in which he was laughed at by the wiseacres of the
next generation, who said that there were no Bag-
pipes in Scotland for at least two centuries after 1314,
the date of the battle. The truth is, that although
there is no historical reference to the use of the Bag-
pipe on this occasion, we now know, what the writers
of twenty years ago did not know, that the Pipe was
a well-known instrument in Scotland at the time the
Battle of Bannockburn was fought, and for some
Now, if Bagpipes were used at Bannockburn, as
tradition asserts — an assertion which our later and
fuller knowledge of the facts strongly supports — they
were Highland Bagpipes, because we learn from
history that the Highlander was the first to discover
276 SOME REMINISCENCES
their stimulating effect in battle, and was the first,
since the days of the Romans, to substitute the Pipe
for the drum in war. From the beginning of the
fifteenth century and onward, numerous references —
owing to the advancement of letters — shew how
universal its use was throughout Scotland in early
times. We know that it was always a favourite with
the herd boy ; but the very fact that King David II.
kept a piper, and that King James I. was himself a
piper, must have increased its popularity with the
upper classes as well. And so we learn without sur-
prise that soon after King James' time every burgh in
Scotland had among its recognised officials a piper,
dressed in the town's livery — often gay with bright
colours and tassel decorations, and with a cock of parti-
coloured ribbons in his bonnet — whose duty it was
to open and to close each day with a tune on his
"Drone." So popular, indeed, was the Bagpipe
with us in the olden days, that whenever a piper
turned up at the Township — be it morning, noon, or
night — work came to a standstill : the weaver left
his shuttle, the tailor his bench, the blacksmith
his forge, the hind his plough, and with the
lassies, who were never far away, flocked to the
village green, where dancing was begun, and
generally carried on until nature, worn out, called
In that most delightful of songs, " Alister
M'Alister," we have the best description of the
impromptu dance to be found in literature. So ex-
cellent, indeed, is it, and so impregnated with the
AND THE BAGPIPE. 277
spirit of the times, that I offer no apologies for giving
it here in full : —
Oh, Alastair MacAlastair,
Your chanter sets us a' asteer,
Then to your bags, an' blaw wi' birr,
We'll dance the Hig-hland Fling.
Now Alastair has tuned his pipes,
An' thrang as bumbees frae their bikes,
The lads an' lasses loup the dykes,
An' gather on the green.
Oh, Alastair, etc.
The miller, Hab, was fidgin' fain
To dance the Highland fling his lane.
He lap, as high as Elspeth's wame.
The like was never seen.
As round about the ring he whuds,
An' cracks his thumbs, an' shakes his duds,
The meal flew frae his tail in cluds.
An' blinded a' their een.
Oh, Alastair, etc.
Neist rauchle-handed smiddy Jock,
A' blackened ower wi' coom an' smoke,
Wi' shauchlin' bleare'ed Bess did yoke,
That slav'rin gabbit queen.
He shook his doublet in the wind,
His feet, like hammers, strak the grund ;
The very moudiewarts, were stunn'd.
Nor kenn'd what it could mean.
Oh, Alastair, etc.
Now wanton Willie wasna blate,
For he got baud o' winsome Kate,
" Come here," quo' he, " I'll show the gate,
To dance the Highland fling."
278 SOME REMINISCEXCES
The Highland flhig he danced wi' glee,
And laps as he were gaun to flee.
Kate beck'd an' bobbed sae bonnilie,
An' trip't sae neat an' clean.
Oh, Alastair, etc.
Now Alastair has done his best,
An' weary houghs are wantin' rest,
Forbye wi' drouth they sair were pres't,
Wi' dancin', sae, I ween.
I trow the gantrees gat a lift ;
An' roun' the bicker flew like drift ;
An' Alastair, that very nicht.
Could scarcely stand his lane.
Oh, Alastair, etc.
It is rather interesting to learn that the miller in
England, as well as in Scotland, was often the
In Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," the piper is a
miller to trade, and King Jamie's piper is also a
" With that Will Swan came smeiland out,
Ane meikle miller man,
Gif I sail dance have done, lat se.
Blow up the Bagpype than."
Its popularity, however, did not begin and end
with the dance. King James also writes : —
"The Bagpipe blew, and they outdrew
Out of the townis untald."
shewing that it was used in Scotland as a marching
instrument, just as in England; and all processions
AND THE BAGPIPE. 279
in those days, whether of pilgrims or of the ordinary
people to or from fairs, markets, weddings, or funerals
— even the Royal processions from Church on Sunday
— were headed by the piper.
