William Thomson.

A tour in England and Scotland, in 1785 online

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gow, and the Lothians, on the fouth, exhi-
bited a pleafing profpect of its natural re-
fources in fifhing, and in a foil which,
though in a rude climate, would not be un^
grateful to the hand of cultivation. From
this point of view alfo, the imagination of a
Scotchman is led, by many remembrances, to
recal to mind the moft important vicifiitudes,
and fcenes of action, in the hiftory of his


country. The whole extent of Strathmore,
from Stirling to Stone-haven, is full of Ro-
man camps, and military ways, a matter that
has been of late well illuftrated by the inge-
nuity and the induftry of General Melville 5
and the wall of Agricola, a little towards the
fouth of Stirling, extends between the Forth
and the Clyde. Bannockburn and Cambuf-
kenneth, almoft over-hung by the caftle, re-
mind the fpeftator of fortunate, and Pinkie,
feen at the diftance of fourteen miles, excites
a fainter idea of an unfortunate engage-
ment with the Engliih, The Hill of Largo,
in Fife, calls to mind the Daniih inva-
fions 3 and the Forth was, for ages, the
well-contefted boundary between the Scots
and the Picls.

Before we leave Stirling-Caftle, while the
keen air yet blows on the fouthward travel-
ler with unabated force, from the northern
mountains, let us take a fhort view of the
genius and character of the Caledonians.
'] iicfe have undergone, like thofe of other
O 3 nations,

( 214 )

nations, the effects of that revolution and
change which is incident to every thing hu^-
man. But, not to carry our reviews too far
back, which would involve us in hiftorical
difquifition,let it fuffice, to exhibit the por-
trait that was given of the Scotch Highlan-
ders by a great matter, towards the end of
the laft century, and then to add a few ob-
fervations concerning fome ciivumftances
omitted, and others altered, by the intro-
duction of arts, and free government.

The celebrated Mr. Alexander Cunning-
ham, the critic on Horace, and tutor, com-
panion, and friend to the great John Duke
of Argyll, in his Hiftory of Great Britain,
from the Revolution to the AccefTion of
the Houfe of Hanover, lately publifhed, a
work of claffical compofition, great informa-
tion, and profound views, when he comes
to give an account of the infurreclion head-
ed by the Lord Vifcount Dundee, fays,
" The King commanded Major-General
" Mackay, his Lieutenant in Scotland, to


* march his forces into the northern parts,
againft the Vifcount of Dundee, who had
f raifed an army of Scotch Highlanders -, a
{ race of warriors, who fight by inftincl.
i Thefeare a diftincT: people from the Low-
landers, of different manners, and a dif-
ferent language, of a ftrong conftitution
' of body, and by nature warlike. Though
of a very ready wit, and great prefence of
' mind, they are utterly unacquainted with
arts and difcipline ; for which reafon they
c are lefs addicted to hufbandry and harjd-
dicrafts than to arms, in which they are
exercifed by daily quarrels with one ano-
ther. They take mofl pleafure in that
courfe of life which was followed by their
" anceflors. They ufe but little corn, ex^
" cept in the fhires of Murray and Rofs,
" Their food, for the moft part, is milk, cat*
*' tie, venifon, and fifli ; and they are much
" addicted to pillaging and hunting. Their
" children, when newly born, are plunged
fl in cold water, not from any ideas of reli*
O 4

( 2l6 }

te gion, but for the purpofe of giving har-
" dinefs and vigour to their bodies, which,
" from the continued practice of cold bath-
" ing, acquire fuch a degree of firmnefs,
<c that they can live in the coldeft climates,
<c even in the depth of winter, without any
" other cloathing than a plaid ; a garment
" fo fcanty, that a great part of their body
< may be feen uncovered : nor does this cir-
" cumftance, being fanclified by habit, occa-
" fion any feelings of modefty. They are
** more attached by a fimilarity of manners
" and drefs, and the famenefs of name, than
" by the ties of kindred and nature. They
" contract more firm friendlhips over a
" pinch of tobacco-fnuft, than from any na-
<c tural feelings, or inilinct of blood. Their
" daily exercife, and fprightly freedom of
lt living, increafes both their ftrength and
" their flature. Their women are feldom
<c married young ; and are, indeed, long un-
<e marriageable. They drink not fo much
" wine as ale and aqua vitse.* By this kind

c ' of

* A Jpirit di/iilled from a kind of barley.

