Chapter V. – Part 3 – On Scottish Stories of Wit and Humour, pp.215-263.

[Reminiscences Contents]

   A correspondent has kindly enabled me to add a reminiscence and anecdote of a type of Scottish character now nearly extinct, – I mean the old Scottish military officer, of the wars of Holland, and the Low Countries. I give them in his own words: “My father, the late Rev. Dr. Bethune, minister of Dornoch, was on friendly terms with a fine old soldier, the late Colonel Alexander Sutherland, of Calmaly and Braegrudy, in Sutherlandshire, who was Lieutenant-Colonel of the ‘Local Militia,’ and who used occasionally, in his word of command, to break out with a Gaelic phrase to the men, much to the amusement of bystanders. He called his charger, a high boned not overfed animal, Cadăver – a play upon accents, for he was a good classical scholar, and fond of quoting the Latin poets. But he had no relish nor respect for the ‘modern languages,’ particularly for that of our neighbours, whom he looked upon as ‘hereditary’ enemies! My father and the Colonel were both politicians, as well as scholars. Reading a newspaper article in his presence one day, my father stopped short, handing the paper to him, and said, ‘Colonel, here is a French quotation, which you can translate better than I can.’ ‘No, sir!’ said the Colonel, ‘I never learnt the language of the scoundrels!!!’ The Colonel was known as ‘Col. Sandy Sutherland,’ and the men always called him Colonel Sandy. He was a splendid specimen of the hale veteran, with a stentorian voice, and the last queue I remember to have seen.” 

   I have already referred to the communications which this little work has procured for me, from various correspondents; in some cases from entire strangers. I now wish to introduce the kind notices I have received from Rev. Dr. Clason, of Buccleuch Free Church, Edinburgh. Dr. Clason has completely entered into my idea of recording past Scottish habits and manners, of the last fifty years. The letters he has written on the subject are so truly “Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character,” so easily and pleasantly narrated, and at the same time preserve so many curious particulars of a bygone time, that I have requested his permission to insert a great portion of his letters just as they were written. The Rev. Doctor hesitated at seeing in print what he had written merely as a private communication. But he kindly yielded to my urgent wish on the subject, and I am persuaded that my readers will feel with me, that one great charm belonging to such notes of our recollection of the past, is the unconstrained and informal manner of recalling them to oneself, and of communicating them to others. Dr. Clason’s communications were contained in several letters, but I have taken the liberty of throwing them into one continued narrative, and introducing them into this portion of the volume which closes the series of reminiscences, and just before the concluding remarks upon the whole subject. 

   In his first letter, after expressing himself with much kindness in regard to a little work on a religious subject which I had sent to him, Dr. Clason observes, “You are certainly doing much to knit the professing Christians of this land more closely to one another, and to draw them nearer to their great Head. You must not wonder if I regard this book as in some respects kindred to the other volume (the Reminiscences), which reminds us that we are the members of one old family, who, making allowance for many divisions in opinion and taste, have much in common. I am glad to observe that your volume of Reminiscences is growing in popularity, and I hope you will continue to answer the demand for repeated editions. I would remark in passing, that I wish something of the same kind were attempted for England. I have had enough of intercourse with our southern neighbours to mark the striking contrast between the English and Scotch. Take two instances. I was on one occasion an outside passenger on an English stage-coach; a fellow passenger asked the coachman, “Does this coach run on Sundays?” Answer – “Thank God, no, sir.” Passenger – “That is a great loss to you.” Answer – “No, sir; a man that can’t earn his bread in six days, won’t earn it in seven.” This was good, but what would a Scotsman have said in such a case – “Weel, you can mind that when you pay me.” 

   In the other case, I asked permission from a young woman to enter her garden, as I had no other way of seeing the outline of a new church which was in course of being built. The request was readily granted, and when I expressed my gratitude in warm terms, and said how much I was obliged to her, her remark was, “Most people don’t think so, sir.” Now, a Scotch woman would have said, “Ou ay – you are welcome to gang in, but take care no to tramp on the Syboes.” He then proceeds with his Scottish reminiscences:- 

     “Perhaps, by way of introduction, I may be allowed to say a word or two of my own personal history, merely and solely for the purpose of shewing the opportunity I have had of observing the manners and habits of my countrymen. 

   I was born at the Manse of Dalzell (in Clydesdale), which had been, before the Reformation, the residence of the Popish priest. No doubt it had been added to; for the priest being under the vow of celibacy did not require many rooms. A kitchen and pantry, a room above, with a brewery and cellar, seem to have been his whole accommodation, if indeed he had so much. The cellar was in more modern times turned into the dining-room, the only public room for some years after my birth in the manse, and three bed-rooms were added above, two of them very small. I am speaking of things as they were more than sixty years ago, and it certainly affords a striking contrast to things as they are at present. I am afraid that some of my Free Church brethren would not be satisfied to occupy such a house now. In the course of a few years, another public room and two bed-rooms were added, and then we thought we had the grandest house in the kingdom. But at what a cost were they acquired! For the convenience of the parish, a church had been lately built in a new locality, but the old church remained entire. It was a small but exquisite specimen of early Gothic. The chancel roofed with flagstones, and the rest in excellent repair. The contractor was allowed to take down this edifice to build the addition to the manse, and often he said, that if he had known the work was to be so laborious he would rather have gone to the quarry for stones. I refer to these reminiscences of the old church to mark the change of times and tastes. 

   Early in 1801, my father was translated to Logie, near Stirling – a county that has richer stores of proverbs and traditions than the place of my birth, and in 1815 I was ordained minister of Carmunnock, near Glasgow. Lady Stuart of Castlemilk was my patroness – a lady of singular talent and Christian worth, and withal thoroughly Scotch, who spoke Scotch, thought in Scotch, and who knew well the peculiarities of Scottish humour and character. She was indeed as a mother to the parish, and specially to the minister; and, besides better things, I learned from her many Scotch words and proverbs which I had never before heard. 

   You refer to Miss Erskine of Dun. I remember meeting her and her mother at Castlemilk, and I refer to the fact as marking the easy terms on which the gentry of former times lived with one another. We were at dinner when the carriage arrived. No matter. The ladies took off their bonnets, and sat down to dinner. Some little regret was expressed that we had begun before they came, and all the answer was, “Ou, did ye no get our letter?” Thus everything was settled, and the conversation flowed on so naturally and so genially that no one thought of inquiring after the missing letter. Lady S. expressed great contempt at the formality of modern intercourse among families. “Invitations to dinner a fortnight or three weeks hence are foolish, for no one knows what may happen within that time;” and instances did occur which she noticed as illustrative of her remark. In some instances death, in others severe affliction, but, in spite of the reason of the thing, old rules have yielded to modern innovations. 

   As I presume to use so much liberty as a correspondent, so I do not ask you nor expect that you to take notice of all the trifles I may write. 

   As you know, we Scotch ministers are characteristically fond of “heads,” I mean, in the first instance, to write of three things – 1. Birth and baptism; 2. Marriage, and ceremonies connected therewith; 3. Deaths and Funerals. 

   1. Births, etc. – In my younger days it was the fashion for the better classes of society to intimate a birth in the family as we still do a death. In Hamilton, the announcement was made in a truly primitive style, not by a billet, but by a verbal message, – “Mrs. A.’s compliments to Mrs. B., and she’s lichter o’ a laddie or lass bairn” (as the case might be). 

