No Revolution ever rises above the intellectual level of those who make it, and little is gained where one false notion supplants another. But we must some day, at last, and forever, cross the line between Nonsense and Common Sense. And on that day we shall pass from Class Paternalism, originally derived from fetish fiction in times of universal ignorance, to human brotherhood in accordance with the nature of things and our growing knowledge of it; from Political Government to Industrial Administration; from Competition in Individualism to Individuality in Co-operation; from War and Despotism, in any form, to Peace and Liberty - THOMAS CARLYLE.
The great series of events which form the First French Revolution are not to be covered by any one formula, although attempts to do so are often made. Politically the Revolution represented the triumph of the Third Estate - the Middle Class.
Economically the Revolution marks the fall of feudalism in France. Morally the Revolution was the tragedy of oligarchic prodigality and inefficiency, of class selfishness, and of mob madness begotten of age-long misgovernment. But it was a great deal more than even all these things. It is easier to say what the Revolution was not. It was neither a folly nor a crime, but, in the existing state of men’s minds, a natural, necessary, and salutary upheaval, of which crimes and follies were the inevitable accompaniment. A people, and especially the most lively people in the world, cannot be baited, robbed, imprisoned without trial or offence committed, cannot be starved, cannot be tortured, outraged, shot at sight, and still preserve through all the virtues of free, enlightened, and self-respecting citizenship.
A Royal Hypnotist.
Under Louis XIV. the tyranny of king and seigneur might be borne. There was that about the Grand Monarque which seemed to hypnotise his people into slavish submission, born of reverential awe. The contemporaries of Louis, for example, thought him tall, while in point of fact he was a little man. Even Voltaire repeatedly refers to Louis’ majestic stature. Cynical, outspoken St. Simon, the least courtly of all Louis’ courtiers, was astounded at the audacity of a statement by the royal Duke of Burgundy that in his opinion ‘kings should exist for the good of the people, and not the people for the good of kings.’ Delighted by the novelty and benevolence of this sentiment, St. Simon was nevertheless terrified by its boldness, and would not, he said, have dared to utter it in the court of the Grand Monarque.
Whilst this submissiveness outwardly continued under Louis XIV., some of the more intolerable privileges of the aristocracy were either legally abated or had fallen into desuetude. For one thing, Charolois, riding by, could no longer sportively snipe at the slater or plumber on the house roof, watching them fall, but must now content him with grouse and partridges. That kind of sport would be forbidden as merely wanton; but the actual Revolutionary period had arrived before Deputy Lapoule proposed the formal abrogation of the incredible law which allowed a seigneur, returning fatigued from the hunt, to kill not more than two serfs and refresh himself by putting his feet in their warm blood and bowels.
These and other preposterous privileges - among them the jus primæ noctis - if they ever really all of them were in operation, had fallen into abeyance by the end of Louis XV.’s reign. But still men and women starved - not here and there, but in millions.
Riding one morning in the Wood of Senart, the old king met a peasant carrying a coffin. Inquiring whose coffin it was, he was told it was for a poor slave his Majesty had noticed toiling in that part. ‘What did he die of ?’ ‘Of hunger!’ was the answer. The King, says Carlyle, ‘gave his horse the spur.’ Arthur Young, too, writing as late as 1788, describes how he overtook a woman who was staggering uphill under a burden too heavy for her famine-pinched, toil-stricken limbs. She looked sixty, but Arthur asking her age, she told him she was twenty-eight. She had seven children, a drudge husband, a cow, and a garron. There were rents and quit-rents ; hens to pay to this seigneur, oat-sacks to that, kings labour, Statute labour, church taxes, taxes enough. She had heard that somewhere, in some manner, something is to be done for the poor. ‘God send it soon,’ she says, ‘for the dues and taxes crush us down’ (nous écrasent). And the vehement, observant, sympathetic Englishman says: ‘The signs of a Grand Seigneur being landlord are wastes, landes, deserts, ling: go to his residence, you will find it in the middle of a forest, peopled with deer, wild boars, and wolves. The fields are scenes of pitiable management, as the houses are of misery. To see so many hands that would be industrious all idle and starving - Oh, if I were legislator of France for one day, I would make these great lords skip again!’
And skip they did, with urgency in the rear. In the Mâconnais and Beaujolais alone seventy-two chateaux were burned when the day of retribution at last arrived.
The Revolution was primarily a rising against hunger. All through the revolutionary period, in the city of Paris especially, the demand was for bread. Women stood for hours in queues at the bakers’ shops, a soldier on duty within to see that bread and flour were sold at no higher than a fixed price. The ragged legionaries of the Republic, officered by men promoted from the ranks, declared that with bread and steel they could go round the world, and on a hundred victorious fields made good the boast. It was hunger that prompted the drum-led march of the women of Paris through the mud and the rain to Versailles - a march in which amazonian market women, smart milliners, and grand dames compelled to dismount from their carriages, all took part. The fourth verse of ‘The Carmagnole’ - more popular than ‘The Marseillaise’ - runs
Que demande un republicain?
Du fer, du plomb, aussi du pain.
Du fer pour travailler,
Du plomb pour se’venger,
Et du pain pour ses frères,
Vive le son, vive le son,
Et du pain pour ses frères,
Vive le son du canon.
Or, as translated with freedom and spirit
O what is it the people need?
They ask for bread and iron and lead,
The iron to win our pay,
The lead our foes to slay,
The bread our friends to feed,
Vive le son, etc.
One of the popular cries was ‘Bread and the Constitution.’ Only people who were starved could have so much to say about the plain staff of life.
The Unteachable Aristocracy.
If we deplore and abhor the September massacres and the guillotinings of three years, do not let us forget the dragonnades, the oubliettes, the breakings on the wheel, the hanging of peaceful petitioners on ‘a new gallows, forty feet high,’ the systematic oppression that for centuries preceded and provoked the revolutionary reprisals. Do not let us forget the constant plotting against the Republic by a convicted and deposed ruling class, the dangers by which it was menaced without and harrassed within. The Bourbons learnt nothing and forgot nothing, and the same might be said of the French aristocracy as a whole. To this day, conspiracies against the Republic still occupy the time of royalists who cannot be reconciled to the idea that rank and privilege should be of no account in France.
Accustomed as the Anglo-Celtic people of Britain and America are to compromise, to give and take, to the acceptance of ‘new things that are good for the world’ even if they may be hurtful to us personally, we are at a loss to understand the inveterate obstinacy of the French aristocracy to receive measures of reform when proposed, or even to be reconciled to long-established salutary changes. The infatuation of the French nobility is without precedent in secular history. We have to go to the Pharaoh whose heart was ten times hardened against recognition of the inevitable.
An Impossible Task.
Turgot, saturated with liberal ideas, but a moderate and practical economist, would have saved the monarchy and averted a catastrophic revolution if anybody could. But his proposal to tax the noblesse and the clergy was received with indignant astonishment by the interested classes, and Turgot had to go. M. de Clugny, who succeeded, could suggest nothing better, and shortly gave way to Necker. That successful banker, who, like Turgot, was one of the Encyclopedists, promptly repeated what Turgot had proposed, and took, also, the practical, immediate step of suppressing over six hundred places about court, to the ‘great tristesse of the Œil-de Boeuf’ (literally, bull’s eye, a window in the palace at Versailles, but used here as a figurative term for the court party). Necker had to go. To him succeeded, for brief periods, Polignac, Coigny, Besenval, in turn. None of these had anything to suggest save that the rich should bear some slight share of the public burdens.
Calonne, polite and resourceful, kept floating for a time by raising loans, spending on the Stock Exchange £50,000 a-day in promoting his schemes of borrowing. But the embarrassment of the finances continuing, what could Calonne do but propose a land tax from which no landlord should be exempt? That was enough.
To Calonne succeeded, in turn, Fourqueux, Villedeuil, and, more notably, Cardinal Loménie de Brienne, Archbishop of Toulouse, sixty years of age and dissolute and worthless, who took the office of Controller-General of Finances, with the title of Prime Minister. Loménie’s first edicts are for creation of Provincial Assemblies to apportion the imposts, for suppression of corvées (or statute labour, as in the maintenance of the highways), and for alleviation of the gabelle (or salt tax).
Beginning of the Revolution.
These were popular concessions, and the placing of the onus of apportioning the imposts upon provincial assemblies was a shrewd method of enabling the Cardinal to escape responsibility for such proposals as had been made by Turgot, Necker, and the other cashiered controllers. Unfortunately for the Cardinal he had occasion presently (16th July, 1787) to ask the Parliament of Paris to register a Stamp Act. The Parliament - a corrupt body chiefly composed of lawyers who bought their places - instead of registering the Stamp Act as a matter of course, want to know what is the state of the expenditure and what reductions are to be made on it. This incident - the first formal refusal by a corporate body to register the behests of the court - may be said to mark the beginning of the Revolution. Its subsequent course is a matter of detail - picturesque, thrilling, sorrowful, but too voluminous for anything but the barest summary here. In the fourteen years 1774 to 1788 there were eleven changes of Premier.
The Treasury Insolvent.
