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A CENTURY OF 

SCOTTISH PROVERBS AND SAYINGS, 

IN PROSE AND RHYME, 

CURRENT IN FIFE AND CHIEFLY OF 
FIFE ORIGIN. 



COLLECTED AND SELECTED BY 

^:7;^ g/mackay, 

Slwiff of the Counties of Fife and Kinross. 



A. WESTWOOD & SON, CUPAR-FIFE. 

"Cost wit is the best wit." — Scottish Proverb. 
" Bang gangs saxpence." — Scottish S.wiso. 



" I have for my recreation collected some few of 
them ; therein favouring the old ; not omitting any 
because they are vulgar (for many vulgar ones are 
excellent good), nor for the meanness of the person, 
but because they are dull and flat ; and added new 
that otherwise would have died.'' 

Lord Bacon (slightly altered). 



" It is well known that every nation hath their 
own Proverbs and Proverbial Speeches ; yea, every 
shire or part of a nation hath some Proverbial 
Speeches which others hath not: so that a man 
can hardly gather together all such speeches." 

The Printer to the Merry, Judicious, and Dis- 
creet Reader of the Proverbs of Mr David 
Ferguson, sometime Minister of Dunfermline, 
and put into an alphabetical order after he 
departed this life, 1598. 



Digitized by tine Internet Arcliive 

in 2007 witli funding from 

IVIicrosoft Corporation 



littp://www.arcliive.org/details/centuryofscottisOOmackiala 



7 Albyn Plack, Edinburgh, 
Easter Vacation, 1891. 

My dear Dr Laing, 

In sending you this trifle I should like 
to sa)'' how much besides Proverbs I have learnt 
from your writings and conversation about Fife and 
its natives. Neither of my friends nor myself forget 
the day you guided us over the ruins of Lindores 
Abbey, whose fragments your piety has restored, 
past the site of Macduff^s Cross, not so fortunate 
in finding a preserver, through the grounds of Mug- 
drum, whose Cross still stands, and on to the vene- 
rable Tower of Abernethy. If I venture to place 
your name without leave before this brief record 
of some Sayings of Fife which have become pro- 
verbial, it is because I feel sure you will not despise 
any contribution, however small, to the knowledge 
of a County which recognises you as one of its best 
living representatives. 

Yours very truly, 

JE. J. G. MACKAY. 

Alexander Laing, Esq., LL.D., 
Newburgh. 



SCOTTISH PROVERBS, 

MOSTLY OF FIFE ORIGIN. 



J\ LL countries and districts which have character 
^l. have proverbs — the happy or hicky sayings 
that are so neatly expressed that they pass from 
mouth to mouth, from generation to generation. The 
best proverbs are true and witty ; sometimes they are 
witty, but not true ; sometimes they are true, but not 
witty; sometimes even neither true nor witty; but 
they always have " salt," the quality which gives zest 
and preserves from decay. Once heard they are 
remembered, however bad our memory. Men quote 
them who quote little else. They live after their 
origin, often after their meaning is lost. They make 
us think ; they make us laugh ; they recall a place 
or character, a custom or a word, which otherwise 
might be forgotten. They have the flavour of anti- 
quity yet the freshness of novelty. A new proverb 
is a paradox, almost an impossibility. Its birth 
must be distant before its life is assured. 

Not long ago a widely-circulated author, whose 



8 THE MAKING OF PROVERBS 

volumes lay on the tables of many well-furnished 
drawing-rooms, where books are never read, wrote 
many thousand verses, called " Proverbial Philo- 
sophy," but Mr Martin Tupper never succeeded in 
making a proverb. The first living novelist in the 
opinion of good judges has a commonplace book of 
unborn proverbs, which he brings out at intervals 
in his thoughtful novels, but these apothegms are 
skipped by the readers and forgotten even by the 
admirers of Mr George Meredith. Mr Andrew Lang 
has propounded the heresy that any one can make 
a proverb. Let him try. It is as difficult to make 
a proverb as a parable. One of the best known 
Scottish sayings is that of Fletcher of Saltoun — " Let 
me make the songs, and no matter who makes the 
laws." It could not have run. Let me make the pro- 
verbs. Proverbs are generally the work of unknown 
authors ; they are the property of no one, or rather 
of everyone — the common stock of the people. All 
proverbs, but specially local proverbs, are like the 
epigrams of the Roman satirist — good, bad, and 
indifferent. We must not make too much of them, 
or expect too much from them, but take them for 
what they are worth. Their chief value is that they 
reveal in sudden, unexpected ways the character of 
those who made and repeat them. 



FIFE SOIL GOOD FOR PROVERBS 9 

"The Kingdom" has a good soil for proverbs. 
Its separate bounds between the striking natural 
frontiers of the Sea — the Firths and the Ochils — have 
contained since early times so many centres of dif- 
ferent kinds of work, thought, and speech. At 
Kirkcaldy, for example, the progressive town of the 
East Coast, we are separated from the quaint old 
burgh of Dysart, the Little Holland of the 17th 
century, only by Lord Rosslyn's grounds, within 
which the ruins of Ravenscraig, resisting even 
neglect and decay, witness to the strong architecture 
of the Jameses, built to resist the new artillery. We 
are not far from the Caves of Wemyss, one of which 
contains the oldest chiselled symbols of early Chris- 
tianity, and another served in the 17th century as 
the first Glass Work of Scotland. Hard by are the 
fragments of the ruined tower of the old Earls of 
Fife. Within a few miles inland still stands the old 
Castle of Balwearie, and its fine old trees with 
branches like stags' horns, where Michael Scot lived, 
the most famed wizard of Scotland after Thomas 
of Ercildoune. Some stones may still be seen 
of the Grange, from which the gallant soldier who 
derived his name from the town was better known 
as the Laird of Grange. We are surrounded by the 
more recent memories of the salt pans, mills, brew- 



to THE SPEECH OF THE PEOPLE 

houses, and havens, the spinning and weaving 
villages which have grown into a prosperous centre 
of manufacture. Or change the scene from the 
shores of the Forth to the banks of the Tay. 
At Newburgh we are within walking distance 
of Abernethy, with its venerable Round Tower, 
the ancient seat of Pictish kings and bishops ; of 
Auchtermuchty, once a small but wealthy agricul- 
tural township, then a thriving spinning town, whose 
looms are now nearly silent ; of the ruined Palace 
and the buried Tower of Falkland ; of Freuchie, 
once despised by Falkland, on whose decay it now 
looks down ; and of Auld Lindores, with its deserted 
cloister but still living orchards. Each of these, and 
a hundred other places throughout the county, have 
special and varied characteristics of the past, with a 
separate life even to-day which raise reflections and 
give birth to proverbs. 

