Last month I said my piece (or did my pieces) about restoring the reputation of Samuel Rutherford Crockett. Another month, another contemporary whose reputation is in serious need of a restoration project. James Matthew Barrie. Like Crockett he came from humble origins, in Barrie’s case the son of a Kirriemuir weaver, but unlike Crockett he lived long and prospered. Barrie became inconceivably rich during his lifetime on account of his tremendous skill at writing work that crossed the barrier (or blurred the boundaries) between literary and popular. He started off as a journalist in Nottingham and ended up as a dramatist taking the London stage by storm time and again. He became Sir J.M.Barrie Bart. He was a well known philanthropist of his day – and still the only may I know who has managed to ‘control’ and re-write copyright law – he gave the rights to Peter Pan in perpetuity to the Great Ormond Street Hospital. This has caused some ‘issues’ over the years and is an example of how difficult the whole copyright thing is. Barrie was undoubtedly offering a philanthropic gesture, quite in keeping with his many other financial gifts both to individuals and to families. It doubtless seemed like a good idea at the time. But what we do in life is impossible to control after our death and the fearful combination of copyright and commercialisation has caused many a problem for Barrie.
Perhaps more of a worry though, is that (as I’ve written about elsewhere) he was pretty much hoist with his own petard. Peter Pan is now the only thing that many people know about him. Well, there’s one more thing – a still circulating and ill-founded rumour that he was a paedophile. People believe the strangest things, but to my mind it’s the sign of a sickness in society that it cannot accept the spirit and nature of a man who gave so generously that it has to find not just fault but to completely destroy a man’s reputation because it does not understand the nature of his nature.
It’s time to bring Barrie out of the shadows. Crockett (and Barrie to a lesser extent) were damned by the ill-fitting Kailyard soubriquet, even in their lifetimes, though both ‘outgrew’ it if you actually read their writing. (Again, read my earlier pieces for a more prolonged comment on Kailyard). Crockett died and was condemned to obscurity. Barrie lived - but after he died he was subject to the even more damning indictment, bred from nothing of substance, of being shall we say ‘inappropriate.’
Now one thing that you could say about Barrie is that yes, he was often inappropriate. In actuality it’s a hallmark of his writing. But the inappropriateness of his writing is simply that of a man who refused to conform to the standards and was experimental beyond the comprehension of many of his contemporaries (and most since!) This in turn created its own jealousies and the wee man with the big dog was given the worst of names. Stuck in the eternal return of lies, lies and damned falsehoods simply because he stood apart and was in most cases streets ahead of many of his contemporary writers, we have lost sight of everything to do with him except his character Peter Pan. How right I was last month when I suggested that the higher they climb the further they fall.
Now don’t get me wrong. The character of Peter Pan is every bit as complex as the character of J.M.Barrie himself, and the story (and character) which developed over many years of writing, are fascinating on many, many levels both narrative and dramatic. But this is not what most people think of when they think of Peter Pan. They think Disney. They take the soundbites ‘to die will be an awfully big adventure’ and ‘the boy who wouldn’t grow up’ and never look any further. Or if they look further they attempt some cod psychology which never quite stacks up to any proper interrogation.
This is a massive shame. Barrie’s work defies categorisation – and that stands for both his prose and his dramatic works. They are quite unique in the pantheon of late 19th century/ early 20th century writing. They give an insight into questions of identity, flexibility of narrative, they play with dramatic form, and yet the writing is spare, comic and easy to read. You can engage with Barrie on many, many levels but you never quite come to an understanding – either of the man or his work – through the endeavour.
Barrie plays God in his writing and plays with the reader – consciously. Maybe this is part of why he got such a bad press? Because he dared to go that little bit further than most writers ever dare. He was beyond honest – he didn’t just stare reality in the face, he dug into it, explored it and in exploring it uncovered much of what it is to be human – warts and all. That’s both a difficult and a dangerous thing for a writer to do.
But you won’t know any of this unless you read some Barrie. And where do you start when everything is hidden behind Peter Pan? This is the conundrum the recently formed J.M.Barrie Literary Society (of which I am a founder member) seeks to address. The goal is to spread the word both digitally and in ‘reality’ by hosting reading and reviewing of Barrie texts as well as by encouraging members and the wider world to engage and form opinions based on what they read rather than on what they believe.
Barrie was a chameleon of form (narrative and dramatic) and in setting up the website the aim is to try and, if not copy him, then take his innovation as an inspiration to try new ways and forms of communicating creatively. How will it develop? That all depends on the membership. A community literally is the sum of its members and the growing J.M.Barrie Literary Society as Community hopefully wil create a place for open discussion and the sharing of knowledge and opinion in a way that I’ve not seen elsewhere. It’s something beyond Goodreads and online book groups – or at least it may be.
The Society launched at Kirriemuir, where Barrie was born, on the 9th May – his 157th anniversary – at the Barrie Pavilion. The building was gifted by Barrie to the town on the occasion of him being granted freedom of Kirriemuir in 1930. Being Barrie there is much more to the building (now ably run by the Kirriemur Regeneration Group) than the outside suggests. It is part cricket pavilion, part camera obscura. It remains as an important legacy of the fact that Barrie left much more than copyright and money – he thought carefully about the needs of the community and tied them with his own interests. He was passionate about cricket, setting up the first celebrity cricket team which became known as the Allahakbarries. And he thought (rightly) that a camera obscura is exactly the sort of thing that would entertain a huge range of people whether they liked cricket or not.
If you get the chance to go to Kirriemuir, you should definitely visit the Pavilion, his Birthplace (managed by National Trust for Scotland) and the Gateway to the Glens museum which houses many Barrie artefacts including the ‘freedom casket’ (run by AngusAlive)as well as the graveyard where Barrie and his family are buried. There are spectacular views to be found all round, but the camera obscura on a clear day is both achingly beautiful and mind-blowingly clever.
Lest this seems to read too much like a travelogue, I shall point out that reading Barrie will surpass even the delights of Kirriemuir, if you give yourself up to it and forget everything you think you know about him. Whether you read the Thrums stories, or the Tommy novels, or whether you explore Barrie through his full length dramas or the shorter dramatic form, there is plenty to amaze and excite you and most of all to make you think, and re-think your previous knowledge (and prejudices?) To find out more about Barrie’s work you should definitely check out the Literary Society www.jmbarriesociety.co.uk where you can be sure of a warm welcome.
At the launch event we were given a speech which paid tribute to Barrie and exhorted us to read and talk about Barrie’s work. We were reminded that reading is not just for children and that the range and depth of our adult reading and debating on literary issues is reflective of and indeed a part of our very creative nature as well as the a significant factor in the development of our society. I often worry that we are in danger of losing all our critical faculties and most of all our pleasure in reading these days. Barrie is a writer who can pick you up, give you a slap round the face, and remind you why you used to find reading such a necessary part of life. Do us all a favour and give him a go. If you want a quick ‘entry’ you can read the short story in this month’s Gateway HERE. If that takes your fancy, why not head over to McStorytellers where more of An Edinburgh Eleven is being serialised. You can also check out ‘Better Dead’ an early Barrie work which gives quite an insight into his youthful mind and modus operandi. It’s not the finished article by any means, but that’s what is so good about Barrie, he never ‘finished’ he is always open to interpretation and discussion. And if all of that isn’t enough, M’Connachie’s Talking shop is in the throes of opening at the Literary Society website – where you can find other free texts and suggestions of what to read – and the opportunity, once you’ve done so, to add your own thoughts. So what are you waiting for…?
PROFESSOR CAMPBELL FRASER.
Not long ago I was back in the Old University — how well I remember pointing it out as the jail to a stranger, who had asked me to show him round. I was in one of the library ante-rooms, when some one knocked, and I looked up, to see Campbell Fraser framed in the doorway. I had not looked on that venerable figure for half a dozen years. I had forgotten all my metaphysics. Yet it all came back with a rush. I was on my feet, wondering if I existed strictly so called.
Calderwood and Fraser had both their followings. The moral philosophers wore an air of certainty, for they knew that if they stuck to Calderwood he would pull them through. You cannot lose yourself in the back garden. But the metaphysicians had their doubts. Fraser led them into strange places, and said he would meet them there again next day. They wandered to their lodgings, and got into difficulties with their landlady for saying that she was only an aggregate of sense phenomena. Fraser was rather a hazardous cure for weak intellects. Young men whose anchor had been certainty of themselves went into that class floating buoyantly on the sea of facts, and came out all adrift — on the sea of theory — in an open boat — rudderless — one oar — the boat scuttled. How could they think there was any chance for them, when the professor was not even sure of himself? I see him rising in a daze from his chair and putting his hands through his hair. “Do I exist,” he said, thoughtfully, “strictly so called?”
The students (if it was the beginning of the session) looked a little startled. This was a matter that had not previously disturbed them. Still, if the professor was in doubt, there must be something in it. He began to argue it out, and an uncomfortable silence held the room in awe. If he did not exist, the chances were that they did not exist either. It was thus a personal question. The professor glanced round slowly for an illustration.
