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From Convivial Caledonia, Inns and Taverns of Scotland, and Some Famous People Who Have Frequented Them, by Robert Kempt, London: Chapman and Hall, LD., 1893; pp. 30-66.
HIGHLAND INNS, PAST AND PRESENT.
Donald Caird can drink a gill
Fast as hostler-wife can fill;
Ilka ane that sells gude liquor
Kens how Donald bends a bicker.
When he’s fou he’s stout and saucy,
Keeps the cantle o’ the causey;
Highland chief and Lawland Laird
Maun gie way to Donald Caird.
MOST of the so-called Highland inns of half a century ago — that is to say, before the advent of cheap excursions by road, rail, and river — were sorry places enough to “put up at.” In truth they were little better than bothies. Describing his first visit to Scotland in 1841, Charles Dickens writes to John Forster: “The inns, inside and out, are the queerest places imaginable. From the road, this one at Lochearnhead looks like a white wall, with windows in 31 it by mistake. We have a good sitting-room though, on the first floor, as large (but not so lofty) as my study. The bedrooms are of that size which renders it impossible for you to move after you have taken your boots off without chipping pieces out of your legs. There isn’t a basin in the Highlands which will hold my face; not a drawer which will open after you have put your clothes in it; not a water bottle capacious enough to wet your toothbrush. The huts are wretched and miserable beyond all description. The food (for those that can pay for it) is ‘not bad,’ as Mac would say; oatcake, mutton, hotch-potch, trout from the loch, small-beer bottled, marmalade, and whisky. Of the last named article I have taken about a pint to-day.” Again, of the inn at Dalmally, near Loch Awe, Dickens writes, — “We all went to the inn, and there we dined on eggs and bacon, oatcake and whisky; and changed and dried ourselves. The place was a mere knot of little out-houses, and in one of these there 32 were fifty Highlanders all drunk. Some of them were drovers, some pipers, and some workmen engaged to build a hunting lodge for Lord Breadalbane, hard by, and who had been driven in by stress of weather. One was a paper-hanger who had come out three days before to paper the inn’s best room — a chamber almost large enough to keep a Newfoundland dog in — and from the first half-hour after his arrival to that moment had been hopelessly and irreclaimably drunk. They were lying about in all directions — on forms, on the ground, about a loft overhead, round the turf fire wrapped in plaids, on the tables and under them.” The poor makeshifts that did duty as inns in Dickens’ day have, as every tourist knows, given place to palatial establishments, more in accordance with the requirements of advanced civilization, and more in keeping with the magnificent scenery of Loch Awe and Lochearnhead.
We get a glimpse of a Highland inn and the sort of accommodation it afforded, 33 or rather did not afford, to travellers a century earlier in the autobiography of Flora Macdonald. In the course of his adventurous wanderings in order to escape the clutches of the Duke of Cumberland, the universally execrated “Butcher of Culloden,” Prince Charles Edward Stuart, accompanied by four faithful followers, reached what was then the only inn of Portree. The heroic Flora, who was, of course, one of the party, describes the place as a miserable, low, smoky public-house, kept by a surly old fellow named M‘Nab. The fugitives, wet to the skin, had to dry their clothes as best they could, Flora being directed to a loft, called by M‘Nab a bedroom, where she was half suffocated by the smoke which puffed through the broken floor while she tried to dry her “riding coat.” In this wretched loft she passed the night; preferring to sit on a hard chair (and “not able to get a wink of sleep” for the smoke), rather than trust her weary limbs to an “uninviting thing in a corner,” supposed 34 to be a bed. Supper consisted of “broiled fish, bread, cheese, and butter,” which, we are told, was actually devoured by the half-famished travellers. The Prince asked for milk. “Not a drop to be had,” plaintively remarks the lady, “nor any liquid except whisky or water; nor was there such a thing in the house as a tumbler or jug, only a dirty-looking kind of bucket, which the landlord said ‘was far useful for the folk ower drouthy wi’ travel to tak’ a drink out of.’ ” The innkeeper was kept in ignorance as to the identity of his visitors, but, shrewdly suspecting that they were above the common order, he showed himself a crafty rogue by trying to cheat the unsuspecting Prince out of change for a guinea when the reckoning came to be paid! Such a character as this M‘Nab was not unlikely, one should say, to have betrayed Prince Charles for he sake of the 30,000l. reward, if he had had the chance. What a marvellous transformation from this wretched caravansary to the present Royal Hotel, Portree, 35 with its castellated clock tower and accommodation for hundreds of guests.
