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Some Scottish Caracteristics

CHARACTERISTICS OF SCOTTISH HUMOUR. The humour of any country really represents its human character, and it raries therefore in evt-ry nation with the character. The English, Irish, French, Spanish, and American have all varying shades of humour decidedly their own ; differences and resem blances, contrasts and likenesses. Humour is the outflowing of the human character; and such &h the character is — and that wiU vary from the influence of temperament, scenery, and circumstance — so will the humour be. The Scottish character has a kind of humour especially its own. Reticence is one very marked characteristic; a reserved sense — sometimes a kind of grim reserve ; indeed, this prevades more or less all the manifestations. Thus we read that ' a minister's man,' one of a class ot whom, indeed, many stories are told, was following the minister from the manse to the kirk one Sabbath afternoon, when the minister glancing back perceived a smile on the face of his old attendant. ( What makes you laugh, James ? It is unseemly. What is there to amuse you ?' ' Oh, naething particular,' says James * I was only thinking o' something that happened this forenoon ' * What is that 1 Tell me what it was ? * Weel, minister, dinna be angry wi' me; but ye ken the congregation here are whiles no pleased to get auld sermons fra' you, and this morning 1 got the better o' the kirk session ony way.' * And how was that, Jamie,' says the minister. * Deed, sir, when we cam oot o' the kirk this forenoon I kenned what they were thinking; and says I — Eh, ye canna ca' that an auld sermon this day, for it's not abune sax weeks since ywu heard it last !' Dr McLeod was proceeding from the manse , of D to church, to open the new place of worship. As he passed slowly and gravely through the crowd gathered about the doors, an elderly man with a peculiar kind of wig known in that district — bright and smooth, and of a reddish brown ■ — accosted him. * Doctor, if you please, X wish to speak to you.' * Well, Duncan,' says the venerable doctor — it was we believe the father of the well kuown Scotch minister of our own dav — ' well, Duncan, caw you not wait till after worship.' * No, doctor, I intKt speak to you now, for it is a matter upon my conscience.' * Oh, since it is a matter of conscience, tell me what it is : but be brief, Duncan, for time passes. * The matter is this, doctor Ye see the clock yonder on the face of the new church. Well, there is no clock really there; nothing but the face ofa clock. There is no truth in it, but only once in twelve hours. Now, it is in my mind very wrong, and qirte a gain ft my conscience, that there should be a lie on the face of the house of the Lord/ ' Duncan, I will consider the point. But I am glad to see you looking so well; you are not young now; I remember you for many ye*rs ; and what a fine head of hair you have still.' * Eh, doctor, you are joking now; it is long since 1 have had am*- hair.' ' Oh, Duncan, Duncan, aro you going into tbe bnuse of the Lord with a lie upon your hpad V This, says the story, settled the question ; and the doctor heard no more of the lie on the face of the clock. Grotesque and ludicrous, producing the effect of huu-our without being humorous — we have said this is often the characteristic of Scottish humour. At a time when many of the poor in Scotland had scarcely any notion of any food but oatmeal, a gentleman asked a boy one day it' he did not tire of porridge. The boy looked up astonished, saying, * Wad ye hae me no like my meat ?' And so we read of a wee laddie interrogating his mother, ' Mither, will we hae tea tae our breakfast the morn ?' 1 Ay, laddie, if we're spared.' * And if we're no spared, mither, will we only hae parritch V The story is well known of the old lady who shared the strong prejudices against the organ in divine service. One was, however, erected in her kirk ; it was the first she had ever seen or heard, and she was asked her opinion of it after the first performance, and she replied, { It's a very bonnie kist (chest) o' whistles ; but oh, sirs, it's an awfu' way of spending the Sabbath day V At a church in Edinburgh, where, after a considerable strife, an organ was erected, it was discovered one Sabbath morning that it could not be used, and the beadle appeared before the reverend doctor, the pastor of the congregation, just as he was going int > the pulpit, saying slily — he had always been opposed to the innovation, — * Doctor, yon creature of an ourgan has gi'en up the ghaist althegitber the day !' We have heard of a Scotchwoman who bad accompanied her mistress to Ireland, who. being jeered by an Irishman on her unmarried condition, replied, ; in , the predestinarian phraseology ve^ to her class, * I'm truly, /thankful that a inau wasni* 6r-

