Chapter  6 



In separating drink from food by chapter title it does not imply that throughout the ensuing discussion there will be no reference to food. With a high level of importance placed upon drink in Scottish culture there are many dimensions which could be covered and inevitably some must be left out. This is in accordance with a decision not to consider the major and minor Scottish poets in terms of mention of food and drink or the table generally. What can be done is to give, perhaps, rather more than an appreciation of the variety of influences and factors.
We have seen various elements of drink in Scotland, the way it is tied to hospitality, aspects of its prominence in the culture and some of the attempts made at controlling it. But as it has been seen, merely to provide legislation to curb the use of alcohol is not enough. Patrick1 comments “But the important fact that must be recognised is that alcoholic indulgence is too deeply rooted in the customs of human societies to admit of being removed simply by legal processes.” [his italics]. This aspect of ‘human societies’ receive due emphasis here as to do otherwise is to imply that Scotland is by far the worst country in the world concerning the injurious effects and social use of alcohol.
However, being a gastronomic as opposed to a comparative history, this study can proceed to consider the manifestations of drink in society and drunkenness is one of them. MacKinnon, in 1920, has commented on the problem up to 1850: “Drunkenness has long been a social evil of very grave magnitude. The poverty, squalor, vice and crime of the slum districts of the large districts are largely traceable to this evil. But the drink demon lurks in every corner of the land and among all classes, and its shadow is a blot on the fair name of Scotland.”
Samuelson, writing in 18802puts forward interesting snapshot statistics relating to the consumption of drink. “… in 1838 the spirits consumed in England was about half-a-gallon (strictly 0.53) per head of the population, in Ireland it was 1.32, in Scotland 2.46 …” While the immediate question relates to the accuracy of such figures, we will have to assume that errors are sufficiently consistent across the data to preserve the ratio between them.
As an agent of social control, the Church probably did less than it should and the drink demon lurked in the manse. The Church condoned the ‘national weakness’: how could it do otherwise when, in the eighteenth century: “The leader of the Evangelical party was famous not only as a preacher but as a ‘five-bottle man’?”3 “… it did not frown upon this vice”. It may be that the Church has its own gastronomic heritage relating to drink. “Ecclesiastical sources abound with the evidence of priests coming to the altar half drunk …”4.
Ross, on the story of Whisky commented that: “The clergy in Scotland were not by any means as opposed to drinking and smuggling as they would like the public to believe. Certainly, intemperance and trafficking in uncustomed goods were condemned openly, but we find from the minutes of early synod meetings that the ministers themselves were frequently men of the world in these matters. The Reverend Aenaes MacAulay of Gairloch was accused by his synod in 1754 of buying a quantity of rum and Geneva from a boat in the smuggling trade and selling it to his parishioners. We find that the Reverend Archibald Campbell of Morven was accused of being drunk at a baptism in 1733” [and so on].5   Henderson6 gives a leader from The Scotsman a hundred years later which indicates that there was little improvement: “That Scotland is, pretty near at least, the most drunken nation on the face of the earth is a fact never quite capable of denial. It may seem strange that Edinburgh, the headquarters of the various sections of a clergy more powerful than any other save that of Ireland, should, in respect of drunkenness, exhibit scenes and habits unparalleled in any other metropolis, and that Glasgow, where the clergy swarm, should be notoriously the most guilty and offensive city in Christendom …”7
The Drinking Scot
“We Scots have got to learn how to enjoy drinking. Not by any stretch of the imagination could the average Scots reveller be called ‘happy’. Generally he’s a sodden mass of inert misery, a kind of walking foregone conclusion.”8
The self-fulfilling prophecy which British society assumes about the Scots may be seldom let down by sobriety in the face of national or other celebration and the liberal supply of drink. Even in a serious study, this assertion needs no reference to prop it up. Accepting this to be the case the difficulty lies in explaining reasons behind the fact. A full explanation has defied those who would be able to put any reasons to practical benefit such as physiologists, health educationalists, even sociologists. What can be given here is a discussion of some of the opinions relating to the questions concerning the excessive drinking in Scotland through the course of history. We can appraise some aspects of the Scottish temperament and nationalistic fervour as we travel with the authors of the opinions used.
The Scottish pride in its drinking reputation has a long history as Young has pointed out: “We hear of Joannes Scotus Erigena, in the ninth century – a Scot born in Ayr … dining tête-à-tête with Charles the Bald of France: when the King pawkily asked, after some bouts of wine-bibbing, ‘Quid distat inter Scotum et sottum?’, ‘What separates a Scot from a sot?’, to which John the Scot promptly replied, “‘Mensa tantum’, ‘Only a table’”.9
Such pride in the ability to consume large quantities of alcohol is at the core, possibly, of Scottish manhood. The dimension of masculinity is a relevant component of the debate and part of “A man’s a man for a’ that.”a Bonnet has remarked that: “A food becomes ‘masculine’ as soon as women, children, and old people … do not consume it.”10 Valentine11 draws upon Miller12 in a debate concerning the tendency of lower class people to hold as important the idea of masculine toughness as the (polar) opposite of effeminacy and weakness. Coombes extended the discussion to the public house: “Male attitudes are understandably reflected in the greater use of pubs – usually better value – but also because they are regarded as more masculine.”13 Lochhead brings the discussion to Scotland with “… wine, women and song contributed to the elevation of the masculine spirit”14
That masculine spirit [see web-link page] relating to drink has been a feature of Scottish gastronomic history. Boswell described the demands made of a certain clan chieftain: “Every Laird of MacLeod, it is said, must as proof of his manhood drink it off [Rorie More’s large low horn with a capacity of ‘more than a bottle and a half’] full of claret without taking it from his right arm.”15 A footnote to the page penned by ‘Carruthers’ mentions that the ceremony continued at least to 1852 but an artificial bottom had been inserted “to reduce the libation to a moderate draught.” Guthrie16 gives a very similar quotation and added that the horn was kept at Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye. Ross17 notes that “It was the custom for the young heir to drain it when he became of age.” The detail relating to claret is discussed in a later section and public houses are the object of attention in a section further on. While whisky (and brandy) are the focus in a later section we can generalise a little on the distilled commodity. “Spirit drinking and hard drinking at that, in the eighteenth century was a masculine pursuit in which women joined on special festive occasions.18Trevelyan noted the heavy drinking when “On six evenings a week the taverns were filled with men of all classes … till the ten o’clock drum, beaten at the order of the magistrates, warned every man that he must be off home.”19 The same writer details the unsteady hurrying home when laird aided the working man and vice versa. Daiches20 remarks upon “the degree to which gentility and coarseness coexist in the same circles” where manly drinking was not distinguished by social class. Such attitudes to the masculinity of the drinking activity, however, may have been inculcated at an early age, at least with those of the lower social order as Harvey suggests:
“Two youngsters met in the street one day, and had a ‘friendly fight’ with their tongues which soon led to the employment of something of more weight to decide their opinions. Willie’s father seeing the combat went and asked what the fighting was about. ‘He said his father was drunk mair times than you.’ Replied Willie, thinking he was making a score in favour of his father.”21
There are many aspects of the history of Scottish drinking habits up to the early 1800s which have been brought together by a J. Dunlop and these are now considered.
Drink in Scotland as Viewed by J. Dunlop
The ensuing discussion relates to a book written about elements of ‘compulsion’ in earlier Scottish drinking. The full title of the book is “The Philosophy of Artificial and Compulsory Drinking Usage in Great Britain and Ireland; containing the characteristic and exclusively national, convivial laws of British Society; with the peculiar compulsory festal customs of 98 trades and occupations in the 3 kingdoms; comprehending about 300 different drinking usages.” By John Dunlop, President of the General Temperance Union of Scotland, 1839. Rather than take pieces out somewhat disjointedly it is appropriate to treat the book as a very worthwhile entity and refer to it when occasion demands.
It is a statement of many customs, occupations and interesting facts relating to drink and in his introduction, Dunlop remarks “It is matter of interesting enquiry, to investigate the various modes of inebriation as they exist in different countries; and the examination becomes serious and important, when it is undertaken with a view to address a cure to the intemperants of any given community.” The book is of use to the research, not so much for a study of intemperance in the given community of Scotland but to help unravel some of the customs linked to drinking. Early in the discussion (on page 2), Dunlop remarks that “In America, if we may trust the narratives of travellers, there is scarce such a thing known as men sitting together in company at wine or liquor after dinner …”. That applied, too, to Scotland at an early stage in its drinking history. While that situation has changed, Dunlop exhorts us to remember throughout the work that “… in Great Britain there exists a large plurality of motives, derived from etiquette and rule.” While much of what is now described as fallen from modern etiquette it helps show the formation of such rule.
