Leatham's descendents visit Turriff.
This May, Norlaine Thomas (great grand-daughter of James Leatham) came to Scotland to discover her roots and pay tribute to her ancestors.
James and Isobel Sinclair (Duncan) Leatham had four daughters. Mabel Margueritte was born in 1897, married Aberdeen born James Aiken (born 1888) and they moved to Winnipeg, Canada. (She died in 1977 and he died in 1974) Their son, Donald Aiken (1914-2004) was Norlaine’s father and was a journalist of some repute in Canada.
http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/people/aiken_dl.shtml for more info.
While the original Deveron Press print works are no longer standing (nor, indeed the building Leatham moved to in the 1940s) the Municipal Building in which Leatham served as councillor and then Provost, has been largely restored and the picture above shows Norlaine sitting in the very chair her great-grandfather sat at some 80 years previously.
Norlaine was happy to take a set of the ‘Deveron Press Centenary Edition’ back to Canada. Her brother retains a complete bound set of Gateway Magazines, and she has the roll top chair given to Leatham by the Print Workers Union.
The fire still burns bright for Leatham within his family circles in Canada, and we continue to do what we can to promote and advocate for his work here in Scotland.
James Leatham (centre) sits in the Provost's chair in 1940.
In words and pictures, the legacy of James Leatham endures!
Largely Political (originally published 1917)
As the printer and his neighbour the Sculptor were having a little talk in the early morning, an old man, carrying a broadish, strongly-made box strapped across his back, passed down the road towards the railway station. The Printer smiled sympathetically as he watched the old one pad briskly along with the carriage of one who in spite of his beard and threescore and ten years still walked like a boy out for the day. Apart from the sympathy one feels with (not for!) old men, the Printer recalled his first and only meeting with the old pedlar. They had both been waiting the train at Littlefield, and the box, with its American cloth cover nailed down with brass studs, had attracted the printer’s attention. The pedlar stood apart, and as the printer sat down on the long, broad set which held the box he had said with a smile ‘What a nobby box! If ever I take to the road this is just the kind of box I shall have.’ The old man had smiled taking this blarney just as it was meant to be taken, and they had got into lively crack as to the pedlar’s diocese.
As the two neighbours looked out after him today the stonecutter’s face opened in a responsive grin.
‘Ay, that aul’ mannie an’ anither lad had been drinkin’ somewye oot shoor; an’ they had cast oot, an’ the ither lad was gaunt i strick ‘im.’ The aul’ mannie put doon his box on the road, an’ stood up upon’t; an’ says he: ‘Ye widna strick a man in his ain shop, wid ye?’
As they talked there entered a tall, clean-shaven young chemist who had been dispenser in a great London house and had also followed his calling in Italy. He had lately succeeded to his father’s business in St Congan’s, and there being little else to think about in the town, his talk usually turned to business. The subject of artificial teeth cropped up, about which the Sculptor developed views of his own.
Chemist: Ye should get a set o’ false teeth, man, an’ be able to chew yer food properly, an’ nae be troubled wi’ indigestion.
Sculptor: Div ye seel false teeth?
Chemist: Na, na. It’s a pure masonic, philanthropic suggestion.
Sculptor: Och, man. I could easy get a set o’ false teeth for naething. The like o’ me ‘at works aboot graveyairds could easy come be a set o’ false teeth. The aul’ gravediffer got a row for the upper jaw oot o’ Miss Gregory’s aul’ grave, wi’ a lot o’ gold aboot them. Then he got a row for the lower jaw oot o’ aul’ Grassies lair. He offered me the twa sets; but na, na, says I, I’ll jist stick ti the droon’t loaf. Jock Williamson bocht a dandy outfit o’ teeth in Aiberdeen; bit he was fear’t ti pit them in. He fancied ‘imsel’ forgettin’ aboot them, an’ gaunt i bed wi’ them in, an’ them fai’in doon an’ chokin’ ‘im i’ the nicht.
Printer: I knew a man whose teeth used to fall down when he spoke and he was fond of making speeches. And I knew another old man who used to take out his teeth before he started to eat. So that neither of them could have had much use of their teeth. They would have just been ornamental in their case.
