What’s the matter with John Galt? The author of a whole library of books that were widely read and praised in their day, member of Parliament, Colonial pioneer, friend and biographer of Byron, rival of Sir Walter, first and greatest of the kailyarders, most Scottish of the Scots, poet, politician, playwright, man of business, he has long since been ‘out of print’ except for a single volume in a popular series. Those who would read Galt can do so only in scarce volumes of an old date.
‘The Entail,’ probably Galt’s greatest fiction, was read three times by Scott and three times by Byron who wrote to Lady Blessington that:
There is a quaint humour and observance of character in his novels that interest me very much, and when he chooses to be pathetic he fools one to his best. I assure you’ The Entail’ beguiled me of some portion of watery humours, yclept tears, ‘albeit unused to the melting mood.’
Of this same novel, Dr Carruthers, the editor of the Inverness Courier, wrote with reference to the inimitable Grizzy Hypel, otherwise Leddy Grippy, the chief character in it: -
What exquisite delight she must have afforded our biographer, as coyly and by reluctant degrees her various charms of character unfolded to his imagination! We have her in all relations – from a blooming bride to a reverend grandmother; but ‘age cannot wither her.’ Our author’s fancy seems to have run riot with Grizzy Hypel, and he has ransacked every element to find some name and appropriate attribute to adorn this pet heroine, till she comes at last a perfect counterpart of the lovers of Apelles – a thing compounded of every creature’s best.
Christopher North revelled in characteristically boisterous praise of Galt’s work, and Dr. Moir (‘Delta’) who paid Galt the sincerest compliment of all by imitating his style and choice of subject in ‘Mansie Wauch,’ wrote thus of ‘Sir Andrew Wylie’ and ‘The Entail’ :-
He has shown great ingenuity and readiness in keeping up that sort of interest which arises from accumulation and complication of incident, as well as exhibiting truth and originality of portraiture… Claud Walkinshaw and Witty the Natural are each in his way inimitable, and leave on the mind an impress not easy of obliteration and old Leddy Grippy was pronounced by Lord Byron as surpassed for truth, nature, and no female character since the days of Shakespeare. The Earl of Blessington had a series of pictures painted from scenes in this very striking work; and his copy of the book, which was lent to the author of ‘Childe Harold,’ then resident in Venice, was rendered peculiarly valuable from the number of marginal annotations in the handwriting of the noble poet. ‘The Provost’ may exhibit some bolder sketching, and it may contain some deeper touches of pathos, as well as some more ethereal flashes of imagination, but as a whole, ‘The Entail’ is Mr. Galt’s greatest and most successful work. We are delighted at once with its truthful observations, its naturweld, its pathos, its descriptive prose – witness the storm on the north coast – and with the fine feeling of nature that pervades it, as well as the ingenious adaptation of its parts.
The author on whose work these eulogies were pronounced was born at Irvine, in Ayrshire, on May 2nd 1779. His father was skipper of a West Indiaman, and is spoken of as a kind and genial man. His mother appears to have been a woman of strong personality, with what her son describes as a ‘relish for the ridiculous’ and ‘incomparable occasional Scottish phraseology.’ She was shocked at his ‘love of reading and inactive habits,’ and doubtless often gave expression to the opinion of him which he himself reflects in the character of Colin Mavis, the parish poet of Dalmailing (‘Annals of the Parish,’ 42nd chapter). Colin is described as:
A long soople laddie, who, like all bairns that grow fast and tall, had but little smeddum. He could not be called a dolt, for he was observant and thoughtful, and given to making sagacious questions; but there was a sleepiness about him, especially in the kirk, and he gave, as the master said, but little application to his lessons, so that folk thought that he would turn out a sort of gaunt-at-the-door, more mindful of meat than of work. He was, however, a good-natured lad.
The good minister who is supposed to be writing ‘The Annals’ secures for Colin a post in a merchant’s office,
Where to the surprise of everybody, he proved a wonderful eydent and active lad, and, from less to more, has come at the head of all the clerks, and deep in the confidentials of his employers. But though this was a great satisfaction to me, and to th widow woman his mother, it somehow was not so much to the rest of the parish, who seemed, as it were, angry that poor Colin had not proved himself such a dolt as they had expected and foretold… He has since put out a book, whereby he has angered all those that had foretold he would be a do-nae-good.
Galt was in his early twenties when his first production appeared in Constable’s Edinburgh Magazine and the Greenock Advertiser. In 1804, when he was 25, tall, broad shouldered, dark, and keen, he left Greenock and went to London, with numerous letters of introduction and the manuscript of ‘The Battle of Largs,’ an epic descriptive of the invasion of Scotland by Haco of Norway. The poem was published, but was not a success.
Galt entered into partnership with a younger man, from the same part of Scotland, of the name of M’Lachlan. They were successful beyond expectation; but at the end of three years the failure of other mercantile houses brought them down in spite of all Galt’s resource and courage.
He then entered at Lincoln’s Inn, and a visit to Oxford suggest a Life of Cardinal Wolsey, of which two editions appeared (1812 and 1817)
Byron and Galt.
Having little prospect of being called to the bar for some time, and still less knowledge of where he was to secure briefs, being, for all the alleged Scots clannishness, without friends likely to employ him, he undertook a private embassy to Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor, from which British commerce had been shut out. This was in 1809-10 and in the course of the voyage he met Byron and his friend Hobhouse.
Galt has no very favourable account to give of the poet, who was still young enough to be concerned about his dignity. They met again when Galt was returning from his varied and adventurous journey, and were rather more intimate on the second and subsequent meetings. Galt was later to publish a ‘Life of Lord Byron’ (1830). The explanation of how they did not attain a thoroughly friendly relationship was afterwards generously explained by the poet himself. Writing to the Countess of Blessington in returning her copy of ‘The Entail,’ as already mentioned, he said:
When I knew Galt years ago I was not in a frame of mind to form an impartial opinion of him. His mildness and equanimity struck me even then; but, to say the truth, his manner had not deference enough for my then aristocratical taste, and finding I could not awe him into respect sufficiently profound for my sublime self, either as a peer or as an author, I felt a little grudge towards him which has now completely worn off.
This is a very pleasant reading for the sake of Galt and Byron. Reading Galt’s ‘Autobiography’ – an unsatisfactory book, reluctantly written when he was out of humour and fortune, as a means of raising money and on the solicitation of a publishing firm – one begins to harbour a suspicion that Galt’s misfortunes arose from a certain touchiness on his part. He is transparently honest; but he seems to have rubbed up against a series of singularly perverse and ill-conditioned people, and the mere narrative of his treatment at the hands of these undesirables begets the feeling that the faults could not, surely, have been all on one side. This, however, appears to be an unfair assumption, which is contradicted by the testimony of those who knew him. The facts of his narrative are borne out from other quarters, and as Mr Baillie MacDonald says, in commenting on Galt’s experiences, ‘what need to apologise on behalf of Samson for the number and the behaviour of the Philistines?’ That indeed! The perfectly just, frank, and sincere man of exceptional ability and originality will often have a bad time of it in a world where finesse bears the bell as against straightforward merit. Add to this the dislike or distrust felt towards the literary character.
Galt’s southern journey found record in ‘Voyages and Travels in the years 1809,1810 and 1811,’ published in 1812, and in ‘Letters from the Levant’ issued the following year.
But in spite of his professes belittling of literary work, which he always placed subordinate to ‘business,’ these two books did not represent the sole literary output at this time. The year 1812 saw the publication also of the four tragedies, ‘Maddalow, Agamemnon, Lady MacBeth, Antonia and Clyemnaestra,’ as well as biographies of Admirals Hawke, Byron, and Rodney; and in this same year he became editor of the
Over his Canadian experiences one would hurry rapidly. The company which sent him out was less concerned about doing good in Canada than about its own dividends, whereas Galt regarded himself as a pioneer of civilization, and instead of jobbing profitably in land and making much money for the absentee proprietors, he was scrupulously fair and kind to settlers, and made excellent foundational arrangements which bore fruit in the subsequent course of events, in which his son Sir Thomas Galt bore an honourable part. His reception in Canada was marked from the outset by misunderstandings which it is impossible to see how he could have avoided. At the end of three years he returned to London considerably the loser by the time he had spent in Upper Canada. It is with the man of letters we have to do here.
Galt and Sir Walter.
Galt is sometimes spoken of as an imitator of Scott. They were both Scotsmen, they were contemporaries, Galt was Sir Walter’s enthusiastic admirer, and his frequent references to the Great Magician show that Scott was very much in Galt’s mind. But except that Scottish life and character were largely the themes of both, their types of mind were widely different. Scott was a romanticist, living very much in the past, a collector of old armour and weapons, an aristocrat claiming kin with the Duke of Buccleuch, a poet abandoning himself to reverie over old buildings, and treating his characters with rapid, graphic objectivity. His Mortons and Waverles are figures in a stirring pageant rather than highly individualised human beings with whom we get into intimate touch. Indeed, Scott did not get very closely in touch with them himself. He was not enamoured of his rather wooden heroes. He referred to young Waverley as ‘a sneaking piece of imbecility,’ and declared that if Flora M’Ivor had married him she would have put him down on the mantelpiece as did the wife of the Polish dwarf Count Borrolanski.
Nothing of all this applies to Galt. He lived very much in the present and always had an eye to business. Visiting glorious Rouen – then, as Morris says, ‘a veritable piece of the middle ages’ – Galt could not find ‘anything in the antiquities of the city to me particularly interesting.’ What he was interested in was the cotton industry in the suburb of Deville. As a youth wandering among the hills behind Greenock he evolved plans for bringing additional water supplies to the town. And he describes how a sandbank in the firth opposite Greenock engaged his attention. He explains that the bank was often dry at low water, and he had a cheap and feasible plan for making arable land of it, but that it belonged to the Crown, and was too sacred to be improved. Here speaks the ingenious, practically minded man who in after years was to found the Canadian town of Guelph, cutting through the primitive forest an avenue over seven miles long and two hundred feet wide, through trees standing about 130 feet on either side. Sir Walter makes a trip to the Shetlands, and his impressions and speculations take shape in ‘The Pirate.’ Galt crosses the Atlantic four times and does not seem to have been at all moved by the extended experience of the long and adventurous voyage of those days.
Galt did, indeed, write historical novels. ‘Rothelan’ (1824) deals with the reign of Edward III; ‘The Spaewife’ (1823) relates to the time of James I; ‘Ringan Gilhaize’ (1823) is a story of the Covenanters; and ‘The Wandering Jew, or Travels and Observations of Hareach the Prolonged’ (1820) has the largest of all historical canvases. But these are later writings, whose subjects are suggested, we feel, by the success of Sir Walter in historical fields.
Galt’s Chosen Field.
Galt’s chosen period is the time just preceding his own, his locality the west country, his characters the humble folk of the little towns in which his boyhood and youth had been spent. The ‘Annals of the Parish of Dalmailing,’ though not published till 1822, was written nine years previous – that is to say, in 1813, a year before the appearance of ‘Waverley’ the first of Sir Walter’s novels. The previous year there had been published in Blackwood’s Magazine ‘The Ayrshire Legatees,’ a story told in a series of letters from the Rev Dr. Pringle, his wife, son, and daughter, who have inherited a fortune from a cousin, an Indian colonel, and who go up to London to see to the business in connection with the inheritance. The success of these letters as pourtrayals of the character of the writers and descriptions of the parochial types who come together to hear the letters read, was instantly recognised by Blackwood the publisher, and it was on his recommendation that ‘The Annals of the Parish,’ purporting to be written by the parish minister, the Rev Micah Balwhidder, was unearthed in ‘Blackwood’s Magazine.’
The notice these serials attracted caused them to be attributed to Scott. Bu they have no little resemblance, in style, in topics, or in spirit, to the work of Sir Walter that the hatching of such a theory as to their authorship shows only how little of a critical faculty the average reader possesses.
Galt and Scott have both styles of marked individuality, and Galt’s is really the more marked of the two. But no two styles could be more dissimilar in essence than the hasty, objective, ‘big bow wow’ style of romantic Sir Walter and the sly, leisurely, pawky, minute, analytical style of the realist Galt. Sir Walter’s Scotticisms are unintentional, except when they are dialect speech of the characters. They are the Scotticisms that find their way into the sentences of Scots writers trying to writ English but unconscious of the differences of idiom and term between the speech of North and South Britain. From having resided in England and abroad, Galt was probably more conscious of these differences than Sir Walter.