Flora Macdonald has a much pleasanter reminiscence of another Highland hostelrie intimately connected with the fortunes of her hero. When it was known that he was secretly resting at Moy Castle, some of Lord Loudon’s officers were assembled in Mrs. Bailey’s inn, Inverness, and over their wine were discussing plans for laying siege to the Castle at eleven o’clock that night, quite unheedful of the landlady’s daughter, a young girl of fourteen, who waited at table. Overhearing the particulars of the plot to secure the Prince, the girl at once resolved to save him if possible. As the story goes, having contrived to elude the sentinels, she set out barefooted on her journey of ten miles, the distance to Moy Castle, where she arrived at a late hour with the important information. “There was no time for ceremony, so the lady of Moy sprang out of bed, hastily threw on some clothes, and, calling the Prince, hurried him off by the bank of 36 Loch Moy, to be concealed until the danger was over.” Then followed the famous “Rout of Moy,” and the taking of Fort George by Charles, who was enabled to retaliate on Lord Loudon’s attempted plot by ordering his lordship’s own castle to be blown up. Thus was the life of the Prince saved by this brave Highland lassie. Is there no fitting monument at Inverness to this true heroine in humble life?
The same autobiography furnishes one of the most tragic tales of which a wayside inn has ever been the scene — and ghastly enough tragedies have not been uncommon in connection with wayside inns. The event here narrated happened many years after Culloden. Flora was now a wife and mother, and little dreamed, as the old saying is, of the terrible experience that was in store for her. She had been on a visit of some duration to friends living in a lonely part of the country, and, as the distance was considerable from her home at Armadale, she was escorted by her maid, Katie, and a lad to drive the pony and 37 cart. On her return journey they halted at an inn, “if such a hovel was worthy of being so called.” Flora felt too tried to travel further without rest, so Katie and the lad were told to continue the homeward journey, their mistress intending to follow next day on horseback with a guide. She found herself in the only decent room in the house. We continue the narrative in her own eloquent and pathetic words: —
“This room was over the kitchen, which I soon found out from the puffs of smoke down the chimney, as well as the voices of the men below. I did not see a woman about, and believe two men only were in attendance, for one of them showed me into the room and brought my supper. It was a gloomy place to be alone in, for the high road was some distance from the heath on which the inn stood. The night, though dry, was chilly, and gusts of wind shook the old window-frames, one of which I kept open to let out the smoke.
“Not feeling sleepy, nor inclined to try the untempting-looking bed, I thought it 38 a good opportunity to write a letter to our kind friend and relation, Sir Alexander M‘Kenzie of Delvin; so taking writing materials from a small box I usually carried in my hand, and seated in a corner as far as possible from door or window, I got on as well as the light of a tallow candle would allow of. All this time the men were talking earnestly, in Gaelic of course, when it seemed to me as if there was a kind of dispute, for one of them spoke in a higher tone, and a word or two I overheard rather alarmed me; so I softly opened the door and went to the stair-head. They talked in a sort of whisper, but fright opened my ears to hear clearly enough that these villains were only waiting until they thought I was asleep, to enter the room, and get possession of the letter-box, which they expected contained money or valuables.
“ ‘And if,’ said one of the ruffians, ‘she is likely to be troublesome, we know how to silence her: the same as the last. Ah! That was like to be a bad job, wasn’t it?’