Sculptor: Fin Jock Williamson brocht his hame fae Aiberdeen he bung’t them intil a drawer; an’ I suppose they’re there yet.
The Readiness is all.
The Printer was passing along the top of a high bank to his midday meal when he noticed a jolly acquaintance down in the road below.
‘I’ll tak the high road, an ye’ll tak the low road,’ he chanted.
‘Ay, but I’ll be at the Station afore ye!’ came the quick answer.
‘I want you to post the Pelican to…’ and here the lady gave an address in Derbyshire. The Printer took down the name and pocketed the four shillings with a smile. This was the fourth order he had booked that week, and in two of the cases it had been a reader paying for the magazine to go to someone else. This he regarded as a sincere form of compliment.
‘I was a great believer in the Sunday Judge at one time,’ continued the lady; ‘but I got tired of its protectionism, its change of star artistes, and its want of any policy except the policy of purveying novelties and catering all the time for the average man.’
‘Why don’t you include the average woman?’ asked the man behind the desk.
The Lady: ‘Oh there’s nobody to cater for her in decent journalism. I suppose her custom isn’t worth having. Anyhow, why should she be specially catered for? The truth is the truth: the facts are either material or they aren’t. Why should the form of presentment be different? If a paper is a good man’s paper it should be a good woman’s paper.
Printer: You don’t want ‘chiffon’ and fashion news, then?
Lady: No, nor domestic hints, nor a love story about a dark, bearded man of fifty who is in love with a girl of twenty-five.
(She was on the sensible side of forty herself, and a personable, buxom woman, with a suggestion of temper about her quick, dark eyes that would probably be belied on experience. She was still a bacheloress, a busy and capable teacher in a south-country school, and with her plump figure, good looks, and good taste, she had probably been a little difficult to please; perhaps too busy and interested to think much about men.)
Printer: Are you not a suffragist, then, in these days when even a Tory Government accepts Votes for Women?
Lady: Oh, don’t talk about it. I should only be too pleased if I thought women were fit to have the franchise – if I even thought they were likely ever to take a decent interest or share in politics. But – well, I have been a reader of the Pelican for a long time now: and if I had been in any doubt about women suffrage, your articles would have confirmed me on the anti side. By the way, you haven’t been writing anything about it of late.
Printer: No, what’s the use of setting up a flag of negation? They’re to have the last of the franchises, right enough; and here we can but Wait and see. I don’t suppose they’ll really do much harm.
She: But you pointed out that already they do harm. You told us long ago about the reactionary way in which they vote in municipal elections.
He: Yes, but that’s only in the few places where any harm can be done. In most towns there’s so little to choose between one municipal candidate and another. In municipal politics there are no party divisions in Scotland at all, nor need there be: for Liberal and Tory are both non-progressive in municipal politics. In English towns there is no difference either – except where the Socialists come in with their ‘live’ programme, and then there’s something to fight about. In Bradford, Leicester, Manchester, Leeds, Huddersfield there are two sets – Individualists on the one side, who want no more Collectivism; Socialists on the other who believe we are at the beginning, not the end, of the Socialising process. In Yorkshire we used to have elections fought on such questions as Municipal Coal, Milk, Infirmaries, Housing – in short, the gradual extension of the sphere of Colleive control till private enterprise got edged out of the field.
Lady: How interesting and good! And the women voted against things like that?
Printer: Well, they did – in the result. But the pitiful thing is that they did not so much vote consciously against these things, but only against the men who represented them. As a matter of fact, they liked the ideas – cheap coal, pure and cheap milk, good houses and plenty of them, let at fair rents: properly equipped infirmaries maintained out of the rates, with the abominable street and door-to-door cadging abolished once for all, and no shipping of the services – how could they be opposed to all these?
Lady: what was the matter with the men then?
Printer: Well, I heard one woman say: ‘Wot’s good o’ votin’ for t’Labour men – they’ve no money.’ And another said to the canvassers, ‘No, I’m votin’ for Mr Taylor. He came here in his motor-car, and was very nice. So was Mrs. She were wearin’ a lovely set o’ firs – fifty pound if they were a penny. They were both very nice, and I’m sure they’d be good to the poor.’
Lady: Disgusting isn’t it? I remember now. And you told us about some woman who held up her boots to the candidate, and…’
Printer: She said ‘Th’other man says he’ll give me a pair o’ boots: what are tha prepared to do?’
