Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Domestic Life in Scotland, 1488 - 1688
Lecture VI - The Commonwealth and the Restoration

THE tragic course of Scottish history under the later Stuart kings resulted from the irreconcilable antagonism of two ideas, each entertained as a principle absolute and admitting of no compromise. On the one side, the people, with every fibre hardened in its long struggle for religious liberty, held unflinchingly to the divine right of conscience. On the other, the Royalists asserted no less peremptorily the divine right of Kings. The people's claim meant in practice the divine authority of the Presbyterian form of religion. And as the King, in his capacity as I-leaven's vice-regent, claimed the right to impose whatever form of religion commended itself to him, and as that form was not Presbyterianism, there was no possibility of a compromise such as might have led to a peaceful and harmoniously organised national life. For eleven years under the Commonwealth and Protectorate, Scotland had experienced, for the first time in her history, the domination of a foreign government whose rule was orderly and not unjust, but which was yet in many respects uncongenial. And when, in 1660, Charles II was restored to the throne, there were many whose experience of the form of government set up by the Covenant led them to accept with relief the return of the monarchy, and who looked hopefully forward to happier times under the ancient line of Scottish kings.

But it soon appeared that the old antagonism was to find no pacific solution, and that the policy of the King and his advisers aimed at nothing less than the total extirpation of the Covenant, a policy which would have been impracticable had not the nobility turned Royalist and had not the Covenanters themselves been divided by internal differences. The Recissory Act cancelled everything in the way of legislation that the Covenant had accomplished, and Presbyterian ministers had to forfeit their charges unless they brought themselves to apply for collation by a bishop. There followed the long story of persecution which has been described as "the most pitiful, the most revolting, and at the same time the sublimest and most impressive page in the national history." When we read the narrative of the torturings and the violent deaths of those who remained faithful to the Covenant and who refused to accept episcopacy and thus acknowledge Charles as the head of the Church, and when we contrast their sufferings with the untroubled existence that was open to them as an alternative, we cannot wonder if the majority were ready to compromise and purchase peace and immunity on easy terms, nor if many of the Presbyterian ministers took advantage of the Acts of Indulgence to regain possession of their charges. While the dragoons were scouring the moors and hillsides for the followers of Cargill, Cameron and Renwick, and the heather was stained with the blood of the martyrs, many an amiable country gentleman was peacefully attending to the management of his estates, and had most of his time free for the comparatively arduous pursuit of his pleasures. One would never suspect, from reading the Account Books of Sir John Foulis, of Ravelston, that he lived through a time whose tragedies have stamped themselves so deeply on Scottish memory. The same skies, the same alternations of rain and sunshine, saw the Covenanters exiled from human society, upheld through danger and privation by dark sayings of the Hebrew poets, and stung by their sufferings to an exaltation that was either prophecy or frenzy; and Foulis, in the friendliest good humour, making himself popular at horse races and penny weddings, dispensing drink-money to the midwife, and tossing a hansell with a kind word to "ye muckman that dights ye close."

Such antitheses could of course be drawn in our own or any age. Yet the contrasted pictures of the Covenanter and of the cheerful laird may serve to remind us of the alternatives that a man had to face when he resolved to stand by the Covenant, and of the inducement to swallow his qualms and choose the side of comfort and safety.

In the furnishing of the times it is possible to trace some reflexion of the events, the changes of national feeling, and the social contrasts, of which I have reminded you. Looking back to the previous reign we note that Charles I had been himself something of a collector and a patron of the arts, and his influence and example had had their effect in diffusing among the upper classes an interest in the furnishing of their homes. But with his death and the establishment of the Commonwealth there was a marked reaction, under Puritan influence, against ostentation and display, and a general reversion towards simplicity and even austerity in the whole setting of domestic life. The eleven years of the Commonwealth were too short a period to bring about any far-reaching change in the development of furniture, yet all the characteristic pieces of furniture which we associate with Cromwell's time are distinguished by their simple design, aiming at usefulness rather than comfort or ornament. Many of them were of earlier origin, types selected owing to their being naturally suited to the ascetic views of life and of human requirements which guided the Puritan's choice. Thus what is known as the Cromwell chair, a simple rectangular chair with a horizontal panel for the shoulders to rest on, and with the seat and panel covered with stretched leather nailed to the frame, was really a development of the "farthingale chair," the earliest armless form of chair, which was introduced in James VI's reign to meet the necessity of ladies who found that the enormous whalebone farthingales, or crinolines, then worn, were a source of embarrassment when they were given an arm-chair to sit on. In Cromwell's day the extremely narrow seat of the farthingale chair had been extended to a more comfortable size, and the legs and stretchers were often turned in a "knob" pattern, though the straight leg was still perhaps more usual. On such chairs it was hardly possible to sit otherwise than bolt upright, so that there was little temptation to idle lounging. In the same way the gate-legged tables and writing bureaux of the period are furniture of a plain and homely type, such as men who aimed at sitting lightly to the world and its vanities might use without danger of having the eye seduced or the heart entangled.