39 “Oh, how can my horror be described? Thank God, I did not scream or make the least sound; my feet seemed rooted to the ground, and yet the necessity for immediate flight flashed on my mind. In a second a plan of escape was formed. I softly closed the door, and, in stopping to draw off my noisy boots, oh, horror! what did I see? A stream of blood slowly oozing from under the bed, which made me raise the valance — a dead body! — a man apparently recently murdered!
“A faint sickness came over me; I feared becoming insensible; but, offering up a few words of fervent prayer for help from that blessed Source of strength in every danger, I hastily tore off the sheets and blanket, knotted them firmly together, and tied one end to the bed-post as securely as my poor trembling hands could do it. The other end I passed over the sill of the window, which, thank God, was open, caught up my writing-box and small linen bundle, gently mounted the window-sill, and, seizing hold of the sheets, which 40 I prayed God might support my weight, slid down to the ground. Fortunately I landed on soft heather, so not a sound was heard. I had taken the precaution of blowing out the candle, that the vile men might have more trouble, on entering the room in the dark, to feel about for their intended victim — who trusted to be a mile or two on her road before her departure was discovered!”
It was past midnight, and pitch dark, but she paced on, running and frequently stumbling over the stones on that dreary heath. At length she came to a stone dyke, and drawing her cloak closer around her, and making a pillow of her small bundle, the terror-stricken and utterly exhausted woman lay down and fell fast asleep. She is awakened by the rushing sound of a neighbouring burn to find the dawn breaking. After refreshing herself with a draught of water from the burn (out of a leathern cup “which always journeyed with me, and was rendered sacred in my estimation from its having touched 41 the lips of the bonniest Prince in the world”), she trudges onward until she meets with a young, red-haired lassie coming to milk the cows. By her, Flora is directed to the Manse — not far off — where she is hospitably entertained. The murder was never found out, the two supposed perpetrators of it made their escape, and the inn on the heath was shortly afterwards demolished as a thing of evil omen.
Flora Macdonald was born in the same year — 1720 — as Charles Edward Stuart, and survived him just two years, dying in 1790. To the last she remained the most ardent of Jacobites, and the most devoted worshipper of “My Prince,” as she invariably called him to her friends. In the after part of his career, it must be confessed, there was little worthy of admiration in the character and conduct of the Pretender, little to inspire or reward the wonderful devotion of this brave and true woman to his person or cause. Certainly neither dignity for divinity did hedge a 42 king in his case. In extenuation of the sottishness of the Prince in his latter days, Mr. Robert Chambers pleads that “he had been a greatly disappointed men. There is, however,” the same writer remarks, “a more specific and effective excuse for his bad habits; they had been acquired in the course of his extraordinary adventures while skulking for five months in the Highlands. The use of whisky and brandy in that country was in those days unremitting, when the element could be had; and Charles’s physical sufferings from hunger, exposure, and fatigue, made him too eager to take the cup when it was offered to him.” Charles himself, on one occasion, confessed, “I have learned to take a hearty dram in the Highlands.” Unfortunately, like too many princes as well as plebeians, “Bonnie Prince Charlie” got too fond of his dram. It is recorded of another not over-abstemious Prince, George the Fourth, who, on his visit to Scotland in 1822, thought the best way to popularize himself on his arrival was to 43 call for and quaff a glass of whisky. This now “national beverage,” it may be remarked, was hardly known in the Lowlands of Scotland before the time of the Rebellion, being a drink almost exclusively of the Highlanders.
An interesting memento of that rising, to wit the stone on which the standard of Mar was raised on the 10th August, 1745, may be seen in the coffee room of the Invercauld Arms Hotel, Braemar. The actual spot itself, at Glenfinnan, is indicated by a narrow stone tower which is surmounted by a statue of Prince Charles in full Highland garb, the right arm extended pointing the route southward to the clans who mustered to uphold his cause, and a tablet within the monument records, in Gaelic, Latin, and English, the now old story of events that happened when the Scottish Highlands were the La Vendee of Great Britain.
