The Only Way of Accompting

John Campbell, 1st Earl of Breadalbane and Holland, Viscount of Tay and Paintland, and Lord Glenorchy, Benderloch, Ormelie and Wick.

The Earl of Breadalbane, a man of great power in the Highlands, and head of a numerous clan of the Campbells, was intrusted with a sum of money, which some authors call 20, and some 12,000 pounds, to be distributed among the chieftains, on the condition of their submission to the existing government, and keeping on foot, each chief in proportion to his means, a military force to act on behalf of government, at home or abroad, as they should be called on. This scheme would probably have rendered the Highland clans a resource, instead of a terror, to the government of King William; while their love of war, and their want of money, would by degrees have weaned them from their attachment to the exiled King, which would gradually have been transferred to a prince who led them to battle, and paid them for following him.

But many of the chiefs were jealous of the conduct of the Earl of Breadalbane in distributing the funds intrusted to his care. Part of this treasure the wily Earl bestowed among the most leading men; when these were bought off, he intimidated those of less power into submission, by threatening them with military execution; and it has always been said, that he retained a considerable portion of the gratuity in his own hands. The Highland chiefs complained to Government of Breadalbane’s conduct, who, they alleged, had advised them only to submit to King William for the present, until an opportunity should occur of doing King James effectual service. They also charged him with retaining, for his own purposes, a considerable part of the money deposited in his hands, as the price of peace.

My dear Lord, The money you mention, was given to purchase the peace of the Highlands. The money is spent—the Highlands are quiet, and this is the only way of accompting among friends.

Government, it is said, attended to this information, so far as to demand, through the Secretary of State, a regular account of the manner in which the sum of money placed in his hands had been distributed. But Breadalbane, too powerful to be called in question, and too audacious to care for suspicion of what he judged Government dared not resent, is traditionally said to have answered the demand in the following cavalier manner:— “My dear Lord, The money you mention, was given to purchase the peace of the Highlands. The money is spent—the Highlands are quiet, and this is the only way of accompting among friends.”

— Sir Walter Scott, Tales of a Grandfather, Second Series, Vol. I, 1842.

“Claw for Claw”

St. Conan’s Holy Well, Dalmally, Glenorchy, Argyll.

“Claw for claw,” as St Conan said to the devil. The expression “blow for blow” occurs in Waverley, and in a note the following explanation is given of it.

In the Irish ballads relating to Fingal, or Fion, there occurs, as in the primitive poetry of most nations, a cycle of heroes, each of whom has some distinguishing attributes. Upon these qualities and the adventures of those possessing them many proverbs are formed which are still current in the Highlands. Amongst other characteristics Conan is distinguished as in some respects a kind of Thersites, but brave and daring even to rashness. He had made a vow that he would never take a blow without returning it, and having like other heroes of antiquity descended into the infernal regions he received a cuff from the Arch-fiend who presided, which he instantly returned, using the expression in the text. Sometimes the proverb is rendered thus–‘Claw for claw, and the devil take the shortest nails.’

We should be very unwilling to believe that St Conan and Thersites–the evil-minded, “scurrilous Grecian”–had anything in common, and though in those rough early days even a churchman–with little law to look up to or to help him–might now and then have to take it into his own hands, he could not well be a brawler, and at the same time retain the reputation for piety which we know was attached to St Conan. The Conan of the ballad of Fion may have been a Thersites, and the saying may have originated in his time, and may have been appropriated and applied to their master by the monkish scribes. At anyrate, one of them gives the following explanation of it: It appears that at one period of the saint’s earlier life the Evil One had great power in Argyllshire. We find in everyday life that one man, when disputing with another, will now and then find it politic to bargain and perhaps give way a little, even when he knows himself to be in the right, rather than provoke a contest in which he is not sure he will altogether be the victor, and so the good monk found it necessary to temporise with the Devil. There were many very bad characters–so says the old chronicler–in those days in the district of Lorn, or what we call Lorn now, to whom St Conan could not altogether deny the Fiend a right; some of whom were hopelessly wicked, and the latter was about sweeping them all, middling, bad and very bad, into his net. St Conan gave up the last and offered to draw alternately for the others, stating his determination if this proposal was refused of fighting most desperately for them all. The Devil, knowing how very formidable an opponent the saint would prove, agreed. The very black ones were raked away, and then the champions took in turn the souls of the remainder. It was while they were thus engaged that the saint made use of the memorable expression, for his great enemy grew so terribly excited in the grim game that he could not keep his turn, and was continually stretching out his awful hands for his prey. “Keep your turn,” thundered the saint, “play fair, claw for claw.”

The Highland Monthly, Vol. II, no. 18, September 1890.

The King o’ the Cats

The King o' the Cats, print by Paul Bommer, Cromer, Norfolk, United Kingdom.
The King o’ the Cats, print by illustrator Paul Bommer, Cromer, Norfolk, United Kingdom.

The reader may have met with the story of the “King of the Cats,” in Lord Lyttleton’s Letters. It is well known in the Highlands as a nursery tale.

Sir Walter Scott.

A traveller, benighted in a wild and mountainous country, (if my recollection does not fail me, in the Highlands of Scotland), at length beholds the welcome light of a neighbouring habitation. He urges his horse towards it; when, instead of an house, he approached a kind of illuminated chapel, from whence issued the most alarming sounds he had ever heard. Though greatly surprised and terrified, he ventured to look through a window of the building, when he was amazed to see a large assembly of cats, who, arranged in solemn order, were lamenting over the corpse of one of their own species, which lay in state, and was surrounded with the various emblems of sovereignty. Alarmed and terrified at this extraordinary spectacle, he hastened from the place with greater eagerness than he approached it; and arriving, some time after, at the house of a gentleman who never turned the wanderer from his gate, the impressions of what he had seen were so visible on his countenance, that his friendly host enquired into the cause of his anxiety. He accordingly told his story, and, having finished it, a large family cat, who had lain, during the narrative, before the fire, immediately started up, and very articulately exclaimed, “Then I am King of the Cats!” and, having thus announced its new dignity, the animal darted up the chimney and was seen no more.

— “Letter XXXIX” Lyttelton, 2nd Baron Lyttelton, Thomas,
Letters of the Late Lord Lyttleton (ed. William Combe, 1807).

The Five Articles of Perth

King James I of England and VI of Scotland, by Daniel Mytens, 1621. National Portrait Gallery, London: NPG 109.
King James I of England and VI of Scotland, by Daniel Mytens, 1621. National Portrait Gallery, London: NPG 109.
  1. That the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper should be received kneeling, and not in a sitting posture, as hitherto.
  2. That the communion might, in extreme cases, or to sick persons desiring it, be administered in private.
  3. That baptism also might, when deemed necessary, be privately administered.
  4. That children, or young persons, should be confirmed by a bishop — that is, make a personal avowal of the engagements entered into by god-fathers and god-mothers at the time of baptism.
  5. That the anniversary of the Nativity, of Christmas, the day on which our Saviour was born; Good Friday, or the Passion, when he suffered death for us; Easter, or the resurrection; Pentecost, or the descent of the Holy Spirit — should all be observed as solemn days.

The Five Articles of Perth.

…in modern times, when the mere ceremonial of divine worship (and Presbyterians must allow this) is supposed to be of little consequence compared to the temper and spirit in which we approach the Deity, the Five Articles of Perth seem to involve matters which might be dispensed or complied with, without being considered as essential to salvation;

— Sir Walter Scott.