   There is a custom, strictly Scottish, which used to be connected with the preliminaries of the baptism service, and which may occasionally be found in the present day. A young unmarried woman takes the child to church, and she carries in her hand a slice of bread and cheese, with a pin out of the child’s dress, which she is bound to give to the first male person she meets. Since I became a minister I heard of an amusing incident resulting from this custom. An English duke (his name is of no consequence) had arrived in Glasgow on a Sunday, and was wandering in the streets during the time of afternoon service. A young woman came up to him with a child in her arms, and presented a slice of bread and cheese. In vain he protested that he did not know what she meant – that he had nothing to do with her or the child – that he was an entire stranger – that he had never been in Scotland before – that he knew nothing of the usages of the Presbyterian Kirk, being of the Church of England, and that she should give the morsel to somebody else. The young woman was deaf to all his arguments, and held out authoritatively the bread and cheese. Thinking probably that the lass had not given him credit for what he said, he told her, in perfect simplicity, that he was the Duke of —–—, and that he had just arrived at a hotel which he named. The answer shut his mouth. “Though you were the king on the throne, you maun tak that bread and cheese.” 

   Public baptism was the fashion down till the middle last century, if not later. The chronicles of Hamilton have not failed to record the fact that the Duke of Hamilton brought his children to church, like the rest. On two occasions his Grace met an honest shoemaker at the baptismal font, and at the close of the service kindly remarked to him, “Friend, you and I have luck to meet here.” Before leaving this matter, I cannot help observing that there surely is a remarkable tendency to the old usage in our own day. When I came to Edinburgh, which is now about thirty-six years ago, no man of any consideration in society ever thought of bringing his children to church to be baptised, and, of course, many of the humbler classes followed their example. This made my work often very heavy, from the frequent paucity of ministers in this neighbourhood. But now, without any exhortation on my part, though I never concealed my opinion, the fashion is quite the other way. I am never asked to baptise children in private. What can be the cause of this change? 

   2. Marriage. – Here I would remark, in passing, that which I quite share with you, in rendering the tribute of gratitude that is due to Mr. Chambers for his “Domestic Annals,” and other works. I have sometimes thought, however, that he too exclusively lays to the door of the Presbyterian party those enactments which he has a right to think unduly severe. I can have no doubt that the honest Prelatists fully sympathised with what was done by the Presbyterian brethren. In fact, “penny weddings,” and “lykewakes,” and other revelries, were as offensive to the pious portion of them as they could be to the kindred and friends who differed from them in matters of ecclesiastical polity. After the Revolution, till, I think, about 1740, there was a rule that any man who intimated a purpose of marriage should deposit with the session a certain sum – I forget the amount – before the marriage was solemnized. This was called in Carmunnock the “consignation money;” in Logie, “the pawn.” If there had been any too intimate antecedent connection between the contracting parties, “the pawn” was forfeited for the benefit of the poor; if otherwise, the husband came to the kirk-session and claimed it. Thus long did a rule or law keep its place, which was established shortly after the Reformation. It is easy for us to say now, that moral influence should have been used, and not money exacted in such a case, but I daresay the good men in those sad times did not know how to make the people understand the difference between right and wrong. The “penny weddings” were, under the colour of kindness to the young married persons, little else than an apology for scenes of riot and debauchery. They cannot be excused, as they were in the old times; and unless they had been frowned on by the Church, they would have been lasting inlets to sin and profanity. There still are occasionally in in the country “pay weddings,” but the change of name indicates, what is the fact, that these are very sober affairs. 

   It may seem strange to say that during a ministry of nearly forty-five years I have had little trouble with what we call “irregular marriages,” that is, marriages not celebrated according to ecclesiastical law. In one case, the parties had declared their marriage before a magistrate; in the other, they came to us (the kirk-session) to own their union. In the latter instance we made them sign a declaration that they were man and wife. Both parties were rebuked for having entered so rashly into married life. Lord Braxfield used to say that “there was nae part of the law of Scotland that needed mair to be made out o’ hale claith than the law o’ marriage.” I have no doubt he was right; but it is satisfactory to know that, loose as our marriage law is, any irregularity on that head is always counted as discreditable. 

   3. Deaths and Funerals. – You are aware that after a death, the old usage was to watch the body till the funeral. The lykewake must have had a superstitious origin, but be that as it may, it was connected with much profligacy and licentiousness. I remember being told by a servant, when very young, of the fun, and racketing, and mischief of every kind, that took place at the wakes in her early days. They were often and earnestly condemned by the Church; and as I never heard of them in any district with which I have been connected, I thought they had entirely disappeared. But Dr. Chalmers told me that they still lingered in Fife at the time he left it, and mentioned, among other things, a feat performed by a young woman at a wake, shortly before his removal from Kilmany, of a most revolting character. 

   In Hamilton, in my early days, the mode of intimating a death, and of inviting to the funeral, was this – The town-crier left the house of mourning, and, after ringing his bell at various stages, uttered the following words, “Brethren and sisters, I let you to wit, that —–— —–—, whause corpse lies at —–—, departed this life (then off with his hat), by the will of the Almighty (on such a day and hour). You are desired to attend his (or her) burial at next warning.” Having thus perambulated the town, he returned to the house, from which, after a reasonable time, he re-issued to ring his warning bell. The attendance at the funeral was thus made to depend on the respect in which the individual was held when alive. 

   The appearance and dress of attendants at funerals shews a decided improvement in the circumstances of the working classes in our days. The manse of Dalzell, where I was born, stood beside the church-yard, and I used to remark, in those days, that at the funerals very few of the attendants had other than coloured apparel. I have no doubt that, in many cases, the nearest kindred had borrowed the mourning dress they wore. 

   I never myself witnessed any excess at funerals, but that is all I can say. Our Scots chronicles tell a sad and a true story on this head for earlier days. But it is well we are mending, and that I, for one, can say that I leave the world in a better state than that in which I found it. 

   I must now tell you something of the Beggars of my early years. What a different sort of people from the class (if they deserve the name) we now have among us! The older beggars were stately and self-possessed, and if not always sober, they were ever a civil race. They were neither “Thiggers, nor sorners, nor masterful beggars.” They got what was reasonable, and went on their I way. I have before me the image of Jamie Templeton, and am saved the trouble of describing his person, for he was just another Edie Ochiltree. No sooner did he arrive at the manse (Dalzell) than he told the servant to inform her mistress that he was in the hall. Immediately an audience was granted, and a welcome given, and the gridiron was set on the fire to dress something nice. Meanwhile, he sat as an independent gentleman, jeering and bantering the servant who was cooking for his behoof. To the lady of the house he was always respectful; for he knew his place as well as others of his class. At the same time he was frank in telling his mind. For instance, “I have just been in the big house (Dalzell House), mem, and got a glass of whisky; I would rather it had been wine.” “Wine! Jamie, it’s enough to put wine out of fashion when the like of you speaks of it.” “Mem, I could take a bottle of wine every day.” But Jamie was quite satisfied with his glass of beer at the manse. 

   Another of the same class made no secret of his relish for strong drink. For diversion’s sake he was once asked, “John, can ye take a full glass of whisky?” Answer, “Toot! a glass of whisky is to me just like a flea in a coal pit.” 