The name of this unfortunate Prince’s father, the Elder Pretender, gives a passing interest to at least a couple of hostelries 44 during his brief and abortive attempt in Scotland to regain the throne of his fathers. The “Blue Bell,” in Dundee — at one time the town residence of the Stewarts of Grandtully, was the abode of the Chevalier de St. George previous to his so-called coronation at Scone. The old house was subsequently, in 1731, the birthplace of Admiral Viscount Duncan, the hero of Camperdown whose father was Provost of Dundee in the stirring time of the ’45. It was demolished about a quarter of a century ago, to make way for a more modern hotel. In the town of Montrose there was still standing, about the same period, a house, long used as an inn, but which derived its chief interest from having been the birthplace, in 1612, of the celebrated Marquis of Montrose. And here the Elder Pretender slept on the 14th February, 1716, the night before he embarked in hot haste for France. Less than two months had passed since he had landed at the same port on his desperate and fruitless enterprise.
45 To turn to a more agreeable picture, as illustrating the great improvement that has since taken place in the ménage of a village inn in the remote Highlands. Some thirty years ago the whole of a little inn was engaged by an agent for a party of ladies and gentlemen who were to arrive early on a stated day and leave on the following morning. The party arrived, enjoyed themselves like happy children on a holiday, and departed at the stated time, leaving the agent to settle the account. There had been something so unusual in the visitors that the good woman of the house importuned the agent to inform her of the real names of the persons for whom he was acting; and this he did without hesitation, having, as he said, permission to do so. The hostess then heard, not without surprise, that she had been entertaining no less exalted guests than Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, with one or two members of their suite. And thus it happened that the inn at the picturesquely-situated 46 village of Grantown-on-Spey became historical. Describing this expedition, as Her Majesty calls it, in her Journal, she says they had a dining and drawing-room in one, and a bedroom “very small, but clean, with a large four-post bed, which nearly filled the whole room. The service was decidedly primitive. . . . A ringletted woman did everything, and, when dinner was over, removed the cloth and placed the bottle of wine (our own which we had brought) on the table with the glasses, which was the old English fashion. The dinner was very fair, and all very clean — soup, ‘hodge-podge,’ mutton broth with vegetables, which I did not much relish, fowl with white sauce, good roast lamb, very good potatoes, besides one or two other dishes, which I did not taste, ending with a good tart of cranberries.” On a second similar expedition from Balmoral — 20th September, 1861 — the Royal party, consisting of the Queen, the Prince, Princess Alice, and Prince Louis of Hesse, passed the 47 night at the Ramsay Arms, Fettercairn, their attendants giving out that they were a wedding party from Aberdeen. They had a good time of it here. “We dined at eight,” writes the Queen, “a very nice, clean, good dinner, Grant and Brown waited. They were rather nervous, but General Grey and Lady Churchill carved, and they had only to change the plates, which Brown soon got into the way of doing. A little girl of the house came in to help, but Grant turned her round to prevent her looking at us. The landlord and landlady knew who we were, but no one else, except the coachman, and they kept the secret admirably.” A framed brass tablet hangs in one of the rooms to commemorate the Royal visit. They were not so fortunate at another hotel further north, where they passed the night on their third outing. “There was hardly anything to eat,” says Her Majesty, “there was only tea and two miserable, starved Highland chickens, without any potatoes! No pudding, and no fun, no 48 little maid (the two there not wishing to come in), nor our two people — who were wet and drying our and their things — to wait on us! It was not a nice supper; and the evening was wet. The Highland men-servants and two maids dined in the commercial room, and they had only the remains of our two starved chickens!” Even royalty in these latter days had to put up once in a way with shortcomings, which, in this case, meant short commons. The weather, too, it is evident from the tone of the royal diarist, did not tend to improve the situation.