dainit tame, for maybe he, might hue been like yersel'V Indeed, thi3 cautious and canny slowness of chpracter is enjoined in a well known Scotch proverb, •• Naething should be done in h-iste but gripping fleas ;' concerning which Motherwell, in his introduction to Henderson's -* Proverbs of Scotland,' tells a humourous anecdote. An indefatigable collector of rusty old saws was in the habit of jotting down any saying new to him on the back of cards, letters, etc. On one occasion he had an nitercation with a stranger at a friend's house. The quarrel, becoming warm, ended by Motherwell's friend excitedly handing the other, as he thought, his card. On the gentleman preparing to vindicate his honour, as he thought, next morning, it occurred to him to learn the name of his -antagonist. On looking at the card he found no name, but in place of it. traced in good legible writing, •* Naething should be done in a hurry but catching fleas.' The effect of this is said to have been irresistible, and the result an immediate reconciliation. A droll kind of slow movement of character gives a hint ofa good deal of the humour. It is recorded by Chambers and othpr Scottish historians that when Mrs Siddons was in Edinburgh, m the occasion of her first appearance, the audience had been, to English notions, singularly undemonstrative of their approbation- Yet during one scene the whole house was entirely spellbound and breathless, when there was heard distinctly from the pit a voice from some canny, cautious Scotch critic, ' You was no' that bad ;' and at that word the whole house burst forth into a perfect tumult and uproar of applause. A lady of rank, a very dear friend of the writer, herself a Scotchwoman of a very old family, usually gots into the housekeeper's room every morning to give her directions for the day to her housekeeper, a daughter of Aberdeen. Our friend has a considerable play of humour and fun, and she has "old us how, more than onco, after some humourous remark, on the day following- ber housekeeper will say to her, ' Yon was a very humoursome thing yer leddyship was saying yesterday.' It had taken twenty- four hours for the saying fairly to work in the mind. It was like the Scotchman's criticism in the theatre — ' Yon was no so bad.' It is no doubt owing to this queer slowness in the. character tbat we have, among Scottish anecdotes so many of the ludicrous, whicli are not humourous. Dr Rogers, in his collection, j gives an instance of grotesque stnpidi ity in a magistrate. A bailie of the Gorbals, Glasgow, was noted for the simplicity of his manners on tho bench. A youth was charged before his tribunal with abstracting a handkerchief from [a. gentleman's pocket. The indictment being read, the bailie, addressing the prisoner remarked, * 1 hae na doot yo did the deed, for I had a handkerchief ta't-n oot, o' my am pouch pocket this vera week.' The same magisterial logician was, on ano' her occasion, seated on the bench when a case of serious assault was brought forward by the public prosecutor. Struck i by the powerful phraseology of the i indictment, the bailie proceeded to say, * For this malicious crime you are fined half a guinea.' The assessor remarked that the case had not yet been proven. ** Then,' said the magistrate, ' we'll just make the fine five shillings.' But we have many analogies to this worthy among the magistrates of England. The humour of some stories needs some little knowledge to apprehend the altogether unconscious humour which comes out from the narrator. It has been said, that of all the sciences, it is a difficult task to make a Highlander comprehend the value of mineralogy ; there is some sense in astronomy, it means the guidance of the Ftars in aid of navigation ; there is sense in chemistry, it is connected with dyeing, and other arts ; but ' chopping off bits of the rocks," that is a mystery. A shephprd was sitting in a Highland inn, and he communicated to another his experiences with ' one of they mad Englishmen.' ' There was one,' said he, -* who gave me his bag to carry, by a short cut, across the hills to his inn, while he took the other road. Eh ! it was dreadfully heavy, and, when I got out of his sight, I determined lo see what was in it, for I wondered at the unco' weight of the thing ; and, man ! it's no use for you to guess what was in that bag, for ye'd nover find out. It was stones.' ** Stones,' said his companion, opening his eyes, ' stones !' * Ay just stones.' ' Well, that beats all I ever knew or heard of them- And did you carry it?" 'Carry it! Man, do you think I was as mad as himsel ? Nae. ! Nae ! I emptied them all out, but I filled the bag again from the cairn near the house, and I gave him good measure for his money.' And yet Hugh Miller was a Scotchman! It has sometimes appeared to us that old Scotland furnishes a greater variety of hVnour in the character than any other resrion of which we have heard; there is a greater originality, and there is less sameness. Sir Walter Scott knew this, and he studied this variety, and originality".' in , variety, so as tc }. bring it out in the characters he pour-

