"Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor."
Light was given either by pieces of bog-fir laid on the fire, or by fir-canles--that is, thin splinters of bog-fir, from one to two and a half or three feet long, fixed in a sort of candlestick, called the peer-man or peer-page. The peer-man was of various shapes. A common kind consisted of a small roundish block of stone, perforated with a hole in the centre, in which was inserted a piece of wood about three feet in height, having on the top a cleft piece of iron, into which the candle was fixed with the flame towards the door.
A third kind of lighting was by an iron oil-lamp, that bore the name of the eely dolly. This lamp was formed of two parts, called shalls. Both parts were alike in shape and somewhat resembled certain species of bivalve shells, as the cow-shell, and
both had a long spout. The parts fitted into each other, the one being a little smaller than the other. The under part had a handle fixed perpendicularly to the side opposite the spout, which was for affixing it to the wall or other convenient place. On the inner side of this perpendicular handle was a knob with notches, on which was hung the smaller shall, which contained the oil and the wick. The notches in the knob were for regulating the supply of the oil. The oil used was made from the livers of the haddock cod, ling and other fish caught on the coast, and was distinguished by the name of black oil. The wick consisted for the most part of the pith of the common rush--rashin wicks--and in later times of cotton thread. The lamp had no cover, and when dirty was usually cleaned by burning.
At the one corner of the hearth sat the father, and at the other the mother. Between the two sat the family, and it might be a servant or two, for all were on a footing of equality, the servant being a neighbour's son or daughter of exactly the same rank and means. All were busy. One of the women might be knitting, another making, and another mending, some article of dress. Of the men, one might be making candles from bog-fir--cleavin canles-another manufacturing harrow-tynes of wood, a third sewing brogues, and a fourth weaving with the cleeck a pair of mittens. If there were children in the family at school there was silence or but little conversation, for lessons were being prepared; and every now and again the anxious learner handed the book to the mother or other member of the family, and repeated the lesson. If the lesson was not correctly repeated, the book was handed back with the injunction to be busy, and the learner resumed his work and continued his labour till the lesson was thoroughly prepared. When the school-books were laid aside the song and the ballad and the story began. The songs of Burns and other sweet singers of Scotland were varied with those of poets of less note, and with such ballads as "The Haughs of Cromdale," "The Duke o Gordon's Three Daughters," "Sir James the Rose," "Gregor's Ghost," "Andrew Lammie." Many of the inferior songs were
of a questionable morality, and some of them were even obscene. Yet they were sung with a kind of naïveté and unconsciousness of their immorality that did away in a great measure with any demoralising tendency they might otherwise have had. The songs of local poets also had their place. Frequently such took a satirical turn, a farmer famed as a hard taskmaster, who "keppit's fouck on mete meal ail taul puckles," being the victim. Some of them were in celebration of country balls, and to each couple of guests, "a lad and his lass," was devoted a stanza of four lines, in which both the foibles and the graces of the enamoured were hit off, and at times with truth and burlesque humour.
The story was for the most of the supernatural--of fairies and their doings, of waterkelpie, of ghosts, of witches and their deeds, of compacts with the Devil, and what befell those who made such compacts, of men skilled in black airt, and the strange things they were able to do. Sometimes riddles formed the subject of amusement. As tale succeeded tale, and the big peat fire began to fade, the younger members of the family crept nearer and nearer the older ones, and, after a little, seated themselves on their knees, or between them and the fire, with the eyes now fearfully turned to the doors, and now to the chimney, and now to this corner, whence issued the smallest noise, and now to the next, in dread of seeing some of the uncanny brood.
Sometimes the stories were of pirates, whom the young imagination painted as wild beasts of the sea, creating strange, undefinable feelings; of oceans bound in eternal ice and darkness, with bright, shining lands beyond, with their hills of gold and silver sparkling through the darkness, exciting vague longings to be away in search of wonders, notwithstanding all the dangers and terrors.
Sometimes there were stories from history, oftenest of the wars between England and Scotland, but so disfigured as to be almost unrecognisable from the facts themselves. Other stories might be heard, such as "The Miller's Tale" of Chaucer, which were told without the least conception that there was any indecency in them. The stories of George Buchanan and the English
[paragraph continues] Professor, and of the professor of Signs from Spain on a visit at King's College, Aberdeen, were greatly in favour. 1
The family was not always alone. Civilities were interchanged by one or more neighbours spending the evening with them, or in common language, by geein thim a forenicht. On such occasions it was no unusual thing for the young women to carry with them their spinning-wheels on their shoulders, and their wool or flax under their arms. Then might be seen three or four spinning-wheels going at once, skilful fingers busy at the stent, and each spinner vieing with the other who should first complete it, and not a foot was stirred till it was completed. One or two of the younger members of the family were engaged in twisting or reeling thread. 2 While the women were busy, the young men were not idle. If not employed in something useful, they were amusing themselves in such trials of strength as could be made indoors--as "drawing the sweer-tree," or in such games as the "tod and the lam's," the "glaicks," the "dams," or "dambrod." When the work was done, all sat down to a simple, wholesome supper, which was reverently prefaced by grace from the goodman. Then came the hearty good-night with the hearty invitation, "Haste ye back," and the cordial promise, "Aye, aye, but haste ye in aboot some forenicht." The young men accompanied the forenichters to their home, carrying their spinning-wheels, and whispering words of love.
Now and again there was a quarterer in the family. There was a class of respectable beggars, whose vocation was not looked upon as disreputable. Such commonly confined their wanderings to a particular district of the country, and made their rounds with great regularity. Within that district there were certain houses at which they invariably lodged or quartered. Whether male or female, they were generally welcome guests, and, were hospitably entertained. Their fund of general information, which was most readily imparted to all who would lend an ear, their ability to give the current news of the country, and often their knowledge of simples, which several of them
carried with them, and their skill in rubbing sprains and treating bruises, burns, scalds, and such like, their proficiency at times in music, and their neat-handedness in repairing such domestic utensils as might be out of order, always opened for them a door.
The chapman, with his pack of cloth, or cutlery, or books, was also a frequent guest, and by his fair speech usually contrived to gain the goodwill of the females. A napkin, a dress, a pair of scissors, sold a few pence below the usual price, was ample payment for all the trouble he caused.
It may not be out of place to notice here the occasional presence of a person of no small importance in the family--the tailor. The greater part of the ordinary clothing was spun at home and woven by a weaver in the neighbourhood. It was not given out to be made up. The tailor was summoned to the house, and great was the preparation for him. He was treated with more than ordinary respect, and on his arrival was installed in the room. The goodwife produced her webs, and gave her orders with many an injunction not to make many "clippans," and not to "brock the claith." The tailor handled the cloth knowingly, and praised it; and the goodwife looked pleased, and ceased to say one word about clippans or brocks. The tailor set to work, and plied his needle and thread early and late--sometimes assisted by the females--till the webs had become hapwarms, fit to defend the coldest blast. Now the goodwife "is not afraid of the snow, for all her household are clothed with double garments."
57:1 Cf. F. L. Record, vol. ii. pp. 173-176; and vol. iii. pt. i. pp. 127-129.
57:2 Songs of the Russian People, p. 32, by W. R. S. Ralston.