The Scots Galt writes is deliberately and droll-ly unique. To this day no well-known writer has made so much of the Scottish air and manner of expression. The late S.R.Crockett and Mr John Buchan catch something of the trick; but what was a natural turn with Galt, as being the language of his contemporaries, and especially his own ‘droll, peculiar’ mother, is with later writers a thing overlaid and artificial. It is not that Galt wallows in dialect. Far from it. There is broad Aberdeenshire in George MacDonald’s fictions, and some fairly recognisable Lothians in Stevenson. But Galt’s Scots is not local. He has a copious Scots vocabulary, composed, not of localisms, but of such words as will be found in Jameson’s ‘Dictionary of the Scottish Language’ as being in fairly general use.
I am not of those who pretend that there is such a thing as classic Scots. Burns wrote Ayrshire Scots, Stevenson (as he himself says) ‘the drawling Scots of the Lothians.’’ George MacDonald and William Alexander wrote very pure Aberdeenshire. Galt’s Scots has little or no dialect in it. Sir Walter similarly avoids dialect. But there is a Scots manner of writing, and there are occasional Scots words – ‘galravitching,’ for instance – and Scots expressions, often borrowed from scripture – ‘chambering and wantoning’ occurs to one – that set a stamp of Scottish individuality upon a piece of English writing and Galt has this character to a degree that is nowhere equalled. His best imitator is Dr. Moir in ‘Mannie Wauch.’
What is a Kailyarder?
This is why I call Galt the first of the kailyarders. I do not know that I have ever seen a definition or short description of what a kailyarder is, but I take it the essential feature of the school is its concern with the old-fashioned life of the village or small town where every family had its own garden of simple kitchen stuff and a few homely flowers. An old song represents the younger members of the family as ‘ busy, busy coortin’ in oor kailyard,’ and the singer declares:
… I dinna like the love
That’s written on a caird;
I’d rather hae’t by word o’ mou’
In oor kailyard.
With the primitive housing of the village community, the garden would in any kind of feasible weather, be the natural place of resort both for ‘talking age and whispering lovers.’
This absorption of Galt in the ‘annals of the poor’ is perhaps the reason why he is so largely forgotten. It was a small and petty life. In the ‘Thrums’ series of tales we are invited to smile at its absurdities, its gossip, its spying, and the hopeless contradictions of its outlook. A London journalist, misreading Mr Barrie, long ago visited Kirriemuir expecting to find a community of humourists and overlooking the patent fact that we laugh at and not with Sam’l Todds and Snecky Hobarts. He declared that the inhabitants of Thrums posed as humourists; but the results were ghastly. This was so entirely what he might have expected that one wonders why he went. Mr Barrie no more presented his fellow countrymen as humourists than George Eliot and Thomas Hardy conceive their chaw-bacons as humourists. To laugh with the inventor or discoverer of humour is one thing, and to laugh at unconscious absurdity is something totally different. The simple villager, one foot resting upon the bottom of an upturned pail, solemnly describing what he would say to Queen Victoria and how he would say it, and the simply bystanders solemnly drinking it in, all parties showing that they have no knowledge whatever of what the other world is like, is grotesque enough; but that the characters should be devoid of humour is an essential condition of the characterization. That is what the author means.
It is partly because Galt chose this field that he has been forgotten. The annals of the poor make a drab narrative at best, and often the details are sordid in proportion to the felicity of the picture. Where the tale is illumined by hope, a purpose, and the divine discontent that makes for better thing, as in the works of Dickens, Zola, Mrs Gaskell and Messrs’. Besant and Rice, we can read, and enjoy, and sympathise. But from the hopeless, pruposless photograph of the lives of the poor we turn with dull repulsion. It is not snobbery to dwell upon the pleasant aspects of life.
Galt wrote a novel called ‘The Member: An Autobiography’ (1832) and the same year published ‘The Radical: An Autobiography.’ But Galt was no Radical. In ‘The Member’ he reveals himself as an opponent of Parliamentary Reform and of Free Trade; not averse to the manoevering and sharp practice by which seats were won in those days; giving steady support to the Government in power; and behaving generally as a ‘private member’ – that is to say, a man of no very ardent political views and not much of a partisan, but giving his attention to the ingratiating arts which will please his local supporters and advance local interests as distinguished from general national progress.
We know very little of Galt’s actual political career. His ‘Autobiography’ (1833) is upon all essentials of his life exceedingly obscure, and his political career is never once referred to. We know that he was entrusted with the carrying through of a Canals Bill; and that is exactly the kind of non-party, practical measure that we would associate him with.
A Realist without Hope.
So that Galt is a realist without apparent hope. Thoreau says that to look at Nature with the dry eye of science is like looking at the head of Medusa - it turns the beholder to stone. Something of that applies to the study of the baser aspects of human nature. As Thackeray studied snobbery because he himself was something of a snob and a cynic, and doubtless became more snobbish and cynical from his pursuits, so Galt pictured the life of small communities because in these lay his great, inextinguishable, unaccountable interests. We are told that even as a youth he loved the society of old women, of whom there is always a disproportionately large number of both sexes, in small communities. It was a queer taste, even for a novelist in embryo.
There is a large-minded type of man who comes from the country, and compared with the greater scale and diversity of city life, becomes more urban than the born-and-bred citizen. Stratford was a small town when William Shakespeare left it to become more metropolitan or cosmopolitan than the Londoners themselves. But the man from a small community too often cannot get above the grave disabilities of a youth begun in the atmosphere of pettiness. Critics have commented upon the tendency of men from little towns to dwell upon the unimportant, and, even when they have travelled, to cherish homely thoughts which the transplanted city man sheds.
Plutarch has said ‘We may reasonably expect that those arts by which men gain glory or profit should be neglected and fall into decay in small and obscure towns.’ : Euripedes does not hesitate to declare that ‘the first thing necessary for a perfectly happy man is that he should be born a citizen of some famous city’ ‘ and the Apostle Paul boasted ‘I am a citizen of no mean city.’ If mere citizenship covered the whole ground then nobody should have a look in against the natives of London, Paris, and Rome, whereas Cromwell, Gambetta, and Cincinnatus were all men of rural antecedents. Success is, of course, no test of mental breadth and greatness, since success itself may be the outcome of a certain narrow, cleaving simplicity of mind –the one thing-I-do type.
Anyhow, Galt started out with the powerful backing of the house of Blackwood, and his prestige was ministered to by his Parliamentary career, the ultimate success, in other hands, of his Canadian pioneering , his friendship with Byron, and the absence of competition in the field which he was not the first to cultivate. If in spite of all he is now mostly forgotten, it is not without interest to canvas the reasons why.
It is not because he write slovenly English – Scott wrote slovenly English and is as popular as ever. Galt perpetrates such expressions as ‘An uniformity of style,’ ‘Was awoke,’ ‘An humble,’ and the purely English and not at all Scottish colloquialism ‘Those kind of incidents.’ But the public does not mind, mostly does not notice, that kind of slipshodness.
Nor is it that Galt belittled or even professed to despise literary pursuits. He often wrote such passages as the following: -
With me book-making has always been a secondary pursuit, arising from a facility in composition. I did then think myself qualified to do something more useful than ‘stringing blethers into rhyme,’ or writing clishmaclaves in a closet.
The last clause is not a bad description of what he did do, whether it was his chosen work or not. But it is not necessarily this deprecation of book-making that explains Galt’s drop into obscurity. He may have had too much ‘facility in composition,’ but we do not know whether or not he could have made his books better by taking longer time over them. Shakespeare’s writing was superficially subordinate to his theatrical leseeship; but it is hard to believe that he did not put his best into it. Scott professed to regard literature as a cane rather than a crutch; but others tell us that so far as he was concerned it was the legal work rather than the books that suffered from his divided allegiance.
The Book-Maker v. the ‘Business Man.’
That the making of good books should be regarded as of less value to the world than the work of the merchant or the politician is a view devoid of basis in either economics or sense. The author is a producer of wealth. Instructor, exhorter, reprove, guide, friend, entertainer, he calls something out of the void as truly as does the husbandman who makes two ears of grain grow where none grew before. To every man his metier if you please; when all is said the merchant does but send to our doors that which the producer has made elsewhere, he, the producer, being himself both maker and merchant, since he necessarily sells his wares as well as makes them. The legislator at his best does but facilitate production and the distribution of the product. If Galt felt that his writing was merely the ‘writing of chishmaclavers in a closet’ he did well to be modest about it. But although Burns gave him the first part of the scornful reference – that about ‘stringing blethers into rhyme’ – Burns represented his own better self when he breathed the aspiration that he might be empowered, for Scotland’s sake,
Some usefu’ plan or book to make,
Or sing a sang at least.
Let Galt speak only for himself. He put a low estimate upon the calling of the author, and the world has taken him at his word. It has taken him at his word, however, not because the word was uttered, but because the word in his case represented his conception of values, and the conception doubtless found expression in his books.
Other men thought well of their calling and gave it of their best. Thomas Carlyle wrote slowly and with much travail because he was not readily pleased with easy extempore effects. Stevenson, another fellow-countryman, so far from boasting of ‘facility in composition,’ used to pour contempt on a morning’s copious output as ‘slack journalesy stuff,’ and rewrote it better. Dickens, still popular abroad as at home, used to erase and interline every paragraph of his carefully-written manuscript. Tennyson smoked many pipes over a single line, having the critical capacity to mistrust ‘facility in composition.’
Galt’s World Forbidding.
But when liberal discount has been made on the score of hasty writing, we come back to the original drawback to Galt’s fictions. It is not an attractive world that he introduces us to. The scheming and self-seeking of ‘The Provost,’ the still more sordid scheming and petty ambition of ‘The Entain,’ the absence of any kind of lift or nobility about the ‘Annals’ or the ‘Legatees,’ the sly chicanery of ‘The Member’ may all be very Scottish; but if so they represent aspects of Scottish character which had best be discouraged and lived down. At any rate the Scottish people are apparently not enamoured of the picture of themselves presented in these stories: for they do not read them. And despite the merits of the tales, one cannot pretend to be entirely sorry.
‘The Annals of the Parish,’ by the nature of the case, make more of the bursting of a milldam and the gift of £50 to the kirk-session than they do to the American War or the French Revolution. That is the human nature of small communities. It is the business of literature to correct this absorption in the infinitely little.
Scott’s genius occupies itself with the great events and movements of history, tending to make us better because more understanding citizens. His fictions teach us the relative proportion of things, and we cannot but believe that he wrote of life as he conceived it. If we apply the same test to Galt, we are shut up to the belief that he wrote of the little things because he was the most engrossed by them. Goldsmith, an exile from home, said he ‘dragged at each remove a lengthening chain,’ and the loving care he devoted to the very smallest feature of ‘The Deserted Village,’ his own kindly, distant Lissoy, showed that his heart was there, though his bod, tricked out in garish garb, walked the streets of London, and he associated with men illustrious in literature, politics and art. We cannot but believe that as it was with Goldsmith, so it was with John Galt. The difference lies in the art. The simple beauty and gentle epigrammatic humour of the Irish poet still hold the world in thrall, gentle and simple, abroad as at home. But John Galt is ‘out of print.’ Even the house of Blackwood, with all its command of the market, cannot now find a public for the writer who, under its auspices, had such a vogue in former days. All popular verdicts are not so sound, and Galt may conceivably have a revival; there is a public for work of vastly less merit: but John Galt has had his day, and it is no accident, no freak of taste, no remissness on part of the critics, that have led to his fading into obscurity. Yet he was undoubtedly the first of a school, and has still distinctive merits as a stylist unapproached in the writing of old Scots-English.
The Emigration statistics are such increasingly distressing reading that even Liberal publicists are at last taking the matter up. For more than twenty years some of us have been hammering at the disastrous folly of leaving a rich old country to go to a new and poor one, and at last the ‘practical men’ are beginning to see that all the talk about empire and all the laudation of the ‘pioneers’ and ‘adventurers’ who run away from difficulties at home is proving, and is likely to prove, immensely hurtful to the Homeland, without any corresponding benefit to the new countries.
I have written and spoken so often and over such a long period against this anti-social movement of the population away from civilisation that I would now willingly avoid it. But the evil effects of it are so forced upon one’s notice that I cannot forbear speaking out again. I have just returned from the North of Scotland, where I have been saddened to see the number of empty shops and houses built of the good granite; have been wae to hear of the continued exodus from a fine country, and to see all along the route the nakedness of the land as regards population. Every other day I see busloads of men and women, in the very prime of life and usefulness, being driven from the docks to the railway station, on the way from their German, Russian and Scandinavian homes to the frozen wilds of Canada. Sometimes I travel with these people across country on their way to Liverpool, and to be an hour in their company means that you cannot escape being impressed with their pre-occupation, their amazing pre-occupation with the idea that they are on the way to El Dorado. The idea that life can be economically different in one country as compared with another, the simple faith that one can get away from the rent-taker, the profit-monger, the Black Coast who consumes without producing, who destroys without creating, who demands service without giving it – that idea is always painful to me.