Another Kincardinshire village, Laurencekirk, is not without interest to us. It is built on the estate of Lord Gardenstone, one of the convivial band of Scotch judges who flourished in the latter half of the eighteenth century. He died in 1793. It was Gardenstone’s ambition to found a flourishing town upon his property, and it may lay claim to this title in a moderate way at the present time. He began by building a comfortable inn, called the 49 “Gardenstone Arms,” to render it a stage for posting, and provided the inn with a good library for the use of travellers — a remarkable instance of forethought, and of the “diffusion of knowledge” for that age. The statement that this library was placed in the hostelrie is given on the authority of Lord Adam, a contemporary and brother judge of Gardenstone, though Dean Ramsay, who, by the way, was born the year Gardenstone died, says the library was placed in the vestry of the Episcopal chapel, also built by the Scotch judge. It is possible that the books were afterwards transferred to the vestry. Be that as it may, Gardenstone, we are told, “was much taken up with his hotel or inn, and for which he provided a large volume for receiving the written contributions of travellers who frequented it. It was the landlady’s business to present this volume to the guests, and ask them to write in it, during the evenings, whatever occurred to their memory or their imagination. In the morning it was a favourite amusement of 50 Lord Gardenstone to look over it. But an unfortunate contribution to its pages killed the book. Professor Stewart of Aberdeen (one of the famous Aberdeen philosophers already spoken of), while staying at the inn, had the volume handed to him, and he wrote in it the following lines, in the style of the prophecies of Thomas the Rhymer: —
Frae sma’ beginnings Rome of auld
Became a great Imperial city;
’Twas peopled also, we are tauld,
By spendthrifts, vagabonds, banditti;
Quoth Thamas, Then the day may come,
When Laurencekirk will equal Rome.
These lines, instead of affording amusement to his lordship, so “riled” him that he removed the volume, and it was never again seen at the inn. Dean Ramsay quotes another reminiscence of the place. The landlord, William Cream — incongruous name for a retailer of ardent spirits! — was one of the few men to continue to wear a pigtail. Lord Dunmore, who also still wore his queue, halted for a night at the inn. On the host leaving the room, 51 where he had come to take orders for supper, Lord Dunmore turned to his valet and said, “Johnstone, do I look as like a fool in my pigtail as Billy Cream does?” “Much about it, my lord,” was the valet’s imperturbable answer. “Then,” said his lordship, cut off mine to-morrow morning when I dress.” Dunmore had realized to the full the drift of the lines of his illustrious countryman, —
O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
And foolish notion.
Laurencekirk was the birthplace of Dr. Beattie, the author of “The Minstrel,” and the intimate friend of Johnson, Garrick, and Reynolds (1735-1803). The place has also acquired a more than local fame for the manufacture of wooden snuff-boxes. An elegant specimen of the at one time universal “Sneechin mull” was, with due ceremony, presented to the Queen on her visit to Scotland in 1844. The gift would doubtless have been more appreciated by, 52 as it would certainly have been more suitable or, Her Majesty’s grandmother, “Snuffy Charlotte.”
Her Majesty’s experience of a scanty cupboard reminds us of the experience of one of her humble subjects who many years ago put up at a commonplace inn amid the wilds of Banffshire. Being overcharged for a very plain repast, our traveller on the morning of his departure left the following lines on the breakfast table: —
Here Gaelic was on every lip,
A barking cur at every door,
Three shillings for a poratch breakfast,
I never paid the like before.
One reads in the newspaper from time to time loud complaints about the rapacity of hotel-keepers in the Highlands. Many of them, we are asked to believe, live simply by fleecing English and foreign tourists — their own countrymen, presumably, being either too poor or too knowing, or both, to be taken in. Their charges in many instances, we are told, are not only extortionate, they are little better than 53 blackmail. There appeared some time ago, in the London society journal, Vanity Fair, a skit entitled, “The Highland Innkeeper’s Prayer,” which presents a not very flattering portrait of that individual. The supplicant rejoices in the unmistakably Celtic name of Lauchie MacTavish, but the amusing verses are from the poetic pen of Mr. William Allan, the genial Member for Gateshead: —
Och! Lort my Cot, keep me from sin,
An’ efery sign of evil;
Sent rich folks only to her inn,
An’ puir folks to the teevil;
Och! If she maun pe gather wealth,
The simplest way pe surest,
A saxpence she’ll no’ teuk py stealth,
Na! she’ll shust skin the tourist.
