If a whole company are gamesters play must cease, for there is nothing to be won. When all nations are traders there is nothing to be gained by trade, and it will stop first where it is brought to the greatest perfection. - SAMUEL JOHNSON.
I have no wish to be a dictator. The value of a political system is that it expresses the wishes of the people who maintain it, for good or evil. The value of democracy is that it is based on the freedom of the individual will so far as that is compatible with majority rule, the alternative to the often regrettable will of the majority being the still more regrettable will of the minority. It often happens, indeed, that the majority abdicates to the minority, as in the case of the partition of Ireland and the hanging up of changes generally because a minority is strongly opposed to the wishes of the major portion of the electorate. But in amusing myself with setting down what I would do if dictator, I do not disclaim a wish to persuade someone here and there that what I would do compulsorily might be and should be done by a free and intelligent electorate voluntarily.
For as things are it is idle to deny or belittle the glaring position that the basic industries of the country are in a state of collapse, with every prospect that the position will become worse instead of better unless fundamental changes are made.
The annual reviews of agriculture and the coal, cotton, and metallurgical trades would be deplorable reading if we did not feel that things will only become better by becoming worse and so forcing on the changes that should long since have been made voluntarily. In this world, and with human nature as it is, great changes are not made merely because they are desirable, but only because at last they have become necessary, and even then the Reaction does its best to preserve some evil feature of the old way of doing things. In matters of taste and fashion a mere hint is enough to set men and especially women off on the new tack; but in public affairs men cling to the old ways with all the logic and all the practical convenience equally against them.
Success of Collective Control.
Nothing is clearer than the success of public control of public business. There is, for example, only one conspicuously successful railway in the world at the present moment, and that is the State-owned railway system of Canada, which was as much of a failure under private enterprise as coal and cotton are now. The private banks of the belligerent countries during the early days of the war had all but pulled the blinds down till the State came to the rescue with its credit. The private munitions factories could not turn out shells fast enough, even at grossly inflated prices, till the State experts filled the breach, and not only taught them better technical methods, but showed by their own practice in the national factories that munitions could be produced more quickly and cheaply and of a better quality, while the employees were paid better wages.
The tale could be carried much further; but the cases were cited as they came to light, and I must pay my readers the compliment of assuming that they have not forgotten.
We are a nation of shopkeepers, and the shopkeeper, wholesale or retail, is in a sheltered industry which may jog along almost irrespective of what is happening in the productive field, short of a general strike and the stoppage of all ability to pay for the shopkeeper’s wares. The pipe that feeds a motor engine with petrol is a small part of the mechanism. But let it he clogged or otherwise stopped, and how soon the car will come to a stand! All the elaborate mechanism is there; but for want of the tiny trickle of life-giving spirit it is inert, dead.
The Trickle of Exports.
It is so with our few staple industries. The exports are a relatively small part of British trade - from a seventh to an eighth of the total home market, meaning by home market the national income from goods, services, and investments. In 1928 exports were only £723,000,000, as compared with close on £1,197,000,000 of imports. The value of British exports do not meet, by 1oo millions, the expenses of government. That the home market and the domestic life of the nation should be subordinated to the retention of this dear-bought moiety is our present mistaken policy, based on the illusion that we cannot do without it.
Bleeding of the Basic Industry.
I turn to a really indispensable trade. The small market towns dotted at intervals of a few miles throughout the country depend upon agriculture. And agriculture and the population which lives by it are both dwindling steadily and even rapidly. The November hirings again absorbed a smaller number of men; the men not engaged hived off to the large centres; and they will inevitably be followed by a drop in the small-town populations. In the town where I write, in spite of relatively heavy expenditure on publicly-owned housing schemes, the population fell from 2152 in 1921 to 1939 in 1928, or fully 10 per cent. in seven years. Obviously such a process cannot be allowed to go on indefinitely, although those most responsible in the various localities do not seem to realise that the position is at all serious, and profess to regard all reference to it and suggested remedy for it as ‘irrelevant’ and superfluous. The same fatalistic contentment was doubtless shown by the public men of vanished Babylon, Thebes, Tyre, and Carthage, as if the growth and decay of cities were a matter of mere fortuity beyond the help or hindrance of man.
First Things First.
Were I dictator one of the first things I should attack is the retrogression from agriculture to the pastoral stage represented in the substitution of sheep for crops and the laying down of arable land to grass. It is said that we cannot blame the farmer; that he finds cattle and corn unprofitable, and turns to sheep and poultry because there is more money in these, with less trouble and a lower wage-bill. As, however, the lower wage-bill means turning men off the land, clearly the State has an interest and a duty in the matter. With unemployment as the great problem in Britain as in America, a Government cannot allow its territory to be depleted of population and its resources to be wasted in the maintenance of able-bodied men in idleness.
Britain is too small a country to be wasted on sheep-feeding, still less on deer, which are crowding out even sheep. The corn lands of Scotland are the best in the temperate zones, producing, in 1928, 21.2 cwts. of wheat to the acre, as compared with 17.2 for England and Wales, and 23 and 24 bushels of oats and of wheat for Canada, and 16 bushels of winter wheat for the United States. Taking the bushel at 56 lbs., this gives only a little more than half the weight for Canada and a little over a third of the weight for America. And as the Canadian and American grain has to cross thousands of miles of land and sea before it reaches the ports of the United Kingdom,* it may well be asked: How is it able to compete successfully with British-grown cereals? *(On 31st December, 1929, grain freights were quoted: River Plate to United Kingdom up-river ports, 15/9 per ton; Gulf to U.K., 2/6 per quarter (that is, 12/6 per ton); North Pacific Coast to U.K. and Continent, 24/6 per ton; San Francisco to U.K. and Continent, 25s. Since the Commonwealth Line was sacrificed to enable the Shipping Ring to pay inflated dividends, Australian rates are not quoted. The report adds, with the usual vagueness: ‘Australia quotes a few orders for grain; but rates weak on liberal tonnage supplies.’)
For one thing, there is less of a rent burden. Then there is a small or non-existent manure-bill, freight rates are very low, and the crops are marketed in bulk. On the other hand, labour costs are higher in Canada and the United States. Anyhow, the proof that Canada and the States can out-compete British cereals is that they do it.
The truth is, agriculture is a sweated industry all over the world, and whatever tended to improve conditions here would tend to improve them in all countries from which supplies were derived, unless and until a time came when we should be able to do without cereals from these countries entirely. Rural depopulation is going on in the States as well as in Britain, and a great contributory cause is low prices. There is probably systematic over-production of foodstuffs.
Control of Imports.
If I were dictator I should institute control of agriculture from top to bottom, in the interests alike of the rural population and the nation.
A first step would be the nationalization of the railways and the complete readjustment of freight rates. Side by side with this I would strictly limit the issue of motor licences for road transport, much of which is entirely uneconomical. As I have repeatedly pointed out, a locomotive engine will pull 6o loaded trucks on rails, with three men in charge. The same traffic on the road would require 6o motors, 6o trucks, and at least 120 men in charge, while the roads would suffer much more than the rails.
As it is, motor licences are given as a matter of course and in the interests of trade and revenue, no account being taken of the subsidy of £40,000,000 a-year given to road transport by the British public in the form of taxation for road maintenance.
The nationalization of the railways would effect many savings in duplicated staffs and directorates, but the help it would give to agriculture would be in the reduction of freight rates to the home user and their increase to the foreign importer. At present the preference to the latter is as four to one against the home user, he having to pay the higher rate because the foreigner has to have the lower. If the foreign importer had to pay the home rate his produce would be automatically and quite fairly and naturally excluded, A Government Department would very properly impose a flat mileage rate to all comers.
The exclusion of artificially cheapened produce - foreign produce which does not pay its passage - would go far to help the British farmer. But an equalization so far of the conditions of competition would not of itself be enough.
Complaint is made of the difference between the price paid to the farmer for say potatoes and the price charged in the retail shop. This is often a question of marketing. It is not uncommon for produce to pass through several sets of hands between the field and the shop. One consignment of potatoes was traced through six firms of distributors, the potatoes being repeatedly re-sacked. After they had been from Forfarshire to Aberdeen city, they travelled, as seed, via Glasgow back to the district from which they came. If each of the handlers added even a small moiety of profit it would be no wonder if the price were at least doubled. The public is itself to blame for the existence of so many middle-men by neglecting to deal with the producer direct.
If I were dictator, regardless of public opinion and independent of a sectional vote, I should give farmers six weeks in which to get together for co-operative marketing, failure to comply being penalised. All blacklegs profit by the co-operation of those who do co-operate, and all should be compelled to contribute to the result by which they benefit.
With Government control of imports, the amount and bulk of consignments could he regulated. Dumping could be regulated or checked altogether. The price could be regulated. And given a living price, the farmer would be encouraged once again, as in war-time, to keep the plough going, to break up the 2 million acres that have lapsed to grass since 1918, and to employ more and more labour.
But would such encouragement be enough? We may be sure that, as in war-time, it would not. Control meant higher farming, and it must mean that again. For even war prices did not provide sufficient stimulus to speed the plough, and there had to be pains and penalties for bad farming. The problem is to raise immensely our food production, since the home market is more and more the only market that is being left to us.
What We Produce and What We Buy.