ce of liquor they fancy themfelves to be made
" more vigorous ; but that by French wines,
" and fweet things, men are rendered effe-
<: minate. The fick among them will nei-
" ther let blood, nor fufFer a phyfician to be
" fent for, left their health ihould thereby be
'* more impaired than recovered : and law-
<l yers they mortally hate. Women who
" have newly lain in, wear only a loofe rai-
" ment, and next to none at all. Being ge-
<{ nerally well-fliaped, and not unhandfome,
" and of great modefty and fimplicity of
" manners, though they go with their legs
<c naked from the calves downward, they are
" neither fubjected to the jeers nor to thedif-
" guft of the men.* Neither is it thought

* { any

* In this laft fentence, I have departed from the tranf-
lation of Cunningham's Latin original given by the Author
of the Introduction prefixed, which not only contains bio-
graphical anecdotes of the Athor, and a view, in the true
fpirit of philofophical criticifm, of that publication, but
which is a very plcafmg, as well as profound dillertation on
the compofition and ufe of hiftory in general. The words in
the Latin original of Cunningham, of which copious fpeci-
mens are given in an Appendix, are, " Cum tptimte form*

lc any extraordinary honour among them,
" that their virginity i not fufpec~bed when
" they marry. They reckon nothing more
<c fhameful than to refufe any thing to their
" chief.* Moil of them are tall, and pro-

Jint plerumque neque. inventtfta:, fed probis moribus, prater
catera, fitras ad talos ~nud<g, nullo <viri neque verborum faf-
tidio capiuntur." This fentence has been rendered by
the tranflator thus : " They are generally well-fhaped,
and not unhandfome ; and, above all, of fuch modeft
behaviour, though they go with their legs naked, that they
are not apt to be deceived by the enticing words of men."
I fliould rather ftippofe, that there has been fome wrong read-
ing of the Latin MSS. than that this could be the meaning of
the author, as it does not feem to be logical and conclufive.
Having faid this, it is butjuftice toobferve at the fame time,
that in fo long a work, which, in order to defcribe fcenes,
modes of life, euftoms, ideas, and opinions, fo different from
thofe of the antient Romans, and unlike any thing they were
acquainted with, neceflarily called in the aid of the whole
compafs of latinity ; in the tranflation, I fay, of fuch a work,
it is not to be wondered at if we meet with a few flips.
The tranflation in queftion is, on the whole, faithful, nerv
vous, and perfpicuous.

* The juxta pofition of this fentence to that immediately
preceding it, reconciles the apparent inconfiftencies of mo-


<f duce tall children, not being accuftomed to
" hard labour or difcipline, and fclclom ufed
" to harm treatment, or any kind of fubjec-
" tion. The men live to a great age, unlefs
" they chance to be cut off abruptly by an
" halter. Being, in general, poorly provided
" for, they are apt to covet other men's
*' goods ; nor are they taught by any laws
" to diftinguifh with great accuracy, their
c< own property from that of other people's.
" They are not afhamed of the gallows :


deft behaviour, and the eafinefs with which bridegrooms take
the doubtful virginity of their brides. Though far from
being naturally immodeft, fuch is their veneration for their
chiefs, that they deem it an honour to be, in all things fub-
fervient to his will. It often happens accordingly, that a
young woman has borne a child to a laird, before me is
courted by her hufboTid ; and that child is brought up with
great tendernefs, and receives an equal portion with the
children of the marriage. Nor will this feem furprifing, when
we refleft that there is fomething perfectly analogous to it in
high life. A lady of fafhion is not fo much difhonoured, in
the common eftimation of the world, by the embraces of a
prince or king, as (he would be by an illicit connexion with
aa inferior or equal.

( 220 )

" nay, they pay a religious refpect to for-
" tunate plunderers j but whence they deriv-
" ed fuch fentiments I know not. Similar
" ideas prevail among the Neapolitans.
" Merchants who know them well, will not
<{ bring any goods among them, without a
tf protection from their chief j to whom the
" common people adhere with the utmoil
<f fidelity, and by whofe right hand they are
<c wont to fwear. Their religion is taken
" partly from the Druids, partly from Pa-
" pifts, and partly from Proteftants. Nei-
f( ther do they pay any long or great regard
'? to borrowed rites j but carry up many fa-
" bulous ftories of their own to the higheft
< antiquity. They are much inclined to pre-
tc diclions and fuperftitious omens. In
" bearing witnefs, they are not at all moved
" by the fear of God 5 nor do they regard an
" oath as any thing more than mere words
" and ceremony. Neither do they give
t themfelves the lead trouble about the in-
cl fbtutions of religion, until they have firft


" violated it by fome outrage or blood.
" They are greatly addicted to lying. Even
<c in times of peace they live by rapine.
" They account it among the moft fcan-
" dalous crimes to defert their chief, and to
< alter their drefs and way of living: for
" they think that in drefs and antient cuf-
c< toms, there is fomething facred. In war,
" they excel on foot, but are little ufed to
" horfes, by rcafon of the fituation of their
" country, full of dreadful woods and moun-
" tains. Their arms are a fword, dag-
c< ger, and fhield ; and, fometimes, they
c< make ufe of piftols. In battle, the point
" to which they bend their utmoft efforts,
" and that which they are moft anxious to
" carry, is the enemy's baggage. If that
" once fall into their hands, disregarding all
" difcipline and oaths, and leaving their
" colours, home they run."