   There was at one time a colony of Gipsies in Minstry (parish of Logie), but the race was rapidly disappearing when we came to live in it. The truth is that they were prosecuted, or what they no doubt thought, persecuted, till they left the place. These were not of the pure begging type, and had not the uprightness of the proper breed. They had a plurality of vocations, tinkering, begging, stealing, coining, or uttering of base coin, palmestry, etc. They were no doubt pests in their day. When they took a grudge at any family, it fared ill with that house; yet they were tolerated. I believe the people were amused with them; and I have heard the country folks tell with great glee, the daring tricks of Nanny Wilson, an amazon of her clan. But neither Nanny, nor any of her kindred, ever thought of plying all the branches of their calling without reserve or exception. For instance, I never heard of their cheating the minister, or stealing from him. I think there was a touch of superstition that kept them from all that. To him they came as beggars, having a kind of authority. For instance, Nanny met my father, and thus greeted him. “O sir, I was in Logie kirk the day you were baptized, and I was in Logie kirk the day you were placed, and I must have a shilling from you.” The argument was irresistible. 

   I remember an old woman of the tribe coming to a manse on the Monday after the Communion, which you know is a sort of Easter among us. I was young, and was anxious to see the issue of her visit, being gifted with an undue amount of curiosity, as may well be said. She coolly took her seat in the kitchen, and ordered the servant to bring her dinner. The servant indignantly refused. Without saying more, the bold wife took the heavy cudgel she held in her hand, and gave three alarming knocks on the floor. Enter the other servant in a flurry; “What’’ wrong?” – “What’s wrong? go and tell your mistress that Jenny Robertson is here, and wants her dinner.” The dinner was soon forthcoming, and when that was disposed of, another demand came from head quarters – “I want a dram.” Cook, still more indignant than before, “A dram! you’ll not get a dram, though it were to save you from choking.” No answer, but a double dose of ominous knocks on the floor. Again enters Christie, pro secundo. “Tell your mistress, dame, that Jenny Robertson wants a dram.” Dram sent, and exit Jenny in triumph, after simply telling the cook, “A’ the parish kens Jenny Robertson.” 

   I cannot leave the matter of the Gipsies, into which I have been insensibly beguiled, without recording an anecdote told me by my father regarding them. In this case a shoe merchant had gone to a Kippen fair to dispose of his wares. He was soon accosted by a man, who told him that if he would follow him, he would take him to a place where he would get the better part, if not the whole of his shoes disposed of. The bait took, and the worthy man soon found himself in a company, the character of which was obvious to him at first sight. They began talking in a gibberish, not one word of which he understood. He saw his case was all but desperate, but being something of a pawky Scot, did not altogether lose heart. Watching his time, he heard one of his strange associates utter the name “Marshale.” Now he put in his word, by mentioning that his mother was “a Marshall.” The effect was to him astounding. A debate arose; one man took the lead. At first he was calm and firm. Then the discussion waxed warmer; flashing eyes, clenched fists, and the hard sounds of angry gibberish. Still the leader kept his ground, and after a time gave a signal to the shoe merchant to follow him. When he was safely out of the house, he bade him “good day;” simply adding that his name was “Marshall.” 

   You must forgive me for this melange – I began this portion without “heads,” and a Scotch minister who does that is very apt to get into confusion. So, without farther apology for abruptness, I must now say something of old servants. Alas! the race is nearly extinct. I know, indeed, of one who still speaks of “our house, our horses, and our property,” but he is a rare plant. There is no longer what you have already so graphically described as the result of long service and mutual confidence. Here are some specimens which I had from Lady Stuart. 

   Colonel Erskine, the father of the celebrated lawyer, and the grandfather of Dr. John Erskine of this city, no less celebrated as a divine, was quite a character in his day. You have rather a racy anecdote of him in Sir Henry Moncreiff’s Life of Dr. J. Erskine.1 He had an old servant of the true caste. On one occasion he had done something that very much displeased his master. The Colonel’s wrath became quite uncontrollable, his utterance was choked, and his countenance became pale as death. The servant grew somewhat uneasy, and at last said, “Eh! sir, maybe an aith would relieve you.” 

   By the bye, Lady Stuart told me an anecdote of the early life of Dr. Erskine, which is worthy of being recorded, among lighter things. His aunt was the second wife of the lawyer, but not the mother of the Doctor. She observed that every morning the young boy came into her dressing room, and went into a closet in which sweetmeats were kept. Naturally enough her thought was that he came to pick up any thing palatable that he could find; but his visits were so regular, and he made so little noise, that her wonder was, what he could be about. She looked in one morning, and found him on his knees, in close communion with God! 

   Sir Michael S. Stuart (the “Sir Michael” of his day, and I suppose the great-grandfather of the present public-spirited baronet of the same name) had an old servant who had spent his life in his house. Peter was faithful, and I believe religious. When he was seized with his last illness, he sent for his master to tell him he was dying. “Well, Peter, I am sure you are not afraid to die. You have been a faithful servant, and in every respect good.” The answer was – “Ah, Sir Michael, it’s little ye ken. There are mony whaups in the raip in sinty (seventy) lang years, and the warst o’t a’ is that we forget them – forget our sins, but (pointing to the heavens) they are a’ marked down yonder, Sir Michael.” 

   By the time I came to the parish, most of the old servants at Castlemilk were gone, but there were some note-worthy in my younger days. Saunders Denholm had been servant, I believe, all his days in the house. He used to boast that but for the Bar Sinister that was on his shield, he would have been laird of Coltness. Nevertheless, he counted not a little on his pedigree, and was quite the major-domo. Like others, he had his favourites, and took care to tell them when there was anything good in the house. If a glass of water was asked for, the significant hint was given, “we have famous beer just now.” 

   Saunders, however, had his failing – the Scotch failing – and when he was in his cups was sure to quarrel with Lady Stuart. He gave up his place, and was going immediately “to Kilbride.” No mortal could ever tell why he fixed on that place as his future residence, for he had been in no way connected with it through life. “I’m awa’ to Kilbride, my lady.” “Very well, be quick.” “I’m awa’ to Kilbride.” “Ou, are ye no awa’ yet?” The door opens for the third time – “Noo mind, it’s a’ your wyte.” “Ou ay, it’s a’ my wyte.” The tears of penitence and humble confession came in the morning. The old labourers about the place would have been denied the privilege of the entré by the domestics, but, happily for them, there was a back stair that lent its influence in their favour. A gentle tap is heard at the side door, and, with permission, enters Willie Shearer. – “Ou, my lady, I’ve just come to speir for you, as I heard that you had been ailing.” Willie gets a kind word and a dram. But I need not say more on this head. The gentry of the former generation lived so much at home, and in the midst of their people, that if you describe one of the genuine school you have the whole. 

   I must say very little of the beadles (betherals), for I have the fear of your critics before me. It is quite true that “cadgers maun aye be crackin’ o’ creels,” but I have really very little to say of these worthies. 

