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What Quotations Teach About Scotland

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Scotland is a place made famous by movies like Braveheart, Rob Roy, Brave and, possibly, So I Married An Axe Murderer.  According to those movies, would-be travelers to Scotland expect to find kilted Scotsmen with bagpipes and red-haired bonnie lasses roaming the Highlands on foot or on horseback for the good of their proud clans.  Many travelers time their visits to coincide with the caber-tossing Highland Games that they have seen on National Geographic or sports channels.

But the seasoned traveler recognizes that there is more to Scotland and Scots than movies and television portray!  Can a person get a true taste of the United States by watching Lincoln or The Patriot?  So, where can travelers find more information?  Sure, travel guides and history books give their predictable perspectives, but everyone knows that "word of mouth" is the best advertising.  With that in mind, truly curious travelers turn to their handy-dandy book of quotations to find out what people say about their desired destination.  Scotland and Scots garner some of the most interesting reviews.

The Land

Most quotes about Scotland come from Englishmen.  Even without knowing that England and Scotland spent centuries fighting each other, a traveler quickly discerns a less than amiable tone from the southern nation.

"That garret of the earth - that knuckle-end of England - that land of Calvin, oat-cakes, and   sulfur." - Sydney Smith (1771-1845), English clergyman, writer

"A land of meanness, sophistry and lust." - Lord Byron (1788-1824), English poet

"The noblest prospect that a Scotchman ever sees is the high road that leads him to England." - Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

"In all of my travels I never met with any one Scotchman but what was a man of sense.  I believe everybody of that country that has any, leaves it as fast as they can." - Dr. Francis Lockier (1667-1740), English prelate, man of letters

Now, that last quote appears complimentary until the second sentence.  Essentially, the only reason that the good Dr. Lockier encounters sensible Scotchmen is that he meets the ones smart enough to leave Scotland.  This quote belongs in the dictionary under "backhanded compliment."

Well, what do the locals think of their home?

"The beauty of Scotland is that it is big enough to be important in the UK and small enough for everyone to know everyone else." - George Younger (b. 1931), former Secretary of State for Scotland

So far, so good.  Do the Scottish poets have anything to add?

"It was a' for our rightfu' King/We left fair Scotland's strand." - Robert Burns (1759-1796), It Was A' for Our Rightfu' King

Sounds nice, but surely there is more!

"Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,/The birthplace of valor, the country of worth!/Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,/The hills of the Highlands forever I love."

"My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,/My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;/A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,/My heart's in the Highlands wherever I go." - Robert Burns (1759-1796), My Heart's in the Highlands

Much better!  Travelers depend on a nation's poet laureate to show the beauty of his home.  That being said, how is the weather?

"If the Scotch knew enough to go in when it rained, they would never get any outdoor exercise." - Simeon Ford (fl. 1901-1903)

"An umbrella is of no avail against a Scotch mist." - James Russell Lowell (1819-1891)

Scotland sounds a lot like Seattle, travelers.  Take an umbrella and a poncho.  Are there any travel recommendations available?

"Oh, ye'll tak' the high road an' I'll tak' the low road,/An I'll be in Scotland before ye;/But me and my true love will never meet again,/On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond." - Anonymous, Loch Lomond

This anonymous writer claims that the low road to Scotland is faster and really likes Loch Lomond despite the fact that he won't ever be able to meet his true love there.  Travelers on a tight schedule will consider taking that low road, especially if they want to visit Loch Lomond.  In addition to providing helpful travel advice, Mr. "Anonymous" hints at a sense of romance among Scots.

The People

Scottish playwright J. M. Barrie echoes that sentiment when describing his countrymen.

"I've sometimes thought that the difference between the Scotch and the English is that the Scotch are hard in all other respects but soft with women, and the English are hard with women and soft in all other respects."

"There are few more impressive sights in the world than a Scotsman on the make."

"As Dr. Johnson never said, is there any Scotsman without charm?" - J. M. Barrie (1860-1937)

While Scots are fond of the ladies, English men express even more disdain for Scots than they show toward the land itself.  The aforementioned Dr. Johnson pulls no punches when he speaks of Scots.

"Much...may be made of a Scotchman, if he be caught young."

"Their learning is like bread in a besieged town: every man gets a little, but no man gets a full meal."

"OATS - A grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people." - Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

He clearly views Scots as sub-human (or at least sub-English) and ignorant, but he also suggests that they could be better in a different environment or with a better education.  Charles Lamb does not share Dr. Johnson's minimal optimism.

"I have been trying all my life to like Scotchmen, and am obliged to desist from the experiment in despair." - Charles Lamb (1775-1834), English essayist, critic

Why do the English find Scots so hard to like?  Sydney Smith blames their sense of humor, but he also points his finger at the Scottish intellect like Dr. Johnson does.

"It requires a surgical operation to get a joke well into a Scotch understanding.  The only idea of wit, or rather that inferior variety of the electric talent which prevails occasionally in the North, and which, under the name of 'Wut', is so infinitely distressing to people of good taste, is laughing immoderately at stated intervals." - Sydney Smith (1771-1845), English clergyman, writer

Even William Shakespeare casts aspersions at Scots through his play King Henry the Fourth, Part I.

"I am not yet of Percy's mind, the Hotspur of the North; he that kills me some six or seven dozen of Scots at a breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife, 'Fie upon this quiet life! I want work.'" - William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English playwright, King Henry the Fourth, Part I, act II, scene iv, line 116

This line reminds the traveler of the years of conflict between England and Scotland.  A savvy traveler interprets such bravado as expressing the hatred spawned between warring factions and not as evidence of a weak or poor fighting spirit among the Scots.  Overall, the English readily express their opinion of Scots as inferior, echoing the mindset that created the system of noblemen and commoners extant in England today.  In response, Scots revel in their status.

"From scenes like these, old Scotia's grandeur springs,/That makes her loved at home, revered abroad;/Princes and lords are but the breath of kings,/'An honest man's the noblest work of God.'" - Robert Burns (1759-1796), Scottish poet, The Cotter's Saturday Night, st. 19

Rather than listening to their southern neighbors, Scots view themselves as hard-working, "honest" people and, therefore, God's "noblest work."  In fact, at least one Scot goes so far as to flip the table on the English paradigm.

"Minds like ours, my dear James, must always be above national prejudices, and in all companies it gives me true pleasure to declare that, as a people, the English are very little indeed inferior to the Scotch." - John Wilson (1785-1854), Scottish philosopher

In Conclusion

Armed with the thoughts above, travelers gain a unique perspective on Scotland, Scots and, to a certain degree, Englishmen.  Ultimately, it is the traveler's decision to lend more or less weight to the Scots' love of their land and their countrymen or to the English disdain for both.  If a traveler can't decide, perhaps the very Scottish inscription on a stone seat in the Highlands will make the difference.

"Rest and be thankful." - Anonymous



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