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Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character

The following anecdotes are taken from Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character by Dean Ramsay, published 1909. The author's intention in collecting material for his book was to illustrate Scottish pecularities which were fast disappearing at his time.

The locale of the story is unknown, but it is told of a weaver who, after enjoying his potations, pursued his way home through the churchyard, his vision and walking somewhat impaired. As he proceeded, he diverged from the path, and unexpectedly stumbled into a partially made grave. Stunned for a while, he lay in wonder at his descent, and after some time he got out, but he had not proceeded much farther when a similar calamity befell him. At this second fall, he was heard, in a tone of wonder and surprise, to utter the following exclamation, referring to what he considered the untenanted graves, "Ay! ir ye a' up an' awa?"

John Brown, Burgher minister at Whitburn, was travelling on a small sheltie to attend the summer sacrament at Haddington. Between Musselburgh and Tranent he overtook one of his own people. "What are ye dain' here, Janet, and whaur ye gaun in this warm weather?" "Deed, sir", quo Janet, "I'm gaun to Haddington for the occasion [The Lord's Supper], an' expeck to hear ye preach this efternoon." "Very weel, Janet, but whaur ye gaun to sleep?" "I dinna ken, sir, but Providence is aye kind, an'll provide a bed." On Mr. Brown jogged, but kindly thought of his humble follower; accordingly after service in the afternoon, before pronouncing the blessing, he said from the pulpit, "Whaur's the auld wifie that followed me frae Whitburn?" "Here I'm sir", uttered a shrill voice from a back seat. "Aweel", said Mr. Brown, "I have fand ye a bed; ye're to sleep wi' Johnnie Fife's lass."

At Hawick, the people used to wear wooden clogs, which make a clanking noise on the pavement. A dying old woman had some friends by her bedside, who said to her, "Weel, Jenny, ye are gaun to Heeven, an' gin you should see our folk, ye can tell them that we're a' weel." To which Jenny replied, "Weel, gin I shud see them I'se tell them, but you manna expect that I am to gang clank clanking through Heeven looking for your folk."

Scottish congregations, in some parts of the country, contain an element in their composition quite unknown in English churches. In pastoral parts of the country, it was an established practice for each shepherd to bring his faithful collie dog - at least it was so some years ago. In a district of Sutherland, where the population is very scanty, the congregations are made up one-half of dogs, each human member having his canine companion. These dogs sit out the Gaelic services and sermon with commendable patience, till towards the end of the last psalm, when there is a universal stretching and yawning, and are all prepared to scamper out, barking in a most excited manner whenever the blessing is commenced. The congregation of one of these churches determined that the service should close in a more decorous manner, and steps were taken to attain this object. Accordingly, when a stranger clergyman was officiating, he found the people all sitting when he was about to pronounce the blessing. He hesitated, and paused, expecting them to rise, till an old shepherd looking up to the pulpit, said, "Say awa', sir, we're a' sitting to cheat the dowgs."

There had been a carousing party at Castle Grant, many years ago, and as the evening advanced towards morning, two Highlanders were in attendance to carry the guests upstairs, it being understood that none could by any other means arrive at their sleeping apartments. One or two of the guests, however, whether from their abstinence or their superior strength of head, were walking upstairs, and declined the proffered assistance. The attendants were quite astonished, and indignantly exclaimed, "Agh, it's sare cheenged times at Castle Grant, when gentlemens can gang to bed on their ain feet."

It has been said that the Scottish dialect is peculiarly powerful in its use of vowels, and the following dialogue between a shopman and a customer has been given as a specimen. The conversation relates to a plaid hanging at the shop door:
CUST. (inquiring the material), Oo? (wool?)
SHOP. Ay, oo (yes, of wool).
CUST. A' oo? (all wool?)
SHOP. Ay, a' oo (yes, all wool).
CUST. A' ae oo? (all same wool?)
SHOP. Ay, a' ae oo (yes, all same wool).

A well-known member of the Scottish bar, when a youth, was somewhat of a dandy, and, I suppose, somewhat short and sharp in his temper. He was going to pay a visit in the country, and was making a great fuss about his preparing and putting up his habiliments. His old aunt was much annoyed at all his bustle, and stopped him by the somewhat contemptuous question, "Whar's this you're gaun, Robby, that ye mak sic a grand wark about yer claes?" The young man lost temper, and pettishly replied, "I'm going to the devil." "'Deed, Robby, then", was the quiet answer, "ye needna be sae nice, he'll juist tak ye as ye are."

