25th July 2019
The 25th July marks the anniversary of the birth in 1834 of that curious character Robert de Bruce Trotter who was publishing material in Scots, and about Scots, at the end of the 19th century. Born at Dalbeattie, Galloway, Trotter was raised in the area, went to practice law in Glasgow, and later studied medicine. He later practised as a physician in Galloway where he began to collect folk tales and anecdotes about the region. He published writings and poetry under the names ‘Mrs Maria Trotter’ and as ‘Saxon’ but is best remembered for his two volumes Galloway Gossip: Sixty Years Ago (1877) and Galloway Gossip: The Southern Albanich Eighty Years Ago (1901) which stand out because they contain discursive prose text written in the medium of Scots. Trotter provided detailed first-hand accounts of the Scots language in his time but could be quite critical of what he perceived as bad influences on Scots derived from English. He commented in 1901:
“Language, Eh! The Language, Eh! It’s it A’m giein ye a’ the time. It’s nae wey different frae whut they speak a’ ower Scotlan, a’ but Aiberdeenshire, waur they gie different soons tae some o’ the voo’els; an the Sooth an East fae Lochar tae Berwick, whaur they gie some o’ the letters a different twang too. Hooever, it’ll no be lang sae. Thae Ayrshiremen’s bringan doon their horrid Ayrshire-Eerish wi them – Glesca-Eerish some folk ca’s’t; an they’r bringan baith Ayrshires an Eeerish tae speak it, an it’ll no be lang till there’s naething else in Gallawa. A min’ whaun there wus nae siccan gibberish, an the Glesca folk an the Ayrshire folk spak as gude Scotch as onybuddy...It’s no ower sixty year sin it begood – deed! it’s no naur that; it wus that fella Merry the Horse-Racer yt brocht a wheen English stable-boys an Jockeys wi him; an he wus a kin’ o’ wee god amang the young wud-like-tae-be-dandies o’ Glesca, an they wur greet heroes tae them, an they try’t tae speak the same kin’ o’ English as them, an than everybuddy wud tak them for gentlemen, an maybe Englishmen; an they had tae raise the pitch o’ their voice, an speak through their nose tae catch the accent, an that’s hoo the sneeflin begood.”
Robert de Bruce Trotter later retired to Perth where he died on 3 December 1907 and is buried in the Wellshill cemetery there. His writings in and about Scots remain a fascinating window on the culture and language of his time which can still inform us today.