After eleven years' experience of Puritan severity and repression, it was inevitable that there should be a revolt against a system that made little allowance for the natural instinct for beauty and innocent enjoyment. In Scotland especially, where the national struggle had never been directed against monarchical government, but merely against interference with religious liberty, the restoration of the Stuarts was hailed by most as a return of the good old times. Something of these feelings is crystallised in a very familiar type of contemporary furniture. What is often called a "Queen Mary chair," probably because of its association with Holyrood and also, perhaps, because the crown which is its characteristic decoration somewhat resembles the initial "M," is typical of the Restoration period. The crown is no merely conventional piece of decoration, but expressly commemorates the return of the monarchy; and in days when Royalist sympathies were not only naturally widespread but were also paraded, and sometimes perhaps even simulated, in order to allay suspicion of any Covenanting leanings, we need not be surprised that furniture that testified to one's loyalty had a considerable vogue. In those days, we are told, a solemn face was apt to prejudice a man's reputation, and a loud laugh was sedulously cultivated; so that Royalist furniture, besides being fashionable, had a precautionary value that appealed to the discreet. One characteristic feature of these chairs is the carved band which connects the front legs, and here, as on the top of the chair-back, the crown appears between two S-shaped scrolls or, in more elaborate examples, between two flying cherubs. The liberation from the severity of Puritan ideas is shown by the disappearance of straight legs and stretchers, and the knobbed turning of the late Commonwealth develops into "barley-sugar" spirals. The back has often a central panel, either rectangular or oval, which, like the seat, is stretched with trellised cane. The introduction of cane from the Malay Peninsula about this time was no doubt due to the East India Company, and Samuel Pepys first mentions it just after the Restoration, the entry being a rather characteristic one—"This morning, sending the boy down into the cellar for some beer I followed him with a cane, and did there beat him for . . . his faults, and his sister came to me down and begged for him. So I forbore. . . and did talk to Jane how much I did love the boy for her sake." The early cane seats had a wider mesh than is now usual, and as they wore out they were often replaced by padded seats, the backs being similarly treated. Other chairs of this type have wavy splats in the back instead of cane. Chairs of the same character are also found in France, but the crown, which had not there the same significance, is less prominent and appears rather as a conventional ornament. In English chairs a rose often occurs between the pair of scrolls which decorates each side of the back panel, while at Holyrood there is a chair in which the thistle is conspicuously used. In the later patterns we sometimes find the scroll form of leg—a form imported from France and destined to develop into the cabriole leg with which we are familiar in eighteenth-century furniture.

Another piece of furniture which is decorated with the crown is the day bed, generally called in Scotland the "resting" or "reposing bed." The day bed, which was the forerunner of the modern sofa, was known in Elizabethan times, and is, indeed, mentioned by Shakespeare. It was only after the Restoration, however, that it came into common domestic use, and it was a considerable addition to the comfort of the hitherto scantily furnished drawing-rooms of the time. Like the chairs, these resting beds stood on spiral legs connected with spiral stretchers, and they had the carved band showing the crown and scrolls in front. The seat was covered in cane. At one end was a back intended to support the shoulders, and the inclination of this back could be varied and fixed by strings to the uprights. The back and the long seat were furnished with bright-coloured cushions, and altogether the resting bed was a picturesque and characteristic piece of furniture. It marks, perhaps, the beginning of the propensity to lounging which inspires so much of our modern furniture and makes the club smoking-room the paradise of the lethargic sprawler. The day bed, as a concession to human indolence, was accompanied by the sleeping-chair, a good example of which may be seen at Holyrood. It is comfortably upholstered and the back has a projecting wing at each side, so as to form corners in which it was possible to dose with the head supported and sheltered from draughts. Notice, as a feature which this chair shares with the crown and other contemporary types of chair, the carved band which connects the front legs some way from the ground. As long as rushes were in use for covering floors, it was practically impossible to keep floors sweet and clean, and much unsavoury debris of one kind and another was apt to accumulate. The chairs and tables of those days accordingly show a plain stretcher near the ground on which the feet could be supported and kept clear of the floor. But when rushes gave place to carpets or to bare floors, which are often shown in seventeenth-century prints, the low stretcher had become an encumbrance which prevented people from tucking their feet below their chairs if they wished to do so. The stretcher, which strengthened the chair by binding the front legs together, was therefore raised, and, being no longer exposed to wear and tear from human heels, it developed into a decorative feature and was enriched with carving. How elaborate this carved decoration became may be seen in the double chair, also at Holyrood, which bears a ducal coronet and a monogram embroidered on the back of each seat. It appears to date from about 1680.

