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The passage referred to in this correspondence occurs in Janet Hamilton's book Poems and Sketches in a chapter entitled Scottish Peasant Life and Character, pp 357-359 :
.............. After the death of his father, my grandfather was taken as the herd laddie into the house of a farmer whose lands lay on the banks of the Clyde, in the parish of Cambusnethan. This was about the year 1714, and my mother has heard him relate many incidents which, trivial in themselves, yet serve to show the conditions of the country, and the circumstances of its inhabitants at the period of which I write.
Salmon was then so plentiful in the Clyde, and were so much used as an article of food in the farmers' houses in its vicinity, that servants engaging to serve there made it a part of their hiring stipulations, that they should not be required to eat salmon more than once a day.
Carbarns, the name of the farm where my relative plied his humble occupation, was situated in a district very thinly inhabited by a rural population, and where what was called the braes of Clyde was thickly wooded and much invested by foxes, whose covers were seldom disturbed, except by the solitary angler, or children gathering blackberries in their season. They had grown so numerous, bold, and ferocious that lambs and poultry were carried off in broad daylight if they ventured near the copsewood. One spring day a child of four years was making his way to his father, who was ploughing in a field contiguous to the copsewood. The little fellow had wandered into the bushes, when the father, alarmed by the wild screams of his child, ran to the place, and saw a very large fox making off into the wood, and the shrieking child standing with his left arm frightfully torn and lacerated, and nearly dislocated at the shoulder, by the attempts of the ferocious animal to draw him down; and had it succeeded in doing so, with no help near, the catastrophe would have been more frightful still. It was a female fox, and had a litter of five cubs in a den, where she and they were destroyed by the peasants, who were alarmed at this audacious attempt of the ferocious creature on human life.
On another occasion, as the herd laddie was about to drive home the cattle before nightfall, he found that a pet ewe that grazed with the cows had dropped twin lambs. He drove the cows home, and hastened back to carry the lambs to the farm. Twilight was setting in, and as he entered the pasture he saw a strange movement going on at the place where he had left the ewe. Coming nearer, he saw a fox springing from side to side of the ewe to get at the lambs, whom she kept behind her, wheeling round at every spring of the fox, facing and butting at him without fear. The herd laddie ran, shouting and throwing up his bonnet; but it was not till he was within a few yards of him that he decamped, leaving the young shepherd to carry off the lambs in his bosom, the grateful mother following behind.
Potatoes, although introduced into the country for some time, were as yet only to be found in gentlemen's gardens, where a small quantity would be planted for using at table with other vegetables, but were as yet unseen in the farmer's field or the cottager's kail-yard; and my friend theherd laddie saw them for the first time when the farmer took from his pocket a dozen of the precious tubers which were given him by the gardener at Cambusnethan House. He proceeded to plant them, and wishing to make the most of his new acquisition he planted each tuber whole in a mound of manure mixed with a little earth, with a good distance between them. The produce was of course very great in quantity but very indifferent in quality. The goodwife into whose hands they fell, not knowing very well how to turn them to account, counted out one for each member of the family, cleaned and boiled them in the kail-pat, in which homely utensil water-kail, the unvarying family dinner in farm houses, was prepared. This dish consisted of barley or groats, the inner kernel of the of the oaten grain or corn pickle, boiled in water with or without a bit of suet or butter, and plenty of greens and leeks. The kail were served up in a large wooden platter, flanked by a pile of pea-scones, which were eaten with the kail. On this eventful day, when the potato made its first appearance at the farmer's table, the goodwife stood by the kail-pat, and diving into its depths with a wooden ladle, brought up and laid before each person a potato on a piece of pea scone, as a new and delicious addition to the homely meal, the treat being continued till the crop of potatoes was consumed.
My relative was the youngest child of the orphan family. There were four sisters, and there being no near relations to take charge of them, they went into service, and the house was broken up. The orphan herd laddiehad been taught to read his Bible, and was well grounded in the first principles of religion by his father. These principles were extended, explained, and settled in his mind by the pious and careful teaching of the goodwife of Carbarns who, when the cows were driven in from the pasture at twal-hours, for some time during the heat of the summer day, never failed to set him a chapter or two to read from the Bible, or to con over the psalm, or a few questions from the shorter Catechism, to be recited from memory at the never-omitted Sabbath evening examination of the assembled family by the father or master, who par sided on the occasion. This practice was universal in Scotland, both in the kitchen of the farmer and the cottage of the peasant...............
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