Great Cot! Sent doon py rail and poat
Rich peoples py the hunder.
Their daily bills she’ll wisely note,
An’ nefer mak’ a plunder:
They come to view her mountain land,
Of claymores, spears, an’ targes,
Och! Lort! mak’ them, like warriors, stand
Her honest Hielan’ charges.
They come to shoot our Hielan’ game,
An’ fish our ponnie rivers;
Teach them it is a sin an’ shame
To pe puir siller-givers.
54 We are Thy Hielan’ peoples, Lort,
Unplest with gear or fortin’;
So, for they glory of Thy Wort,
She’ll mak’ them pay for sportin’.
Och, Lort! Thou know’st well what I am
On week days an’ the Sundays.
Whene’er she sells a Sawpath tram —
She teuks the price on Mondays;
She stands within Thy holy kirk,
A decent elder speerit;
Her prayers are larger than her dirk,
An’ should Thy pleasing merit.
She loves mankind with all her heart,
But och! she loves them greater,
Who with their siller freely part,
Like shentlemans by natur’.
Lort! should puir peoples here sojourn,
An’ o’er her charges grumble,
Make them no more to her return,
Och! keep them puir an’ humble.
Lort! Hielan’ men, like ither men,
For siller pray unceasin’,
Och! nefer let the Sassenachs ken
They’re sheep for Hielan’ fleecin’;
Och! hear, my Cot, her earnest prayer,
Look on her not in anger,
Thy glory will be aye her care
For efermore, an’ langer. — Amen.
But the like complaints of exorbitant charges are continually made against foreign hotel-keepers, to say nothing of seaside lodging-house keepers at home. 55 Two blacks don’t make a white, still our friend Lauchie MacTavish may not be a whit worse than some of his brother caterers elsewhere, and probably they all plead much the same sort of justification. As, for example, a Highland hotel-keeper was one day bickering with an Englishman in the lobby of the inn, regarding the bill. The stranger said it was a gross imposition, and that he could live cheaper in London, to which the landlord, with nonchalance, replied, “Oh, nae doot, sir, nae doot. But, do you no’ ken the reason?”
“No, not a bit of it,” said the stranger, lustily.
“Weel, then,” replied the host, “as ye seem tae be a sensible callant, I’ll tell ye. There’s three hundred and sixty-five days in the London hotel-keeper’s calendar, but we have only three months in ours. Do ye understand me noo, frien’? We maun mak’ hay in the Hielan’s when the sun shines, for it’s unco’ seldom he does!”
56 But there are inns and inns, and it is the universal testimony that in no other country in the world are there to be found greater attractions for pleasure-seekers or greater inducements to health-seekers than the better class of such establishments throughout the Highlands offer to the tourist. By no means the least famous is that of Drumnadrochit at classic Glen Urquhart. For more than a generation it has been a favourite resort of distinguished travellers from all parts. The visitors’ book kept at the hotel contains the autographs of many well-known statesmen, poets, artists, men of letters, etc. John Bright had sojourned here; John Philip, Millais, and James Cassie, among artists; Thackeray, Robert Carruthers, and Shirley Brooks, among authors, were familiar guests at Drumnadrochit. Alas! all, excepting Millais, have since gone over to the great majority. The visitors’ book is a really curious and interesting volume, not a few of the entries consisting of humorous versification and artistic sketches 57 of men and things. Some of these entries we find quoted in the Aberdeen “Daily Free Press.” Bright’s contribution reads, —
In Highland glens ’tis far too oft observed
That man is chased away and game preserved;
Glen Urquhart is to me a lovelier glen —
Here deer and grouse have not supplanted men.