There are many influences other than the mere reaction against Puritanism which must be taken into account in tracing the development of furniture after the Restoration. One of these is the re-establishment of the Court, which was a powerful factor in diffusing extravagant habits of living. Charles himself, during his residence in France and Holland, had become familiar with more luxurious standards than those that had been countenanced under the Commonwealth ; and, as Evelyn tells us, "he brought in a politer way of living, which passed to luxury and intolerable expense." Were it necessary to illustrate the extent of the reaction at Court against the austere standards of Puritanism one might quote Evelyn's picture of the Court as he saw it within a week before the death of Charles II: "I can never forget the inexpressible luxury and profaneness, gaming and all dissoluteness, and as it were total forgetfulness of God (it being Sunday evening) which this day sennight I was witness of ; the King sitting and toying with his concubines, Portsmouth, Cleveland and Mazarin, etc., a French boy singing love-songs in that glorious gallery, while about twenty of the great courtiers and other dissolute persons were at basset round a large table, a bank of at least two thousand pounds in gold before them; upon which two gentlemen who were with me made reflections with astonishment. Six days after, was all in the dust."

In much of the furniture of the period the tendency to ostentatious display is plainly enough shown. There was a return from Puritan sobriety to the use of rich and brilliant colours in covering chairs, as well as in cushions and curtains. Some of the ladies whose names have just been quoted, and others whose names are equally familiar in connection with the scandals of the Court, exercised a distinct influence in this direction and had their part in the movement which brought into fashion all sorts of tinselled fringes, tassels and borders. The same tendency was shown by the introduction of such materials as ebony, tortoiseshell, ivory and mother-of-pearl, and their application to coffers and cabinets and other furniture. Charles had probably some experience of the use of these eastern substances during his exile in Holland; and they were brought to England by the English East India Company, which, incorporated by Queen Elizabeth in 1600, was so prosperous in Charles II's reign that one shareholder sold out his two hundred and fifty pounds of stock to the Royal Society for seven hundred and fifty pounds, a transaction which he describes as "extraordinary advantageous, by the blessing of God." Some of the furniture with ivory or mother-of-pearl inlay has a distinctly Saracenic suggestion, and it is likely that this may have come through Portugal as a result of Charles's marriage with Catherine of Braganca. To the disappointment of the King, his bride's dowry was paid in kind and not in cash. It included, besides sugar and spices, a considerable quantity of furniture which naturally gave a turn to the fashions of the time. The Braganca "toe" is a familiar type in furniture to this day. Even more important as an influence than the furniture was the cession to England, under the marriage treaty, of Tangier and especially of Bombay, which was the first step towards the acquisition of her eastern imperial possessions.

The exotic materials that have been mentioned were freely employed in the decoration of the cabinets which are a feature of the Restoration period. The word was applied not, as in our time, to large armoires and cupboards, but particularly to comparatively small chests of coffers supported on stands and containing a number of drawers. Such pieces were not unknown in the sixteenth century, and, indeed, Queen Mary had one which is described as "ane cabinet lyke ane coffer coverit with purpour velvet, quhairin is drawin litil buists to keip writtingis in." But since Mary's day the habit of writing and the number of confidential documents had greatly increased. Correspondence must have reached a considerable volume since the Union of the Crowns. In 1635 Charles I had inaugurated the inland post "to run night and day between Edinburgh and London, to go thither and come back again in six days, and to take with them all such letters as shall be directed to any post town in or near that road." It was sixty years later before the internal postal communications in Scotland were taken in hand by the Scottish Parliament. But the amount of correspondence was enough to explain the demand for cabinets. The religious diaries too of which we have spoken were presumably kept under lock and key, for it is one thing for a man to humble himself before his Maker and quite another thing to tell the story of his lapses and shortcomings to the peeping Toms, the prying Dicks and the gossiping Harrys of his own household, to say nothing of their feminine counterparts. Such considerations and the secrets contained in letters at a time when the whole kingdom was so divided on questions of religion and politics, and when so many people for one reason and another changed sides, explain also the introduction of sliding panels and secret drawers whose use was so highly developed in the cabinets of the Restoration. Of these the Lennoxlove Cabinet' is a good type. It is described in an early inventory as "The Duchess's Cabinet," and it is said to have been presented by Charles II to Frances Theresa Stuart, Duchess of Lennox, known as "la belle Stuart." The convex hearts of red tortoise-shell have thus a special significance. If the outside of the cabinet, with its inlays and applications of various ornamental materials, is characteristic, so also is the inside with its many drawers and hidden receptacles. The word "cabinet" means of course a little house, and it is interesting to note the tradition of architectural treatment which they exemplify. In this cabinet, as in so many others, the central recess is flanked by columns, and its floor is inlaid with black and white squares, like the portico of some great building.