On the 16th of August, 1788, a proclamation announces that Treasury payments shall henceforth be three-fifths in cash, two-fifths in paper, meaning practically that the Treasury is insolvent, Loménie is thereupon dismissed, amid popular rejoicing, and six days later Necker is recalled from Switzerland to resume his impossible task.
Assembly of the States-General.
In the beginning of May the long-wished-for States-General assembles at Versailles, where presently the Third Estate, strong in its own numbers and joined by a section of the nobility and clergy, becomes the National Assembly, entrusted with the duty of making a Constitution.
Fall of the Bastille.
On Sunday, the 12th of July, Necker is once more dismissed, and the Bastille, stormed by an infuriated mob and feebly defended, falls into the hands of the mob, who are assisted by the Gardes Françaises. The Marquis De Launay, governor of the Bastille, was to have blown up the magazine, but the hand which was to fire the magazine is gripped by one of the garrison, and a catastrophe averted. De Launay, borne through a threatening mob, is at last attacked. ‘Oh, friends, kill me fast,’ he says. The last seen of him is ‘his bloody hair-queue borne aloft in a bloody hand.’
With the razing of the Bastille, old secrets came to light, still further to inflame the revolutionists. Among many other papers, a fragment is found, bearing the signature of a prisoner, Quéret-Demery, unknown to history save by his pathetic appeal: ‘If for my consolation,’ wrote the heart-broken man, ‘Monseigneur would grant me for the sake of God and the Most Blessed Trinity, that I could have news of my dear wife, were it only her name on a card to show that she is alive, it were the greatest consolation I could receive; and I should forever bless the greatness of Monseigneur.’ ‘Poor prisoner,’ said Carlyle, ‘she is dead, that dear wife of thine, and thou art dead! ’Tis fifty years since thy breaking heart put this question; to be heard now first, and long heard, in the hearts of men.’
The March of the Menads.
On the 5th of October ‘some 1o,000 women’ march to Versailles, and bring back the Royal Family to Paris. This month the emigration of the nobles and princes of the blood begins.
On the 20th of June, 1791, the King takes flight, with the intention of co-operating with the outside enemies of France, who are preparing an invasion in the interests of reaction. Louis, held up at Varennes, is brought back a captive to Paris, any prestige he had gone from him for ever.
The 24th of July, 1792, witnesses the Prussian Declaration of War; and the Duke of Brunswick’s manifesto threatening France with military execution is dated Coblentz, July 27. On the 29th the Marseillese arrive in Paris, having marched in less than a month from the remote end of France in response to the call of Barbaroux for ‘five hundred men know who how to die.’ (In Felix Gras’ novel ‘The Reds of the Midi’ there is an admirably detailed and graphic description of this unique march, and of some of the notable incidents in Paris in which the Marseillese took part. The tale also gives, in the opening chapters, a striking view of the state of rural France in the immediate pre-Revolution stage.)
By the end of August the Prussians, with the emigrés, have invaded France. Under Dumouriez and Kellerman, the French, so far from flying, as was expected, give a very good account of themselves; and the Prussians, checked at all points, and harassed by rainy weather, dysentery, and famine, are obliged to retreat, the invasion begun with such terrible threats ending in discomfiture for Brunswick and his emigré advisers.
The Reign of Terror Begun.
After a five-days’ trial and two days’ voting on the sentence, Louis is executed on the 21st of January, 1792.
The King is no sooner out of the way than the Revolution begins to devour its own children. The stalwarts of the Mountain have the best of it in the struggle with the gentlemanly Girondins, thirty-two of whom are put under arrest in their own houses, from which they emerge to various adventures, ending at the guillotine, where they sing ‘The Marseillaise’ in chorus on the scaffold.
On the 16th of October, 1793, the hapless Marie Antoinette is executed. The following few months the guillotine is busy, the Reign of Terror having fully set in. The victims include d’Orleans and Madame Roland in November; Anacharsis Clootz in March, ’94; and Danton in April. Danton was probably the most single-minded man in the Revolution, as he was the most merciful in policy.
On the 28th of July, Robespierre, his jaw broken in an unsuccessful attempt at suicide with a pistol, is dragged with his confederates to the place of death. As the tumbril passes, gendarmes point their swords at the wretched figure, with its dirty and blood-stained linen bandages, to show the people the veritable object of their hatred. A woman springs on the low cart, and, waving one hand, exclaims: ‘The death of thee gladdens my indebted heart.’ Robespierre opens his eyes. ‘Scélérat, go down to Hell, with the curses of all wives and mothers!’ says the sibyl. It was the irony of fate. Robespierre was a theocratic (not to say religious) zealot, and but did his duty, as he perversely conceived it, in an impossible tangle of circumstances. His brother Augustin died for him. His poor landlord loved him.
With the death of Robespierre the Reign of Terror ended, and the Revolution rapidly shaded off in the downfall of Sansculottism, the victories of Napoleon, and the recrudescence of luxury, genteel sentiment, the Directory, and finally the First Empire.
But the Revolution was very far from having been abortive. The Frenchman of the towns may live in an insanitary half-flat; but in spite of the double drain of past wars and present militarism, with, of course, the conscription, his standard of comfort is in some respects superior to that of the British workman. He feeds much better. He works in a more leisurely fashion. If he wear a blouse, at least the family linen press would set up a moderate-sized napery establishment.
The Middle-Class View.
Writing in 1853, Richard Cobden said: ‘Tell the eight millions of landed proprietors in France that they shall exchange lots with the English people, where the labourer who cultivates the farm has no more proprietary interest in the soil than the horses he drives, and he will be stricken with horror.’ The French nation, instead of being ashamed of the Revolution, do in fact cling to the work of 1789 with thankfulness and tenacity. Men of the most opposite opinions on every other subject agree that to the Revolution in its normal phases France is indebted for a more rapid advance in civilization, wealth, and happiness than was ever previously made by any community of a similar extent in the same period of time. ‘No people,’ wrote Cobden, ‘have ever clung with more unshaken staunchness to the essential principles and main objects of a revolution than have the French. When you say that their new Emperor [Napoleon III.] is absolute and his will omnipotent, remember there are three things he dare not attempt to do. He dare not attempt to endow with land and tithes one sect as the exclusively paid religion of the State. He could not create a system of primogeniture and entail, and finally he could not impose a tax on succession to personal property and leave real property free. In England we have all three.’
The Actual Position.
Like all countries where capitalism is highly developed, France suffers from great economic inequalities and social contrasts. The Church lands were confiscated in 1789. Lands were surrendered to the State by patriotic seigneurs at the same time, and many patrimonies belonging to nobles guillotined during the Revolution, or of émigrés who died abroad or were killed during the Brunswick invasion, also reverted to the State, but unfortunately were resold. All this tended to break up large properties; and in 1899 no less than 71 per cent of the agricultural holdings in France were the property of the cultivators. But while peasant proprietary thus accounts for about three-fourths of the actual holdings, the nominal owner is often heavily in debt. One half of the three million properties are estimated to be under mortgage, poor men having entered upon them without the requisite capital for their successful working. The rural Frenchman is frugal and industrious, but taxes are still heavy. * The farmer’s wife cannot take a fowl to market without paying octroi duty upon it, and besides the heavy customs duties upon many articles imported, there is a house tax, a rent tax, a window tax, and a licence has to be taken out by all traders and professional men before starting in business. The people who ‘thrive’ in France are not the 8,000,000 engaged in forestry and agriculture, nor the 5,000,000 employed in manufacturing industries, but the comparative handful of coalowners, iron masters, army contractors, and stock-exchange people. There is still plenty of work for the social and economic reformer to do in France.
*British taxation is now much heavier, but more fairly distributed.
PART TWO NEXT MONTH
So what is a Scots writer? What, for that matter, does it even mean to be Scottish. Apparently, it’s a vexed question. Indeed, I’ve recently heard it said that in the context of literature it is not even a possible question.
When I came up with the title for this piece I thought I would be writing something about my belief that it is fundamentally unScottish (conceptually) to believe in or promote the notion of a ‘Scots canon’ of literature. But between then and now, things change and instead I find that I’m firing a canon of another kind – a shot across the bows of those ‘canon creators’ who suggest that it is nonsensical to suggest that a writer can indeed ‘be’ Scots.
What follows is heavily edited (with names but not national identities changed to ‘protect’ both innocent and guilty) response piece that came my way as a result of a literary gathering I recently took part in. The context, a discussion about The First World War and Scots fiction, and the tone, it has to be said, attritional.
Scotland No More
His words hit me with the impact of a holocaust denial. I couldn’t believe it. In that comfortable, historic room, with a view of leafy trees which had probably been similar a century ago when the men we had come to celebrate were ‘recuperating’ here before being sent back to be killed in the War that did not end all wars, here he was, a professor no less, telling a mostly English audience on a weekend trip to ‘Scotland’ that there was no such thing as Scottish literature.
With a not so deft flick of the thumb and the dubious aid of Powerpoint, he proceeded to show that because writers beyond Scotland also wrote of their essential experience of being at one with their landscape, this could not be considered a trait of Scottish writing – ergo – there was no Scottish writer, ergo- but unsaid – that there was no such thing as a Scot. (I appreciate I was three steps ahead of his statements but I am good at reading between the lines and into the margins.)
