Coffee shops are a good place to tell stories. The following story immortalized Murdoch MacDonald as the “The Harper of Mull” and comes from M.P.A. Ramsay’s ed. of Tamahill’s Poems:
“In the Island of Mull there lived a harper who was distinguished for his professional skill, and was attached to Rosie, the fairest flower in the island, and soon made her his bride. Not long afterwards he set out on a visit to some low country friends, accompanied by Rosie, and carrying his harp, which had been his companion in all his journeys for years.
Overtaken by shades of night, in a solitary part of the country, a cold faintness fell upon Rosie, and she sank, almost lifeless, into the harper’s arms. He hastily wrapped his plaid around her frame, but to no purpose. Distracted, he hurried from place to place in search of fuel, to revive the dying embers of life. None could be found. His harp lay on the grass, its neglected strings vibrating to the blast. The harper loved it as his own life, but he loved his Rosie better then either.
His nervous arm was applied to its sides, and ere long it lay crackling and blazing on the heath. Rosie soon revived under its genial influence, and resumed the journey when morning began to purple the east. Passing down the side of the hill, they were meet by a hunter on horseback, who addressed Rosie in the style of an old and familiar friend.
The harper, innocent himself, and unsuspicious of others, paced slowly along, leaving her in converse with the stranger. Wondering at her delay he turned round and beheld the faithless fair seated behind the hunter on his steed, which speedily bore them out of sight. The unhappy, transfixed with astonishment, gazed at them. Then, slowly turning his steps homewards, he, sighing, exclaimed –
‘Fool that I was to burn my harp for her!’
Before the Bagpipe took hold in Scotland, the Bard and the Harper held dominion on the Battle Field and by the hearth. They where the keepers of the cultural store house, so to speak, of the Isles and recounted genealogies and histories, tragedies and tales of adventure. MacDonald, in many accounts, is referenced as the last of the Harpers. He reportedly died in 1789 just a few years after the Highland Society began its first Piobaireachd competitions in Scotland.
I could never claim the innocents of the Harper in this story. I have though sacrificed an instrument before for the purpose of visiting a fair flower of my own. One that was long gone before my feet ever took to the road… thankfully it was not my pipes.
I wonder how far MacDonald’s feet carried him before Rosie was pushed from memory. If ever he could, how did he move on? Harps are replaced easily. A little time and money and a new instrument replaces an old one. Although, I'm sure none of the Harpers I have known in my life would agree.
It should be left at that. A harp, a set of pipes, a fiddle; none are equivalent to the love of ones life. But who among us knows for sure whom that is, in till our lives are already completed. In the mean time we keep walking. As MacDonald, we let our feet carry us forward down the road, even as we are forced to leave the one we loved behind.