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By Rev, W.A.P. Johman, M.A. (1913)

Some time ago Jim Eaton kindly sent me two separate “transactions” from the Hawick Archaeological Society, which were “in a little book with a dull brown cover” which he found in a second-hand bookshop. They are long documents, so even this slightly abridged extract, which is taken from the Seventh Meeting, will be offered in two parts. Dated 28th October 1913, it gives an insight into the interest being shown in bagpipes during the early part of the 20th century.

The paper starts with a page-long dissertation on the whole philosophy of music, a large part of which has been edited out for considerations of space.

If our most ancient literature informs us that in the pastoral life, “Jubal was the father or inventor of all such as handle the harp and pipe,” (Gen. iv., 25.) We are not thereby led to infer that stringed instruments in their inception and use preceded wind instruments: for rea- son will assert priority of claim to the humble unaided whistle over that produced by strings or other outside and adventitious aids.

Music, more than any others of the fine arts, of which it is generally regarded as the oldest, is an immediate off-spring of nature. Its instruments are very many. The Scriptures Old and New, bear frequent references to them and to their varied use, from the Ram’s Horns of the Siege of Jericho, to the flute-players with the dead daughter of the ruler (Mat. 9 23), and the harpers harping with their harps of the Revelation, and the harpers and musicians, and pip- ers, and trumpeters 14, 2 and 18, 22 of the same book. Leaving aside all other instruments, if the ditty is somewhat far fetched - that the Bagpipe was a most ancient and honourable instrument will not be difficult of verification -

“And music first on earth was heard In Gaelic accents deep,

When Jubal in his oxter squeezed [arm-pit]

The blether o’ a sheep.”           [bladder]

While its extinction has again and again been prophetically decreed, its discordant braying being the burden of many a sneer; still falling on the ear under the skies near and far away, its notes have often evoked many a tender memory when

“Remembrance wakes with all her busy train Swells at the breast, and turns the past to pain.”

Instead of decadence development, and in place of extermination a wider extension is the record of the bagpipe today.

Robert Glen, in his “Notes on the Ancient Musical Instruments of Scotland,” begins it with the “Horn.” The more ready to hand, the more likely to be primitive. And so, animals’ horns, hollow reeds, bones and tusks, and spiral shells emitted their trumpet call, and, in course, their modulated sounds. The Buddhist priest in China, the Mexicans, the Aborigines


of South America, and the wizards in Africa identified the conch-shell or an equivalent, with worship and their gods; and in some cases decreed the death of any woman, who, by ill

-luck, or prying curiosity, should catch a glimpse of the sacred instrument.

If an angel blowing a cow’s horn adorns the tombstone in Pencaitland Church in Hadding- tonshire, and a demon plays the bagpipe in Melrose Abbey in the transformed guise of a pig; under that, to me, the primitive unity of the race is bespoken, and the old Latin saw [traditional saying] approved - “Perverted the best becomes the worst.” And so generally, “figures angelic, human, diabolic, and bestial, playing on the bagpipe, are to be seen sculp- tured on ancient churches in England as well as in Scotland.”

A bagpiper is cut in marble in the Cathedral of Upsala in Sweden; while in a woodcut of the “Nativity,” Albrecht Durer has one of the shepherds playing on a bagpipe, and the same art- ist, in a grotesque cut, represents the devil performing on a bagpipe, made to represent the head of Martin Luther. The Scottish bagpipe of today, be it noted, forms an object in his en- graving of exactly four centuries ago. So far, Robert Glen. But not to anticipate it may be remarked, universality or world-wide ubiquity, seems to be a characteristic in the spread of pipe music, without and ultimately with the windbag. In fact the dispersion of the race, it stands to reason, must have meant the carrying with them their manners and customs, their profession, trades, faiths and characteristics of life.

The pipe was known and practised upon in India, and Persia. Babylon and Egypt possessed it. It was familiar to the Greeks and Romans. It is a common place that Nero regaled his courtiers with its cadences while the temples and palaces of the capital were being devoured in the flames - an impressed coin of his can be produced in evidence. We have to travel far back in the centuries to get to its beginning in Germany, Italy, and the other parts of Europe.

The Calabrian Highlands have always rivalled ours in its love of the pipes. In France, pipe music seems to have had a refined culture and prevalence ahead of other European coun- tries. A piper at an early date formed an adjunct of the Court establishment. Francisque Mi- chel, to whom we are indebted for a digest of these particulars, suggests that the Scottish use of the instrument was an importation from France (but another says it came through Wales to the Highlands.) He says that the earliest picture of it with which we meet, occurs in a French and Latin Psalter of the end of the twelfth century; a statement which may be true, as it is admitted that the Melrose bagpipe is of a more recent date than the foundation of that building, which was in built in 1136, but repeatedly thereafter destroyed.