Without taking the license of our Gaelic kin, who 
call every quaint or pithy saying a proverb, it is 
better not to limit ourselves to any strict definition. 
We shall not count it either necessary or enough 
that it should be a good saying ; what the French, 
adepts in such sayings, call a ?>iot or bo/i tiiot. But 
we shall be satisfied if it is short and pithy, and 
remembered by the people. This last is the test of 



"THE KINGDOM II 

the proverb, that it lives in the memory and on the 
lips of the people; that it loses, like a good story, 
some of its flavour when it is written down. 

It is natural to begin with what concerns the 
whole County. The Kingdom is itself very nearly, if 
not quite, a proverb. It would be rejected by the 
scientific collector, but comes within the more 
popular description here adopted. It certainly 
possesses most of the qualities. It is old, it is brief, 
it is never forgotten, its origin is lost. We have 
historical knowledge of the Earl and the Sheriff^, and 
poetical, though not historical knowledge of the 
Thane of Fife of whom Tennant sung. But when 
and where within its bounds was there a single King 
who held it as his Kingdom? Did he reign at 
Cupar, or at Falkland, or at Wemyss; at Inchrye, 
the King's Meadow ; or at Kilrymount, the King's 
Mount, or were these the residences, now the remi- 
niscences, of the chief vassal kinglets ? There have 
been Kings of Scotland, or of the Scots, who have 
built castles and palaces, and lived and died in Fife, 
but they never were called Kings of Fife. There 
were before them in the dim distance Pictish Kings 
of whom we know scarcely more than the names, a 
few doubtful dates and unintelligible epithets — the 
Drusts, and Brudes, and Nechtans ; but to none of 



12 THE NATIVES 

these is the title of King of Fife given. There were 
the old Celtic chiefs, the MacdufTs, whom the 
Wemysses claim to represent, who became its Earls. 
They boast an ancient lineage, and would gladly, 
like an Irish M'Dermot or O'Connell, believe they 
had a King as a progenitor, but they have never 
found one in their genealogies, however laboriously 
constructed. Fife must be content to be a Kingdom 
without a King. Some of its natives might be 
pleased with this distinction, as a triumphant demo- 
crat who a short time ago at Dundee declared he 
visited with pleasure the burial places of Kings, but 
learnt better manners when he got to Inverness, 
where he paid a tardy homage to the virtue of a 
living Queen. It may be one of the eccentricities 
of Fife that the inhabitants are fond of the name 
of "The Kingdom." It is a common bond. It 
might be a toast, as the " Aucht and Forty Davachs 
of Huntly" in Aberdeenshire, " The Sons of Clach-na- 
Ciidden" in Inverness, or '^ All Round the Wrekin^" 
in Shropshire. It means the County and all the 
good people in it. These good people have given 
themselves the name of Fifers, which also just misses 
being a proverb in the strict sense, and expresses, 
perhaps, as much as six letters can. It would be 
rash to attempt to translate it into long-winded 



HIGHLAND AND LOWLAND 13 

English. There is a proverb, however, which makes 
the attempt, and a proverb which carries a good 
deal of forgotten history — 

'■'To be a Fifer is not fa?- off fro jn being a 
Highlandrnan. " 

Was it a proud Gael who first uttered this proverb, 
which may seem to imply that the Fife man was not 
quite so good as a Highlander, or was it a conceited 
Edinburgh citizen of the days when a Highlander 
was deemed either a robber or a beggar — no wel- 
come sight in the Southern City. Or is the more 
correct form of the saying, 

'^'^ If yoi£re Heelant you are next door to the Fifer 2'''' 

in which case it may be feared the conceit belongs 
to the Fife side of the Highland border, to the same 
pride which dictated the proverb, 

" They that sup with Fife folk maun hae a lang 
spune." 

Apart from these fancies, this saying preserves in 
proverbial form the fact written at large on the topo- 
graphy of Fife, that the population of a County 
which is now as a whole Lowland rather than High- 
land in character was originally Celtic, speaking a 



14 CELTIC CHARACTER 

dialect of the Gaelic tongue, honouring the Celtic 
Saints, using the old Celtic ritual, following the 
customs of the old Celtic law as at Macduff's Cross, 
wearing the Celtic garb, playing the pipes, and sing- 
ing to their tunes. Even later the dress which still 
lingers in the Highlands might be seen in Fife. The 
white frilled mutch was worn by the old women of 
Fife, the homespun frieze by the men. The bonny 
lassies drew the snooded shawl over their fair hair, 
and the braw lads cocked their bonnets when they 
went to woo, till the last generation introduced 
London or Paris hats and bonnets. The piper was 
to be found in many of the towns, and young and 
old danced the Highland Fling or Strathspeys when 
he played on Falkland Green or Anster Loan. All 
this is ancient history, only fit to be embalmed in an 
old proverb. No part of Scotland save the Low- 
lands proper seems now less akin to the Gael or less 
familiar with his peculiar usages. Yet when we 
penetrate beneath the surface, in spite of the settle- 
ment of many Saxons and Normans, some French- 
men and Flemings, and perhaps a few Danes and 
Dutchmen, there remains in the Fife character its 
humour and queerness, its clannishness and attach- 
ment to the soil — something which in a measure, 
though in a decreasing measure, justifies the proverb 



LADY NAIRNES APOLOGY 15 

that to be a Fifer is not so far off from being a 
Highlandman. Whoever studies the faces and 
figures in VVilkie's " Pitlessie Fair" or "The Rent 
Day" will ask himself more than once whether he 
is not looking at men and old women of Celtic race. 
A great artist, like a great poet, often sees further 
than an ordinary man. The Fifers of a bygone day 
were known in Princes Street — or the High Street 
before there was any Princes Street — by the salt 
water on their hats, and were the subject of many 
proverbs, of which the best describes their estates — 

" A Ruckle land, a lunip of debt, a doocot, and a 
law plea," 

and the worst satirizes them as 

" Aye daft and jnaistly drunk, and ivhat they 
want in sense they have in greed" 

But Lady Nairne makes a humorous apology or 
defence for the Fife Laird in one of her songs : — 

" Ye shouldna ca' the Laird 'daft, tho' daft like he may be ; 
Ye shouldna ca' the Laird daft, he's just as wise as we ; 
Y'e shouldna ca' the Laird daft, his bannet has a bee ; 
He's just a wee bit Fifish, like some Fife Lairds that be." 