Chapter One deals with “The Artificial and Compulsory Drinking Usages of Scotland” and attends to some of the “… rights, customs, ceremonies, etiquettes, and courtesies, that here accompany inebriation.”22 “In no other country does spirituous liquor seem to have assumed so much the attitude of the authorised instrument of compliment and kindness, as in North Britain …”, and this is a fairly important issue for our research.
The discussion soon moves on to look at the high level of compulsion to drink in various occupations. The quotations have been modernised. Taking the example of the joiner or cabinet maker we are informed that the “stripling” who starts his apprenticeship needed to pay a sum as “an entry” to be spent on drink by the workmen. “He receives charge of the fire in the premises; and at every failure of kindling, mending or extinguishing at night, he is fined in a small sum, to be expended in whisky …”
We note23 that both apprentices and full blown carpenters, etc, were ‘sent to Coventry’ for refusal to comply with such customs while a journeyman carpenter, who did not pay the drink money, “… found one morning his tools removed to a dung hill …” where they were found three months later. Various examples serve to show that the practices were widespread and other incidents are described – “entries” for founders, coopers, tinsmiths, cloth-lappers and numerous others: “… drinking never stops with the occasion of its commencement, but always proceeds in an augmented ratio.”24
Various other stages in a man’s career in a trade are given: those in the hatter trade had to pay at the end of the apprenticeship what was called a “garnish.” The anniversary of such events was marked by further payments, all of which had to be spent upon drink. Wood was used in the hatter trade and a “plank pint” was also payable when the felt was worked on a plank with hot water and various other treatments. On page 9 we read of “… shipbuilding yards charging two pounds” for entry money. The gains were spent on a dance which generally ended in severe drinking and several days were spent in bringing back the people to their ordinary state of sobriety. An apprentice in the Clyde area would have to give the wages of his first week as a journeyman in order to see his companions drink his welcome. We could go on with many further examples which progress to actual bottles of whisky25 being theorder of the day for those who sought to progress in their career.
Chapter Two is a continuation of the occupational customs relating to drink and while it is worthy to give a quick mention of the Herring Fisheries industry where “… the men are frequently put on the board intoxicated” we can pass to “the bargain”. On page 20 we read that “Among cattle dealers and butchers there are few or no dry bargains; and if the business be in the country, they will go miles to a public house, to proceed in and close the transaction.”
A comment on page 21 needs to be read in the light of a changing social interest in propriety which Elias would have been pleased to note. “Although the custom of drinking over bargains among merchants and traders of the higher rank, is happily obsolete, it is by no means the case among the industrious classes.” Dunlop goes on to remark that “It would be impossible to calculate the extent of the deterioration of morals which this custom occasions, seeing that it is nearly universal over Northern Britain …”
We can summarise a fairly lengthy debate by saying that it is easy to see what it is participants in the bargain hoped to gain. “The seller, trusting to his superior capacity of withstanding the power of liquor, sometime expects in this way to procure a better bargain, and the buyer is no less sanguine.” The “rue-bargain” involved the purchaser attempting to go back on the agreement whereby a “forfeit of whisky, which aries in amount according to the value of the merchandise in question” was paid.
The closing pages of Chapter Two deal with courtship and marriage customs: the distribution of drink was associated with the proclamation of the banns26. “Tasting was an important activity at markets, fairs, and sacraments …”27. “A young man is forced to offer liquid fire to his sweetheart, and she is no less obliged to receive it!”28. A girl was therefore neglected, if not insulted, if an insufficient quantity of liquor was not available. As Dunlop aptly remarks “… whisky is the instrument of courtesy in this country …” Chapter 3 is a continuation of the discussion where there was the habit in large towns of meeting one’s betrothed in a “… respectable public house” due to the little opportunity of rural walks. While they discuss their future “… amid the clatter of tumblers and pint stoups …” they are bonded to the decadence since it is “… firmly associated with the most delightful hours of the most delightful season of life …” While the pre-marriage customs may have received some treatment above we read29 that when the couple emerged from the church the mob which collected at the doors “… must be pleased and pacified from outrage by a treat of liquor.” While not given mention as such that modern contrivance ‘wetting the baby’s head’ was something that occurred (especially) from birth until baptism. At the ‘other end’ the same glass for all who come within the door from death until the funeral of more elderly members of the family is still a custom in the Islands today.
Chapter 4 gives further examples of customs involving liquor. Today the celebrity presses a button, the champagne hits the bow of the ship and everyone applauds. The forerunner of such a custom is described on page 50: “The launching bowl is a bonus of drink, varying from two to ten pounds, according to the size of the ship bestowed by the owners on the apprentices of a shipbuilding yard, at the launch of a vessel.” A “graving bowl” was given to the journeymen after a vessel was “payed with tar.”
The church was not excluded from activities involving alcohol: “In some presbyteries, the presbyterial dinner is furnished with liquor, not by each member present to pay his direct proportionate share, but by fines imposed on various occasions. When a clergyman gets a new manse, he is fined a bottle of wine; when he has been newly married, the circumstance subjects him to the same amicable penalty; a child also costs one bottle, as did “the publication of another sermon.” A similar set of circumstances was set up for bachelor ministers. Other examples are given involving the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland and which would give us no surprise to read of anything involving the University. “In some Universities it is believed that the ‘sealing of the gown’ exists: and among medical students there are drinking usages connected with dissections and other occasions.”
On the same page Masonic drinking is described with the example of the “founding pint.” “It is bonus of drink, varying from the value of a sovereign to ten guineas, according to the size of the building, and it is given to the men by the proprietor, and on the occasion of the foundation stone being laid …” While the ‘topping out ceremony’ is perhaps all that remains we see30 that drink was distributed when the joists were fixed and the delivery of the keys was an occasion “for the roofing pint.”
Chapter 5 continues the Scottish usage of alcohol with coverage of farm occupations, women applying leeches and so on. As if by way an appendix, the May Day celebrations on Arthur’s Seat are described by a friend of the author: “The custom of celebrating the return of ‘May Day’ is universal throughout Scotland and like all other customs here, the drinking of whisky forms a prominent feature in it. In Edinburgh the day has been in use to be celebrated from time immemorial by a visit to Arthur’s Seat, and anciently the practice was simply for a party of friends to take lunch of some kind … in modern times, however this harmless practice has degenerated into a scene of debauchery and drunkeness, that no respectable family or individual engages in it …”
Savage Hospitality
Chapter 6 is a comment upon Scottish solitary drinking and a so-called national objection to it. It is followed by further examples of occupational customs relating to drink. Chapter 7 also has relevance to this study and commences with the treatment of “… how far national intemperance has affected the literature of Scotland.” “Our national poet Burns describes the realities of life, as he saw and felt them, and wrote only to the dictation of nature.” Some quotations of Burns’ work given31 reveal that “… we have premeditated hints of the general regard in which the stimulation of alcohol was held by himself, and generally by the people of the country in which he lived. ‘O whisky, soul o’ praise and pranks!’ seems an affirmation to which the most part of Scotland responds …” Again32“There are a number of Burns’ songs which are avowedly Bacchanalian, and therefore it may not be sound reason to attempt from them a demonstration of the amazing favour the Scotch nation bears to drunkness.” Dunlop goes on to illustrate “… that even temperate nations have drinking songs.”33 “And with respect to the intemperance of Burns himself, let those cast the first stone at him, who can say they never, by their own example of actual inebriation, or at least in persisting in artificial drinking usage, encouraging the intemperance of all around them.” Burns is not entirely admonished and there is a quotation from a letter preserved in the Andersonian University of Glasgow, dated Mauchlin, 8 November 1788: “… that savage hospitality that knocks a man down with strong liquors.”
Over a hundred pages and seven chapters are devoted to the Scottish drinking habits as seen in the early 1800s. While Dunlop was fair and covered Ireland and England in the same way, the present study cannot extend to the detail which he gives starting with Chapter 8. On page 256, however, he contrasts the inebriations of England and Scotland wherein the occupational drinking usages are held to be in greater abundance in South Britain than in the North, “… and the penalties for non-compliance with these seem to be more multi-farious and more severe.” Contrastingly, the social purposes of drink are held to be more important in the North: “… it will be found that in Scotland comparatively more inebriation and family use of liquor at funerals, marriages, christenings, merry-makings, dinner and supper, and in some cases, breakfast parties, and in ordinary forenoon visits, than what takes place in similar circles in South Britain where many forenoon visits, supper parties, afternoon and even dinner parties, occur without the use of wine and spirits at all.”
