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A Scottish Wake

Captain Burt supplies these particulars: After the death of anyone, not in the lowest circumstances, the friends and acquaintances of the deceased, assemble to keep the relations company in the first night; and they dance, as if it were at a wedding, till the next morning, though all the time the corpse lies before them, in the same room. If the deceased be a woman, the widower leads up the first dance; if a man, the widow. But this Highland custom, I knew to my disturbance, within less than a quarter of a mile of Edinburgh, before I had been among the mountains. It was upon the death of a smith, next door to my lodgings, who was a Highlander.

At the funeral of William Alexander, seaman, who died at Alloa in 1725, these items were incurred:
Twentie pints eall [ale],
Two pints aquavitae [whisky],
Bread [shortbread],
Tobacco and pipes,
Four pound cheese,

These mortuary festivities were relished not only by the living, but the departed comforted their later hours by contemplating their occurrence. Dean Ramsay relates that an aged spinster lady in Strathspey, when she was on her deathbed, called to her bedside her grand-nephew and heir, and affectionately charged him that as much whisky was to be used at her funeral as had been drunk at her baptism. Unaware as to the extent of the potations on the earlier occasion, the heir allowed each one who attended the funeral to drink what he pleased. The result was a contretemps which the aged gentlewoman could not have foreseen without emotion. When the funeral party reached the churchyard, a distance of ten miles from the place of starting, the sexton's enquiry of the chief mourner, 'Captain, whaur's Miss Kitty?' aroused the company to the recollection that in resting at an inn they had there left the body on a dyke, and had started without it.' In connection with the Lord President Forbes a similar incident occurred. At his mother's funeral he entertained his neighbours with such profuse hospitality, that he and his friends were startled on reaching the churchyard by the discovery that the
coffin had been forgotten.

At the funeral of the Hon. Alexander Fraser of Lovat in 1815, several persons overcome with liquor fell into the vault; and the carousals which in 1817 attended the funeral of the Chisholm were accompanied with some fatal incidents.

Funeral festivities have led to strife, even to fatal conflicts. At a funeral procession at Meigle, in 1707, David Ogilvie of Clunie, quarrelling by the way with his neighbour, Andrew Couper, younger of Lochblair, discharged a pistol at him, when he fell from his horse mortally wounded. Ogilvie who was thoroughly inebriated, was sheltered for some weeks by the writer's great-grandfather, who resided in the district. Thereafter he found shelter in France.

Charles Rogers, 1825-1890.

 

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