These verses provoke quite a number of replies in kind by other guests. One individual, evidently no admirer of the late statesman, retorts thus, —
From Highland glens, for deer and grouse preserves,
Let Bright be chased away, as he deserves;
He loves not them, but only cares for salmon,
Seizes each chance of clap-trap and of gammon.
The genial and witty Shirley Brooks stayed here in the summer of 1860, and he gave his impressions of Drumnadrochit and the north generally, in a highly diverting communication to Punch. He writes, “The inn, whence these lines are dated, faces a scene which, happily, is not too often to be observed in this planet. I say happily, Sir, because we are all perfectly well aware that this world is a vale of tears, in which it is our duty to mortify 58 ourselves, and make everybody as uncomfortable as possible. If there were many places like Drumnadrochit, persons would be in fearful danger of forgetting that they ought to be miserable.” He goes on in a style of amusing exaggeration, — “Inasmuch as I have been receiving for the last week every kind of Scotch hospitality and also every kind of Scotch information, it is possible that the notes I have been able to make may not convey very precise notions to your mind. I own to being in a Paradisaical muddle. Still, I have done my best, and have struggled up against the influence both of the Tumbler and the Eke, to write down facts for you, after retiring (with slight assistance from my hosts) to my sleeping chamber. I can but transcribe those notes for you, being far too much occupied with fishing, theological discussion, and other diversions, to attempt anything like style. Your health, Sir, in a dram.” The general experience of the place seems to be expressed in the couplet, more pithy than elegant, which 59 is one of the entries in the visitors’ book, —
Deil! an’ he were ten times dockit
Wha’s no content at Drumnadrochit.
CLARET, PORT, AND WHISKY.
Scotsmen are believed to have acquired their predilection for claret a long way back in the days of the Regent Albany. He it was who taught them to like the taste of French wines. And until the introduction of that potent spirit called whisky in comparatively recent times, namely about the Stuart Rebellion, claret was the favourite beverage north of the Tweed. In the time of Duncan Forbes, the President of the Court of Session (1685-1747), a hogshead of wine was constantly on tap near the hall door at Culloden House for the use of all comers. Whatever may be said of Scotch whisky (whether known as “The Mountain Dew,” “Glenlivet,” “Long John,” “The Glencoe,” “The Highland Fling,” “Uam 60 Var,” “The Lorne,” “The Encore,” “Roderick Dhu,” “Islay,” “Whistle-binkie,” “Glendrooch,” “Lochnagar,” or by a score of other names), port at all events has never been able to overtop claret in the national regard. John Home, the author of the tragedy of “Douglas,” abhorred port, but was extremely fond of claret, and he was highly indignant when the Government laid a high duty upon the latter, “having previously long connived at its introduction into Scotland under very mitigated duties.” His indignation found vent in the well known quatrain, —
Firm and erect the Caledonian stood,
Old was his mutton, and his claret good;
“Let him drink port,” and English statesman cried, —
He drank the poison, and his spirit died.
Home’s friend, David Hume, the historian, aware of Home’s partiality for claret, and his detestation of port, and wishing at the same time to chaff him on the spelling of his name, made him a droll bequest in a codicil to his (Hume’s) 61 will, dated 7 August, 1776, very shortly before the historian’s death. It ran thus, —
“I leave to my friend, Mr. John Hume, of Kilduff, ten dozen of my old claret, at his choice; and one single bottle of that other liquor called port. I also leave him six dozen of port, provided that he attests under his hand, signed John Hume, that he has himself alone finished that bottle at two sittings. By this concession, he will at once terminate the only two differences that ever arose between us concerning temporal matters.”
The historian’s nephew records that John Home was very strenuous in support of the o, in preference to the u, in the spelling of his name, and held the point so clear in his own favour, as to admit of no debate. David Hume, on one occasion, jocularly proposed they should determine the controversy by casting lots. “Nay,” says John, “that is a most extraordinary proposal indeed, Mr. Philosopher; for if you lose you take your own name, 62 and if I lose I take another man’s name.” This he would often tell with great glee.