The latest statistics show that in the month of March no fewer than 39,442 British subjects ‘left these shores for places out of Europe, declaring that they intended to take up permanent residence abroad.’ In the same month, significantly enough, 5,250 persons arrived here from ‘places out of Europe,’ to take up ‘permanent residence’ in the United Kingdom, according to their own declaration. This reduces the loss for the month to 34,192. The summer months will probably show an increase in the March figures; but on the one hand the winter months are slacker in the emigration trade, at least so far as Britain is concerned, though the drain of Continental emigration would appear to continue all the year round. The annual loss of population to the United Kingdom will not be less than 300,000 human souls.
And let there be no mistake about the character of those who go. If the wastrels went we should have cause only for rejoicing. But ordinary observation satisfies one that the men who go are in some essential respects just precisely those whom we should be anxious to retain. The March figures show that the total loss was made up as follows: Males 23,573; females, 10,314: children under twelve, 5,555.
By comparison with other months, March showed a large proportion of ‘females.’ Usually the figure shows about three men to one woman. And they are young men and young women.
What do these figures mean? They mean that the Homeland, the centre of the Empire’s life, the centre in a way of the world’s life, is to be increasingly left to the old men and old women and children, the more virile portion of the population draining off to the colonies. These figures mean a loss of national wealth, a loss of national energy, a falling into the ways of old fogeyism. For 300,000 is just about the amount of the excess of births over deaths, and with a decreasing birth-rate and this appalling drain of emigration, we shall doubtless soon see the population of England and Wales showing a decrease, as the population of Ireland has long done, and the population of Scotland is now doing.
At what cost?
If we take the low figure of 300,000 as representing the annual human loss by emigration, and put the consequent money loss at £50 a head (a safe estimate), we are losing £15,000,000 a year of trade for the home market. And it is not fifteen millions in one year and done with. It is fifteen million times fifteen millions in fifteen years. In other words, if the three and a half million people who have emigrated to South Africa, Australia, and Canada within the last fifteen years had stayed at home we should be richer in purchasing power by no less than 225 million pounds; for, remember, it is not women who mostly go, and still less is it children who go. It is men in the prime of their lives and of their value to the community. Think of how much busier all our industries would be with 3 ½ millions of adult male wage-earners and wage-spenders in the country, to be housed, fed, clothed, warmed, shod and amused. Three and a half million is fully one-fourth of the entire wage-earning class. And it must not be forgotten that the children who left home fifteen years ago will now be men and woman, just as most of the 5,555 children who left in March this year will be men and women fifteen years hence.
Is it good to go?
But if it would be a good thing for us that these people should stay, is it a good thing for them that they should go?
One cannot see but that, outside of despotically governed countries, one civilised State is pretty much as good as another. What is perfectly clear is that if wages are high, prices must be in proportion, since labour is a first charge upon all commodities made or services rendered. If anything, prices will tend to be lower, and real wages will tend to be highest, in old countries, where the use of machinery and the organization of labour both inside and outside the factory or workshop have been carried to the highest point. Thus England is an older-settled country than Scotland, and wages are on the whole higher, while the cost of living is less, machinery and competition among capitalists keeping prices down, while organization among the workers keeps wages up.
The economic conditions of Britain are freer and more natural than those of any other country in the world. Protectionist States, including all our colonies, raise the cost of living in the interests of the rings and cartels who wax fat at the expense of the consumer, so that we have had the spectacle of the French and German working classes paying sevenpence a pound for beetroot sugar in the country where it was manufactured, while the same sugar was exported and sold to the Britisher at twopence a pound.
Mr Henry Stead, writing from Melbourne to the ‘Daily News’ says:-
The Tariff makes all imports costly to buy; the high rate of wages ruling throughout the Commonwealth makes local products dear. Until this is realized, the newcomer is amazed to find he must pay such high prices for foodstuffs which are easily produced in Australia, some of which, indeed, she exports in huge quantities. It is galling, for instance to have to pay more for butter in Melbourne than he has been accustomed to pay for the article when it reaches London, 12,000 miles away.
About the only thing which is cheaper in Australia than at home is meat. The mutton is not very tasty: it sells at 6d a lb. The lamb is good and costs 7d the lb. Beef 6d; veal 5d: and pork 8d – all good meat. Fowls are, however, costly, running from 4s to 6s each. Jam, marmalade, tinned fruits, and soap are about the same price in Australia as in England.
Nearly every other foodstuff is dearer than at home – rice 4d the pound, flour 2d the pound. The 1 ½ loaf of England sells for 3 1/2 d, common cheese 9d the pound, potatoes 2dto 4d the pound, lemons 3d each, cabbages 5d each, beetroots 5d each, milk 5d to 6d a quart, eggs 1s 3d a dozen (the very cheapest), lard 1s 4d a pound (and very poor stuff at that) candles 8d the pound, wood fuel 30 s the ton (and hard Australian wood is very heavy), and coal 30s the tone, the best of it much inferior to English coal. There is very little variety in the fish available in Australian ports; it is very expensive and very poor.
Rents are high in Melbourne, and still higher in Sydney. In both cities it is impossible to obtain a house; the rapid growth of Sydney, especially having kept the builders so busy that house-seekers gladly paid rent from the moment digging the foundations was commenced! A seven or eight room villa could not be got for less than £100 per annum, but as the rates here are paid by the landlord, that would mean £80-£85 at home. The laundry, too, is a heavy item in the household budget. Chinese or Japanese laundry will charge 2s for a tablecloth and 6d for a shirt.
How could it be otherwise? If Labour has to have a high wage, how shall the produce of labour be cheap? The capitalist is there to take his profit as well as here, and there as well he wastes money on advertising, sending out travellers, and all the other unnecessary coasts of competitive commerce.
It is true that by means of wages boards and other slavery-regulating pieces of legislation the Australian workman enjoys relatively good conditions, but even this state of affairs cannot long endure without very much more fundamental economic changes than have at yet taken place. Australia is largely living on borrowed money. Mr Froude long ago pointed out that the people of Australia hugged the seaboard; that the interior of the country remained comparatively underdeveloped, the settlers having no liking for agriculture or pastoral work; that harbours and other public works were constructed with borrowed money and in excess of the requirements of actual trade and traffic. This feature of Australian public life has not altered for the better. New South Wales is now borrowing at the rate of £9,000,000 a year, and a few months ago the Sydney Bulletein printed the following piece of editorial candour:
During the year 1912 the Commonwealth went to the bad… to the extent of £14,000,000 solely through not doing enough work to pay for the things it wanted. This is to say, its exports failed, by that amount, to pay for its imports and the interest on its foreign debts. Either it didn’t work long enough hours, or it didn’t work hard enough during its hours of work, or too large a proportion of the community didn’t work at all, or else the community insisted on living on an impossibly scale of lavishness. One or some of these explanations must be correct.
The fact probably is that Australia will never be much of a country for white men. Its climate consists of alternate devastating drought or disasterous floods, and the floods at least obtain in New Zealand as well. Anyhow, these lands cannot meet the elementary test of paying their debts. For an insolvent country to vaunt its advantages, while all the time it is borrowing money from the nations it professes to despise, is on the face of it above impudence – a sort of international confidence trick. A young man settled in one of these colonies – very likely Australia – in writing home to his father and mother for money, used to address them as ‘My dear pay-rents.’ Was that symbolical?
We hear much less of South Africa as a white man’s country, nowadays. There is no war to excuse. South Africa never was and never will be a white man’s country. There are beautiful spots in Natal and Cape Colony; but the veldt is naked, naturally naked; and with its torrid sun, its sudden floods, its unkindly soil scattered thinly upon on flinty bottom, its fevers and its plagues of ticks and other vermin, South Africa cannot hope ever to tempt sensible men from the more kindly latitudes of the green earth.
The fact that the aboriginal inhabitants were and are black shows what Nature would do with any race that settled there long enough. The thick skulls, woolly thatch, deep-set eyes, and greasy black skins of the Kaffir are Nature’s protection against the heat and glare of these naked plains and barren kopjes. The Boers have taken a touch of the tar-brush in the course of a few generations, and a few centuries more of South Africa, with little rejuvenating admixture of European blood, would see Brother Boer become a black man. Nature does not suspend her law of adaptation or her influence of environment to suit imperialist theories. National types have not been evolved by nothing. In spite of the constant stream of immigrants to the United States, the Yankee face, conical head, lank hair, and hairlessness, represent an appreciable approximation to the Red Indian type. Climate, water, the elemental properties of earth and air, are not negligible quantities in their influence on the stock. A black man’s country will remain a black man’s country.
Our Lady of Snows.
But Canada is the favoured field at present. Every Canadian settler becomes an emigration agent. A Scots friend settled in that land of seven months Arctic winter writes of how destitute the country is of the finer fruits of civilization. He has nothing but contempt for its shrieking unidea’d press. He calls it a ‘godless country,’ and inveighs against the persistency of the word ‘dollars’ in all conversations. While he is fully alive to the knowledge that everybody there is ‘on the make,’ and is not enamoured of the civilization thereby produced, he drops into a typical Canadian touch which, as Carlyle says, ‘is significant of much.’ Writing on the last day of March, when we were having rather nice weather in England, he says: -
‘Since the New Year the mercury has not reached the zero point, and for long weeks has been hovering around 1 degree and below. This of coruse, means that you do not care to go out more than is absolutely necessary, nor can you remain out for any length of time. ‘
No Saturday afternoon football there I reckon, and that’s a blessing anyhow. But after these blood-congealing details as to 18 and 20 below zeros the letter amusingly concludes:
Do you ever think seriously of coming out here yourself? There is a splendid opening for men of your profession. I am sure you would make good and, since this is a British colony, the sacrifice of principle would be but infinitesimal.
It is not ‘the sacrifice of principle’ one thinks about, but the tremendous sacrifice of comfort and pleasure. More than most people I can find my pleasure by the ingle nook. But with the temperature at 20 below I fancy there would be little enough pleasure even there. As to ‘openings’ for journalists, I should say it is all opening there. The field is wide, and from all I have seen, unoccupied. A public which is absorbed in the hunt for dollars is not the public for me. I find England and Scotland more than enough materialistic. It is the finer things of life for which one lives. I have enough food, clothes, house-room, thousands of books to read, abundance of good tobacco always handy, a pint of beer for my supper. The theatres and concerts are numerous, and the temperature never anywhere near 20 degrees below zero to prevent one going out at nights. When my work is done there is the ancient walled city of York, with it glorious cathedral, within an hour’s run. Beverley, with its minster and bells is the next station to Cottingham on one hand, and the next station in the other direction is Hull, where there are I know not how many theatres and music halls, besides an art gallery, a public library, and all the stir of a world-wide traffic with the uttermost ends of the earth to be sampled by the banks and quays and landing-stages of the mighty yellow Humber.
‘Make good!’ I have a garden behind both my home and workplace. I walk to my work past market gardens and a beautiful twelfth century church surrounded by immemorial trees and a lovely lawn between the tombstones. When The Gateway is off my hands I can and do break away to Oxford, Cambridge, London, Windsor, Warwick, Whitby, Kent, Chester, the Burns country or Aberdeen. I want to work with my hands among the beloved types and the beautiful books, to write and print my own articles and occasionally to harangue the lieges. All this I can do. I cannot conceive of any change of place that would not be a change for the worse.
One lives, not for bread and butter – he is a poor man who cannot get enough of that – but for the extras. Literature of the best, and leisure to enjoy it; music, good plays and good acting; friends who are not hungry for orders or money; a keen interest in the passing show as reflected in a really good newspaper; pleasant surroundings in the country, but near enough to a great city to be able to run in for the shows; the romance of the old world as embodied in stone-and-lime, stained glass, the best orators, actors and musicians – that is my idea of ‘making good,’ and for me to go to Canada would be to make bad in every one of these respects.
A Matter of Taste.
This question of emigration is a matter of taste. For a great object one might be willing to go into the wilds of Canada for a year or two, as Macaulay went to India to revise the Penal Code. He was tempted by the two thousand a year, and after all India is an interesting country with an ancient civilization to it. With the savings of his four years’ exile he returned to England and settled down to write his history. That had been the programme, and one can understand a man going abroad for such a purpose. But to emigrate with the deliberate purpose of going into ‘permanent residence’ would be an appalling prospect.