trays. Daft Jock Amos is a character of whom many stones are told. 'John,' said the minister to' him one day — * John, can you repeat the fourth commandment 1 I hope you can — which is the fourth oornni.mdment ?' ' I dare say, Mr Boston, it'll be the ane after the third.' < Can you repeat it V 4 I'm no sure about it. I ken it has some wheeram by the rest.' Mr Boston repeated it. He had found John working with a knife on the Sabbath day. He tried to show him his error, but John whittled on. But, John, why don't you rather come to church, John ? What is the reason you never come to church V 1 Because you never preach on the text I want you to preach on.' ' What text would you have me preach on V ( On tbe nine-and-twenty knives that came back from Babylon.' * I never heard of them before !' 1 It is a sign you never read your bible. Ha, ha, ha, Mr Boston ! sic fool, sic minister.' But Mr Boston went away and searched long and hard for John's text, ' and sure enough he found the record in Ezra i. 9 ; though he still wondeied greatly at the aouteness ofthe fool, considering the subject on which he bad been reproving him. But this story became the foundation of a proverb, ' 'The mair fool are ye, as Jock Amos said to the minister:' It was to this same Jock Amos an old wife said one da y» ' John, how auld will ye be ? They had been talking of their ages. i 1 Oh, I dinna ken,' said John. It would tak a wiser head than mine to tell you that.' ' It js unco queer that ye dinna ken how auld yon are,' returned she. 1 I ken weel eneuch how auld I am,' said John, ' but I dinna ken how auld I'll be.' A good deal of humour is just in the shrewd simplicity of the reply. A London tourist met a young woman going to church, and, as was not unusual, she was carrying her boots in her hand and trudging along barefoot. 'My girl,' said he, 'is it customary for all the people in these parts to go barefoot V ' Pairtly they do,' said the girl, ** nnd pairtly they mind their am business.' In the town of Falkirk there lived a notorious infidel who gloried in his profanity. On one occasion he was denouncing the absurdity of the doctrine of original sin ; and the beadle of the parish, perhaps, thought himself bound officially to put in his word, although the other was socially his superior. ' Mr H.,' s-titl he, ' it seems to ma that you needna fash (trouble) yoursel' about original sin, for to my certain knowledge you hae as muekle akwal (actual) sin as will do your business.' The humour of the Scotchman does not always seem to wear the most amiable complexion. Some .out! remarked to an Aberdonisn, ** It's a fine ! day.' ! *** Fa's (who's) fi ruling faut wi' the day V was the very civil reply. *- Ye wad pick a quarrel wi' a steen (stone) wa !' The humours of the religious character are among the most noticeable. To some English readers the phraseology may be amusing from its quaintness, but let them remember that it is used with the most solemn reverence. A Scotchman would be equally amused with the seeming irreverence of 'Jessica's first prayer,' or with the words of the worthy English soldier, who, in his prayer at the opening of Mrs Daniell's ' Home, at Aldershot, said — ** Lord, thou knowest what a fix the poor soldier was in before this here blessed place was built.' Stories are told of a Mr James Lock hart, of the Salt Market, in Glasgow, who was a good specimen ofthe good old-fashioned morality of bygone time?. One day a country girl came into his shop to buy a pair of garters. Having asked the price, Mr Lockhart told her they were fourpence. The girl said, 'I uill not give you a farthing more than threepence for them.' ■* Weel, lassie, yell no get them, replied the shopkeeper. Shortly afterwards the girl returned and said, ' I'll noo gie ye fourpence.' { Gang awa, lassie, gang awa,' replied Mr Lockhart, 'and no tell lies.' An anecdote is told of another worthy tradesman, a near neighbour of the above, which illustrates the high principle and simple manners of one 'who lived when profane swearing was too common. One day a woman came into the shop of this person (his son became a magistrate of the city). She asked the price of his goods, and hearing the cost, she cried out at the top of her voice, ** Lord preserve us !' which words • were no sooner ejaculated than the 1 good religious man touched her very gently on the arm, and, with a look of kindness, said to her, 'It is very good i always to pray.' ' Was I praying, sir V i asked the woman, ' Indeed you were; i but you might do so more reverently.' The Ettrick Shepherd, in his ' Shepherd's Calendar,' refers to tbe religious character of the shepherds of Scotland ; in his day, as a class. In his experience ; p he says it was scaicely possible that he ' could" be other than a religious charac- ; ter, feeling himself to be a dependent i creature, compelled to hold converse t with the cloud and the storm, on the , misty mountain and the dark waste, in > ths whirling drift and the overwhelm- ■■ ing thaw ; amid the yoices and sounds