In 1928 we produced only six million quarters of wheat, and we consumed 35 millions; so that the production needs to be increased five-fold. We produced six million quarters of barley, and imported four million quarters. So that the production of barley has to be nearly doubled. Of oats we produced 21 million quarters, and imported three millions, and in 1929 the import figure was considerably exceeded. So that here again a 14 per cent. increase is needed. I do not know that maize has ever been or could be grown in Britain; but we imported 10 million quarters of it in 1928. Doubtless it has substitutes, and if we could grow other feeding stuffs in sufficient quantity we need not import so much maize. It is a heating grain, and is held responsible for the widespread prevalence in Italy of the disease of malnutrition called pollagra.
There are many other crops in which, with all our facilities of soil, climate, and proximity to great markets, we are lamentably deficient.
Inspection, advice, and discipline would be as necessary and salutary under control as they are in proving in Ireland, where the visits of the inspector are welcomed and his expert counsel readily followed. No class of men do their best; no broad class of men know how to do the best. The best of us can do with advice.
I have said that agriculture needs control - that is, compulsory organization - from top to bottom. The need of control is shown by the hostility of many farmers to any form of organization, advice, or interference. One would think their industry was successfully expanding the area of cultivation, increasing the number of persons employed, and providing these workers with a high standard of life. The facts being all the other way, it behoves the nation to say: ‘The land of Britain is in the last resort our land, and we have an interest in seeing that as much is got out of it as possible. From this standpoint everything is as different as possible from what it ought to be.’
But any week one pleases, farmers will be found objecting to something proposed in the interest of the nation and the consumer, though it is the consumer who gives agriculture or any other business its sole value. A Liberal M.P. has recently started a Potato Marketing Board in order to deal with the price-collapse in this branch of food production. Mr. Blindell, the founder, proposed that the Board should have representatives of the consumers and the agricultural workers, as well as farmers, and should work, in concert with the Food Council, to stabilise prices.
The National Union of Farmers (English) denounces all these proposals. They say the Food Council is no friend of theirs, and that they do not want prices stabilised. They say that the years when prices are high recoup the grower for the years when prices are low, without offering any hint of when the prices are to be high, Anything rather than regulation or the removal of grievances. Not to have a grievance would in itself apparently be a grievance.
Overproduction Due to Lack of Organization.
As regards potatoes, the position is that farmers never know exactly what acreage is to be sown. The year 1929 saw an increase of 591,000 tons, and 1928 had increased by 691,000 on the previous year. The consequences have been glut and unremunerative prices. In the absence of any organization or agreement, the probability is that 1930 will see a scarcity, since there is no means of finding out what acreage is likely to be planted, and farmers will shy off from an unprofitable crop.
It is the same with turnips - a glut one year, a famine the next, and this not merely because turnips are a ticklish crop, but because there is no arrangement as to the quantity to be sown. It is true that turnips are not grown for sale as other crops are, but chiefly to be used on the farm. Sales do go on, however, and one has seen truck loads of turnips being carried on the railways from centres where there was a glut, owing to extensive sowing, to parts where there was a scarcity from the opposite cause, while ploughing in of the excessive and useless fodder represented a sad waste of labour, land, and seed.
Overproduction of food is like no other production in respect that food is perishable; and consequently central organization, both of home production and foreign importation, can alone prevent excess, waste, and unremunerative prices. Apples rotting in Kent and apples from Canada and America selling briskly are the proofs of unfair freights and no organization. If farmers have not had enough of this, the public has.
Beggars Cannot be Choosers.
If the rural districts could retain their population, and deal with the consequences of bad housing, sanitation, and low standards of life they would have a better claim to be allowed to mismanage their business; but as it is they slough their problems on the large centres - unemployed people, the feeble-minded, the diseased, accidents due to happy-go-lucky methods, and an immense burden of litigation. The county courts are kept going with rustic civil cases and rustic crimes out of all proportion to the numbers of the rural population. The ailing folk of the city must wait for a bed and treatment in their own hospitals; but cases from the country are forwarded as a matter of course and are accepted because humanity forbids their being returned untreated.
Farming a Business.
It is said by apologists that farming is ‘not a business, but a way of living.’ That is precisely what is amiss with farming. The farmer is not typically a business man. Struggling with weather, obstinate folk, and obstinate beasts, his hallmark is stolidity; and he is excused from keeping account-books because of his assumed dislike to, and probable incapacity for, book-keeping and his assumed disregard of whether his business is paying or not.
If I were dictator, then, I should control imports, stabilise prices, insist upon high farming and the maximum employment of labour compatible with remunerative business, and I should vest the Food Council with powers to enforce its findings. The business of the Food Council is not to be specially the friend of the farmer, but of the nation.
Grow Bigger or/and Bust.
I deal with this matter at special length, not merely because it is neglected in the policy of statesmen and the advocacy of publicists, but because it is in itself all-important to Britain. She is on the absolutely wrong road at present because her public men have the utterly unfounded idea (1) that she cannot feed her people with home-grown food, and (2) that she can go on depending indefinitely upon export trade. It is an essential feature of capitalism that its expansion means its ultimate extinction, since it obviously cannot expand except by equipping the nations of the earth to become their own producers. We send them money, machines, managers.
An Agricultural-Fiscal Decalogue.
So far, then, we have:
1. Set up a system of import control by a Government Department, whose officials would buy supplies from abroad in lessening quantities, liberating them on the market as wanted and at prices enabling the home producers to live and live well. This would be protection without tariffs, without speculative profits to Cartels, and without the trouble of collecting duties. If supplies were cheap from countries with low standards, the cheapness would be used, not to lower home prices, but would be State profits which would accrue to the nation.
2. We have nationalised the railways, equalised freights, improved the entire railway system in the interests of safety, efficiency, and the comfort and convenience of the travelling public. This, not as an expedient forced upon us, but as the best way of managing the service.
3. We have, unfortunately only on paper, restricted the issue of motor licences. The saving of the roads from heavy commercial traffic would mean that more labour and material could be expended upon the neglected third-class roads upon which agricultural traffic is mostly carried.
4. If I were dictator I should reduce the hours in all sheltered industries at once. After all the mechanical inventions and improvements that have taken place, a working day of eight hours is too long. As many shifts as you please, but none to work more than seven hours for a start. Russia is forging ahead with a seven-hour day at present. In competitive industries arrangements could be made with continental nations to reduce the labour day. Such international arrangements are the aim of the Washington Convention and the business of the International Labour Office.
5. An embargo upon the investment of money abroad was sound in war-time, and it would be sound now. At present one-third to one-half of the investments passing through the Stock Exchange represent British capital abstracted from the British pool and suicidally invested abroad to enable the cheap labour of Poles, Hindoos, and Chinese to be used to lower British standards and destroy British trade.
6. Nationalization of the land upon its present assessed value, the present holder to be given interest-paying scrip. Landlords no longer give improvements or repairs, and roads, drainage, tree-planting, and the provision of houses have long since become public concerns. As the landlords, thus pauperised, say land is a costly luxury, they ought to be glad to have 3 per cent. on the assessable value. Improvements in the countryside would then be improvements of the nation’s own property.
7. A thoroughgoing policy of afforestation associated with small holdings and country crafts.
8. Electrification to be carried out in all directions, not through companies, but by direct labour under expert public servants, the amenity of the landscape to be conserved as against cheapness.
9. Recruiting for the army, navy, and air force to be stopped, as many men would be wanted for constructive work. There are millions of trained soldiers in the country who could be mobilised at once if need were. And there need be no need.
10. Slum clearances to be carried out as rapidly as new houses can be built for the transplanted population, labour being drafted from the mining and other distressed areas to do work and save doles.
The Great Contradiction.
These ten commandments of reconstruction are but a beginning. They are all not merely feasible, but changes that follow established precedents and cry aloud to be made. The organisation of labour is the State’s most primary and important concern. To neglect it is both crime and folly. To attempt to find employment by the capitalist methods that have created and are still creating unemployment is to stereotype obvious mismanagement, is an abandonment of principle, and a shutting of eyes to all the signs of the times - not merely of the immediate hour, but the whole stream of tendency of the last fifty years, which is for the great industries to go abroad, the work being carried on where the products are required. The more that capitalism succeeds in its object of making profits the sooner it will fail as a social method, which it has never pretended to be anyhow. America with its 4,000,000 of unemployed, and much working of short time as an admitted result of capitalist ‘prosperity’ proves that capitalism is the Great Contradiction of history.
The moderate proposals here made should not require draconian powers or methods for their enforcement. The United States Farm Board is attempting, with some success, despite the opposition of the wheat speculators, to help the basic industry in the direction of organising marketing and eliminating middlemen, among other aims; and most of the main products of the soil are the subject of compulsory regulation, from eggs in Ireland, sugar in Cuba, to hemp and sizal in Manilla, with proposed compulsory co-operation among wheat-growers in Alberta. And the State railways of Canada carry Canadian wheat at about a fourth of the rates imposed in Britain. Other countries turn more and more to the control which Britain possessed and abandoned, although, on the undisputed claim of its authors, it saved the country £400,000,000 during the short period of its operation.
Draconian powers are here assumed chiefly because Labour in office has for the moment dropped its proposals for control through an Imports Board, apparently in deference to the opposition of vested interests. If this is not the case the best way to allay suspicion and meet the needs of agriculture is to revive in a Bill the proposals advocated during the General Election.