England, with its green fields and blossoming hedgerows, its great forms that soar aloft in the quiet countryside amid the jackdaws in the elms and the warbling thrushes on the lawns; its stately homes that show how men might be housed; it’s creeping canal boats and its crawling wagon, with the driver sleeping under the tilt; its snuggling farmsteads and ribbons of yellow road running over the horizon’s edge; its orators, actors, singers, and musicians; it’s busy presses; the varied industries of its people; the individuality of its old towns on their old, man-clustered rivers; the wealth, ease and unhasting leisure and good nature of its people – there, and all the other long results of time are enough for me.
Some of my young men have gone to South Africa, some to Canada, to do inferior work in an inferior civilization. I could understand a provincial printer wishing to go to London, Edinburgh or Oxford to perfect himself in his business and to at least bear a hand in the doing of good work. But some of these youths went to a small border town in South Africa, where a small edition of a country press was printed off on a handpress by a couple of Zulus! The paper itself was pretty much of a collection of country gossip interspersed with advertisements (and blocks) of mangles, bassinettes, mealies, tea and typewriters. One of them said he did not care as long as the money was good! As I said before, it’s all a question of taste – or the want of it. I happen to prefer civilization, good work, decent surroundings and a climate which neither bakes nor freezes one.
Adventure at Home
There are faults and cruelties enough in the old Homeland: but I shall not run away from the task of ameliorating them at the bidding of any man, and especially one who has gathered the wealth of many to himself and who is not going. Let the wastrels and wildbloods, or those who have ‘made a hash of it’ and need to start over again – let them go (if they can no better!) to lands where the flowers have no fragrance, where the birds do not attempt to sing, or where the mercury hovers for months in the neighbourhood of twenty below zero.
‘Go away,’ says Midas. ‘This old country is no place for a man of enterprise and spirit to stay in. There is cheap land; yeas, there is free land, to be got in Canada.’ Under his breath Midas says: ‘You are growing old and a little wiser. You had better clear out before you grow too wise for me. There are plenty of young fools coming on, and they and the dotards and the women and children will serve my turn. You are not doing any good here; and if you wait much longer you will begin to think that I am in the way. Clear out and good luck to you; but hands off my little lot.’ I for one am not going, to leave him in undisputed possession.
What would have happened had Charles the First been a believer in emigration?
Cromwell, Sir Arthur Hazelrig and other Parliament men of spirit, seeing the oppression and the struggle which lay before them, ought to run away from their duty. Seven ships lay in the Thames waiting to take them to the New World. In an evil hour for himself, but a blessed one for the country, Charles forbade the emigration! It cost him his head and altered the whole course of British history. The English Revolution, like the French Revolution, might have been delayed a hundred years if these seven king-quellers had been allowed to emigrate.
Robert Burns was on the point of taking ship for Jamaica when Dr. Blacklock’s praise of the Kilmarnock poems reached him and made him stay to serve Scotland and humanity. Had he gone, he would doubtless have succeeded as a planter and been lost to poetry. There would have been on ‘Edinburgh’ edition, no ‘Tam o’ Shanter,’ no ‘Scots wha hae; for these and many another poem and song of his best were written after his plan of emigration was abandoned.
The Chartist agitation was stifled by the discovery of gold in Australia and the emigration of the ‘agitators.’
What would happen in Russia, what would have happened long ago, had the unhappy subjects of the Czar no constantly open outlet to other lands. Probably the Russian Revolution would have long since taken place. As it is, Russian despotism is tolerated because emigration serves as a safety valve.
The green fields of Britain are empty of human souls. The United Kingdom is becoming a place of sport and antiquarian shows. ‘What would we not give for your churches, your lawns, and your old houses’ say Colonial visitors. One may go down to Scotland by all three routes through hundreds of miles of empty country. From Newcastle to Edinburgh, from Leeds to Edinburgh, from Manchester to Glasgow, the train travels without passing a single great city or notable town on the way, with perhaps the one exception of Preston on the west coast route. Carlisle is a mere railway station. Berwick has a bridge. Dumfries is small, sordid and save for its unhappy memorials of Burns, uninteresting. From Edinburgh to Glasgow on to Dundee and Aberdeen, Scotland is again a place of empty fields and a bracing climate. The population of Britain is huddled into the towns, which, except in Lancashire and Yorkshire, are surrounded by blanks in the map.
With our coal, our iron, our railways, canals and good roads, our many rivers, extensive seaboard, easy distances, profitable fisheries, the fertilising rain, the favoured geographical position, and the skill of our workers, there is plenty of room and a crying need for many times the population that these islands support, and there is abundance of adventure and the worthiest of struggles before the men who will lend a hand to set the house in order. Enterprise needs to begin at home. There is noth9ing a man may do abroad that he cannot do at his own hallan door. There is gold everywhere, says Dooley, if you will dig for it, it must be added, not that you get the fruits of your digging!
To be sent into exile used to be regarded as punishment; and banishment is so regarded today by educated persons who value the comforts and pleasures that only civilization can give. The French officer went to Algeria, is broken hearted till he can return to the amenities of La Patrie, the hub of his universe. The officer who has to live on his pay considers it the greatest of his hardships to have to stew in India. Siberia, which is a sort of European Canada, is a word of horror to the well to do Russian. But, persuaded out of ordinary horse-sense by the prevailing cant about emigration, men sell their business or give up a good post and rush to book a passage to an erstwhile penal settlement, where men were formerly sent only in punishment for their misdeeds. To anyone who appreciates the fine fruits of an ordered and slowly perfected civilization, it is surely a punishment to have to go into the wilderness, leaving behind the tramcars, trains, baths, libraries, the water, gas and electricity laid on; to go to a wilderness where there are no paved footways, no macadamised roads, no bridges, no telephones; where the doctor, the church, the shops are twenty miles distant, where there are no libraries, theatres, art galleries, where a man has to be his own mason, carpenter, blacksmith, veterinary surgeon, butcher, nacker, navvy, and letter and parcel carrier.
A Manufactured Exodus.
The exodus is not a natural movement of population. It is made by advertisement and press puffs, and the great shipping companies are as much dependent on the continuance of this illusion as the armament firms are upon the illusion that national security means ships and guns. Huge showcases of colonial produce are now among the recognised decorations at big railway stations; as if we could not show far finer products than they can! From the hoardings gleam coloured picture-postcards of waving grain and snug farmsteads to lure the simple, credulous man away from his own kind acres and old green hills. Fortunes are being made by the many agents of the emigration pressgang, who rob their own country of its finest asset, its people, while taking good care not to go themselves! The effete old country is good enough for them! If it pays the Colonies so well to secure emigrants, is it not equally to our advantage to induce them to stay and work for the progress and glory of the Homeland, in which their own true wellbeing is involved.
Originally published in 1916 this article forms part of a series of talks given to the Turriff and District Heritage Society in June 2016 as part of the Deveron Press Centenary Celebrations. where the aim is to acquaint (or reaquaint) locals with Leatham's commentary on the local community and its history.
Some friends of ours went to Turriff and got badly beaten on the bowling-green. But that did not spoil their appreciation of the town. ‘I would like to live yonder,’ said a bowler who seemed to speak for all the others. He may have had many desirable features in view. There is first the fine surrounding country. Even Samuel Johnson, scornful as he was regarding the treelessness of the east of Scotland in his day, would have to admit that there was plenty of fine timber in the neighbourhood of Turriff. He would meet, any day, a traction-engine dragging several trunk-laden trucks of the red, odiferous pine.
Rolling ridges of fat corn-land are watered by streams large and small, the chief of which is the Deveron, that flows northward to the Moray Firth. He would see every detached house with trees about it, big or little. Farm-homes of red stone snuggle cosily on the hillsides. The railway touches Turriff in a hollow; but such are the undulations of the ground that many parts of the neighbourhood are still lower than the railway line. The town itself is built on the face of a hill, a black wood standing behind the white chalet-like houses that are now rising one by one along the ridge in the middle distance. Everywhere are the trimmest of trim gardens and velvet lawns. Creepers of vitis, wisteria, clematis, or rambler rose wander over the house-fronts, with sometimes and admixture of pear (and occasionally cherry) bearing fruit as I write, though the pears have not reached the ripe or taken the russet hue that they will show a month hence. All doors stand open; and noting the signs of care and comfort, you wonder how it is done, for there do not seem to be any large businesses about. When you come to pay Turriff prices, and learn about Turriff wages, you well understand some of the mystery.
The condition of the People.
One summer night a painter was working about my place after hours, not because of any importunate demand of mine, but because his employer was busy.
‘I hope you will be paid time and half for this,’ I said.
‘the De’il a fear o’ me!’ said he, with the brusque candour of this part.
‘Sixpence an oor for day time and overtaime baith!’
‘And how long is the working week?’
‘Fifty fowre oors,’ he answered.
‘How long is the apprenticeship?’
‘It’s hardly labourer’s wages. And you’ll have short time in the winter. But it’s your own fault. There’s nothing to be got without combination. At present prices, twenty-seven shillings a week is equal to about eighty shillings in normal times. In Aberdeen the rate will be eightpence or ninepence an hour, with extra for overtime. And everything except house rent is cheaper in the city… Yet I suppose the Aberdeen employer sometimes takes country work from the local people.’
‘Ay,’ said my man briskly. ‘I never could understand what wye they did it; but they dee dee’t.’
It was not difficult to understand; but it was no affair of mine, and I let him resume his whistling. One can’t withhold a certain sympathy for the bottom dog, even when, with a family of eight, he whistles upon sixpence an hour in war-time. It is only common decency to wish to see the people around us well-fed, and well-schooled; and even with gardens, twenty-seven shillings a week, with the sovereign worth less than fourteen shillings, does not exactly represent a standard of comfort for an imperial race.
But Turriff poverty hides itself decently in ‘lanes.’ The town has no slums, no unlet houses, none of the more obvious signs of private vice and civic decay.
A Red Town.
Turriff is different from other Buchan towns in respect that it is built not out of the drab granite which makes Peterhead especially look cold, but of warm red sandstone from the quarry of Ardinn. It suggests the yellow brown brick of English towns; and doubtless will be not less durable.
There are a few sawmills about, and the roughish timber that goes into farmers’ out-houses will be comparatively cheap in the neighbourhood. The result is that where elsewhere they build of brick and roof with slate, in Turriff they use wood and corrugated iron, both painted a red-brown. One wonders what they did here before corrugated iron was made.
A ‘Smart’ Town.
In a guidebook Turriff is amusingly described as ‘a smart town. ‘ What this means would take some defining.
Turriff is ‘smart’ in the sense that its business men are keen. It is also ‘smart’ if you please, in the sense that it is musical, has a choral society, and that if a bazaar falls to be held, palmists attend and rope in fees from the ‘castles in the air’ in the most approved metropolitan style. But from anything I have ever noticed of Turriff men, they take as long to clinch a bargain as other people. There is no undue smartness in their general social, civic and commercial attitude.
In some respects, indeed, Turriff is delightfully old-fashioned. In its High Street the houses are dumped down on the principle of a lightning zigzag or dogs-tooth outline, which the pavement closely follows. The important shops have practically no shop windows. The enormous open shop front of indecent exposure leads to no end of spoiled goods, and must give the shopkeeper somewhat of the feeling of a fish in an aquarium tank. The chary Turriff shopkeeper adheres to the old-fashioned, modest window, scarcely, if at all, bigger than the windows of his house, which is overhead and next door.
The quiet taste is shown also in the manner of signboards. The correct sign is of raised gilt letters, by no means obtrusive in size, and well spread on the house front. Some shops have no sign at all, but a modest gilt-lettered inscription on a fanlight over the door. In these days of splash with paint and print, I like the quiet style of it. If folk are blind they will see you name as readily in decent print as if you filled the landscape. To the blind it matters not how big your letter may be.
All the Frivolities.
Turriff is a business place, but it is also a place where pleasure is not neglected. The Club brings the potent, grave and reverend seigniors together; and seigniors who escape the net of the Club are gathered in the bowling-club, or a curling club, or a Debating Society, or one or other of the associations not exactly innumerable, but at the same time not readily to be enumerated.
