Edward Bannerman Ramsay.

Reminiscences of Scottish life & character online

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3 1210 01972 8680

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Scottish Life & Character

dean! RAMSAY i:^*^^'^^'^ ^'

M^tth Sixteen I/lustrations in Coloto-



fnntd by orronp"7«fnt uUK ijtitrt i,all A Inglit


List of Illustrations *

PitfiFACK TO Twenty-Second Edition . . I

Intkoductory . 7

Scottish Religious Feelings and Observances 56

On Old Scottish Conviviality . . , .101

On the Old Scottish Domestic Servant . ,127

Scottish Judges , Ho

IV aoy/KXTs.


SION'S, iNCi.rDiXG ScoTTisn Proverrs . .169

On Scottish Stories of Wit and Humour . . 243

conclcsio.n , . . .351

1-'»'PEX ... . . 375


from paintings by



. frontispiece





THE weaver's SHOP




























In preparing another duodecimo edition of the " Remi-
niscences of Scottish Life and Character," I gladly
avail myself of the opportunity afiforded me of repro-
ducing some of the materials which had been added
to the octavo edition, especially that part at page
322, etc., which advocated a modified interchange of
pulpits between Episcopalian and Presbyterian clergy-
men ; to add also some excellent Scottish stories
which had been sent to me by kind friends. I am
desirous also of repeating the correction of an error
into which we had fallen in copying the account of a
toast in the Highland form, Avhich had been kindly
contributed by the respected minister of Moulin, in
the octavo edition at page 70. To Lowland concep-
tions, the whole proceeding has somewhat the appear-
ance of a respectable company at once becoming insane ;
still it ought to be correct, and the printer had, by
mistake, inserted a word that has no existence in the
Gaelic language. The text reads —

*' Lud ris 1 Lud ris 1 You again ' you again ! "


It should be

Su.l ria I Sad ris ! You agaia ! yon again I

that is — '' yoii clioer a^ain."

Tlie demand for a twenty-second edition of a volume
of " Scottish Reminiscences " embracing subjects which
are necessarily of a limited and local characttT — a
demand which has taken place during the course of
little more than fifteen years since its first publication —
proves, I think, the correctness of the idea upon which
it was first undertaken — viz. that it should depict a
phase of national manners which was fast passing
away, and thus, in however humble a department,
contribute something to the materials of history, by
exhibiting social customs and habits of thought which
at a particular era were characteristic of a race. It
may perhaps be very fairly said that the Reminiscences
came out at a time specially suitable to rescue these
features of national life and character from obli^'ion.
They had begun to fade away, and many had, to the
present generation, become obsolete.

To those who have not given their attention to the
subject for the elucidation of which this volume has
been written, I would present two specimens of the
sort of materials from which they may expect to find
these Reminiscences are compiled. They are chosen
to indicate a style of life and manners now fast fading
away, and are taken from a period which lies within
the scope of our own recollections. Now, a subject
like this can only be illustrated by a copious applica-
tion of anecdotes which must show the features of the


past. And let me premise that I make use of anec-
dotes not for the purpose of telling a good story, but
solely in the way of illuskation. I am quite certain
that there was an originality, a dry and humorous
mode of viewing persons and events, quite peculiar to
the older Scottish characters. And I am equally
certain, that their peculiar humour can only be exhi-
bited in examples. From the late Mr. Erskine of
Linlatliau I received the following : — Air. Erskine
recollected an old housekeeper at Airth, who belonged
to this class of character. A speech of this Mrs.
Henderson was preserved in the family as having
been made by her at the time of the execution of
Louis XVI. in 1793. She was noticing the violent
emotion exhibited by Mr. Bi-uce of Kinnaird, the
Abyssinian traveller, at the sad event which had just
taken place, and added, in the following quaint and
caustic terms, " There's Kinnaird greeting as if there
was nae a saunt on earth but himsel' and the king o'
France." How utterly unlike anything that would be
said on such an occasion by an English person in the
same position in life !