“Am I a table?” A pained look travelled over the class. Was it just possible that they were all tables? It is no wonder that the students who do not go to the bottom during their first month of metaphysics begin to give themselves airs strictly so called. In the privacy of their room at the top of the house, they pinch themselves to see if they are still there.
He would, I think, be a sorry creature who did not find something to admire in Campbell Fraser. Metaphysics may not trouble you, as it troubles him, but you do not sit under the man without seeing his transparent honesty and feeling that he is genuine. In appearance and in habit of thought he is an ideal philosopher, and his communings with himself have lifted him to a level of serenity that is worth struggling for. Of all the arts professors in Edinburgh, he is probably the most difficult to understand, and students in a hurry have called his lectures childish. If so, it may be all the better for them. For the first half of the hour, they say, he tells you what he is going to do, and for the second half he revises. Certainly he is vastly explanatory, but then he is not so young as they are, and so he has his doubts. They are so cock-sure that they wonder to see him hesitate. Often there is a mist on the mountain when it is all clear in the valley.
Fraser’s great work is his edition of Berkeley, a labour of love that should live after him. He has two Berkeleys, the large one and the little one, and, to do him justice, it was the little one he advised us to consult. I never read the large one myself, which is in a number of monster tomes, but I often had a look at it in the library, and I was proud to think that an Edinburgh professor was the editor. When Glasgow men came through to talk of their professors, we showed them the big Berkeley, and after that they were reasonable. There was one man in my year who really began the large Berkeley, but after a time he was missing, and it is believed that some day he will be found flattened between the pages of the first volume.
The “Selections” was the text-book we used in the class. It is sufficient to prove that Berkeley wrote beautiful English. I am not sure that any one has written such English since. We have our own “stylists,” but how self-conscious they are after Berkeley! It is seven years since I opened my “Selections,” but I see that I was once more of a metaphysician than I have been giving myself credit for. The book is scribbled over with posers in my handwriting about dualism and primary realities. Some of the comments are in short-hand, which I must at one time have been able to read, but all are equally unintelligible now. Here is one of my puzzlers: “Does B here mean impercipient and unperceived subject or conscious and percipient subject?” Observe the friendly B. I dare say further on I shall find myself referring to the professor as F. I wonder if I ever discovered what B meant. I could not now tell what I meant, myself.
As many persons are aware, the “Selections” consist of Berkeley’s text with the professor’s notes thereon. The notes are explanatory of the text, and the student must find them an immense help. Here, for instance, is a note: “Phenomenal or sense dependent existence can be substantiated and caused only by a self-conscious spirit, for otherwise there could be no propositions about it expressive of what is conceivable; on the other hand, to affirm that phenomenal or sense dependent existence, which alone we know, and which alone is conceivable, is, or even represents, an inconceivable non- phenomenal or abstract existence, would be to affirm a contradiction in terms.” There we have it.
As a metaphysician I was something of a disappointment. I began well, standing, if I recollect aright, in the three examinations, first, seventeenth, and seventy-seventh. A man who sat beside me — man was the word we used — gazed at me reverently when I came out first, and I could see by his eye that he was not sure whether I existed properly so called. By the second exam his doubts had gone, and by the third he was surer of me than of himself. He came out fifty-seventh, this being the grand triumph of his college course. He was the same whose key translated cras donaberis hædo “To-morrow you will be presented with a kid,” but who, thinking that a little vulgar, refined it down to “To-morrow you will be presented with a small child.”
In the metaphysics class I was like the fountains in the quadrangle, which ran dry toward the middle of the session. While things were still looking hopeful for me, I had an invitation to breakfast with the professor. If the fates had been so propitious as to forward me that invitation, it is possible that I might be a metaphysician to this day, but I had changed my lodgings, and, when I heard of the affair, all was over. The professor asked me to stay behind one day after the lecture, and told me that he had got his note back with “Left: no address” on it. “However,” he said, “you may keep this,” presenting me with the invitation for the Saturday previously. I mention this to show that even professors have hearts. That letter is preserved with the autographs of three editors, none of which anybody can read.
There was once a medical student who came up to my rooms early in the session, and I proved to him in half an hour that he did not exist. He got quite frightened, and I can still see his white face as he sat staring at me in the gloaming. This shows what metaphysics can do. He has recovered, however, and is sheep-farming now, his examiners never having asked him the right questions.
The last time Fraser ever addressed me was when I was capped. He said, “I congratulate you, Mr. Smith,” and one of the other professors said, “I congratulate you, Mr. Fisher.” My name is neither Smith nor Fisher, but no doubt the thing was kindly meant. It was then, however, that the professor of metaphysics had his revenge on me. I had once spelt Fraser with a “z.”
We are all in the grips of election fever. And I don’t mean that in a good way. The fever I have felt over the last weeks is as nothing compared to the national fever we are sweating through. The Tories are on the rise as surely as the midgies are soon to be back among us after a warmish winter. The sting will be felt long beyond summer I fear. The North East has returned more Tories than SNP to the local council, and Turriff played its own part in that shameful scenario. By next month I hate to think what there may be to report on the Westminster front.
Why do we not learn from the past I wonder? I turn, as always, to the printed word for answers (and yes, at times for escape). Leatham says even a hundred years ago ‘The present generation is not as much moved by the printed word’ and it becomes an act of rebellion to actually sit and read long form fiction or non-fiction these days. But that’s what we’re offering you at Gateway – a chance to explore and discover – to form and reconfirm opinion and to see the world from other perspectives than those pumped out constantly on national and social media.
This month in Gateway we have the final part of Sandy Cran, Leatham’s biography of a weel kent Turra loon. Despite being an old school Tory (aye, they were well in evidence in these parts a hundred years ago too) he was the sort of guy you would love to meet – reminding me that we must all rub along together somehow. It’s Tory politics and capitalism that I rail against, and we must see the best in all folk I’m sure. It’s hard when you see the country you love under siege from an onslaught of right wing opportunism and as Scots a sense of déjà vu seems inevitable.
However, find what you can as crumbs of comfort and perhaps even amusement in this month’s Gateway. In ‘What’s Wrong with Sleepy Hollows?’ Leatham addresses what’s wrong with Scotland – and has a dig at J.M.Barrie for leaving – but we offer a tribute to J.M.Barrie by offering a short sketch from his An Edinburgh Eleven and the Orraman offers a Restoration tribute. In Sandy Cran there’s some humour of a potato variety and right now I think we must look for good humour wherever we can find it. It may be in short supply in the months to follow. Brexit will be bad enough. Five more years of Tory rule will test us to the core. Remember Thatcher? Think on that as you go to vote. Think about the country you want to live in, the values you believe in, and be afraid, be very afraid of what is to come. This is the price for not taking our destiny into our own hands.
I would be rich if I was paid a pound for all the folk I hear say they will leave if things don’t turn out right. In that respect I’m with Leatham when he says ‘Scotland herself is sick and bleeding to death, and the first duty of patriotic citizens is to stay at home in it, and try to set the house in order.’ That’s the only crumb of comfort I will gain should the worst happens and the SNP get whipped by the Tories on June 8th – that more of our good folk will come back from Westminster and be able to work in Scotland itself. They should not come back tail between their legs but with pride that they can now contribute to our own nation, from within, rather than being subjected to the ‘Mother of All Parliaments’. Scotland may still have ‘sleepy Hollows’ and many of them may be Tory, but that only changes when more forward thinking, progressive folk commit to make things better in the Sleepy Hollows themselves rather than heading off for the bright lights and becoming part of the problem not part of the solution. Next month, in part Two of Sleepy Hollows Leatham will offer some more interesting and informative points on our country as it was in the late 1920s. It is up to us to make it a better place for the 2020s. And the first part of that is to vote - a heavy and hard won responsibility we must not shirk. As Leatham said in his autobiography ’60 Years of World-Mending’ ‘if you want to escape being badly governed, you must take a hand in the business yourself.’
What’s Wrong with the Sleepy Hollows, and Especially Scotland?
There is nothing much wrong with Scotland as a piece of territory. The natural beauties we love; to the climate we have become acclimatised and find it bracing in proportion to its keenness; to the corruptions of speech we are accustomed, and on the whole dislike them less than the abused aspirates, wh’s, and g’s of South Britain; they are part of a mode of speech which abounds in euphonies, short cuts, and sly humour. Scots literature is one of the glories of the world, so that ‘Quentin Durward’ has as much of a vogue in France as in the country of its origin, and ‘Scots Wha Hae’ appeals even to people who, like Micawber, haven’t the least idea of what a ‘willy waught’ is.* Scots music, product of the soul-stirring violin rather than the pounded piano, takes the world by storm; and the Scots character comedian is the most universally popular of his not very illustrious tribe.
*It should, of course, be ‘gude-willy waught.’
