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William McGee.


This charming tale first appeared in the Blackwood's Magazine in 1827, the Glasgow Herald newspaper re-printing it shortly afterwards. The only information we have about the author, William McGee (M'Gee in the original), is that he was a weaver of Hamilton by trade, as indeed is indicated in the story. Scottish weavers were famous both for their independent-mindedness and their literary prowess.

Hamilton, an important burgh in the county of Lanarkshire, lay at the gates of the now demolished Hamilton Palace, the seat of the dukes of Hamilton. Hamilton Palace is recorded as having had a small private menagerie, so it is possible McGee had seen monkeys kept either at the Palace or at the nearby hunting lodge of Chatelherault. In the story the Lowland Lanarkshire Scots of the Hamilton resident is contrasted with the accent of the Highland visitor.

Hamilton lies about eight kilometres (five miles) from the Calderpark estate, home since 1947 of Glasgow Zoo.
The keeping of monkeys as pets in the United Kingdom has been much reduced since the implementation of the Dangerous Wild Animals' Act of 1975 .

Roger Edwards .


I DINNA think that in a' nature there's a mair curiouser cratur than a monkey. I mak this observe frae being witness to an extraordinar' event that took place in Hamilton. Folk may talk as they like about monkeys, and cry them down for being stupid and mischievous, I for ane will no gang that length. Whatever they may be on the score of mischief, there can be nae doubt, that, sae far as gumption is concerned, they are just uncommon; and for wit and fun they would beat ony man black and blue. In fact, I dinna think that monkeys are beasts ava. I hae a half notion that they are just wee hairy men that canna, or rather that winna speak, in case they be made to work like ither folk, instead of leading a life of idleness.

But to the point: I ance had a monkey, ane of the drollest-looking deevils ye ever saw. He was gayan big for a monkey, and was hairy a' ower, except his face and his bit hurdies, which had a degree of bareness about them, and were nearly as saft as a lady's loof. Weel, what think ye that I did wi' the beastie? Odds, man, - I dressed him up like a Heelandman, and put a kilt upon him, and a lang-tailed red coat, and a blue bannet, which for security's sake I tied, woman-like, below his chin wi' twa bits of yellow ribbon. I not only did this, but I learnt him to walk upon his twa hinder legs, and to carry a stick in his right hand when he gaed out; the better to support him in his peregrinations. He was for a' the world like a wee man in kilts - sae much sae that when Glengarry the great Heeland chieftain, wha happened to be at Hamilton on a visit to the Duke, saw him by chance, he swore by the powers, that he was like ane of the Celtic Society, and that if I likit he would endeavour to get him admitted a member of that body. I thocht at the time that Glengarry was jokin, but I hae since had gude reason for thinking that he was in real earnest, as Andrew Brand says that he and the Celts hae been like to cut ane anither's throats, and that he micht mean this as an affront upon them. Hoosemever, I maun do Glengarry the justice to say, that had he got my Nosey (that was his name) made a member, he wadna hae pruved the least witty or courageous of the society, and would hae dune nae disgrace to the chief's recommendation.

But I am fleeing awa like a shuttle frae the subject on hand. Weel, it turned out in this manner, as ye shall hear. Ae afternoon towards the glomin' I was oblegated to tak' a stap doun to the cross, wi' a web under my arm, which I had finished for Mr Weft , the muslin manufacturer. By way of frolic, a gayan foolish ane I allow, I brocht Nosey alang wi' me. He had on, as for ordinar', his Heeland dress, and walkit behint me, wi' the bit stick in his hand, and his tail sticking out frae below his kilt, as if he had been my flunky. It was, after a', a queer sicht, and, as may be supposed, I drew a haill crowd of bairns after me, bawling out, " Here's Willy McGee's monkey, " and gi'eing him nits and gingerbread, and makin' as muckle of the cratur as could be; for Nosey was a great favourite in the town, and everybody likit him for his droll tricks, and the way he used to girn, and dance, and tumble ower his head, to amuse them.