They sat meekly and took it. I might say they lapped it up but really the biggest crime was that he whom I took for a fellow Scot* was lying like Menteith+ – a respected academic who should, no must, know better.
And all of this a few days before an election which, while not all about Indy Ref 2 (unless you are a Tory, Lib Dem or Scottish Labour activist/politician) has at its heart the very question of national identity – here was a man who would not have gone amiss in declaiming ‘pro patria mori’ though he claimed to be seeing the pity in the poetry. In a single breath denying his own identity*
(* - and yes it is the same asterix twice - I can wait no longer… I subsequently found out he is an Ulsterman by self-definition and I thus understood his creed. It doesn’t make it any better, more palatable or true though!)
(+ also note that Menteith breaks the i before e except after c rule and therefore may well be said to come from ‘the Scots.’)
What came next had to be challenged. He said – clear as a passing bell – that Barrie could hold no more claim to be a Scottish writer than J.K.Rowling. He said it with what I have to call a sleekit, pan face. I’m sure he did it for effect, as he couldn’t possibly believe this, but he stood there, in his position of unassailable power, a general well behind the lines commanding the troops up the line, as in the context his academic authority was unchallengeable. Apart from one. Aye, there’s always one. And thank goodness there is. Or it might have had to be me.
She took him on. He said ‘oh, there were the Thrums stories of course,’ (dismissing in what wasn’t even a gallus sweep of an arm) ‘but then, Peter Pan…’ he drifted off at that point as if the point was made simply by mentioning the ju ju word. His plain implication that the writing of Peter Pan meant JMB could not, in any way, be considered Scottish. She muttered to herself ‘there are few more impressive sights than a Scotsman on the make’ a talisman to myself on so many occasions through my life and my constant reminder of the skill of ‘Scots humour’ in writing for the Englishy audience.
While in the background someone else suggested that JKR was in fact Welsh, she said she didn’t care for or about JKR, didn’t know anything about her, but was speaking up for Barrie, and that, with the greatest respect (which is always a sign that no respect is either given or due) he was just plain wrong.
I wanted to say pure, dead ignorant, but it wasn’t an audience who would ‘get this.’
There were a few rumblings amidst the crowd and another of the audience challenged him – he’d said Neil Gunn had been instrumental in the SNP, so surely he could be defined as a Scottish writer? The genie was partly out of the bottle.
She pressed the case that the J.M.Barrie Society existed primarily to stand against such erroneous thinking. I didn’t say though I wanted to, that she was underestimating herself and was in fact standing against such deliberately perpetrated lies and untruths, designed to promote a ‘strong and stable’ vision of a united kingdom in which we are all better together little Britishers. The fear is they would have liked that. They might have cheered and waved Union Jacks. And she didn’t need my help.
And then the Cavalry arrived. An American in the room waded into the fray – as they have a habit of doing when the worst of the fighting has been done - all Omaha Beach and ‘we won the war’ . The debate, if such it was, had now shifted ground to the very nature of Scottish identity in fiction, and the Yank suggested that it was a bizarre debate to be having. Yankee Doodle Dandy noted that across the United States there would be no such division between writers in say Wisconsin and California or Pittsburgh (I wondered idly to myself what the Texans might say to that). His claim was that in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave where America is First and the Trumpet of the Apocalyse has been firmly blown, there is no such division in diversity among writers. Polite, but firm, my Scottish companion pointed out that a better analogy might be reframing the ‘group’ into an American, a Canadian and a Mexican writer.
The Moderator of the event, our President indeed, in an attempt to be presidential, and witty (both of which she achieved) suggested that this sounded like the start of a joke – An American, A Canadian, A Mexican and A Scots writer walk into a bar – and I agreed, except that this would be a sick kind of a joke in my humble opinion. My opinion was not, of course humble – there’s no room for humility when your identity is under attack. It was not even too wee, too poor and too stupid. Tight-fisted thrawn, dour Scot that I am, I do not see the funny part of denying one’s own national identity – such identity for me is tied up with my personal identity – and that’s no joke to please any kind of crowd.
It’s no joke that the perpetrator of this ‘crime’ against humanity, or at least against identity, is a gatekeeper. He is a man charged with representing the world of literature to mere mortals. And here we have the Acts of Union all over again. Betrayed by our own (remember I have since learned he’s an Ulsterman, and thus not strictly speaking on of ‘our own’ at all so this part of my invective is perhaps unfounded. I am more than capable of critiquing my own diatribes thank you. But feel free…)
Believe me when I say that as the War Poets (whatever their national identity) stood up against war and the pity of war (which was ostensibly the topic under discussion – though most of the talk seemed to be rooted in the 1930s) so we need to stand up for our Scottish identity in writing and in writers. All I can say for my brave compatriot is ‘weel done Cutty Sark’ and ‘lang may yer lum reek, hen.’
From where I’m standing it’s a load easier to find Scottish identity in fiction than than it is to deny it. If it looks, tastes, sounds etc Scottish then… but you do have to acknowledge that a ‘Scottishness’ actually exists.
An argument which claims that despite being born, bred, educated, 20+ years residency, writing (at least partly) in the language and dialects of the people, writing about the people and the concerns of Scotland, setting some work there and using it to show the difference between the ‘home nations’ in some very profound ways, employing Scots humour to devastating effect on the stage and in prose – despite all this that because he did not do this ‘exclusively’ Barrie could not be counted as a Scottish writer, well, such an argument is beyond all fuzzy logic known to man. And it does beg the question, if not Barrie then who is a Scottish writer? Certainly not me. Thus, in a moment, gunned down by the powerpoint of a publishing professor, I (and most possibly you) cease to exist on an essential level – my corpse behind me left as ‘a writer known only to God.’ Aye, and Barrie even had something to say about existence in his Edinburgh Eleven – was he no’ a Scot as he wrote that?
They make attacks on Scots from all angles, and yes, those of the Renaissance have even attacked their fellow countrymen. Thus, even in the 21st century we still have ringing in our ears the argument that if one writes exclusively in and of the concerns of Scotland, and happens to have done this before the First World War (and sometimes after) one is parochial and thus damned forever. Unless, of course you are writing from the point of the urban Scot. They seem to have requisitioned the tartan bullet proof vests, leaving the older generation ill-equipped for the fight.
I was only relieved that our ‘speaker’ didn’t start on ‘Kailyard’ (though he had a sideswipe at sentimentality via the movie version of Sunset Song – which argument I think was used more to encourage the precedence of written over visual text - ) He dodged that particular bullet – or should I say Howitzer. If he had started in on Kailyard I would have given up a lifetime of avowed pacifism and either blown him or myself up. But the ‘K’ word is an argument inappropriate to an English audience, they wouldn’t understand it. They struggled to see the significance of the ‘sentimentality’ jibe. I struggled in a different way as it didn’t seem to help his argument regarding Grassic Gibbon. In fact, if I reflect on the whole, I find that he was much like a soldier shooting himself deliberately in the foot to get an easy billet back to Blighty. But he was not shell-shocked and he deserved a dishonourable discharge for his actions. However, I am not judge or jury, simple an innocent bystander – if such there be in life. So let me try and lay my argument (if such it can be called) for the existence of Scottish identity in writing. Let me fire a Scots canon. Note I say ‘a’ not ‘the’.
If you a) are born or live in Scotland and/ or self-define as Scottish and you b) write using partial or total Scots or and/or c) set your work in Scotland and/or d you write of the concerns of the Scottish people or look at the world from a Scottish perspective* and/or e) write Scottish characters (particularly if they are drawn clearly from life) it can be said you are a Scottish writer. And you remain a Scottish writer even and when you are writing in the language and setting of the Empire and include things not exclusively Scottish in your writing. Then you become a Scottish writer writing in the context of English (or other) fiction. There are reasons one might want to do this. Remember ‘there are few more impressive sights than a Scotsman on the make.’ National identity * does not change with the physical location or the textual output of the writer.
I am frequently a Scottish writer writing in English. I am never an English writer writing in Scots or Scotland or about Scotland. There’s flexibility of text and unreliability of narrators and there is just plain stupidity in terms of an argument +
(* yes, you do in this case have to admit that such a thing exists, which the ‘clever general’ argument denies but which I dismiss as poor philosophy – you don’t prove something doesn’t exist by stating it doesn’t exist)
(+ I subsequently discover that my adversary – as Barrie might term him – apart from being Better Dead, written I contend by a Scottish writer writing from a Scottish perspective in the heart of the English establishment - my adversary ‘jumped ship’ from classics to English at my own Alma Mater. I have him on the ropes.(as Barrie would also say – Scots humour anyone?) All knowledge is a form of power and I know all about the Scots education system and how one ‘works’ it. But that’s away from the point.
[feel free to have a wee dance in the margins while I regain my ‘flow’]
Identity is a deep thing, deeper even than a yearning for the land, or lost community. I know a bit about identity. I daily deal with temporal and spatial identity and its relation to what I’ll call ‘pure’ or theoretical narrative. It’s something that has consumed me, shaped me, and dare I say, is part of my identity. Barrie also was consumed by the flexibility and mutability of identity. It’s part (I like to think) of what we have in common. Apart from our being Scots. But that may be presumption on my part. I create Barrie as a fellow-traveller for my own issues of identity, I admit. We all do such things. If you can see that identity is a part of who you are and how you see and respond to the world then, to parody Kipling, you are a Scot my son.