When we come to deal with Scottish institutions and social tendencies, much of what is to be deplored applies less or more to other nations. But Scotland’s case is acute; and her much-flattered people are still obsessed with a douce conceit which refuses to recognise that there is anything amiss. The land goes out of cultivation, and although there is more grass there are fewer cattle. The people flock to the four cities. The slums are alleged without serious contradiction to be the worst in the world. Despite old age pensions, widows’ pensions, maternity benefit, and the dole, the number of paupers is double what it was fifty years ago. In Scotland in 1878 there were 26 persons per 1000 of population in receipt of Poor Law relief. Last year, in spite of all the latter-day relieving agencies, there were 49 persons per 1000 in receipt of Poor relief. The meaning of this is that Scotland is becoming to an increasing degree a country of old people, the young having cleared out to enrich other communities and to impoverish the land that has bred and educated them - the greatest of all losses if there be any truth in the saying that there is no wealth but life. The people of other nations regard expatriation as a punishment, as indeed it once was regarded in this country; but the emigration figures would seem to indicate that the latter-day Scot thinks any country better than his own.
There is, however, another reason for the pauperism - the invasion of Irish people, many of whom come upon the rates. While the number of Irish in Scotland was but 600,000 last year, their birth-rate is such that every fifth child born is Irish: in Glasgow in 1926 it was 2.8½ per cent. of the total, or getting on for one child in every three.
What Is a Living Patriotism?
Faced with facts like these, what remedies are offered? Hardly anything definite. Colonel John Buchan, writing in the Scots Observer, suggests ‘A Living Patriotism.’ But what is that? In war-time patriotism meant fighting abroad and working and keeping cheerful at home. But what does patriotism mean in peace time? It means several things.
First, it means staying in the country. A scavenger living and working in Scotland is obviously of more value to it than an Archbishop who has deserted the land of his birth and the faith of his fathers; or an author who writes tales about Thrums, but prefers to live in London; or a ‘clever Keith’ who elects to work at the London College of Surgeons rather than to farm Kinnermit, where he was brought up, and where, by putting science into farming, he might do much more good to the country, by showing what could be done with our soil and climate, than by anything he can possibly do in the realm of more or less abstract science. Anyhow, science can be furthered in Scotland as in England, if the Watts, Murdochs, Murchisons, Listons, Hunters, and Listers would stay at home, following the example of Napier of Merchiston, Simpson the pioneer of anaesthetics, a successions of Gregories - doctors., oculists, and mathematicians; and in literature Burns, Hume, Scott, Hogg, Jeffrey, Lockhart, John Brown, Alex. Bain, Crockett, with Neil Munro, Patrick Geddes, J. F. Tocher, and J. Arthur Thomson, the last four still happily with us, and the Southron coming after them instead of their hunting the Southron.
It may be said ‘Ah, but think of the honour to Scotland and the career to the talents!’ I grant that the career is what the careerist thinks of; but we are not speaking of personal advantage, but of what Colonel John Buchan calls ‘a Living Patriotism.’ Patriotism means the devotion of the individual to the good of his country – devotion and if need be sacrifice; though personally I can see no sacrifice about remaining at home among one’s kindred and living in peace and quiet a healthy and useful life as a grower of great crops. A breeder and feeder of fine animals, and in public life a participant in the work of securing better conditions of every kind for one’s fellows. It is fine to sympathise with sickness and to relieve suffering; but Scotland herself is sick and bleeding to death, and the first duty of patriotic citizens is to stay at home in it, and try to set the house in order.
Always a Rover.
The Scot always was ‘a truant bird that thought his home a cage.’ In the days when Scotland had only a tithe of its present population the Scot went abroad on the plea that there was ‘no room.’ The trouble quite obviously was that there was too much room and too few people. And that is still the trouble. It is population that makes a country rich, and the want of it that makes a country poor.
I make no claim to patriotism, but I have some public spirit. I want to be surrounded by as many well-fed, well-clad, well-housed, well-mannered, healthy, and happy people as possible. When Queen Victoria visited Manchester she wrote in her Diary that ‘the people looked painfully unhealthy.’ It was another monarch who wished to see every peasant in the land have a fat capon in his pot. They are both wishes very becoming to persons of public spirit, as kings and queens should be.
My late friend Prince Peter Kropotkin was a royal person if ever there was one. I am not thinking so much of the fact that the Kropotkins were the ancient royal house of Rurik, beside whom the Romanoffs were parvenues. I am thinking of how the regal spirit worked out in practice. Peter Kropotkin, man of science as he was, exiled from Russia and his estates confiscated, devoted the later years of his life specially to the study of the capabilities of the soil. His book, ‘Fields, Factories, and Workshops,’ showing the immense potentialities of the land under proper treatment, is a social gospel. He marshalled the facts prefiguring what he called ‘The Coming Reign of Plenty’ from a multitude of sources, showing not merely what could be done, but what already had been done here and there and could be done more or less everywhere.
I mention him and his facts and conclusions because they are at the bottom of my whole inquiry as to ‘What’s Wrong with Scotland.’ His main conclusions are three:-
Can We Feed Ourselves?
(1) If the soil of the United Kingdom were cultivated only as it was 45 years ago [this should now be 65 years ago], 24,000,000 instead of 17,000,000, could live on home-grown food; and this culture, while giving occupation to an additional 750,000 men, would give nearly 3,000,000 wealthy home customers to the British manufacturers.
(2) If the cultivable area of the United Kingdom were cultivated as the soil is cultivated on the average in Belgium, the United Kingdom would have food for at least 37,000,000 inhabitants; and it might export agricultural produce without ceasing to manufacture so as freely to supply all the needs of a wealthy population. And finally -
(3) If the population of this country came to be doubled, all that would be required for producing the food for 90,000,000 inhabitants would be to cultivate the soil as it is cultivated in the best farms of this country, in Lombardy and Flanders, and to utilise some of the meadows which at present lie almost unproductive, in the same way as the neighbourhoods of the big cities of France are utilised for market-gardening.
All these are not fancy dreams, but mere realities; nothing but the modest conclusions from what we see round about us, without any allusion to the agriculture of the future.
What Is Done.
That these are really modest conclusions is at once apparent to those who know the facts. Britain has only 389 persons to the square mile, and only a third of these are fed on home-grown food. So much of our land is under grass that on a railway journey one is apt to think, from the fields on both sides of the line, that golfing rather than farming is the chief rural industry. But Belgium supports 700 persons to the square mile, mostly with home-grown food, while she long ago exported 48s, worth of food a-year per head of population. Jersey supports 1300 and Guernsey 1400 persons to the square mile, and both export more than they consume. China, without artificial manures and only the most primitive implements, feeds 3000 persons to the square mile.
So that if all the Scots people born continued to live in Scotland they could not only be fed upon home-grown food, but could live even better than they do now. What I want to establish is that there is no need for the Scot to emigrate, or even migrate to the towns. £4oo,000,000 worth of agricultural produce comes into Britain that could quite easily be raised here. In one recent year over £2o,000,000 worth of eggs were imported, so that there is room and need for an immensely increased production of eggs, and it is the easiest of all branches of production. You pop in a meal, and the silly hen does the rest. Nay, it is easier even than that. The hen will pop in the meal herself. You will not even need to lay it all down for her. Give her freedom to range, and she will pick up the large part of it as it were from the void.
The great excuse for migration to the cities and emigration to the colonies is that we have no local industries. There were no industries anywhere till the people made them. Farming is a neglected or misconducted industry. The Scottish farmer produces corn and cattle - corn to compete with the produce of virgin soil paying no rent at all or only a nominal rental, and with cattle bred and fed by peon labour on the ranches of South America, both the corn and the meat being imported at freight rates which are as low as rail rates to the home producer are high.
The British farmer mostly does not trouble about the yield of his milk cows. He regards them as pets, and of a poor milker, giving as little as 400 gallons, he will say ‘She gave me a bonnie black calf last year,’ as if the colour mattered. Brooklands Barbara, an eight-year old Friesian cow, shown at the Royal Agricultural Hall, London, has established a milking record. She gave 13 gallons in twenty-four hours, and in the four months before the Dairy Show she yielded 1500 gallons. She could be relied upon for an average of 7o gallons a-week.
Barbara is, as said, the champion; but 2000 gallon cows are common. I do not know what the wholesale price of milk is at present. Retail it is eighteenpence where I live. Two thousand gallons at 1/6 is £150 a-year from one cow’s milk. Barbara’s 364o gallons is getting on for double that figure.
Egg production is now being more or less seriously taken up; I heard the other day of a Scots poultry farm with 30,000 laying hens; but that is still startlingly exceptional. It is only a year or two since the Turriff Society for the co-operative marketing of eggs was started; and the experiment has been so successful that butter has this summer been added to the society’s trade: several months ago I learned that half-a-ton of butter was being collected and sold per week, and the amount was being steadily increased. It may well be so; for last year there was imported of butter £48,289,000 worth; of margarine £4,687,000 worth; and of cheese, just under £14,000,000. It may be said that the special foreign cheeses, such as Gruyere and Parmesan, must be imported; but if so-called Pilsener laager beer can be made in Glasgow, as it has long been, if Banbury buns and Eccles cakes are made everywhere, there is no reason why Camembert, Gruyere, Parmesan, Cheddar, Stilton, or Dutch cheese should not be made in Scotland. The great element of cheese is milk, and there are all the time complaints of surplus milk; though in Britain the consumpt of milk per head is very low by comparison with such countries as Sweden or even America.