From this we see that the Bagpipe was once
popular throughout the length and breadth of Celtic
Scotland, and was not peculiar to the Highlands.
No doubt the adoption of the bellows helped to hurt
the growing popularity of the "Pipes" in Lowland
Scotland, as it had certainly done in England and
in Ireland, for when the original Great Pipe became
whittled down to suit the ears of drawing-room dames,
it lost more than its loudness. It lost its usefulness
and its individuality. But it was only after the Low-
lander had developed into the peaceful trader, to
whom the flash of a broadsword or the "skirl of
the Pipe " was hateful, and after the Highlander
had developed into the soldier of fortune who found
the very spirit of battle in the Pipe's wild war-
notes, that the Great Bagpipe began to be looked
upon as a purely Highland instrument.
It was this retrograde development of the Pipe
into a household weapon by the Lowlander, and
the forward development by the Highlander of the
same Pipe into a still louder and more powerful
instrument — an out-of-doors instrument — fitted for the
clamour of battle, that brought the Bagpipe its
lasting fame. It seems almost like the irony of fate
that a pastoral instrument — the most peaceful of in-
struments — first invented by shepherds to beguile
their lonely vigils with — to lead gentle sheep to the
28o SOME REMINISCENCES
fresh pastures — should become the delight in war
of the fierce soldier.
Who could foresee that this little shepherd's Pipe,
of "ane reid and ane bleddir," a poor thing at
best — a feeble-voiced, soft-toned, primitive, droneless
instrument, should one day blossom out into the
Great War Pipe of the Clans, with its loud clarion-
voiced call to arms?
Now, so long as the Bagpipe consisted only of
chanter and bag, not much improvement was possible
or could be expected : its usefulness was greatly
curtailed, and it never could — and never did — be-
come an instrument of any note. The noise of
combat drowned out the little Pipe, and the old
historians, if they knew of its existence, thought
it unworthy of notice.
The Greeks learned this lesson very early, and
the Pythaulos — a drone Bagpipe — was the result.
In the evolution of the primitive Pioh, then, the
first and greatest improvement of all was the addition
of the drone. The drone Bagpipe, once invented,
became in turn, to the eager, open-mouthed listeners,
a teacher of concord or harmony, and the oldest
part-song in the world, called, *' Summer is a cumen
in," is a song composed to a Bagpipe tune in
which the men's voices droned a bass of one note
— the keynote — right through the song, just as the
drone of the Bagpipe did.
After the first drone was added, it required no
great stretch of genius or imagination — Celtic or
otherwise— to add a second, or a third, or a fourth
AND THE BAGPIPE. 281
drone for that matter to the Pipe, and no country-
could justly claim the Bagpipe as its own, because
of such addition; so that the Highlander who, accord-
ing to Mr M'Bain, only added the third drone to the
newly-borrow^ed two-drone Bagpipe, had no right
whatever to claim the instrument as a Highland
When on the subject of the drone, I may here
say, that in this country, as we learn from the de-
scriptions of old writers, confirmed in many instances
by drawings of the actual Pipes, the second drone
was added early in the sixteenth century, and the third
drone about the middle or end of the eighteenth
century, although the present three-drone Bagpipe
did not become general, especially in the Highlands,
till well on in the nineteenth century.
In his preface to the Piobaireachd Society's first
collection of tunes, published in 1905, the writer
disputes the above view, and holds that the three-
drone Bagpipe was the Highland Pipe from the first,
and in proof of this somew-hat bold assertion he
quotes from a fifteenth century satire on the Pipe,
composed by one Niall Mor MacVurrich. From
this Gaelic poem the following quotation — translated
first into English — is taken : —
"The first Bag(-pipe) — and melodious it was not
— came from the time of the Flood. There was
then of the Pipe but the chanter, the mouth-piece,
and the stick that fixed the key, called the suinaire
(drone?) But a short time after that, and — a bad
invention begetting a worse — there grew the three
282 SOME REMINISCENCES
masts, one of them long, wide, and thick," etc.