The Cathedral cupboard of Noyou of the 14th century, and the illuminated M.S.S. of various countries show by their figures that the pipes were popular in the middle ages. In the Pilgrimage, of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” he makes the miller play the part of the musi- cian.

“A baggpipe wel koude he blowe and sowne (sound); And therwithal he broghte us out of towne.”


But while a piper usually headed the pilgrim bands to the shrines of saints, exception seems to have been taken occasionally, for before this time complaints were made to the Arch- bishop in 1407 that “some other pilgrims will have with them bagpipes.” In Shakespeare’s day the “Yorkshire bagpiper” and “the drone of the Lincolnshire bagpipe” were so familiar as to be referred to by him. Probably in imitation of the Court of France, the English king and the principal nobility by the 16th century, had added a bagpiper to their establishments. It is noteworthy that when a piper is mentioned at the Scottish court, he turns out to be an Englishman. And repeated references are made in the “Accounts of the Lord Treasurer of Scotland,” to payments made to “Inglis pypars,” who came from time to time to play before King James IV.

Judging from the carvings in Roslin Chapel (founded about 1450) [see CS Vol 11 No.2 -Ed] and Melrose Abbey, the first appearance of the bagpipes in Scotland dates from about the 15th century. In 1510 Pitcairn has an entry relating to the theft of a bagpipe whose supposed value was 20 marks. Before the middle of the 16th century there is evidence that it was used in war. The Highlanders in preparing for action, according to Jean de Beauque, “were ani- mated by the sound of the bagpipe.” In 1594 it was used at the battle of Belrinnes. By the time of Melrose its position in war was quite established. But judging from an entry of 1630 in the “Council of Records of Aberdeen,” there, at least it was not in high estimation. “The Magistrates discharge the common pyper of all going through the town, at nicht or in the morning, in time coming, with his pype, it being an uncival form to be usit within sic a fa- mous burghe, and being often fund fault with, als weill by sundry nichtbouris of the toune also by strangeris.”

In 1849, Sir John G. Dalyell published “Musical Memoirs of Scotland.” The briefest record of an interesting compilation must suffice. Three kinds of bagpipe are recognised in the British Isles:-

  • The Great Highland or warlike bagpipe. It has borne this name for centuries. In 1623 a charge of misdemeanour was found against a piper in Perth owing to his having played on “the great pipe.” If the meaning of this is inquired into, I fancy, it will be found that he had, while unfitted, presumed to play “the pibroch,” which was scrupu- lously limited to a few elect professionals. As its name imports, this instrument could only be heard on the bens and in the glens, and was too powerful in its blast unless for the open
  • The Northumbrian bagpipe - in two forms - the one like the preceding, but smaller, and of milder tone; the other a miniature of this latter, and related to it as the fife to the German flute. Probably the Lowland Scottish bagpipe is identified with the Northum- brian; but it is regarded with a measure of contempt because it cannot reach their crite- rion of perfection, viz., the playing of the
  • While these are suited for the fields, the Irish bagpipe, by being of mellower tone, and having a wider compass, resulting from the prolongation of the chanter, holds a greater superiority from its sweeter and more melodious strains accommodating itself to indoor


But another says that the Northumbrian pipes are almost the same as the Irish pipes, which are blown by bellows placed under the arm, instead of blowing into them with the mouth, as is the case with the Highland bagpipes. The drones in these, being much smaller, associate themselves with ours in the fainter melody produced by sounding them. These are the repre- sentatives of the grotesque embellishments carved on the stalls of the Chapel of King Henry

VII. in Westminster Abbey, at Hull, at Beverley, and elsewhere.

About the year 1549, in the “Complaynt of Scotland,” the first musicians specified there are distinguished by having had “ane drone bagpipe.” So in the household of James IV was Nicholas Gray, and along with him are mentioned James Widderspune “fithelar,” and an- other who played before the Queen of Henry VII at Richmond, all of whom partook of the royal bounty and “played upon the Drone.” In 1773 Dr Johnson remarks that in Mull and Skye the bagpipe was falling into oblivion, and he adds that some of the principal families like the Macleod, and Maclean of Coll, still kept a piper, whose office was hereditary; and beyond all time of memory a college of pipers had been kept in Skye.

In “Letter from the North,” 1727-1736, it is related of a piper to a Highland Chieftain, in a morning, while the Chief was dressing, he walked backward and forward, close under the window, without doors, playing on the bagpipe, with a most stately, upright, majestic stride. The stately step of a piper is proverbial in Scotland.