Dunlop suggests that perhaps the custom of health-drinking originated in the practice of offering libations at feasts to the gods or chiefs; or of pledging in ancient feudal times, when, at a mingled feast of friends and foes, one guaranteed his neighbour’s “wild-drinking.”
Not withstanding what was said earlier about the Church of Scotland, an Act of General Assembly, 13 June 1646, No XII forbids the ceremony among its members: “… it is pity that this prudent and Christian caution should everywhere be rebelled against in Scotland.”34
There is much of interest in a somewhat detailed overview of one man’s summary of drink in Scotland up to the early part of the nineteenth century and we can return to it from time to time. It has been worthwhile to keep Dunlop’s thoughts as a package and it may cause one to ponder if it had any effect on the revision of modes of drinking in the remainder of the century. It is safer to conclude that occupational drinking habits disappeared along with the outmoded jobs themselves. The long march of technical progress created new work patterns and a different drinking sociology emerged. While there is a less seriousness about it now, health drinking remains socially significant.
Whisky remains “the instrument of courtesy” to the present day and is taken to be synonymous with hospitality in many parts of the world. Claret, however, received little attention by Dunlop which suggests a change in its significance then as whisky had, by the 1820s replaced it as the “social drink.” We can attend to such issues as we move on to different dimensions of Scottish drink in more detail.
Claret: the Prince of Social Beverages
Rather than include the discussion of claret in that on the Auld Alliance it is relevant to keep the materials together rather than the approaches used to analyse Scotland’s gastronomic history of drink. The background details relating to Scotland’s link with France are debated in the Auld Alliance section of this chapter. Inevitably it was royalty and the rich merchants in early times who could effect trade with France and exchanged animal skins, wool and barley for more luxurious goods. An early account relates to 1263 when the tailor of Alexander III (1241-1286) went to the fair at Dundee: “… and thither also went the King’s wain … to bring home the casks of wine from Gasconny for his majesty’s summer drink.”35
It was as well that the demand for claret could be supported by such meagre goods which Scotland used as payment and large amounts of the drink were purchased. “The Scots imports from France, which included most of the wine drunk in the country, must have been considerable. The Scots sailed directly to Bordeaux in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and brought the wine directly back to Scotland, but, in view of the close political alliance between the two countries, the Scots do not seem to have enjoyed very valuable commercial privileges.”36
We have discussed the dubious benefit to Scotland of the Auld Alliance and Grant adds a further viewpoint. With such comment we can deduce that the quantity of the lower value goods which Scotland was sending in exchange for claret must have been enormous. With animal skins as a significant component of the purchase price, there would have been a surfeit of meat during the summer months. The opposite effect was undoubtedly observable when grain would have been in short supply in Scotland to support aristocratic tastes for luxury commodities such as claret. Social imitation, however, being what it is, it was not long before those lower in the social order began to crave this drink. R. Chambers37 notes that in 1688 “Sometimes they have wine – a thin-bodied claret, at tenpence the mutchkin, which answers our quart.”
The French demand for grain would vary through time and as this grew less its availability for home use would move from its use as a staple food to the production of very elementary distillations and, more probably, the making of ale. While improving the choice for poorer people the range of liquors available to the merchant class varied not at all.
According to Ross (in his detailed account of whisky as it happens) the upper classes in eighteenth century Scotland drank “ale, claret, brandy, sherry and others. Claret was undoubtedly the most popular of these and was drunk to excess.”38 Ramsay quotes from anecdotal material relating to a minister who although having “a mortal antipathy to the whole French nation … had great relish of the glass of claret which he considered the prince of all social beverages.”39 So established was the drink that it was a component of ancient ceremony as is discussed earlier in the section “The Drinking Scot”, when masculinity was considered.
Claret was the component, then, of both occasional and everyday ceremony and we now see its use by the Church and bench: “… the Lord Commissioner entertained the dignitaries of the Church of Scotland, ministers assembled to discuss points of theology or, more frequently, Church government, and grave judges clothed themselves with an awful solemnity as the third bottle of claret was set before them.”40
The patterns of claret consumption varied only with social class – those with good purchasing power never lessened their grip on the claret cup but the poorer people switched from ale to claret as economy permitted. “The Scottish lairds and wealthy townsfolk for long remained faithful to french wines, especially claret, a tribute to the ‘Auld Alliance’.”41 The more general description came from Ross42: “In the period which I am talking about, the seventeenth century in this case, and throughout the first half of the eighteenth century and beyond, wine was the universal drink of all classes when they could get it.” Haldane was more specific with dates and also showed how the tables turned concerning the Auld Alliance: “Originally claret was the ordinary beverage, since it was exempt from duty till about 1780, but the horror of everything French drove it from all tables during the wars.” 43
The Inordinate Love of Whisky
“Scotch whisky is not a whimsical mountain dew distilled by pixies but a spirit produced by human art …” and, “… it can only be made in Scotland by people who actively enjoy making it.”
The first part of the quotations is by Daiches44 and we will be using more of his material as we go through this account of the history of Scottish whisky. The second part is from Rev. Dunoon’s contribution to the seventeenth volume of the Sinclair Statistical Account of Scotland, 1796. Both portray the popular view of this commodity and if the historically earlier writer had just finished his morning’s dram he no doubt would have written about people who actively enjoy drinking it.
The general demand for whisky has created a parallel craving for literature, albeit often at the popular level, on its history and use as a medium of entertainment. A brief look at its history can point to one or two influences upon its acceptance as the “instrument of courtesy … compliment … kindness … and savage hospitality” as Dunlop has described.
David Daiches has had much to say about Scottish history and in his book “Scotch Whisky …” asks, “Was it the Scots who brought the art of distilling from Ireland?”45 He concludes that it was developed very early in Ireland and was brought to Scotland “some time in the Middle Ages but we cannot be certain … The first recorded allusion to a spirit distilled from barley in Scotland is found in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls for 1494 …”46 , “but it must have been going on from a much earlier period”47 Ross48 also gives details of the 1494 entry in the Exchequer Rolls and both probably obtained the information from any edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica.49
While Daiches50 sees a clear origin for uisge beatha through the ‘aqua vita line’, Ross51 warns that early references could well have been confused with another spirit as “the consumption of brandy and even the making of it, merges with the production of whisky.” ‘Water of life’ being mentioned brings to mind the question of the different quality of water which exists in the Highlands. This important fact coupled with the idea that the Scots may have had a greater aptitude for making whisky and developing variations of it has enabled Scotch to sell more than Irish whiskey in the world at large.
If whisky had been drunk in Scotland from before the fifteenth century, it took a long time for it to become the national drink. Ale, claret and brandy may have vied with each other for that title and claret seems to have won except in times of increased home production of whisky.b Although whisky is accepted today as the national drink of Scotland, its predecessor in that capacity was claret according to Wilson who remarks: “By the Act of Union, Scotland had come under the same customs regulations as England. Prior to that date the close traditional sympathy between that country and France had made claret a favourite Scottish drink … But gradually, under the operation of the anti-French regulations, the taste for French wines declined, and spirits took their place as the favourite Scottish beverage.”52 Whether the move to favour whisky was quick or slow the main reason for the growth of whisky drinking is the improvements made to the various ad hoc devices used to distil the liquor.