Lady: And what did the canvasser say?
Printer: It was the candidate himself – a man of means who gave his time almost entirely to the poor children. He was secretary to the Cinderella Society, which sent poor children for a spell into the country, which found them clothes and shoes, and gave them occasional treats during the winter – at Christmas for instance. He said; ‘I’m not buying the seat. If you elect me I shall serve you, and you will owe me no more than I shall owe you.’
Lady: Exactly. And Mr Taylor was preferred.
Printer: No, Mr Taylor was in another ward. But it was the boot briber who was returned in this case. In both cases it would be owners of slum property; both sweaters almost to a certainty; and beyond all doubt they would vote against any attempt on the part of the community to extend its control over its own means of life.
Lady: Both Tories?
Printer: One a Tory, the other a Liberal. But nothing to choose between them when it came to real politics. Their idea was just keeping the ring. In that municipality they had actually gone back a generation. In the early eighties they had adopted the Housing Act and had erected a village of houses which belonged to the corporation and were managed by a clerk at the Town Hall. I have met him coming away from collecting the rents on a Monday morning, and he turned up his book showing all the rents regularly paid – weekly, as is the custom with the working-class homes in England. These well built cottages were let to a good class of tenants, and there were always applicants waiting for the first vacancy. The property was kept in excellent repair by the corporation, and in equally good order by the tenants. I have gone over some of these houses, and tenants said they were actually better houses now than they were at first – that improvements had been made.
Lady: Did they pay? There is always a cry that housing schemed don’t pay. Glasgow, for instance –
Printer: Oh the Glasgow housing scheme was saddled with a debt of three million spent on clearing out rotten slums which the actual housing scheme had nothing to do with. The Birmingham schemes all pay. The significant thing about this Huddersfield scheme I speak of is that the corporation kept the rents low and lost some £50 a year over it. But of course they were gradually wiping off the original cost of the scheme, and the time would come when the sinking-fund charge would all be paid off, and the houses would be free both of interest and sinking-fund charges. Anyhow, another sixpence a week on the low rents would have extinguished the loan; but the corporation wanted to be able to say that there was a loan as an excuse for not rapidly developing other housing schemes.
Lady (smiling) Surely not.
Printer: Well, you shall judge. You are to understand, first of all, that Huddersfield is the most Socialist town in Britain. At every Parliamentary election there are three candidates – Liberal, Socialist, Tory. The Liberal always wins; but the Socialist usually polls a small third of the votes, and is in second place; though at last election a strong local Tory climbed for once into the second place. Well, the manufacturers know what Socialism is. They know that the game is up with them if this way of it is allowed to succeed. And so they actually go out of their way to keep Socialism back. The town had Parliamentary powers to wire and fit electric lighting appliances; but they actually divested themselves of this power – abrogated the clause in the Omnibus bill which gave them this power – because it was found that the plumbers objected to corporation servants doing what they claimed was their work. The corporation supplied the current, and carried it into your premises; but then the plumber had to be called in to take up the tale and fit you with wires, switches, and globes.
Lady: And the councillors abolished this power they had. Seems extraordinary.
Printer: You’ll see more of that as the struggle between Socialism and Capitalism develops. From the point of view of the master class – plumbers, farmers, manufacturers – electricity is generated, cattle are fed, and cloth is woven, not that our streets and homes may be lit, the hungry fed, and the naked clothes, but primarily that they may make profits out of their business. Anything that shows how the community can get along very much better without them than with them is a thing to be downed as soon as possible. I could give you incontestable proofs of that from the municipality I speak of, where the class ware is seen in its naked outlines.
Lady: And that is in Yorkshire! I always thought of Yorkshire as being slow-going and canny.
Printer: Well you are wrong so far. Don’t forget that Yorkshire returns a good many Labour members of Parliament. Scotland has only three all told – Barnes, Wilkie, and Adamson. But Yorkshire returns as many from Leeds, Bradford and Attercliffe. And there are others. But that’s the whistle of your Macduff train. ‘Bon voyage!’
Its Causes and Some Results.