In addition to the use of the bagpipe in war, it was also devoted to enliven sports and pas- times, and whether or not employed in religious solemnities, it was a regular concomitant at the funeral rites of distinguished persons. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the bag- pipe is named as “the principal military instrument of the Scottish mountaineers.” The same is confirmed in a dispatch in 1641, from Lord Lothian to Lord Ancrum, who says, “We are well provided of pypers: I have one for every company, and I think they are as good as drummers.” They were also in 1708 used aboard the British Navy, at least the “Edinburgh Courrant” had an advertisement calling for the service of a bagpiper. At the close of the 15th century pipers are referred to in connection with Aberdeen, and Dumbarton; and Biggar, Wigton, Glenluce and Dumfries soon after.

It is alleged that when Lord Lovat was tried and condemned for participation in the Rebel- lion of 1745, for which he afterwards suffered capital punishment, he desired that his body might be carried to Scotland for sepulture, saying “he once made it a part of his will, that all the pipers between Johnnie Groat’s House and Edinburgh should be invited to play at his funeral.” It was a saying of the sceptical Earl of Northampton, a contemporary of Shake- speare in 1583, in a treatise against prophecy, that “oracles are most like bagpypes and showmen, which sound no longer than they are puffed up with winde and played upon with cunning.” Thus far Sir John G.Dalyell.

General Stewart, in “Sketches of the Highlanders,” says:- “Playing the bagpipes within doors is a Lowland and English custom. In the Highlands the piper is always in the open air, and when people wish to dance to his music, it is on the grass if the weather permits; noth- ing but necessity makes them attempt a pipe dance in the house. The bagpipe was a field in-


-strument, intended to call the clan to arms and animate them in battle, and was no more in- tended for a house than a round of six pounders. The festivities of the wedding day were generally prolonged to a late hour, and, during the day, the fiddlers and pipers never ceased except at short intervals to make sweet music. The fiddlers performed in the house, the pip- ers in the field, so that the company alternately enjoyed the pleasure of dancing ,within and without the house as they felt inclined.”

At the Carlisle meeting of the “Royal Archaeological Institute” in 1882, Dr Bruce read a pa- per on the “Music of the Borders,” with illustrations on the Northumbrian bagpipes. In ref- erence to the vivid expression of the music he called on the piper to play the tune, “Take a look at Maggie’s Foot.” He remarked that the instrument could nearly speak the words.

It may be with reasonable confidence surmised that an order of public functionaries the calls upon whose services are so varied, as to range from the joy of the marriage feast to the sadness of the funeral procession, from the gathering of the clan for battle to the triumphant return from victory, from the hum drum of daily and nightly burghal calls, to the junketings and merry-makings which were the chief delights of their experience, typical representa- tives would spring up among them, and that hits or characteristic strokes favourable and un- favourable would fall frequently upon their order, in fact, this has enriched our literature, e.g., the last to be asked to a convivial party was said to get a piper’s “biddin” or invitation. A pale, delicate “shilpit” looking person was said to be “piper faced”: “piper” fou meant very drunk: and so we find “pipin’ fou” - or as “fou as a piper.” Stale news were “piper’s news.” Pipe skill, or skill in playing the pipes made one a “skilly bodyt.” And to “pay the piper” meant loser to pay. Some pipers have earned a place in history by their wit and hu- morous ways, and some have had their memories immortalised in poetry and song. Some have a place among our Hawick “characters” which cannot be ignored.

But an illustration or two invites us meanwhile to another topic. Ludicrous representatives of the unmelodious sounds of the bagpipe have been the platitudes of others besides Cock- neys. Lady Shelly in a diary, 1819, writes probably with equal truth, “That the wife of Sir Walter Scott was the greatest bore in Europe, and that Sir Walter himself spoke with a drawl so tiresome and monotonous that, like the drone of a bagpipe, it provoked a yawn even when one is amused by what he was narrating.”

Hintza, a Kaffir chief, said, when he heard it, it made him cry, and always reminded him of his crying children. But more startling is a recent report of an enterprising farmer at his wit’s end by the ravages of rats in his stack yard, who bargained with a piper for half a guinea to blow a blast with his pipes among his stacks. The contract was not only cheap but successful, as the whole confraternity of them died of convulsions. Very different was the verdict of the Highlander who was asked how he felt in a room of limited dimensions, when 12 noted players were rendering simultaneously a dozen different pibrochs, replied, “I just felt as if I were in heaven.”

To be continued............