount of prostitution, and augmented illegitimate connections and issues fifty percent, above what such were a few years ago, before this unnatural, ungodly law was put in force. When the Duchess will do this, then, and not till then, will I believe that she is in earnest regarding the American slaves. Let her and the other ladies who attended Stafford House meeting be not like the believers and followers of Jupiter, who were supplied with two bags each, the one bag representing their own faults, the other their neighbours’ faults – the one representing their neighbours’ faults suspended before them, and the one representing their own faults suspended behind them, so that they could never see their own faults, but their neighbours’ were seen at all times. Ah! ladies, change your Jupiter bags, that you may discern your inconsistency and connection with those to whom you owe your position, your grandeur, your greatness, and all your enjoyments.
I am encroaching too much at this time, and will forbear, but will soon be at them again.
16 South Richmond Street,
Edinburgh, December 25, 1852.
– Gloomy Memories, pp.71-110.
“ENGLISH JURISDICTION IN SCOTTISH CASES.
Edinburgh, December 24, 1883.
SIR, – I think, after your leaders and the letters of a ‘Barrister’ and ‘A Chancery Lawyer,’ very few of your readers but will be fully aware of the gravity and importance of the Orr-Ewing case. But as some of them may be inclined to say this is a rich man’s affair, and the rich are well able to look after themselves, I would like to point out that it is a lawsuit in which every Scotsman is interested, be he rich or poor, the working man as well as the millionaire. There is a distinct conflict between England and Scotland as to our Constitution. The former claims jurisdiction over all Scotsmen; the latter denies this right, and points to the terms of the agreement between the two countries, as well as the usages of international law. Admit the claims of England in this case, and where will they end? If the civil law of Scotland is to be set aside, will the criminal law of Scotland not also be abolished? and how this would affect every Scotsman we will see.
Slander in Scotland is a civil offence. The party libelled can claim damages by an action at law – nothing more. Slander in England is a criminal offence, punishable at the discretion of the Judge, I believe, to the extent of penal servitude – at any rate, one or two years’ imprisonment with hard labour can be given. Now, suppose a domiciled Scotsman slanders an Englishman, or he thinks he is slandered, he may have the Scotsman arrested, put in jail, and tried for a criminal offence in England, contrary to the laws of his own country. You must also bear in mind that in England there is no Public Prosecutor like our Procurator-Fiscal, but every man avenges his own quarrel; so that an Englishman might be able to inflict untold misery upon our countryman before he could clear himself from the clutches of the law, and his only remedy for this would be an expensive action in England for malicious prosecution. No Scotsman, be he rich or poor, would be free from this danger, if we allow England to overmaster our laws.
It is well known that all classes of Scotsmen have been afflicted of late years with English lawsuits. I myself some months ago was asked to serve an English writ upon a Leith merchant, but declined; and the amount of loss in money and anxiety, as well as time, it would be impossible to calculate. Now, as all this infliction is contrary to the Constitution, I would like to ask, Is there no redress? Surely English Courts will not be permitted to affect us, and we to have no remedy. If the meeting of the 16th January would take up this question, and get the parties wronged to send in a note of their expenses, they would have a constitutional right to have them returned by the Treasury. No other plan, in my opinion, would bring the matter so vividly before the conscience of Englishmen or put so quick a stop to the usurpation of their Courts. – I am, &.
“December 22, 1883.
SIR, – I observed in your columns of to-day Mr Justice Chitty’s remarks (on Lord Fraser’s judgment) in the Orr-Ewing case in the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice in London. He appears to be astonished at Lord Fraser’s decision; but if he knew the law of Scotland perhaps he might not be so surprised, Englishmen as a rule being ignorant of Scottish affairs in general. Perhaps Mr Justice Chitty may be more astonished yet. I would like to ask him by what right English Courts presume to dictate to the highest Court in our country? Not by the Treaty of Union certainly. We don’t want English law in Scotland, any more than Englishmen would wish Scottish law in England.
England would like to sink Scotland as a country, and make her a mere province of her own; but that will never be, I sincerely hope, as long as we have such men as Lord Rosebery and your valued correspondent ‘Thistledown.’ We want the down of the thistle blown all over Scotland just now, and for all good and true Scotsmen to demand their rights, not from England, but from the Parliament of Great Britain – rights which have too long been neglected and trodden underfoot – rights which Anglicised Scots have done their best to hand over to our Southern neighbour – rights for which our forefathers fought and bled and won, until the thin edge of the wedge was inserted by English gold at the signing and completion of the Treaty of Union.
You kindly inserted my last letter, which makes me hope you may also insert this. – I am, &c.
– The Scotsman, Tuesday 25th December, 1883.
– Treaty of Union Articles, Collection of Charles Waddie AKA Thistledown’s Correspondence.