The Place of the Novel.
Culture indefatigably tries, not to make what each raw person may like, the rule by which he fashions himself, but to draw ever nearer to a sense of what is indeed useful, beautiful, and becoming, and to get the raw person to like that. - MATTHEW ARNOLD.
In the library of a wise man the department of prose fiction need not be more than sparingly represented. Life is short; and in novels one must read much to learn little. Modern novelists have mostly forgotten - if they ever knew - the original purpose of the novel. As conceived by Samuel Richardson, the father of the countless tribe, the novel was to convey information and ‘moral reflections’ through the medium of a story, the plot to stand in the same relation to the solid, informative part of the work as the string in a necklace does to the beads. Though lacking in the technique, the superior diction, and the more subtle character-analysis of the best modern prose fiction, the early novels - say from those of Fielding and Smollett on to those of Scott and Jane Austen - had a certain social and psychological value from the fact that the types of character brought together in them were always broad and distinct, illustrating the thought, speech, and manners of a class.
But now the genuinely popular novels tend to be all string and no beads. The novelists most in favour are writers who are neither formative nor informative, who rarely generalise, who have no discernible social or psychological purpose in view, whose characters are not types, but simply people to whom things happen. A novelist is esteemed by the average reader, not for how much he can teach through the medium of his art, but for the directness of his narrative and its exclusion of everything except the dialogue, incidents, and ‘situations’ strictly needed to help on the plot. The short story is, in this view, the ideal story; Hugh Conway is the ideal story-teller; not Kipling, or Jacobs, or Joseph Conrad. Meredith, Hardy, Mrs. Humphrey Ward, and H. G. Wells are of the class of teaching novelists; but the fact that they are not as popular as ‘Ethel Dell’ and Mr. Charles Garvice shows that their writing is not the sort of thing the public wants is accustomed to get.
The Fault of the Novel.
The fault of the novel is that it is so largely concerned with ‘machinery.’ In literature one wants life experiences clarified and concentrated. To read of railway journeys and sea voyages, to eat other people’s dinners over again in black-and-white, to wade through pages upon pages of non-didactic dialogue or descriptions of faces and postures - all this is too tiresome even if it were not so unprofitable. Novels are good enough for people who can’t assimilate an idea unless it is presented in a pictorial or dramatic setting, or for those who don’t want ideas at all, but read merely to kill the time in a life which they don’t know how to use. To those who read to learn, Green’s ‘History’ is more entertaining than the best modern novel; and as regards the great majority of novels of all sorts, it is only sober fact to say of them that truth is especially stranger than that sort of fiction.
In a lively ‘Gossip on Romance,’ Louis Stevenson argues that there is a deep craving for incident; and he appears to assume that this craving is legitimate and commendable simply because it is there.
Eloquence and thought, character and conversation (he says) were but obstacles to brush aside as we dug blithely after a certain sort of incident like a pig for truffles. . . . Certain dank gardens cry aloud for a murder; certain old houses demand to be haunted; certain coasts are set apart for shipwreck.
The existence of this desire for incident is undeniable; but there is good reason to believe that it has been largely fomented, if not in some minds altogether begotten, by the writers of fiction themselves. The craving for incident appears at its natural worst in the case of the boy who robs his employer, runs away from home, and is presently found by the police with a loaded revolver and a collection of blood-curdling tales in his possession. The passion for incident might be as general as the belief in ghosts and witchcraft has been; but that we should encourage it, and that a whole class of men and women should make it the serious business of their lives to cater for it, seems more than doubtful.
This craving for incident was, as we should expect to find, abnormally strong in Stevenson, and, since it gave us ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’ we may be glad and thankful for it. But although it can be turned to good account in the hands of a novelist, it is not therefore necessarily healthy and desirable in men and women generally. The general cultivation of the spirit of adventure would have - indeed, already has - a strong tendency to turn men and women from the plain and noble utilities of life, inclining them to follow romantic pursuits, and to look for sudden strokes of fortune providing that which they might more certainly get by honest work.
‘Things as they are.’
I do not wish to be ranked among the Philistines. I trust that the army of the light may always be well recruited; for if that army does not keep the world sweet, it does much to prevent it turning sour. But the world must always in the main consist of people who have more or less prosaic work to do; and their need is not so much to be fed upon romantic incident as, in the words of Bishop Butler, to see ‘things as they are.’ By the prevalent wholesale devouring of novels their opportunities are enormously abridged of learning the history, position, and prospects of the country and the world in which they live and of knowing what life is in itself.
If incident and romance must be had, are there not plenty of the elements of romance, without its illusions, in the narrative of ‘things as they are’ and have been? Are the friends of the novel prepared to contend that truth is, after all, not stranger than fiction? In order to justify the pre-eminence sought to be given to the novel of incident, it would be necessary to justify the love of incident. But that is not all. It would also be necessary to show that, in the novel, the incident is more abundant as well as more engrossing than it is in history and biography.
Now, the experience of well-read persons is that they remember the occurrences in fiction much less readily than the events of history. The really vivid ‘situations’ and the realisable flesh-and-blood characters in fiction are, after all, few in number. Micawber, Mark Tapley, Pecksniff, Baillie Nicol Jarvie, old Trapbois, Mrs. Poyser, Becky Sharpe, Allan Breck - these and a very few more would exhaust the list; and these are widely remembered and their sayings often quoted chiefly because Dickens and Scott, George Eliot and Thackeray have ten readers where Plutarch and Gibbon and Macaulay have but one.
What we Remember.
But I repeat that, to those who read history as well as fiction, the pictures of the historian live more vividly on the mental retina than those of the novelist, be the latter ever so skilful. Leonidas and his Spartans in the Pass of Thermopylæ; Scaevola before Lars Porsena; Regulus before the Roman Senate; the exclamation of Caesar at finding Brutus among the assassins; the midnight alarm given by the geese of the Capitol, which betrayed the advance of the barbarians, and for the time saved the power of Rome; Canute on the sea beach: the adventures of Alfred, Wallace, and Bruce - those form the incidents we remember rather than the tame tableaux of the novelist. Is there anything in fiction more horrible, if horrors are wanted, than the murder of Edward II.; more breathlessly enthralling than the taking of Edinburgh Castle by Lord Randolph, more romantically daring than the attack on the Armada by the cockboats of Howard and Drake, of Hawkins and Frobisher? What scenes of martyrdom are there in fiction that thrill us in the reading like the death scenes of Ridley and Cranmer, or those of Servetus, of Bruno, or of George Wishart? Where shall we see beauty in distress as we see it in Queen Mary’s chamber at the slaying of Rizzio? Where shall we see aught stranger than the spectacle of physical ugliness and moral turpitude prevailing for a time over all disadvantages and all obstacles as in the story of the Third Richard? What hero of fiction could be made to vie in gifts and graces and accomplishments with the veritable personage known as the Admirable Crichton? The Marquis of Montrose, Napoleon, Garibaldi, Mazzini had each of them a career far more romantic, significant, and lofty than those of the Esmonds or Mortons, the Ivanhoes or Devereuxs of the novel at its best. If a mighty canvas, great figures, and stirring incidents are required, what in fiction can compare with the very soberest history of the French Revolution?
The Strangeness of Truth.
The novelist cannot safely afford to outrage probability. He must draw upon the incidents and experiences of real life. But history and biography show probability outraged every day in real life. It is in real life that precedents are established and ‘records’ beaten. Steam, gas-lighting, balloons, electricity, were all part of the machinery of life before they became properties to the novelist; and although Jules Verne anticipates science in tales like ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea’ and ‘From the Earth to the Moon,’ he stands almost alone in that department, while even he has in every case got his first hint from science. (This was written before the advent of H. G. Wells as the pseudo-scientist in fiction. In this department Wells is surely the last word in ingenuity; but my contention still holds good; for Wells stands pretty much alone as the successor of Verne.)
Would it be utterly banal to say that, as a conceiver and bringer-forth of things strange and new, Verne must take a subordinate place to the inventor of the phonograph?
As it is in science and the arts, so it is in the problems of the mind. In all the elements of the fearful and wonderful, the new and the true, the useful and the absorbingly interesting, history, biography, and the daily papers are grander and more fertile than fiction. I know a man who falls asleep over ‘Oliver Twist,’ but reads The Times money columns with zest at midnight!
The lives of men in general are humdrum enough, not because there is not scope for legitimate adventure and wholesome variety, but because men live and move in the ruts of custom, preferring to do over again what they have often done before. If they are to find in literature the variety and excitement which they do not find in life itself, the antidote to monotony is to be looked for, not so much in fiction as in history and biography, in ‘the fairy tales of science’ and the creations of ‘the poet’s teeming head.’
Incident without Illusion.
It may be said that to prove all this is to prove too much. To condemn the novel because it consists largely of incident, and then to extol history because it abounds in incident of a more engrossing kind than that of the novel, may look like inconsistency. But apart from the interest attaching to historical incidents, enacted on the great scale, and didactic with all the force of truth and reality, and apart, also, from the value of the historian’s disquisitions on the characters of notable men and important institutions, history, considered merely as a narrative of events, has one enormous advantage over fiction. In history we get incident without illusion. In novels the incidents are modified, are made subordinate and contributory to the climax of the plot. They are illusory because worked up with a given end in view. The climax of a novel is usually of the nature of either tragedy or comedy; and the characters in the novel pass through only the one tragedy or the one comedy. But in history as in real life men and nations pass through comedies and tragedies in chequered succession; and the greater value of history is that it shows us men and nations failing or succeeding in the long run very much according to their deserts - failing when they attempt the impossible or the undesirable, failing when they do not choose the proper means to a given end, or do not properly use the means they have adopted - failing from such causes, succeeding from causes the reverse of these.