My advice to those who consider themselves Scottish writers? (and readers no less, let’s not forget our readers) is fight back against the modern day Mentieth’s and those who hold the crown or the hand of he who wears the crown and whisper to that Emperor that national identity is not real. (It will be the holocaust next - ^) The line is that because they do not look on it, so it cannot be. Stand up against the wee sleekit, cowering timorous beastie in all his Renaissance glory too – against those who smile and smile and are still villains and should and do know better but have let the personal prize outweigh the fate of a nation.
(^First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.)
And I was only a Scot.
(The identity of the writer of that poem is perhaps less significant than his sentiment – and I have of course added the last line but surely there is no argument against Martin Niemöller being a German writer?)
What then, to quote Tolstoy (a Russian writer) must we do? When I say we must fight back, I mean, of course write back. Wars are waged on many fronts and in many ways. The war to end all wars is now the war against ignorance and mis-information and ‘false facts.’ You have been warned. But as you pull on your tin helmet, wait for the whistle and prepare to go over the top; bagpipes skirling if you must; remember that your country needs you to live, not to die. Before you cry out that they will never take our freedom, be sure you are not handing it to them willingly on a plate via the ballot box. The rest, as they say, is history.
I may take on 'the' Scots Canon next month.
The Seamy Side of Life in an Old Scots Town.
Turriff in Ancient Times
Sidelights from the Barony Court Book
Recorded by James Leatham
The minute book of the Barony court of Turriff, the existence of which was known to few till recent years, covers the period from 1734 till the abolition of Heritable Jurisdictions in 1748. The proceedings of each Court are usually prefaced by some such entry as the following:
Court of the Lands and Barronrie of Turreff, Delgaty and idoch, pertaining heritably to a noble and potent Countess, Mary Countess of Errol, Great-Constable of Scotland, and the honourable Mr Alexander Hay of Delgaty, her Ladyship’s husband, for his interest, holden at Turreff, the 7th day of December 1734, years, by My John Henderson, their Chamberlain Bailaie, specially constitute by hi Bailierie, George Urquhart in Turreff, procurator fiscal, and Mr William Hacket, Schoolmaster of Turreff, Clerk p.a. (The ordinary clerk was Sylvester Keith, Town Clerk of Turriff.’) Gilbert Bagrie, officer and (blank) Dempster.
The officials remained practically unchanged during all those fourteen years. About four or five Courts were usually held in the course of the year, and the number of cases at each Court was generally small.
The Erroll family had a long connection with Turriff. They are said to have been superiors of the burgh from 1412 to 1762. In 1446 William Hay of Erroll obtained the patronage of the Church of Turriff for that of Erroll, of which his grandfather had been deprived, and this grand was confirmed by James II, in 1450. The Church of Turriff belonged to the Abbey of Arbroath, to which it was gifted by Marjory, Countess of Buchan in 1210. James IV, with the consent of the Earl of Errol, granted to Thomas Dickson Prebendary of Turriff, a charter in 1512 erecting the whole churc lands, the town, and the glebe into a burgh of barony, and constituting the prebendery superior of the burgh and titular of the teind with power to the burgesses to elect bailies and other officers, with a right to have a market cross and to hold a weekly market on Saturday at the cross and public fairs at the feast of St Peter, called Lammas, and at the feast of St Congan on 13th October. The charter granted to the inhabitants the freedom to buy and sell wine, wax, leather, woollen and linen, broad and narrow, and all other merchandise, and to have in the burgh, bakers, brewers, butchers, etc. The customs of the markets were subsequently conveyed to the Earl of Erroll by Andrew Skene, prebendary, on condition the Earl pay £100 Scots as salary to the schoolmaster.
Lady Mary’s Well.
Mary, Countess of Errol, succeeded her brother Charles, 12th earl, on his death in 1717. Burke’s ‘Peerage’ and Anderson’s ‘Scottish Nation’ do not refer to her marriage with Alexander hay of Delgaty, merely mentioning that she married in 1681 Alexander Falconer, second son of Sir David Falconer of Newton, Lord President of the Court of Session. She died without issue in 1758. The Lady Mary’s Well, still pointed out below the castle quarry in the grounds of Delgaty Castle, may have received its name from this lady. Delgaty Castle was purchased from the Earl of Erroll in 1763 by Peter Garden, Esq. of Troup, and sold by his son Francis in 1798 to Earl Fife. The Earls of Erroll formerly lived at Delgaty Castle. They had also a lodging in Turriff (now occupied as a solicitor’s office.)
Many families in the north of Scotland lost their estates through their adherence to the Stuart line in the risings of the eighteenth century and it was his devotion to the Brunswick line, it is said, that led to James, 13th Earl of Erroll, parting with his possessions in the Turriff district, he having been appointed to conduct Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg, the bride of George III, to England, and the magnificence he displayed on that occasion proved beyond his means.
The great market at Turriff has long been called Porter Fair; but in ‘Aberdeen’s New Prognostication’ for 1708 appears under a list of fairs for October,’ ‘Cowan Fair at Turriff.’ It is interesting to find the following advertisement in the ‘Prognostication’ of the same year:-
These are to give notice that there are two New yearly Fairs granted by Act of Parliament to the Right Honorable the Earl of Erroll, Lord High constable of Scotland, to be holden at the town of Turreff, in the shire of Aberdeen One of them (called St John’s Fair) is to begin the first Tuesday of December yearly, and to continue (at the said place) for three days. The said Tuesday being for all sorts of cloath and stockings, vendable goods and merchant wares; and Wednesday and Thursday for all sorts of malt, cattle and horses. The other (called St Ann’s Fair) to be holden at the said place, also is to begin yearly upon the last Tuesday of march, and to continue for three days, the said Tuesday for all sorts of cloath and stockings, vendible goods and merchant wares, and Wednesday and Thursday for all sorts of cattle and sheep. And both the said Mercats to be three years custom free.
The cases that came before the Barony court were varied in character, breaches of the peace and of mill and moss regulations being the most frequent. The sanction of the Court had to be given to regulation tending to the advancement of husbandry, the improvement of dwelling-houses and the reformation of the manners of the inhabitants by suppressing swearing and Sunday trading. More serious cases occasionally appeared as stealing and murder, but during those years the extreme penalty of the law seems never to have been carried out; in fact, it was only during extremes that Barony Courts, unlike Courts of Regality, had the full power ‘to [unclear] pit and gallows,’ such power being latterly exercised only when the [unclear] was taken red-handed, or the thief in fang within the bounds of the [unclear]
Riding the Stang
One case in the Court Book covering the period 1734-48 is incompletely recorded, but appears to have been one of ‘riding the stang.’ The barony found that the pursuer had received no wounds, but had been carried in a shameful manner through the town of Turriff, and thereafter that he had been ‘carried on a tree,’ a mob accompanying. The accused number, were ordained to acknowledge their sorrow for breach of the peace, and to pay £10 Scots to the pursuer and to remain in the Countess of Erroll’s prison in Turriff during the bailie’s pleasure. They were liberated however, the same day on payment of one shilling stg. Each as dues of court and jailer’s fees, and on Alexander Rhind, mason, Banff, and others becoming security for their good behaviour in future.
Harbouring ‘Extraneous Persons.’
The bailie had no scruple in banishing undesirables from the bounds of the barony. David law was decerned in 1736 to remove himself, his wife and family, from the town of Turriff, and furth and frae any part of the Countess of Erroll’s jurisdiction as being a person unfit for society. He had been complained against for harbouring ‘vagabonds and other extraneous persons’ on market days, also for carrying off peats from the Black and Green Mosses, and for keeping a horse and pasturing it on the tenant’s lands. His spouse, Janet Taylor, was also brought to Court from prison, to which she had been committed for using threatening words to some of the inhabitants of Turriff, and enacted to remove herself from the town of Turriff all the days of her life. On his petition David law was liberated for eight days in order that he might dispose of his effects before removing himself from Turriff.
In 1741, as appears from the Barony Court Book, Patrick Gerrard was banished from Turriff and other lands belonging to the Countess of Erroll in the parishes of Turriff, Monquhitter, and Auchterless for stealing a pan full of ale. In June of the same year, Margaret Joass was charged with stealing hards from a stand on the market day, but the case could not be proved till the bailie ordered her to prison, there to remain on three quarters of bread and three chopins of water a-day till next Court Day. On reappearing in Court two days after she confessed the theft, but meanwhile two persons reported having lost their purses in the market, and the purses being found in Margaret’s custody when she was apprehended, with money amounting to £40 2s Scots, the bailie pronounced sentence of banishment, never to return under pain of a month’s imprisonment and burning on the cheek, and that she remain in prison till Monday at twelve of the clock and then to be dismissed in a graceful manner by beat of drum to the Den of Balmellie; and the bailie ordered the officer to mount two of my Lady Erro’s halberts to prevent her doing her the least abuse by the mob.
‘No Visible Way of Subsisting.’