   From what I observed after our settlement at Logie, it appeared that the beadle had civil as well as ecclesiastical duties assigned to him in old times. For instance, at the close of the morning service, David White stands at the top of the bell-loft stair, and intimates to the following effect:- “Notice! Ony person gruppit2 shearing gerse up and down Sir Robert’s parks (Sir R. Abercromby’s), will be poonished as far as laa’ will alloo.” Such intimations were often made. At another place of worship I heard two thundering “notices.” The second was, “Also some ye brack the leg o’ a sheep yesterday on the Blair Hill. If ony o’ ye will tell me wha did it, he will be handsomely rewarded.” I have no doubt that roups were often advertised in the same way at an earlier period; for pretty long on in last century, a market, or little fair, was held at Tullibody after church hours every Lord’s day. 

   The above-named “David” was succeeded by a man who needed no civil power to bolster up his dignity. He was another P.P. His duty, he seemed to think, was to rule in all things ecclesiastical. Once installed, he got a long pole to poke up the sleepers, he rebuked any stranger minister who was late, and at last he intimated his resignation of office, on the ground that “they had not enough of work for him.” He was grave-digger! To his utter amazement his resignation was immediately and indignantly accepted. Poor man! it was a mistake. He meant what he did as a first step in a process of augmentation, but was very unfortunate in the choice of his counsel. 

   Positively only one more beadle anecdote. The officer who exercised this calling at Falkirk was a character in his day. In the town there lived a very notorious infidel, who gloried in profanity. On one occasion he was denouncing the absurdity of the doctrine of original sin. The betheral thought himself officially bound to put in his word, although the other was his superior. “Mr. H., it seems to me that you needna fash yoursel’ about original sin, for to my certain knowledge you have as much akwal (actual) sin as will do your business.”3 

   I am much inclined, as I have pen in hand, to invite the attention of your correspondents to the dearth of which I have a recollection as taking place at the beginning of the present century. My reminiscences of that visitation are necessarily very slender. We were at that time living in a secluded manse on the banks of the Clyde. Our intercourse with the neighbouring villages was as nothing. We were young and thoughtless, but we could not fail to be affected by the deep seriousness of our parents at that solemn time. It was not the clamorous poor that suffered, it was the higher class, that seek their subsistence by their own exertions. I remember hearing, or rather overhearing, of a case of this kind. A very active and industrious woman shewed symptoms of being in want. Her neighbours saw want in her face; they watched her, and she was only detected when she was found gathering docks and such garbage on the roadside to boil for her sustenance. She was challenged, and confessed that she had not tasted anything for two days. I make no reflection. “ ‘Tis sixty years ago,” and yet my heart swells in the remembrance of this incident. 

“Scotland, with all thy faults, I love thee still.” 

My mother told me afterwards that there were many whose constitutions never recovered the shock they suffered during these dreadful years. It was God’s rebuke. The year 1801 brought peace and a singularly plentiful harvest, and then the land sung “of mercy and judgment.” Older men will be able to give you far more ample and instructive materials on this matter, and I would willingly invite them to do so. 

   The disgusting details of the boxing match which lately took place between Sayers and Heenan* have recalled some Scottish and local reminiscences of bygone scenes connected with pugilistic encounters, in which, I need hardly say, I had no personal concern. 

   Boxing matches were dying out when I entered into life. I remember two men between whom there was a bitter feud, and it was a certain and settled thing that if they met each other at fair or market, there must be a battle. We now live in more peaceful times. But it was not so in former days, say from the beginning till the middle of last century. Then at fairs there were not only invitations to individual conflict, but the youth of adjoining parishes challenged each other to a battle with cudgels or fists. 

   Thus Logie was called out – 

“Hey the gutters, and how the gutters, and hey the gutters o’ Logie.” 

This was a reproachful allusion to the miry roads and clayey soil of the parish, as if to insinuate that the people were as soft as the soil they daily trode on. 

   Douglas, Duke of Hamilton, who died about the close of last century, was a great patron of pugilism, and took pains for instructing the young men in Hamilton in the art, if so disposed. But he soon found that there was no need of any patronage of his to promote that branch of science. He brought down from London, Mendoza, a celebrated bruiser of his day, who challenged any one in the county to the conflict. The challenge was accepted by a young tenant of his Grace’s, James Bocham (Beauchamp (?), of course) of Clydesmill. At the first onslaught, James knocked in all his antagonist’s guards, broke two of his ribs, and having thus summarily settled the matter, he turned to the Duke and asked, “Has your Grace ony mair o’ thae Mendoza bodies.” 

   I scarcely know what place to assign to the following, as it would not come in among “anecdotes of old servants.” A notable lady (of Edinburgh I suppose), had long been annoyed and fretted by her town servants, and being no longer able to bear their manifold tricks and malpractices, she intimated to her friends her purpose of getting an unsophisticated girl from the country, whom she could train to her mind. And she was fortunate enough in securing a young woman from a remote corner of the land, thoroughly recommended for activity, honesty, and good nature. How the process of training went on, you may judge from the following specimen. The girl having seen something very wonderful going on in the street, in a tone of unsophisticated familiarity, called to her mistress. “Eh! woman, come here and see this.” “Woman! do you presume to call me woman?” “Ay – if ye’re no a woman, what are ye? Are ye a Speerit?” 

   In taking a retrospect of the habits of the Scottish people, say sixty years ago, it is impossible to overlook the noxious influence that smugglers and smuggling had in the way of promoting intemperance and kindred evils. I can speak of this with some confidence, because the parish of Logie, to which allusion has so often been made, was one of the highways between the Highlands and Lowlands on which the illicit trade was carried on. A smuggler who was a total abstainer was never heard of, but much was said to the contrary of the men as a class. They sought and won the favour and co-operation of the people to an incredible extent by the free distribution of whisky, and by their bold, adventurous character. To this we must add that, owing to the very impolitic excise laws by which the licensed distilleries were then regulated, the spirits they dealt in were superior that the very great majority of the parishioners, it is believed, gave them encouragement by purchasing in some way or other their contraband goods. There were, however, a few who, on conscientious grounds, gave them no countenance of any kind, and there were good reasons for this. Irrespective altogether of their calling, they were a lawless race. They were bad grammarians, for they had little understanding of the difference between “meum” and “tuum [mine and thine].” Attendance on public worship they could not give, for the Lord’s day was the time of their most active work, and you can easily understand the results of bold irreligion. They were men of violence, and if not of blood in the strict sense, there is reason to apprehend that they were only kept from that by fear of the consequences. I have said that they had to a large extent the popular favour, and I could point out a village where an exciseman who had arrested a smuggler was so beset by the women of the place that he was with difficulty rescued out of their hands by the smuggler himself. I have only glanced at a strange chapter of history, leaving this and many other things to be enlarged on by other correspondents. It is a strange thing that the eyes of the Legislature were never opened till the smugglers waxed so bold as to form themselves into armed bands of twenty or thirty, carrying on their calling in the light of day. Then it was that they lost all favour with the people, and soon the remedy was applied that rooted out smuggling from the parish and district. 