The words Renaissance, Rinascimento, Renascence mean more than any plain English word will connote. The Renaissance was not only a revival of learning, and a religious reformation, and a revival of the arts, but it also stood for a complete rebirth of the human spirit, a complete change of attitude towards all the problems of life and time, and especially towards the problem of the government of the universe.
The revival has been attributed to five main events - the invention of printing in 1444, the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, with the diffusion over Europe of the Oriental learning, the discovery of America by Columbus and Vespucci in 1492, the Protestant Reformation (1517), and the publication of the Copernican theory in 1543. Copernicus had written his book 36 years previously, but had kept it back from fear of the Church. A dignity of the Church, Cardinal Schomberg, had urged him to publish the book, but when it appeared it had the same stormy reception which was accorded to Galileo’s discoveries later in the day. The Inquisition condemned the book as heretical, and in a decree prohibiting it, the compilers of the ‘Index Expurgatorius’ denounced the views of Copernicus as ‘that false Pythagorean doctrine utterly contrary to the Holy Scriptures.’
The view which had obtained up to that time was the Ptolemaic theory that the earth was fixed in space. If the earth were in motion, as the Pythagorean system claimed, Ptolemy argued that it would leave the air and other light bodies behind it. He therefore not only gave the earth a fixed position, but placed it in the centre of a system, the Sun, Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Saturn revolving round our planet, with the fixed stars lying beyond the orbit of Saturn. Copernicus established the fact that the earth was a mere point in the heavens, that it revolved, that the sun, moon, and heavenly bodies exercised the force of gravity. Copernicus anticipated some of the discoveries of Newton and other later astronomers, and although his theories were not all equally accurate, his book fully deserved its name ‘De Revolutionibus.’ It displaced the earth as the great centre of the cosmic scheme, to which all the other luminaries existed only as servants or subordinates, to give light by day or by night. The revolutionary speculations of Copernicus were supplemented ere long by those of Galileo, Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), and Kepler (1571-163o); and the invention of the telescope by Hans Lippershey in 1608 enabled the later star-gazers to verify Copernicus where he was right and to correct him where he was in error.
The Fall of Constantinople.
But it was the fall of Constantinople, the great capital of Christendom, that broke the restrictive power of the Church of Rome, and rendered inevitable the diffusion of Arabian learning. Previous to the date of the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 the Church had dominated the world, and all civilization had to filter through her, or, as often happened, had to be crushed and kept back. The Roman Church had patriarchs (bishops) in Alexandria, Rome, and Jerusalem, as well as Constantinople; but these cities had fallen one after the other before the all-conquering hordes of the Khalifs. The hosts which overthrew the Roman power by the conquest, finally, of Constantinople were very largely a rabble. Gibbon’s chapter dealing with the siege of Constantinople showed that the chief cause of the downfall of that ancient city was the devotion born of absolute conviction on the part of the Mahometans that they had the true faith and the message that would alone redeem the world.
The fall of the great Christian cities went far to destroy the prestige and power of the Church in civil affairs. The Church had pretended to be able to work miracles, to hold the powers of life and death, of heaven and hell; and when the common people saw that she could not even save herself from the rabble armies of fanatical Mahometans their faith in her pretensions to possess larger powers received a death-blow.
The clergy of the Church of Rome, sufficiently corrupt before the downfall of the Western Empire, became even more cynically faithless after that event. Pope Leo the Tenth, the pontiff of the period, himself said: ‘What profit has not the fable of Christ brought us!’
Mahomet had learned his theology from the Nestorian Christians, whose teachings were Pantheistic and entirely free from the idolatry that characterised Christianity at the time.
Mahomet’s teaching was unitarian, and the Mahometans utterly condemned the idea that God shared his power with Jesus or the Virgin Mary. They fulminated against the worship of saints and images, and a conquering Khalif rode his horse into the sea after passing triumphantly across Northern Africa, and solemnly declared to God that but for the ocean he would have carried the faith in the unity of God into whatever lands there might be to the westward. This was centuries before the voyages of Columbus and Vespucci and Vasco di Gama and Magellan had proved the rotundity of the earth and the existence of a western hemisphere.
The New Learning.
What was this new learning which the fall of Constantinople and the waning authority of the Church of Rome liberated over Christendom?