On 2nd April, 1742, the bailie found that Patrick Thomson had no visible way of subsisting, and that although he should offer himself to work to the inhabitants, none of them incline to employ him, and, further, he was represented as bankrupt and not worth the King’s unlaw. The bailie ordained him to remove himself, his wife, and children, at Whitsunday and prohibited the hail inhabitants from buying, lending or selling with him after Whitsunday, under penalty of £3 Scots.
‘Not Proper Inhabitants.’
Robert Massie, Margart Cormack, and John Ross were also dismissed as ‘not being proper inhabitants.’ The last case of banishing was that of Ann Baxter on 27th June, 1747, who was also expelled for theft.
Peats, turfs and mosses gave the Court much trouble. In 1744 the bailie granted to each possessor of an oxgate to have two spades’ casting yearly, and the half-oxgate people in proportion, and each tenant paying 100 merks Scots rent to have three spades casting. Several persons in Turriff who had no land nor warrant to cast peats came to the Countess of Erroll’s mosses with horses and creels and back creels, and carried off peats and turfs. The bailie authorised the moss grieves and the officer of Court to cause such persons pay a fine of £10 Scots each, or if they fail to do so, to seize their creels or packets or any other machines for carriage for the first fault… and for the third fault to seize the horse or mare to the gate of the mansion house of Delgaty or the cross of Turriff and expose the same for sale after two hours’ previous intimation.
Even the minister complained that they stole his peats in the moss. In 1739 William Woodman, in Nether Smiddieseat, was charged with selling his portion of the moss of Greeness to James Watson, Mill of Gask, who left his peats on the bankhead all winter in rickles. The bailie fined him £50 Scots, but as he acknowledged his fault, the fine was modified to 10shgs stg. And on this the bailie gave him back a crown.
The tenants were often in Court for disregard of mill regulations. Thus William Murray, in Mill of Ashogle, decerned to pay to James Wilson, in Hilltown, a firlot of meal as damages for losing half a boll through insufficient grinding of three bolls of meal.
In 1738 Mr Thomas Hay, at Mill of Turriff, complains upon George Allardyce, tacksman upon half an oxgate in Turriff, that he had clandestinely withdrawn the mixtures of the grain thirled to the Mill of Turriff and gone to the Mill of Gask therewith oft and divers times. Going to the Mill of Gask, he found a boll of malt belonging to George Allardyce being ground by James Watson, tacksman of the Mill of Gask, and he apprehended the said George Allardyce on the Street of Turriff, bringing home the said malt, and he seized the horse and the said malt and deposited the same in the hands of George Urquhart, procurator-fiscal, where it remains. The bailie decrees the said boll of malt and sack belong to Thomas Hay, tacksman of the Miln of Turriff. The horse to be returned on payment of 10s stg. (The fines are mostly stiff, even if the pound Scots was but 20d stg.
Actions of lawburrows figure largely in old Scottish Court books, and we have several instances here. Breaches of peace were common, especially at markets. James Fowlie, in Bartle Chaple, and John Fowlie in Black-stocks, acknowledged that they struck John Fordyce of Gask on the face with a hazel rod in the common market of Turriff on 7th December, 1737 to the effusion of blood. They were fined £50 Scots each. The bailie, for certain reasons known to himself, compounded the fines for £18 Scots which they paid. John Fordyce acknowledges he struck John Fowlie over the head with a cane after receiving opprobrious and provoking language, and was fined £50 Scots. The bailie is to grant modification as he sees fit.
In 1738 John Gillespie, slater, was fined £50 Scots for beating Mary Panton, servant to Sylvester Keith, town clerk. Mary Panton was fined £50 Scots for striking John Gillespie with a stone, but in respect of being a woman and that no blood or bruises appeared on the body of John Gillespie, the fine is also modified to 10s stg. John Gillespie’s fine is modified to 10s stg.
John Arthur, gardener in Turriff, was charged with beating and bruising Isabell Smith when shearing upon the Fald of Darrow, but not compearing he was fined £10 Scots for contumacy.
The fines were occasionally more moderate. In 1741 William Smart in Hillhead, was fined 9d stg damages to James Innes, merchant in Turriff, for riding away one of his workhorses in a clandestine manner.
A Rowdy Town Clerk.
Sylvester Keith, the town clerk of Turriff and the ordinary clerk of this Court, was charged with having, in the house of George Urquhart, procurator fiscal, beat and bruised William Fordyce, Esq. of Culsh, in publick company, contrar to all law, good manners, and Christian way of behaviour. He was fined £50 Scots.
No reference is made in the Court Book to the Rebellion of 1745-6 but reference is sometimes made to soldiers. On 28th July 1743, several persons in a mob were accused of attacking William Elder, sergeant, and William Berry, corporal, in the Hon Major-General James St Clair’s Regiment of Foot, as they were returning home from their quarters from their duty in the market of Turriff for beating up for Volunteers to serve His Majesty.
On 23rd June 1747, compeared before the Court, Lord Adam Gordon, Captain of His Majesty’s Regiment of Foot, commanded by General John Mordant, and represented that his sergeant informed him that George Tennant assaulted one of his men when on duty in recruiting for His Majesty’s service, and rescued a young man out of his hands who had consented to serve His Majesty. George Tennant is committed to prison till he present the recruit. Tennant was afterwards liberated on payment of three guineas to Lord Adam Gordon and the jailer’s fees.
How a man confined to prison was to produce a recruit, and the ethic of Lord Adam Gordon’s perquisite of three guineas, are matters not disclosed.
Cure and Assythment.
On 9th October, 1740, John Young, soldier in Colonel Symon Dimcourie’s Regiment of Foot, was charged with drawing his shable and cutting James Skene, farmer’s son, to the effusion of blood, as the latter was going to the Castlehill on the first day (7th) of the Cowan Fair. He was fined 3s being the least that Dr John Gatherer alleges can cure his wounds, also £3, Scots in the name of assythment, also £6 Scots as a fine for his transgression, or be carried back to prison. John Young declared he was not able to pay the fines, and was willing to return to prison, when the said doctor declared he would cure the boy gratis, and James Skene’s father passed from the assythment, and the bailie discharged his fine upon condition of John Young’s good behaviour in time to come and passed the dues of Courts, except 2s stg, which John Young paid down at the bar.
No Common Fowl.
On 17th May, 1738, John Arthur, gardener, was charged with shooting a cock belonging to Slyvester Keith, town clerk, which he found in his yard throwing up some green bear. The said cock was of an uncommon kind, not an ordinary fowl. He was fined £10 Scots. He was also fined £50 Scots for bearing firearms without warrant from the Countess of Erroll.
The Bailie had sometimes to deal with more serious offences. In 1742 William Davidson was found in possession of a horse suspected to have been stolen. After public intimation was made throughout the kingdom, as also at seven or eight nearest adjacent parish churches, the horse was sold by public roup for £29 Scots. Davidson was put in the stocks in the Tolbooth, but escaped.
Margaret Noble, feuar in Turriff, being accused of child murder, and being secured in her house and put under guard, because it was not convenient to carry her to prison, considering she was but a few days brought to bed, and she having made her escape at the change of a new guard by opening the door of the house with a false key, she is declared fugitive.
An Epidemic of Wickedness.
About the year 1741, Turriff seems to have been in such a bad way that the feuars felt called upon to enter into a Bond of Association that on pain of forfeiting their feus they would let no houses to any person that could not produce certificates of moral character and show an honest way of living. The object of this course was to retrieve the hon0ur of the town and the good character of the feuars, seeing that the judgement of God which seemed to be impending, may be prevented, for the voice of Providence may be sensibly noticed by any thinking person, when two inhuman murders happened in the place within the space of ten or twelve weeks. The Bond is entered in the Court Book, in which twelve feuars have their names signed, they making their initials only, as they cannot write. The feuars are Robert Skene, Alexander Gray, George Duffus, James Innes, George Urquhart, Alexander Fyfe, John Piri, Alexander Thomson, Alexander Fenton, etc.
The bailie also prohibited the hail tenants and feuars from setting any of their houses to single unmarried women unles in the same house there is a female of good report and honest character.
A few years later, for reformation of the manners of the inhabitants, the bailie determines to put in execution the Act of Parliament against swearing, that no person whatever shall swear an oath from and after the date of these presents. The bailie is likewise informed of the common practice of the merchants of Turriff selling and retailing goods on the Saboth day, which practice ought to be supprest in a Christian land. Therefore the bailie prohibits all the merchants retailing any sorts of goods except to the sick and in case of necessity, when the military is passing or repassing, under the pain of £10, etc. Not the least important duties of the Barony Court were in passing Estate Regulations.
In 1737 encouragement was given by the Barony court to the tenants to substitute stone and lime for faill walls to their dwelling houses, enacting that the tenants at removal shall have the benefit of meliorations on certain conditions. Encouragement was also given to them to fence their fields.
No person was allowed to keep horses unless they had land to support them, except some persons that were useful in providing fish, etc for the town.
The Town’s Herd.