   The demolition of the old church of Dalzell has already been alluded to, as indicating the ruthless disregard of ancient architectural remains that prevailed in our own early days. The like charge cannot be brought against the landowners of Logie. The church was old, and had become ruinous; it had never been an elegant structure, but its position was exquisitely beautiful, and it is to be regretted that the eastern window was not preserved when the main part of the fabric was demolished, not that there was anything worth notice in its tracery, but for reasons that will readily occur to any one who has been on the ground. We are in our day rather too fond of heaping reproaches on Knox and his followers, as if they alone were chargeable with the crime of demolishing cathedrals and monasteries, and as if they had spent their whole days and strength in nought but this atrocious work. It is to be hoped that the day is not far distant when the world will cease to give implicit faith to such really unfair representations. For instance, every one must regret the ruinous state of Dunblane Cathedral, and I at one time held the antiquarian creed that this was to be ascribed to the fire and fury of the Reformation. A former minister of the parish – a man intelligent, and in every respect trustworthy, and connected with the place by hereditary ties – assured me that its dilapidated state was due to Montrose and his army, who had unroofed the fabric for the sake of the lead and timber. 

   I would add here a curious reminiscence of clerical peculiarity. In the beginning of the present century an old minister died, who had been for nearly forty years incumbent of the parish of Logie. Many anecdotes have been told of his oddities and eccentricities, but considerations of a personal nature, of which you are aware, would have prevented me from recording any of them, even if it were consistent with the theory I have formed of the object of your work that I should do so. There can, however, be no impropriety in stating that he was a firm believer in witchcraft, that he was wont to tell his congregation of his controversies with the Evil One, of their frequent dialogues, detailing the substance of them. He used to describe the various orders and descriptions of evil spirits that haunted the rocks adjacent to the church. His belief in these things was so firm, that though unquestionably a pious man, they often gave him great distress. 

   Any one who can look back on the state of things as they were sixty years ago cannot but congratulate himself on the happy change with respect to intemperance which has taken place in our day among our countrymen. Of this Lord Cockburn has given us striking illustrations. A host would, I suppose, now feel somewhat affronted if any of his guests would shew symptoms of excess. How different from the old times, when such excesses were honoured, and considered a proof and mark of hospitality. Too often, alas! the father compelled his son, perhaps a boy of seventeen or eighteen, to drink, to drink “fair,” or else incur the penalty of leaving the company. Nay, at every party there was a risk of individuals being present who had a plot on some unsuspecting victim. The practice of toasts, no doubt, aided such unworthy designs. It could tend to no good, perhaps the reverse, to record the many anecdotes that have been told in connection with these scenes of revelry. But something remains yet to be told of the injurious influence, in this particular, of encouraging intemperance, that the higher classes exercised over their humbler neighbours. The gentry of this country remained much at home during last century, their houses were mainly supplied with provisions of various kinds from their own tenantry or the neighbourhood, and this led to frequent adjournments to the public-house of the village. Then they were not over nice in their amusements; for instance, cock-fighting, and others even less creditable. They brought together multitudes of heedless and worthless persons, who tendered their services to the various combatants, and the issue of the conflict ended in a carousal, in which, in a bad sense, “the rich and the poor met together.” We must not, however, deal out to the old warm-hearted aristocracy harder measure than they deserved, for it must be owned that, irrespective of influence and example from high quarters, there was amongst our countrymen, even on the part of those who were not themselves addicted in any way to intemperance, a feeling that hard drinking was a manly attainment, and, at any rate, a disposition to regard such excesses with too much indulgence. You have yourself furnished one such instance, and many more might be added. 


   A correspondent kindly sends me from Aberdeenshire a humorous story, very much of the same sort as that of Colonel Erskine’s servant, who considerately suggested to his master that “maybe an aith might relieve him,” related above, p. 231, by Dr. Clason. My correspondent heard the story from the late Bishop Skinner. 

   It was among the experiences of his father, Bishop John Skinner, while making some pastoral visits in the neighbourhood of the town (Aberdeen), the Bishop took occasion to step into the cottage of two humble parishioners, a man and his wife, who cultivated a little croft. No one was within; but as the door was only on the latch, the Bishop knew that the worthy couple could not be far distant. He therefore stepped in the direction of the out-houses, and found them both in the barn winnowing corn, in the primitive way, with “riddles,” betwixt two open doors. On the Bishop making his appearance, the honest man surceased his winnowing operations, and in the gladness of his heart stepped briskly forward to welcome his pastor; but in his haste he trod upon the rim of the riddle, which rebounded with great force against one of his shins. The accident made him suddenly pull up; and, instead of completing the reception, he stood vigorously rubbing the injured limb; and, not daring in such a venerable presence to give vent to the customary strong ejaculations, kept twisting his face into all sorts of grimaces. As was natural, the Bishop went forward, uttering the usual formulas of condolence and sympathy, the patient, meanwhile, continuing his rubbings and his silent but expressive contortions. At last Janet came to the rescue; and, clapping the Bishop coaxingly on the back said, “Noo, Bishop, jist gang ye yir waas in to the hoose, an’ we’ll follow fan he’s had time to curse a fyllie, an’ I’se warran’ he’ll seen be weel eneuch!” 

   Now, when we linger over these old stories, we seem to live at another period, and in such reminiscences we converse with a generation different from our own. Changes are still going on around us. They have been going on for some time past. The changes are less striking as society advances, and our later years have less and less alterations to remark. Probably each generation will have fewer changes to record than the generation that preceded; still every one who is tolerably advanced in life must feel that, comparing its beginning and its close, he has witnessed two epochs, and that he looks on a different world from one which he can remember. To elucidate this fact has been my present object, and in attempting this task I cannot but feel how trifling and unsatisfactory my remarks must seem to many who have a more enlarged and minute acquaintance with Scottish life and manners than I have. But I shall be encouraged to hope for a favourable, or at least an indulgent sentence upon these Reminiscences, if to any of my readers I shall have opened a fresh insight into the subject of social changes amongst us. Many causes have their effects upon the habits and customs of mankind, and of late years such causes have been greatly multiplied in number and activity. In many persons, and in some who have not altogether lost their national partialities, there is a general tendency to merge Scottish usages and Scottish expressions into the English forms, as being more correct and genteel. The facilities for moving, not merely from place to place in our own country, but from one country to another, the spread of knowledge and information by means of periodical publications and newspapers, and the incredibly low prices at which literary works are produced, must have great effects. Then there is the improved taste in art, which together with literature, has been taken up by young men who, fifty, sixty, seventy years ago, or more, would have known no such sources of interest, or, indeed, who would have looked upon them as unmanly and effeminate. When first these pursuits were taken up by our Scottish young men, they excited in the north much amazement, and, I fear, contempt, as was evinced by a laird of the old school, who, the first time he saw a young man at the pianoforte, asked, with evident disgust, “Can the creature sew ony?” evidently putting the accomplishment of playing the pianoforte and the accomplishment of the needle in the same category. The greater facility of producing books; prints, and other articles which tend to the comfort and embellishment of domestic life, must have considerable influence upon the habits and tastes of a people. I have often thought how much effect might be traced to the single circumstance of the cheap production of pianofortes. An increased facility of procuring the means of acquaintance with good works of art and literature, acts both as cause and effect. A growing and improved taste tends to stimulate the production of the best works of art. These, in return, foster and advance the power of forming a due estimate of art. In the higher department of music, for example, the cheap rate of hearing compositions of the first class, and of possessing the works of the most eminent composers, must have had influence upon thousands. The principal oratorios of Handel may be purchased for as many shillings each as they cost pounds years ago. Indeed, at that time the very names of those immortal works were known only to a few who were skilled to appreciate their high beauties. Now associations are formed for practising and studying the choral works of the great masters. In connection, however, with this subject, I may notice here that a taste for that most interesting style of music, the pure Scottish, is in some quarters becoming a matter of reminiscence. Of reminiscence I mean so far as concerns the enthusiasm with which it was once esteemed and cultivated amongst us. I do not speak so much of the songs of Scotland, which can never lose their charm, although of them even some are growing fast out of the acquaintance of the younger members of society; but I refer more particularly to the reels and strathspeys, which with many Scotch persons have become nearly quite obsolete. When properly performed, it is a most animating and delightful strain – not of a refined or scientific class, but joyous and inspiriting. It has a peculiar character of its own, and requires to be performed with a particular and spicy dexterity of hand, whether for the bow or the keys. Accordingly, young ladies used to take lessons in it as a finish to their musical education. Such teaching would now, I fear, be treated with contempt by many of our modern fair ones. I recollect at the beginning of the present century, my eldest sister, who was a good musician of the school of Pleyel, Kozeluch, Clementi, etc., having such lessons from Nathaniel Gow, a celebrated reel and strathspey performer. Nathaniel was the son of NEIL GOW, who was the most eminent performer and composer of the pure Scottish dance music. A correspondent, who knew Neil Gow, and was inquiring after him at his cottage the day of his death, in 1807, has kindly communicated a characteristic anecdote:- Neil was rather addicted to the whisky bottle. On walking home to Dunkeld, one night, from Perth, where he had been engaged, as usual, to play the violin at some ball, upon being asked, next day, how he had got home, for it was a long walk, and he was very tipsy, replied, “that he didna mind the length o’ the road; it was the breadth o’ it that he cast oot wi’! – under the recollection of his having knocked about from side to side. At the close of the last century Neil’s celebrity might be said to rival that of Burns; and Neil’s strathspeys were on a par with the songs of Robby. But alas! that celebrity and popularity are becoming matters of reminiscence with the few. With the rising generation the name has passed away. It is a pity. Even still, let a good strathspey performer begin to play such tunes, for example, as “Up an’ Waur them a’, Willie,” “Brig o’ Dee,” “Reel o’ Tulloch,” “Loch Eric Side,” or “Monimusk,” and every countenance brightens with animation. 