One of the well-known illusions fostered by fiction is the idea that vice finds speedy punishment and virtue speedy reward. But there are sins, both secret and open, whose consequences fall even more heavily upon the son and the son’s son than upon the sinner himself. Novels are already sufficiently long – the bad ones much too long. But for certain purposes they are, and must be, too short. There are great life principles - good and bad, social and personal - which require more than a lifetime, more than the life of a generation, for their proper working out. (Zola’s ‘Rougon-Macquart’ series, being the Histoire Naturelle et Sociale d’une Famille sous le Second Empire, narrated in twenty volumes, forms a tacit recognition of the truth of this.)
They require to be in operation, it may be, for centuries before their results can be adequately known and appraised. Think how long the intolerable burdens of the ancien régime were tolerated in France! For the due development of such principles the scale and scope of the novel are necessarily too limited. But it is not so with history. There the scale embraces centuries of time and the scope millions of persons. For while the novel deals only with a portion of the life of imaginary persons, history deals with the continuous life of real nations. The novel, again, represents men and women steering, intuitively rather than intelligently, by the pole star of truth and righteousness, yet defeated for a time by the machinations of successful villainy. Then one day villainy is unmasked and punished, virtue is rewarded, couples are paired off for marriage, and the customary impression of post-nuptial bliss is conveyed either expressly or by implication. This does not apply to the realistic school, whose exponents are chiefly remarkable for microscopical minuteness in description, inconsequential dialogue, the unexpected killing-off of the chief characters, the gradual, unnoticed, dropping-out of the minor ones, with a trick of now breaking off the narrative suddenly, or again drawing it out to a long-deferred, lame, and impotent conclusion. One of the chief aims of the realistic novel is to be as unlike the ordinary novel as possible. It perhaps comes nearer the truth than does the ordinary novel; but is it art? And can any one pretend that up to this point realism, in the almost exclusive attention which it has devoted to the ugly, the diseased, and the wicked, has not been grossly lop-sided?
History, to resume the comparison, gives no countenance to the illusion, fostered by fiction, that our troubles end with marriage. It has comparatively little to say about strokes of luck and the chapter of accidents. Its tendency is to show that ‘Providence’ fights on the side of the strongest battalions, whatever the nature of the warfare may be. The historian, also, has more than primary colours upon his literary palette: he does not divide his personages into good and bad, silly and crafty, heroes and villains. He shows us vice and virtue, wisdom and folly largely intermingled in the same natures. He shows us a man like Lord Bacon, sycophantic, mean, greedy; yet sagacious, learned, full of intellectual curiosity and zeal for science to the day of his death. He shows us ecclesiastics, such as Calvin and Knox, narrow and bigoted on matters of doctrine and church government, yet on questions of popular and secular education open-minded and progressive. He shows us men prepared, like Guy Fawkes, to commit a great crime from an excess of disinterested zeal. Portraying the characters of men who have been by turns grasping and generous, cruel and humane, vindictive and magnanimous, history guards us against summary judgments and sweeping general propositions. Obliged to give us at least an approximation to the truth, history avoids alike the juvenile optimism of the old-fashioned novel and the pessimistic ‘realism’ of the modern. Instead of fostering illusions it dispels them, while at the same time it gives us hopes based on the certainty of past progress,
Province of the Novel.
Of course the novel has its province. At the best - and a splendid best that is - fiction is psychology, ethics, common sense, and the conduct of life teaching by examples. At the worst - and the worst is greatly in excess - it consists of tediously perverse heroics, fatuous ‘yearning,’ or tedious, meaningless gossip – ‘the clink of teaspoons and the accents of the curate.’ If it be argued that the reader should study what he most affects, on the ground that ‘no profit comes where is no pleasure ta’en,’ the answer is that one of the chief functions of criticism is to appraise the relative value of the various forms of literature, and thereby show the reader what he ought to affect. If this has to be done with regard to prose fiction, that branch of letters must be placed quite last on the list.
The view of the novel here expressed is no merely puritanical negation; neither is it to be dismissed as the carping criticism of a misanthropical Dryasdust. It is a view which, in less or more definite form, has been held and expressed by the novelists themselves. As all the world knows, Scott turned to prose fiction only when he found himself eclipsed at poetry by Byron. Charles Reade coveted success as a dramatist rather than as a novelist. George Eliot was less anxious to be known as a novelist than as a poetess. From the numerous volumes of delightful essays Stevenson produced, there is reason to suspect that even he - prince of romancers as he was - preferred the essay form of composition to novel-writing.
Novelists on their Art.
To most authors of the better sort the novel has been mainly a species of literary pot-boiler. They have written novels, not because they considered that the best, most useful, or most congenial work they could do, but because they found it the most profitable. The public does not so much want to be edified as to be amused; and the author who wishes to make something beyond his salt must keep his ideas, but trot out his puppets. Mr. Grant Allen, in the heyday of his career as a brilliant and versatile litterateur, and himself a prolific and successful novelist, wrote:
I do not approve of novels. They are for the most part a futile and unprofitable form of literature; and it may be profoundly regretted that the mere blind laws of supply and demand should have diverted such an immense number of the ablest minds in England, France, and America from more serious subjects to the production of such very frivolous and, on the whole, ephemeral works of art.
By this time of day the novelists can well afford to have their art estimated at something like its true value. No class of literary men have received more of the favours of the public, not only in the form of fame and ‘honours,’ but also in the form of hard cash for comparatively light and facile labours. (I can well remember being struck as a boy with the description given of the change that came over Walter Scott’s method of work when, in his later days, he turned from novels to write the ‘Life of Napoleon.’ It was no longer a case of reeling off ‘a chapter of ‘The Pirate’ before breakfast.’ It had been his custom to write rapidly and easily, one hand on the desk and the other left free to caress the head of the hound Maida by his knee; but now he sat surrounded by piles of volumes - on the table and around him on the floor - to which he made frequent reference, the work proceeding with a comparative slowness which must have been specially irksome to him, pressed as he was by the necessity of making money, and long accustomed to the habit of rapid and careless composition.)
By persistent puffery and mutual log-rolling some of them have succeeded in persuading a large section of the reading public that excellence in prose fiction represents the high-water mark of literary production, and that if there be anything of moment the public has to learn from books the approved medium for its communication is the novel. And this latter idea has found so much acceptance that everything must now be cast more or less in the novel form. History, politics, economics, sociology, art, physical science, ‘the sex question’ - all are filtered in driblets through the novel,
One result of this straining-after knowledge-made-easy is that the reading public, though enormously enlarged, is a public possessing less of the power of close reading and sustained thinking than belonged to the generations which read ‘The Spirit of Laws,’ ‘The Decline and Fall,’ ‘The Letters of Junius,’ which read Hume, Burke, and Adam Smith, Channing, Emerson, and John Stuart Mill. Without wishing to make too much of the saying that ‘a little learning is a dangerous thing,’ it is still easy to see that much harm may be done by confining the teaching of grown-up people mainly to those things that can be served up through the medium of the novel. The powers of the mind, like those of the body, become atrophied from disuse; and a population fed upon the spoon-meat of fiction is bound to lose the power of making that use of the mental molars which all serious problems require for their proper mastication.
The Novel with a Purpose.
The novel without a purpose is often a sorry inanity enough; but in view of the importance attached to the novel with a purpose, it requires to be said that even the latter leaves much to be desired on the score of utility. Not a few of our young people of both sexes are developing the habit of thinking that they understand a subject and are entitled to lay down the law upon it merely because they have read some novelist’s fragmentary and superficial treatment of it. Large sections of the population are ‘free lovers,’ chauvinists, or rebels, according to the special type of fiction they happen to have alighted upon; but whatever they may be they are shallow and ill-informed in it, because their mental constitution has been nourished on the shreds and snippets of the novelist’s literary confectionery.
Even the imaginative faculties and the sense of humour are dulled by this sort of reading. Acquaint a man with facts and general principles, and his imagination must of necessity work upon the materials he assimilates - for facts are more suggestive, more stimulating, than speculations or fancies - while his sense of proportion will be cultivated by his knowledge of the actual relations of things. But the person who makes himself or herself a mere conduit for the impressions, the imaginings of others will in time possess a mind mainly of the cataleptic order, with less originality than if he had read nothing at all. Who is more vacuous and artificial than the person gorged with fiction, who in a given situation cannot help thinking of what his or her heroes or heroines would have said or done in similar circumstances?
If one could see the class of novel-readers passing up and on from that sort of mental pabulum to stronger meat, it would be possible to regard the novel as an unmixed blessing. But in point of fact, novel-reading, so far from being a mere stage in the intellectual development of the reader, is in the majority of cases a life-habit. The assistants at public libraries could tell of tens of thousands of people who, all their lives through, never, save by mistake, take out any books except works of fiction. There are, of course, men and women who seek recreation from arduous brain work in light reading, which invariably means novels. That is natural enough; though there are some who consider Macaulay as light and certainly brighter, more vivid, than Gaboriau. But the great mass of the readers using the lending libraries go on devouring novel after novel, never dreaming of making an excursion into the field of general literature. It were really better for such if the insipid stuff were not available for them at all: they might then be driven into reading ever so small a portion of a good book once in a while.