Several regulations were made regarding herding and to prevent cattle straying on sown land. There was a town’s herd, George Anderson, by name, and his fee was paid proportionally by the twenty-four oxgates. It amounted to £7 Scots a-year or a piece of grass in the Fear (Feuar) Ward of that value, which grass in 1739 was in the hands of the possessors of eight oxgates, who thus paid to the herd 17s 6d Scots each. The grounds of the outfields being overrun with whins and heather, especially the Upper Hill Ward, the proprietor resolved to take that ward out of the township hands, but a friend of the township interposing, it was ordained by the bailie that a cow-fold be put up yearly by each plough upon the most barran of the outfields, that the heather and whins be razed by burning, and that the said field sow four bolls of oats at least, under the penalty of 10s if any persons possessing the plough that is to put up the fold that year.
The hail inhabitants in Turriff complained in 1757 against Wiliam Brands for not ringing the bell at five o’clock in the morning and nine at night. He answered that he had had no salary for two years although formerly he had the custom of the Saturday’s market and something from the town besides. The bailie finds the said custom of ringing the bell at the said hours for the profit of the inhabitants and orders that it be revived and continued in all time coming, and fix William Brand’s salary at 15s stg yearly, to be levied of the hail inhabitants.
In 1741 the bailie passed an Act anent the weight of butter. Being informed that it had been for some time past the common practice in Turriff to sell butter, cheese, and tallow 10 ounces to the pound, or 10 pounds to the stone avoir, weight, to the great loss of the inhabitants, the bailie ordains that henceforth they be sold at a rate of 14 ounces to the pound and 14 pounds to the stone, conform to the weight lately regulated by the Dean of Guild of Aberdeen.
No Room in the Kirk
The last entry in the book is of date 30th January 1748, where, on the complaint of Sylvester Keith, tacksman of the Mill of Ashogle, and others, that they had no room within the choir of the kirk of Turriff, which properly belongs to the Countess of Erroll, but which is possessed in a great measure by those that have no right, the bailie apportions seats to the complainers and ordains those having no right to remove their desks against Whitsunday, with certification if they are not then removed that the bailie will order to turn them out of the choir.
To many the great bugbear of country life is its peace, which they call dulness. But with population on the ground, the amenities would come as a natural consequence. The aim of well-balanced social development is to have population evenly distributed, with no house out of sight of any other, with church, school, shops, and social centres, such as halls and libraries, within convenient distance. A food-producing population, working on farms and in gardens, needs the subsidiary crafts - blacksmiths, shoemakers, tailors, masons, joiners, even printers; for the country has dances, flower shows, and concerts as well as the town, even as things are.
This distribution of population is still preserved in other countries, and was the rule in this till past the middle of the eighteenth century. In his ‘Tour,’ written in 1725, Daniel Defoe thus describes the country life of the time:-
The land near Halifax was divided into Small Enclosures from two acres to six or seven each, seldom more. Every three or four Pieces of Land had an house belonging to them, . . . hardly an house standing out of speaking-distance from another . . . We could see, at every house a Tenter, and on almost every Tenter a piece of Cloth, or Kersie, or Shalloon.
. . . At every considerable house was a manufactory. . . . Every clothier keeps one horse at least to carry his manufactures to the markets; and everyone generally keeps a cow or two or more for his Family. By this means the small Pieces of enclosed Land about each house are occupied, for they scarce sow corn enough to feed their poultry. The houses are full of lusty fellows, some at the die-vat, some at the looms, others dressing the cloths; the women and children carding and spinning; being all employed from the youngest to the oldest. . . . Not a Beggar to be seen, nor an idle person.
Till long past that time the distribution of the population was 8o per cent. rural and 20 per cent. urban, whereas by the census of 1921 it was almost exactly the reverse, the percentages being: Urban, 79.3; rural, 20.7.
These are the 1921 figures, and that is seven years ago. The diffusion of electricity has already on the continent set up a tendency in the opposite direction. In France, Germany, and especially in Switzerland, electricity for power, light, and heat is everywhere on tap. The de-urbanisation of industry began before the war even in this country, high rents and rates in the large centres helping, while heavy gas and electricity bills for lights burned all day in darksome smoke-bound days were a contributory element. Coal and steam gathered men together. Electricity tends to correct this congestion. The factory in the country, with a receiving office in town connected by telephone, is the natural order, now that distance has been annihilated by improvements in the means of communication and transport. There is now no reason for large centres, and a multitude of arguments against them.
So much in broad social-industrial outline; but what of ourselves and our way of life as individuals.
I have answered that so far already in saying that there is too much of a hungry, questing tendency to migrate and emigrate. I am very far from disapproving of Scotsmen seeing the world. But Sandy does not come back. If he does it is on a visit, not as a rule to settle. In 1905 I printed a volume of poems for an Aberdeenshire man who had made money as a farmer in New Zealand, and had been twice mayor of his town. The poems breathed the most passionate love of Scotland; but this man who had prospered, and who could easily have come home often, was re-visiting his ‘Caledon, the dearly loved,’ as he called it, after an absence of over forty years. He and his old wife were both very Scots as to accent, looks, and mental make-up - hard nuts both of them. The man who is willing to stay away from a land he professes passionately to love and long for would surely have some difficulty in proving that he is not a humbug.
Blarney is supposed to be a specially Irish foible; but the Scot has it even more highly developed, and in a solemn form. Stevenson, one of the most lovable of men and of writers, had been specially racketty as a student, but latterly preached in verse and prose. George MacDonald’s tendency to sermonise in his stories was natural enough in an ex-Congregational minister but other parsons, not Scotsmen, avoid it in their non-theological writing. Harry Lauder is not only very much at home on the Rotarian platform, but preaches even in his patter, as Funny Frame did before him. Frame was a more versatile and ingenious comedian than Lauder; but caution in money matters he carried to the extent of dishonour, as I have personally good cause to remember. I am far from objecting to preaching so long as it is not too flatulently platitudinarian, as with a certain Scots type it rather tends to be. I shall not labour the point, as it is admitted. Mr. C. M. Grieve, one of the protagonists of the Scotish Renaissance movement, excuses it on the ground that the Scots character is specially prone to what has been called antisyzygy, a fizzing word coined by Professor Gregory Smith to indicate the combination in one personality of quite opposite qualities - as saintliness and vice, kindness and cruelty, a tendency to moralise combined with a tendency to play the gay dog. There is room for a treatise on this point alone. Suffice it to say that combinations of zig-zag contradictions in one individual are common to all nationalities. Lord Melbourne, Victoria’s first Premier, a great student of theology, but using ‘Damns’ even in her presence; the French and the Irish, fervent patriots, but so ready to deal with the enemy that during the Great War French country folk were constantly being shot for giving away secrets, while it was said by an Irishman that wherever two of his countrymen plotted, one of them was sure to be a traitor; Rasputin, the Holy Devil; David, the Psalmist, putting Bathsheba’s husband in the forefront of the battle; Abraham passing off Sarah as his sister; and Jacob starting the double shuffle from the hour of his birth, are examples from nations widely separated in space and time. The combination of pietism and materialism is not to be excused by a word. Humbug and hypocrisy are in no way redeemed by calling them antisyzygy.
In any case, Scots blarney is responsible for an abundant lack of social confidence and the enterprise and fair dealing based upon such confidence. I once took part in the discussion following a largely-attended and notable lecture. A typical Scots business man hurried after me at the close of the meeting to ask what I thought of the lecture. In some surprise, I said: ‘You have just heard what I thought of the lecture.’ ‘Ay, ay,’ was the answer; ‘but I mean your private opinion?’ As if having two opposite opinions were a matter of course.
The lack of confidence born of double dealing is deepened by the dilatoriness of parts remote from the centre of things. Locally we are not so very bad in this respect; yet a wall has just been rebuilt after having lain for years as it fell, leaving one side of the parish church enclosure open. In 1918 a balance sheet was published in connection with a fund to build a spire on the parish church. There were £130 in the fund even then. The spire has not materialised yet. £1300 were raised for an ex-service men’s institute, and there is an offer, still standing, of an additional £330 from the ex-service men’s headquarters. But the building lingers. Some years ago, I understand, a bazaar was held to raise money for a playing-field for the children. A sum of £2oo was the result, and it is the only result so far. No one, it appears, knows where the money is. Successful sports were held in the Den, and a concert took place which was largely attended - both under the auspices of an ex-service men’s organization. The proceeds have been lost sight of. At the present moment there are some thirteen masons in Turriff, and only bits of jobbing work for them to do. An additional housing scheme has been under contemplation for months, and would provide work for these men as for the building trades generally. But the Council was so badly used by the building fraternity over its last scheme that dilatoriness has begot dilatoriness, and trade suffers in consequence. So far as the Council is concerned, so soon as it is known that we wish to secure a particular site, up goes the price. We have powers of compulsory purchase; but we hesitate to enforce them, and the housing shortage, which is being so handsomely overtaken elsewhere, becomes worse as time passes with so little done. In one recent year England spent £22,000,000 on subsidised houses. Scotland, with heavier arrears, spent £1,500,000 that year.
Any moderately prosperous community which will build houses at present will attract population by the mere provision of accommodation for it. At every fresh letting of municipal houses we have as many applicants left over as we have been able to serve; and they are usually persons whom it would be altogether desirable to have as tenants and citizens. In Turriff we have built houses, made roads, and this year opened an auxiliary water supply. In spite of all this expenditure, present and prospective, the local rates are substantially down. The valuation of the town has been increased, and as working expenses have not been raised in proportion, the rate per £ has fallen with the greater number of £'s to be rated upon.