An Act of James VI "Anent Banqueting and Apparel" had forbidden the use of gold and silver lace on apparel, "embroydering or any lace or passements upon cloathes, and pearling or ribbening upon ruffles, sarkes, napkins and sockes." It had even attempted to perpetuate the "fashion of Cloathes now presently used." But by Charles II's time such restrictions, as well as those imposed by Puritanism, had been forgotten, and dress was both gay and elaborate. What with silk brocades, lace, silver edgings, embroidered belts and all the other fineries of the day it was found necessary to devise a piece of furniture more convenient than the old chest or the shelved aurnrie, in which such things could be kept accessible, free from dust and arranged in some kind of order. The first step was to add a couple of drawers side by side in the lower part of the chest; and gradually the number of drawers was increased, till the hinged lid gave place to a fixed top and the whole of the accommodation was devoted to drawers. Thus was evolved that modern and convenient piece of bedroom furniture the "chest of drawers," which is what its name literally implies, though not in the too literal sense in which an Englishman is said to have asked in a French shop for a poitrine de cale Eons. The chest in its original form was now superseded and for practical purposes ceased to be made. The new form was similar in idea to the cabinets described above, and in the earlier specimens the drawers, or at least the upper drawers, were often enclosed by a pair of doors opening in the centre.

Those were days in which a great deal of liquor was drunk and drink-money was distributed lavishly to thirsty dependents on all sorts of occasions. But thanks once more to the East India Company tea and coffee began to come into use in England about 1660, while chocolate was also introduced, and we find allusions to the use of these beverages in Scotland not many years later. At first they were looked upon as having a certain medicinal virtue, being recommended for the "defluxions," but they soon won their way on their merits as beverages and began to bring about social changes. Tea and coffee houses sprang up, and there men foregathered to read the news sheets and to play cards and other games of chance and skill, so that there was soon an increased demand for small folding tables, often made of walnut—a wood which, being of more even texture than oak, was a more satisfactory material for the spiral legs favoured by the taste of the time. The employment of walnut and the discovery of its special qualities by the workmen who handled it led to the development of a lighter and more graceful type of furniture than the cumbrous oak furniture of earlier times, just as the introduction of mahogany in the following century led to further progress towards the ideal of slender and sometimes rather flimsy elegance.

The introduction of these folding tables and of furniture of a comparatively light kind, which could be easily moved from one part of a room to another, and the gradual adoption of tea and coffee, and many other small changes of habits, served cumulatively to bring a more modern atmosphere into the domestic life of the time. There was also a considerable development of the taste for music in private houses. Young ladies were taught to play the viol and the virginals, to the pride of their parents and, let us hope, to the satisfaction of less partial listeners. The charming pair of virginals shown in Plate XVI is a good specimen of the instruments on which they performed. It has spiral legs corresponding to those of the chairs and tables of the time. The keys, instead of being faced with ivory, are of solid boxwood, which was the material used for that purpose in Charles II's reign, and they are worn with the touch of slender fingers which made music two hundred and fifty years ago. The compass is only about four and a half octaves, and the tone was sweet and delicate, not powerful and sonorous like our modern pianos with their massive iron frames and their heavily loaded wires stretched at enormous tension. At each end of the keyboard is a little carved figure, and one cannot but feel that this instrument, if less efficient, is at least in outward form much more charming and sympathetic to the artist than the French-polished and stony-hearted looking monsters which are its modern descendants. The fifth, or central, leg seems to be an eighteenth century addition designed to carry a lever operated by a pedal for the purpose of opening and closing the lid in order to increase or diminish the volume of tone. The expression "pair of virginals" does not, of course, denote two instruments, but merely refers to the series of notes, as in old times a rosary was called a pair of beads,"or as we still talk of a "pair of stairs."