Old Mrs. Robison, widow of the eminent professor of natural philosophy, had a morbid dislike to everything which she thought savoured of cant. She had invited a gentleman to dinner on a particular day, and he had accepted, with the reservation, "If I am spared" - "Weel, weel", said Mrs. Robison, "if ye're dead, I'll no expect ye."

There is a well-known case of mystification, caused to English ears by the use of Scottish terms, which took place in the House of Peers during the examination of the Magistrates of Edinburgh touching the particulars of the Porteous Mob in 1736. The Duke of Newcastle having asked the Provost with what kind of shot the town-guard, commanded by Porteous, had loaded their muskets, received the unexpected reply, "Ou, juist sic as ane shutes dukes and sic' like fules wi'." The answer was considered as a contempt of the House of Lords, and the poor Provost would have suffered from misconception of his patois, had not the Duke of Argyle explained that the worthy chief magistrate's expression, when rendered into English, meant to describe the shot used for ducks and water-fowl.

An English gentleman had been visiting the Lord Provost of Edinburgh and accompanied him to Aberdeen. His lordship of Edinburgh introduced his English friend to the Provost of Aberdeen, and they both attended a great dinner given by the latter. After grace had been said, the Provost kindly and hospitably addressed the company Aberdonicé - "Now, gentlemen, fah tee, fah tee." The Englishman whispered to his friend, and asked what was meant by "fah tee, fah tee" to which his lordship replied - "Hout, he canna speak - he means fau too, fau too."

A laird named Hamilton having business with the late Duke of Hamilton at Hamilton Palace, the Duke politely asked him to lunch. A liveried servant waited upon them, and was most assiduous in his attentions to the Duke and his guest. At last our eccentric friend lost patience, and looking at the servant, addressed him thus, "What the deil for are ye dance, dancing, about the room that gait; can ye no draw in your chair and sit down, I'm sure there's plenty on the table for three."

A former Duke of Athole, who had no family of his own, met, one morning, one of his cottars or gardeners, whose wife he knew to be in the hopeful way; asking him "How Marget was the day", the man replied, that she had that morning given him twins. Upon which the Duke said, - "Weel, Donald, ye ken the Almighty never sends bairns without the meat." "That may be, your Grace", said Donald; "but whiles I think that Providence maks a mistake in thae matters, and sends the bairns to ae hoose and the meat to anither!" The Duke took the hint, and sent him a cow with calf the following morning.

A ruling elder of a country parish in the west of Scotland was well known in the district as a shrewd and ready-witted man. He got many a visit by persons who liked a banter, or to hear a good joke. Three young students gave him a call in order to have a little amusement at the elder's expense. On approaching him, one of them saluted him, "Well, Father Abraham, how are you today?" "You are wrong", said the other, "this is old Father Isaac"; "Tuts", said the third, "you are both mistaken; this is old Father Jacob." David looked at the young men, and in his own way replied, "I am neither old Father Abraham, nor old Father Isaac, nor old Father Jacob, but I am Saul, the son of Kish, seeking his father's asses, and lo! I've found three o' them."

A good many families in and around Dunblane rejoice in the patronymic of Dochart. This name, which sounds somewhat Irish, is derived from Loch Dochart in Argyleshire. The M'Gregors having been proscribed, were subjected to severe penalties, and a group of the clan having been hunted by their superiors, swam the stream which issues from Loch Dochart, and in gratitude to the river they afterwards assumed the family name of Dochart. A young lad of this name, on being sent to Glasgow College, presented a letter from his minister to Reverend Dr. Heugh of Glasgow. He gave his name as Dochart, and the name in the letter was M'Gregor: "Oh", said the Doctor, "I fear there is some mistake about your identity, the names don't agree." "Weel, sir, that's the way they spell the name in our country."

A country laird, at his death, left his property in equal shares to his two sons, who continued to live very amicably together for many years. At length one said to the other, "Tam, we're getting auld now, you'll tak' a wife, and when I dee you'll get my share o' the grund." "Na, John, you're the youngest and maist active, you'll tak' a wife, and when I dee you'll get my share." "Od", says John, "Tam, that's just the way wi' you whan there's ony fash or trouble. The deevil a thing you'll do at a'."

A clergyman in the country had a stranger preaching for him one day, and meeting his beadle, he said to him, "Well, Saunders, how did you like the sermon to-day?" "I watna', sir, it was rather ower plain and simple for me. I like thae sermons best that jumbles the joodgement and confoonds the sense; Od, sir, I never saw ane that could come up to yoursel' at that."

Copyright © 2005, Eva Fitz