We are only at the beginning of municipal housing. Scotland has been, and is, kept back in population, wealth, and civilization by the way in which she has hung back in the matter of housing, English municipalities were building houses as far back as 1857, at low rates of interest, but without any subsidy. The pre-war demand of the Social-Democratic Federation was for houses to be let ‘at rents sufficient to cover cost of construction and maintenance only.’ This Collectivist demand was so little heeded, when all is said, that a succession of Acts became necessary - the Addison, Chamberlain, and Wheatley Acts - under which roughly a third of the rent of each house has to paid by the general public, so that State-aided housing now takes rank alongside State and rate aided schools, roads, libraries, picture-galleries, baths, wash-houses, crèches, scientific research, water-supply, lectures, organ recitals, art galleries, museums, fire brigade, police, army, navy, coastguards, and all the other Socialistic and Communistic services - Socialistic where they are paid for, Communistic where they are given free and put upon the rates.
So that when teachers shudder at the mention of Communism they forget that they are themselves the products and the employees of a communistic institution, the couple who have no children paying for the education of the parents who have ten. This of course is entirely right. Children do not belong to their parents. They belong to the nation. They give the nation the benefit of their education, and will themselves be the nation long after their parents are dead or have otherwise ceased to be responsible for them.
Scotland lags behind in the provision of municipal houses, and loses population to England and the Colonies because of the lack of trade and prosperity which would be immensely stimulated by expenditure on building. This apart altogether from the civilization, health, and happiness to be furthered by transferring the people from slums and mean streets to sunny garden cities, such as the Hilton estate outside of Aberdeen, where over 4000 working folk are accommodated in roomy houses, electrically lit, with gardens back and front.
One reason why municipal housing has hung fire in Scotland is the low housing standard which has always prevailed. To people who have been accustomed to pay twelve, ten, eight, or even as low as three or four pounds for a house, the lowest rent sanctioned by the Ministry of Health seems excessive. Many heads of families insist on living in mean houses, and will rather pay doctor’s bills than pay rent for a better house. In England weekly rents of 15s. for a working class house are quite common in the provinces, and £1 in London. This would be a fifth to a third of the tenant’s income. Whereas the Scots idea is a rental of a 15th to a 2oth of the income. In Iceland, owing to the high price of building materials, which have to be imported, the urban tenant has to pay one-half of his income in rent. If he is able to live on the other half, why not? A house is the place in which a family lives, moves, and has its being.
Our ancestors lived in darksome, smoky abodes, and were accustomed to say that they liked better to hear the lark sing than the mouse cheep, meaning that they preferred out of doors. The same idea must have been in the mind of a mother I once heard say as I passed by, ‘Jist gie them a piece an’ bung them oot!’ She was referring to her children, I take it, and was reflecting the old-fashioned idea that a house is a lair in which to eat and sleep, closely packed. The newer conception of a house is a home, for the enjoyment of reading, social intercourse, and music, provided with books, pictures, a musical instrument or two, and with room enough to afford separation from the discomfort and distraction of cooking, washing, and baking, and give seclusion and quiet to those who wish it.
‘Remote, Unfriended, Melancholy, Slow.’
We are remote; we may be unfriended; but we need not be either melancholy or slow. One of the greatest genial hustlers I know is a local man. He is open-handed, fair-dealing, a good employer, and has in his time given some service to the public, as his father gave much before him. And father, son, and now grandson have their reward in what is probably the largest business of the kind north of Aberdeen. There is no reason except one why from this little town travellers should go over a large part of the county, booking orders in the neighbourhood of larger towns and possessing a monopoly of one important line of supplies. No reason, I say, except one, and that is business aptitude, and especially despatch and diligence.
But one sees men gossip by the hour. I have seen three men with their hands at one windlass raising a bucket out of a hole. I have passed men supposed to be working who morning, mid-day, and afternoon were gossiping and malingering, with a change of abettor each time. If their employer could not afford it they were robbing him. If he could afford it, then he must have been robbing those for whom the work was being done.
The person always a failure at home who succeeds abroad has almost to a certainty changed his ways, and he might have done that without going away. I want to see the economic development go forward; for without population there are amenities of life that cannot be secured. Man is, or should be, an intelligent animal, and bovine mooning is unworthy of the species. But quite often a remark addressed to people in the country is met with ‘?’ or ‘What was that ye said?’ Sir Walter Scott remarked of Scots country folk that the commonest response to a remark or question was the inquiry ‘What’s yer wull?’ I was brought up in a different school. In the newspaper office a question not promptly answered was met with sardonic shouts of ‘Wake up!’ or ‘Take the wax out of your ears!’ A local variant of ‘What’s yer wull?’ is ‘What way?’ Both are in form and substance ungainly interrogations which mean, not that the questioner hasn’t heard, but that he hasn’t understood. Politeness, as George Eliot said, is an air-cushion which eases the jolts of social intercourse; but when I hear a person say ‘Eyh?’ I recall a scene I witnessed from a barrack gate once in Aberdeen. The adjutant of a militia corps addressed a question to one of the men on parade who must have been what is called a raw recruit, for he answered ‘Eyh?’ with a blank and not respectful look. They have summary ways and despotic powers in the army, and at some distance off we could hear the resounding slap in the face which rewarded this supercilious monosyllable.
PART THREE THE FINAL PART DUE NEXT MONTH.
A HOME FOR GENIUSES
From hints he had let drop at odd times I knew that Tammas Haggart had a scheme for geniuses, but not until the evening after Jamie’s arrival did I get it out of him. Hendry was with Jamie at the fishing, and it came about that Tammas and I had the pig-sty to ourselves.
“Of course,” he said, when we had got a grip of the subject, “I dount pretend as my ideas is to be followed withoot deeviation, but ondootedly something should be done for geniuses, them bein’ aboot the only class as we do naething for. Yet they’re fowk to be prood o’, an’ we shouldna let them overdo the thing, nor run into debt; na, na. There was Robbie Burns, noo, as real a genius as ever—”
At the pig-sty, where we liked to have more than one topic, we had frequently to tempt Tammas away from Burns.
“Your scheme,” I interposed, “is for living geniuses, of course?”
“Ay,” he said, thoughtfully, “them ‘at’s gone canna be brocht back. Weel, my idea is ‘at a Home should be built for geniuses at the public expense, whaur they could all live thegither, an be decently looked after. Na, no in London; that’s no my plan, but I would hae’t within an hour’s distance o’ London, say five mile frae the market-place, an’ standin’ in a bit garden, whaur the geniuses could walk aboot arm-in-arm, composin’ their minds.”
“You would have the grounds walled in, I suppose, so that the public could not intrude?”
“Weel, there’s a difficulty there, because, ye’ll observe, as the public would support the institootion, they would hae a kind o’ richt to look in. How-some-ever, I daur say we could arrange to fling the grounds open to the public once a week on condition ‘at they didna speak to the geniuses. I’m thinkin’ ‘at if there was a small chairge for admission the Home could be made self-supportin’. Losh! to think ‘at if there had been sic an institootion in his time a man micht
hae sat on the bit dyke and watched Robbie Burns danderin’ roond the—”
“You would divide the Home into suites of rooms, so that every inmate would have his own apartments?”
“Not by no means; na, na. The mair I read aboot geniuses the mair clearly I see as their wy o’ living alane ower muckle is ane o’ the things as breaks doon their health, and makes them meeserable. I’ the Home they would hae a bedroom apiece, but the parlour an’ the other sittin’-rooms would be for all, so as they could enjoy ane another’s company. The management? Oh, that’s aisy. The superintendent would be a medical man appointed by Parliament, and he would hae men-servants to do his biddin’.”
“Not all men-servants, surely?”
“Every one o’ them. Man, geniuses is no to be trusted wi’ womenfolk. No, even Robbie Bu--”
“So he did; but would the inmates have to put themselves entirely in the superintendent’s hands?”
“Nae doubt; an’ they would see it was the wisest thing they could do. He would be careful o’ their health, an’ send them early to bed as weel as hae them up at eight sharp. Geniuses’ healths is always breakin’ doon because of late hours, as in the case o’ the lad wha used often to begin his immortal writin’s at twal o’clock at nicht, a thing ‘at would ruin ony constitootion. But the superintendent would see as they had a tasty supper at nine o’clock — something as agreed wi’ them. Then for half an hour they would quiet their brains readin’ oot aloud, time about, frae sic a book as the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ an’ the gas would be turned aff at ten precisely.”
“When would you have them up in the morning?”
“At sax in summer an’ seven in winter. The superintendent would see as they were all properly bathed every mornin’, cleanliness bein’ most important for the preservation o’ health.”
“This sounds well; but suppose a genius broke the rules — lay in bed, for instance, reading by the light of a candle after hours, or refused to take his bath in the morning?”
“The superintendent would hae to punish him. The genius would be sent back to his bed, maybe. An’ if he lay lang i’ the mornin’ he would hae to gang withoot his breakfast.”
“That would be all very well where the inmate only broke the regulations once in a way; but suppose he were to refuse to take his bath day after day (and, you know, geniuses are said to be eccentric in that particular), what would be done? You could not starve him; geniuses are too scarce.”