One other change contributed to the modern air of the houses of the period—the introduction of barred grates in place of the old open fireplace. In the engravings of Abraham Bosse, who was born about 16io, and whose works are full of interest as pictures of seventeenth-century life, the fireplaces are open and fitted with a pair of andirons to support the fuel. The early Scottish grate was called a chimney, and it was fitted with a pair of "raxis," either standing or lying ; it had an iron back and at the side there was often fitted a "gallows" with crooks or chains, from which a pot could be hung. The customary fireside implements were a "porring irne," or poker, and a pair of tongs. The "foreface," with ribs, was introduced before 1660, and we read in Lamont of Newton's Diary in i66 i66i that "The Lady caused make a new chemnay for the hall of Lundy, of the newest fashion with long bars of iron before, with a high backe, all of iron behind." Grates of this type may still be seen in Holyrood, which was restored and furnished for Charles II in the years following 1671, though those actually in use are reproductions of the originals still on view.

Before passing on to a sketch of the social life of the time, let me say a few words on a subject on which, in my earlier lectures, I have only touched in a negative sense—I mean the question of the use of forks at table. We have seen that a single fork was occasionally used for handling fruit, and that the luxurious Parson of Stobo had one of these rarities in the earlier half of the sixteenth century. In Coryat's Crudities, published in 1611, the author writes of the use of forks in cutting meat as a curious custom which he had seen in his travels, "neither doe I thinke that any other nation of Christendome doth use it, but only Italy. . . . The reason of this their curiosity is, because the Italian cannot by any means endure, to have his dish touched with fingers, seeing all men's fingers are not alike cleane." A character in Ben Jonson's comedy, The Devil is an Ass, exclaims, "Forks? What be they?" and receives this answer

The laudable use of forks,
Brought into custom here, as they are in Italy,
To th' sparing o' napkins.

But, though the custom would thus seem to have been introduced early in the seventeenth century, it appears to have died out both in England and in France. The explanation may perhaps be found in the fact that they were found useful at the time when wide ruffs, worn round the neck, made it difficult to reach the mouth with the hand; so that when ruffs passed out of fashion the use of forks was discontinued. In France the practice reappeared among the fashionable and fastidious in the latter half of the seventeenth century, on the initiative, it is said, of the Due de Montausier; and a French "Traite de Civilite'  exhorts well-bred persons "porter la viande a la bouche avec sa fourchette." In spite of this there is abundance of evidence that even in important French houses food continued to be lifted with the fingers, and it was apparently only in the eighteenth century that the use of forks was established as a general practice. Certainly within Stuart times, to which my own researches have hitherto been confined, I have found no instance of a supply of forks for table use in Scotland ; and the large numbers of napkins inventoried in Scottish houses support the view that meat was still handled as in medioval times. It may, however, be noted that when, in 1669, Charles II entertained Cosimo II, Duke of Tuscany, knives and forks were laid for the guests, and there may have been houses where the practice was adopted before it became a usual one.

A curious point about table knives may be added. These, as early illustrations show, used to have sharp points, as penknives still have; and sharp points must have had many practical advantages. Why, then, have our modern table knives rounded points? The change took place in France in the first half of the seventeenth century, when Cardinal Richelieu, disgusted at Chancellor Seguier's gross habit of picking his teeth with the point of his knife, a habit which was no doubt common enough, had the points of his table knives rounded to prevent the recurrence of so offensive a spectacle. The fashion thus set was generally adopted; and in dissecting the wing of a chicken with a round-pointed knife one may console oneself with the reflection that one suffers vicariously for the solecism of a Chancellor of France.