For a long time, probably, little can be done to lessen the evil. Some improvement might be effected by library committees spending less of their income on works of fiction and more of it on dear and inaccessible books - which is the direct contrary of their present policy - but even then a large number of the confirmed novel-readers would simply go to the private circulating libraries for their only literary diet. And the conversion of the library committees would of itself take some time and trouble.
The improvement of education, along the line of attaching greater significance to the teaching of English literature as a school subject, would do much to produce an extended taste for good literature and a wiser discrimination in the choice of books. But unless something can be done with the writers as well as with the readers, the improvement will be slow and attended with difficulty. Grant Allen’s admission that the blind laws of supply and demand have diverted an immense number of the ablest minds to the production of novels is very significant. Since the days when Milton sold the greatest epic in the language for £5, letters have become to too great an extent a mere profession; and to the man who writes for a living, the temptation to turn out that which can be written fluently, and which appeals to a large public, is very strong.
But there are signs that those who do the hard and necessary work of the world will insist more and more, as time goes on, upon greatly reduced hours of labour, greatly increased leisure, and a larger share of the good things of life in general. The effects of this will tell on literature in a number of ways. Increased leisure and the power to purchase good books, following on the wide diffusion of better education, will bring about a steady improvement in the general standard of literary taste. That much will be effected so far as the demand of the reading public is concerned.
But social and economic amelioration will also have its effects on the supply of books. For one thing, men and women of parts, finding the ordinary business of life much less irksome and exacting than they do at present, will be content to earn a livlihood in the trades and professions, cultivating literature as Shakespeare and Bacon, Burns, Lamb, and Mill cultivated it - that is to say, as amateurs, not less but more brilliant than the professionals, because freed from the necessity of writing for a living, and able to give us of their best.
Of course we shall always have a professional literary class. There is as much need for the making of good books as for the building of houses; and the author is as worthy of his hire as any other labourer. A writer who spends the better part of a lifetime in the production of one great work (as Gibbon did), or a vast synthetic series (as Herbert Spencer did), will do his work better if he has no other vocation seriously to divide his attention. In such cases substantial remuneration will not only be politic, but also just and necessary.
But as Matthew Arnold well said ‘Literary production, where it is sound, is its own exceeding great reward’; and with literature valued more for its own sake and less as a means of making money, the spinning of cobwebs of fiction may well be reduced to a minimum. The professional literary man, with his dyspepsia, his insomnia, his nervous headaches, his smoking of ‘infinite tobacco,’ and his disordered nerves, may thus in coming years be remembered only as one of the strange phenomena of the nineteenth century. Then men of talent may cease taking ‘orders,’ as the late Mr. Justin M’Carthy did, for two score of tales at a time, and the Garvices and Corellis may lend a hand with the really useful and necessary work of the world.
1. Preparing the ground. So you think you know your Kail?
Digging up the Kailyard is a long overdue task. But it’s difficult ground to turn over. As Scots we’ve been eating Deep Fried Mars Bars for too long (and calling it haute cuisine) when it comes to our consumption of fiction. Note I use the word fiction because at the root of this whole debate is a battle for ‘literature.’ It is interesting that at the very time the term Kailyard was coined, this battle really commenced. Scots exude duality (we are told) as part of our psyche, and there was no bigger cultural duality in the late 19th century than the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘quality’ literature and ‘mass’ or ‘popular’ fiction. I leave that battle aside for now, though it must be tackled head on at some point.
But this is just the first stage in a big project. In this first article I am barely breaking ground, and if I manage to prepare, or clear some ground around the weed infested mess that we are faced with, I will feel I have achieved something. To quote Dougie Maclean’s ‘Scythe Song’ (is contemporary Scots folk music an illustration of a penchant for kail?) ‘this is not a thing to learn inside a day’!
You’ve got to hold it right feel the distance to the ground
Move with a touch so light until its rhythm you have found
Then you’ll know what I know.
But we must start somewhere, so I’ll begin just before the very beginning. A very good place to start! While the Kailyard ‘school’ is accused of parochialism and ‘smallness’ you will soon find that the ground we are digging up is huge – especially if we get down to soil level rather than use machinery fashioned for us by later generations.
Kailyard, and ‘the Kailyard School’ it has to be said is pretty much a literary construct. The most recent work on the subject, Andrew Nash’s excellent ‘Kailyard and Scottish Literature’ (2007) begins the digging up process in the academic field.
I take a stance outside academia. I’ll confess, the ground there is too claggy for me. I find for a good, loose soil, one needs to step away from the critical milieu and look at the world from, dare one say it, a less rarified view. While I can mix ‘meta’ with the best of them, I’m a son of the soil and I read fiction (whether it is then ‘elevated’ to literature or not by critical or popular endorsement) for enjoyment. Which isn’t to say I don’t like to learn, or that I don’t believe you can find profound truth within fiction. My opinion is quite divergent from that of Leatham in this month’s cultural piece ‘The Place of the Novel’ I can see a value in fiction he could not. I don’t have a problem with that. He prefers history to novel and the world is big enough for all of us. But fiction, for me, is perhaps a more personal thing, a communicative relationship between the writer and the reader. It may be the case that narrative is significant in the battleground of politics and culture, and of course one’s political and cultural beliefs will colour what one reads, but I don’t think the scapegoating of individual stories (or authors) adds anything to the overall fight. Reading can offer some freedom and the chance to experience the world differently – I think we embark upon a dangerous path when we begin to lay claims or establish categorisations for stories (and authors) beyond or outwith their individual experience and expression. Kale is and always will be a brassica. It will only be a ‘superfood’ for a limited time. The ‘fame’ attached is a double edged sword.
As an academic outsider, usually when I engage with literary criticism it just makes me angry. I think my unease may stem from confusions in explorations and explanations of ‘narrative’. Narrative is a word that is being made to work very hard these days and its meaning is becoming increasingly loose. Personally, I’ve moved beyond thinking about fiction as ‘text’ and simply see it as ‘story.’ I don’t do show competitive show vegetables. Kale may or may not be a superfood at present, but for me it’s just a good, nutritious ‘green’ which doesn’t need to be mucked about or juiced or smoothied. Just plant, grow, eat, enjoy. Easy.
It seems to me that the world (and by this I include the academic world) has embraced (at its perils) the vastness of our technological revolution in a counter-productive way. Primary sources appear to seem less and less important to literary criticism. Favour is given to the latest comment (or article) on an existing theory or position.
To give him his due, Nash tries to push the Kailyard debate on. To get out of the box if you like. But the very box the debate is contained in, seems to hold him back. Wittgenstein said ‘all the world is in the box.’ I find that profound and scary at the same time. And I don’t want it to be true. Either way, it is a lonely and long furrow we plough when we seek to go against the dominant ideology. ‘Twas ever thus.
Scratching at surface weeds does little to deal with the deep rooted problems which must be dug out by hand. I am advocating some hard hand weeding of the ground as a proper preparation for the planting. It’s time to get our hands dirty – in good clean soil!
Surveying the soil.
In digging up the Kailyard, you could be excused for thinking the place to start is with the authors (or purported) Kailyard authors. Our Edinburgh boys J.M.Barrie and S.R.Crockett are two of the three ‘named’ (and shamed) as Kailyard novelists. But to build a clearer picture, we actually need to look at the men behind the authors. That is the publishers. And the soil we are inspecting is the soil of publishing as it was circa 1890. Here we see the sort of branding battle that is familiar to us today in consumer goods such as Nike/Addidas or Pepsi/Coke. In those days however, the battle was between two major publishing houses (and their ‘front-men’), Hodder & Stoughton and Longmans. (Other brands and battles were then, as now, available).
While Hodder was established in the 1840s it only became Hodder & Stoughton in 1868, and one William Robertson Nicoll (oft claimed as the godfather of Kailyard) was in on the ground floor of the business. They published religious and secular work and their roots were firmly Non-Conformist. They are still a big publishing ‘player’ although they’ve had many name changes with the mergers and acquisitions over the years. The history of publishing is a lot more interesting a subject that you might think (and one that isn’t as easy to research as you’d think!)
In 1882 one of the other key workers at H&S, Thomas Fisher Unwin struck out on his own (store this information for use later on) in something of an early example of entrepreneurship or perhaps ‘diversification’. Certainly it was a time of expansion in publishing. By the 1890’s T Fisher Unwin was ‘the’ publishing company for ‘new’ writers and many authors of note got their start here, including our Edinburgh boys J.M.Barrie, S.R.Crockett and others including Joseph Conrad, John Buchan and J.R.R.Tolkein.
The Players: Nicoll versus Millar.