The earliest mention of Turriff is in the Book of Deir, where, in 1132 it appears as Turbrand, the seat of a Celtic monastery of which Cormac was abbot. Dermongart [excellent name!] was the ‘ferlughin’ [wielder of the ferule that is}, scribe or teacher of its school. Marjory, that oft quoted daughter of the last Celtic Mormaer of Buchan, who married William Congan. In 1210, and became Countess of Buchan gave the church fee, with its income, four years later, to the monastery of Arbroath. By this time the Celtic monastery had probably ceased to exist. A son of the Congan’s founded an Almshouse at Turreth (what spellers they were in those days) in 1273 for the accommodation of ‘a master, six chaplains, and thirteen poor husbandmen of Buchan.’ The husbandmen of the thirteenth century must have been a tough lot if it required seven ghostly counsellors to keep thirteen of them going with religion; but probably there was plenty of outside work for them that was not contracted for! ‘Some houses,’ says Dr Pratt, ‘called Abbey Land or House of the Refuge’ (Majestie Dieu) mark the site of the Almshouse founded by the Earl of Buchan. ‘The Monks Gate’ (says Mr Moir) is still known by that name.’
A picturesque ruin is all that remains of the later church, which was built by Alexander Lyon, Chanter of Moray (son of the 4th Lord Glamis) who died in 1541 and ‘lyeth buried in the quier of Turreffe’ where a memorial now mostly hidden from view, exhibits his initials ‘A.L.’ and the family name.
Turriff has plenty of ancient history connected with it, albeit that history was chiefly made about the time of the ‘Trubles.’ Again and again in the early part of his narrative Clerk Spalding has occasion to mention it.
For one thing, the first blows of the Covenanting struggle were struck here. One of those blows would appear to have been fatal, and it was dealt from the roof of Towie- Barclay Castle, which stands to-day as peacefully among sylvan surroundings and affords an excellent view of the whole countryside.
The pleasant old tower was anciently the residence of the Tolly-Barclays, a family which provided Russia with a general to baffle and harass Napoleon in the Moscow expedition of 1812. The old house is in a very excellent state of preservation and shows what might have been done with other Buchan castles, given proprietors of means and taste. The wings and outbuildings, long since disappeared, and the old roof, with the topmost story, has also gone. But the tower containing the groined banquestting hall, with other interesting stonework, is still intact and in use, and, under the auspices of the Governors of Gordon’s College, to whom the castle belongs, a scheme of improvements is being carried out with the view of increasing the attractiveness, interest, and utility of the old fortalice. In the dining-hall religious services are held, and other apartments are used as offices and storeplaces. A stone stair gives egress to the flat, asphalted roof, where embrasures innocent of cannon preserve the castellated appearance of the old tower.
An early Barclay took 500 followers from Turriff to the Crusades. Only ten returned. The incident is thus referred to in the Rev Andrew Chalmers’ beautiful and too-little known poem ‘A Red Cross Romance’
Then Ythan heard the call for aid,
This Knight its sons to duty waking,
And he, of Barclay’s house the head,
His castled home forsaking,
Upraised on Turriff’s Temple brae,
The crimson sign of Calvary’s anguish,
And marshalled there a brave array,
The Soldan’s pride to vanquish.’
A spirited description of the battle with the Saracen host concludes:
Then fought the valiant knight alone,
With mighty arm his broadsword sweeping,
As if Jerusalem’s tottering throne
He singly held in keeping.
But pierced by spears in breast and brain,
Uz harpen ducmo* loudly calling,
With banner staff that brake in twain
He slew a foe in falling.
‘Well done,’ the Paynim Sultan cried,
‘No hand shall harm nor tongue deride.
His grave shall be on Tabor’s side,
That banner staff beside him.’
With water from Tiberius Lake
His dust-stained, wounded forehead bathing,
In softest abroad, like snowy flake,
His stately form enswathing.
On levelled spears to Tabor’s brow,
A band of turbaned warriors bore him,
Where softer seven long centuries now
Each rising dawn shines o’er him
*[but a stranger in the earth]
The First Shot.
It was from the roof of Towie-Barclay that the first shot of the Covenanting struggle was fired. On the 8th of May some of the King’s followers appeared in Buchan to beat up against the Covenant. Before coming by way of Turriff they paid a visit to Ellon and tried to get the Laird of Kermuck to abandon the Covenanting cause. The laird was found ‘in his own house of Arduthie,’ and with him were ‘the lairds of Watertown and Auchmacoy, with about eighteen persons.’ Kennedy ‘returned answer he could not perjure himself and leave his covenant. However, says Spalding, ‘they did no more wrong to him, and some went in and drank friendly in his house.’ On the 10th this same company, to the number of eighty horse and sixty foot, came to the place of Towie-Barclay, with the intention of removing from it ‘such arms, muskets, guns, and carabines as the lairds of Delgatie and Towie-Barclay had plundered from the said young laird of Cromartie out of the place of Baolquholly; but it happened the Lord Fraser and Master of Forbes to see their coming, so they manned the house of Towie, closed the yeatts, and shot diverse shot frae the house head where [by] a servant of the Laird of Gight’s was shot, called David Prott. The braons, seeing they could not mend themselves [query, did they try to mend Davy?] left the house, thinking it no vassalage to stay while [until] they were slain, syne without more ado rode their way. ‘But here,’ says Spalding, ‘it is to be marked that this was the first time that blood was drawn since the beginning of the Covenant.
The Raid of Turriff.
The foregoing episode arose out of a Royalist visit. But the Covenanting lords had paid Turriff itself a visit several months previously. There was Trot of Turriff and there was a Raid of Turriff. The Raid was first. It took place on the 14th of February 1639, and the Raider was the Earl of Montrose, a stalwart for the Covenant. According to Spalding, ‘The Earl of Marischall was not there himself, but his men, tenants, and servants of Buchan and Mar was there; and likewise the young Earl of Errol, his men about the number of eight hundred well horsed, well armed gentlemen and on foot together, with buff coats, swords, corslets, jackits, pistols, carbines, hagbutts and other wapins.’ These wapings were snugly and handily planted round the inside of the churchyard walls; and matters being thus comfortably arranged, the heads of the Raid sat down as a committee, acting under the Table of Central Committee of the Covenant, ‘for stenting the country and numbering the men.’ And now came what might have led to serious trouble.
An Armed Reconnaissance.
The Marquis of Huntly had been about this time at the burial of his aunt, the Lady Foveran, and hearing of the sederunt of the committee of Turriff, ‘some evil-disposed person informed him that he durst not be there that day.’ Incensed at this challenge, Huntly mustered his followers to the number of ‘about two thousand brave, well horsed gentlemen and footmen, albeit wanting arms, except sword and shot.’ The marquis advanced upon Turriff on the north-west side, his force in battle array; and, the companies looking to one another, without any kind of offence or injurious words.’ Having made his demonstration and tacitly invited the Covenanters to tred on the tail of his coat, Huntly disbanded his force, and went himself to Forglen. Thus the Raid: now for
The meeting committee had adjourned after the Raid, to meet again at Turriff on the 10th of the month. With this gathering in view, the Covenant party began to assemble by the 13th. Among them were, again, the retainers of Earl Marischal and the Earl of Errol. By this time the Royalist lairds had determined to do more than make a reconnaissance. Some eight hundred of them assembled, and taking out of Strathbogie, the Marquis of Huntly’s place ‘four brazen field pieces,’ they advanced rapidly and quietly upon Turriff, resolved to strike at the Covenanters before these had assembled in full force. By peep of the day on the 14th they had come to the town of Turriff and presently the trumpets gave tongue and the drums began to beat. Says Spalding, ‘The Covenanters, whereof some were sleeping, others drinking and smoking tobacco, others walking up and down, hearing the noise of drums and trumpets, ran to their arms and confusedly to array; and by this time the Covenanters and Anti-Covenanters are in sight of one another in order of battle. There were two shots shot out of the Earl of Errol’s house against the barons, which they quickly answered with two field-pieces, then the Covenanters began on hot service, and the barons also and many musket shot; then the barons shot a field-piece among them, which did no skaith, but frightened the commons; at last another field-piece was discharged, which made them all take flight for fear, they followed the chce.’
There is a slight ambiguity here as to who fired, and which ‘they’ ran and which followed. We know from other sources that the sprinters were the Covenanters.
Spalding continues: ‘The Lord Fraser was said to have foul foldings.’ (Is this seventeeth century for ‘hard lines’? Or does it mean that my lord, like Tam o Shanter, ‘skelpit me through dub and mire? Or what does it mean? In any case, Lord Fraser ‘wan away.’
The Trott was not entirely a harmless affair, nor did all the Covenanting lords have the luck of Lord Fraser, despite his ‘foul foldings.’ A number of the lords, among them Echt and Skene, were taken prisoners, and some were hurt and some slain.
A Person in Trouble.
The minister of Turriff at this time was the Rev. Thomas Mitchell. He had not managed to clear the town, and Spalding relates how the Royalist commanders on their return to Turriff from chasing the Covenanters, ‘fleyed’ Mr Thomas Mitchell. It appears that the Rev Thomas was creeping above the sylling of the churche, with his sonne disguised in a womans habite, whilst the souldiers were discharging volleys of shotte within the churche, and piercing the syling with their bullets in several places.’
It is not clear whether it was the parson or his sonnne who was in ‘a woman’s habite’ – would this mean petticoats? – but it seems tolerably clear that the ‘souldiers’ knew there was game on the upper side of the ‘sylling’ and that the ‘fleying’ was done on purpose.
The streets of Turriff are quiet enough today - except it be Porter Fair – but they must have been fairly lively with ‘three or four shotte’ from ‘feeld pieces’ and ‘a salvo of their muskets’ flying ‘alonge the streets.’
The Covenanting debacle is the less creditable when we learn that they had such commanders as Sir William Keith of Ludwharne, and Sir William Hay of Delgatye, the latter have been ‘bredde at the warre.’
The citizen ‘souldiers’ of today ‘let flee’ their ‘salvoes’ at the Knockiemill range; Lord Erroll’s Lodging no longer give forth artillery fire; the church of St Congan’s has neither ‘sylling’ nor even roof to protect a minister today, and although Turriff has a Castle Street, a Castle Hill and a Castlegreen, it has not now, and apparently never had, an actual Castle. It is a prosaic, prosperous town of shops and banks, of churches and good inns, and a population of over two thousand souls. It has a severely plain market cross, erected near the site of the ancient Crucem de Turriff, is lighted with gas at 6s 10d per 1000 cubic feet; and law-abiding township as it is, is policed by a sergeant and a constable upon whose hands time is reported to hang heavily; though there have been occasions when a certain notorious white cow provided them with more work than they could do.
In Buchan but not of it.
Turriff is in Buchan, but is hardly of it. It is near the border – so near being outside the charmed circle between the Deveron and the Ythan that it runs a narrow squeak of being outside it altogether.
Considering its small size, it is a wonderful centre. As one thinks of its commercial steadiness, the absence of any element of gambling from its trade, and the way in which it feeds and is fed by miles of prosperous country on every side, from which a network of roads converge upon it, of the town itself we may emphatically say, as is said in an inscription on a lintel in one of the wynds running off the High Street:
For Others Thou Was and for Others Thoul Be.
You have downloaded this article from The Gateway Online Magazine, available free with a new edition every month. Please visit the site regularly, tell your friends, and share our information and content as widely as possible. Our work is public domain, and copyright free, but we’d love it if you cite us as the source for what you’re sharing!
Continuing our sojourn in and around the Kailyard, this month we’re tasked with selecting the seeds. If you read Leatham’s piece on Galt elsewhere in this issue, you will note that he claims Galt as ‘The First of the Kailyarders’ but suggests that it is Galt’s gritty rural realism that puts readers off. He describes Galt as ‘A realist without hope.’ I have a certain empathy with this stance. But you have to admit such a claim is worlds away from the contemporary ‘reading’ of Kailyard as sickly sweet sentimental clap trap devoid and divorced from realism. Which variety do we pick? You’d think that if you planted Kail you’d grow kail, but we can see that it’s not obvious what a kail seed looks like, never mind grasp what the final plant will look like. If we don’t know what kale is or what it looks like we’re not going to find the job easy, are we?
Let’s give Leatham his head. His opinion is as valid as any surely? And he’s closer by far to the whole debacle than I am today. To begin with, he gives a good critique of Galt, and it is in terms of his style that he starts the claim to Kailyard.. Forgive me if I seem to be cherrypicking in the kailyard - you can read the whole article HERE
The Scots Galt writes is deliberately and droll-ly unique. To this day no well-known writer has made so much of the Scottish air and manner of expression. The late S.R.Crockett and Mr John Buchan catch something of the trick; but what was a natural turn with Galt, as being the language of his contemporaries, and especially his own ‘droll, peculiar’ mother, is with later writers a thing overlaid and artificial.'
