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Scotland - National Character

Everybody who is not a Scotsman sees something them to dislike. A carefulness that borders on parsimony, a canniness that verges on indifference, a love of creed that is swallowed up in bigotry, a pride of country that nothing can humble, and a liking for whisky that seems to be madness, are characteristics to be found in part or in whole in every member of that people who honor Bruce, adore Knox, and worship Burns. Of course, as can readily be believed, the Scots themselves do not see in their character anything to justify an alien in coming to an unfavorable estimate of their qualities.

It cannot be denied that many of the Scottish people are not as affable and pleasant in their manners as could be desired, and yet that is only a surface matter, which may perhaps be accounted for by the historical fact that in distant times, when the country was almost continually at enmity or war with England, and internal factions were numerous, a cautious reserve had to be adopted as a mode of personal protection. From this apparent defect in Scottish manners doubtless arise many of the descriptions of the "dourness " which some writers seem to think is an inherent part of a Scotsman's character.

The risings of 1715 and 1745 may be regarded as the last efforts of the Celtic population of Scotland against the Teutonic element, to which it had been in permanent antagonism since the time of Malcolm Canmore. Through the action of the government after the last attempts of the Stewarts to recover their heritage the Highlands ceased to be a source of danger, but became a source of economic perplexity. The social conditions under which the Highlanders had hitherto lived now came to an end: the time-honored raids into the Lowlands were no longer possible, and the Highland chieftain ceased to be a feudal lord and became a proprietor interested in the produce of his land.

Scotland, for long a thorn in the side of her more powerful neighbor, came to be England's valuable ally in the building up of empire. To the growth of the British colonies it is admitted that she has contributed even more than her relative share: the number of pioneers whom she has sent to New Zealand, to Australia and Canada is relatively greater than has proceeded from England, and equally out of proportion is the number of rulers and soldiers she has given to India and the other dependencies. In science, philosophy and literature it is sufficient to recall the names of Watt, Adam Smith, Hume, Burns, Scott and Carlyle, to prove that she has contributed her own quota to the common stock of material and spiritual wellbeing.

The Scottish character exhibits a considerable share of both energy and perseverance, it may safely be said, that a country with so many physical disadvantages could never have been brought into such a condition as respects rural husbandry, nor, with all the advantage of the English connexion, been made so prosperous a seat of both manufactures and commerce, if the people had not been gifted in a high degree with those qualities. A disposition to a frugal and careful use of means is also abundantly conspicuous in the Scotch.

Caution, foresight, and reflection, may be said to enter largely into the Scottish character. Under the influence of these qualities, they are slow and sometimes cold in speech, and are therefore apt to appear as deficient in frankness and generosity. These, however, are in a great measure only appearances. That fiery genius attributed to them is still a deep-seated characteristic of the people. On subjects which they regard as important, they sometimes manifest this excitability in a very striking manner; as, for instance, in their almost universal rising against Charles I in defence of their favorite modes of worship and ecclesiastical polity.

Though in the past debarred by physical conditions from playing a main part in the material development of the country as a whole, the Highlander was yet a constituent element of the Scottish nation. The nature of his home, the romance that came to surround his character and his history are valuable assets among the national possessions. The natural complements the one of the other, the Lowland Scot supplied the cautious persistency, the sure hold of the fact indispensable in the conditions of modern life, while his Highland fellow-countryman by his quicker emotions and his natural grace is a standing reminder that there are other ideals than those of mere material prosperity.

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Page last modified: 26-11-2012 18:58:13 ZULU