Now, taking for granted that this poem is
authentic, and the translation correct, it may still
only refer to the two-drone Pipe where the second
drone — as we constantly see it in old pictures — was
added, "long, wide, and thick," and the two drones
with the mouthpiece would represent the three
No doubt there were three-drone, and four — nay,
even five-drone Bagpipes before the eighteenth
century, but the three-drone Highland Pipe of to-
day was not much used in the Highlands until the
nineteenth century. In my young days the Inverary
Gipsies, who were — many of them — great pipers,
never used any but a one-drone or two-drone Bag-
pipe, and it is not quite fair for the writer of this
preface, or for the Piohaireachd Society, which is re-
sponsible for its publication, to belittle the one-drone
or the two-drone Bagpipe, and praise only the
modern form of Highland Pipe, as if it were the
real and only Simon Pure. "It has been frequently
stated," we are told, "and repeated in most of the
recent works on the subject," — not that there are any
ancient or recent works on the subject, except Mr
Manson's book, which was published in 1901 — "that
the bass drone was added to the Bagpipe early in the
nineteenth century, or, in any case, not fifty years
earlier." The ^' Seanachas Sloinuidh" — M'Vurich's
poem — "disproves that assertion, and even should
it not"' (there is evidently a doubt in the writer's
mind) " it is impossible to believe that at the time
AND THE BAGPIPE. 283
the greatest of the Macrimmons composed their
masterpieces, they should have played on an im-
possible and incapable instrumenty Now, as a
matter of fact, the two-drone Bagpipe is not an im-
possible or an incapable instrument at all, and if
the great Macrimmon wrote his "masterpieces"
with a three-drone Bagpipe at his elbow, it was
not from the third drone that he drew his inspira-
tion, but from the Pipe as a whole. Indeed, for
practising purposes, and in the dance, the big drone
is no improvement, and in holiday time I fall back
on the older form of two-drone Pipe as being easier
to play on, and easier to dance to, for those at least
who are not accustomed to Pipe music.
To say that the full-fledged instrument is the only
original Highland Bagpipe is to say that the High-
lander did not invent it for himself, but borrowed it
— as Mr M'Bain says he did — and such "impossible
and incapable " claims put forward in its favour by
rash friends, lend weight to the verdict of those
hostile critics who say that the Highland Bagpipe is
neither ancient nor Highland.
Of its age I treat elsewhere. That it is a genuine
Highland instrument I have no doubt. And if the
invention of the Bagpipe has been denied to the
Highlander, I must be honest, and say, "right away
here," that for this misapprehension he has himself
only to thank. He was the first to start the stories
which gave the credit of it now to this nation, now
to that. He did not value the instrument, in later
days at least, as he should have done. After the
284 SOME REMINISCENCES
Rebellion of 1715, the Highlands began to be opened
up to the outer world, and the Highlanders were
forced to meet English-speaking strangers, whose
surprise and, in many instances, contempt for what
they saw, was but half v^eiled. And so Donald, to
be on "the right side of the laugh," began to dis-
parage everything distinctively Highland.
We have seen that the Clan piper himself was
not always above displaying this same poor spirit in
the hope of standing well with the stranger. He
was no doubt a gentleman of parts, and a musician.
It might be beneath his dignity to carry the
"Pipes" himself. He had a boy — the gille Piohaire
— to perform this office for him. But he did not
need to throw the "Pipes" on the ground disdain-
fully when the tune was over, to show his English
friends that the Bagpipe, in his opinion too, was
but a sorry instrument for so great a musician.
There is no man so thin-skinned as your real
Highlander fresh from his native hills, and the
Highlander was never so thin-skinned as just after
the '45, when, deserted by his leaders, he, in con-
sequence, lost the old confidence which he previously
had in himself, and in things Highland. He thought
the world was laughing at him, and the fear of being
laughed at was as gall and wormwood to him.
Accordingly, when the Sassenach quizzed the dress,
or language, or Bagpipe, Donald was ready to go
one better, and like poor doubting Thomas, disown
and curse what in his heart he loved more than
AND THE BAGPIPE. 285
When the great Dr. Johnson called his language
"the rude speech of a barbarous people," Donald
acquiesced by his silence in a dictum born of
ignorance. Only here and there, like the voice of
one crying in the wilderness, was a protest raised.
In like manner he has been stripped of his kilt
without a murmur. And Mr M'Bain, who would
take from him the last and most precious of his
three great possessions, without caring how much
pain his words carried to many a loyal Highland
heart at the time they were written, walks the streets
of the Highland capital to-day in safety. O, High-
landers ! of a surety ye are a long-suffering race.