It is not my intention to disfigure this
picture, drawn from the life by fo great a
matter. But I cannot help obferving, that


( 222 )

in this admirable fketch of the Scotch High-
landers, there is not the leaft mention of
their pailionate love and genius for mufic,
as well as the kindred {trains of moving,
though fimple poetiy. The remote High-
landers are, at this day, as fond of poetry and
mufic as the antient Arcadians, who, blefTed
with a fertile foil and genial climate, poured
forth, in natural and affecting airs, the warm-
eft emotions of the heart. The mufical and
poetical compofitions of the Highlanders
were feldom committed to writing, but
handed down, from generation to generation,
by oral tradition. The fubjects of thefe
were, for the rnoft part, love, war, and the
pleafures of the chace : and their general
tone or ftyle, was not fprightly and gay, but,
on the contrary, fad and tragical. The firft
efforts of the Mufes, in every country and
age, are employed on melancholy themes, as
being the moft ftrongly marked by the light
and {hade of profperous exchanged for ad-
verfe circumftances, and which take the


ftrongeft hold of the heart. But the very
afpecT: of nature, in the Highlands of Scot-
land, is fad : and a conflict, feldom inter-
rupted with hoftile clans, or with a harfli
climate and penurious foil, deepened the
general gloom. Hence, although the little
wealth of the Highlands confifls in cattle,
rural fcenes are introduced in their poetry
but feldom. And, were one to form a judg-
ment concerning the employment of the;
Highlanders, even from performances un-
queflionably modern, he would conclude
that they were not fo much fliepherds as hun-
ters. Their com pofitions, whether ofmufic
or poetry, were the natural productions, and
perfectly fuited to the taile of a country,
where, within the memory of man, every
male, without exception, was trained to
arms : and where huibandry, and even paf-
turage, were followed no farther than necef-
fity required. It is not long fmce flieep and
goats, in the Highlands, were confidered as
below the care of a man, and reputed the


property of the wife, in the fame manner as
geefe, turkies, and other poultry are in the
Low Countries, and in England.

That the mufic and poetry of any country
bears a near relation to its common purfuits,
to the great objects of its hopes and fears, is
illuftrated in a very {hiking manner by thofe
of the inhabitants of St. Kilda, vvhofe infig-
nificance and remote fituation fecure them
from invafion, as their poverty and primitive
equality protect them from angry feuds.
When the winter {lore of this little common-
wealth is fafely depofited in a houfe called
Tigh-a-barra, its whole members refort to
this general magazine, as being the moft
fpacious room in their dominions, where
they hold a folemn afTembly, and fmg one of
their bed airs to words importing, " What
< more would we have ? There is flore of
cc cuddies and fay tb, of peri cb and attachan t laid
" up for us in Tigh-a-barra." Then fol-
lows an enumeration of the other kinds of
fifties that are hung up around them, to


( 225 )

which, in the courfe of their Tinging and
dancing, they frequently point, with ex-
prcfiions of gratitude and joy.

The Reverend Mr. Macdonald, Minifter

of Kilmore in Argylefliire, on whofe tef-

_ timony thefe particulars are here related of

the St. KiUians, received from a friend in the

I lie of Skye, a St. Kilda elegy, the effufion of
a young woman who had lofl her hufband by
a fall from the rocks, when employed in
catching fowls. Of this elegy, found among
people in whofe veracity Mr. Macdonald
has entire confidence, he gives the following
tranflation. " In yonder Soa* left I the
{C youth whom I loved. But lately, he
" fkippcd and bounded from rock to rock.
" Dextrous was he in making every inftru-

II mcnt the farm required, diligent in bring-
" ing home my tender flock. You went,
" O my love ! upon yon hanging cliff, but
" fear meafured not thy fteps ! Thy foot
" only dipt you fell never more to rife !

P Thy

* A fmall rocky ifland near St. Kilda.