Tomato culture is now being taken up by farmers, an obvious addition to the old staple crops, in view of the fact that over four million pounds’ worth were imported last year. The Scots tomatoes are said to be the best, and they certainly fetch by much the highest price.
The immense developments possible under a system of organised marketing are indicated by the detailed figures of imports, some of which I have given. We are still invaded by an army of onion vendors. I once visited their hostel in James Street, Aberdeen, and found there were 14 Frenchmen working the county. They seemed to live well; and that they should be able to travel 1oo miles for a day’s work, paying rail fare and expenses, indicates that there is money in onions. There were imported last year over two million pounds worth of this easily grown and profitable crop, of which an acre of ground produces, it is said, up to 1oo tons. At even a penny a lb. this gives a return of £933 6/8 from a single acre.
Before coming to Turriff I spent four happy productive years in the old East Yorkshire town of Cottingham. There the industry was orchard and market gardening, and the process of the seasons could be traced by the produce that appeared on the station platform. Everybody grew apples and pears, which were sold by the stone. Two shillings a stone for pears was considered a high price, though it is less than 2d. a lb. But what then? There was little to do beyond gathering the crop. Owing to fantastic railway rates, the apple crop in Kent is sometimes left to rot on the ground, while foreign apples are carried over sea and inland at less than the cost of carrying flat Kentish apples 20 miles to London. But Yorkshire, and still more Scotland, are on a different footing. I have eaten very nice apples grown out of doors within eight miles of Turriff. These and a thousand times as many could be eaten in the immediate neighbourhood, paying no rail rates at all. We imported over £9,000,000 worth of apples last year. The other night I bought green cooking apples in Turriff at 6d. a lb. - far too much, but rail freight and the profits of the wholesaler would swell the price.
The effect on population of developing the production of food is strikingly illustrated in some figures printed in the Daily Mail with reference to Shenley Farm, Headcorn, Kent, of which the occupant is Lieut.-Colonel Delme Radcliffe. On this farm of 400 acres 6 men were employed previous to Colonel Radcliffe’s occupancy. The number is now increased to 77, with 200 dependents. There are 75 acres of plough-land. Fifteen acres are devoted to pigs, of which 400 are kept. There is accommodation for 1900, and the number kept, it was reported, is to be increased. The sales of pig (I suppose in varying forms - on four legs, and as pork, bacon, and ham) averaged £248 per week. Fifty-two acres are given to poultry. 4280 laying hens are kept, to be increased to 9000. The average production of eggs was 2200 to 2500 daily at the time of reporting - December, 1926. I have seen no further account of this food factory, nor was a balance sheet given; but there is no reason to believe that Colonel Radcliffe was merely plunging or that the farm will not develop according to plan and the accommodation available.
The Standard of Life.
The meaning of this kind of development is that we can keep the people on the land fully employed and enjoying a good standard of comfort. The French market gardener retires with a competency at 55 to 6o, handing over the marais, or garden, to his family. The editor of the Scots Observer, my brilliant friend William Power, on holiday in Norway, found the people of that remote ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’ mainly prosperous farming folk. They cultivated the mountain sides up to the snow-line, and everywhere in the fjords were little piers and jetties where bustling packet boats, belonging to co-operative syndicates of the farmers themselves, called to take up and set down passengers and merchandise. There were, he said, ‘no big hooses or plus fours.’ In other words, the husbandmen kept no grand seigneur, with his swarm of parasites, on two legs and on four. There has been discussion in Parliament recently as to the crippling freight rates imposed by the MacBrayne Line, whose steamers ply between the Clyde and the West Highlands and Islands. The system is being reorganised, thanks to the exposures by the Labour members and the Forward. But it will not yet be organised on the Norwegian principle of ownership by the people who use it.
Those who assume that a farming and pastoral community must needs have a low standard of life overlook the facts. Food prices are high by comparison with the prices ruling in industries out of which high wages and large gross profits are taken. Mr. Henry Ford pays wages of £1 a-day as a minimum, and is himself a millionaire. But a new Ford car may be bought retail for £150, and if Ford receives £120 of that, it will be the outside figure. There are 16 cwts. of metal, wood, rubber, leather, cloth, paint, and upholstery to find for £120. This works out 1/1½ a-lb. Now, the price of a lb. of butter would probably average quite two shillings the year round. But while the cow eats her own food and generates milk automatically, every ounce of the car has to be laboured over by a whole series of workmen, from the miner and the smelter of the metal to the leather-worker who attaches the last strap and button before the car is run out completed,
If agriculture and horticulture were carried on as is the production of motor cars, there is nothing to prevent the Ford standard of life, or a better, being enjoyed by the producers.
The Last Golden Age.
The Golden Age of labour in this country is admitted by all conversant with the facts to have been the 13th to the 15th century. Wages for men were 6d. a-day to 10d. in harvest time. The value of these wages, measured by their purchasing power, as all wages must be, was comparatively high. Professor Thorold Rogers, M.P., ransacked the carefully kept account books of the estate bailiffs employed by monasteries and colleges, and has embodied very complete details as to wages and prices in his books ‘Six Centuries of Work and Wages’ and ‘The Economic Interpretation of History.’ Here is a list of prices current in Merrie England five hundred years ago, with the corresponding figures of to-day taken from the market reports:
Wheat, per quarter - 4s. to 5/4; now 45s.
Barley, do. - 3/2 to 4/10; now 32s. to 37s.
Oats. do. - 1/10 to 2/4; now 24s.
Oxen and Bulls - 12s. to 16s.; now £27 to £33
Calves - 1/4 to 2/8; now £10
Sheep - 1/2 to 1/4; now 57/6
Lambs - 4d. to 8d.; now 31s. to 55s.
Capons - 3d.; now 3s. to 4s.
Chickens - ½d. to 1d.; now 2s. to 3s.
Ducks - 1½d. to 2d.; now 2s. to 3s.
Pigs (Young) - 2½d. to 5d.; now 11s. to 35s.
Rabbits - 2d.; now 1s. to 1/6
Pigeons - 3 a penny; now 1s. to 1/6
Fresh Congers - 4d.; now 15s. to 25s. a stone
Cheese - ½d. per lb.; now 1/4 to 1/10
Honey - 3d. a quart; now 2s. a lb.
Eggs - 25 a penny; now 2s. a dozen
A day’s wage (6d,) would thus buy 12½ dozen eggs. Taking 2s, as a medium present-day price, the normal day’s wage of the fifteenth century labourer, as measured in eggs, would equal in purchasing power 25s. of our money. The life then was mainly agricultural and pastoral; but it was free of the hundred and one wastages of contemporary civilization - no railways, advertising, commercial travellers, banks, insurance offices, stockbrokers, standing fleets and armies, few roads, and just as little need for them, goods being produced for a local market; no publicity experts, no beauty parlours with manicurists and face lifters, no motor buses, et hoc genus omne. The people did get about, but it was on foot and on horse and donkey hack. The word ‘canter’ is derived from the pace at which pilgrims went to Canterbury. A ‘roamer’ was one who had been to Rome. The ‘saunterer’ had travelled slowly through the Saint Terre, or Holy Land, and the surname Palmer has a similar origin, showing that even people in humble life saw the world before there was a Blue Train or a Mauretania. A large part of the traffic upon our roads and railways is pure waste. I used to get a certain typewriting paper sent from London to Turriff, till I learned it was made in Inverurie. Even now I have to get it from Aberdeen, as Tait’s mill sells only in quantities too large for me. I give that as a type of the waste of commercialism, from which they were free in the Middle Ages. The workman’s food and drink were not burdened with tax and transport charges.
Part Two will follow next month...
Sandy had many stories of his own, and he liked to have your full attention when he told them. He would at a pinch interpose his arm between you and your work and say ‘Here!’ If you seemed absorbed in what you were doing, or for some reason not prepared to take him on, he would say, ‘Ye’re shortsome fellahs!’ and clear out.
It was worth while telling him a story. He appreciated it to the full at the moment, and long afterwards would repeat the point of any saying in it.
I once told him of a football match I had witnessed in Peterhead in which the local team was being rather badly beaten by a combination from Aberdeen city. One of the Peterhead men was hurt in the play, and an elderly local fishcurer, chagrinned at the way the match was going, shouted the unchivalrous comment, ‘Tak ’im awa’---ye wunna miss ’im!’ This derisive one our old friend repeated afterwards again and again.
I told him of a new office-boy who was asked by his employer to write out a pro forma invoice to a certain customer. ‘Do you know what that means?’ asked the principal. ‘Yes,’ said the new boy disdainfully. ‘It means he’s a rotter.’ This also was repeated in various connections.
Cran was a very good bowler, and his remarks on the play, equally of rivals and associates, sometimes proved disconcerting, but usually raised a laugh. When his side scored he would shout ‘Coo-ee, coo-ee!’ and execute a little dance. A team of donnish visitors taking play very seriously have been known to be ‘put off their game’ by these demonstrations of a grey-bearded septuagenarian.