Originally the Saracenic followers of Mahomet had been contentedly, even determinedly ignorant. It was an early head of the Saracenic Empire, the Khalif Omar, who, when asked what was to be done with the remainder of the great library of Alexandria, said: ‘If the books agree with the Koran, the word of God, they are useless and need not be preserved; if they disagree with it they are pernicious. Let them be destroyed.’ And the furnaces of the baths at Alexandria were, it is said, kept going for six months with the wisdom of the ancients.
But there came a time when all this zealotry against enlightenment gave place to its opposite. Within a hundred years of the death of Mahomet translations of the classical philosophers into Arabic began to be made. Even the ‘Odyssey’ and the ‘Iliad,’ despite their pagan allusions, were rendered in Syriac for the benefit of the learned. From 753, when Almansor transferred the seat of the Khalifate to Bagdad, the Saracens devoted immense and increasing attention to literature and science. And this taste for knowledge persisted long after the division of the Saracenic Empire into three parts. In Asia, in Egypt, in Spain the Khalifs so cultivated the finer pursuits of life that when Catholicism once again secured the ascendancy in Spain Cardinal Ximenes could deliver to the flames in the squares of Granada no fewer than eighty thousand Arabic manuscripts, many of them translations of Greek and Roman authors. At Tripoli the Crusaders burned a library fancifully stated to have contained three million volumes.
The Saracens boasted that they had produced more poets than all other nations combined. Probably none of the poets of antiquity has had so great a popular vogue as the wonderfully modern Omar Khayyam, who had many fellows in all parts of the widespread Mahometan empire, which extended from the Great Wall of China to the Atlantic Ocean, from the Caspian Sea to the Indian Ocean.
Science they cultivated after the manner of the Alexandrian Greeks - by observation of Nature and practical experiment, not by barren speculation. Using the mathematical sciences, they wrote on trigonometry, hydrostatics, optics, mechanics. They founded chemistry and devised many of the appliances still used in distillation, filtration, sublimation, and fusion. They invented algebra. They adopted the Indian numerals. They compiled tables of specific gravities and of astronomical observations. Quadratic equations were invented by Mohammed Ben Musa; cubic equations by Omar Ben Ibrahim. Sines were devised to take the place of chords in trigonometry. They named the stars and measured their distances. They fixed the length of the year and verified the precession of the equinoxes. The recorded astronomical observations of Ibn Junis, astronomer of the Egyptian Khalif, Hakem, A.D. 1000, were found by the modern Laplace to be of great scientific value, bearing as they did on eclipses, conjunctions of planets, and occultations of stars. They invented the clock pendulum as one of their many novelties in clockwork, and they devoted themselves to the construction and improvement of astronomical instruments. Applying chemistry to medicine, they were the first to publish pharmacopœias. In optics they corrected the Greek theory that the ray proceeds from the eye and touches the object seen, substituting the hypothesis that the ray passes from the object to the eye.
The Fatimite library at Cairo contained one hundred thousand volumes, elegantly written, illuminated, and bound. Among these were 6500 books on astronomy and medicine alone, and the books in this library were lent to outside readers. In this library were two geographical globes, one of massive silver constructed at a cost of 3000 golden crowns; the other of brass, said to have been made for Ptolemy himself. The 600,000 volumes in the library of the Spanish khalifs represented only one of the many large Moorish collections in Spain. Andalusia is reported to have had seventy public libraries; and private libraries were often so large that a doctor refused to enter the service of the Sultan of Bokhara because the carriage of his books would have required four hundred camels.
Every khalif had his historian. There were histories, not only of illustrious men and of notable events, but even of great horses and camels. ‘The Thousand and One Nights’ was only one of the many works of imagination which the followers of Mahomet produced. Statistics, law, geography, medicine were all the subject of treatises. An ‘Encyclopædic Dictionary of All the Sciences,’ by Mohammed Abu Abdallah, existed centuries before such a work was dreamt of in Christian Europe. Colleges were dotted all over the Saracenic Empire. The mosque had its school when the church had none. The first medical college in the world was that established by the Saracens at Salerno in Italy; the first astronomical observatory was that founded by them at Seville in Spain.