On entering Mr Weft's shop, I faund it empty; there wasna a leeving soul within. I supposed he had gane out for a licht; and being gayan familiar wi' him, I took a stap ben to the back shop, leaving Nosey in the fore ane. I sat for twa or three minutes, but naebody made his appearance. At last the front door, which I had ta'en care to shut after me, opened, and I look't to see wha it could be, thinking that, nae doubt, it was Mr Weft , or his apprentice. It was neither the ane nor the ither, but a strong middle-aged, red-faced Heelandman, wi' specks on, and wi' a kilt and a bannet, by a' the world like my monkey's. Now, what think ye Nosey was about a' this time? He was sittin' behind the counter upon the lang three-leggit stool that stood fornent Mr Weft's desk, and was turning ower the leaves of his ledger wi' a look which, for auld-fashioned sagaciousness, was wonderfu' to behold. I was sae tickled at the sight that I paid nae sort of attention to the Heelandman, but continued looking frae the back shop at Nosey , lauching a' the time in my sleeve - for I jealoused that some queer scene would tak' place between the twa. And I wasna far wrang, for the stranger, takin' out a pound frae his spleuchan, handed it ower to the monkey, and speered at him, in his droll norlan deealect, if he could change a note. When I heard this I thocht I would hae lauched outricht; and naething but sheer curiosity to see how the thing would end made me keep my gravity. It was plain that Donald had ta'en Nosey for ane of his ain countrymen - and the thing after a' wasna greatly to be wondered at, and that for three reasons:

  • Firstly, the shop was rather darkish.
  • Secondly, the Heelandman had on specks, as I hae just said; and it was likely on this account that he was rather short-sighted; and
  • Thirdly, Nosey , wi' his kilt, and bannet, and red coat, was, to a' intents and purposes, as like a human creatur as a monkey could weel be.

Nae sooner, then, had he got the note, than he opened it out, and lookit at it wi' his wee glowrin', restless een, as if to see that it wasna a forgery. He then shook his head like a doctor, when he's no very sure what's wrang wi' a person, but wants to mak' it appear that he kens a' about it - and continued in this style till the Heelandman's patience began to get exhausted.

" Can ye no change the note, old shentleman? " quo' Donald. Nosey gi'ed his head anither shake, and lookit uncommon wise.

" Is the note no goot, sir? " spak the Heelandman, a second time; but the cratur, instead of answering him, only gi'ed anither of his wise shakes, as much as to say, " I'm no very sure about it. " At this Donald lost temper. " If the note doesna please ye, sir, " quo' he, " I'll thank ye to gie me it back again, and I'll gang to some ither place, " And he stretchit out his hand to tak haud o't, when my frien' wi' the tail, lifting up his stick, lent him sic a whack ower the fingers as made him pu' back in the twinkling of an ee.

" do ye mean to tak my money frae me? " And he lifted up a rung big eneuch to fell a stot, and let flee at the monkey, but Nosey was ower quick for him, and, jumping aside, he lichted on a shelf before ane could say Jock Robinson. Here he rowed up the note like a baw in his hand, and put it into his coat pouch like ony rational cratur. Not only this, but he mockit the Heelandman by a' manner of means, shooting out his tongue at him, spitting at him, and girning at him wi' his queer outlandish physionomy. Then he would tak hand of his tail in his twa hands, and wag it at Donald, and steeking his nieves, he would seem to threaten him wi' a leatherin'. A'thegither he was desperate impudent, and eneuch to try the patience of a saunt, no to speak o' a het-bluided Heelandman. It was gude for sair een to see how Donald behavit on this occasion. He raged like ane demented, misca'ing the monkey beyond measure, and swearing as mony Gaelic aiths as micht hae sair'd an ordinar man for a twalmonth. During this time, I never steer'd a foot, but keepit keeking frae the back shop upon a' that was ganging on. I was highly delighted; and jealousing that Nosey was ower supple to be easily catched, I had nae apprehension for the event, and remained snug in my birth to see the upshot.

In a short time in comes Mr Weft , wi' a piece of lowing paper in his hand, that he had got frae the next door to licht the shop; and nae sooner did Donald see him than he ax'd him for his note.

" What note, honest man? " said Mr Weft .

" Got tamn, " quo' Donald; " the note the auld scounrel, your grandfather, stole frae me. "

" My grandfather! " answered the ither wi' amazement. " I am thinking, honest man, ye hae had a glass ower muckle. My grandfaither has been dead for saxteen years, and I ne'er heard tell till now that he was a fief. "

" Weel, weel, then, " quo' the Heelandman, " I don't care naething about it. If he's no your grandfaither, he'll be your faither, or your brither, or your cousin. "

" Mr Weft . " I maun tell ye plainly, frien', that I hae neither faither, nor brither, nor cousin of ony description, on this side of the grave. I dinna understand ye, honest man, but I reckon that ye hae sat ower lang at the whisky, and my advice to ye is to stap awa hame and sleep it aff ".

At this speech the Heelandman lost a' patience, and lookit sae awfully fairce, that ance or twice I was on the nick of coming forrit, and explaining how matters really stood; but curiosity keepit me chained to the back shop, and I just thocht I would bide a wee, and see how the affair was like to end.