A keen and successful card-player, his acceptance of ‘the rigour of the game’ would hardly have come up to Sarah Battle’s standards, and of the levity of some of his comments she would have strongly disapproved. But the levity, by all accounts, did not affect his own play.
At Public Meetings.
It was at public meetings that he was most enjoyable. A Tory himself, if anything, he attended the meetings of all parties, and questions by Cran formed one of the most acceptable features of the proceedings.
In one of the immediate post-War years there was a shortage of Duke of York potatoes so acute that growers were requested by the authorities to use them only as seed. Sandy turned up at a political meeting with a pair of potatoes, and at question time, standing near the platform, he asked the chairman, ‘Could you tell me, sir, which of these potatoes is Duke o’ York?’ The chairman, ‘chancing his hand,’ pointed to a particular tuber. ‘Would you believe me, sir, there’s none o’ them Duke o’ York,’ said the questioner blandly. Needless to say, the aim, apart from the desire to raise a laugh, was to turn to ridicule the idea of an inquisition with respect to seed potatoes.
At a meeting addressed by the other candidate, Sandy asked why Duke of Yorks had been selected for restriction. The candidate said he had no idea. Whereupon the questioner remarked that he supposed he would need to ask the Duke of York himself. This elicited from a man in the audience the suggestion ‘Better speir at the Duchess.’ That there was no Duchess at the time was in nonsensical keeping with the remark that suggested it.
In the General Election immediately following the close of the Great War an idea in favour with the authorities was to put demobilised soldiers on the land, of which certain tracts had been purchased here and there by the Government with that purpose. Of a gentleman-farmer candidate Sandy asked; ‘Would you be in favour, sir, of givin’ every man a change o’ a job, takin’ men away from the job they know and puttin’ them to some other job, the wives to change jobs with their men?’ The candidate sat and laughed, as at a question which answered itself.
There was a slight agitation for a Rat Week, and Sandy’s contribution took a dramatic turn. Rising slowly in a front seat, he produced from somewhere an enormous rat, which he hung suspended by the tail. When the laughter and clamour had subsided he announced the exhibit as ‘Best Turriff fed!’ We had a neighbour who used to put down such quantities of food to his fowls that they and the rats might be seen feeding amicably all day together. It was from this source that Sandy got his specimen.
A Chance Missed.
At a meeting in connection with an election of the local School Management Committee he asked the candidates: ‘Can yon tell me the date o’ the Battle o’ Bannockburn?’ The only lady candidate laughingly answered, ‘1314’; but one of the others suggested that Sandy had missed a stupendous opportunity of selling tombstones owing to his not having been alive at that time.
Sandy used to come in and ask me for likely questions to put. ‘Ay, my kin’ o’ them,’ he would say. At the Hang-the-Kaiser election, it may be recalled, the Government candidates had official coupons. Sandy, as instructed, said: ‘I understand, sir, that you are a coupon candidate. Have you any objection to tellin’ us the number of your coupon, sir?’ ‘Not at all. I’m Number One!’ was the jaunty but rather staggering reply.
On another occasion our friend asked the sitting member: ‘Is that your wife, sir?’ ‘Yes, it is,’ the member laughingly replied. ‘That’s not the same one I saw ye wi’ last time I saw ye,’ was the comment, which might in certain circumstances have been delicate or even dangerous. Fortunately the audience knew all the three persons, and especially the impish questioner.
At one meeting the then Provost, from the chair, referred to the rise in prices. Doing his best to look obtuse and harmless, Cran said eggs had not risen in price, the point of the remark being that the Provost bought eggs on a large scale. ‘Ye surely keep hens, Cran,’ said A Voice. ‘I keep ane; but she’s grouin’ gey aul’,’ was the response. He was very much distressed when he lost her, all the same.
He would say at a public meeting almost anything that he would have said in private. At a largely-attended political gathering, where I was a member of the platform party, he explained an occurrence that had happened, as he said, ’When I was takin’ up His Nibs’s ash-backet,’ I being his nibs.
An Old Feud.
He got a great deal of interest and excitement out of a notorious leaflet issued by W. Lotinga, at one time sports editor of John Bull. Lotinga quarrelled with Horatio Bottomley, his chief, and he issued a broadside, sensationally printed in red and black, in which he accused Bottomley of many crimes and immoralities, and among the rest, withholding the money won by readers in competitions.
It appears the first issue of the leaflet had borne no printer’s name, and Bottomley advertised offering a reward of £50 to anyone who would give him the names of those responsible for the document. Lotinga replied stating that he was the writer, responsible printer, and publisher of the leaflet, and he claimed the reward for the Red Cross funds. No notice being taken, Lotinga instituted proceedings, and the £50 was paid into court.
All this and much more that was sensational was set forth in the edition I had of the leaflet, and Cran thought that to libel a man, and get £50 for doing it, was a record. Bottomley had many admirers at the time, and repeatedly Sandy would dash in, saying, ‘Gie’s Lotinga, will ye? Here’s a Bottomley man!’
The Printed Word.
The present generation is not as much moved by the printed word as was that of my old friend. There is so little of the old potency of leadership and there are so many forms of appeal to both eye and ear that letterpress as the vehicle of ideas has not its former importance and inevitableness; though one still hears of simple folk saying of a statement, ‘It was papered!’ as if that set the seal of absolute validity upon it. But in the same way as the Lotinga circular excited Sandy, so was he tickled by another and much shorter piece of print. On a quarto royal piece of cardboard (12½ by 10¼) lettered and ornamented in black and red, and fitted with eyelets and a red ribbon suspender, the following, which I had just finished, was one day shown to him: -
OUR business has been established ever since 1858. We have been pleasing and displeasing people ever since. We have made money and lost money. We have been cussed and discussed, knocked about, talked about, lied about, held up, robbed, etc., to the end of the chapter. The only reason why we are remaining in business is to see what the ……… will happen next.
He was tickled, and, while passing the tuppence for a copy, he canvassed the various wordies that might, could, should, and would be used to fill the blank space. He altered the date to ‘1878 ‘to suit his own case, and hung up the placard in his little office. He had many leisured callers, mostly not on business, and he must have drawn attention to it, for he often came in for another one, probably giving them away.
With a liking for anything heightened and telling - exaggerated, if you will - his own talk often had a blend of these elements. Coming in one evening from visiting a flower show, his breezy comment was; ‘A lot o’ fine stuff yonder, an’ some o’t groun bi the fowk themsels!’
Working in granite and occasionally marble, as he did, he had no great admiration for the soft local red sandstone. Of it he said; ‘Ay, a fine handy steen: ye can jine’t thegither wi’ a palin’ nail!’
Once he borrowed a board or two from me. Knowing we had proposed to cut them up for firewood, his way of returning the loan was to bring in several armfuls of chopped wood. When I mildly protested that he was giving me too much, he said, ‘No, I wye’t them!’
A local dairy farmer, on returning from a visit to London, was met by Cran, who asked him what was doing there - a large order. The farmer, who also had a turn for hazing and extravaganza, said he had met Lloyd George (then at the height of his power), and the Premier had asked if Sandy Cran had gotten fause teeth yet. Sandy explained he had replied that there was no need for his going to the dentist. ‘The like o’ me that works about kirkyards can easy get a set o’ teeth.’ And presently he added: ‘But na, na. I’ll jist work awa wi’ the droon’t loaf.’
It was said he loved a bit of chaff and blarney over a transaction. I had no experience of that kind with him. But a shopkeeper tells me that he once exclaimed to Sandy, ‘Ye’re a bloomin’ old twister!’ With well-simulated indignation the accused repudiated the allegation; and then, with a complete change of tone, he said, ‘I was nivver fun’ oot ony wye!’
He was allowed a good deal of latitude, even by women, in the stories he told and the remarks he made. One Rabelaisian tale he told was about a man who had dropped his jacket into a midden. He was dredging for the jacket with a rake when someone said he could hardly wear it again even if he found it; it would be ruined. ‘Och,’ said the man, ‘it’s nae the aul’ jaicket I’m carin’ for; but my denner’s in ane o’ the pooches!’ A dainty dame who had had the story at second-hand from one of her own sex, meeting Sandy some time afterwards, asked him with a smile if the man did recover his jacket.
Pride of Ownership.
As we stood looking out of window and talking one morning, an old, grey-bearded pedlar came down the road jauntily, his broad, flat box slung over his back by a broad leather strap, and I remarked that I had seen the box at close quarters, and that, covered with American cloth, and the lid studded all round the edge with brass tacks, it was quite a nobby box. ‘Ay,’ said my friend, ‘he was drinkin’ out about wi’ a younger man ae nicht, an’ they got to words, an’ the young ane was to go for ’im. The aul’ man stood up on his box, an’ said, ‘Ye wouldna strick a man in his ain shop, would ye?’’
A local tale he liked to tell was of an adjutant of volunteers who came to Turriff for a field day which required that he should be on horseback. His mount was a spirited horse usually yoked in a hearse as one of a proud pair. Conscious of his martial paraphernalia, the horse was more than usually lively, and the adjutant was an equestrian so little accomplished that he manifestly felt slightly uneasy at the capering and side-cutting of his charger. The horse was all the more excited from being surrounded by a bevy of eager and voluble boys. ‘Run away, run away!’ said the nervous rider. ‘Did you never before see a warhorse?’ ‘Ay,’ said one ready loon, ‘we’ve seen a waur horse; but we’ve nivver seen a waur rider!’