Note that Crockett and Buchan are here mentioned as other exponents of ‘the Scottish air and manner of expression.’ I certainly think there are many connections between Crockett and Buchan (which Buchan might well have tried to deny) and that Leatham seems to think that it is this ‘Scottish air and manner of expression’ which is marked as a main feature of Kailyard. For him, the battle ground of ‘dialect’ and ‘national Scots’ language is key. This very quickly takes us down a path towards Modernism and the ‘creation’ of a national language by the likes of McDiarmid. I won’t go there just now because I don’t want to choke my seeds with weeds before I even plant them. Drunk men addressing thistles is all very well, but I want to keep a pristine planting bed. Focus on the job in hand. And Scots dialect/language was (and again is) a battle ground. I’ll refer to it as the ‘leid’ effect and stick to my own point. Leatham continues:
‘It is not that Galt wallows in dialect. Far from it. There is broad Aberdeenshire in George MacDonald’s fictions, and some fairly recognisable Lothians in Stevenson. But Galt’s Scots is not local. He has a copious Scots vocabulary, composed, not of localisms, but of such words as will be found in Jameson’s ‘Dictionary of the Scottish Language’ as being in fairly general use.
I am not of those who pretend that there is such a thing as classic Scots. Burns wrote Ayrshire Scots, Stevenson (as he himself says) ‘the drawling Scots of the Lothians.’’ George MacDonald and William Alexander wrote very pure Aberdeenshire. Galt’s Scots has little or no dialect in it. Sir Walter similarly avoids dialect. But there is a Scots manner of writing, and there are occasional Scots words – ‘galravitching,’ for instance – and Scots expressions, often borrowed from scripture – ‘chambering and wantoning’ occurs to one – that set a stamp of Scottish individuality upon a piece of English writing and Galt has this character to a degree that is nowhere equalled. His best imitator is Dr. Moir in ‘Mannie Wauch.’
So we can see that Leatham at least thinks that there is both dialect and a ‘Scots way’ of writing. Crockett is often abused for writing ‘dialect’ and certainly the use of ‘dialect’ seems to be one of the standard features attributed to kailyard fiction. I will say that Crockett’s dialect when used, is accurate Gallovidian, there is no tweeness about it and it is realistic not nostalgic. But Crockett also employs ‘scots humour’ which I take to be an important part of what Leatham calls the ‘Scots manner of writing.’ I don’t believe he’s just talking grammar and syntax, I believe he’s talking humour and, dare I say it, emotional depth. But as we dig a bigger and bigger hole, still I cannot quite see the shape of the seed we intend to plant. I am not alone. Leatham feels called upon to consider what a ‘kailyarder’ might actually be. He asks:
'What is a Kailyarder?
This is why I call Galt the first of the kailyarders. I do not know that I have ever seen a definition or short description of what a kailyarder is, but I take it the essential feature of the school is its concern with the old-fashioned life of the village or small town where every family had its own garden of simple kitchen stuff and a few homely flowers.'
Definitions of Kailyard are still hard to come by. Current thinking seems to be that it has become so clichéd a term as to have no more value. (This does not stop the perpetuating of the ‘myth’ of the Kailyard ‘school’ of Barrie, Crockett and MacLaren, which in turn stops people from reading their work and discovering that it is anything but kailyard in terms of the disparaging definitions adopted by the Modernists and their followers.)
But are we beginning to select our seed? Must it be one in which an ‘old-fashioned’ life of the village or small town is the central concern? ‘Old-fashioned’ is a word that does get linked to ‘nostalgia’ (unfairly I contend) and I think it’s overly pejorative for our needs. How about stating that ‘kailyard’ has the focus on the rural rather than the urban, on the natural rather than the ‘civilised’ – or at least shows the tensions between rural and civilisation from a different perspective – perhaps more akin to Romance than Modernism? But there is clearly a realism in both. As the weather shows us, often you don’t get much more ‘real’ than nature. It’s so easy to get bogged down by the detail of definition of words when we try to describe Kailyard. I will simply say – if Kailyard is properly described as writing which is cloylingly sentimental and unreasonably nostalgic – especially if it is simply written to ‘hit’ an audience emotionally in order to get them to put their hands in their pockets – then it is a bad thing.
But if Kailyard simply means writing from the rural perspective then I have no problem about it. Writing about any past is in some sense nostalgic. More important, I suggest, is discovering where the honesty lies. Writing about one’s own experienced community (past or present) is different to ‘constructing’ something for narrative or profit driven purposes. Be that past or present.
The seed I want to plant may grow up into a strong kail plant. And if so, I will be proud of it. It will not be a superfood, or a fashion accessory. It will be an honest, dare one say sonsy, plant which tells of the ground it grew in, reflecting on both good and bad from the perspective of one who was there, who observed, who was nurtured and grew in the very soil of which it smells. There is nothing wrong with that. I have no problem with good wholesome fodder. If those who require Michelin stars and designer dining do not appreciate my plant, that is their problem not mine. I, at least, am happy that the world is big enough for all of us to share. They can leave me in my field to my picnic and I will leave them in their posh restaurant to their tasting menu.
In the ‘marketplace’ of publishing of course, fashion still holds sway. In the early 21st century I’d like to think we are beginning to have enough of a distance from the late 19th century to offer a mature reflection on it. We have moved beyond the knee jerk antipathy of Modernism towards what I might call ‘late Scottish Romance fiction’ and are beginning to see the value of the plant – whether or not we call it kail. I suppose a key issue I keep coming back to is whether we should be ‘proud’ of Kail, or whether we should ‘deny’ the appellation. This is only the same issue that every minority or oppressed group has to wrestle with. Colour, gender, ability all have had (and continue to have) the same issue. Do you find ‘queer’ a term of abuse or of pride? Are people disabled or is it society which disables them? It is in this same sphere that we should be looking at Kailyard as a literary term. I’m not giving you an answer here – just suggesting you think about it.
Barrie is beginning to be dug out of the Kailyard by dint, ironically, of an attempt to ‘place’ him into a Modernist context. Crockett is following him. The case to clear Maclaren has not yet begun. One thing is sure, if you ask around for ‘definitive’ Kailyard texts to discuss, no one seems able to name any but ‘Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush.’ Even this text, set in rural Angus/Perthshire can be ‘read’ a number of ways.
The relationship between reader and writer and the personal experience of both is, I suggest, one important way of defining or understanding the constructed terminology. An urban Modernist perspective is not the most appropriate one for a clear ‘reading’ and understanding of Scottish rural Romance style. how do you compare ‘The Cone Gatherers’ with ‘A Window in Thrums?' or 'Kidnapped’? To try and compare ‘Sentimental Tommy’ or ‘The Dark o’ the Moon’ with ‘Docherty’ is ridiculous. I'm not saying comparison is impossible, or even a bad thing - it depends on what you think you are comparing with what. Comparing ‘The Land of the Leal’ with ‘Rose of the Wilderness’ and ‘A Scots Quair’ or ‘Highland River’ with ‘Kit Kennedy’ can offer some fertile ground. If we take each for what they are rather than trying to shoehorn square pegs into round holes. It also goes without saying that trying to compare poetry with prose is akin to genetically modification of the crop. You may compare MacDiarmid with Burns (Modernism vs Romance) and you may compare Grassic Gibbon with Crockett – incidentally, if you do so you might find a lot more in common than you think – but denigrating Scots Romance fiction from the high ground of Scottish Modernist poetry is simply a pointless endeavour deriving, I suggest more from prejudice than from a positive desire to embrace Scots culture/s.
I am sure there are (as in all types of creative endeavour) many poorly constructed ‘cheap imitations’ of the Kailyard ‘style’ , especially prevalent when it was ‘on the rise’ as a publishing phenomenon. But to dismiss a whole movement/style of fiction as ‘kailyard’ and thereby damn authors who are actually both diverse in their output and creatively pioneering as well as being popular, seems to be throwing any number of babies out with the bathwater. It is not an issue of separating the wheat from the chaff, the weed from the seed, that I’m talking about. I am interested in discovering what our seed is and what it may taste like when it is grown to its best potential. I have no problem with emotion or sentiment or ‘heart’ in my fiction. I do not look at Scotland through the blinkers of the contemporary, or the intellectual or the urban. There is room for all. Rural life may be a minority experience as a reality, but that does not make all rural fiction nostalgic and unreal.
I might say of the kailyard that if, along with Leatham, we suggest that it (at least in terms of Galt) is not popular 'because people do not want to read the lives of the rural poor '–that in itself does not seem to be a criticism of the ‘quality’ of the writing. It suggests simply that fashions change and that where the dominant class or establishment do not value rural life (or writing) it will be pushed out of their self-created canon. The Scottish Literary Renaissance had no time for kail. Even if people wanted to consume it, the fiction was treated the same way as the vegetable for many years. Ironically of course, Kail, now a superfood, is becoming trendy once more. How long before the ‘Kailyard’ fiction follows?
Where we have been told for generations to eat our greens they are good for us, so we have been told not to read ‘Kailyard’ fiction because it is bad for us. We avoid anything that might be tainted with the name as surely as many folk avoid broccoli (or kail/kale).
You will note that Leatham doesn’t say there’s anything wrong with the subject matter of kailyard fiction per se. Others redefine ‘Old fashioned’ as ‘nostalgic’ and then criticise on that misguided definition. The main Modernist argument against ‘so called’ Kailyard is that it is twee and mawkishly sentimental. Leatham does not go along with this. He suggests:
'With the primitive housing of the village community, the garden would in any kind of feasible weather, be the natural place of resort both for ‘talking age and whispering lovers.’
Leatham’s use of the word Kailyard in his article on Galt does not aim to disparage. He then continues to look at the misunderstanding of what we might call ‘Scots humour.’ Barrie, Crockett and Maclaren all suffer from this. As Leatham says:
In the ‘Thrums’ series of tales we are invited to smile at its absurdities, its gossip, its spying, and the hopeless contradictions of its outlook. A London journalist, misreading Mr Barrie, long ago visited Kirriemuir expecting to find a community of humourists and overlooking the patent fact that we laugh at and not with Sam’l Todds and Snecky Hobarts. He declared that the inhabitants of Thrums posed as humourists; but the results were ghastly. This was so entirely what he might have expected that one wonders why he went. Mr Barrie no more presented his fellow countrymen as humourists than George Eliot and Thomas Hardy conceive their chaw-bacons as humourists. To laugh with the inventor or discoverer of humour is one thing, and to laugh at unconscious absurdity is something totally different. The simple villager, one foot resting upon the bottom of an upturned pail, solemnly describing what he would say to Queen Victoria and how he would say it, and the simply bystanders solemnly drinking it in, all parties showing that they have no knowledge whatever of what the other world is like, is grotesque enough; but that the characters should be devoid of humour is an essential condition of the characterization. That is what the author means.
If you don’t get ‘Scots humour’ you will not ‘get’ the work of writers such as Barrie, Crockett and Maclaren any more than if you do not ‘get’ the irony of Austen you will not enjoy her novels. So I suggest we should think of the literary construct ‘kailyard’ as defined by the likes of Millar and denigrated by the likes of McDiarmid, as simply that, a distortion which should now be defunct. It’s time to plant our own seeds, grow and nurture our own tastes and enjoy what we read without having to be told what is good for us.
One thing is certain. There is much more to the kailyard than meets the eye. There is scope for (and the need to) engage with a wholesale re-evaluation of both the term, the ‘school’ and the reasons behind its adoption.
Those engaged in the history of Scottish literature would do well to roll their sleeves up and get digging. It’s time to get down and dirty with the whole concept of Kailyard. From definition to finished work – from seed to plate – we need to question all that we have been told for generations about this neglected (and possibly non-existant) ‘school’ of Scottish writing.
Digging up the Kailyard will take us on a journey into cultural politics – one I suggest which is still relevant to today and to how we as Scots see ourselves. We have been sold a pup. We’ve been told to avoid our greens and fed deep fried Mars Bars for too long. I challenge you to get out into the kailyard.
Next month we'll get back to our Edinburgh Boys...
We know the wind is blowing in the barley and in the boardrooms but we do not know which way the wind is blowing - or at least as I write this we don't. The EU Referendum decision, upon which so much depends, has yet to come - but either way, we will have to learn to live with it. There is no certainty in life (death and taxes excepted) and one thing a study of past authors such as Leatham have taught me is that patterns do tend to repeat and the 'issues' do tend to be similiar if not the same over all the generations. Which does suggest to me that we are those condemned to relive variations of the past because we never seem to learn from them. Or not enough people learn. And those who learn are, like Galt, simply 'realists without hope.' That is my thought for the month. Whatever your political persuasion, or none, whether you vote or don't - something will happen in the wider world and nothing will ever be the same and there's very little any of us can do about it on personal level. If the world could be changed for the better by money or influence do you not think it would have been changed by now? Poverty and hate-crime offer just a couple of examples of where we all claim to want the world to be better but somehow it just never happens. While refugees or migrants suffer and die in their thousands, 'mass' killings and football hooligans in the 'developed' world play out their own personal luxury of 'freedom brought by democracy.' I am brought time and again to question just what 'developed' actually means.