I suppose there is no epoch of English history of whose social and domestic life we have such brilliant and intimate glimpses as Pepys' immortal Diary gives us of the period of the Restoration. In Scotland we have nothing comparable to that sparkling and outspoken journal. Law's Memorials give many interesting sidelights on the ecclesiastical and political affairs of the time. Lamont, of Newton, records with impartial fidelity the meetings of Fifeshire Presbyteries and the winners of the Cupar horse races. Neither writer has the English diarist's genius for jotting down vividly and with unflagging zest the trifling yet enthralling incidents of his daily life. It is only occasionally that such writers are surprised into an unconventional note, as when Lamont writes, "Sept. 6, being Saturn's day, the garner's mother in Balcarresse was bitten through the arme with a puggy ther, which did blood so therafter that it could not be stem'd. . . . Some few days therafter she dyed." Of all our diarists of that time Lauder, of Fountainhall, has the most alert observation and the wittiest tongue. Of a bad crossing to France he writes, "What a distressed brother I was upon the sea neids not hear be told. . . . Mr. John Kincead and I strove who should have the bucket first, both being equally ready. . . . At every gasp he gave he cried God's mercy, as if he had been to expire immediately." Arrived in France, which he hails as the land "of graven images," he is "not a little amazed to see upright pod-dock stools" being prepared for his diet. Of these the Scot partakes without enthusiasm, yet he owns that "in eating them a man seimes to be just eating of tender collops." Another experience of French cookery, in which the legs of a frog were substituted for those of a pullet, drives him to exclaim, "Such damnd cheats be all the French!" He is far too canny to admit prematurely any good opinion of those he meets, even if they are fellow Scots. "The Mr. of Ogilvie and I were very great," he says; but adds, "I know not what for a man he'el prove, but I have heard him talk wery fat nonsense whiles." He husbands his expletives to impart a sting to his observations on men and things which are not of his own country. Thus he introduces an anecdote of the patron Saint of Ireland with the remark, "The Irishes hes a damned respect for St. Phatrick." If Lauder's gift of racy expression had been transferred to Foulis, of Ravelston, and had been devoted to keeping a journal of his occupations and amusements, we might have had something like a Scottish Pepys. But Foulis's doings have to be dug out of his Account Books. There we can trace a round of duties and pleasures that might have supplied material for a delightful diary; how he went to Cramond to fish and to Lothianburn to hunt, or how a less cheerful errand took him to Mr. Strachan, the watchmaker in the Canogait, to have a new tooth fitted to its place with silk. Leith appears to have been the Elysium frequented by those who cultivated sport and the drama; to Leith the Laird of Fountainhall made frequent expeditions to see a horse race or to play a round of golf; and to Leith he would convey a party to see a comedy—The Spanish Curate, or The Silent Woman—and would not forget to treat the ladies during the performance to cherries or oranges. These entries give us a picture of a cheerful Scottish laird, attending to his estates and the upkeep of his house, a welcome figure whether in patronising a penny wedding or in "conveying Lady Kimmergem's corps"; taking in hand the family shopping, buying a golf club to Archie, Rudiments to Jonie and a pair of strait sleeves to Lissie, as well as five ells of stringing for "hangers to hys own breeches"; and at the same time, out of a kind heart and a comfortable purse, dispensing rather indiscriminate alms to " a poor irishman, he called himself foulis," "a distrest man named middletoune wanting ye nose" and other casual applicants; and then, perhaps in doubt as to the wisdom of his charity, paying an officer fourteen shillings Scots "to keep away ye poor." If he has many a festive evening and loses many a wager at golf or cards, he is willing that his family too should amuse themselves, and he leaves two pounds with his "douchter Jean to give the fidler and play at cards." Like that hero of song, Captain Wattle, who "was all for love, and a little for the bottle," he sets small store by literature, science, or the arts. Public affairs receive little of his attention, though when the future James VII visited Scotland in pursuit of the anti-Covenanter measures, he makes it an excuse for another jaunt to Leith, where he hires a boat "to see the duke of york go abord-o"—the entry having a quasi-nautical turn which suggests that he enjoyed his day and came home pleasantly exhilarated.