‘Out of the mouths of babes.’
Sandy’s grandson, who bears the Christian name of Cran, was seated at dinner with his grandparents one day as Mrs. Cran made s0me reference to a man whose name she did not know. ‘It’s yon man that drives Robbie Paiterson’s horse - the horse wi’ the lang white face,’ she explained. This did not meet young Cran’s idea of an explanation (he would have been about seven at the time), and he said slowly as he spooned his broth, ‘A’ horses hiv lang faces. Ye never saw a horse wi’ a roon face!’ A horse with a round face would in truth be rather a freak. The grandfather told that one with some satisfaction.
The old man was in a public office one day where a fellow-countryman of Benito Mussolini was having his income tax return filled up for him by an obliging official, whose business lies in another field. ‘How many children’ he asked. ‘Two - t’ree in a few days,’ said the Italian, holding up three fingers. With an excited turn and a tug at his beard, Sandy said, with shining eyes, ‘Allooance for a kid that’s nae born! Beats a’!’
A Final Flicker.
My old friend had a good deal of physical distress before the end came. While being treated in an Aberdeen nursing home he had a Turriff man as a fellow-patient in the same room, One morning early a maid came in sweeping and moving about at the furniture with the noise and hustle that with some seem to be regarded as a necessary part of such work. Lying in poorish case, Sandy gave a characteristic flicker of the old humour. In sleepy tones he said to his fellow-patient, ‘The jiners is in early this mornin’, Morrisin!’
A Serious Side.
It is the penalty of having a reputation for fun and chaff that you are assumed out of doors not to have a serious side to your nature. As one who saw Cran under varying conditions I was in no danger of sharing that assumption. At a nearby forge he was allowed special privileges in connection with the sharpening of the tools he used - I do not know exactly what privileges - but he conveyed the impression that he did at least some considerable part of the trying smith-work himself. He would come home in the evening very tired – ‘dirt deen’ was how he expressed it; but as he nevertheless came in to see me, I fear I did not fully estimate what this meant to one of his years.
He felt very deeply the loss of his partner in a long and happy married life, and sometimes made confessions which would have surprised those who knew him chiefly as a maker of sport. He was, however, fundamentally cheerful as well as lively, and it would be an error to suggest that there was ever any serious or long-continued reaction from the humour in which he was so well known. But at least everyone has two sides to his character.
Mr. David Parker, the genial local postmaster, tells how one night at ten o’clock Sandy rang his house doorbell and came in to explain, with great penitence, that a complaint he had made about a postal order having gone astray was quite wrong: the order had just turned up among his own papers and he had hurried off at once for fear a postman would be unjustly blamed.
One day I introduced Cran to Dr. William Fergusson, of Banff, towards the end of his long career as a greatly skilled and honoured practitioner. The doctor derived from Ellon, where his father was for many years the Free Church minister. I thought the doctor would have known Sandy; but he had been only a visitor to Ellon during the stonecutter’s stay there, and his memory had to be jogged.
‘Your place was at the back of the Poorhouse, wasn’t it?’ he said.
‘Ay,’ said Sandy, ‘I’m still at the back o’ the Poorhouse; but still outside it!’
‘A character!’ said the doctor, turning to me with a smile. Yes, it did not take long to find that out.
A TREE OF DIVERSE FRUITS.
Since the foregoing pages were printed we have been waiting for a portrait of Sandy; and now that it has arrived it has to be confessed that it does less than justice to the alert original. There was no really up-to-date photo. of the old man, and the trouble taken and the money spent on trying to secure a characterful sketch, on the basis of photos and information supplied, have not been justified by the result.
In the waiting period, however, two additional stories have come to hand.
An Aberdeen correspondent tells how Sandy, buying block granite in the Granite City, would say to the clerk at the yard, ‘Pit anither ten shillin’s on to the accoont, will ye? The wife keeps me short o’ spendin’ money.’
Touching a plum-tree of Sandy’s, the same correspondent tells me of an incident which had oddly slipped my memory. The tree grew on the face of a wall which is high on the garden side, but low on the side next to the road. It produced luscious plums, but one morning bore a very different kind of fruit. A midnight passer-by, tempted by what he had seen in daylight, had leaned down over the wall to help himself, and while so engaged had been suddenly alarmed. In a hasty withdrawal he had left behind his silver watch and chain, which had got entangled in a branch. Sandy came in carrying the lost property, and among other highly-coloured comments, he said, ‘There’s nae mony trees in Turriff that grou watches and chains!’
This wonderful tree is no longer there to tempt to breaches of the Eighth Commandment - or to snare watches and chains.
Arthur Hugh Clough.
Will there be any more Great Poets?
Arthur Hugh Clough was a notable though not a great poet, and considering how many of the qualities he possessed that go to the making of a great poet, it is interesting to speculate as to the unrealised might-have-been. A gentle yet robust soul, admiring the beautiful and the serviceably good, Clough was at the same time capable of noble indignations. The one does not follow the other as a matter of course. There is a guileless gentleness that thinks no evil even when it sees it; that seems to take the evil for granted, and passes it by. Whereas the true poet hates evil as a gratuitous smirch upon the essential goodness of humanity and the ideal social order, and his holy rage becomes vocal and musical. The great poet’s passion is begotten of sorrow and suffering, if not in his own person, then in the sorrow and suffering of others, with which he sympathetically identifies himself. To a young contralto singer the maestro said: ‘You have a beautiful voice: how can I get you to make the full use of it? Have you a sweetheart? If I can get somebody to break your heart, then you’ll sing.’
There does not seem to have been anything to break Clough’s heart. Son of a prosperous cotton merchant of Liverpool, favourite pupil at Rugby of the great Dr. Arnold, brilliant winner of the Balliol scholarship on going to Oxford, fellow and tutor of Oriel College, his cloistered life was tranquil beyond that of men in the rough world. Living through the period of sacerdotal ferment at Oxford in the thirties and forties of the last century, his strong, healthy mind took a deeply sceptical turn, natural enough in the circumstances, but not a fruitful mental attitude. Scepticism is well enough in a critic; though even here the critic of constructive ideals, who cleaves to positive beliefs and aims, is the only fruitful expositor. The great man - poet or other maker - is great because of the things he loves and does, not by reason of his denials and opposition. Greatness is a thing of affirmations and enthusiasms, of definite output to be tested by measures and standards of quantity and quality, not a career of negations and hostility. The sceptic as such is one bereft; the positivist as such is one endowed.
Of course the theological sceptic may be an ardent believer and worshipper in some other direction. Quite often he is so. One cannot help comparing the career of Clough with that of another Oxford poet - William Morris. Regarding the things over which the Puseyites were exercised, Morris was as sceptical as Clough; but Morris rid himself of superstition only that he might throw himself with the greater ardour into the cult of redeeming the lesser arts, and practising with inborn mastery the great art of poetry. He loved the earth and man, and the best work of man’s hands upon the earth, with a love that dwarfed all windy negations into insignificance. Clough was far from insensible to the beauty of the earth: his love of the Scottish highlands and of wild Nature in general is one of the outstanding features of his poetry. But the work of man’s hands does not possess for him the charm and interest which it had for Morris. Of Rome he wrote in ‘Amours de Voyage’ -
Marble I thought thee and brickwork I find thee.
St. Peter’s he found pagan rather than Christian in the spirit which its architecture expressed; and he is rather pleased than otherwise with its clear rationalism as distinguished from the Gothic mystery and grandeur of ‘Freiburg, or Rheims, or Westminster Abbey.’ Morris loved the Gothic, so to say, for its own sake, and apart from any general spiritual significance which grove-like vaulted roof, and vista of pillars, and infinite carved detail might have. The liveliness of his interest, borne of a knowledge of details, would save him from the soul-sick derisiveness of the non-practical man who takes the ensemble for granted and has not a thought to spare for the labours in detail of generations of long-dead craftsmen who were happy in the cunning work of their free, unhasting hands.
It is to be counted unto Clough for righteousness that he jibbed at the donnish seclusion of Oxford life, and resigned his comfortable fellowship. But somewhat of a don he remained; for on leaving Oxford he became for a time the Principal of University Hall, London, and was afterwards an examiner in the Education Office of the Privy Council. This is to have been divorced from reality, from things as distinguished from words, during a lifetime. Pedagogy has its inestimable value to the community and its great compensations to the teacher; but one of its penalties is to be always at school. Kings, judges, asylum attendants, and teachers stand in an abnormal relation to those with whom they associate, and it is greatly to the credit of human nature that the best of them should not only retain much naturalness and sweetness, but that the position should actually develop virtues peculiar to itself, in the case of the teacher patience, fairness, and a whole-hearted admiration for mental power for its own sake. The drawbacks are that while the spirit of youthful cameraderie is lost, the adult attitude of ordinary equality and sympathetic understanding is not always attained.
