Picking Other Folks' Brains


Another hot topic of the day was the study of phrenology which used essentially as its premise, “the bigger the heid, the mair brains.” Mr. Galt, a man of some temerity and some knowledge ventured forth on the platform. Mr. Drummond listened with great attention and became drawn to the subject. One day Mr. Galt was attending a funeral in the old churchyard and amongst the party were Mr. Macfarlane and Mr. Drummond. As it was a fairly crowded place when the grave had been dug the skull of a former resident of Comrie surfaced. Mr. Drummond picked it up and started examining it immediately being challenged by Mr. Macfarlane who asked, “Have you turned resurrectionist, Mr. Drummond?” This exchange was noticed by Mr. McIsaac, the foreman at the Aberuchill estate who, like most Comrie folk, was fond of a joke. On his return to Aberuchill he met Robert McNaughton, one of the workmen there, and told him about the funeral and the exchange mentioning that, “thon Mr. Drummond, the shoemaker was a droll craitur,” and Rob agreed that he was indeed a “real queer lad.”

To emphasise the point he then continued, “I was at the burial the day, an’ the grave was in your lair, an’, in fact, it was your grandfaither’s grave that wis opened, and his skull was lying yonder, an’ Jamie Drummond put it beneath his cloak, an’ he has taen it awa hame wi’ him, an’ I dinna ken what he wants tae dae wi’ it, unless its to haud his paste. You ken how shoemaker’s use a lot o’ paste when they're fillin’ up the space between the inside and the outside soles, an’ you’ll notice how some o’ them hae a coo’s horn for haudin’ it in, an’ some o’ them keep it in a wuddin’ bisker, so I have to be thinkin’ that Jamie’ll be intendin’ tae keep his paste in your grandfaither’s skull!” Hearing of this turn of events Robert exploded, “Confound his impudence. I’ll let him ken that he’s no gaun to keep his paste in my grandfather’s skull."

Robert thought about this situation all that day and decided to seek redress, so after work, in some fury, he went to the village and there sought out Mr. Drummond who greeted him warmly. Mr. Drummond immediately offered him a chair and asked Rob about his news. Barely able to contain himself Rob said, “I understand that you were at the funeral the day, James?” Drummond agreed that he had attended saying that there had been a good turn out. Rob then said, “An’ whit business did ye hae tae tak my grandfaither’s skull awa wi’ ye?” “Yer grandfaither’s skull, ye sae?” “Aye, aye, that’s richt, ma grandfaither’s skull! Ye had no right tae to tak it an’ ye’ll deliver it tae me richt noo at once, or it will be the waur fer you!”

James, in a reasonable fashion then countered with, “Rob, Robert, I’ll explain matters to you. For some time past I have been studying phrenology. I daresay, Robert, you’ll not know the meaning of the word, but it’s this, Robert. Once we are up in this science we’ll know from the formation of the head what branch of business or science young folks ought to be put to, and in that way, Robert, some men who might be put to college, will be sent to break stones on the roadside, and others, Robert, who, like myself, have been put to make and mend boots and shoes, will, I have no doubt, be found in college instructing the youth of our country. Well, Robert, I was anxious to get in my possession the skull of a clever man, and when I picked up the skull in the churchyard I thought it belonged to one of the Campbell’s of Glen Lednock. They, Robert, were men far ahead of their times, and I thought I was in luck to get a hold of one of their skulls so that I might compare the formation of it with my friends whose heads I might at some time or another have the privilege of examining. But, Robert, when I discovered that the skull I had lifted was that of a stupid, mulish McNaughton, I threw it from me with contempt.” Robert, who was not amused by this revelation, immediately got up and left in high dudgeon without another word and went home in a worse frame of mind than when he left it!


The Author’s father, David Baird McNaughton, on the Dalginross Bridge. The old Comrie Parish Church and Churchyard is in the background.

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