Daiches53 has drawn together details of the changes in the tax laws made to curb the growth of the illicit still, and his account is now summarised. The first major excise tax on spirits was passed in 1644 and “lapsed after the Restoration in 1660”. It was reimposed in 1693. The Board of Excise was formed in the year of the Union (1707). The English malt tax was imposed at half its rate in Scotland in 1713 but was resisted with verbal vigour and riots. Haldane continues the account with the comment that: “Whisky took an extraordinary hold on Scotland after the Union, or, rather, after the malt tax was imposed in 1725; the last was a small tax but extremely unpopular. Smuggled spirits were brought into Scotland from Holland and France, and in ever-remote portions of the coast this trade was carried on without any feeling that this infringement of the law was wrong. There was also a belief, which gave great satisfaction, that by smuggling the English were being deprived of the proceeds of their unpopular imposition!”54
Ross agrees that “Scottish spirit dues had come into line with those in England at the Union of Parliaments in 1707” but suggests that “they diverged in 1736” with the implementation of a further Act which exempted Scotland: “It was aimed at curing a social malady that was peculiarly English. Any similar malaise did not obtain in Scotland. Whisky seems to have graduated slowly and gently from being the drink of the lower classes to being everybody’s drink. There was no sudden and massive appearance of cheap drink as in England when King William began his commercial fencing with the French.”55
If we believe Ross, there would seem to have been no drinking problems. If the rapidity with which whisky caught on in Scotland was different from that of gin in England its ultimate effect was at least equivalent. As Ross indicated, the transition was gradual and this is due, in part, to the different ‘locations of influence’: “Edinburgh … gained supremacy in the brewing industry in spite of the malt tax which was extended in Scotland in 1725, and produced a riot in Glasgow, whilst the distilling of whisky, licit and illicit, was supreme in the Highlands, and its consumption, which was favoured by smuggling, gained materially in the course of the century on that of beer.”56
Whisky smuggling in Scotland can be interpreted as a counter-measure of the social control affecting the amount of liquor available to the people. It was at the same time a reaction to the taxes imposed on that liquor which was legally available. The Scot had been accustomed to a liberal supply of his, by then, favourite liquor at a price which he forced his personal budget to accommodate. Smuggling was the obvious answer to the two-pronged stab of restrictions on supply and increasing cost. This had the effect of putting out of business some of the conventional distillers. The illicit distillers who sprang up to take their place had the advantage of being able to sell their products which undercut by far those who were left in the normal market place. The normal distillers found that the restrictions imposed upon the manufacturing of their whisky were so onerous that it became a less worthy and valued product compared with the illegally produced liquor. “This superiority induces a corresponding desire in the inhabitants of Scotland to possess themselves of smuggled whisky, even at a higher price than that for which they can purchase the same article from the licensed distillers. 57
Such fervour to obtain this commodity at almost any price and under so adverse conditions in a bygone age has been replaced by no less fervour to consume it today. While worldwide in its application, this study has needed to remain in focus upon whisky in Scottish culture. Some small attention has been paid to Scotland’s French allies and there could be only spurious conclusions as to why in Scotland “Whisky goes further down the social scale than in England.”58 Perhaps the obvious answer was provided by McLaren59 who generalised about his fellow countrymen: “The one characteristic which he is allowed in common by … opposing views of him is an inordinate love of whisky.”
The Scottish Public House
A popular topic of debate is the difference between the Scottish public house and an English counterpart. We shall see that it is not merely an issue engaging the attention in modern times though we will start with an up-to-date view. We can consider the poetic as well as the practical dimensions. According to Henderson,60 Scottish pubs seemed “bare, joyless drinking dens compared to cheery, jovial English hostelries.” He then quotes MacDiarmid with the justification that it took a writer of his genius “to turn a squalid vice into a virtue.” MacDiarmid compared Scots and English drinkers and said that “We do not like the confiding, the intimate … the hail-fellow, well-met, but prefer the unapproachable, the hard-bitten, the recalcitrant, the sinister … the sinister to the smooth. We have no damned feeling at all …” and, by implication – do not need a jovial English hostelry”.
Moving on with slightly more practical application, Allen’s view in 1968 was: “Scottish pubs are really bars, having failed to develop as full-scale inns on the English pattern, due to the fact that the native hospitality of old was so bounteous that travellers never lodged for the night except in private houses.” While Marie Stuart may agree with the lack of development she would give radically different reasons based in the idea that the Scottish hostelry retained its provision for the horse to the detriment of the rider far longer than its English counterpart. The Scots preferred the title “stabler” to the English “Inn-keeper”. As late as the end of the eighteenth century a Samuel Wordsworth kept a house in Leith Street, Edinburgh, “but the fact that he also styled himself ‘stabler’ showed where his real interest lay …”61
The age of the horse lasted longer in Scotland due to the lack of road development and by 1750-1800 many from England were well used to travelling in coaches. There was little reason to invest in inns (which also served as public houses) due to the lack of travellers. Henry Graham commented on the period mentioned: “In consequence of the small number of passengers on the roads in those days of bad travelling, the inns in Scotland were miserable in the extreme. In country towns there were mean hovels, with dirty rooms, dirty food and dirty attendants.”62 Chambers contrasted “the state of the lower classes of public houses in Scotland and in England. The contrast is too remarkable to have escaped the notice of anyone who has visited the two countries. In one, we find a certain appearance of neatness and comfort; in the other, the most wretched pictures of disorder, filth, and poverty.63
In 1752 Parliament passed an Act64 in order to develop the Highlands. Smith65 has described what took place and detailed the lack of improvement in the Scottish inn. This was due in part to the “… close-knit family relationships of the gentry ensured that few journeys took them out of reach of the houses of friends or relations … such open-handed hospitality was an enjoyable social custom for those who shared it, [but] there was one detrimental effect. With no expectation of refined clients, Scottish inns made no attempt to cater for the discriminating, and their reputation was for a long time deservedly bad.”66
Other modern writers have also made such contrasts and Stuart, too, was concerned with ‘pictures’. “The old Scottish inns defy any attempt to glamorise them into the Christmas card prettiness that has transfigured their English counterparts.” 67 This Scottish concern, perhaps even jealousy, for a nicer pub in England, was expressed also by McLaren: “And as for the pub or inn, which in an English village is not only so full of charm but is, along with the church, an essential element of the place, here the contrast is to be seen and felt at its most poignant. Bare and unfurnished as a station waiting-room, decorated only by the crudest advertisements for spirits and tobacco, it possesses only too often an air of furtiveness and unfriendliness imposed upon it by being the public place of sin in a small community.68
McLaren does point to the public house in Scotland as one important part of the social life in the smaller, often cut off communities. The city, however, cannot be viewed in the context of the present discussion, as a different case and is, after all, a network of small communities.    For this reason it is proposed to discuss town and city together and explore one possible influence on the social use to which the Scottish public house was put. It is to do with housing. While in a previous section we considered other aspects of the influence of the Auld Alliance, it has been said that conurbations were designed on the French model of upwards rather than outwards2 thereby condensing the population into a more tightly packed social unit.
Mackie was concerned with the overall accommodation situation and reflects that in the average household: “There were few drawing rooms where a four-poster bed was not to be seen. Ladies ‘wi’ a lang pedigree’ received their guests in their bedrooms …” and, obviously the poorer folk suffered in relatively a far worse way. “As a result of this lack of accommodation, the tavern became a second home …”69
Graham gives a similar account: “drinking and tavern frequenting form … a curious characteristic of Scottish town life. In Edinburgh, accommodation being extremely limited in the dwelling home, there were no rooms in which to transact business with clients or to give entertainments with friends. Men were therefore obliged to resort to the tavern or coffee house, where the charges were moderate and rooms convenient.”70 MacKinnon71 gives similar information relating to “lords, lairds, judges, professors, ministers and physicians.72
Sutherland73 gives us perhaps not the earliest available statistics but they serve to illustrate the point being made. In 1908 a Government Report74 showed that 23.8% of the total number of houses in Glasgow were one-roomed.
With such comments as these perhaps we are getting nearer to the truth of the matter. As late as 1858 the housing of many people was inadequate even by standards prevailing then. Alexander Brown toured Glasgow in that year and wrote about what he saw in “Midnight Scenes and Social Photographs”. In the following account he visits a carter and his wife the former of whom obviously escapes to the local alehouse:
“You have a very small place here’ … ‘Yes, it is, sir, a wee place’, she replies … feeling of shame at occupying so mean an apartment. ‘Well, but you have it tidy and clean’. ‘Ou aye, we aye manage that, if naething else – my husband is a carter, an’ he hasna’ been in work for a long time – but if he didna drink, we wudna need to be here’. ‘Dear me, how do you live in it?’ … In this hole the husband and wife have lived for one or two years, and until lately, two children; the youngest of the latter having been only some weeks dead of measles, after five months illness.”75
To consider differences between Scottish and English public houses without incorporating the situation relating to housing in Scotland is to conduct a sterile exercise. The illustration provided by ‘Shadow’ can be shown to apply to elsewhere also as the conditions suffered by the poor were by no means exclusive to Scotland. Neither was the drink problem. The passage earns its place in this study as it makes a contribution to our knowledge of the cultural milieu and drink is an important dimension of it.