   We must acknowledge that the love of Scottish music used to be with some of the older generation a very exclusive taste, and that they had as little sympathy with the admirers of Italian strains as such admirers could have with theirs. I have been supplied with an amusing illustration of this intolerance – A family belonging to the Scottish Border, after spending some time at Florence, had returned home, and proud of the progress they had made in music, the young ladies were anxious to shew off their accomplishments before an old confidential servant of the family, and accordingly sung to her some of their finest Italian songs which they had learned abroad. Instead, however, of paying them a compliment on their performance, she shewed what she thought of it by asking with much naïveté, “Eh, mem, do they ca’ skirling like yon singing in foreign parts?” 

   There are many causes in operation to produce changes in taste, habits, and associations, amongst us. Families do not vegetate for years in one retired spot as they used to do; young men are encouraged to attain accomplishments, and to have other sources of interest than the field or the bottle. Every one knows, or may know, everything that is going on through the whole world. There is a tendency in mankind to lose all that is peculiar, and in nations to part with all that distinguishes them from each other. We hear of wonderful changes in habits and customs where change seemed impossible. In India and Turkey even, peculiarities and prejudices are fading away under the influence of time. Amongst ourselves, no doubt, one circumstance tended greatly to call forth, and, as we may say, to develope, the peculiar Scotch humour of which we speak – and that was the familiarity of intercourse which took place between persons in different positions in life. This extended even to an occasional interchange of words between the minister and the members of his flock during time of service. I have two anecdotes in illustration of this fact, which I have reason to believe are quite authentic. In the church of Banchory on Deeside, to which I have referred, a former minister always preached without book, and being of an absent disposition, he sometimes forgot the head of discourse on which he was engaged, and got involved in confusion. On one occasion, being desirous of recalling to his memory the division of his subject, he called out to one of his elders, a farmer on the estate of Ley, “Bush! (the name of his farm) Bush, ye’re sleeping.” “Na, sir, I’m no sleeping – I’m listening.” “Weel then, what had I begun to say?” “O, ye were saying so and so.” This was enough, and supplied the minister with the thread of his discourse; and he went on. The other anecdote related to the parish of Cumbernauld, the minister of which was, at the time referred to, noted for a very disjointed and rambling style of preaching, without method or connection. His principal heritor was the Lord Elphinstone of the time, and unfortunately the minister and the peer were not on good terms, and always ready to annoy each other by sharp sayings or otherwise. The minister on one occasion had somewhat in this spirit called upon the beadle to “wauken my Lord Elphinstone,” upon which Lord E. said, “I’m no sleeping, minister.” “Indeed you were, my lord.” He again disclaimed the sleeping. So as a test the preacher asked him, “What had I been saying last then?” “Oh just wauken Lord Elphinstone.” “Ay, but what did I say before that?” “Indeed,” retorted Lord Elphinstone, “I’ll gie ye a guinea if ye’ll tell that yersell, minister.” We cannot imagine the possibility of such scenes taking place amongst us now. It seems as if all men were gradually approximating to a common type or form in their manners and views of life; oddities are sunk, prominences are rounded off, sharp features are polished, and all is becoming amongst us smooth and conventional. The remark, like the effect, is general, and extends to other countries as well as to our own. But as we have more recently had our peculiarities of dialect, oddity, and eccentricity, it becomes the more amusing to mark our participation in this change, because a period of fifty years shews here a greater contrast than the same period would shew in most other localities. 

   In my early days we all regularly attended the Established Church at Fettercairn. In the rural churches in those times a custom prevailed which I suppose has now generally gone out – at least it has done so in my country:- After the blessing had been delivered, the minister invariably turned to the heritors, who always occupied the front seats of the gallery, and made low bows to each family. Another custom I recollect:- When the text had been given out, it was usual for the elder branches of the congregation to hand about their bibles amongst the younger members, marking the place, and calling their attention to the passage. During service another handing about was frequent amongst the seniors, and that was a circulation of the sneeshin mull or snuff-box. Indeed, I have heard of the same practice in an episcopal church, and particularly in one case of an ordination, where the bishop took his pinch of snuff and handed the mull to go round amongst the clergy assembled for the solemn occasion within the altar rails. At an earlier date than that of which I speak, a custom generally prevailed, which, however, has now become only traditionary – I mean the hour-glass affixed to the pulpit, to regulate the length of the sermon. 

   In the Scotsman newspaper of November 7, 1859,** there occurs the following notice of the preservation of one of those ancient portions of church furniture – “A sand-glass for marking time having been seen in the Established Church of a parish near Perth, a gentleman residing near Dundee sent to the clergyman, requesting particulars about it, and received in reply the following account of its purpose and uses:- ‘Our sand-glass is a relic of antiquity. There used to be one in every church in the olden time. Their use was to regulate the length of the long-winded orations with which the ministers of those days were wont to favour their hearers. Watches were not so common then as now; and, as the sermons were not written, the preachers, when once set a-going, did not know when to stop without some seasonable monition. With a view to this, a sand-glass was erected on a stand in front of the precentor’s desk, so as to be seen both by minister and people. When the sand ran out, the precentor, whose duty it was to attend to it, held it up in front of the minister, to let him know how the time was passing. I found our glass among some lumber, along with the tent which was used at the tent preachings or ‘Holy Fairs,’ and got it restored to its ancient position as a curiosity. The stand is rather tastefully made of thin iron plates, and I thought it a pity it should be allowed to fall aside.” 