After the County the capital claims place. Of all 
the proverbs of Fife 



l6 THE HEAD BURGH 

" Who will to Cupar maun to Cupar" 

has probably had the widest circulation. It certainly 
has the merit of antiquity. If it had been made in 
modern times it might perhaps have run the other 
way, " Who won^t to Cupar won^t to Cupar." We 
have become in some respects less active than our 
forefathers. In the days of the Jameses and Queen 
Mary no one thought anything about a walk or a 
ride from Dunfermline or Falkland to Kirkcaldy or 
Cupar. But now in this faster age of railways — if in 
Fife we may yet call it a faster age — Dunfermline 
and Kirkcaldy require their own Courts; Auchter- 
muchty and Newburgh, and even Anstruther and 
St Andrews, like to settle their own small debts, of 
which, fortunately there are few, within sight of their 
own doors. It is generally assumed that this pro- 
verb has something to do. with the resort to Cupar as 
the seat of justice. George Buchanan expresses this 
view when he describes Cupar as "a place in the 
middle region of the County where the rest of the 
people of Fife go to get justice." This also is 
assumed in a popular addition to the proverb, " Who 
will to Cupar maun to Cupar" — '■'■Aye better gang 
than be taen." If, as the last suggestion implies, the 
proverb had a special reference to the penalties of 



CUPAR COURT AND JAIL 1 7 

the law, the Prison Commissioners have falsified it. 
No one can now by going to Cupar find lodgings 
there at the Queen's expense. Yet it was a proverb 
in Fife, 

" There is nae shamming in Johmiy Brand's 
house" (Cupar Jail) 

which is perhaps not so applicable to the larger 
Prisons of Edinburgh or Dundee or the Penitentia,ry 
of Perth. Such readings of the proverb are surely 
much too limited. Perhaps the true meaning is 
" Whoever sets his heart on going to the capital — 
to London or Edinburgh, or in the Kingdom of Fife 
to Cupar — will manage to get there whether bent 
on business or pleasure. It is the local variety of 
the English proverb — " The wilful man will have 
his way." But it is superior to the English saying, 
because it does not exclude women, who sometimes 
get their own way. It has, besides, the advantage 
of the good old Scotch word " maun," which it may 
preserve after it has been lost in common speech. 
It is a word which expresses a good deal more than 
"will" or even than "must," and, like many words 
of the Scots vernacular, cannot easily be turned into 
English. And so this proverb requires a second 
English proverb — " Where there is a will there is a 



l8 AUCHTERMUCHTV WEAVERS 

K/«y," to express the Fife one. It conveys the hint 
that whoever wishes to go to Cupar or any other 
place must take the means of getting there on foot 
if he cannot ride. It is a warning, too, that, after 
all, the wilful man does not invariably have his way ; 
indeed, seldom gets it unless he exerts himself, not 
always when he does. Whatever it means, may 
Cupar long keep the distinction of this proverb. A 
Kingdom may exist without a King, and become 
a Republic. No Country or County can well exist 
without a centre, in which men from different parts 
have a common meeting-place, from which intelli- 
gence comes and goes, and in which authority has 
its seat. It need not be the richest or the busiest 
place. It is often difficult to decide between rival 
claims. It is well when it is settled, as in Fife, 
by a proverb. 

Cupar has a place in another proverb, which 
recalls one of the chief industries of Fife — 

*^ Auchtennuchty, Auchtermuchiy, payment by piece. 
Cupar 0^ Fife, Cupar d Fife, payment by time." 

When did this saying originate? Possibly when 
the handloom was being superseded by the power- 
loom, and Auchtermuchty stuck to the old style. 



BLEBO AND SPRINGFIELD I9 

while Cupar began to adopt the new ; or was Cupar 
in advance of the times, paying even its handloom 
weavers by the day? If the weavers of Auchter- 
muchty worked slowly, and on that account turned 
out perhaps all the better webs, its herds had an 
opposite character, for it was said of them — 

'■^ Hind^nest awd and first hame, like the 
herds of Auchtermuchty." 

The binders of Blebo had a similar bad character 
for dilatoriness, which is preserved in the saying — 

" As far behind as the Bandsteis of Blebo" 

who were often out of sight of the shearers. 

Another proverb of the neighbourhood of Cupar 
is a puzzle which local inquiry has not helped to 
solve. Did 

"Springfield holidays" 

mean that in Springfield it was all holidays, or that 
there were no holidays, or, as has been suggested, 
is it a modern proverb which relates to the long, 
sad holidays spent in the asylum? If so, it has 
lost its force, for improved treatment and higher 
skill have discovered that work is the best medicine 



20 THE CULTS BEADLE AND HIS BAIRNS 

to ward off and to cure the maladies of the mind. 
One sees in this case a proverb may fail some- 
times by excess of brevity, and the saying will die, 
or is perhaps already dead. The parish of Cults 
had also a proverb of its own — 

" Seek a hole for yourseV like Tammas Young's 
bairns." 

Tammas was a beadle in Cults, with a large family, 
who, after the wife had undressed the bairns, was 
wont to pitch them into the box bed saying " Seek 
a hole for yoursel'." Cameron parish had also its 
own saying when its minister was Mr Mair — 

" Cameron kirk is iniickle hut the minister is Mair;'^ 

and so had Monimail in the proverb, whose mean- 
ing is lost, 

" Turn your tail to Tamt and your face to 
Moni7nail." 

These proverbs, most likely half forgotten in Fife, 
have been sent me by Mr James Scott, from Valley 
Falls, Kansas, United States, who describes himself 
as a laddie who " paidled in the burn at Cults." 
Another proverb of the spinning trade, the product 
perhaps of Dunfermline or Kirkcaldy rivalry, re- 



THE "LANG TOON " 21 

preaches the cloth of Cupar — 

"As coarse as Cupar ham, three threads to a 
pund, and each pund an oxter/ull." 

Next to Cupar we may turn to its wealthier 
sisters of the East and West — Kirkcaldy and Dun- 
fermline. Kirkcaldy and its suburbs have produced 
as many proverbs as any locality in Fife. The 
" Lang Toon " has made itself into a proverb. 
"Kirkcaldy the sell o't," said Andrew Fairservice, 
"is as long as any town in England." There was 
some patriotic exaggeration in this claim, but Kirk- 
caldy is and has long been celebrated as the long 
town of Scotland. It is a proud boast, for most 
towns in Scotland are long rather than broad. The 
form in which the Scottish burgesses in old times 
built their burghs is indeed matter of more than 
antiquarian curiosity. It is a point in Scottish 
history. The old Scottish towns were not walled 
except Berwick and Perth, the frontier towns of 
the English and Highland borders. Edinburgh 
only got its wall after Flodden. There are no 
towns like York or Chester, Roman Camps which 
became fortified cities. The chief Scottish towns 
owed their defence to a castle which towered from 
its rocky eminence over the streets, as in Edin- 



2 2 WHY SCOTCH TOWNS ARE LONG 

burgh, Stirling, Dumbarton, Inverness. They were 
perhaps protected also by their poverty, which 
made a Scotch town in old days hardly worth 
pillage. The burgh lay open to the country side, 
where its citizens cultivated their burgh acres and 
combined rural with municipal pursuits. The 
houses were built fronting or in some cases gable 
end to the main road, which became the High 
Street, running East and West, North and South 
as the situation dictated. The houses had often 
common gables, a fertile source of lawsuits, and in 
other cases were separated by common entries or 
closes running to the back premises and connecting 
them with another street nearly parallel to the 
High Street, as the Cowgate of Edinburgh, through 
which the cows went from their byres to the town 
Meadows, or in the seacoast towns fronting the 
sea, and often called The Shore. Population and 
trade increasing, the coveted sites were those which 
entered on the High Street. New building was 
either upwards, as in the Edinburgh tenements — 
called lands, partly because the flats were modelled 
after the French Etages, but chiefly owing to the 
High Street being restricted to the short mile be- 
tween the Canongate and the Castle. In Kirk- 
caldy, where there was no such limitation, the 



AND KIRKCALDY THE LONGEST 23 

buildings gradually stretched along the High Street, 
on both sides of the Market Cross and the Harbour. 
Another cause common to many towns, but espe- 
cially noticeable in Kirkcaldy, which directed the 
lengthening of the line of building, instead of mak- 
ing cross streets and squares, was that the town lay 
on an ancient sea-level or raised beach, the narrow 
margin of flat ground between the sea, to which 
easy access was advantageous, and the brae or 
hillside beyond. And so it came about that Kirk- 
caldy is pre-eminently The Lang Toon. Determined 
to deserve the name acquired, when it was a fishing 
and shipping port before and a manufacturing town 
after the Union, but still only a little more than a 
mile long in the beginning of the eighteenth 
century, it is now three or four, and has absorbed 
Sinclairtown, Pathhead and Gallatown, Inverteil 
and Linktown. The fame of its staple trade has 
spread over the Continent and across the Atlantic. 
But what might not be so readily expected, it is 
also known abroad by one of its proverbs. When 
the German historian Pauli, whose head was as full 
of knowledge as his heart of kindness, was on a 
visit to Edinburgh, his host invited him to Fife, 
saying, with a laugh, " I don't believe you know 
that County or anything about Kirkcaldy, the most 



24 IS THE DEIL BURIKD AT KIRKCALDY? 

famous of its East Coast towns." " Don't I," said 
Pauli, " don't I," with a twinkle of his bright eye, 

"^ Some say the deWs deid and buried in 
Kirkcaldy P'' 

Whatever may be the other merits of this saying or 
the virtues of Kirkcaldy, this must be counted, it may 
be feared, one of the proverbs which are not true. 
A doubt is perhaps intended to be expressed by 
the "some say" of the proverb. Or is Kirkcaldy 
more fortunate than all the rest of the world in 
having buried the great adversary of man ? Scarcely, 
if another saying is veracious, that a stranger, hear- 
ing the text, from the Psalms of David, read by Mr 
Shirra, its well-known United Presbyterian minister, 
" I said in my haste all men are liars," exclaimed — 

" Aye, David, had you been in the Lang Toon 
you might hae said it at your leisured 

But this, no doubt, was the malice of some one 
who had made a bad bargain in the market. An 
addition to this proverb, indeed, itself casts doubt 
upon the reality of the Devil's death and burial, for 
it proceeds — 

"Some say the deiVs up again and dancing 
Highland Laddie P 



PATHHEAD 25 

Surely this must have been the version of some 
stern Covenanter or sour Whig, who applied it to 
Prince Charlie as Sir Walter Scott did to Napoleon 
after his escape from Elba. Another proverb of 
Kirkcaldy relates to an incident of the time when 
the cross, which may now be seen on many Esta- 
blished and even the bonny U. P. Kirks of which 
Mr Stevenson writes, was deemed idolatrous — 

" Kirkcaldy puir people 

Took down the Cross to build the Steepler 

But this reproach was not peculiar to Kirkcaldy. 
The Cross of Cupar was removed from the market 
place to the Hill of Tarvit, and the Cross of Edin- 
burgh was till lately cast among the rubbish at the 
base of St Giles. 

Pathhead, the chief continuation of Kirkcaldy, 
seems to have been an object while it continued 
separate of jealousy both to its town and country 
neighbours. Such, at least, seems the drift of 
several proverbs which attached to it. 

" Your like Pathhead folk, you look long afore you" 

is one of these, and is explained by some to mean 
that the people of that town thought themselves 



26 A PUZZLING PROVERB 

shrewder than they were, and by others that they 
anticipated the Hansel Monday holiday before it 
became due. 

** Yoi^ll come doufti the hill yet, like Pathhead 
folk," 

is a plainer saying, reflecting on their local situa- 
tion and failures in business, and hinting that they 
would need to come down to Kirkcaldy for help. 
There remains the most mysterious of the local 
proverbs of Fife — 

" Pickletillem to Pathhead, 
Ilka Bailie burns anither." 

The first line probably refers to a farm of that 
name in the neighbourhood of Pathhead, and is 
one, not three words, as Mr Robert Chambers 
prints it, which gave rise to many misleading 
guesses. Such a guess probably is the explanation 
that the proverb applies to the Pathhead nailers, 
who could not make out their quota of work with- 
out getting a pickle added. But what the second 
line means is a greater puzzle, which must be left to 
local antiquaries, with the remark of Mr Chambers, 
that " the meaning of the reproach is beyond reach, 



DUNFERMLINE 2^ 

but till a late period its effect in irritating the good 
people of Pathhead was indubitable." 

Dunfermline is not so well off for proverbs as 
Kirkcaldy, but it produced the first of many collec- 
tions of Scottish proverbs, the work of its minister, 
Mr David Ferguson, who compiled it in 1598, 
though it was not published till 1644. One saying 
of Dunfermline origin, 

" The deil has cussin his cloke aboot the bairn" 

is said to have been spoken by James VI. when 
the nurse of Charles I. awoke him with a tale of an 
apparition beside the cradle of his child. But that 
monarch, who was so proud of his good sayings, 
would no doubt prefer to be remembered by the 
better known one describing the County as 

".^ beggar's mantle with a fringe of gold." 

Mr Addison, now of the Trowbridge Advertiser, to 
whom I am indebted for a friendly communication, 
recalls another saying, 

" ril no tak aff my breeks till I gang to my bed" 

as current in Dunfermline ; and he adds others as 
well known to him in his younger days in that town. 



28 weavers' proverbs 

Some are common elsewhere, but the following are 
new to me and worth preserving : — 

" Yoitr wind shakes nae corn," 

^' Flee latgh," and 

" Wha sits on a stane is twice fain ; fain to sit 
down and fain to rise up." 

" Torryburn Hail" 

is a modern Dunfermline saying for a one-sided 
game, as the Torryburn lads usually won every 
game in the shinty matches. 

" Y^er not aye gaun to the kirk when ye gang 
doon the Kirkgate" 

is another which is perhaps not exclusively applicable 
to Dunfermline. Two proverbs of the weaving trade 
are remembered by old residents of Dunfermline, 

" He'll neither hap nor wind" 
and 

^^ Keep a hasp in your ain hand" 

which sufficiently explain their meaning. 



FALKLAND : ITS COURT AND WOODS 29 

If Dunfermline has comparatively few proverbs, 
Falkland, the other Royal Palace of Fife, makes 
up for it. Most of its proverbs are allusions to the 
Court and courtiers. 

" To be Falkland bred'' 

meant to be a courtier. 

" Your queer folk no to be Falkla?id folk," 

was the retaliation of some witty country-bred man 
to a set of people he knew quite well hailed from 
Falkland, and who were giving themselves airs. 

" To go to Freuchie and" 
as is sometimes added, 

"Ay f^'ogs" 

was to get into disgrace and be banished from 
Court. The addition may possibly refer to this 
fate having befallen a French favourite. It is the 
Scotch for to be sent to Coi'entry, like the North 
country proverb to go to Banff and btiff beiH leather." 

" You won't cut the woods of Falkland with 
a penknife" 

is a saying which must be of early date, before 



3© THE "bailie's coo" 

its fine trees, which had escaped the demands of 
the Scottish Navy, had fallen under the axes of the 
soldiers of Cromwell and of Charles. It is to be 
found in Ferguson's collection. 

" The King may come the Cadger's gate" 

is probably a proverb of Falkland origin, and may 
be taken in more than one sense. 

"Like is an ill niark''^ 

is said to be a proverb of Falkland, a warning 
against the use of comparisons, parallels, and 
similies, perhaps because its natives did not care to 
be compared to those of any other place. When 
Falkland had fallen from its high estate as the 
Royal Court it still retained its municipal honours. 
The 

"Bailies coo," 

if not a proverb, deserves to be one. Her master, 

when he visited her byre somewhat elevated after 

his election, greeted her — " Ah, Crummie, Crummie, 

ye're nae common coo now : ye're a Bailie's coo, my 

man." 

"Like draws to like" 

is one of the proverbs which is the common property 
of many places and countries. But the addition. 



DYSAKT 31 

" Like an auld horse to a fail (feal) dyke" 

gives it a peculiar Scotch, perhaps Fifish turn, 

" Blood without suet niaHs puir puddin's" 
and 

" Better half an egg than a toom doup" 

are two proverbs of the kitchen which were current 
in Fife, and belong to the cottage, not to the palace. 
But it is remarkable that so few of the proverbs in 
Ferguson's collection have any local colour. Many 
of them are indeed mere translations of Latin 
adages. 

It may be convenient to note the proverbs of 
the other East Coast towns before crossing to 
Tayside or making an excursion into the interior 
of the County. Dysart at one time came next to 
Kirkcaldy in the currency of its proverbs, though 
they are for the most part now antiquated. 

" As old as the three trees of Dysart" 

was remembered when there was only one, but now 
it is gone, and the saying is probably forgotten. 

"Salt to Dysart," 
the Scotch form of " Coals to Neiucastle" has lost 



32 TWO drunkards' sayings 

its meaning now the salt pans are abandoned. 
" A puir appearance for Dysart " 

was the exclamation of some drunken sexton when 
awakened by the side of a grave he ought to have 
been digging by the mail guard's horn, which he 
took for the last trumpet, and himself for the only 
representative of his town. It was recalled to the 
writer by a Highland shepherd, who told the tale 
that when wintering his sheep in Fife he found a 
very well dressed man asleep by a ditch side. It 
was the time of an election, and after the drunkard 
was roused from his slumbers, he could only say — 
" I am a ZeeheraX, I am a Z^^beral." Was this in 
vino Veritas, or the opposite, like the London 
medical student who, on a similar occasion, in- 
formed the police he was Mr Wilberforce. What- 
ever way you take it, let us hope it will never 
become a proverb. Fife has indeed no political 
proverbs, though Kinross has the celebrated non- 
political one — 

" Happy is the man who belongs to no party, 
Who sits in his ain house and looks at Benarty.'" 

This declaration is more likely to have been made 



DYSART 33 

by Malcolm of Loch Or, an old Kinross laird who 
lived at the time of the French Revolution, when 
thrones were shaken and British parties split asunder, 
than by Sheridan, who has sometimes been credited 
with it as an impromptu uttered when he was on a 
visit to Blairadam. 

Dysart did not confine itself to salt, and a 
rhyming proverb runs — 

" Dysart for coal and saut, 
Pathhead for meal and maut, 
Kirkcaldy for lasses braw, 
Kinghorn for breaking the law" 

Kinghom, for what reason is not clear, perhaps 
because it was the poorest of the Royal Burghs of 
the East Coast, seems to have had a bad name in 
those days of old proverbs, for another lame rhyme 
goes — 

" Kinghorn for cursing and swearitig, 

Burntisland for curing herring." 

But as Burntisland no longer cures, it may be 
hoped Kinghorn no longer curses. Nor was the 
place better thought of than the people. The 
fishers despised its bay for its poverty in fish, and 
said of it — 



34 KINGHORN 

" Kmghorn Blind {i.e., an enclosed bay); a muckle 
dish and little in it" 

or as another prosaic form has it — 

"Ifs like Kinghorn, nae muckle worth." 

Its better behaved neighbours declared its sins in 
the lines — 

" Here stands a kirk without a steeple, 
A drucken priest and a graceless people." 

And the passenger seems to have fought shy of its 
ferry, for it was said, 

" There's mony speir the road for Kinghorii and ken 
it cH the 7vay to Pettycur." 

Or was this a jest at the kind of people we all know 
who go about asking useless questions ? 

" They keep open house at Kinghorn" 

was said when its houses had fallen into decay and 
let in as guests the wind and the rain. There is 
nothing, of course, in Kinghorn of the present day 
to justify these gibes, which its monument to the 
good King Alexander III. and new golf course 
have, we may hope, banished for ever. 



A COMPLIMENTARY PROVERB 35 

No one from Kinghorn has for long appeared 
at the bar of the Criminal Court for any serious 
breach of the law. 

Most proverbs, especially local ones, are, as these 
examples show, satirical and often slightly mali- 
cious, but they occasionally pay compliments, as 
in the well-known lines — 

" The canty carls d Dysart, 
The merry lads d Buckhaven, 
The saucy kimmers d Largo, 
The bonny lasses d Leven." 

The original of this was a boat song which Burns 
honoured by copying — 

" Up wi' the carls 0' Dysart, 
And the lads o' Buckhaven, 
And the kimmers 0' Largo, 
And the lasses o' Leven." 

" Hey ca' thro', ca' thro' 
For we hae muckle to do." 

The last lines were the refrain of the singers as 
they kept time to the tune with their oars. 

They remind us of the still finer lines of Hugh 
Ainslie's song " The Rover of Loch Ryan " — 

" We have rowed thro' a heavier sea, my boys, 
And we'll row thro' a heavier yet." 



36 BUCKHAVEN 

The lads of Buckhaven were perhaps merry 
because they had little to do with books, and to be 
bred at the 

" College of Buckhaven " 

was even a byword for an ignorant man. It 
referred to the old schoolhouse, which still stands, 
and may have been the school where " Wise Willie" 
and " Witty Eppie " got their learning. The Buck- 
haven fishers, however, knew their own business, 
and prospered in it. It was said in the beginning 
of last century that there was not a poor man in the 
village. They have kept up this character now that 
they are more learned by building their harbour at 
their own cost without borrowing. Why the Leven 
lasses were preferred to those of Largo, or why 
Dysart had only canty carls and no merry lads, it 
would be rash to conjecture. There is a longer 
rhyme which commemorates the young ladies of the 
East Coast fishing towns : — 

" The lasses d the Ferry ( Earlsferry ), 

They bush braw ; 
The lasses d the Elie, 

They ding cC ; 
The lasses d St Monans, 

They curse and ban ; 



CRAIL 37 

The lasses d Fittenweem — 

They do the same; 
The lasses d Anster, 

They drink strong y ill ; 
There's green grass in Cellardyke 

And crabs in till Craiir 

Crail still claims to have the best crabs on the 
coast. It is the last of the sea towns distinguished 
by many proverbs, though a few others may be 
gleaned. 

St Andrews has apparently no proverbs, unless 
we may credit it with 

" The reek of Patrick Hamilton infects all it 
bloT.vs on." 

The quaint burgh of Crail has some sayings to 
mark its out of the world character. 

" A Crail capon " 

was a haddock smoked in the chimney lum — the 
most plentiful kind of food in that remote quarter, of 
which it is related that one Fife man asked another 
whether he had been abroad, who replied, 

" JVa ; but I ance kent a man who had been to 
CraUr 



38 SAYINGS OF THE SEA 

" Crail play " 

at whist, to lead Ace King in succession, is the same 
as " Paisley play," in like manner looked down upon 
by Glasgow players. It was a mode which the 
more skilful new-fashioned players of Anstruther 
and Pittesweem despised. 

The sea has its proverbs, mostly sad, as the 
weH-known warning — 

" Betimxt the Oxca?- and the May 
Many a ship has been cast away /" 

and the directions for a voyage from Queensferry to 
the Tay were summed lip in the lines — 

" Inchcolm, Inchkeith, 
The twa Mickeries and Craigleith, 
The lofty Bass and the Isle of May, 
Round the Car and in the Tay." 

The North Coast has fewer small towns, so fewer 
proverbs, but the neighbourhood of Newburgh has 
preserved some, which have a more ancient taste 
than those of the East. Its school boys still cry, 

" Gey to HacMe Birnie" 
from " Hackel-barend," the Norse spirit of the storm 



LINDORES 39 

(Laing's " Lindores," p. 378), and their elders still 
repeat to each other, 

" The bells of the Abbey will aye be gotten rung." 

This warning that every place can be easily filled up 
is said to have originated as a reflection on a bump- 
tious bellringer of Lindores who thought himself 
indispensable. It is remembered now in its trans- 
ferred meaning when there are neither Abbey nor 
bells. It is the local counterpart of many similar 
sayings, as the classic line — " Uno avulso non deficit 
alter aureus P or the English proverb, " There are as 
good fish in the sea as ever came out of it." 

" He that can do no better must needs be a monk" 

is a saying ascribed by tradition to the ninth Earl of 
Douglas, and probably a proverb before his time, 
when sent to end his days as a prisoner in the 
Abbey, and, though doubted by modern historians, 
seems consistent with the character of the proud 
baron who had defied the king. 

There was a scoffing saying about Newport, be- 
longing to the time when its whole population con- 
sisted of the ferrymen and their families — 

" Take care what you say about neighbours at Newport. 
They are all Uncles a?jd Aunties and Cousins" 



4© WEATHER PROVERBS 

This is a proverb which applies to other ptaces, but 
its prudent counsel has seldom been followed. 

Passing from town to country, several of the Fife 
proverbs of other districts are weather prophecies, 
common signs on the universal subject that inte- 
rests every one, but no class more than an agricul- 
tural community, which has to win its livelihood in 
a changeable climate. Such is the rhyme of the 
East Coast — 

" When Largo Law the tnist doth bear, 
Let Kellie Law for storms prepare ;^^ 

or another of the Central districts — 

" When Falkland LLill puts on his cap, 
The LLowe of Fife will get a drap ; 
And when the Bishop draws his cotal. 
Look out for wind and weather foul ;^ 

both of which recall other proverbs of the mist, as 

^^ Mist on the hills weather spills ; 

Mist in the houies, weather grows." 
or 

" When Monimail Hill puts on its hat. 

The Buchan Howes 7vill pay for that ;" 



THE MIST AND THE COLD 4I 

or 

" When the mist comes to the hills, 
Ye' II get juater for your mills; 
When the mist comes from the sea. 
Fair weather it will be." 

The cold weather of the high ground inland from 
the East Neuk, and swept by winds both from the 
Forth and the sea, has been reflected in proverbs, as 
in the rhyme — 

" Ladoddie, Radernie, Lathockar, and Lathone, 
Ye may saw wx gloz'es aff, and shear 7^1' mittens on." 

It was probably to the soil of this locality that the 
description refers, 

" It greets d winter and girns a' simmer." 

So Carnbee has got the epithet of caidd in the 
saying, 

" Caiild Carnbee, cauld Carnbee, 
Little jneat and ill-paid fee," 

though there are warm houses near it. But the close 
of it, sometimes varied to 

" Meikle ^varh and little fee" 

is now obsolete. Yet even this inclement district 
has sheltered places, for 



42 THE ORE 

" Elavil the wind where it likes, 
Therms Meld about PitmiUy dykes." 

The floods as well as the winds are the farmer's 
foes, and a useful warning is given to those whose 
lands lie along the Ore after it joins the Lothrie in 
the lines — 

" Colquhally and the Sillerton, 

Pitcairn and Dmvhill, 
Should clean their haughs ere Lammas spates 

The Ore begins to fill ." 

Those who live lower down the stream are more 
obscurely admonished of the need of an early har- 
vest by the verse — 

" Lochtie, Lothrie, Let^en, and Ore, 
Rin a' through Cameron Brig bore" 

or, as it has been altered to commemorate a local 
worthy, perhaps the miller at Cameron Bridge, 

" A meet at J^ohnny IVishart's door." 