From Cradle to the Grave
An appropriate heading, perhaps, for both a final specific discussion and one which brings food and drink together again although its inclusion in this chapter is warranted due to the emphasis on drink. It is proposed now to give an overview of the main ‘life events’ in terms of the festivities and the first of these, is of course, birth. As yet another indication of the impact of the Auld Alliance we note the Anglicisation of the root word. The “Cummers’ Feast” survived to the early 1700s in Scotland where it was probably unique. The word stems from the French commere, a godmother, and the festivities relate to important births and were extant during Queen Anne’s reign (1702-1714). The feast was “… a supper where every gentleman brought a pint of wine to be drunk by him and his wife. The supper was a ham at the head, and a pyramid of fowl at the bottom. This dish consisted of four and five ducks at bottom, hens above, and partridges at top. There was an eating posset in the middle of the table, with dried fruits and sweetmeats at the sides.”76 The feast concluded with a scramble for the sweetmeats with as much noise as possible, and a visit “to the stoups (for there were no bottles), of which the women had a good share; for though it was a disgrace to be seen drunk, yet it was none to be a little intoxicat [sic] in company”.
The next event was the christening which long ago if being carried out in the kirk was accompanied by the parents in order to induce “… the father to take his vows before the whole congregation”.77 Due to the difficulties this presented the ceremony was proceeded with at home. However, there was less of a problem in meeting the social obligation of giving the first person they met after the event a piece of bread and cheese or sweets and cake. The practice died out as the nineteenth century progressed.
In considering marriage customs, Dunlop78 points out that drinking started with the proclamation of the banns and the girl was entitled to feel insulted if insufficient courtesy (whisky) was not available when the first announcement was made. Guthrie79commented upon Old Scottish Customs and noted that “When a young man went to pay his addresses to his sweetheart, instead of going to her father and declaring his passion, he adjourned to a public house, and, having made a confidante of his landlady, the object of his attachment was at once sent for. The fair maiden thus honoured seldom refused to come; and the marriage was arranged over constant supplies of ale, whisky, and brandy!”80 
When the wedding took place the extent of drinking was such that many would have been ‘happy’ by their arrival at the kirk and most would be too far gone by the end of the evening. The celebrations were traditionally held at the girl’s home on the logic that “… wife-givers are generally considered superior to wife-receivers the latter come as supplicants for the hand of the bride.”81 Even the poorest families would have had to save for the vicarious consumption of the food and drink at this important occasion. It was the custom in the 1700s when “a bride of more humble station entered her new home to break a cake of shortbread over her head, the fragments of which were gathered up by the young people and dreamed on.”82
The bride would have been given her “tocher” or dowry and her parents would still have to find the “poor-oot” of coins to be “tossed” or poured out on the group of children normally attracted to the ceremony. However, Scots humour being what it is, even the poor would live in happiness, perhaps tempered with plain speaking, as Harvey relates concerning the dowry:
“In some parts of the country it is customary for a bride to bring a dower to her husband, and no matter how little she may bring, she must not come empty handed. One couple, who had experienced wedded bliss for some years, were having a quarrel, when the husband taunted the lady with the paucity of worldly goods with which she had endowed him. ‘Awa’, said he; ‘when ye mairred me, a’ye brocht was a cask o’ whisky an’ the auld bible.’ ‘Weel, Jock,’ was the quick response, ‘gin ye had paid as muckle attention to the beuk as ye did to the bowie, ye would have been an meenister o’ the gospel ere this!” 83
Turning attention now to an ostensibly less happy occasion solemnity was not necessarily an important requisite as meeting the social expectations relating to the funeral and descriptive humour continues:
“Wullie, Wullie, as lang’s
ye can speak, are ye for
your funeral baps roond or square?”
Mary Fleming84 in the Real Humour of Scotland managed to capture the funny side of the earnest ways in which the ordinary people of not-so-bygone ages went about their entertaining. There is little doubt, however, that the above quotation was first printed in Ramsay’s “Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character”85 and “Wullie” was “an old tenant of … George Lyon of Westerogil …”
There was a certain earnesty in the drinking to the extent that the purpose of the occasion and its chief actor could be lost fairly early. Ross86 shows that such activities were not solely confined to previous centuries. “Within living memory, at the funeral of an old lady on a certain island in the Outer Hebrides, the rather high-spirited company set off with the empty coffin, commenting to each other that Margaret must have wasted away a lot during her last illness. They buried the coffin with all ceremony and returned to the house of mourning to find old Margaret’s body still stretched out and awaiting burial.” These unhappy revellers have a solid history of similar gaiety on these occasions and Smollet described perhaps a typical occasion in Argyllshire with this ideally less typical outcome:
“Yesterday we were invited to the funeral of an old lady, the grand-mother of a gentleman in this neighbourhood, and found ourselves in the midst of fifty people, who were regaled with a sumptuous feast, accompanied by the music of a dozen pipers … the guests did such honour to the entertainment, that many of them could not stand when reminded of the business on which we had met. The company forthwith taking horse, rode in a very irregular cavalcade to the place of interment, a church, at the distance of two long miles from the castle. On our arrival, however, we found that we had committed a small oversight, in leaving the corpse behind; so that we were obliged to wheel about, and meet the old woman halfway …”87
In 1810 prior to her impending death “an old maiden lady” in Strathspey sent for her grand-nephew (another Willy) and said “… I’m deein’, and as ye’ll hae the charge o’ a’ I have, mind now that as much whisky is to be used at my funeral as there was at my baptism”. Not having been at the baptism the nephew left no margin for error and the corpse managed to be left outside a country inn on the way to the churchyard ten miles away88 Similar stories but with conventional burial of “the corp” as it was called are related appertaining to much later in the century which somewhat refutes Smout’s comparison of Scottish life in 1700-1800 when he concludes that “It was no longer, for example, the right thing to get hopelessly drunk at a friend’s funeral as a mark of respect for the deceased.”89
You would have said aye to being asked to the ‘service’ and Guthrie establishes the use of this word to apply also to the funeral feast. “It was formally the custom in the Campsie district, when the head of a family died, to invite all inhabitants to attend the funeral. The visitors were served seated on boards in the barn, and by way of commencement were supplied with ale, then followed whisky, after this came shortbread, then some other kind of liquor, then a piece of currant bread, and a third supply either of whisky or wine. After this came bread and cheese, pipes and tobacco. This feast was called a service; sometimes it was repeated, in which case it was a double service.”90
Elsewhere, however, the “services” were more like courses “… these services being interspersed with admonitions, lengthened prayers and graces, when the mingled worship and entertainment terminated, the people proceeded to the churchyard after a scout stationed on a rising ground in the neighbourhood gave intimation that no additional mourner was seen approaching the place of meeting. The following was the regular succession of the services:
            1st service          …         …         Bread and cheese with ale and porter
            2nd service         …         …         Glass of rum with ‘burial bread’
    3rd service          …         …         Pipes with tobacco. To prepare the pipes was one of
                                                            the duties of the women who sat at the late-wake
            4th service          …         …         Glass of port with cake
            5th service          …         …         Glass of sherry with cake
            6th service          …         …         Glass of whisky
            7th service          …         …         Glass of wine not specified
            8th service          …         …         Thanks returned of the whole.”91
At a 1790 funeral in a Carluke barn, “They had worked at the – what was called ‘a service’ – during three previous hours, one party succeeding another, and many taking advantage of every service, which consisted of a glass of white wine, a glass of red  wine, a glass of rum and a prayer of thanksgiving. After the long invocation, bread and wine are passed round.”92
The normal interpretation of the overall funeral service was that it would be extremely costly beyond providing liberal quantities of drink (and food). Graham93 gives details of just the embalming cost in 1720 - £66 for one “corp”. “In 1704 Lord Whitelaw, judge, was buried at the cost of £5189 Scots or £423 Sterg., nearly equal to two year’s salary in those days.” Our interest, however, lies with the gastronomic dimensions. The typical event comprised a feast which was much extended by the minister blessing the meat – his only solemn oration, mark you, on certain occasions, when the glass was circulating at an increasing rate. The sack, ale and claret eventually ran out and the desolate were so due to its disappearance rather than by the loss of the dearly departed.”94 In that cultural milieu excessive drinking would not have been any disgrace. It was no disgrace either, with the extent of poverty as it was, to have at one’s family funeral large numbers of beggars and after the guests had had their drink as described their shortbread and oatcakes, special loaves and whatever was left over was distributed.
— 0 —
In ending the descriptions of life and food on a potentially sombre note at least it has been shown to have some humour. At other times the light-hearted aspects of early Scottish history have been shown. While the entire treatment might have been a cradle to the grave coverage of the standard of Scottish diet at least we have seen its adolescence, full maturity and the beginning of its failing years. The treatment could well have been solely on a cradle to the grave dependence upon alcohol but a more balanced view was necessary. The final chapter looks forward to improving the Scottish diet, and looks into the Scots psyche, perhaps.