William Robertson Nicoll. (1851-1923) was a very influential man in his day. A very successful man. Yet all but forgotten today. He’s not even a heritage variety. The son of a minister from Aberdeenshire, he was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and University. Ill health meant he had to abandon the ministry as a career and instead he moved to London to pursue a journalistic career. He certainly ‘made good’ in London. In 1886 he became editor of the influential British Weekly magazine.(A Hodder & Stoughton publication). By the early 1890’s his ‘stable’ of writers were becoming the commercial success of their day. Robertson Nicoll was big on success. Backed by Hodder & Stoughton he took full advantage of the opportunities for mass publishing amongst the newly literature working classes. We might see Robertson Nicoll as a prime example of Barrie’s quote a ‘Scotsman on the make’ This did not make him popular in all quarters of course. Nicoll’s level of commercial success irritated at least as much as his Nonconformist stance. Nicoll was profoundly religious but he was also profoundly commercially driven.
It may seem strange to us today that religious organisations were in the forefront of the ‘propaganda’ battle for hearts and minds which found its natural home in the mass market publishing of the day. But it’s just a variant on today’s secular equivalent – the capitalist press barons. The late 19th century saw the transformation of reading matter (especially fiction) from expensive stand alone items into serialised penny (or cheap) magazines. This was the crop of the day. Publishing was then, as now, a battleground for competing sales. Today ‘sex’ sells. Then a sort of ‘morality’ may have been touted in preference. Who is to say which is better or worse. Either way, fiction was a vehicle for something beyond ‘story.’ And the new breed of ‘professional’ writers learned that they had to please, not just the public, but the publishers.
As with all publishers everywhere, the avowed goal of ‘giving people what they want’ stands in close proximity to the darker arts of how to convince people they want what it is you have to sell. Nicoll had a clear plan on both counts and his papers delivered. They were very successful. I cannot tell you hand on heart which came first, the supply or demand, but Nicoll hit pay dirt. He was a man on a mission, and he had a curious belief that success and morality were parts of the same plant. He was, if you like, an early exponent of Miracle Grow.
Robertson Nicoll’s publications sold to a rural and an urban working class (and lower middle class) both in Scotland and in England. There was (or was manufactured) a desire to read about times as they were before urbanisation. You have to remember that many of the readers were either first or second generation ‘migrants’ to the cities and so could either remember for themselves, or at one step removed, that ‘their’ Scotland used to be different. This is not in and of itself nostalgic – though that is the first of the mud to be thrown in the Kailyard debate. A rural life can be just as ‘real’ as an urban one. But it is certainly a different reality, then as now. Nash deals with this in his book and begins to outline the way in which Kailyard had a lot less to do with the writers and a lot more to do with the cultural and political jockeying for position. Nash points out that at the time many so called Kailyard stories were realistic stories of their locale. But they were then (mis)represented as Scottish – meaning the whole of Scotland – and from that of course, a lot of trouble ensued. Kale is a great thing, a superfood even, but it isn’t actually Broccoli. Nor does it represent the entirety of the Brassica genus.
This is where J.H.Millar comes in to the fray.
John Hepburn Millar (1864-1929) came from quite different stock than that of William Robertson Nicoll. You might say he was in an entirely different class. (And you might begin to realise the significance of class in this whole debate!) He was the son of Lord Craighall, a senator of the College of Justice. From Edinburgh, he was educated at Edinburgh Academy and Balliol College, Oxford. He was called to the Scottish Bar in 1889 and after lecturing in law at Edinburgh University he was appointed Professor of Constitutional Law and Constitutional History in 1909, a post he held until his retirement in 1925. It was Millar who first coined the phrase ‘Kailyard’ in literary critical circles in an article in The New Review (edited by W.E.Henley and published by Longmans.) The article ‘The Literature of the Kailyard’ appeared in The New Review, April 1895. We will make that article available as a Public Domain article next month. In his subsequent work A Literary History of Scotland (1903) which was for many years the standard work on Scottish literature and he maintained his attack on the then fashionable kailyard writers, though he does credit Henley with the phrase. Henley had just died at this time and wasn’t there to defend himself any longer. I still don’t know what Henley’s position actually was regarding our Edinburgh Boys/Kailyard authors – but he was friends with Stevenson and it seems therefore he would not necessarily be hostile to other writing in similar vein. More digging needed!
Back to the soil structure. Might I suggest that if nothing else, Roberston Nicoll represents non-conformity whereas Millar represents the Establishment. And each represent opposed commercial enterprises. So much of the Kailyard debate was manufactured like so many GM crops. But is it the fault of the plant that it can be genetically modified? Is it the fault of the writer that they are ‘adopted’ into critical schools? I think not.
We need to be very careful when treading around the conceptual Kailyard. It’s a big place, covering many acres. I am more interested in a few small fields and specimen plants than in engaging in a wholescale battle regarding the genus. And I am particularly interested in discovering to what extent, and whether at all, our Edinburgh Boys could be described or categorised as ‘Kailyard’ writers.
You’ll note we’ve still not arrived at a comfortable definition of what this is. We don’t know what we’re looking at plant-wise. We’ve not even planted them yet. I did tell you it was a big field and we were only at the start of the whole affair. In articles that follow I will look at our Edinburgh Boys and their impact on the Kailyard ‘field’. Next month I will start by selecting seeds, with a little help from Leatham and not a modicum of confusion from Millar.
‘Rise, Robin, rise ! The partans are on the Sands!’
The crying at our little window raised me out of a sound sleep, for I had been out seeing the Myreside lasses late the night before, and was far from being wake-rife at two by the clock on a February morning.
It was the first time the summons had come to me, for I was then but young. Hitherto it was my brother John who had answered the raising word of the free-traders spoken at the window. But now John had a farm-steading of his own, thanks to Sir William Maxwell and to my father's siller that had paid for the stock.
So with all speed I did my clothes upon me, with much eagerness and a beating heart, — as who would not, when, for the first time, he has the privilege of man ?
As I went out to the barn I could hear my mother (with whom I was ever a favourite) praying for me.
'Save the laddie — save the laddie!' she said over and over.
And I think my father prayed too; but, as I went, he also cried to me counsels.
'Be sure you keep up the grappling chains— dinna let them clatter till ye hae the stuff weel up the hill. The Lord keep ye! Be a guid lad an' ride honestly. Gin ye see Sir William, keep your head doon, an' gae by withoot lookin'. He 's a magistrate, ye ken. But he’ll no' see you, gin ye dinna see him. Leave twa ankers a-piece o' brandy an' rum at our ain dyke back. An' abune a', the Lord be wi' ye, an' bring ye safe back to your sorrowing parents!'
So, with pride, I did the harness graith upon the sonsy back of Brown Bess, — the pad before where I was to sit, — the lingtow and the hooked chains behind. I had a cutlass, a jockteleg (or smuggler's sheaf - knife), and a pair of brass-mounted pistols ready swung in my leathern belt. Faith, but I wish Bell of the Mains could have seen me then, ready to ride forth with the light- horsemen. She would never scorn me more for a lingle-backed callant, I'se warrant.
‘Haste ye, Robin! Heard ye no' that the partans are on the sands '
It was Geordie of the Clone who cried to me. He meant the free-traders from the Isle, rolling the barrels ashore.
'I am e'en as ready as ye are yoursel' ! ' I gave him answer, for I was not going to let him boast himself prideful all, because he had ridden out with them once or twice before.
Besides, his horse and accoutrement were not one half so good as mine. For my father was an honest and well-considered man, and in good standing with the laird and the minister, so that he could afford to do things handsomely.
We made haste to ride along the heuchs, which are very high, steep, and rocky at this part of the coast. And at every loaning-end we heard the clinking of the smugglers chains, and I thought the sound a livening and a merry one.
'A fair guid-e'en and a full tide, young Airyolan!' cried one to me as we came by Kiilantrae. And I own the name was sweet to my ears. For it was the custom to call men by the names of their farms, and Airyolan was my father's name by rights. But mine for that night, because in my hands was the honour of the house.
Ere we got down to the Clone we could hear, all about in the darkness, athwart and athwart, the clattering of chains, the stir of many horses, and the voices of men.
Black Taggart was in with his lugger, the ' Sea Pyet,' and such a cargo as the Clone men had never run, — so ran the talk on every side. There was not a sleeping wife nor yet a man left indoors in all the parish of Mochrum, except only the laird and the minister.
By the time that we got down by the shore, there was quite a company of the Men of the Fells, as the shore men called us, — all dour, swack, determined fellows.
‘Here come the hill nowt!' said one of the village men, as he caught sight of us. I knew him for a limber-tongued, ill-livered loon from the Port, so. I delivered him a blow fair and solid between the eyes, and he dropped without a gurgle. This was to learn him how to speak to innocent harmless strangers.
Then there was a turmoil indeed to speak about, for all the men of the laigh shore crowded round us, and knives were drawn. But I cried, *’Corwald, Mochrum, Chippermore, here to me ! ' And all the stout lads came about me.
Nevertheless, it looked black for a moment, as the shore men waved their torches in our faces, and yelled fiercely at us to put us down by fear.
Then a tall young man on a horse rode straight at the crowd which had gathered about the loon I had felled. He had a mask over his face which sometimes slipped awry. But, in spite of the disguise, he seemed perfectly well known to all there.
'What have we here ? ' he asked, in a voice of questioning that had also the power of command in it.
' 'T is these Men of the Fells that have stricken down Jock Webster of the Port, Maister William ! ' said one of the crowd.
Then I knew the laird's son, and did my duty to him, telling him of my provocation, and how I had only given the rascal strength of arm.