A good deal of light is thrown on the social habits of the day in connection with births, marriages and deaths. On the death of Sir John's first wife, a lad was sent round with intimations sealed in black to the houses of the neighbouring lairds. The house at Ravelston was hung with black serge, the church pew was covered with the same material, and Meg, Lissie and Grissie were provided with black "under pitticoats." The widower himself requires a yard and a half of black looping for his hat and hatband, a pair of black shoe-buckles and a mourning sword, while his horse has to be arrayed in black trappings. The funeral charges include the "dead chist" and "sear cloathes," the cost of "embowelling my dear wife," and fees to bellmen, trumpeters and the cryer, the keepers of the mortcloath, and the herald-painter who provided the hatchment placed on the front of the house to announce the quality of the dead lady. Within two months all these bills had been paid, and before another two months had passed Sir John seems to have forgotten the mother of his fourteen children and is once more a bridegroom, wearing silver buckles and garters, paying for an epithalamium and calling once more on the trumpeters, to play this time at his wedding. Such swift remarriage does not seem to have been considered disrespectful to the memory of the first wife. A man, William Lundin, in Fife, married as his second wife Helen Lithell, and we are told that "the said Helen Lithell was spoken of at the tabell of Lundin one day att dinner before that the deceaset Elspet Adie, his first wife, was interred, to be a fitt woman for his second wife." Apparently he should have waited till a few days after the funeral. Fortunately native caution prevented many men from running too hastily into matrimony. A ploughman was asked by the Presbytery of Elgin why he had changed his mind after proclamation of banns, and gave four good reasons for his having declined the venture : "1. He could not get his parents' consent. 2. He could not get his master's consent. 3. The wumman was lous fingered. 4. They promised him 100 merks and could nor wald pay it."

Among Sir John Foulis's recreations, billiards is not named, yet it is likely enough that he may have known the game. Though it is mentioned by Spenser and Shakespeare, billiards seems only to have been made fashionable by Louis XIV in the middle of the seventeenth century, and it is all the more remarkable to find that there was "ane old spoyld bulliert boord" in the West Gallery at Birsay House, Orkney, so early as 1653. Kirk, who visited Scotland in 1677, mentions the game as taking up part of his time at Aberdeen. There were, of course, many on the Crown as well as on the Covenant side who disapproved of such recreations as billiards, cards and horse racing; and an easygoing father sometimes incurred severe criticism from his own straitlaced offspring. It is plain that the Earl of Rothes combined affection for his daughter the Countess of Haddington with a wholesome dread of her austere standards of conduct, as the following letter to his son-in-law will show:

"Thursday, wan a cklok.
My Dear Lord,
All that cips runieng horsies in Scotland being jeust going to diner with me, I have taym onlie to tell you that Sir Andrew Ramsie and Poso runs on Satirday by aliuin a cklok, which will be a verie gret math, and I beliue much munie upon it; and on Tyousday bothe the plet runs, at which ther is six horsies; and Mortein's old hors and mayn runs a by mathe. This is onlie to inform you, not to inwayt you, for I dear not for my doghter ; but if you cum, which I wold du if I uere in your pies, you shall be verie velcum to your

My seruies to my dear Maig, and all the rest of your good cumpanie.

For the Earle of Haddingtoune—these."

There is one piece of furniture which is often met with in seventeenth-century houses, whose use carries us beyond the limits of the house itself. This was the "kirk stuill." Even "kirk chairs" are mentioned, and these may have been of a folding type so as to make them easily carried. Usually, however, well-to-do people had their own pews for which they paid "dask maill" or pew rent, and it was only necessary to carry with them the cushions, generally covered in velvet, which gave a certain amount of alleviation while listening to the prolonged sermons of the time. The use of kirk cushions is mentioned as a new fashion in the middle of the sixteenth century in Maitland's Satyre on the Town Ladies, where he says:

In kirk thai are not content of stuillis
The sermon quhen they sit to heir,
But caryis cuschingis lyike vaine fuillis
And all for newfangilnes of geir.

In the seventeenth century many of the churches had still thatched roofs, and we read of some in country districts with "the doors sodded up and no windows." The kirk-brod or plate, stood at the door, or the collection might be taken by ladles. The church-goer prepared himself at home by wrapping his intended offering in his "nepeking end," that is, the corner of his handkerchief, so that he could lay hands upon it when wanted, and perhaps to prevent his putting in a coin of higher value by mistake. In some churches the tradesmen sat above in the pews allotted to the several trades, the gentlemen sat below, and the women in the "high end" or near the pulpit. When the minister prayed it was customary for the congregation to "use a hummering kind of lamentation for their sins," and this moaning and shuddering must have produced a curious and impressive effect. As to the singing, the custom of "giving out the line" was introduced about 1640; each line was chanted in monotone before the congregation sang it. Sometimes the effect of separating the lines in this way rather perplexed the sense. Thus in the verse beginning:

I'll praise the Lord, and I will not
Keep silence, but speak out.

the precentor intoned, in all solemnity, the words, "I'll praise the Lord and I will not," and this paradox was thereupon adopted unanimously by the loud-voiced congregation. Taking advantage of their docility the unreasonable precentor went on to chant, "Keep silence, but speak out!" a command which the faithful flock echoed without a qualm.