Clough was better than his circumstances. We are told that he hated political economy for its soullessness, and that during the Irish famine of the forties he published a pamphlet in which he advocated, among other things, the cutting down of donnish luxuries so that money might be spared for the stricken peasantry. His philosophy of plain living and high thinking was, on the showing of his friend F. T. Palgrave, the subject of ‘many a humorous and admirable lesson.’ This biographer continues:-
In all his dealings the most casual observer would have felt, here was a man who loved truth and justice, not coldly and afar off as most, but with passion and intensely; and against what he judged wrong and meanness in high places he fought with an unselfish courage and a spirit which did good to all honest hearts.
This moral passion makes it more difficult to understand how Clough failed of attaining the highest levels of poetry; for his faculty of utterance is undoubted, and he had otherwise many of the characteristics of poetic genius. Thus ‘Golden-Treasury’ Palgrave again says:-
A certain unaptness or want of shrewd rapidity (as shown in his honours examination), a sensitive fairness and chivalrous openness of dealing, marked him rather as the poet who walked the world’s way as a matter of duty, living a life, meanwhile, hidden with higher and holier things, with the friends and books he loved so fondly, with deep solitary thought, with Nature in her wildness and her majesty. Cast on days of change and development, his strong moral impulses threw him into the sphere of warfare; yet he was no ‘born reformer’; was diffident of his own conclusions; had no clean-cut decisive system, nay, thought experience proved the narrowness of such; and was beyond those fetters of ‘logical consistency’ which played so great a part in the controversies of the time.
The first part of that passage outlines some personal characteristics of the great poets; the concluding clauses probably contain the explanation of how Clough failed of the highest achievements in poetry. He was ‘diffident of his own conclusions.’ This is a very engaging characteristic in a friend; but after all, there are some certitudes in life, and we expect the poet to deal with these; to increase, if possible, the number of these; to put the bloom of artistic expression upon new thoughts that are good for the world, stamping them with that hallmark of conviction which a clear and graceful and ‘inevitable’ form of words goes so far to supply.
Donnishness and Poetry.
Doubtless the first quality in a great poet is the faculty of execution, the craftsman’s skill. But how came the skill; of what is it compacted? One feels that behind poetic genius especially there are qualities which we are obliged to regard as primarily moral. To acquire the faculty he must have greatly desired it. He must have been a worshipper of poetry - that is to say, a worshipper of beautiful things and ideas and the beautiful form of words in which they are expressed. In view of the pleasure which poetry gives to the reader or hearer, and considering how little kudos of money or honour the poet receives in comparison with the politician, pugilist, actor, centre-forward, or billiard champion, we must recognise the work of the great poet as less self-regarding than that of most workers for the community. The power to surrender self - or to realise oneself! - and become absorbed in a socially beneficent art must be regarded as essentially moral both in its nature and its consequences. It is because one artist has more of this capacity for self-surrender than another that he becomes a greater artist. And the reason why the academic person - the don - achieves less excellence in poetry than a young actor like Shakespeare, or a young surgeon like Keats, or a young farmer like Burns, is because he comes less in contact with the moving impulses of life than these practical men do, and on the other hand is more blasé on the subject of literary effort of every kind than they are, since he is handling literature daily as a matter of ‘shop.’
But nothing whatever in mere outward circumstances is more than a partial explanation of poetic or any other kind of genius. The rosebush must have a suitable soil and climate in which to unfold its perfect beauty; but it is not the soil or the climate or both together that make it a rosebush. And there is no explanation of genius either.
The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich.
If we did not think very highly of Arthur Hugh Clough and his work we should not have troubled to examine his antecedents or to regret the might have been. He is best known as the author of ‘The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich’; but that is by no means his best poem. The exploits of a company of English students and their tutor in the Highlands form the theme of the ‘Bothie,’ and the poem is all the better remembered because it is written in hexameters - that is, lines of six metrical feet. ‘Amours de Voyage’ is also written in hexameters; so is Longfellow’s ‘Evangeline,’ and both of these are better poems than the Bothie; but when anyone wishes to discuss hexameters it is always the Bothie he refers to. In spite, of its rugged abruptness the Bothie has some fine reaches of poetry, both argumentative and descriptive. Here is a passage, found at a casual opening, which shows something of Clough’s average good quality as descriptive poet:
As at return of tide the total weight of ocean,
Drawn by moon and sun from Labrador and Greenland,
Sets in amain, in the open space betwixt Mull and Scarba,
Heaving, swelling, spreading, the might of the mighty Atlantic;
There into cranny and slit of the rocky, cavernous bottom
Settles down, and with dimples huge the smooth sea surface
Eddies, coils, and whirls; by dangerous Corryvreckan:
So in my soul of souls, through its cells and secret recesses,
Comes back, swelling and spreading, the old democratic fervour.
That wholesome other-regarding feeling is immediately followed by a more self-regarding outburst, in which ‘primal Nature and Beauty’ serve as a mere background to the adorableness of the young student’s own sweetheart. And yet the following lines are unselfish too, in respect that they call our attention to the poetry of the common day and the place of common people in it. This is the very essence of the poet’s function.
But as the light of day enters some populous city,
Shaming away, ere it come, by the chilly day-streak signal,
High and low, the misusers of night, shaming out the gas-lights -
All the great empty streets are flooded with broadening clearness,
Which, withal, by inscrutable simultaneous access
Permeates far and pierces to the very cellars lying in
Narrow high back lane, and court, and alley of alleys:-
He that goes forth to his walks, while speeding to the suburb,
Sees sights only peaceful and pure; as labourers settling
Slowly to work, in their limbs the lingering sweetness of slumber,
Humble market carts coming in, bringing in, not only
Flower, fruit, farm-store, but sounds and sights of the country
Dwelling yet on the sense of the dreamy drivers; soon after
Half-awake servant maids unfastening drowsy shutters,
Up at the windows, or down, letting in the air by the doorway;
Schoolboys, schoolgirls soon, with slate, portfolio, satchel,
Hampered as they haste, those running, these others maidenly tripping;
Early clerk anon turning out to stroll, or it may be
Meet his sweetheart - waiting behind the garden gate there;
Merchant on his grass-plat haply, bareheaded; and now by this time
Little child bringing breakfast to ‘father’ that sits on the timber
There by the scaffolding; see she waits for the can beside him;
Meantime above purer air untarnished of new-lit fires;
So that the whole great wicked artificial civilised fabric -
All its unfurnished houses, lots for sale, and railway outworks –
Seems reaccepted, resumed to Primal Nature and Beauty:-
Such in me, and to me, and on me the love of Elspie.
Both of these citations are from the Bothie - descriptive passages from a poem that is narrative rather than descriptive. Such writing does not show our poet at his best. Clough is a speculative poet, a moralist, first of all, and his art reaches its highest levels when it is least objective, when it deals with principles rather than things, as we shall see. But there is argument, discussion, too, in the Bothie. Thus the Tutor, the grave man Adam, reproves the eager Philip for too boldly criticising the arrangements of society:-
When the armies are set in array and the battle beginning,
Is it well that the soldier whose post is far to the leftward
Says, I will go to the right; it is there I shall do best service?
There is a great Field-Marshal, my friend, who arrays our battalions;
Let us to Providence trust, and abide and work in our stations.
To this the young social critic makes prompt answer in terms that could not well be formulated in our own day, whether in nominal peace time or in time of recognised war:
O that the armies indeed were arrayed! O joy of the onset!
Sound, thou trumpet of God; come forth, Great Cause, to array us.
King and leader, appear! Thy soldiers sorrowing seek thee.
Would that the armies indeed were arrayed. O where is the battle!
Neither battle I see, nor arraying, nor king in Israel,
Only infinite jumble and mess and dislocation,
Backed by a solemn appeal, ‘For God’s sake, not stir there!’
These citations at least show the nature of hexameters as written by Clough. As already said, the Bothie, from which they are quoted, does not reveal our poet at his best. However suitable the hexameter may be to the Greek, we do not know of any really fine hexameters in English. As written by Clough they tend to be choppy and occasionally somewhat clumping. Long as is the line, we are often pulled up at the end abruptly, the cæsura in sound and sense occurring anywhere rather than at the end of the line. The men of Dryden’s day had a theory that every line ought to end at least with a comma. It was an artificial rule; but other things being equal, one would be inclined to say that the best poetry did have more or less of a pause at the end of the line. That the first word of a new clause should occur frequently at the end of a line is not good management. Thus in the ‘Amours de Voyage’ Clough writes:-
I was returning home from St. Peter’s; Murray, as usual,
Under my arm, I remember; had crossed the St. Angelo bridge; and
Moving towards the Condotti, had got to the first barricade, when –
Such lines are, of course, not poetry at all, and one is glad to say that they are not a fair sample of our poet’s quality, even in the hexameters. But they illustrate a fault in the writing of this metre to which others besides Clough are somewhat prone.
The Latest Decalogue.
Many who know nothing of Clough’s work as a whole are familiar with his sarcastic ‘Latest Decalogue,’ which shows how an essentially reverent nature has its own bitterness at the spectacle of professed sacred beliefs lightly held and, during a great part of the time, simply not acted upon at all.