When Mr. Gladstone, in 1860, determined to make a change in the drinking habits of Englishmen, in favour of claret, he was but giving effect to a Scotch preference which he had learnt from his fathers. And here it may be remarked that Englishmen are in no small measure indebted to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales for the fashion of claret drinking which was altogether tabooed until he commenced his social reign thirty years ago, and which has now, to a very great extent, superseded port and other more heavy and heady wines. Gourmets no longer pride themselves on their old port or sherry, as in the days of yore, but upon their Bordeaux and the lighter wines. The present Heir Apparent, whilst the heartiest of eaters, has always been known for his abstemiousness in the matter of liquor. Queen Victoria provides incomparable wine for her guests and the royal household, but Her Majesty herself 63 drinks very weak whisky and water with her meals when alone, by the doctors’ orders. Even at banquets she restricts herself to a couple of glasses of Burgundy. The Queen’s collection of old port and sherry, East India, Madeira, and Cabinet Rhine wines, if we may believe a recent statement in a society journal, is probably the largest and finest in the country, and her Majesty has a splendid cellar of Imperial Tokay, which was Prince Albert’s favourite dessert wine. George IV. purchased vast quantities of port, Madeira, and sherry, which he was privileged to import free of duty, and in those days members of the Household were in the habit of getting a great deal of wine in the same way, under the pretext that it was being ordered for the king.
Reverting to whisky, a correspondent recently wrote to a newspaper to tell us how he manages to take the “sting’ out of his talisker, so as to render it a drink fit not only for gods, but goddesses. “Whisky consists of two elements — one, a furious overwhelming potion, which has all the 64 ‘devil’ in it; the other a harmless and, indeed, a beneficial thing, which raises the spirits, calls forth wit and talent, and brings out accomplishments in most men, particularly in those trouble with mauvaise honte and timidity. These two elements in alcohol are easily separated; the first and worst ought never to be used as a drink or refreshment; the last may be used with great advantage and with no danger. These elements are easily separated. Take a pint or a quart of whisky, put it in a saucepan or other vessel which will stand the fire; give it a boil, and the mischievous part will pass off rapidly with a strong smell; as soon as the smell weakens, and only the spirituous vapours come, take it off the fire, and make it into punch, with a proper quantity of water, sugar, and lemon juice, and a flavouring of the peel, and you have a drink which has all the virtues, and none of the mischiefs, of spirit not so prepared.” The writer then goes on to tell that whisky thus dealt with “is wholesome, and large quantities may be 65 taken without injury. It never affects the head disagreeably, and, in short, there is not ‘a headache in a hogshead of it’ — there is no feeling in the morning of having exceeded the night before; you are neither sick nor sorry; it is a drink particularly adapted to ladies, and I never saw it refused or regretted. When entertaining friends I have often proved its virtues thus. I have, of course, the best wine on the table, both white and red, but I also have a jolly good jug of punch made as above. It, of course, has a fragrant smell, and very soon I am asked, ‘What is that you are drinking?’ The answer is given by handing a glass of the liquor; and it is so approved of that it soon goes round the table, and there is an end to the wine-drinking; but a second jug of punch is always required, and may as well be made beforehand.” If any readers who may be partial to a “a cheerer,” to quote Dandie Dinmont’s customary name for a dram, feel inclined to try this new “brew,” for 66 which “all the virtues and none of the mischiefs” of whisky is claimed, the recipe is at all events simple enough, and as a matter of course the proof of the punch will be in the drinking.
HOVEDEN, an English historian in the reign of Henry II., informs us that Joannes Scotus, the early Scotch philosopher, being in company with Charles the Bold, King of France, that monarch asked him good-humouredly what was the difference between a Scot and a sot. Scotus, who sat opposite the king, answered, “Only the breadth of the table.”
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