( 226 )

" Thy blood ftained yon (loping rock ; thy
" brains lay fcattered around ! All thy
" wounds gufhed at once. Floating on the
" furface df the deep, the cruel waves tore
" thee afunder. Thy mother came, her
" grey hairs uncovered with the kerch :*
" thy fifter came, we mourned together :
" thy brother came, he leflened not the cry
" of forrow. Gloomy and fad we all beheld
" thee from afar, O thou that waft the feven -
" fold bleffing of thy friends ! the fhiny
<c lhonne\ of their fupport. Now, alas ! my
" fhare of the birds is heard fcreaming in t he
" clouds : my fhare of the eggs is already
<c feized on by the ftronger party. In yon-
" der Soa left I the youth whom I loved."


* A fpecies of kerchief worn by married women in the
Highlands and Weftern Iflands of Scotland.

f Lbonne, a rope of raw hides ufed in St. Kilda. It is
the moft ufeful part of furniture, and a young woman pof*
fefled of one is reckoned well portioned. In fearching for
fowls and eggs, a man or two take hold of it, and another is
let down into the cliffs by the other end.

( 227 )

The Galic poetry now extant, was, no
doubt, cornpofed for the moft part by the
bards who were once entertained in the fa-
milies of lords and cjiieftains. There was
alio an order of ftrolling rhapfodifts, who
went about the country, reciting their per-
formances for a livelihood.

Throughout the whole of the Highlands
there are, at this day, various fongs fung by
the women to fuitable airs, or played on mu-
fical infuruments, not only on occafions of
merriment and diverfion, but alfo during
almoft every kind of work which employs
more than one perfon, fuch as milking cows,
watching the folds, fulling of cloth, grinding
of grain with the quern or hand-mill, hay-
making, and reaping of corn. Thefe fongs
and tunes re-animate, for a time, the droop-
ing labourer, and make him work with re-
doubled ardour. In travelling through the
Highlands, in the feafon of autumn, the
founds of little bands of mufic on every fide y
joined to a moft romantic fcenery, has a very
P 2 pleafing

( 228 )

pleafmg effe6l on the mind of a ftranger.
There is undoubted evidence, that from the
1 2th to the 1 5th century, both inclufive,
the Scots not only ufed, but, like their
kindred Irifh, excelled in playing on the
harp : a fpecies of mufic, in all probabi-
lity of Druidical origin. But, beyond all
memory or tradition, the favourite inurn-
ment of the Scotch muficians has been
the bag-pipe, introduced into Scotland, at
a very early period, by the Norwegians.
The large bag-pipe is the inftrument of
the Highlanders for war, for marriage, for
funeral proceflions, and other great occa-
fions. They have alfo a fmaller kind, on
which dancing tunes are played. A certain
fpecies of this wind mufic, called plbracls*
rouzes the native Highlander in the fame
way that the found of the trumpet does the
war-horfe ; and even produces efFecls little
lefs marvellous than thofe recorded of the an-
tient mufic. At the battle of Quebec, in
April 1 76oj whilft the Britifh troops were re-

treating in great confufion, the General com-
plained to a field-officer of Frafer's regi-
ment, of the bad behaviour of his corps.
" Sir," anfwcred he with fome warmth,
<c you did very wrong in forbidding the
<c pipes to play this morning : nothing en-
ct courages Highlanders fo much in a day of
<c action. Nay, even now they would be of
" ufe." " Let them blow like the devil,
x< then, "replied the General, " if it will bring
" back the men." The pipes were ordered
to play a favourite martial air. The High-
landers, the moment they heard the mufic,
returned and formed with alacrity in the
rear. In the late war in India, Sir Eyre
Coote, after the battle of Porto Nuovo, be-
ing aware of the ftrong attachment of the
Highlanders to their antient mufic, exprefTed
his applaufe of their behaviour on that day,
by giving them fifty pounds to buy a pah: of
bagpipes. *

Having thus taken the liberty to fupply

what fcemed deficient in the account that is

P 3 given

See MEMOI RS of the late War in Afia.

( 230 )

given of the Scotch Highlanders by the very
learned and ingenious Cunningham, who
knew them well, and was capable of contem-
plating them under a vail variety of views,
it will be proper alfo to advert to the change
which the operation of government has pro-
duced in the character of the Highlanders,
fince the period when they were defcribed by
that celebrated author.