“Na, na; in a case like that he would hae to be reported to the public. The thing would hae to come afore the Hoose of Commons. Ay, the superintendent would get a member o’ the Opposeetion to ask a queistion such as ‘Can the honourable gentleman, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, inform the Hoose whether it is a fac that Mr. Sic-a-one, the well-known genius, at present resident in the Home for Geniuses, has, contrairy to regulations, perseestently and obstinately refused to change his linen; and, if so, whether the Government proposes to take ony steps in the matter?’ The newspapers would report the discussion next mornin’, an’ so it would be made public withoot onnecessary ootlay.”
“In a general way, however, you would give the geniuses perfect freedom? They could work when they liked, and come and go when they liked?”
“Not so. The superintendent would fix the hours o’ wark, an’ they would all write, or whatever it was, thegither in one large room. Man, man, it would mak a grand draw for a painter-chield, that room, wi’ all the geniuses working awa’ thegither.”
“But when the labors of the day were over the genius would be at liberty to make calls by himself or to run up, say, to London for an hour or two?”
“Hoots no, that would spoil everything. It’s the drink, ye see, as does for a terrible lot o’ geniuses. Even Rob—”
“Alas! yes. But would you have them all teetotalers?”
“What do ye tak me for? Na, na; the superintendent would allow them one glass o’ toddy every nicht, an’ mix it himsel; but he would never get the keys o’ the press, whaur he kept the drink, oot o’ his hands. They would never be allowed oot o’ the gairden either, withoot a man to look after them; an’ I wouldna burthen them wi’ ower muckle pocket-money. Saxpence in the week would be suffeecient.”
“How about their clothes?”
“They would get twa suits a year, wi’ the letter G sewed on the shoulders, so as if they were lost they could be recognized and brocht back.”
“Certainly it is a scheme deserving consideration, and I have no doubt our geniuses would jump at it; but you must remember that some of them would have wives.”
“Ay, an’ some o’ them would hae husbands. I’ve been thinkin’ that oot, an’ I daur say the best plan would be to partition aff a pairt o’ the Home for female geniuses.”
“Would Parliament elect the members?”
“I wouldna trust them. The election would hae to be by competitive examination. Na, I canna say wha would draw up the queistions. The scheme’s juist growin’ i’ my mind, but the mair I think o’t the better I like it.”
A Scottish writer.
.Wabbit? Scunnered? There are no ‘real’ words (or worlds) any more.
Once again the pundits and pollsters called it wrong. But we, the people, we knew. We knew that things would get worse. Real people I have only ever met on the internet had taken to finishing our correspondences with ‘see you on the other side.’ We knew something big was about to happen. We feared that we were about to be cast back into 1983 – but a new, uglier version – ‘improved’ capitalism on the rise.
The detail may have eluded us, but we knew. We felt the force on the move. We have lived the past month looking over our shoulders, battening down our hatches, waiting for the big heavy bat to hit us. All we didn’t know was exactly where it was coming from or what shape it would form. And in the end, we should have known. We are Scots. We are a nation comfortable with self-betrayal. We do this to ourselves. We do not learn the lessons of the past. We are too easily swayed and gulled. We have to face up to the fact that our country is one in which there are too many people for whom Scotland is North Britain. Fear, ignorance and self-interest are the order of the day for the 'many not the few'.
The back-handed irony of the ‘outcome’ of the General Election (if I can call it that because who knows what will happen next – apart from another variation of the same dressed in a different coloured tutu) is that it kind of proves that Scotland and England are quite different countries. And so, I suggest, proves the case for Independence in and of itself.
I went through Election night solely focussing on Scottish results. And we got one result. Tory landslide. Even though the SNP got the most seats, and even though one has to take with a pinch of salt the broadcasters ‘spin’, in what I call the ‘real’ world, we have been given a guid skelpin’ by the Tories. Especially in the North East and the South. So we are all licking our wounds and our sunset song is crying into our fictional whisky galore that we’re under the yoke of Tory oppression.
When I finally caught the English version of events, it seems the story is quite different. (Though strangely familiar) There the ‘narrative’ is that the Tory’s have had their asses whipped by a new, improved, English version of the Yes Campaign. The scenes they showed of the ‘for the many not the few’ are entirely reminiscent of what we saw in Scotland in 2014. And Jeremy reckons they won because he is selling ‘hope’ to the many not the few. Anyone remember ‘hope over fear?’
Corbyn managed to harness a ‘movement’ of young people and marginalise his own party. They are now all (at least for the moment) rallying behind him – hoping no one will notice what they all said before. Even admitting they were wrong and what a great guy he is. I’d like to say I’m happy for all those who have found ‘hope’ in England, even though, like the Yes voters, they came close but no cigar to ‘winning.’ They are now to experience all the worst of the new culture of ‘bad winners.’ The Labour Party is 'rebranding' itself wholesale as the Labour Movement until another 'new' hero comes along. They want to keep their jobs.
The Tories are in disarray? Are they? In England? Not in Scotland. Here they are like rampant lions – three of them – on a shirt. And even in Englandshire they have ‘done the math’ and realised that if they complain too far and another election is called they might well lose more seats. Hit them where it hurts. Doubtless Theresa spelled it out. She said sorry but I’m sure she also mentioned that if anyone wants to go back for round two right now they’ll most likely just be heading for the job centre.
Do not get me wrong. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are both very smart people, despite what the memes and pathetic internet jokes would have you believe. The ‘narrative’ is to get you all thinking that somehow they are either a) subjects for ridicule or b)in any way like you and me. Their lives are not like our lives.
I am no apologist for either of them but every time I see someone making a stupid joke out of Theresa May’s comments re wheat fields I realise how completely gulled we all are. We are all contributing to a narrative that will crush us completely. Do you think they care for our pathetic jokes? It's all so much big data. Do you think playing along with it does credit to our humanity or intelligence? I beg to differ. It’s just another way of being a slug sucking on salt. Buying into the ‘I am hurting so I must hurt others’ is NOT free speech. It’s just stupid petulance. Every time you attack Theresa, or Trump, you hurt yourself. It’s not even Jesus speak. Don’t you remember your Obi Wan Kenobi?
At present, the master ‘speaking freely’ and boy is he singing like a cuckoo, is that George Osborne fellow. I’ll admit, I spent the last decade trying to work out if he’s a Labour or a Tory man – I’m still never really sure. Fundamentally of course he’s a G.O man and he seems to be delighting in trying to exact revenge on the not so Iron Lady. Problem is, it does look an awful lot like sour grapes. Do you want to look like that?
So if you want my honest appraisal of where we are right now it’s this: we’re in the middle of a feeding frenzy in a piranha tank. And it’s our ‘real’ lives that are being gnawed off, ripped apart and spat out.
I can accept ‘political reality’ and I am becoming inured to the fact that most people genuinely don’t ‘get’ what all this is about. But what sickens me most is way beyond the nonsense of whether Brexit still means Brexit. I am sick of the fact that ‘narrative’ has been adopted by the capitalist cause as the ultimate way to spin. What’s coming out on all sides sickens me.
In the ‘post-truth’ world it seems we have no need for honesty because the currency is ‘authenticity’ and everything is branded one way or another. I still live in a simpler world. I’ll call it the ‘real’ world – though looking at the world we now live in it seems that my reality is fast becoming branded ‘unreal’ and so doubtless soon I will have to give up existing in the face of the many manufactured ‘authentic’ voices that populate all corners of our social spaces.
I expect it from Unionists. And especially from the Conservative and Democratic Unionist Party (you thought the Tory/Lib Dem Alliance was bad? You thought Tory/UKIP was the worst that could happen?) They, after all, have an Empire to rebuild and we should know our place as cannon fodder. Hell, we’re the slugs that voted for salt. No, it’s closer to home where I’m really feeling the salt pinching. I have said before that I do not have a ‘dream’ for Independence. I want Independence as a reality. I am not to be bought off (by any side) with promises of jam tomorrow in any guise.
The reality of 2017 is: This is Britain. People went out and voted for this. Enough of them chose it to make it a reality. There is nothing to dream for. This is British politics. There are no words to describe it accurately. Literally. They are taking the meaning from all our words, Scots and English, and ‘rebranding’ them as ‘authentic’ and re-creating the meaning in front of our very eyes. George Orwell is dead. Instead, we have George Osborne!
Let me make it clear. I have no ‘hope’ to give up. My advice to my friends this week has not been ‘don’t give up hope’ but ‘don’t give up.’ We are way beyond hope. All we have is our fundamental belief that this is not a world we will ‘buy’ into. I have no idea how or if Scotland will ever achieve self-determination. I certainly can’t see how it will ever happen within the British political system. I need time to contemplate the meaningful alternatives. And in trying to make sense of the future, I urge you all to look at the past for some clues of where we have gone wrong. The time to be a nation of dreamers is gone. It’s time to wake up to reality.
What can we do? Nothing. Protect and Survive? In a world where your voice cannot ever be heard all I can do is bring back voices from the past and suggest that if you don’t listen to me, you might want to listen to them. Listen and learn. This is not the comedy channel, a soap opera, a reality show or Question time. This is your life.
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