For the same purpose, let me introduce a charac-
teristic little Scottish scene, which my cousin, the
late Sir Thomas Burnett of Leys, used to describe with
great humour. Sir Thomas had a tenant on his
estate, a very shrewd clever man, whom he was some-
times in the habit of consulting about country matters.
On one occasion he came over to Crathes Castle, and
asked to see Sir Thomas. He was accordingly ushered
in, accompanied by a young man of very simple appear-


ance. who gazed almut the room in ;i stupid vacant
manner. The old man began by saying that he
understood there was a f\irm on the estate to be let,
and that he knew a very fine young man whom he
wished to recommend as tenant. He said he had
plenty of sUkr, and had studied farming on the most
appr'^ved principles — shi-i-ji-farming in the Highlands.
cattle-farming in the Lowlands, and so forth, and, in
short, was a model farmer. When he had finished
his statement. Sir Thomas, looking very significantly
at his companion, addressed the old man (as he was
usually addressed in the county by the name of his
farm) — " "Well, Drummy, and is this your friend whom
you propose for the farm ?" to which Drummy replied,
" Oh fie, na. Hout ! that is a kind o' a Feel, a friend
{i.e. a relation) o' the wife's, and I just brought him
ower wi' me to show him the place."

The question of change in the "life and character"
of a people, during the penod embraced in the remi-
niscences of an aged individual, must always be a
subject for deep and serious consideration. In the
case of Scotland, such changes comprise much that is
interesting and amusing. But they also contain much
matter for serious thought and reflection to the lovers
of their country. In preparing the present edition
of these Reminiscences, I have marked out many fur-
ther changes, and have marked them from a deep
feeling of interest in the moral and religious improve-
ment of my country. To ray readers I say that 1
hope we have all learned to view such changes under
i\. more serious national aspect than a mere question


of amusement or speculation. The Christian, when
he looks around him on society, must observe many
things which, as a patriot, he wishes might be perma-
nent, and he marks many things whicli, as a patriot,
he wishes were obliterated. What he desires should
be enduring in his countrymen is, that abiding attri-
butes of Scottish character should be associated
amongst all men with truth and virtue — with honour
and kindly feelings — with temperance and self-denial
— with divine faith and love — with generosity and
benevolence. On the other hand, he desires that
what may become questions of tradition, and, in regard
to his own land, Eeminiscences of Scottish life, shall
be — cowardice and folly, deceit and fraud, the low
and selfish motives to action which make men traitors
to then- God and hateful to their fellow-men.

It would be worse than affectation — it would be
ingratitude — to disclaim being deeply impressed by
the favourable reception which has for so long a time
been given to these Eeminiscences at home, in India,
in America, and in all countries where Scotchmen are
to be found.

It is not the least of the enjoyments which I have
had in compiling these pages, to hear of the kind
sympathy which they have called forth in other
minds, and often in the minds of strangers ; and it
would be difficult for me to describe the pleasure I
have received when told by a friend that this work
had cheered him in the hour of depression or of sick-
ness — that even for a few moments it may have be-
guiled the weight of corroding care and worldly anxiety.


I have been desirous of saying a word in favour of
old Scottish life ; and with some minds, perhaps, the
book may have promoted a more kindly feeling to-
wards hearts and heads of bygone days. And cer-
taiidy I can now truly say, that my highest reward —
my greatest honour and gratification — would spring
from the feeling that it might become a standard
volume in Scottish cottage libraries, and that by the
firesides of Scotland these pages might become aa
Household Words,

Edinburgh, 23 Ainslte Plaok.
St. Andrew's Day*

• These words, "St. Andrews Pay," were deleted by the Dean; and
though he lived tUl the 27th December, he did not touch the proof-sheeti
after the 19th November 1872.