In case you are getting uncomfortable (and let's face it, we really should be very uncomfortable about the state of the world and our own place in it if we have the privilege of even a modest 'lifestyle' in the 'developed' world - which I'm guessing you do if you've the time and energy to read The Gateway - I'll shift focus to the other elephant in our room this month which is The Kailyard. Perhaps the seeds of one lie in the other? Intolerance and prejudice towards authors or styles of literature (or fiction) may seem to be trivial with all that's going on in the world, but they are nevertheless to my mind, indicative of our general malaise - our wrong sightedness.
I am leaving a lot of subtext here for you to read. I deliberately don't want to 'spell it out' because I'd rather you thought - really thought - for yourself about how the issues in Gateway have any relevance to your life and the world as you perceive it. If you can't see any, perhaps you need to learn to look a bit harder. If you can, perhaps you will become, or already are, a realist without hope. Perhaps like me, you would self define as a 'utopian realist without hope.' I don't think I've invented the term but it's not as popular as any of the mass movements be they political or religious (or cultural) we find ourselves swamped with in the world today. Or should I say 'worlds' because I feel daily more convinced that the multiple/possible worlds theory is alive and well - and we are living in the midst of it. We don't need to search for other planets, we have all the worlds we could ever need right here in front of our eyes. The past is a different country, the present is a plethora of worlds and the future - well, if the past and present are anything to go by, it's just going to be another variation of the same. With more extreme weather! Put that in your climate change pipe and smoke it.
The revolt of the provinces against the centre-against London -which we all know vaguely as the "Home Rule" movement, is a phenomenon which time has long since robbed of novelty; and to say that in letters an analogous tendency has been perceptible for some years is to assert a truism. Yet the literary impulse has been more tenacious of life than the political, and seems very far indeed from exhaustion. Scarce a locality in these isles from Land's End to the Moray Firth has lacked a recorder of its darling idiosyncrasies. Cornwall has striven with Galloway to catch the public ear, and Troy Town with Thrums.. In this cry of mingled dialects the Caledonian note has rung out with its customary clearness. The penetrating quality of that modulation is, indeed, rarely to be mistaken in any concert; and it is a fact that Mr. J. M. Barrie is fairly entitled to look upon himself as pars magna, if not pars maxima, of the ·Great Kailyard Movement. If to-day in Scotland hardly the humblest rag is without its study of native life, and if ne'er a Free Kirk probationer, too mode t to aspire to the smug heresies and the complacent latitudinarianism of his teachers, but manfully resolves that he too will storm the world with his Cameos from the Cowcaddens, or his Glimpses of the Goosedubs, it is Mr. Barrie's doing. Nay, his writings are eagerly devoured in England by people who, on the most charitable hypothesis, may possibly understand one word in three of his dialogue: and to the curious superstitions which the Southron breath has long nourished with regard to Scotland must now be added a new group of equally well-grounded beliefs; as, for example, that the Auld Lichts formed a large majority of the people of Scotland, and that the absorbing interest, if not the main occupation, of nine true-born Scotsmen out of ten is chatter about church officers, parleyings about precentors, babble about beadles, and maunderings about manses.
Yet, after all, 'twere the merest churlishness to ignore the admirable qualities which distinguish Mr. Barrie's best work. There are papers in the Auld Licht Idylls and in A Window in Thrums which Galt himself might have been proud to write. And even The Little Minister-that most gallant and ambitious failure-how much rare stuff its pages contain! Whatever else it may be, 'tis readable, and the most careless catches an impression from its scenes which time cannot efface. The book lies not convenient to our hand ; yet the atmosphere of the book returns at the call of memory; and we insensibly review its successive pictures from the beginning, where Mr. Barrie so artfully sets the tone of the story by describing the little minister's boyish recollection of how another minister sang " a mouthful " after giving out the psalm, to the last great tableau (so some esteem it) of all. Yet Mr. Barrie, for all his genius, may, without any grave impropriety, be termed the founder of a special and notable department in the "parochial" school of fiction; though we do not imply that his disciples have all consciously striven to imitate his methods or to attain precisely his ends. They may even assure us, agreeably to the custom of our country, that they never read single line of his composition; and that assurance shall be gladly accepted in the spirit in which it is offered. Nevertheless Mr Barrie is the master; he began to play the game; he whetted the public taste. Of his followers we shall draw attention to two only: Mr. Crockett and Mr. Ian Maclaren. The latter is late in the field, but has achieved, apparently, a measure of success which justifies some notice being taken of his effort . These are, in the meantime (for he threatens more), confined to a single volume bearing the irrelevant title of Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush; and it may suffice to note that its characteristics are practically identical with those of the bulk of Mr. Crockett's work, with this distinction: that Mr. Maclaren has a diseased craving for the pathetic.
He is never really happy save when he is wringing your heart, and a plenteous distillation of plum-tree gum from the eyes, would, we suspect, be his dearest reward.
It is refreshing to turn from his studied pathos to the opportunities of cheerful intercourse which this ''auctorial Bush man has afforded to an admiring and reverent interviewer. Mr. Maclaren, it should seem, is "tall, strongly built, with clean-carved, decisive features, and the steady, alert eyes which testify to a firm will and a perfectly poised nervous organisation." Moreover the interviewer, thanks to him, enjoyed the pleasures of companionship with "some of the best representatives of Liverpool culture," as well as with "the three little lads who made a bright house brighter by their presence," and with (O crowning joy !) "the three tiny tawny dormice of which one of them was the proud proprietor-trustful little creatures who would rest," &c. Here, surely, are credentials sufficient to vouch for a thousand Bonny Brier Bushes, even though "a firm will and a perfectly poised nervous organisation" were not notorious passports to literary fame.
We are not aware what Mr. Crockett's merits may be in the matter of dormice, nor is our ignorance like to be soon enlightened. For, though " it is no trouble to me to talk," as he admits, he adds, -with a dignified determination (all too rare in this tattling age) to baulk the indecent curiosity of the public, "for the future I shall only give interviews occasionally. Three or four a year ought to be sufficient for any purpose which may be served by them." It is comfortable, therefore, to recall that he has been "took up" (in a literary sense) by Mr. Lang; that he had won the good will of the late Mr. Stevenson, whose kindly nature seems to have been incapable of resisting the appeal of anything Scots-from a whaup to a novelist-and to whom Mr. Crockett's "Letter Declaratory" prefixed to the second edition of The Stickit Minister is a model of uneasy familiarity; and finally that (on the interviewer's authority) he "has for years enjoyed the intimate friendship of many of our most eminent writers." Perhaps, if he goes on, he may rival Mr. Ian Maclaren. and be able to give some curious impertinent "the privilege of meeting at his dining table" "some of the best representatives of Penicuik culture."
At all events, he has been "terribly pressed for work both by publishers and editors," and has "better stories in his head than any he has told." It is stale news that the sweetest songs are the songs unsung. We, unluckily, are tied down to what has seen the light. Setting aside Mad Sir Uchtred and the incredible Play-Actress, together with a foolish contribution or two to stillborn Radical compilations, we are to consider him as the author of The Stickit Minister, a collection of short stories, The Lilac Sunbonnet, a bucolic love tale, and The Raiders, a shambling, slovenly romance of adventure, without a single "evidence of design," save the occasional interjection of a perfunctory, "as you shall presently hear."
One limitation of Mr. Crockett's art, be it said at the outset, is so manifest as to require no laboured demonstration. He is hopelessly at sea when dealing with what Mr. Gladstone, conveniently and compendiously, calls the "classes." Lady Grizel in The Raiders, and Winsome's grandmother in the Sunbonnet, are supposed to be old fashioned Scots ladies of gentle blood. ln reality, their speech and behaviour display the refinement of a fish-wife; while the laird's daughter, in The Stickit Minister, who sets her cap at the new parish minister, and endeavours to atone for her father's cold ness by a wholly ultroneous civility, speaks the blameless, though stilted, jargon associated with the virtuous aristocracy in The Family Herald, or in the popular page of that uncompromising realist, Miss Annie Swan. This weakness is shared by Mr. Ian Maclaren, whose excursions into gentility are far from profitable. Mr. Barrie himself - that relentlessly acute observer - is not wholly free from it. Who does not recollect the brisk Stichomythia in The Little Minister? "Are you there, Mackenzie?" "No, Scrymgeour " (or Gemmell, or something). "Have you the lantern, Mackenzie?" "Here it is, Gemmell" (or Scrymgeour). " Where, Mackenzie? " "Just here, Scrymgeour." And so on, every word of which might have been written by a man who had just mastered the important fact that the classes are in the habit of dispensing with the use of those titles of honour (such as "Mr.") which the more punctilious convention of the masses rigidly exacts. The Chroniclers of the Kailyard are ill at ease in the flower garden, though they wisely avoid the glaring errors perpetrated, in the zealous striving for vivid touches, by rash men like Dr. Conan Doyle: who makes a scout tell his master to ring the bell if he wants anything, and describes the tricks at picquet as overlapping one another.
If there is any special excellence which Mr. Crockett's admirers would probably with one voice claim for him, that excellence is humour: "kindly,'' "genial," "racy," "wholesome," "virile" humour, they would doubtless term it, as their manner is. No Scots book, to be sure, is complete without it Here, then, are specimens of his gift. The first one belongs plainly to that well-known and somewhat seedy species of humour -the clerical, and is vastly well for a minister of the Gospel:- "The curse that Richard Maxwell sent back is remembered yet in the hill country, and his descendants mention it with a kind of pride. It was considered as fine a thing as the old man ever did since he dropped profane swearing and took to anathemas from the Psalms -which seed just as well" (Raiders, p. 109). The inspiration of the next sample is not far to seek:- "Once there was a herd of cows in Parton, up Peathill way, that ate a man-chased him and ate him bodily. Their reason was, because the man belonged to a different denomination. But that is not my story" (ibid., p. 183). Here is a fragment of exquisite fancy: -"The subject of her mouth, though a tempting one, we refuse to touch. It has already wrecked three promising reputations" (Sunbonnet, p. 19). And the idyllic flavour of the harlequinade surely lingers about this:- "There was a long silence; then a ringing sound, sudden and sharp, and Ebie Farrish fell inexplicably from the axe-chipped hag-clog, which he had rolled up to sit upon. Ebie had been wondering for more than an hour what would happen if he put his arm round Jess Kissock's waist. He knew now " ibid., p. 80). Mr. Jerome, sure, must writhe with jealousy as he reads the following:- "The first rook sailed slowly overhead. He was seeking the early worm, but that animal thought the rate of mortality high and was staying indoors " ibid., p. 90). But the best is yet to come:- ''Andra Ki sock indicated the culprit once more with the stubby great toe of his left foot. It would have done Ralph too much honour to be pointed at with the hand. Besides, it was a way that Andra had at all times. He indicated persons and things with that part of him which was most convenient at the time. He could point with his elbow stuck sideways at an acute angle in a manner that was distinctly libellous. He could do it menacingly with his head, and the indication contemptuous of his left knee was a triumph. But the finest and most conclusive of all was his great toe as an index-finger of scorn. It stuck out apart from all the others, red and uncompromising, a conclusive affidavit of evil conduct '' (ibid., p. 169). In this masterly combination of delicacy with robustness, Mr. Crockett has fairly surpassed himself. After so mighty an effort, the gracefuland ingenious wit of calling a horse an "equine" and a parish minister the Revd. "Erasmus Teends" falls a little flat; and even "that upper end which is devoted to imports" seems a less charming and happy periphrasis to denote a cow's mouth than it might had it proceeded from a less Titanic author. For the rest, the episode of the wooing of Saunders Mowdiewort (more "wut"!) is mere dulness ; Andra Kissock's progress to school is as pure as Barrie its author can brew; and the few good stories which enliven Mr. Crockett's pages have already amused the world in Dean Ramsay's collection. Mr. Ian Maclaren, too, would fain be a merry as well as a pathetic man, and it is curious to observe how accurately he has caught the mechanical trick of the thing:- "Domsie and Whinnie discussed the weather with much detail before they came in sight of George, but it was clear that Domsie was charged with something weighty, and even Whinnie felt that his own treatment of the turnip crop was lacking in repose " ( B.B.B., p. 12).