   Amongst “reminiscences” which do not extend so far back as sand-glasses, we may mention the disappearance of Trinity Church in Edinburgh, which has taken place within the last fifteen years. It was founded by Mary of Gueldres, queen of James II. of Scotland, in 1446, and liberally endowed for a provost, prebendaries, choristers, etc. It was never completed, but the portions built, viz., choir, transept, and central tower, were amongst the finest specimens of later Gothic work in Scotland. The pious founder had placed it at the east end of what was then the North Loch. Like Lady Glenorchy, she chose her own church for the resting-place of her remains as a sanctuary of safety and repose. A railway parliamentary bill, however, overrides founders’ intentions and Episcopal consecrations. Where once stood the beautiful church of the Holy Trinity, where once the “pealing organ” and the “full voiced choir” were daily heard “in service high and anthems clear” – where for 400 years slept the ashes of a Scottish Queen, now resound the noise and turmoil of a railway station. 

   In our reminiscences of many changes, which have taken place during fifty years in Scottish manners, it might form an interesting section to record some of the peculiarities which remain. I mean such peculiarities as yet linger amongst us, and still mark a difference in some of our social habits from those of England. Some Scottish usages die hard, and are found here and there for the amusement of southern visitors. To give a few examples, persons still persist among us in calling the head of the family, or the host, the landlord, although he never charged his guests a halfpenny for the hospitality he exercises. In games, golf and curling still continue to mark the national character – cricket was long an exotic amongst us. In many of our educational institutions, however, it seems now fairly to have taken root. We continue to call our reception rooms “public rooms,” although never used for any but domestic purposes. Military rank is attached to ladies, as we speak of Mrs. Captain Scott, Mrs. Major Smith.4 On the occasion of a death, we persist in sending circular notices to all the relatives, whether they know of it or not – a custom which, together with men wearing weepers at funeral solemnities, is unknown in England. Announcing a married lady’s death under her maiden name must seem strange to English ears, – as, for example, we read of the demise of Jane Dixon, spouse of Thomas Morison. Scottish cookery retains its ground, and hotch-potch, minced collops, sheep’s head singed, and occasionally haggis, are still marked peculiarities of the Scottish table. These social differences linger amongst us. But stronger points are worn away, eccentricities and oddities such as existed once will not do now. One does not see why eccentricity should be more developed in one age than in another, but we cannot avoid the conclusion that the day for real oddities is no more. Professors of colleges are those in whom one least expects it – grave and learned characters, and yet such have been in former times. We can scarcely now imagine such professors as we read of in a past generation. Take the case of no less distinguished a person than Adam Smith, author of the “Wealth of Nations,” who went about the streets talking and laughing to himself in such a manner as to make the market women think he was deranged; and he told of one himself who ejaculated as he passed, “Hech sirs, and he is weel pat on, too!” expressing surprise that a decided lunatic, who from his dress appeared to be a gentleman, should be permitted to walk abroad. Professors still have their crotchets like other people; but we can scarcely conceive a professor of our day coming out like Adam Smith to have fish-wives making such observations on his demeanour. Of these changes there are many which the dignified muse of history will scarcely condescend to record or notice. Perhaps some changes are better described in idle gossip like this than by the historic page; and this made me remark, as an introduction to the record of these anecdotes, that personal recollections and reminiscences might be extremely valuable in describing those lighter variations of society which do not come properly within the scope of history. For instance, the story told in Lockhart’s life of Sir W. 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,” apologizing at the same time for the mischief he might do, by the assurance that it “would be lang before it made up for Flodden,” most graphically 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 English gentlemen visited the field of that great battle, and a country blacksmith pointed out with much intelligence the positions of the two armies, the stone on which was fixed the Bruce’s standard, etc. The gentlemen, 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 entirely a “reminiscence.” 

   In further illustration of these remarks, we may refer to the bearing of some old-fashioned language upon past national historical connections. Thus, from some words which are quite domesticated throughout Scotland, we learn how close, at one time, must have been our alliance with France, and how much influence must have been exercised upon general society by French intercourse. Scoto-Gallic words were quite differently situated from French words and phrases adopted in England. With us they proceeded from a real admixture of the two peoples. With us they were of the ordinary common language of the country, that was from a distant period moulded by French. In England, the educated and upper classes of late years adopted French words and phrases. With us, some of our French derivatives are growing obsolete as vulgar, and nearly all are passing from fashionable society. In England, we find the French-adopted words rather receiving accessions than going out of use. 

   Examples of words such as we have referred to, as shewing a French influence and admixture, are familiar to many of my readers. I recollect some of them in constant use amongst old-fashioned Scottish people, and those terms, let it be remembered, are unknown in England. 

   A leg of mutton was always, with old-fashioned Scotch people, a gigot (Fr. gigot). 

   The crystal jug or decanter in which water is placed upon the table, was a caraff (Fr. carafe). 

   Gooseberries were groserts, or grossarts (Fr. groseille). 

   Partridges were pertricks, – a word much more formed upon the French perdrix than the English partridge. 

   The plate on which a joint or side-dish was placed upon the table, was an ashet (Fr. assiette). 

   In the old streets of Edinburgh, where the houses are very high, and where the inhabitants all live in flats, before the introduction of soil-pipes there was no method of disposing of the foul water of the household, except by throwing it out of the window into the street. This operation, dangerous to those outside, was limited to certain hours, and the well-known cry which preceded the missile and warned the passenger, was gardeloo! or, as Smollet writes it, gardy loo (Fr. garde de l’eau). 

   Anything troublesome or irksome used to be called, Scottice, fashous (Fr. facheux, facheuse); to fash one’sself (Fr. se facher). 

   The small cherry, both black and red, common in gardens, is in Scotland, never in England, termed gean (Fr. guigne), from Guigne, in Picardy. 

   The term dam-brod (see page 93) arises from adopting French terms into Scottish language, as dams were the pieces with which the game of draughts was played (Fr. dames). 

   A bedgown, or loose female upper garment, is still in many parts of Scotland termed a jupe (Fr. jupe). 

   In Kincardineshire the ashes of a blacksmith’s furnace had the peculiar name of smiddy-coom (Fr. écume, i.e., dross). 

   Oil, in common Scotch, used always to be ule, – as the uley pot, or uley cruse (Fr. huile). 