So quick and powerful is the influence of
moral caufes in the formation of the charac-
ters of nations and men, that the Highlanders
have actually undergone greater alteration in
the courfe of the prefent century, than for a
thoufand years before. Freedom and equal
laws, by encouraging induftry, fecuring pro-
.perty, and fubftituting independent fenti-
ments and views in the room of an obfequi-
ous devotion to feudal chiefs, have redeemed
the character of the Highlanders from thofc
imputations which were common to them
with all nations in a fimilar political fitu-
ation j while what is excellent in their cha-

rafter, the fenfibility of their nature, the
hardinels of their conftitutions, their war-
like difpofition, and their generous hofpita-
lity to Grangers, remain undiminimed. And,
though emancipated now from the feudal
yoke, they flill fliew a voluntary reverence to
their chiefs, as well as affe6lion to thofb of
their own tribe and kindred : qualities which
are not only very amiable and engaging in
themielves, but which are connected with
that chara<5ter of alacrity and inviolable fide-
lity and refolution which their exertions in
the aeld havejuftly obtained in the world.

By the feudal fyitem, all who held in capite,
of the crown, both in England and Scotland,
and, no doubt, in other countries, were
obliged to give perfonal attendance in par-
liament : and tliofe free tenants,* compre-
hended not only the great nobles, but the
lefler barons, among whom the king's bur-
gefles, it is probable, were originally includ-
d. The great barons, or aristocracy, in
P 4 the

* Liberi tenenttt.

the natural courfe of things, acquired in
both the Britifh kingdoms, a decided fupe-
riority in the public councils. The lefler
barons and burgefTes, uneafy in their fitu-
ations, as well as unable to bear the expence
of repeated attendance, began toabfent them-
felves from parliament. In both Scotland and
England, the fovereign, that he might be en-
abled to counter- balance the over-bearing in-
fluence of the arifcocracy, by the attendance of
at leail a certain portion of the lefler barons
and royal burgefles, who in their collective
capacity, were free tenants, exempted them
from the obligation of perfonal attendance,
upon condition of their fendirjg reprefen-
tatives to parliament. That wealth which
naturally fprung from commerce and induf-
try/the circumftance of the parliament's be-
ing divided into two houfcs, and that con-
troul over the public purfe which, in procefs
of time, refulted from both, maintained and
increafed the importance of the great body
of freeholders in England : but in Scotland,


( 233 )

where the lefTcr barons and burgefTes, with
the great mafs of the people, remained poor
pendent, and the reprefentatives of the
fli ires and burghs fat in the fame aflembly
with the nobles and the clergy,* the arifto-
cracy preferved their influence over the pro-
ceedings of parliament, and, in fact, afiumed
the government of the kingdom. The great
baron who pofTeiTed his caftle, and an exten-
five heritable jurifdiction, afiumed the pri-
vilege of redrefling every injury that was
done to him, whether real or imaginary, and
was the arbiter of right and wrong among
his people j while the letter proprietors, or
yeomanry of the country were fubjecled to
the will of tyrants. The amount of pro-
perty which, in progrefs of time, became rc-
quifite in parliamentary election and repre-
fentation, excluded the great body of propri-

* In Scotland, the parliaments were ambulatory with the
king, and generally held within the walls of one of his for-
treilcs. The parliament was very often held in Sjirling-

(234 )

etors from that right, and created a fecon*
dary order of ariftocratical chiefs, who, to
the full extent of their power, imitated the
tyranny of the nobles, or hereditary peers of
parliament. The genius of Scotland became
ariftocratical throughout. The commiffioiiT
ers to parliament from the burghs royal
were elected by the town-councils of thofe
burghs, inftead of the citizens at large. The
members of thofe councils, too, like fo many
Dutch burgomafters, chcfe, and flill chufe,
their fucceffors in office : nor, according to
a late decifion of the court of fefiion, ajudi-
catory conflituted after the model of the par-
liaments of France, and the higheft in Scot-
land, is there any controul on the manage-
ment of thofe felf-created juntos, who, at the
fame time that they impofe what contribu-
tions they pleafe, convert, or may convert, a
public good into a private property.

About the time of the Revolution, the ad-
vent, and eftablifhment of King William and
Queen Mary on the throne, firft of England,

C 2 35 )

and afterwards of Scotland, diffufed through-,
out the whole of Great Britain a lively fenfe
of the rights of mankind : and Scotland in
particular, as fire is inflamed hy the nitrous
influence of froft, glowed with the genuine
entfaufiafm of freedom. Mr. Fletcher of
Saltoun, and other patriots whofe notions of
liberty were drawn from the fources of Greece
and Rome, and confirmed by the aufpices
of the times, contended for a degree of liberty
unknown even to the Englifh constitution.
This fpirit of the nation, aclive, enterprizing,
and bold, led the people of Scotland to at-
tempt the eftablifhment of a commercial co-
lony on the Iflhmus of Darien, the happieft
fituation that could be imagined for the
commerce of the world : and on this bot-

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Online LibraryWilliam ThomsonA tour in England and Scotland, in 1785 → online text (page 10 of 16)