Appendixes 1 & 2
This comprises proverbs and a glossary. Text between [ ..] has been added by the author to the more obscure entries. Sources can be found and extensions can be made by putting obscure and interesting phrases into Google search using quotation marks.
Now that the food and drink aspects have been covered, we can look at proverbs etc.
Appendix 1
Scots Proverbs and Sayings
connected with
Food, Drink and Hospitality
The Proverbs of Scotland
Alexander Hislop 1807 - 1865
A bannock is a guid beast, ye may eat the guts o’t on a Friday.
      Meat in Scotland meant not flesh but any kind of food, the commonest being bannocks or unleavened cakes usually of bere, pease or barley meal. There was therefore no prohibition on eating them in Lent or on Fridays.                                                                                      (see bannocks)
A broken kebbuck gangs sune dune.(Kebbuck - whole cheese)
A cauld needs the cook as muckle as the doctor.
A drap and a bite’s but sma' requite.
      Those who are our friends are welcome to food and drink.
A dreich drink is better than a dry sermon.
      Dreich is dry in any sense. You could take the drink or leave it, but the sermon was forced upon you. [Dreich is more used today regarding weather – overcast, miserable.]
A guid dog ne’er barkit about a bane.
      Good servants are not always looking for rewards.
A guid goose may hae an ill gaislin.
A Hieland Welcome.
      Proverbially hearty and generous, if extended to the right clan, or person otherwise acceptable.
      Burns wrote:
      When death’s dark stream I ferry o’er
      A time that surely shall come
      In heaven itself I’ll ask no more
      Than just a Hieland welcome.
A horn spune hauds nae poison.
      Humble people do not tempt poisoners.
A hungry man’s meat is lang to makin' ready.
      He thinks so, anyway.
A kiss and a drink o' water mak but a wersh breakfast.
      Love in a cottage, on these terms, was evidently not satisfying to the practical Caledonian. (wersh - tasteless)
A layin' hen is better than a standin' mill.
      A small useful thing is better than a great useless one.
A mouthfu' o' meat may be a tounfu' o' shame.
      This would be so if the food were stolen.
A toom pantry maks a thriftless guid-wife.
      A wise saying for the present day. The housewife must have something to be thrifty with.
A wee mouse will creep beneath a muckle corn stack.
      Said when a little woman marries a big man.
Ane at a time is guid fishin'.
As caller as a kail blade.
      Even in hot weather this was cool and often used to hold butter. [caller – fresh]
As the soo fills the draff soors.
      A guest expressed his appreciation of an excellent and plentiful dinner in this way. ‘There’s just one serious fault your food has. It spoils my appetite.’ But draff, used to feed pigs, was the refuse of grain and even pigs probably thought so.
Bannocks are better than nae breid.
      Bannocks were less appetising than bread, however, being unleavened.
Better a moose in the pot than nae flesh.
Breid’s hoose is skailed never.
      A house with bread is never empty of food.
Butter to butter’s nae kitchen.
      Used when women kiss each other, to imply that there would be more relish in the business if one was of the opposite sex.
Do as the coo o Forfar did.
      A woman put a newly brewed tub of beer on the doorstep to cool. It was all drunk by a passing cow whose owner was then taken to law by the ‘browsterwife’. However, the Forfar magistrates found for the cow-keeper on the grounds that the cow had not sat down to drink but had taken a deoch-an-doruis, or door-drink (parting drink) which was always ‘on the house’. [As described earlier in this book.]
Even a haggis will run doonhill.
      A soldier is not necessarily very brave who charges downhill, though this was the favourite manner of the Highlanders.
Every man has his ain bubbly-jock.
      It was formerly the practice to board out draft fellows to farmers, so that they might do work and be out of mischief. A gentleman visiting one of these poor souls asked him if he were happy. He began to cry. He confessed that he had a soft bed, a full belly, and pennies for sweeties. Still he was troubled. ‘O, mister, my life is made a burden to me,’ he wept. At last he managed to tell his worry. ‘O, sir, I’m sair hauden doon by the bubbly-jock.’ It seems that the turkey-cock had taken an aversion to him and chased him at sight.
Fair words winna mak' the pot boil.
Fiddlers’ wives and gamesters’ drink are free to ilka body.
      Probably because their owners were too busy to keep an eye on them.
Fools mak' feasts and wise men eat them.
      The Duke of Lauderdale was making a great feast in London when one of his guests very impudently said the above words. The Duke, who was a great wit, replied, ‘Aye, and wise men mak' proverbs and fools repeat them.’
For a hen’s gerss [pasture]
They’ll flit i the Merse. [they will go (flit) to fertile land far away]
      The Berwickshire farm employees were addicted to changing their district every term-day on the slightest pretext. Although free range fowls enjoy an odd bit of grass, which enriches the yolks, a hen’s grazing is insignificant.
Frae the greed o the Campbells
Frae the ire o the Drummonds
Frae the pride o the Grahams
Frae the wind o the Murrays,
             Good Lord deliver us!
      This was the grace of an eccentric Highland laird, Maxtone of Cultoquey. He was no respecter of persons, and it is said that when visiting the Duke of Montrose, who was a Graham, he recited his customary grace, and quickly discovered the truth of his third line.
Gluttony goes hand-in-hand with drunkenness.
Giff-gaff maks guid friends.
      Exchange of necessities between neighbours makes for friendship.
He canna mak' saut to his parritch. [He cannot put salt on his porridge]
      He cannot earn even the smallest necessity of life.
He jumped at it, like a cock at a grosset.
      He accepted the offer greedily.
He needs a lang spune that sups kail wi the deil, or a Fifer.
      Few men were considered the equal of these in cunning.
He that eats but ae dish seldom needs the doctor.
Here’s to you in water, I wish it were in wine.
You drink to your true love and I’ll drink to mine.
I wish ye may hae as muckle Scots as tak' ye to your bed.
      When drink began to tell, many Scots of old used to address the company in a rigmarole of Latin and other tongues. The above sarcastic wish expressed also a doubt whether the wordy one would have any coherent language at all before morning.
I wouldna ken him if I met him in my parritch.
If a’ your hums and haws were hams and haggises, the pairish
would be weel fed.
      Said to those who could not make up their minds.
If I’m spared.
      A very common expression among the pious, and thought to be little out of the ordinary. An old lady, surveying a kirkyard of pleasant surroundings, remarked, ‘Eh, I’d like fine to lie there some day, if I’m spared.’
      Another, bidding her tea-table friend goodnight, remarked, ‘Weel, Janet, I’ll see ye again next Tuesday, if I’m spared.’ The other replied, although acidly, ‘And if ye’re no, I’ll no expect ye.’
If ye dinna see the bottom, dinna wade.
It’s a guid goose but it has an ill gansel.
      Gansel has two meanings; a honk, or a harsh sauce made with garlic, often used to drown the fishy, smoky flavour of solan geese or gannets which they retained even though hung in the chimney for a time before being cooked. The above proverb when applied to a woman meant she was well-favoured but had either a harsh tongue or was otherwise better avoided.
It’s a sair time when the moose looks oot o the meal-kist wi a
saut tear in his e'e.
      When there is not enough meal to feed a mouse.
It’s as easy to get siller frae a lawyer as butter frae a black dog’s hause. (throat)
It’s a silly hen that canna scrape for ae bird.
It’s an auld tout on a new horn.
      Tell me the old, old story.
It’s ill speaking between a fou man and a fasting.
It’s lang or ye need cry ‘Schew’ to an egg.
      There’s no need to worry yet or for a long time. A hen’s egg, even if it hatches, takes three weeks to do so.
Keep your ain fish-guts for your ain sea-maws. (sea gulls
      Charity begins at home.
Keep your breath to cool your parritch.
      Spoken to those who talked too much and out of their turn.
Kindness is like cress-seed: it grows fast.
Licht suppers mak lang days.
      The Scots were often forced to make a virtue of necessity.
Like the drinkers o’ Sisterpath Mill.
      These Berwickshire men, inspired by what Dr. Henderson calls ‘determined sociality’ sat down to drink when a hen was set upon a clutch of eggs and did not rise until the chicks were running about the house.
Like the Laird of MacFarlane’s geese, they liked their play better than their meat.