   Every one at all advanced in life could convey some vivid impressions of his early days, and thus form for the younger generation a link between their own and a past age. As an example of such communication, I would adduce especially the early portion of Lord Cockburn’s book. We have already referred to the account he gives of the ludicrous and absurd system of toasts and sentiments which sixty years ago was a necessary evil of the table. Some of these domestic customs which tyrannically, and one would think most uncomfortably, ruled society, and to which the fathers and grandfathers of many of us used to bear witness, seem now almost too strange to be believed; as for example, at a ball, the partners were never changed the whole evening. To a young lady, therefore, the first request for her hand in the dance was a very serious matter. An octogenarian friend of mine, in good health and spirits (long may he enjoy them!) has told me of his dress at the dancing-school balls, and which mark a considerable change of costume in a lifetime. A pearl grey coat, nearly white; white waistcoat; yellow or canary shorts, with large bunches of ribbon at the knee of the same colour; blue silk stockings; pumps, with large bows of ribbon. Cocked hats then prevailed even amongst juvenile attendants. Then, again, imagine the dire necessity of drinking the health of every mortal at table every time you received a glass of wine or called for beer, and still worse, the irksome hospitality of being pressed to eat, urged to take a fresh supply of victuals when you had already eaten more than nature required, in deference to the misplaced kindness of the host or hostess, nay, perhaps, of having an additional wing of a chicken smuggled on your plate when you were for a moment looking another way.5 I have heard old people remark that they can remember the custom of the host saluting all lady-guests on their arrival under his roof. I recollect a curious account which my mother used to give of a custom now quite obsolete, with which the new year was ushered in at Edinburgh, during the time of her residence in the Scottish capital, soon after her marriage, which must have been at least seventy years ago. Persons provided themselves with what was called het pint*** – a mixture of hot ale, and rum, with switched eggs, sugar, and spices – with which they rushed from house to house of their acquaintances, and made them drink of it as soon as the clock had struck twelve and the new year had commenced;6 the great thing was to force their way into bed-rooms, and assail the occupants, whether in bed or not, and force them to drink of the het pint. Another part of these new year saturnalia was to stop the ladies’ sedan-chairs (which was then the constant conveyance) coming from parties; to take out the ladies and salute them, a privilege then claimed by all. I recollect hearing Miss Burnett of Monboddo (a grand-daughter of Lord Monboddo) say, that before she got home on such nights her lips were sore. All this is very different from the quiet and unmarked entrance of the new year amongst us at present. It is scarcely observed by persons wishing each other a happy new year. I regret that we have not more reminiscences prepared for the purpose of elucidating such changes in social customs and domestic usages as these. Much might be done by one person who would give himself to the work; for it is curious to think how far back an attentive observer and chronicler, who has passed middle age, might retrace old forgotten ways, and bring traditional knowledge to the light. Take my own case for example. At eight years of age I was consigned to the care of my grand-uncle, who died, at the age of ninety-one, in 1806. He was born in 1715, so that I could have derived impressions from him of events one hundred and twenty-five years ago or upwards from the present time. Then take his traditionary and personal communication, and he could tell of a man and of what a man told him who had himself witnessed the execution of Charles I. This at first sight seems somewhat startling, but it will be quite evident on a moment’s reflection. My uncle, at the age of fifteen, being then a younger son, was placed in a mercantile house in London; that being in the year 1730, and one of the partners being an aged man, eighty-nine years of age, would easily allow him to have been eight years old when his father took him to witness that fearful scene at Whitehall in 1649. He could have told my uncle, therefore, from personal recollection, minutiæ of details which would easily escape the pen of the historian. I would not be misunderstood as if at all implying that I had actually such an opportunity of learning traditionary Scottish customs or anecdotes from this venerable relative, because, in fact, I learnt nothing. But I mean to shew how much of this information might have been gained and handed down if parties had been observant and communicative. A great deal of such knowledge has been conveyed by Sir Walter Scott through his novels. Still we desiderate more conversational traditions of personal recollection of past times. 

1  The anecdote referred to by Dr. Clason illustrative of Colonel Erskine’s choleric disposition, will be found at p. 488 of Sir H. Moncreiff’s Life of his grandson, Dr. Erskine. The Colonel, during the last ten or twelve years of his life, suffered from asthma, the attacks of which he bore with great impatience. When suffering from his complaint the magistrates of Culross, where he resided, were burning kelp on the shore immediately below his residence. Imagining that his complaint was irritated by the smoke of the kelp, he sent peremptory orders to put out the fires. The magistrates were not disposed to submit. Too much provoked to consider either their rights or his own, he resolved to extinguish the fires with his own hand. Unable to walk, he mounted his horse, and made his grandson (the subject of this narrative, who was then at his house, a youth about the age of fourteen) march before him along the steep descent of the street of Culross, with his grandfather’s sword drawn in his hand – a circumstance which, to those who were afterwards acquainted with the venerable figure of Dr. Erskine, must present a very singular picture. The magistrates, not willing to acquiesce in the Colonel’s encroachment on their privileges, assembled their retainers, and fairly took him and his grandson prisoners. His passion had soon sufficiently subsided to enable him to address the magistrates in the following terms:- “This is all nonsense, gentlemen, and we are all in the wrong; come along to the inn, and we shall all dine together and forget this folly.” They accompanied him without hesitation. He treated them with the best dinner the inn afforded, and the afternoon was spent in perfect good humour and cordiality. On this occasion the irritability of his temper brought him into a situation sufficiently ridiculous; but as soon as the opposition which he met with gave fair play to his understanding, his passion, as usual, subsided as quickly as it had risen. 

2  Detected. 

3  To this anecdote of good Dr. Clason’s I feel disposed to add the remark, that I think it would be difficult to give an example of a more telling personal argument in a theological controversy. E. B. R. 

4  I am assured by a correspondent that such is the custom in some parts of England. It may be for the higher ranks of general and colonel, but I hardly think they ever speak in England of Mrs. Lieutenant Munro or Mrs. Ensign Paterson, as used to be the custom in Scotch country towns, and may be so still. 

5  There is a curious illustration of this practice of pressing to eat, in Miss Mure’s “Remarks on the changes of manners in my own time, 1700-1790.” She explains it thus: “Nobody helped themselves at table, nor was it the fashion to eat up what was put on their plate. So that the mistress of the family might give you a full meal or not as she pleased, from whence came in the fashion of pressing the guests to eat, so far as to be disagreeable.” – Caldwell Papers, page 259. 

6  “The lads weel kenning what is due, 

    Their new year gifties take – 

    Het pints to warm the cauldrife mou, 

    And buns an’ succar cakes.” – NICOL. 

*  Sayers & Heenan boxing match report from ‘Reynold’s Newspaper,’ Sunday 22nd April, 1860, p.4.

**  Article on the church sand-glass from the ‘Scotsman,’ Monday 7th November, 1859, p.2.

***  HET PINT. The hot beverage which young people carry with them from house to house early in the morning of the new-year; used also on the night preceding a marriage, and at the time of child-bearing, S. Morison. – Jamieson’s Scottish Dictionary

On the approach of twelve o’clock a “hot pint” was prepared – that is, a kettle-full of warm spiced or sweetened ale, with a liberal infusion of spirits. When the clock had struck the final knell of the departing year, each member of the family drank of this potation, “A good health and a happy new year, and many of them,” to all the rest, with a general hand-shaking, and perhaps a dance round the table. The elders of the family would then most probably sally out with the hot kettle, bearing also a competent provision of buns and shortbread or bread and cheese, with the design of visiting their neighbours, and interchanging with them the same cordial greetings. If they met by the way another party similarly bent whom they knew, they would stop and exchange sips from their respective kettles. Reaching their friend’s house, they would enter with vociferous good wishes, and soon send the kettle a-circulating. – Scots Magazine, Wednesday 1st June, 1898, pp.25-30. 

Leave a Reply