Mark the fidelity to the Barrie convention:-" It was good manners in Drumtochty to feign amazement at the sight of a letter, and to insist that it must be intended for some other person. When it was finally forced upon one, you (sic) examined the hand writing at various angles and speculated about the writer. Some felt emboldened, after these precautions, to open the letter, but this haste was considered indecent"
( ibid.. p. 21). "The ordinary course of life, with fine air and contented minds, was to do a full share of work till seventy, and then to look after 'orra jobs' well into the eighties, and to 'slip awa' within sight of ninety. Persons above ninety were understood to be acquitting themselves with credit, and assumed airs of authority, brushing aside the opinions of seventy as immature, and confirming their conclusions with illustrations drawn from the end of last century" (ibid., p. 23 I ). So long as the humour is of this artificial kind, with a bit from Mr. Dickens here, a bit from Mr. Barrie there, a bit from Mr. Kipling somewhere else, and a dash of the "new" humorists everywhere, Mr. Ian Maclaren gallantly holds his own. But, unluckily, he seems to have no stomach for rollicking; he is incapable of those flights on broad and manly pinion (so to speak ) in which Mr. Crockett revels; he rises to no lyric ecstasy at the thought of a stubby, red, uncompromising, great toe. In other matters, Mr. Crockett may be strained or laboured; but give him a sore "dowp " and he unbends at once; add a man sitting down on a prickly whin and he is unaffectedly joyous and gleeful; while as for the consummate jest of a wife correcting her husband with a "besom shank''-why, it is so excruciating that there is nought to be done save to roar with mirth, and to lug it in, and dwell lovingly upon it, on every possible occasion. Such are the simple and primitive diversions of a Free Kirk minister.
But even Mr. Crockett is not always bending the bow of "manly" humour. He has his serious- his very serious-moments; he has his strenuous attempts at fine writing. We confine ourselves to the Sunbonnet, and we encounter not a few masterstrokes: thoroughly "worked up," no doubt, to borrow his language to the interviewer. "Never before had the youth come within that delicate aura of charm which radiates from the bursting bud of the finest womanhood. Ralph Peden had kept his affections ascetically virgin. His nature's finest juices had gone to feed the brain, yet all the time his heart had waited tremulously expectant of the revealing of a mystery. Winsome Charteris had come so suddenly into his life, that the universe seemed new-born in a day. He sprang at once from the thought of woman as only an unexplained part of the creation, to the conception of her (meaning, thereby, Winsome Charteris) as an angel who had not quite lost her first estate " (p. S I ). What subtle psychological analysis! No wonder Ralph went northward "wearing Winsome's parting kiss on his brow like an insignia (sic) of knighthood ! No wonder “the first authentic call of the spring time for her” the song of the thrush, to wit- "coursed through her blood, quickened her pulse, and enlarged the pupil of her eye till the clear germander blue of the iris grew moist and dark"! There's physiological analysis, equally irresistible! But our ''auctorial Sunbonnet-maker " is no less successful in depicting the beauties of nature. ''The world paused, finger on lip, saying, 'Hush!' to Winsome as she stepped over the threshold into the serenely breathing morning air, while the illimitable sky ran farther and farther back as the angels drew up the blinds from the windows of heaven. As the angels drew up the blinds from the windows of heaven! Chaste, touching, and domestic simile! Only to be equalled by the comparison of a sweetheart's laughter to "a bell ringing for the fairies' breakfast"! Why not a gong booming for the fairies' boiled eggs and finnon haddocks? Mark, too, with what unassuming command of technicalities Mr. Crockett handles the matchless colouring of nature. "The indigo-grey of the sky was receding, and tinging towards the east with an imperceptibly graded lavender which merged beyond the long shaggy outline of the pine ridge into a wash of pale lemon yellow " (p. 108). "And he stood watching Winsome Charteris who looked past him into a distance, moistly washed with tender ultramarine ash" (p. 115). "The sun shone on the russet tassels of the larches, and the deep sienna boles of the Scotch firs. The clouds which rolled fleecy and white in piles and crenulated bastions of cumulus, lighted the eyes of man and maid as they went onward noiselessly over the crisp pi ny carpet of fallen fir-needles" (p. r 16). We know not whether more to admire these crenulated bastions of prave 'orts, or that complete mastery of the terminology of the child's paint-box, which enables an author thus to polish off the beauties of hill and dale.
Both Mr. Crockett's humour, however, and Mr. Crockett's fine writing might be excused or palliated: and we had let him pass on his road, a' God's name, to popularity and pence, but for the manner in which he has seen proper to handle what Mr. Jowett described as "that illusion of the feelings commonly called love." We are well aware that at the present day considerable license is granted to an author in this regard. He may record words, and may portray behaviour, which would have shocked our grandfathers, though he could scarce transgress the ample limits permitted by the loose code of morals which prevailed a century ago. If the present age imagines that it has been the first to betray a taste for "warm" plays and "warmer " novels (we thank thee, Mrs. Norris, for the word!), the present age is very much mistaken. But the very fact that authors are allowed a free hand imposes upon them a doubly stringent obligation to certain literary virtues: to tact, to reticence, to good feeling, to discretion. This obligation Mr. Crockett consistently ignores; to these virtues he is a total stranger. He touches courtship and love-making but to disfigure them with his heavy hand; he opens the sluices to an irresistible flood of nauseous and nasty philandering. We do not particularly object to being told that ''Winsome's light summer dress touched his hand and thrilled the lad to his remotest nerve centres"; or that ''little ticking pulses drummed in her head," and "a great yearning came to her to let herself drift out on a sea of love"; or that "the dammed-back blood-surge drave thundering in his ears"; or that "strange, nervous constrictions played at 'cat's cradle' about their hearts"; or even that "maidenly tremors, delicious in their uncertainty, coursed along her limbs and through all her being." Such modes of expression, clumsy and inartistic though they be, are but the slang of the day; like the reiteration in the Sunbonnet, of the fact that the female villain had Pictish ancestors. But we turn to The Raiders, Chapter XXX IV, and we read: "She turned and came near to me and stood very close against me in a way that was sweet to me, but I knew that she did not wish me to touch her then, but only to stand so: Thus we remained a considerable while till my heart became very full, aching within me to comfort her. Which at last I did with satisfaction to both of us, and the time sped… So then we looked about for a place to sit down, for it behoved us to talk together, as it were, for the last time (for at least a night and a day). There was but one great chair in all that room, though there was much tapestry and some high tables and corner aumries. So we sat down on it with great content… 'Hae ye a' the conserves lickit aff the sweetcake yet ?' "-[It was the high-bred Lady Grizel who spake]-" cried a voice from the door, which opened just a little ajar…Now we sat in one chair, and though I do not consider myself a clever fellow and I had no experience, that was good enough for me. There is nothing to report of the next half-hour. 'It's my turn, May,' said Lady Grizel, who had been coughing at the door for five minutes. 'I'm whiles ta'en wi' the hoast, but I like a bit quiet hour at e'en wi' a blythe lad as weel as ony.' '' This is pretty well, but nothing to what you find in the Sunbonnet, Mr. Crockett's favourite book, in which "much of his own life is bound up," and which his nature's finest juices have, no doubt, gone to feed. Here are some passages extracted from Chapter XXX III of that work :-"Then because there is nothing more true and trustful than the heart of a good woman, or more surely an inheritance from the maid-mother of the sinless garden than her way of showing that she gives her all, Winsome laid her either hand on her lover's shoulders and drew his face down to hers, laying her lips to his of her own free will and accord, without shame in giving or coquetry of refusal, In that full kiss of first surrender which a woman may give once but never twice in her life. ….Before they had gone a mile the first strangeness had worn off. . . . At this point they paused. Exercise in the early morning is fatiguing. Only the unique character of these refreshing experiences induces the historian to put them on record. . . . . Sitting on a wind-overturned tree trunk they entered upon their position with great practicality. Nature, with an unusual want of foresight, had neglected to provide a back to this sylvan seat, so Ralph attended to the matter himself. This shows that self-help is a virtue to be encouraged. . . . . 'I think, dear,' said Ralph, 'you must after this make your letters so full of your love that there can be no mistake whom they are intended for.' 'I mean to,' said Winsome frankly. There was also some fine scenery at this point… The scenery again asserted its claim to attention. Observation enlarges the mind and is, therefore, pleasant. . . . . ' Your lips-' began Ralph, and paused. 'No, six is quite enough,' said Winsome after a while, mysteriously. Now she had only two and Ralph only two, yet with little grammar and no sense at all she said 'Six is enough.' "Here, in Mr. Squeers's immortal phrase, here's richness! Here's a perpetual flow of juicy bad-breeding which no American Evangelist ever surpassed! You can hear the Young Men's Sabbath Morning Fellowship Association snigger and the Young Women's Guild giggle as you read. The rest of Mr. Crockett's faults -the cynically careless and lazy construction of his plots, the sameness of his characters, his failure to create a single fictitious being neither ridiculous nor contemptible- everything, in a word, fades from the mind, overwhelmed in this slough of knowing archness, of bottomless vulgarity. It is with a sense of relief that one passes from such trash to the clean and honest wit of Fielding and of Congreve.
The sad case of Mr. Crockett seems, in conclusion, to suggest two observations. The first is that, as we know and have attempted to depict him, he is almost wholly the result of the modern method of reviewing. Not only has he enjoyed the benefit of the ingenious system of log-rolling consistently practised by a portion of the so-called religious Press, but many other newspapers and reviews have conspired to overwhelm him with fulsome and exaggerated flattery. If the critics, instead of telling him that The Stickit Minister was "full of grace and charm," and that its stories were "racy of the soil, told with a masterly command of dialect and national characteristics"; instead of declaring that The Raiders was ''a thoroughly enjoyable novel, full of frcsh, original, and accurate pictures of life long gone by," that it abounded in "delightful incident and charming description," and that its author, “the Barrie of yesterday, is to-day a second Stevenson-and no bad second"; instead of slobbering over The Lilac Sunbonnet as "a charming love-story, bright, tender, and vivacious, marked by distinction of treatment, and steeped in the sweetness and freshness. of the open air," or as "a love-story of the vintage of Eden, strong and sweet, and in the best sense elevating"; instead of asserting that "Nature's secrets hang on the very tip of Mr. Crockett's pen," and averring that they (the critics) rise from its perusal, their pulses ''throbbing with a new sense of life, and with a fresh assurance that 'God's in His Heaven, All's right with the world ' -If, we say, instead of raving thus, the critics had been able and willing to do their plain duty, to detect and point out the man y glaring faults, to castigate as they deserved the offences against good taste, to persuade to the use of an equable and pleasant style, and to deter from flippancy, from ''word-painting," and from clumsy and stupid meddling with the passion, all might have been comparatively well. A certain rude, undisciplined vigour which we can occasionally to detect might have been turned into a proper channel, and Mr. Crockett might this day have been doing excellent and honest work in a less ambitious sphere in place of grating on one's nerves in every syllable he writes. But such regrets are now vain, for Mr. Crockett, forsaking that ministry to which he was ordained by the laying on of hands by the Presbytery, is persuaded that he has a "call” to literature. A call to “success,'' very likely, or to making money, or to the intimate friendship of eminent literary ''cy’arkters"; but not, we take leave to assure him, a call to literature. Not of such as he, at all events, are the chosen. The same torrent of injudicious praise is being poured over Mr. Ian Maclaren, but, though its result will infallibly be to confirm him in his present courses, he discovers no vestige of that natural ability of a sort which makes one rather regret in Mr. Crockett's case that thorns have sprung up and choked it.
In the second, and last, place, it is worthwhile to pause and contemplate the Great Dissenting Interest taking to the belles lettres. It has long groaned under the aspersions of that sneering "buddy," Mr. Matthew Arnold, and has been endeavouring to acquire education and "culture " as expeditionly as possible. How valuable it must have found the soi-disant University Extension Scheme as a means of acquiring the appearance of knowledge without the reality, it is needless to point out. But man cannot live by penny-readings alone, and the Great Dissenting Interest has begun to batten upon fiction. The Dissenters have for some time, indeed, almost openly abandoned the doctrinal principles of their forefathers, which alone entitled their ethical views to respect, and, though they retain the snuffle and the whine of Tribulation Spintext, they seem rooted and grounded upon nothing save a bitter hatred of the Church of England. What, therefore, the ultimate consequences of the spread of fiction among them will be it were hazardous to speculate. But we have a shrewd suspicion that if this new wine be poured into the old Bottles, there can be but one result: the old Bottles will burst.
]. H. MILLA R.
To find past articles please use monthly archives.