      James VI, at dinner with the MacFarlane chief on an island in Loch Lomond, had noticed the geese chasing one another on the loch; but the bird served for dinner was so tough as to draw forth the above remark from the waggish monarch.
Love and raw pease are two ill things, one breaks the heart, the
other bursts the belly.
Many men speak o my meikle drink, but few o my sair thirst.
      Burns sublimates this in:
      What’s done we partly may compute
      We ken not what’s resisted.
More land is won by the lawyer with the ram-skin than by the
Andrea Ferrara with his sheepskin handle.
      i.e. by parchment deeds than by deeds of war.
Muck is the mither o the meal kist.
      This was in the days before the chemical fertilisers.
Muckle to mak a wark aboot, a deid cat in your parritch. [porridge]
      A sarcastic remark to fuss-pots.
Nae gairdener ever licht-lied his ain leeks.
      No man speaks ill of what he values most.
Ne’er speak ill o them whase breid ye eat.
Ne’er tak a stane to brak an egg when ye can dae it wi the back o
your knife.
      To bring a great force against a contemptible obstacle only invites ridicule.
Some hae meat that canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
For which the Lord be thankit.
      The Convenanters’ ‘Grace before Meat’, a favourite with Burns and grown proverbial. ‘Want’ in the second line means ‘lack’, not ‘desire’.
Speak weel o the Hielands, but dwell in the Laigh.
      Those who inhabited the Moray Coast, or Laigh o Moray, were wisely advised neither to invite the hositility nor to seek the hospitality of their turbulent Highland neighbours.
Suppers kill mair than doctors cure.
      But these were the suppers of a gargantuan age.
Tak a piece, your teeth’s langer than your beard.
      A kindly excuse for giving a child an extra titbit.
Tak your ain will o’t as the cat did o the haggis, just ate it and
then creepit into the bag.
      A Parthian shot at those who won’t listen to reason.
Thanks winna feed the cat.
      This is a boorish speech, and is much on a line with the Highlander’s remark when the tourist admired the magnificent scenery. ‘Maybe aye, but ye canna fatten the coos on’t.’ The Scots were not fond of bombastic language, and took some delight in deflating it with such unsentimental remarks.
That was langsyne, when geese were swine
And turkeys chewed tobacco,
And sparrows biggest in auld men’s beards,
And mowdies delved potatoes.
      This was considered a good reply to a scarcely credible statement. (Mowdie - mole)
The coo that’s first up gets the first o the dew.
The gustin bane o Kirkmahoe.
      There is a long story and a ballad (by Cunningham) about this curious custom in a Dumfriesshire village. The people are said to have been so poor that they could not afford meat for the broth but hired a bone, at a halfpenny for a few dips, to give it a flavour.
      This is probably a ‘made’ story, libellous. Anyone who wanted to start a riot in Kirkmanhoe chanted this couplet:
             Wha’ll buy me? Wha’ll buy me?
             Three plumps and a wallop for a bawbee.
The proof o the pudden’s in the preein o’t.
The scourging of a nine-gallon tree.
      Broaching a firkin of ale and drinking it all at a sitting.
The wrang side o a bannock to a Menteith.
      The betrayer of Wallace was his own close friend Graham of Menteith. For centuries this abhorrent crime was kept green by unfailingly serving a Menteith with a bannock wrong side up. But, even as late as the publication of theImperial Gazetteer of Scotland, and century ago [ie 19th century], though there is a long article on Menteith, including history, no reference is made to this supreme treachery, a conspicuous omission.
There was never a caik
But there was a maik
But the caik o Tollishill.
      This rhyme originated in the following way. The farmer’s wife of Tollishill in Lauderdale repaid the Earl of Lauder- dale for the life-long remission of her rental by baking a cake full of new-minted guineas and taking it to him when he was a prisoner in the Tower.
There ne’er was a bad, but there micht be a waur.
      It is hard to say whether this is a comforting thought.
There was little meat and muckle mirth
At little Bauldy’s wedding.
      Recorded by Dr. George Henderson. A common remark at Berwickshire weddings when the fare was scant. A similar sarcasm used in the fisher town of Newhaven was, ‘If it’s to be a wedding, let it be a wedding. Bring oot anither herring.’
There’s a piece wad please a Brownie.
      The Brownie, or domestic fairy drudge, was always left a delicacy at night in the form of a bowl of cream or a bannock buttered or spread with honey. But it was provoking disaster to leave a Brownie anything other than this.
There’s as guid cheese in Choicelee
As ever was chowed wi chafts
And the cheese o Cheshire
Is nae mair like the cheese o Choicelee
Than chalk’s like cheese.
      Choicelee is a farm near Duns, Berwickshire. Cromwell’s troops are said to have given Choicelee the above reputation about fifty years before the famous Dunlop cheese was first made in Ayrshire.
‘There’s baith meat and music here,’ quo the dog when he ate
the bagpipes.
      This comical proverb was often repeated by those who were invited to an entertainment and found refreshments as well as musicians.
They hae need o a canny cook that hae but ae egg to their
This is like the fiddler o Chirnside’s breakfast,
A’ pennyworths together.                                                     
      The fiddler sent his small son with sevenpence to give this order:
      A pennyworth o tea
      A pennyworth o sugar
      Three penny loaves
      A pennyworth o butter
      And a pennyworth o he-herring
      For my father likes milts.
Times tries a’, as winter tries the kail.
      The hardy kail, or borecole, was for long the only vegetable in the Lowlands of Scotland. Indeed, in the Highlands they did not relish the refinement of kail, but ate boiled nettles. The point of the proverb is that the kail was unpalatable until after it had suffered frost, which, however, often killed some of it. So with people: if they could survive the trials of life, without being embittered, they were a great asset to humanity and a credit to their kind.
Tip when ye like ye shall lamb wi the lave.
      At a drinking-party this meant that like the parable of the labourers, whenever you started it was ‘equal shares’ at the end. But ewes are under no such compulsion and must lamb after their natural term of gestation, whether in January or June.
To cast a leglingirth.
      This is a metaphor drawn from the shepherd’s life. The leglingirth was the lowest hoop on a pail, for milking ewes. If it became loose and fell off, the milk ran out. But in a figure of speech it meant having an illicit love affair.
Wattie Ross o the Crawbutt
Never took a supper
But just a chack o cheese and breid
And a lang waught o porter.
      The substitute for supper was more than adequate, for this Berwickshire man grew in girth until he featured in another rhyme.
      O Wattie Ross pu up your breeks
      Nor let your kyte shine through the steeks
      Your shop-door hangs so low, man.
‘What’s no in the bag will be in the broo,’ as the Hielandman
said when he dirked the haggis. [broo – juice]
What fizzes in the mou winna fill the wame.
      Tasty food is not always best, and this principle applies to all attractive things. [mou – mouth, wame – stomach]
When the bag’s fu the drone gets up.
      An analogy between bagpipes and boozing.
Ye breed o Leddy Mary, when ye’re gude ye’re ower gude.
      A drunk man prayed to Our Lady to help him mount his horse. After many attempts, preceded by as many petitions, his request was doubly rewarded. He cleared his mount and landed on the other side.
Ye canna gaither berries off a whinbush.
      Don’t go to ill-tempered people for favours.
Ye come o the MacTaks, but no o the MacGies.
      Those clans are found all over the world; the saying means, ‘You’re greedy.’
‘Ye look like a runner,’ quo the deil [devil] to the lobster.
      The lobster is the speediest beast in the sea, even though he swims tail first.
Ye may tak drink oot a burn when ye canna tak a bite oot o the
      Many died of starvation in old Scotland, nobody of thirst.
Ye ne’er heard a fisher cry stinking fish.
Ye ne’er see green cheese but your een reel.
      Green cheese means cheese newly-made: a great temptation to gourmands. [gourmand here = glutton]
Ye run for the spurtle when the pot’s boiling over.
      the spurtle was a rod for stirring porridge etc. Every nation has a proverb on these lines, the English one being about locking the stable-door after the horse is stolen.
Ye wad kiss ony man’s dirty shune for leave to bake in his oven.
Ye was put oot o the oven for nippin the pies.
      You can’t keep your fingers off other people’s property.
Ye winna believe a bannock’s hardened unless ye knock on it wi your nail.
      Description of a doubting Thomas.
‘Ye’re a liar,’ said the dummy;
‘Sae I see,’ said the blin’ man;
‘Weel, dinna shout sae lood,’ said the deaf man.