The great Khalif Al-Mamun had declared that ‘they are the elect of God, his best and most useful servants, whose lives are devoted to the improvement of their rational faculties,’ and that ‘the teachers of wisdom are the true luminaries and legislators of this world, which, without their aid, would again sink into ignorance and barbarism.’
This spirit profoundly affected the arts of life. Under the Saracens agriculture showed improvements in irrigation, the employment of manures, the breeding of cattle and horses, the introduction of the culture of rice, of sugar, and of coffee. In manufactures they extended the production of silk, cotton, and woollens; they were expert in the treatment of leather, as the words cordovan and morocco still attest. The Toledo blade is only one example of their skill in mining, forging, and metallurgy generally.
The lighter side of life also bears enduring marks of their genius. They invented the game of chess; they excelled in music; they were fond of the improvising genius of the story-teller, the poet, and the minstrel.
The civilization which the Spaniards overturned was in some respects a civilization of more than twentieth century elegance. Their streets were well paved and lighted. Their houses were frescoed, carpeted, warmed in winter by furnaces, and cooled in summer with perfumed air brought in pipes underground from flower beds.
At a time when all the rest of Europe was both gluttonous and drunken, the Moors were abstemious as regards food, while wine was forbidden by their religion and avoided as a matter of instinct. But baths were everywhere, and when the overthrow of the Moorish power came, the Catholics who venerated matted hair, long beards, and dirty nails, revelled in the destruction of the appliances of cleanliness.
The overthrow of Mahometanism in Spain was the triumph of a lower civilization over a higher.
Mahometan Speculation in Religion.
As regards the government of the universe, the Mahometans were fatalists in a degree, but only because they believed that the course of natural law was never broken. While the Catholic believed in miracles, in constant interpositions of Providence, and was continually asking the Saints or the Madonna for favours, Islam believed the will of God to be unchangeable. When he prayed it was to give thanks for past favours. To whatever might come he was resigned. He had no conception of any outside interference with the sequence of events. Cause naturally produced effect, and the effect was in turn a cause of something else. The wounded and the sick could indeed be tended, since there was a law of recovery as well as of death. But there was no idea of interfering with the natural sequence of events by the invocation of miracle or the suspension of natural law. What must be must be, and though the event could not be prejudged, God knew what was best, and nought was done without His will.
In the rest of Europe the worship of relics, holy wells, and the pictures and images of saints was among the daily observances of life. Even schoolmen discussed how many angels could dance on the point of a needle, and the tendency of air or water to rush in to fill a depression was explained on the theory that Nature abhorred a vacuum. The humanities of ancient Greece and Rome were unknown to the people. Artists painted gospel subjects and gospel figures. Rooms were decorated with ‘the story of St. Margaret, Virgin, and four Evangelists,’ or ‘a Mary with her child,’ or ‘the figures of the guards of the bed of Solomon,’ or ‘the history of Dives and Lazarus.’ These are extracts from specifications of mural paintings as ordered to be executed by artists of the thirteenth century. Dante could deal with no subjects more momentous than Paradise, Purgatory, and the Inferno. The absorption in scriptural subjects was natural with a people whose only literary teaching consisted of the expositions of Biblical topics which they heard from the pulpit. To-day we decorate our rooms with pictures of natural sights or scenes, a stag drinking from a lake, with a background of blue mountain, brown heath, green grass, or russet trees; portraits of relatives, kings, or generals; perhaps a few pieces of statuary which, even if they be only plaster casts, show the swift grace of a pursuing Diana, a bold pose of a defiant Ajax, the pathetic beauty of a Venus of Milo, the muscular repose of a resting Hermes, the debonnair aplomb of a Venus Genetrix. If our natures take colour from the objects by which we are surrounded these are better company than the guards of the bed of Solomon or the swarthy and bearded fishermen evangelists, though these also have their place in art.
Ruskin is delighted with the rejoicings of the people in the Santa Maria Novella of Florence over the acquisition of a new picture to their church, and points out that these were so often renewed that the district became known as the Joyful Quarter. The dark side of the picture is that these same people even to this day have a horror of the Evil Eye, and break into frenzied violence against the sanitary officials who seek to stamp out epidemic disease.
Even the rude drama of pre-Renaissance days was concerned with scriptural subjects, because these were the only literary themes which found a place in the minds of the people.
The Return to Nature.