' And right well you did,' said Maister William, ' for these dogs would swatter in the good brandy, but never help to carry it to the caves, nor bring the well-graithed horses to the shore-side! Carry the loon away, and stap him into a heather hole till he come to.'
So that was all the comfort they got for their tale-telling.
‘And you, young Airyolan,’ said Maister William, 'that are so ready with your strength of arm, — there is even a job that you may do. Muckle Jock, the Preventive man, rides to-night from Isle of Whithorn, where he has been warning the revenue cutter. Do you meet him and keep him from doing himself an injury.'
'And where shall I meet him, Maister William?' I asked of the young laird.
‘Oh, somewhere on the heuch-taps,' said he, carelessly ; ' and see, swing these on your horse and leave them at Myrtoun on the by-going.'
He called a man with a torch, who came and stood over me, while I laid on Brown Bess a pair of small casks of some fine liqueur, of which more than ordinary care was to be taken, and also a few packages of soft goods, silks and lace as I deemed.
' Take these to the Loch Yett, and ca' Sandy Fergus to stow them for ye. Syne do your work with the Exciseman as he comes hame. Gar him bide where he is till the sun be at its highest to-morrow. And a double share o' the plunder shall be lyin' in the hole at a back of the dyke at Airyolan when ye ride hame the morn at e'en.'
So I bade him a good-night, and rode my ways over the fields, and across many burns to Myrtoun. As I went I looked back, and there, below me, was a strange sight, — all the little harbour of the Clone lighted up, a hurrying of men down to the shore, the flickering of torches, and the lappering of the sea making a stir of gallant life that set the blood leaping along the veins. It was, indeed, I thought, worth while living to be a free-trader. Far out, I could see the dark spars of the lugger ' Sea Pyet,' and hear the casks and ankers dumping into the boats alongside.
Then I began to bethink me that I had a more desperate ploy than any of them that were down there, for they were many, and I was but one. Moreover, easily, as young Master William might say, ‘Meet Muckle Jock, and keep him till the morn at noon ! ' the matter was not so easy as supping one's porridge.
Now, I had never seen the Exciseman, but my brother had played at the cudgels with Jock before this. So I knew more of him than to suppose that he would bide for the bidding of one man when in the way of his duty.
But when the young laird went away he slipped me a small, heavy packet.
'Half for you and half for the gauger, gin he hears reason,' he said.
By the weight and the jingle I judged it to be yellow Geordies, the best thing that the wee, wee German lairdie ever sent to Tory Mochrum, And not too plenty there, either!
Though since the Clone folk did so well with the clean-run smuggling from the blessed Isle of Man, it is true that there are more of the Geordies than there used to be.
So I rode round by the back of the White Loch, for Sir William had a habit of daunering, over by the Airlour and Barsalloch, and in my present ride I had no desire to meet with him.
Yet, as fate would have it, I was not to win clear that night. I had not ridden more than half-way round the loch when Brown Bess went floundering into a moss-hole, which are indeed more plenty than paved roads in that quarter. And what with the weight of the pack, and her struggling, we threatened to go down altogether. When I thought of what my father would say, if I went home with my finger in my mouth, and neither Brown Bess nor yet a penny's-worth to be the value of her, I was fairly a-sweat with fear. I cried aloud for help, for there were cot-houses near by. And, as I had hoped, in a little a man came out of the shadows of the willow bushes.
‘What want ye, yochel?' said he, in a mightily lofty tone.
‘I’ll yochel ye, gin I had time. Pu' on that rope,' I said, for my spirit was disturbed by the accident. Also, as I have said, I took ill-talk from no man.
So, with a little laugh, the man laid hold of the rope, and pulled his best, while I took off what of the packages I could reach, ever keeping my own feet moving, to clear the sticky glaur of the bog-hole from them.
‘Tak' that hook out, and ease doon the cask, man! ' I cried to him, for I was in desperation; 'I'll gie ye a heartsome gill, even though the stuff be Sir William's ! '
And the man laughed again, being, as I judged, well enough pleased. For all that service yet was I not pleased to be called 'yochel.' But, in the meantime, I saw not how, at the moment, I could begin to cuff and clout one that was helping my horse and stuff out of a bog-hole. Yet I resolved somehow to be even with him, for, though a peaceable man, I never could abide the calling of ill names.
'Whither gang ye ? ' said he.
'To the Muckle Hoose o' Myrtoun,' said I, 'and gang you wi' me, my man; and gie me a hand doon wi' the stuff, for I hae nae stomach for mair warsling in bog-holes.
And wha kens but that auld thrawn Turk, Sir William, may happen on us?'
'Ken ye Sir William Maxwell?' said the man.
' Na,' said I. ' I never so muckle as set e'en on the auld wretch. But I had sax hard days' wark cutting doon bushes, and makin' a road for his daftlike carriage wi' wheels, for him to ride in to Mochrum Kirk'
'Saw ye him never there?' said the man, as I strapped the packages on again.
' Na,' said I, ' my faither is a Cameronian, and gangs to nae Kirk hereaboots.'
‘ He has gi'en his son a bonny upbringing, then! ' quoth the man.
Now this made me mainly angry, for I cannot bide that folk should meddle with my folk. Though as far as I am concerned myself I am a peaceable man.
'Hear ye,' said I, ' I ken na wha ye are that speers so mony questions. Ye may be the de'il himsel', or ye may be the enemy o' Mochrum, the blackavised Commodore frae Glasserton. But, I can warrant ye that ye’ll no mell and claw unyeuked with Robin o' Airyolan. Hear ye that, my man, and keep a civil tongue within your ill lookin' cheek, gin ye want to gang hame in the morning wi' an uncracked croun ! '
The man said no more, and by his gait I judged him to be some serving man. For, as far as the light served me, he was not so well put on as myself. Yet there was a kind of neatness about the creature that showed him to be no outdoor man either.
However, he accompanied me willingly enough till we came to the Muckle House of Myrtoun. For I think that he was feared of his head at my words. And indeed it would not have taken the kittling of a flea to have garred me draw a staff over his crown. For there is nothing that angers a Galloway man more than an ignorant, upsetting town's body, putting in his gab when he desires to live peaceable.
So, when we came to the back entrance, I said to him ; ' Hear ye to this. Ye are to make no noise, my mannie, but gie me a lift doon wi' thae barrels cannily. For that dour old tod, the laird, is to ken naething aboot this. Only Miss Peggy and Maister William, they ken. 'Deed, it was young William himsel' that sent me on this errand.'
So with that the mannie gave a kind of laugh, and helped me down with the ankers far better than I could have expected. We rolled them into a shed at the back of the stables, and covered them up snug with some straw and some old heather thatching.
‘Ay, my lad,' says I to him, ‘for a' your douce speech and fair words I can see that
ye hae been at this job afore! '
‘Well, it is true,' he said, ' that I hae rolled a barrel or two in my time.'
Then, in the waft of an eye I knew who he was. I set him down for Muckle Jock, the Excise officer, that had never gone to the Glasserton at all, but had been lurking there in the moss, waiting to deceive honest men. I knew that I needed to be wary with him, for he was, as I had heard, a sturdy carl, and had won the last throw at the Stoneykirk wrestling. But all the men of the Fellside have an excellent opinion of themselves, and I thought I was good for any man of the size of this one.
So said I to him : ‘Noo, chiel, ye ken we are no' juist carryin' barrels o' spring water at this time o' nicht to pleasure King George. Hearken ye : we are in danger of being laid by the heels in the jail of Wigton gin the black lawyer corbies get us. Noo, there's a Preventive man that is crawling and spying ower by on the heights o' Physgill. Ye maun e'en come wi' me an' help to keep him oot o' hairm's way. For it wad not be for his guid that he should gang doon to the port this nicht! '
The man that I took to be the gauger hummed and hawed a while, till I had enough of his talk and unstable ways.
'No back-and-forrit ways wi' Robin,' said I. 'Will ye come and help to catch the King's officer, or will ye not?'
'No' a foot will I go,' says he. 'I have been a King's officer, myself ! '
Whereupon I laid a pistol to his ear, for I was in some heat.
'Gin you war King Geordie himsel', aye, or Cumberland either, ye shall come wi' me and help to catch the gauger,' said I.
For I bethought me that it would be a bonny ploy, and one long to be talked about in these parts, thus to lay by the heels the Exciseman and make him tramp to Glasserton to kidnap himself.
The man with the bandy legs was taking a while to consider, so I said to him : ‘She is a guid pistol and new primed ! '
‘I’ll come wi' ye!' said he.
So I set him first on the road, and left my horse in the stables of Myrtoun. It was the gloam of the morning when we got to the turn of the path by which, if he were to come at all, the new ganger would ride from Glasserton. And lo ! as if we had set a tryst, there he was coming over the heathery braes at a brisk trot. So I covered him with my pistol, and took his horse by the reins, thinking no more of the other man I had taken for the gauger before.
'Dismount, my lad,' I said. ‘Ye dinna ken me, but I ken you. Come here, my brisk landlouper, and help to haud him!'
I saw the stranger who had come with me sneaking off, but with my other pistol I brought him to a stand. So together we got the gauger into a little thicket or planting. And here, willing or unwilling, we kept him all day, till we were sure that the stuff would all be run, and the long trains of honest smugglers on good horses far on their way to the towns of the north.