      They were all cheats. In olden times, after bad harvests, great numbers of beggars swarmed over Scotland, and many professed to be physically afflicted. ‘Sorning’, or begging by force, was heavily punished under the later Jameses. In the 18th century beggars were given licences.
Ye’re like a hen on a het girdle.
      You can’t keep still.
Ye’re like the coo-couper o Swinton, your thirst’s unquenchable.
      This cattle salesman’s explanation of his drouth was that at his birth the midwife had given him an over-long drink of salt water. A two-fold reason for giving new-born infants brine was: it brought up the phlegm and drove out the devil.
You’ve been eating sourocks instead o lang kail.
      Sourocks or sorrel is said by Culpeper ‘to cool fevers and to quench thirst and to promote appetite in a decaying stomach’ but here it means ‘you are in a sour mood’.
Your breid’s baket, ye may hing up your girdle.
      You have achieved all you aimed at.
Your conscience is like a grey friar’s sleeve.
      Very accommodating.
Your meat will mak you bonny and when you’re bonny you’ll be weel lo’ed and when you’re weel lo’ed you’ll be licht-herted and when you’re licht-herted you’ll loup far. [leap far]
      This far-fetched argument was recited to encourage children to eat.
Appendix 2
Glossary of Words and Terms
used in Scottish Food, Drink and Hospitality 
[Useful when reading Robert Burns and others]
Scots                                English                                          Scots                                English
abune—above                                                                         brugh—ring of mist.
ae—one; single.                                                                      bubbly-jock—turkey-cock
agley—wrong; off the line.   bumbee—bumble-bee
aik—oak.                                                                               bummer—hummer.
ain—own.                                                                               buskit—dressed up; prepared
airn—iron.                                                                                 for show.
ane—one.                                                                              ca—drive.
bairns—children.                                                                     ca’—call.
banning—cursing.                                                                   caller—fresh. 
bannock—unleavened cake.                                                     canny—careful.
bawbee—halfpenny.                                                                carl hemp—strong hemp fibre.
beckit—curtseyed.                                                                  carle’s win—man’ cropl harvest.
beetle—mallet.                                                                       chack—large hunk.
bield—shelter.                                                                        chafts—jaws.
bigget—built.                                                                          chiel—fellow.
birk—birch-tree.                                                                      clap—hare’s form.
birse—shoemaker’s bristle.                                                      clok—beetle.
black-dockit—with a black behind.                                            cog—wooden bowl.
blate—shy.                                                                             coo—cow.
bodle—small coin.                                                                  coo-cooper—cow salesman.
bogles—bogey-men.                                                               coul-cap.
bouk—bulk; size.                                                                    corbie—raven.
brae—hill.                                                                               cour—cower.
branned—served by the boar.                                                   croon o the causey—highest point
breed o—related to.                                                                 of roadway.
breeks—breeches.                                                                  crouse—happy.
broo or bree—broth; gravy                                                        crowdie—kind of brose.
brose—soup (broth)                                                                 daft—giddy; foolish.
daur—dare.                                                                            gaun—going.
daw—untidy woman.                                                               gar—to force.
daws—dawns.                                                                        gear—possessions.
deen—done (Buchan).                                                             geary—wealthy.
deils—devisl.                                                                          gerss—grass.
delved—dug.                                                                           giff-gaff—exchange of goods.
ding—push; strike.                                                                  girdle—flat iron plate for  
dozens—settles; fades away.                                                  girning—complaining.
draff—pig-feed.                                                                        Gramacie—magic spell.
dreich—dry; dull.                                                                     grace—mercy.
dub—puddle.                                                                          grat—wept.
dule—sorrow.                                                                         greet—weep.
dummy—dumb person.                                                            grice—young pig.
dunts—blows.                                                                         groats—crushed oats.
een; een—eye; eyes.                                                              grosset; grossart—gooseberry.
Embro—Edinburgh.                                                                 grumph—grunt.
emot—ant.                                                                             guid; gude—good
faur—where (Buchan).                                                             gudeman—husband.
fain—anxious.                                                                         gudewife—wife.
farrest—farthest.                                                                     gustin-bane—stock-bone.
fashed—bothered.                                                                   gule—corn marigold.
feard—afraid.                                                                          hag-pen—bog-hole.
fettle—condition; health.                                                          hanselled—brought a lucky gift.
file—dirty.                                                                               harms—brains.
fizzes—froths.                                                                        haud doon—to bully.
flesh-flees—blue-bottles.                                                          hauf—half.
flichter—fluttering.                                                                   hause—throat.
flittin—removing.                                                                     herries—robs.
fremit—strange.                                                                      het—hot; uncomfortable.
fuff—noise made by blowing out breath.                                    houtie-croutie—buttocks.
gab—talk; mouth                                                                    howdie—midwife.
gae—go; gave.                                                                        hure—harlot.
gaislin—gostling.                                                                    ilka—each.
gang—go.                                                                              ill—bad.
gansel—honk; harsh sauce.                                                     ingleside—fireside.
jaw—rough shower.                                                                 minny—pet name for mother.
John Heezlum-Peezlum—Man in                                              mirk—dark.
 the Moon.                                                                             mowdies—moles.
jouk—dodge.                                                                          muffed—gloved; mittened.
kail—broth; kind of cabbage.                                                    nay-say—refusal.
kail-blade—cabbage-leaf.                                                         neb—nose.
kebbuck—cheese.                                                                  new-come—newly begun.
kenna—know not.                                                                   nicker—neigh.
kep—herd; protect; keep; catch.                                              nocht—nothing.
kirk—church.                                                                          oo or woo—wool.
kirn—churn; fireside concert.                                                    or—before; ere.
kitchen—relish.                                                                       parritch—porridge.
Laigh (the)—Lowlands.       Pasch—Easter.
lang kail—unchopped cabbage.                                                peesweep—green plover.
lang syne—long ago.                                                               piece—slice of bread.
lave—remainder.                                                                     pike—pick.
laverock—skylark.                                                                   preein—tasting; trying.
lear—learning                                                                         pykin—plucking.
leglingirth—lowest hoop of milk pail.                                         quo—said; quoth.
lichtlied—spoke contemptuously.                                             raip—rope.
lichtsome—pleasant.                                                               ramsking—parchment.
lift—sky.                                                                                rattans—rats.
linn—a gorge through which a to-                                              raws—rows of cottages.
   rent flows.                                                                           reuch—rough.
lintie—linnet.                                                                          riggin—roof-top.
loaning—country lane.                                                             riving—tearing.
loose—louse.                                                                         rumple-routine—nonsense word
lowp—jump.                                                                              perhaps meaning crossed 
lug—ear.                                                                                sab—sob.
maik—equal.                                                                          saipet—soaped.
maun—must.                                                                          sairer—sorer.
meal-kist—meal-chest.                                                            sandy-mills—sand-castles.
meikle; muckle; mickle—great.                                                sark—chemise; shirt.
mennans—minnows.                                                               saugh—willow.
min—demure; shy.                                                                  saut—salt.
scartin—scratching.                                                                teuch—tough.
Schew!—Get off with you!                                                        thack—thatch.
schools—shovels.                                                                   thole—bear; endure.
schored—warned.                                                                   tint—lost.
schule—school.                                                                      tip—take the ram.
sea-maws—seaguls.                                                               tocherless—without dowry.
schauchled—shapeless; broken-down                                      tod—fox.
shoon—shoes.                                                                       toom—empty.
sic—such.                                                                              tout (pun)—sound of a horn or
siller—money; silver                                                                 
simmer—summer.                                                                  trow—believe.
skailed—emptied.                                                                   vreet (Buchan)—writing.
soo—sow.                                                                              wae—sad; sorrow.
sooms—swims.                                                                      wame—belly; stomach.
sourocks—common sorrel.                                                      wark—fuss; trouble.
soutar—shoemaker.                                                                waught—long drink.
speer—ask.                                                                            waukrife—unable to sleep.
Spunky—Will-o’-Wisp.                                                             waur—worse.
spurtle—porridge-stick.                                                            whangs—slices.
stang—sting.                                                                          whin—gorse; furze.
stark-deid—stone-dead.                                                           widdie—gallows.
steekit—shut.                                                                         wispit—wiped with hay.
stey—steep.                                                                           woo or oo—wool.
stirkie—bullock.                                                                      wrocht—brought about; worked.
stoor—dust.                                                                           wyce—wise, sensible.
straucht—straight.                                                                  yerk—jerk; stitch sharply.
sturts—startles.                                                                      yett—gate.
tane and the tither—one and the other.