Thou shalt have one God only; who
Would he at the expense of two?
No graven images may be
Worshipped, except the currency;
Swear not at all; for, for thy curse
Thine enemy is none the worse:
At church on Sunday to attend
Will serve to keep the world thy friend:
Honour thy parents; that is, all
From whom advancement may befall:
Thou shall not kill; but need’st not strive
Officiously to keep alive:
Do not adultery commit;
Advantage rarely comes of it:
Thou shalt not steal; an empty feat,
When it’s so lucrative to cheat?
Bear not false witness, let the lie
Have time on its own wings to fly.
Thou shalt not covet, but tradition
Approves all forms of competition.
Where Clough is at his best.
Our poet is at his best in the short pieces where his spirit of contemplative wisdom expresses itself on the higher problems of life and time. The piece headed ‘Qua cursum ventus?’ (Whither goeth the wind?) has found its way into some collections of devotional verse:-
As ships, becalmed at eve, that lay
With canvas drooping, side by side,
Two towers of sail at dawn of day
Are scarce long leagues apart descried;
When fell the night, up sprung the breeze,
And all the darkling hours they plied,
Nor dreamt but each the self-same seas
By each was cleaving, side by side:
E’en so - but why the tale reveal
Of those whom, year by year unchanged,
Brief absence joined anew, to feel
Astounded, soul from soul estranged.
At dead of night their sails were filled,
And onward each rejoicing steered –
Ah, neither blame, for neither willed,
Or wist, what first with dawn appeared!
To veer, how vain! On, onward strain,
Brave barks! In light, in darkness too,
Through winds and tides one compass guides -
To that and your own selves be true.
But O blithe breeze! and O great seas,
Though ne’er, that earliest parting past,
On your wide plain they join again,
Together lead them home at last.
One port, methought, alike they sought,
One purpose hold where’er they fare –
O bounding breeze, O rushing seas!
At last, at last, unite them there!
The picturesque conception which compares two living souls to voyaging ships reflects the theological doubts and strivings which belonged to Clough’s time and surroundings. In matters of speculative belief and thought mankind has a more hopeful and trustful outlook than that which belonged to the middle years of the nineteenth century before the evolution theory came with its immensely widening and cheering account of Nature and man’s ascending place in it.
The essential soundness of Clough’s nature and philosophy are splendidly expressed in the following verses, which we should be inclined to place highest among his writings both as regards their art and their ethics:-
Hope evermore and believe, O man, for e’en as thy thought
So are the things that thou see’st; e’en as thy hope and belief.
Cowardly art thou and timid? they rise to provoke thee against them,
Hast thou courage? enough, see them exulting to yield.
Yea, the rough rock, the dull earth, the wild sea’s furying waters.
(Violent say’st thou and hard, mighty thou think’st to destroy),
All with ineffable longing are waiting their Invader,
All, with one varying voice, call to him, Come and subdue;
Still for their Conqueror call, and but for the joy of being conquered,
(Rapture they will not forego) dare to resist and rebel;
Still, when resisting and raging, in soft undervoice say unto him,
Fear not, retire not, O man; hope evermore and believe.
Go from the east to the west, as the sun and the stars direct thee,
Go with the girdle of man, go and encompass the earth.
Not for the gain of the gold; for the getting, the hoarding, the having,
But for the joy of the deed; but for the Duty to do.
Go with the spiritual life, the higher volition and action,
With the great girdle of God, go and encompass the earth.
Go; say not in thy heart, And what then were it accomplished,
Were the wild impulse allayed, what were the use or the good!
Go; when the instinct is stilled, and when the deed is accomplished,
What thou hast done and shalt do, shall be declared to thee then.
Go with the sun and the stars, and yet evermore in thy spirit
Say to thyself: It is good; yet is there better than it.
This that I see is not all, and this that I do is but little;
Nevertheless it is good, though there is better than it.
These are among the certitudes which it is the poet’s business to command and enforce. Since Clough’s day we have become stronger upon pleasure than upon work; but we may very well have to return to the strenuous life once more, stipulating only that the work shall be worthy and, if possible, pleasant.
Clough, it will be seen, is no mere doubter, ever striving with sphinx riddles in a world out of joint. There is both wit and humour in him. A sample of the humour may be found in the verses on Columbus:-
How in heaven’s name did Columbus get over,
Is a pure wonder to me, I protest.
Cabot and Raleigh too, that well-read rover,
Frobisher, Dampier, Drake and the rest;
Bad enough all the same,
For them that after came;
But in great heaven’s name,
How he should ever think
That on the other brink
Of this wild waste, terra firma should be,
Is a pure wonder, I must say, to me.
How a man should ever hope to get thither,
E’en if he knew there was another side,
But to suppose he should come any whither,
Sailing straight on into chaos untried.
In spite of the motion,
Across the whole ocean,
To stick to the notion
That in some nook or bend
Of a sea without end
He should find North and South America,
Was a pure madness, indeed, I must say.
What if wise men had, as far back as Ptolemy,
Judged that the earth like an orange was round,
None of them ever said, Come along, follow me,
Sail to the West, and the East will be found.
Many a day before
Ever they’d come ashore,
Sadder and wiser men,
They’d have turned back again;
And that he did not, but did cross the sea,
Is a pure wonder, I must say, to me.
The poet had crossed the Atlantic four times as boy and man, and could not fail to be impressed with its immensity.
One more specimen we give as fitting the time, and striking the true manly note which was above all things characteristic of this fine spirit:-
Say not, the struggle nought availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front, the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright.
In view of the long dearth of great poets, it is interesting to speculate if there will ever be a great poet in Britain again. The nineteenth century, with all the elements of the prosaic there were about it, was so prolific of great singers that it is not easy to understand how we should be so destitute of them in these latter days. There is Kipling, William Watson, John Masefield, and, till the other day, there were Mrs. Meynell and Rupert Brooke. Readers may each add a favourite to the list – ‘Sourdough’ Service, Richard le Gallienne, Henry Newbolt, Dr. Bridges, Dora Sigerson - and when all have been added that have the least claim, they make a poor figure by comparison with the poets of any decade we choose of the nineteenth century. The blank is so large and complete that it is no wonder if we should despair of ever again hearing noble numbers from a new poet. The war did not evoke a single notable poem so far as we know. Wars never do. Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade,’ which is not many removes from doggerel, is characteristic war verse.
But we need not despair. Our recent great wealth in poetry deepens our sense of present privation. The romance of the world is not less, nor is its beauty. Human loves and hates run as strong as ever they did. Blood is still red. And the perceptions are not blunted. But writing has become terribly commercial. Byron gave away, right and left, the substantial proceeds of his published poems, declaring, even in the midst of pecuniary embarrassments, that he would never accept money for his poetry; but the well to-do man of to-day clutches at literary gain on the plea that he likes to think that his writings are valued.
Yet the commercialising of literature does not wholly account for the dearth of singing birds. It must be accidental. There have been ages in the history of Britain when poetry was at so low an ebb that the public did not know the meaning of the word, and deliberately turned away from Shakespeare to pay homage to Pope. The obscure men who have held the laureateship in bygone days - men whose very names are unknown to-day, or are not to be connected with a single piece of pleasing verse - prove how often in the past there has been ‘a famine in the land.’
Life is larger and more romantic now than ever it was. Beauty is coming back to the world, even if it be only in the imitation of ancient forms. The immediate future will see great changes in the attitude of the public towards literature and the things of the mind generally. Following the bad example of Britain and America, the world has for long been obsessed with materialities that are immaterial. Books, theories, science, system, have had a bad time in Britain. The man of ideas has been made to feel himself superfluous on the stage of life. The stockbroker and the wholesaler have left their millions, while the poet has had a small pension to keep him out of the poorhouse. In the inevitable recasting of life and its values poetry will come into its own. An educated nation will have less use for mawkish fiction, drab drama, and financiers, and more use for poets, artists, and craftsmen. The poet was of old called a ‘maker,’ and to-morrow is with makers of all sorts. In the greater leisure of the future men will feel they have time to observe and to sing, and they will know there is a public for their songs. With life stripped of its superfluously coarse cares and pre-occupations the natural sentiments will have a better chance. Nor will the great poets of the future be men living apart from their fellows, like Shelley and Byron loafing in Italian solitudes, or secluded Tennyson dawdling in the country, smoking ‘infinite tobacco,’ and more concerned about the stars than the neighbours, but men in touch with the pulsing life of the world, as Shakespeare and Milton and Burns and Whitman were.
There can be little change in the poet’s themes; but a better way of life will beget an art in accordance. The recurring miracles of spring, of day, of new life and young love, the inescapable tragedies, the glories of high debate and dauntless deeds, the majesty of ocean, the sadness of the decaying year, the glamour of eld, the romance of failure, the pain and mystery of death and the grave will still be among the poet’s excitations; for these are the stuff of which life is and always must be made; though too often we live our lives unnoting and unheeding the meaning of events whose deeper significance it is the business of the poet to expound and to celebrate.
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