On the pulpit was fixed a bracket containingan hour glass. As soon as the preacher had given out his text, the men put on their hats, the glass was turned and the sermon began and was seldom over before the sands had run out. Sometimes the preacher had periods of "desertion" in which even men like Thomas Boston "had much ado to see out the glass"; and sometimes, on the other hand, congregations had to get their ministers restrained from habitually exceeding the time-limit. Generally the preachers seem to have taken a gloomy view of the probable fate of their hearers in the next world. In a Journal of the time we read of Mr. Rob. Wedderburn addressing his congregation thus: "God will even come over the hil at the back of the kirk their, and cry wt a by voice, Angel of the church of Maln (moon) sy, compeir ! Then Ile answer, Lord behold thy servant, what hes thou to say to him? Then God wil say, 'Wheir are the souls thou hest won by your ministry heir thir 17 years' Ile no wal what to answer to this, for Sirs, I cannot promise God one of your souls : yet Ile say, Behold my own soul and my crooked Bessie's (this was his daughter); and wil not this be a sad matter?

For the writer of to-day, as for the preachers of forgotten yesterdays, the sands run low and time imposes inexorable limits. Were it permissible to view, as Moses did, the land which I must not enter and to look but a year or two beyond the date to which I have confined myself, we should find a new Foulis of Ravelston, no longer wearing his own hair and paying frequent visits to the barber's to have it trimmed, but decked with a periwig; we should find that James Peacock has been called in to "cut and powder the bairns' hair," and that her ladyship is carried to her lodging in a Sedan chair. Such changes prelude the dawn of the eighteenth century, and, as students of the seventeenth, we may take a jealous satisfaction in believing that some of them at least were not endured without a pang. To take to a periwig called for considerable resolution. With one diarist the crisis of indecision and procrastination lasted for six months. When he first tried on a wig, he found that he had no stomach for it, "but that the paines of keeping my haire clean is so great." Some months passed, and he made another attempt, but again put it off for a while. More months slipped by, and then, taking the desperate plunge, he had his hair cut off, "which went a little to my heart at present to part with it." He adds somewhat ruefully, "But it is over, and so I perceive after two or three days it will be no great matter."

In our study of Domestic Life in Scotland we have had to consider many things which in themselves are of little importance—the setting of a salt-cellar, the lifting of a mouthful of food, the form of a table or chair. Yet such things are the footprints of our race on their long journey from primitive barbarism to the usages and conventions of a humaner civilisation. Step by step man has risen from a listless tenure of the cave and forest homes which he shared with the beasts; generation by generation he has wrought for himself a home reflecting his human desire not only for comfort and decency and order, but for kindly converse with his fellows, and at last also for beauty and the exercise and refreshment of the mind. And for us the story of his progress and the small things and tentative advances of his domestic life can never be trivial or insignificant.

But on the other hand our survey, in dealing with the little things and changing fashions of life and manners, and in recalling the swift succession of eager but transient generations, may—if we are to seek for a closing morality—fitly enough remind us also of the littleness of much that preoccupies the minds of men. If the putting on of a periwig marks and symbolises the end of an era, the wearer at least mourns the loss of his locks rather than the flight of the irredeemable years. Though he clings in his heart to old and familiar ways, the new mode is not to be resisted, and he accepts it with the best grace he can. Thus is human life tangled in the meshes of worldly mutability. Thus, amid the vagaries of ephemeral fashion and petty but perpetual change, do generations pass and epochs roll to their appointed close. Trifles press and encroach upon us; meanwhile the morning is gone ere we know it, and evening already draws in. Life, with its romantic offers, comes and swiftly goes, opportunity flows by and is not to be won again. That fair white page, on which we had vowed but yesterday to inscribe deeds worth doing and not to be blotted out, is to-day scribbled and smirched with the record of our inconstant aims and fitful resolutions. Farewell to all we had hoped for, had counted on, yet had not the wit to sieze! Little wonder if it goes somewhat to our heart to part with it. Yet the world goes merrily on. The virtues we might have won hard in life are freely given us in an epitaph; and those who follow after us are busy already with the cakes and ale. Of all our laborious trifling, what remains? Have we added a single stone to that shining Temple which it is the task of the ages to uprear? Who can say? The issues of human effort are beyond human disposal. Yet if a man have learned wisdom, if, losing all things, he have won the grace of a humble spirit, he may look back at the last on all he had hoped and the little he has done, and may say without bitterness in his heart, "It is over; and so I perceive after two or three days it will be no great matter."

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus