Frae: R. De Bruce Trotter, Galloway Gossip (1901), pp. 1-4
THE Importunate Widow held the secret of life. She knew how to arrive. So in season and out I have urged Dr. Trotter of Perth, to complete his fine Shire volume of “Galloway Gossip” by the addition of a volume dealing with the Stewartry. At long and last I have succeeded, and now, in revenge, as it were, he asks me to hang out the bush over the door, of which, indeed, so sound a Galloway vintage stands in small need.
Dr. Trotter’s volumes are much more than collections of merry countryside tales conceived with a certain manfulness of mood. Other claims can be made out on their behalf. In them, more than in any other local books I know (save, perhaps, daft Mactaggart’s rich character sketches enshrined in his Encyclopædia), may be found the very spirit and flavour of old Galloway, and of the days when a spade was not called an agricultural instrument.
Dr. Trotter does not deviate from the monosyllable when speaking of that useful tool.
As I look over the pages of the new volume of “Galloway Gossip” I am reminded of the Back Shore, north of Port Patrick, where first I made acquaintance with the first series of Dr Trotter’s collection. The taste of the salt is on my lips as I read. The wind comes blusterously across the narrow seas. It brings the water to the eyes, the sting of brine and seaweed to the nostril. But, there is something healthful and invigorating about the process, dispellant of sick fancies and modern overplus of gentility.
So to me the “Gossip” brings back certain honest, heartsome, nippy flavours of the salt Solway tides, scents of moorland and gall bushes wet with driving rain, the bite of peat reek in some upland cothouse, the honest farmyard and stackyard flavours which, once known and relished, remain with every man worth sixpence to his dying day. In these the worthy, shrewd, reliable, prejudiced memoirs and reminiscences of the Muir Doctor’s widow are rich beyond words.
The anecdotes are Galloway to the core – not with the genial, delicate, artist’s touch of Malcolm Harper, nor yet with the weird occasional genius of William Nicholson, but with a distinctness and racy flavour all their own.
Dr. Trotter is all a man. He invites dissent, and lives upon honest opposition. Personally, I do no always agree with him, but I understand his point of view, or rather the point of view he has taken for dramatic purposes. For instance, I could lay a stout lance in rest against the practice of spelling “to” as “tae,” which offends the eye accustomed to Burns and Scott.
But it is in the main a true word which the author speaks when he promises to reproduce the actual and ancient speech of the Free province; and he does it with a faithfulness which can only be appreciated by the trained ear. Not only is this Galloway which we have set before us, but it is Galloway of the Stewartry. It tastes of the moors an fastnesses which lie between the Merrick and the water of Ken. You could swear that the man knew the Loch of the Lilies, and had dabbled his toes in the Deuch. I, being natural to this soil, felt the flavour even in the Shire volume. Dr. Trotter writes of Wigtownshire, and he will write of Dumfriesshire as a Stewartry man adventuring into a strange land.
Dr. Trotter has done a good deed, as all men do who strive to write the ancient speech unalloyed with “Glasgow-Irish” and the debris of pantomime songs and cheap athletic journals.
It is indeed only towards the fastnesses of the Dungeon of Buchan and the butts of Millyae that one finds the true unalloyed speech of Galloway. I know but one man who speaks it habitually as I would have it spoken, and the flavour is to me as mutton ham, yea, even as “pitata scones wi’ crab jeely t’ them.”
I am told that the same breaking up into dialects is affecting even Gaelic, and certainly Lowland speech (before the recent revival of interest in Galloway words and things) was rapidly going down the hill towards utter extinction.
But better times are dawning, or have dawned, and “Galloway Gossip” is a proof of this. Another and more learned symptom is the space given to South Country language and quotation in Dr. Wright’s great Dialect Dictionary edited for the Oxford press.
In brief, then, Dr. Trotter’s new book contains elements of strength which, if they do not give it immortality, will at least cause it to live as long as does the fine, vivid, picturesque diction of the Southern Pict which it celebrates and worthily enshrines.
S. R. CROCKETT.