Then very conscientiously I counted out the half of the tale of golden guineas Master William had given me, and put them into the pocket of the gauger's coat.
'Gin ye are a good, still-tongued kind of cattle, there is more of that kind of yellow oats where these came from,' said I. 'But lie ye here snug as a paltrick for an hour yet by the clock, lest even yet ye should come to harm !'
So there we left him, not very sorely angered, for all he had posed as so efficient and zealous a King's officer.
' Now,' said I to the man that had helped me, ' I promised ye half o' Maister William's guineas, that he bade me keep, for I allow that it micht hae been a different job but for your help. And here they are. Ye shall never say that Robin of Airyolan roguit ony man, — even a feckless toon's birkie wi' bandy legs ! '
The man laughed and took the siller,
saying, ‘Thank'ee!' with an arrogant air as if he handled bags of them every day. But, nevertheless, he took them, and I parted from him, wishing him well, which was more than he did to me. But I know how to use civility upon occasion.
When I reached home I told my father, and described the man I had met. But he could make no guess at him. Nor had I any myself till the next rent day, when my father, having a lame leg where the colt had kicked him, sent me down to pay the owing. The factor I knew well, but I had my money in hand and little I cared for him. But what was my astonishment to find, sitting at the table with him, the very same man who had helped me to lay the Exciseman by the heels. But now, I thought, there was a strangely different air about him.
And what astonished me more, it was this man, and not the factor, who spoke first to me.
'Aye, young Robin of Airyolan, and are you here ? Ye are a chiel with birr and smeddum ! There are the bones of a man in ye! Hae ye settled with the gauger for shackling him by the hill of Physgill?'
Now, as I have said, I thole snash from no man, and I gave him the word back sharply.
'Hae ye settled wi' him yoursel', sir ? For it was you that tied the tow rope!'
My adversary laughed, and looked not at all ill-pleased. He pointed to the five gold Georges on the tables.
'Hark ye, Robin of Airyolan, these are the five guineas ye gied to me like an honest man. I’ll forgie ye for layin' the pistol to my lug, for after all ye are some credit to the land that fed ye. Gin ye promise to wed a decent lass, I’ll e'en gie ye a farm o' your ain. And as sure as my name is Sir William Maxwell, ye shall sit your lifetime rent free, for the de'il's errand that ye took me on the nicht of the brandy-running at the Clone.'
I could have sunken through the floor when I heard that it was Sir William himself, — whom, because he had so recently returned from foreign parts after a sojourn of many years, I had never before seen.
Then both the factor and the laird laughed heartily at my discomfiture.
‘Ken ye o' ony lass that wad tak' up wi' ye, Robin?' said Sir William.
‘Half a dozen o' them, my lord,' said I.
‘Lassies are neither ill to seek nor hard to find when Robin of Airyolan gangs a- coortin'!'
‘Losh preserve us ! ' cried the laird, slapping his thigh, ‘but I mysel' never sallied forth to woo a lass so blithely confident!’
I said nothing, but dusted my kneebreeks. For the laird was no very good looking man, being grey as a badger.
‘An' mind ye maun see to it that the bairns are a' loons, and as staunch and stark as yoursel' ! ' said the factor.
‘A man can but do his best,' answered I, very modestly as I thought. For I never can tell why it is that the folk will always say that I have a good opinion of myself. But neither, on the other hand, can I tell why I should not.
This was first published in the collection ‘Tales of Our Coast’ in 1896 along with stories by Harold Frederic , Arthur Quiller-Couch , Gilbert Parker and William Clark Russell.
It was in May 1916 that James Leatham published the first edition of Gateway from Turriff. Gateway was published nearly every month from 1912 to 1945 but there was a hiatus while Leatham moved from near Hull to Turriff. He was in regular danger from bombing and got to the point where he decided the risk wasn’t worth it, so he upped sticks and moved lock, stock and printing press barrel back to Scotland and settled for the rest of his life in Turriff.
While Gateway was generally published monthly over 30 years, there is a hiatus of a couple of months in March and April 1916 while he effected the move. By May he had the presses up and running again and the index of his first Turriff edition is shown below:
(picture above shows Gateway cover from May 1926 a decade later)
Gateway No 45 May 1916
Are The Germans Just Like Ourselves? A Reply to a Pacifist by the Editor p1
Behind the Counter XXX – A Clever Woman and a Dull Man p9
Are Scotsmen Canny? Daily News Carping at Aberdeen. By Jacobus p14
Always the Wrong Thing! P15
A Chiel’s Amang Ye. By Francis Grose. Change – and no Change – If We Should Lose! P 16
The Socialist Review p 1
John Payne, A Poet Who Did Not Care for Publicity. By James Leatham p20
Driving a Good Man Wrong. The Lloyd George – Asquith Disagreement p21
The Plea of an Unwilling Attestor. A Gateway bullet Finds an Unexpected Billet p22
The Bravery of the British Common Soldier. A famous High Tory on Freedom and Valour. By Log-Roller p15
‘Them Sunday Trousis’ p20
Mixed Drinks. Verses by G.K.C p29
The Lesser Evil p30
Prisoner of War. Short Story by K p31
You can see how significant the war was at this point in the Gateway’s history. Currently the only way to read this edition is in library reference/special collections – but we are working on indexing Gateway in its entirety, with the intention of then digitising as much as possible over the years ahead. It’s worth remembering though that just because something is in the public domain doesn’t mean it’s either accessible, or free! The online Gateway remains, like the NHS (at least in Scotland) free at the point of consumption/delivery. And we remain committed to helping you source public domain works that have otherwise been ignored or forgotten.
You could be forgiven for thinking that we are living a political groundhog day. Elections and referendums come thick and fast and leave us all wondering a) what’s changed and b) what’s happening. And the media ‘spin’ has become a constant till it becomes difficult to know who, or what, to believe. Leatham has an explanation for this:
All the organs of public opinion – press, Parliament, radio, pulpit, are in the hands of careerists who support the established order.
It was to counter such dominance that Leatham set up The Gateway in 1912. His ‘propaganda’ press – maintained by himself without advertising or financial input stands as a testament to his beliefs. It is interesting to note that this month as Leatham’s autobiography was published for the first time (surely something of an ‘event’) not one of the mainstream national papers was interested in a free review copy or found Leatham and his life/work worthy of a feature or article. Apart from the Press & Journal (who made it Book of the Week) ‘60 years of World-Mending’ is still more or less invisible. That, I believe, tells us a lot about the reality of our so called open, democratic interweb world. Social media adopts and reflects the same patterns as ‘traditional’ media and politics organisations and one should not for a minute believe that they do anything else than ‘support the established order.’ Yes we can all comment to our hearts content, but to see social media as more than a tower of babel is to imagine that mainstream media or politics has a social conscience. It’s a pay to play world I’m afraid, and one in which disseminating for free is an act of resistance which goes overlooked by the majority. For most, free speech is a wasted gift and the commercialised view of ‘product’ means that people act more like sheep than discerning individuals. Maybe sheep is not the right analogy – too many people these days devour culture, politics and information like goats – omnivorously without much discrimination. And certainly very little thought. Of course if you are still reading this, you are probably not a goat or a sheep – but it’s worth reflecting on the passivity of our cultural (and political) consumption and what the consequences of this may be today and in the future.
This month (as always) we certainly aim to give you something to think about at Gateway. What you choose to do with your thoughts is up to you – we just encourage you to think for yourself and make your own choices with a healthy disrespect for what you are being told by those with agendas that may conflict with your own.
It is a hundred years this month since James Leatham moved to Turriff and established The Deveron Press. This month’s articles deal with politics and culture in a variety of ways that still have something to offer to us today – if only to throw down a challenge against what we believe to know to be true.
In If I were a Dictator Leatham discusses 10 principles of Social Reconstruction. These include his thoughts on railways, agriculture and trade. It’s fair to say Leatham wasn’t in favour of what we now call ‘Free Trade’. I wonder what his views on the EU would be? It’s worth reading this piece to gain insight into quite how much has changed on a social level over the last century.
In The Place of the Novel Leatham is similarly provocative. I admit, I struggle with his notions of ‘high literature’ – finding it difficult to square this with his wider political principles. However, one has to remember that context is everything. If, instead of ‘novels’ one thinks of reality TV or Twitter or Action Movies, then it becomes easier to see that however egalitarian one wants to be, there is still some division between cultural experiences which offer something positive and those which are simply ‘bread and circuses.’
Reading Leatham is not about always agreeing with Leatham, it’s about challenging both him and oneself -especially onself – to gain deeper understanding of our country as it is now and as it used to be – and how one became the other.
The Orraman gives us his first pass at ‘Digging up the Kailyard.’ These are weed infested fields culturally and hopefully his comments will at least open the mind to the story behind the story – always reminding us that culture is always a political (and commercial) battleground.
A bit of light relief is offered in ‘The Smuggler of the Clone’ short story. I’m not sure whether Leatham would have approved of this story, but in the new Gateway he can’t be expected to have it all his own way every month.
And finally, for those who are interested in the detail (wherein lurks the devil of course) we have posted the index of Gateway from 100 years ago. I am working my way through a complete indexing of the 30 volumes. Each month throws up more nuggets, reminding me both of the value of the job I’m doing, and the hugeness of the task.
Rab Christie, Editor
To find past articles please use monthly archives.