Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Wanton Watty McAulay of Port Glasgow

It stands to reason that my eyes would pop with amazement when I discovered this mention of a McAulay who was a piper in Port Glasgow some time before 1730.  My in-laws were in Greenock by the mid-19th century.  One was certainly an organist - he played at Great Grandfather McAulay's funeral - so there was music in the family.

Before they were in Greenock, the McAulays were in Ballymoney, in Northern Ireland. That much we know from our family history research.  So, whether they were any indirect relation to this Watty McAulay in Port Glasgow a century before, is anyone's guess.  But it's a nice story.  In short, puir auld Watty had piping lessons paid for by a Highland Laird. He wouldn't join the Redcoats, was sent tae Virginia, and went mad. The Highland laird paid his release, whereupon Watty played joyously for the rest of his days, and 50 people subsequently testified to seein' his wraith. What a great story!

(Another interesting aside is that I once interviewed for a job in Virginia. If I'd have gone mad, what a good thing I didn't get the job!)

I found the elegy in Eighteenth Century Collections Online, having previously found mention of it in Glasgow University Library catalogue, where I was actually looking for the online version of my own PhD thesis.  Anyway, the Watty McAulay publication can be found here:- Tow Elegys, the first, On Wanton Watty McAulay, the famous Piper in Port-glasgow.  The second, On George Rollance King's Boatman of Port-Glasgow, who died twice, and is yet alive, and outwitted Death the third Time, who came to demand him.  The publication was printed in Edinburgh in 1730 - no publisher's name given.  (The spelling given above is as writ - not a misprint on my part.)

The Elegy on Watty McAulay is only seven sides long.  It's in Scots, and has those strange old "f"s in place of "s" at times, but I'm going to transcribe it as best I can, just so I can read it more fluently.  Here goes!  The meter is iambic: 888484, and the rhyming scheme is a version of the 'Scottish stanza' (also known as 'six-line stave', or the 'Burns stanza', because he was later to make much use of it): AAABAB.  In the case of Watty McAulay, we have three iambic tetrameters followed by a dimeter, another tetrameter and another dimeter.  (Burns's To a Mouse, is similar, but his fourth and sixth lines are longer.)

Wikipedia on the Scottish stanza - here.

An Elegy on wanton Watty McAulay, &c.

Portglasgow thou's e'n left a lean,
Thy Residenters may make Mean,
And gasp and Greet, and grunt and grean
   For by the Head
Death has our publick Piper taen,
   And feld him dead,
Right hartsomly when Day appears,
He won't t'sen Sounds throu our Ears,
Thir Thoughts shou'd force our Dewy Tears,
     As clear as Bed,
T'think that he's paid his Arrears,
     And he's e'en dead
When well repos'd wi' Sleep we lay
On Beds, and lipn'ing lang for Day,
While yet the Morn appear'd but gray,
    Wi' weel tun'd reed, 
He bony Highland Tunes cou'd play,
     But ah'! he's dead,
His Musick swet, gart yonnke's reel,
His Heart was true as only Steel,
Ae Morn e're Day, he left his Beel,
    And by the Gate
He meet a Vision like the D--ll
     But fled nae fra 't
At ilka Race, and ilka Fair,
Where he was wont to make Repair,
He gart his Pipes baith squeke and rare,
     His Drone was Basse,
We need nae look for piping mair,
     Dool is our Case,
Lang syne when he the Sheep did feed,
'Mangst Highland Hills, a Whim in's Head,
He took, and gat an aten Reed
     And sy't te play
And thereon did his Fancy feed
     Wi' bony Bay
A noted Highland Laird we hear,
He generously paid for his Lear,
And made him in his Art perquere,
      Whikl wan his Bread,
For mony a longsome Day and Year;
     But ah! he's dead.
A Gentleman, we'll pass his Name,
Hearing o' wanton Watty's Fame,
He trow't t' wile him frae his Hame
     And hight him Fee, 
T' keep his Redcoats in bra Game
     And Company.
But wanton Watty seem'd Right swer,
T' lea his auld Aquaintence here,
T' play before his Men o' Weer,
     And t' beshort,
He tell't him plainly in the Rear,
     Sir, I'm nae fort.
A westren Knight seing him wile,
Height he wad ca him to Exile,
To wit, Virginy, where his Toil
     Wad be right fair,
And able ne'er see Highland Isles,
For ever mair.
Transformed to Rage was Jest and Droll
And Patience wad nae langer tholl,
Sae sary Watty gat the Hole,
     And was confin'd,
Where he his hard Waird did condole,
     Wi' a fash'd Mind.
Mony for his Relief did pray,
At length it happen'd on a Day,
The Highland Laird wha ye heard say,
     That paid the Fee,
For Watty t' learn him for till play,
     Cam o're the Sea,
And fand him in this irksome Place,
But taking Pity on his Case,
Plead hard, and purchas'd his Release,
     Whilk gart Wat say,
Wi' cheery Looks stamp'd in his Face,
I'm bound to pray
For you Sir till my Knees grow sair,
Till Hides worn aff and Bones look bare,
And will do't t' for evermair,
     Come Reed or Corn,
Assist me Whistles, banish Care,
     Weel play till Morn.
Watty, thou wanton Highland Man,
Come o' a genteel Highland Clan,
At ilky Part the Gree thou wanm
     For lays sae snell.
In Musick sweet naen thee outran,
     Thou bore the Bell,
Thy whistles rusts now in the Sheath,
Sin e're the Time thou slipt thy Breath,
Wi' worth the Picture o' thee Death,
     Wae Hart right sair,
To see him seld wau'd I been laith,
     Had I been there.
A Scots bard might write a' his Days,
Wi' mony drolsome losome Lays,
And wi' an unco kine o' Phraise,
     Yet wad come short,
In telling wanton Watty's Praise.
     By true Report,


There's Fifty Folk , and Fifty baith,
Gie them a Book, they'll take their Aith,
That they saw Watty, or his Wrath,
     In his nain Weed,
And Folk's grown dubious a Faithm
     That he's nae dead.
Folk that speaks Truth we'll trow them best,
Twa fine true Neighbours hard his Test,
Freely they say, he this confest
     At his last Breath,
He trowt his Sp'rit wad get nae Reset,
After his Death.
The proper Reason he did gi',
Was that he grudg'd fairly t' Lye,
Folk that was merry Company,
     And gi'd him Placks,
And he gi'd them sweet Melody, 
     And canty Cracks.

(Placks = a small copper coin.)

1 comment:

  1. What I find rather amusing, incidentally, is that I'm NOT Scottish, but have immersed myself in the Scots culture enough to be able to read and understand this fairly confidently. 25 years ago, I'd never have imagined it!