This is why I say that Donald was himself to
blame for the spreading of false stories about the
origin of the Highland Bagpipe,
When Pennant, or Martin, or M'Culloch, or other
inquisitive traveller, one hundred to two hundred
years ago (these visitors being really interested in
things Highland), began to question Donald — in all
good faith — about the origin of the Bagpipe, Donald
(suspicious and sensitive, and understanding but im-
perfectly the language in which he was addressed),
anticipated hostile criticism by attributing the origin
to the Dane, or Northman, or Roman, or Greek.
And so the opinions of the Highlanders — I speak
especially of the days after the '45 — are not worth
the paper they are written on, and are wholly mis-
Does history afford us any help in our research?
Have we any reliable data to go upon ? I think so,
286 SOME REMINISCENCES
and the dates, so far as known to me, although
few, I will give you later on when I come to talk of
the antiquity of the Bagpipe in Scotland,
Now, of all Bagpipe playing peoples, the High-
lander, as I have said before — if we except the
Roman and the Alexandrian — was the first to sub-
stitute the Pipe for the drum in war; and was alone
in resisting the addition to his Pipe of bellows and
keys. He perfected it as far as possible on the old
lines, and refused to assimilate it to modern in-
A "semi-barbarous instrument" it began, and a
"semi-barbarous instrument" it has ever since re-
mained in the Highlanders' hands. To modernize
it, even if this were possible, would mean its decay.
The Highlander long ago believed in himself,
and looked down upon the more effeminate Low-
lander. He was not ashamed but proud of his
language, and of his dress, and of his music. His
Bagpipe was perfect in his eyes. It did not admit
of improvement. No bellows for him ; no modern
scale ; no keys on the chanter.
A war instrument he made it, and a war
instrument he meant to keep it; and so, to-day, thanks
to this belief Un himself and in his Pipe, the people of
vScotland — almost alone among peoples in this — can
boast of a national music, and a national instrument.
The history of the Bagpipe in the Highlands —
as apart from Scotland — is, in reality, the history of
the Highlander, and would require a book to itself.
No event of any importance took place in the old
AND THE BAGPIPE. 287
days that was not recorded on the Bagpipe; whether
the death of the Chiefs piper, or the birth of the
Chief's son and heir ; whether the little Clan fight
in some out-of-the-way corner, or the Jacobite death-
strugfofle at Culloden ; it was the onlv record the
Highlander possessed of these events ; and we can
safely wander along the highways and byeways of
Highland history with no other guide in our hands
than Bagpipe music.
•'The Desperate Batde," 1390; '' Pibroch of Donald
Dhu" and ^'Ceann na Drochit Mor,'' 1427; '' Blar
na Leimie,' 1544 ; " Ceann na Drochit Beg,'' 1645,
and fifty other Pibrochs I could name, had each their
separate tale of battle for the Highlander. Play,
even now, to one of the old school, well versed in
Pibroch, "The Desperate Battle," or "The Massacre
of Glencoe," and watch his face. In the waves of
feeling which come and go with the music, you can
read, in the first case, of the fierce love of battle,
which still smoulders beneath the calm exterior, and
in the second, the whole tragedy enacted on that bitter
night of shame and treachery.
And so to-day the history of the rising in '45 is
summed up for us Highlanders in three tunes : —
"The Prince's Salute," "Hey, Johnnie Cope," and
After Culloden, the Bagpipe became once again
more of a national instrument, and less distinctively
Highland, and its records are those of a whole
nation, not of one part only.
Its strains are no longer confined to the hills
288 SOME REMINISCENCES
and glens of its native home. Its gay streamers
float proudly on many a foreign shore. Its fame
has already gone forth on the heights of Alma ;
in the streets of Lucknow; at Bloody Quatre Bras;
and on the stricken field of Waterloo. Ever in the
van of battle ; ever in the thickest of the fight, its
proud bearer courts the post of danger and of death
as his own peculiar right, sanctified by length of
years. And when his name is missing at roll-call,
look not for him on the outskirts of the battlefield;
waste not your time hunting behind boulder, or
peering into sheltering hollow, but make straight
for the front, where the fight waxed fiercest, and
the dead lie thickest, and there you will find him
sleeping with his comrades : surely the bravest
among man}^ brave ones, for of all who lie there,
he alone went forth unarmed to battle and to death.