" Pray, wha are you, sir? " said Donald, putting his hand in his sides, and looking through his specks upon Mr Weft , like a deevil incarnit. " Wha are you, sir, that daur to speak to me in this manner? "

" Wha am I? " said the ither, drapping the remnant of the paper, which was burnin' close to his fingers, " I am Saunders Weft , manufacturer in Hamilton - that's what I am. "

" And I am Tonald Campbell , piper's sister's son to his grace the great, grand Tuke of Argyle, " thundered out the Heelandman, wi' a voice that was fearsome to hear.

" And what about that? " quo' Mr Weft , rather snappishly, as I thocht. " If ye were the great, grand Duke of Argyle himsell, as ye ca' him, I'll no permit you to kick up a dust in my shop. "

" Ye scounrel, " said Donald, seizing Mr Weft by the throat, and shaking him till he tottered like an aspen leaf, " div ye mean to speak ill of his grace the Tuke of Argyle? " And he gi'ed him anither shake - then, laying haud of his nose, he swore that he would pu't as lang at a cow's tail, if he didna that instant restore him his lost property. At this sicht I began to grew a' ower, and now saw the needcessity of stapping ben, and saving my employer frae farther damage, bodily and itherwise. Nae sooner had I made my appearance than Donald let go his grip of Mr Weft's nose, and the latter, in a great passion, cried out, " William McGee, I tak ye to witness what I hae sufferit frae this bluid-thirsty Heelandman! It's no to be endured in a Christian country. I'll hae the law of him, that I will. I'll be whuppit but I'll hae amends, although it costs me twenty pounds! "`

" What's the matter? " quo' I, pretending ignorance of the haill concern. " What, in the name of Nebuchadnezzar, has set ye thegither by the lugs? " Then Mr Weft began his tale, how he had been collared and weel nigh thrappled in his ain shop; - then the ither tauld how, in the first place, Mr Weft's grandfather, as he ca'd Nosey , had stolen his note, and how, in the second place, Mr Weft himsell had insulted the great, grand Duke of Argyle. In a word, there was a desperate kick-up between them, the ane threeping that he would tak the law of the ither immediately. Na, in this respect Donald gaed the greatest lengths, for he swore that, rather than be defeat, he wad carry his cause to the house of lords, although it cost him thretty pounds sterling. I now saw it was time to put in a word.

" Houts-touts, gentlemen, " quo' I, " what's the use of a' this clishmaclaver? Ye've baith gotten the wrang sow by the lug, or my name's no William McGee. I'll wager ye a penny- piece, that my monkey Nosey is at the bottom of the business. "

Nae sooner had I spoken the word, than the twa, looking round the shop, spied the beastie sitting upon the shelf, girning at them, and putting out his tongue, and wiggle-waggling his walking stick ower his left elbow, as if he had been playing upon the fiddle. Mr Weft at this apparition set up a loud lauch; his passion left him in a moment when he saw the ridiculous mistake that the Heelandman had fa'en into and I thocht he would hae bursted his sides wi' evendown merriment. At first Donald lookit desperate angry, and, judging frae the way he was twisting about his mouth and rowing his een, I opined that he intended some deadly skaith to the monkey. But his gude sense, of which Heelandmen are no a'thegither destitute, got the better of his anger, and he roared and lauched like the very mischief. Nor was this a', for nae sooner had he began to lauch, than the monkey did the same thing, and held its sides in preceesely the same manner, imitating his actions, in the maist amusin' way imaginable. This only set Donald alauching mair than ever, and when he lifted up his nieve, and shook it at Nosey in a gude humoured way, what think ye that the cratur did? Odds man, he took the note frae his pouch, whare it lay rowed up like a baw, and, papping it at Donald, hit him as fairly upon the nose, as if it had been shot out of a weel- aimed musket. There was nae resisting this. The haill three, or rather the haill four, for Nosey joined us, set up a loud lauch; and the Heelandman's was the loudest of a', showing that he was really a man of sense, and could tak a joke as weel as his neighbours.

When the lauchin' had a wee subsided, Mr Campbell, in order to show that he had nae ill wull to Mr Weft , ax'd his pardon for the rough way he had treated him, but the worthy manufacturer wadna hear o't. " Houts, man, " quo' he, " dinna say a word abou t'it. It's a mistak a'thegether, and Soloman himsell, ye ken, whiles gaed wrang. " Whereupon the Heelandman bought a Kilmarnock nicht-cap, price elevenpence happeny, frae Mr Weft , and paid him wi' part of the very note that brocht on the ferly I hae just been relating. But his gude wull didna end here, for he insisted on takin' us a' - Nosey amang the lave - the nearest public, where he gi'ed us a frien'ly glass, and we keepit tawking about monkeys, and what not, in a manner at ance edifying and amusing to hear.