That worthy rejoiced to sell his napkin of land for a 
good price, because he did not wish to lose the 
proverb. 

Sometimes such lines become mere jingle without 
any apparent meaning, but which sing in the head 



PLACE RHYMES 43 

and please by their quaintness. If any one despises 
them, those of another opinion have Sir Walter 
Scott on their side, with whom, Chief Commissioner 
Adam relates, the following Kinross-shire rhyme of 
the Ochils was a favourite — 

" Lochamt'e and Locharniis Moss, 
The Lonten Stane and DodgUVs Cross, 
Craigencat and CraigencroT.v, 
Craigamie, Kings Seat, and Duncrow." 

With which we may match the Fife one — 

" Lundy Mill and Largo, 

The Law and the Loch, 
Pittenweem and Anster, 

Crail and Croch, 
Auchindenny, Clackindenny, ati Balmain, 
And Pitcarnie sta?ids alane." 

There is another of the localities in the Cupar neigh- 
bourhood — 

" Baldernie and Blebo Hill, 
Callange, Kinninnionth, and Pitscottie Toll, 
Talla-bout and Thomas-toun, Tarvit and Whitehill, 
Rutngally and Pitscottie, Dura and Nezvmilir 

If they do nothing more, such lines preserve old 



44 CRACKS OR FLAMS 

names and their pronunciation, and ought not to 
be neglected by students of dialect and etymology. 

Some of these place lines are more plain-spoken 
than polite, as — 

" Caniston and PreHon, 

Kirkforthar and the Drums, 
Were fotir as crabbed gentlemen 
As ever spak wV tongttes ;" 

or, as it was sometimes altered — 

" Were four as greedy farmers ;^' 
So too 

" Lundie Mill and Largo, the Kirkton and the Keirs, 
Pittenweem an^ Anster are all big leears" 

must have had a temporary personal application. 

One variety of saying consists of cracks or 
humorous exaggerations, or big lies as the author 
of the last lines might have called them, a kind of 
wit in which our American kinsmen are now the 
chief masters. Such was the saying of David 
Lindsay of Wormiston to an Anglo-Indian, who 
was drawing the long bow, 

" When I was in India I swallowed an oyster as big 
as a Leith smack.^^ 



DAVY LYNDSAV 45 

Another kind expresses an impossibility, as one on 
the goldfields of Fife — 

" If Babnain cock doesna craw, 

And if Tammie Norrie his horn doesna blaiv, 

ril show ye the gold mine on Largo Law ;" 

or the Fife version of the Greek Kalends, a date 
which never came — 

" When the Bass and the Isle of May 
Meet together on Mount Sinai," 

which is from Sir David Lindsay's poems. 

There are a few proverbs connected not with 
places, but with persons, worth quotation and a 
word of comment. 

" You'll no find that in Davy Lyndsay" 

was a proverb of the time when the works of the 
Lyon King were the secular Bible of the people of 
Fife. 

It is singular that so few proverbs are to be found 
in Lyndsay's poems, although his own name became 
proverbial, and many passages of his works were 
frequently quoted. 



46 PROVERBS QUOTED BY LYNDSAY 

" Although the loon was weel awa' 
The deed was foully done," 

though often cited as a saying of Lyndsay, is not in 
his published works. Such proverbs as are to be 
found in them are of older date, as one which was 
verified in his life-time — 

" / see right well that proverb is full true, 
Wo^ to the realm that has owre young ane King." 
And another — 

" Hie' est in Court, neist the widdie" 

— i.e., nearest the gallows, of which he says, " This 
proverb is of the verity the quilk I heard red intill 
ane letter." 

Both he and Dunbar cite the ancient proverb of 

" Blind Alane looking at the jnoon," 

the explanation of which is lost. The saying that 
bishops who did not preach were 

"Dumb dogs," 

which Knox adopted, was perhaps original, and so 
probably was one already quoted of the meeting of 
the Bass and Isle of May on Mount Sinai. 

" Wha labours nocht he sail not eat" 



ROYAL SAYINGS 47 

is translated from the Vulgate of St Paul's Epistle. 

" A7ie sair saint for the Croum^' 

was said by James the First of David the First 
when he saw Dunfermline, but became current from 
Lyndsay's quotations of it in "The Satyre of the 
Three Estates." 

The Stuart Kings seem to have had a turn for 
proverb-making, perhaps derived from their resi- 
dence in Fife. James III. died exclaiming, 

" / was your King this inorni7i\" 

James IV. was the author of the inconsistent saying, 

" JDo weil and sit not by deeming, 
For no man sail undeemit be." 

James V. died at Falkland with a proverb in his 
mouth, 

" // ca7ne with a lass afid it will go with a lass." 

The lass who was to wear the Crown did not make 
any proverb in the vernacular, though she was to be 
the occasion, or give the occasion for the applica- 
tion of more than one, as 

" They ne^'er get luck tvho come to Loch Leven," 



48 QUEEN Mary's devices 

and 

" Better women iveep than bearded men." 

But, as was natural in one bred abroad, she preferred 
foreign proverbs. She embroidered, perhaps at 
Loch Leven, a bed of State, with " Impresas" 
(mottoes) and emblems, wrought with gold and silk, 
of which Drummond of Hawthornden sent a full 
description in a letter to Ben Jonson — a good pre- 
cedent for the sport of proverb hunters, in which 
the two poets seem to have taken equal pleasure. 
These mottoes or devices are all Latin, French, or 
Italian, most of them glancing at her own fate. 
They are too many for quotation, but one or two 
may be selected and translated. 

" Hares insult the vanquished lio7i" 

alluding to her captivity. 

" She bore ane, but a lion" 

to her only son. 

" In my end lies my beginning^'' 

the motto of her mother, Mary of Guise, which 
seems to be, as explained by its emblem, a phoenix 
rising from the flames, a version of the Latin " Mors 
Janua Vitae." The Scottish Solomon did not prove 



JOHN THOMSON 49 

a lion, but, as was fitting, he was the author of 
many proverbs, of which those relating to Fife have 
been already quoted. 

A few other proverbs of persons less than royal 
deserve notice. 

" We are cH J^ohn Thomson'' s bairns" 

referred to some popular individual, a master of the 
games, the feast, or the hounds. Certainly John 
Thomson was a Fife man, though not the same as 
appears in another proverb — " To be John Thomson's 
mart''' — which Fergusson tells us was said of an 
effeminate person, and Dunbar, nearly a century 
before Fergusson, applied to James IV. when he 
wished he was more under the influence of his wife, 
Margaret Tudor. John is said in the latter proverb 
to stand for Joan, but both appear to be sayings 
whose origin is lost, which has the advantage of 
allowing us to put our own meaning into them. 