For many years I hunted high and low for the
" Great War Pipe " of two drones, but without
The Bagpipe shewn here is a facsimile of one
that lies in the Edinburgh Museum, without — un-
fortunately — any history attached to it. There is no
''combing" on the drones, and the terminals are
more or less pear-shaped, and the ferules are made
of lead. The chanter is of the same bore as the
present full-sized Highland Pipe, and the only
difterence between this Pipe and the modern one —
with the exceptions mentioned above — is the absence
of the large drone. This Bagpipe is made of
hawthorn, is very light to carry, and is the one I
The Hrkat Two-Dronk War Pipe of the Highlands:
Ornamented with lead, to be seen in the Edinburgh Museum.
AND THE BAGPIPE. 289
personally take with me when going from home. I
had the offer of a very nice two-drone set made out
of boxwood — a genuine eighteenth century set — not
many months ago. It came up from Wales, but
the owner did not know the value of it, and before
he had made up his mind what to ask, I picked
up a set in England for a tenth of the first price
he mentioned. I had some pleasant experiences
when on the hunt for the old Highland Pipe.
Once I found myself stranded for the night at a
small village on the West Coast, with no means of
getting away before morning.
To wile away the time, I asked an old school-
fellow who resided there, and one or two of his
friends, to spend the evening with me at my hotel.
After all the local gossip — much of it going back
over twenty years or more — had been discussed at
interminable length, and the night was still young,
conversation began to flag, in spite of the jogging
of an occasional tumbler of toddy, and my spirits
sank at the prospect of the long night before me.
But just a little before ten o'clock, my friend was
called out of the room, and after some mysterious
whisperings with the pretty barmaid behind the
door, he returned to announce in a sort of shame-
faced way, that a particular friend of his was down-
stairs wanting to see him, and might he bring him
"He is only a piper, although a good one, doctor.
But perhaps you wouldn't care to have him in the
room with you ? "
290 SOME REMINISCENCES
A piper ! I wouldn't care to have him in the
room with me ? For me, everything was changed
in a moment. '' Bring him up, by all means," I
said, and placed a chair for him on my right hand.
He was quite a gentlemanly lad, and modest for
a piper, and I had my reward before long for
the poor entertainment — all I could offer him —
when shouldering my *' Pipes," he opened up in
masterly fashion with that fine Pibroch^ '■^ Moladh
Mairi^'^ or, "The MacLachan's March," of which I
am very fond, largely for its own sake, but partly also
because my mother was a MacLachlan. After this
auspicious beginning, we two piped alternately,
while the others smoked and listened, and the even-
ing which threatened at first to be too long, but
which ultimately proved itself all too short, came
to a pleasant termination in the small hours of the
morning. And when I asked the young player to
whom was I indebted for so much good music, he
replied : —
" I am piper at Skibo Castle to Mr Carnegie.
He is away in America just now, and I am on
With books as cheap as they are to-day, I am no
great believer in Free Libraries, but I shall not for-
get that once I was under obligation to Mr Carnegie
because, being a wealthy man and able to afford it,
he had the good taste to keep a Piper.
On another occasion, when yachting with my
friend, Mr Southerne of Solus, in the "Alcyone," a
well-known Clyde boat, and a most comfortable
AND THE BAGPIPE. 29I
one, we were driven early one evening by stress
of weather into Loch Torriden, Loch Broom being
our real destination. I had accepted my friend's
invitation to spend a fortnight with him cruising
among the Western Isles, principally in the hope
of picking up an old set of " Pipes."
My search, so far, had resulted in failure, so you
can imagine the delight with which I listened to
the store-keeper at Loch Torriden, as he told me
that there was an old piper — a very old man, well
over ninety years of age — living down by the shore,
not more than two miles away, who had been a
good player in his day, and who had still in his
possession the original old Bagpipe of two drones
upon which he used to play. My informant, who
was a most intelligent man, was quite sure that
there was no big drone. Away I went in high
glee with Mr Southerne — who is almost as enthu-
siastic in the search after Pipes as myself, and who
has added two of the most valuable Bagpipes to my
collection — feeling assured at last of success.
After a stiff walk over the hill by the very
picturesque but narrow and uneven track which did
duty for a road, we soon dropped down — or scrambled
down, for it was a very steep descent — upon the
piper's home, which we had no difficulty in finding,
as it was, indeed, the only house in the place.
The daughter, an old woman with thin grey hair,
and wrinkled, sallow skin, came to the door, and
blinked feebly at the two bold strangers, who had
so unceremoniously invaded her retreat. But after a