I WISH my readers always to bear in mind that these
Reminiscences are meant to bear upon the changes
which would include just such a revolution as that
referred to at page 15 in the bonnet practice of
Laurencekirk. There is no pretension to any re-
searches of antiquarian character ; they are in fact
Reminiscences which come almost within personal
recognition. A kind friend gave me anecdotes of the
past in her hundredth year. In early life I was
myself consigned to the care of my granduncle, Sir
Alexander Ramsay, residing in Yorkshire, and he was
born in 1715; so that I can go pretty far back on my
own experience, and have thus become cognisant of
many changes which might be expected as a con-
sequence of such experience,

I cannot imagine a better illustration of the sort of
change in the domestic relations of life that has
taken place in something like the time we speak of,
than is shown in the following anecdote, which was
kindly communicated to me by Professor MacGregor
of the Free Church. I have pleasure in giving it in


the Professor's own words : — "I happened one day
to bo at ranmure C;istle when Lord Panmure (now
D;ilhousie) was gi^'ing a treat to a school, and was
presented by the Monikie Free Church Deacons*
Court with a Bible on occasion of his having cleared
them finally of debt on their buildings. Afterwards
his Lordship took me into the library, where, among
other treasures, we found a handsome folio Prayer
Book presented to his ancestor Mr. Maule of Kelly by
the Episcopalian minister of the district, on occasion
of his having, by Mr. Maule's help, been brought out
of jail. The coincidence and contrast were curiously

For pei'sons to take at various intervals a retrospec-
tive ^dew of life, and of the characters they have met
with, seems to be a natural feeling of human nature ;
and every one is disposed at times to recall to memory
many circumstances and many individuals which
suggest abundant subjects for reflection. We thus
find recollections of scenes in which we have been
joyous and happy. We think of others with which
we only associate thoughts of sorrow and of sadness.
Amongst these varied emotions we find subjects for
reminiscences, of which we would bury the feelings in
our own hearts as being too sacred for communication
with others. Then, again, there are many things of
the past concerning which Ave delight to take counsel
with friends and contemporaries. Some persons are
disposed to go beyond these personal communications
with friends, and having through life been accustomed
to write down memoranda of their own feelings, have
published them to the world. Many interesting works
have thus been contributed to our literature by writers
who have sent forth volumes in the form of Memoirs
of their Own Times, Fersonal Recollections, Remarks vj^on


Past Scenes, etc. etc. It is not within the scope of this
work to examine these, nor can I specify the many
communications I have from different persons, both at
home and in our colonial possessions; in fact, the
references in many cases have been lost or mislaid.
But I must acknowledge, however briefly, my obliga-
tions to Dr. Carruthers, Inverness, and to Dr. Cook,
Haddington, who have favoured me with valuable

Now, when we come to examine the general question
of memoirs connected with contemporary history, no
work is better known in connection with this depart-
ment of Scottish literature than the History of his Own
Times, by my distinguished relative, Dr. Gilbert
Burnett, Bishop of Salisbury. Bishop Burnett's father,
Lord Crimond, was third son of my father's family,
the Burnetts of Leys, in Kincardineshire. There is
now at Crathes Castle, the family seat, a magnificent
full-length portrait of the Bishop in his robes, as
Prelate of the Garter, by Sir Godfrey Kneller. It
was presented by himself to the head of his family.
But, as one great object of the Bishop's history was to
laud and magnify the personal character and public
acts of William of Orange, his friend and patron, and
as William was held in special abhorrence by the
Jacobite party in Scotland, the Bishop holds a
prominent, and, with many, a very odious position in
Scottish Reminiscences ; in fact, he drew upon himself
and upon his memory the determined hatred and
unrelenting hostility of adherents to the Stuart cause.
They never failed to abuse him on all occasions, and I
recollect old ladies in Montrose, devoted to the exiled
Prince, with whom the epithet usually applied to the
Prelate was that of " Leein' Gibby." *