There is a good one credited to Miss Wood of 
Elie, a descendant of the great Admiral of Largo — 

" / like a! things weil" 

said Maggie Wood of the Elie, 

" Bid gude things best" 



5o ploughmen's sayings 

a capital summary of optimistic philosophy. Some 
inveterate bachelor must have been the author of 
the Fife verdict on matrimony — 

" They say in Fife, 

That next to nae wife, 

The best thing is a guid wife." 

It is the canny but unsatisfactory verdict of not 
proven. 

The ploughmen at the hiring fairs had rhymes to 
denote their likes and dislikes for particular farms or 
farmers, and the fare they got from their masters, as 
in the jingle, vi^hich had many alterations to suit the 
case, of which the best known form describes the 
fairs of the West district— 

" Witches in the Watergate, 

Fairies in the Mill, 
Brosy lads d Newiston, 

Can never get their fill. 
Smd drink in the Punful, 

Cmvdie in the kirk. 
Grey meal in Boreland 

Waiir than ony dirt. 
Bread and cheese in the Easter Mains, 
Cauld sowens in the Wester Mains, 



PLACE RHYMES 5 1 

Hard heads in Hardeston, 

Quakers in the Pow ; 
The braw lasses d Abdie 

Cafina spin their ain tmv." 

Or another of the Eastern district — 

" The new toun d Balchristie, 
Balcarras and the Brough, 
Cauldstream and Cuffaboot, 

Dirt-pat Hd ; 
Burnhead and Ethernie 

Stand abune them a\" 

These are places within two miles of Leven, and the 
rhyme very well describes their relative positions. 

The situation of the farms in the Western parishes 
of Dunbog and Moonzie is denoted in the lines — 

" Bambreich stands heich, Higham in a howe, 
Glenduckie in a dub, and Monzie on a knmve." 

Moonzie has another rhyme about its kirk — 

" Gae ye east or gae ye ivast, 

Or gae ye any way ye will, 
Ye will not get to Moonzie hirk 

Unless ye galop up the hill." 



52 CLACKMANNAN PROVERBS 

But Clackmannan has the pre;.ttiest rhyme of places, 

" Oh ! Alva woods are honnie, 

Tillicoultry hills are fair ; 
But when I think o the honnie braes o Menstrie 

It makes my heart aye sair.'^ 

The same County has an apt saying for a change- 
able character — 

"Soon het, soon cauld, like a Cxdross girdle,'' 

referring to the staple manufacture of that burgh, 
the iron girdle, which supplanted those of fireclay 
formerly in use. 

" Be stuffy ; an ye dinna he stuffy, he as stuffy as 
ye can," 

was the advice so often given by an old Dunferm- 
line farmer to his men that they called him " Old 
Stuffy." 

The children of the cottagers have many rhymed 
sayings, one of which may have a place for the old 
words it preserves — 

" Curly doddy, do my hidden, 

Soop my hoose and shool my midden." 



FAMILY SAYINGS 53 

The colliers, we may be sure, have many proverbs, 
but I have only got one — 

" A collier is toom a foftnicht be/ore his meat," 

alluding to the custom of buying provisions on a 
fortnight's credit till their wages were paid. 

In many parts of Scotland there were sayings, 
generally satirical, about particular families or clans, 
but there are few of these connected with Fife, in 
which the clan system early disappeared, and even 
great families were often dispersed. The only ones 
of this kind in Fife, perhaps, are 

" The Light Lindsays,'' 

which is not a disparaging epithet as might appear, 
but an allusion to their agile conduct at Otterburn. 

"He chose the Gordons and the Grahams, 
With them the Lindsays liglit and gay." 

"The Lindsays flew like Are about 
Till a' the affray was done. " 

*' Ash no questions of the Leslies" 

is a darker saying. Does it refer to the question 
which the ill-fated Cardinal put to Norman Leslie 
before he received the answer of the dagger still 
preserved at Rothes? His own family have an 



54 POETIC PROVERBS 

epithet almost proverbial from traits of beauty, which 
have come down to the present time — 

" The Beatons blue eyes and golden ho.ir.'^ 

But these are said to have been derived not from 
the Beaton blood, but from the marriage of John 
Beaton, second laird of Creich, with a daughter of 
John Hay, Provost of Dundee, a cadet of the Hays 
of Naughton. 

The proverbs of Fife, like its poetry, are as a rule 
comic, satirical, pungent, seldom tender or pathetic. 
They do not often rise high or go deep. They are 
rather chance shafts, which, taking flight at a happy 
moment, have hit the target and scored a mark. 
Occasionally, but rarely, they have been more, and 
express a pathetic or imaginative truth in a form 
worthy of a poet. Such is the saying, 

'• The mouse should not leave the avmiri/ with a tear 
in her ee ;" 

or the expression of the proud poverty of an old 
man whose talk, my informant told me, was largely 
made of proverbs, and who had lost his only son — 

" Til tie mine ain hose wi mine ain gartans/' 

and 

" Sdl the coo to Imry Tavimie." 



THE BEST PROVERB AND ITS REVERSE 55 

Such is the well-known proverb which James 
Ballantyne expanded into a song — 

" Ilha blade o grass keps its ain drap. o dew." 

Miss Stirling Graham of Duntrune, when introduced 
to Ballantyne, drew him to the light, saying, " I 
should like to see the man who wrote that line," but 
Ballantyne modestly disclaimed the authorship, and 
told her it was a Fife proverb. Its reverse has also 
found a proverbial form in the East Neuk, and, like 
it, been turned into a song — 

" Ilka door step has its ain slippy stane." 

It is no discredit to the song-writer that the proverb 
is better than the song, carrying a fuller meaning 
in fewer words. It would spoil a saying as true to 
nature as to the more cheerful view of life to put the 
former, the finest of all the proverbs of Fife, into a 
prosaic version. Who does not when he hears it 
see the dewy lawn on a morning in May, and recall 
the text that "not a sparrow falleth to the ground" 
without the will of the Almighty. 

FINIS. 
"Every one is a friend of the end." — Spanish Proverb. 



BY THE SAME WRITER. 



A Memoir of Sir James Dalrymple, 1st Viscovmt 
Stair : a Study in the History and Law of Scotland. 1873. 

The Practice of the Court of Session in Scotland. 

A Memoir of and Introduction to the Poems of 
"William Dunbar: a Study in the History and Poetry 
of Scotland. For the Scottish Text Society. 1889. 

An Outline of the History of Scotland, published in 
the "Encyclopaedia Britanuica," 9th edition. 

A Sketch of the History of Fife : a Study in Scottish 
History and Character. 1890. 

A Sketch of the History of the Law of Scotland: 

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