Littell's Living Age/Volume 158/Issue 2044/The Scotch Character

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The Scotch Character
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Scottish people are usually credited with two qualities, neither of which, as it seems to me, they possess. They are inordinately fond of money, and they are possessed of infinite caution. "A canny Scot" has come to be a proverbial expression. As to their alleged avarice, it is to be noted that Scotland, in comparison with England, is a poor country, and therefore, of necessity, its inhabitants will set a higher value on a definite sum of money. Then, within the present century Scotland has become much richer than formerly; possibilities of gain have been opened up undreamt of before. Into this the Scot has thrown himself with all his intense eagerness. He has been quick to see and grasp the enormous power of wealth, and in some cases the passion for accumulation has superseded all else — the devotion to money has become almost sublime in its intensity. But these are exceptional cases. Scotchmen, in accordance with their extreme character, often attain to a height of reckless expenditure to which there is, happily, nothing in English character to be compared. But the national history proves that, without a single hesitation, they have again and again sacrificed material welfare to political and religious ideas, and this to an extent to which English history presents no parallel. The wealthy Scot, as seen by English eyes, is generally a man who has raised himself to wealth. Long exercise of self-denial has made it a second nature. He cannot now throw away those habits without which he could not have risen. A little consideration, too, will show that the Scot is just as little entitled to whatever praise may belong to a cautious people. He is by nature excessively passionate and impulsive; the current of his thoughts is much more swayed by sentiment than reason. Of course, there are other elements in Scottish character which go to change this. They conceal it, but they do not affect it. We do not call Vesuvius cold because its sides are covered with hard lava. The caution of the Scot is exactly similar to that of the man who has charge of a powder magazine. If he is to save his life he must adopt precautions such as are unknown to other men. So the depth of Scotch feeling is hid with a superficial reserve. There is what seems to the Englishman an absolutely unnecessary reticence — an adoption, as it were, of measures to guard against events not likely to happen; but the reason is, that a word or an action which the more tolerant Englishman would hardly notice will often be enough to move to the greatest rage a smouldering fire, and to lead to an outbreak absolutely disproportioned to its cause.