that aro only heard in the howling cliff and the solitary "dell. ; 'Among the shepherds., says the Ettrick Shepherd ' the antiquated but delightful exercise of fatifily worship. was never neglected ;' always gone about with decency and decorum ; but, he continues, ' formality being a thing despised, there are no compositions, that I ever heard, so truly original as those prayers occasionally are ; sometimes for rude eloquenoe and pathos, at other times for an indescribable sort of pomp, and, not unfrequently, for. a plain and somewhat unbecoming familiarity.' He gives some illustrations quite justifying this description from some with whom he had himself served and herded. One of the most notable men for this sort o family eloquence, he thought, was a certain Adam Scott, in Upper Dalgleish. Thus he- prayed for a son who seemed thoughtless : " For Thy mercy's sake — for the sake of Thy poor sinfu' servancs that are now addressing Thee in their am shilly shally way, and for the sake o' mair than we dare need name to Thee, hae mercy on Rob. Ye ken fu' weel he i_ a wild, mischievous callant, and thinks nae mair o' committing sin than a dog does o' licking a dish j but put Thy hook in his nose, and Thy bridle in his gab, and gar him come back to thee wi' a jerk that he'll no forget the longest day he has to leeve.' He prayed for another away from home : " Dinna forget poor Jamie, wha's far awa frae us the nicht. Keep Thy arm o' power about him ; and oh, I wish ye wad endow him wi' a little spunk and smeddum to act for himself. For if ye dinna, he'll be bnt a bauckle (an old shoe) in this world and a backsitter in the neist.' Another time, when the first Napoleon was filling Europe with alarm, he prayed : ' Bring down the tyrant and his lang neb, for he has done mucklo ill the year, and gie him a cup o' Thy wrath, and gin he winna tako that, gie him kelty (two cups),' Hoj_.g heard a relation, of his own, a worthy old shepherd, pray as follows on the day on which he buried his only son : ' Thou hast soen meet in Thy wise Providence to remove the staff out of my right hand at the very time when, to us poor sand-blind mortals, it appeared that I stood maist in need or. But oh, he was a sicker (such) arm and a sure ane, and a dear ane to my heart ! And how I'll climb the steep hill o' auld age and sorrow without it Thou mayst ken, but I dinna.' Another time he prayed during a severe and long lying storm of snow, • Is the whiteness-of desolation to lie still on the mountains o' our land for ever ? Is the earthly hopes of Thy servants to perish frae the face o ! the earth 1 The flocks on a thousand hills are Thine, and their lives or deaths wad be naething to Thee — thou wad be neither richer nor poorer, but it is a great matter to us. Have pity, then, on the lives of Thy creatures, for beast and body are a' Thy handiwork, and send us tho little wee c'udd out o' the sea like a man's hand, to spread and darken, and pour and flash, till the green gladsome face o' nature aince mair appear.' Reading the story of Goliath and David at family prayer, his prayer, as was often the case, became a commentary : 'And when our besetting sins coma bragging and blowstering upon us, like Goli o' Gath, oh enable us to fling off the airmer and hairnishing o' the law, whilk we haena proved, and whup up the simple sling o' the gospel, and nail the smooth stanes o' redeeming grace into their foreheads.' The Waverley novels constitute the most appreciative of Scotch humour of every kind and variety. The characters are living embodiments of the humour of the nation, especially in that feature we have indicated, its imperturbable unconsciousness. King Jamie and ' Gingling Geordie,' or George Heriot and Andrew Fairservice, and Richie Moneplies, and crowds besides, all fulfil this droll unconsciousness. They say the most pleasant and unexpectedly odd things, which make the reader's sides ache with laughing, and themselves see nothing in what they say to provoke a smile. A minister called to console a poor widow who had just lost her husband, Jock Dunn, a thriftless rascal, who only lived to eat and driak the hard won earnings of bis patient wife Jennie. ' Providence in His mercy,' said the minister, *** has seen fit to take awa the head o' yer house, Jeanie, lass.' To this the bereaved wife philosophically replied, ' Oh, hocb aye, but thank gudeness, Providence in His mercy has ta'cn awa the stomroak tae!' There is a deal of quiet philosophy in Scotch humour.

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Some Scottish Caracteristics, Clutha Leader, Volume VII, Issue 389, 25 March 1881

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Some Scottish Caracteristics Clutha Leader, Volume VII, Issue 389, 25 March 1881

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