• Lying Gilbert


Such language has happily bocorae a " Reminis-
cence." Few would bo found now to apply such an
epithet to the author of the History of his Own Times,
and certainly it would not be applied on the ground of
the Jacobite principles to which he was opposed.
But a curious additional proof of this hostility of
Scottish Jacobites to the memory of Burnett has lately
come to light. In a box of political papers lately
found at Brechin Castle, belonging to the Panmure
branch of the family, who, in '15, were forfeited on
the ground of their Jacobite opinions and adherence
to the cause of Charles Edward, there has been found
a severe and bitter supposed epitaph for Bishop Burnett.
By the kindness of the Earl of Dalhousie I was per-
mitted to see this epitaph, and, if I chose, to print it
in this edition. I am, howevsr, unwilling to stain my
pages with such an ungenerous and, indeed, I may say,
so scurrilous a representation of the character of one
who, in the just opinion of our Lyon King-at-Arms,
himself a Burnett of the Kemnay branch, has charac
terised the Bishop of Salisbury as " true and honest,
and far beyond the standard of his times as a Clergy-
man and as a Bishop." But the epitaph found in
these Panmure papers shows clearly the prejudices of
the age in which it was written, and in fact only em-
bodies something of that spirit and of those opinions
which we have known as still lingering in our own

If it were not on my part a degree of presumption,
I might be inclined to consider myself in this volume
a fellow-labourer with the late accomplished and
able ]\Ir. Robert Chambers. In a very limited sphere
it takes a portion of the same field of illustration. I
should consider myself to have done well if I shall
direct any of my readers to his able volumes. Who-


soever wishes to know what this country really was in
times past, and to learn, with a precision beyond
what is supplied by the narratives of history, the
details of the ordinary current of our social, civil, and
national life, must carefully study the Domestic Annals
of Scotland. Never before were a nation's domestic
features so thoroughly portrayed. Of those features
the specimens of quaint Scottish humour still remem-
bered are unlike anything else, but they are fast
becoming obsolete, and my motive for this publication
has been an endeavour to preserve marks of the past
which would of themselves soon become obliterated,
and to supply the rising generation with pictures of
social life, faded and indistinct to their eyes, but the
strong lines of which an older race still remember.
By thus coming forward at a favourable moment, no
doubt many beautiful specimens of Scottish Min-
strelsy have in this manner been preserved from
oblivion by the timely exertions of Bishop Percy,
Kitson, Walter Scott, and others. Lord Macaulay, in
his preface to The Lays of Ancient Rome, shows very
powerfully the tendency in all that lingers in the
memory to become obsolete, and he does not hesitate to
say that " Sir Walter Scott was hwijust in time to save
the precious relics of the minstrelsy of the Border."

It is quite evident that those who have in Scotland
come to an advanced age, must have found some
things to have been really changed about them, and
that on them great alterations have already taken
place. There are some, however, which yet may be
in a transition state ;■ and others in which, although
changes are threatened, still it cannot be said that
the changes are begun. I have been led to a con-
sideration of impending alterations as likely to take
place, by the recent appearance of two very remarkable

12 K£MIM!iUE^-C£;S OF

and very interesting papers on subjects closely con-
nected ■with great social Scottish questions, where a
revolution of opinion may be expected. These are two
articles in Recess Studies {IS70), a volume edited by our
distinguished Principal, Sir Alexander Grant. One
essay is by Sir Alexander himself, upon the " Endowed
Hospitals of Scotland ;" the other by the Rev. Dr.
Wallace of the Greyfriars, upon " Church Tendencies
in Scotland." It would be quite irrelevant for me to
enlarge here upon the merits of those articles. No
one could study them attentively without being
impressed with the ability and power displayed in
them by the authors, their grasp of the subjects, and
their fair impartial judgment upon the various
questions which come under their notice.

From these able disquisitions, and from other prog-
nostics, it is quite evident that sounder principles of
political economy and accurate experience of human
life show that much of the old Scottish hospital system
was quite Avrong and must be changed. Changes are
certainly going on, which seem to indicate that the very
hard Presbyterian \neAvs of some points connected
with Church matters are in transition. I have
elsewhere spoken of a past Sabbatarian strictness,
and I have lately received an account of a strictness
in observing the national fast-day, or day appointed
for preparation in celebrating Holy Communion, which
has in some measure passed away. The anecdote
adduced the example of two drovers who were going
on very quietly together. They had to pass through
a district whereof one was a parishioner, and during
their progress through it the one whistled with all
his might, the other screwed up his mouth without
emitting a single sound. When they came to a burn,
the silent one, on then crossing the stream, gave


From a water-colour drawing by

A.R.S.A.. R.S.W.



a skip, and began whistling with all his might, ex-
claiming with great triumph to his companion, " I'm
beyond the parish of Forfar now, and I'll whistle as
muckle as I like." It happened to be the Forfar
parish fast-day. But a still stricter observance was
Bhown by a native of Kirkcaldy, who, when asked by
his companion drover in the south of Scotland " why he
didna whistle," quietly answered, " I canna, man ; it's
our fast-day in Kirkcaldy." I have an instance of a
very grim assertion of extreme Sabbatarian zeal. A
maid-servant had come to a new place, and on her
mistress quietly asking her on Sunday evening to wash
up some dishes, she indignantly replied, " Mem, I hae
dune mony sins, and hae mony sins to answer for ; but,
thank God, I hae never been sae far left to mysell as
to wash up dishes on the Sabbath day."

I hope it will not for a moment be supposed we
would willingly throw any ridicule or discouragement
on the Scottish national tendencies on the subject, or
that we are not proud of Scotland's example of a
sacred observance of the fourth commandment in the
letter and the spirit. We refer now to injudicious ex-
tremes, such, indeed, as our Lord condemned, and
which seem a fair subject for notice amongst Scottish
peculiarities. But the philosophy of the question is
curious. Scotland has ever made her boast of the
simplest form of worship, and a worship free from
ceremonial, more even than the Church of England,
which is received as, in doctrine and ritual, the
Church of the Reformation. In somerespects,therefore,
may you truly say the only standing recognised obser-
vance in the ceremonial part of Presbyterian worship
is the Sabbath day — an observance which has been
pushed in times past even beyond the extreme of a
spirit of Judaism, as if tlie sabbatical ceremonial


were made a substitute for all other ceremony. I*n
this, as well as in other matters which we have pointed
out, what changes have taken place, what changes
arc going on ! It may be difficult to assign precise
causes for such changes having taken place among us,
and that during the life-time of individuals now living
to remember them. It has been a period for many
changes in manners, habits, and forms of language,
such as we have endeavoured to mark in this volume.
The fact of such changes is indisputable, and some-
times it is difficult not only to assign the causes for
them, but even to describe in what the changes them-
selves consist. They are gradual, and almost impercep-
tible, Scottish people lose their Scotchness ; they leave
home, and return without those expressions and intona-
tions, and even peculiarity of voice and manner, which
used to distinguish us from Southern neighbours. In
all this, I fear, we lose our originality. It has not
passed away, but with every generation becomes less
like the real tj'pe.

I would introduce here a specimen of the precise
sort of changes to which I would refer, as an example
of the reminiscences intended to be introduced into
these pages. "We have in earlier editions given an
account of the pains taken by Lord Gardenstone to
extend and improve his rising village of Laurencekirk ;
amongst other devices he had brought down, as settlers,
a variety of artificers and workmen from England.
With these he had introduced a Imtter from New-
castle ; but on taking him to church next day after
his arrival, the poor man saw that he might decamp
without loss of time, as he could not expect much
success in his calling at Laurencekirk ; in fact, he
found Lord Gardenstone's and his own the only hats
in the kirk — the men all wore then the flat Lowland


bonnet. But how quickly times change ! My excel-
Jent friend, Mr. Gibbon of Johnstone, Lord Garden-
stone's own place, which is near Laurencekirk, tells
me that at the present time one solitary Lowland
bonnet lingers in the parish.

Hats are said to have been first brought into
Inverness by Duncan Forbes of Culloden, the Lord
President, who died in 1747. Forbes is reported to
have presented the provost and bailies with cocked
hats, which they wore only on Sundays and council
days. About 1760 a certain Deacon Young began
daily to wear a hat, and the country people crowding
round him, the Deacon used humorously to say,

Online LibraryEdward Bannerman RamsayReminiscences of Scottish life & character → online text (page 1 of 30)