With the Renaissance came a return to Nature in all the arts. The consequences of this return have not all of them been good, nor was the blight of a Manichean theology lifted all at once. But the leaven was and still is working. It tended to make the world a more cheerful and desirable place to live in. It tended to make man think of himself less as an intruder in the world than as a wonderful creature with a miraculous brain and ten fingers who could plan and execute great works in the world and enjoy much legitimate happiness.
In the year 1000, when the Arabs were busy with their science and their applied arts, all Christendom lay under a cloud because the Crack of Doom, the end of the world, was expected. The fields lay uncultivated, the sick untended, the dead unburied.
The sense of human unworthiness which gave rise to these superstitions did not make men more virtuous. Drunkenness, fierce street-fights, brutality to wives and children, sanguinary massacres at the end of battle or siege were the rule. The sense of being hopeless sinners seemed to reconcile men to being what it was said they must be. They were under a wrath and curse no matter what they did. And they behaved exactly as might have been expected.
The Renaissance was at least the beginnings of a movement, painfully slow in its filtration downwards, whose tendency was to persuade man to think well of himself and to see to it that he was worthy of his own self-respect. Needless to say, the Renaissance is not yet complete.
Italy was the first theatre of the great change. It produced painters such as Raphael, Titian, Correggio; sculptors such as Donatello and Michael Angelo; poets such as Ariosto and Petrarch; philosophers like Machiavelli, Bruno, Telesio, and Campanella, whose ‘City of the Sun’ still finds a place alongside More’s ‘Utopia’ as a picture of an ideal commonwealth.
The Italian gentleman of the time was a man of taste and literary knowledge, a very much finer man than the rude soldiers and chieftains of Northern Europe. But the authority of the Church having been discredited, the Italians seemed to think they could get along without any moral code whatsoever, and some of the nobility and gentry actually did so.
The Renaissance produced better men in Germany. In Art Germany had its Albert Durer and its Holbein (who later came to England). It had its witty Erasmus, its humorous Ulrich von Hutten, its learned Paracelsus, Melanchthon, and Reuchlin. But the Germans of the Renaissance were more concerned about domineering over the priests and nobles who had domineered over them before the change came than they were about personal moral or æsthetic perfection. Luther, with his pugnacity, was the most typical German of the Renaissance.
The lack of printed books at first gave a great vogue to oral teaching. The family of the Aldines during three generations were the great printers of the Renaissance. Printing probably had more to do with the great revival than any other agency whatsoever. These early printers were writers and translators as well as printers, and they opened up the humanistic literature of antiquity, especially that of the Greeks.
The Renaissance, take it as a whole, was a movement towards Reality in life. Its literature dealt with man, not with the supernatural, the necromantic. Its painters no longer painted imps and angels, but men and women and landscapes. Its doctors did not try to cure with exorcisms, or adder’s blood, or incantations pronounced when the moon was at the full.
The spirit of the Renaissance is very well expressed in the words of Denis, the French soldier in the great novel of the Renaissance: ‘En avant! Courage, tout le monde; le diable est mort’ (Let us advance! Courage, all the world; the Devil is dead). The Renaissance, such as it was in the fifteenth century, marked the beginning of the world-movement whose outcome it is to make more and more plain that man is master of his own fate if he will but be humble and willing to learn; that there are no supernatural interferences with the orderly course of cosmic law, nothing to prevent mankind in the mass from believing that they have control of their own destiny.
The Abolition of Glasgow
Will the Glasgow Socialist M.P’s hold the field? They probably will; for the Labour vote is the steadiest of all. The law of the pendulum does not apply to it. The Socialist vote all over the world does not diminish, but steadily increases. It is to be hoped that the Clydeside phalanx will remain intact; for its members are more likely to adapt themselves readily to the changed prospect of trade and the world position of industry than any other class of man who could be elected. They have no vested interests in the continuance of commercialism. They are mentally and economically free men in the sense that members of the shareholding class are not.
The beginning of trouble.
But already difficulties have arisen, as reflected in the following resolution which the Glasgow Trades Council has adopted: -
The Conference, recognising the attempts to revive foreign trade as a method of providing employment are doomed to failure, inasmuch as Great Britain can never again be ‘the workshop of the world,’ hereby declares that the only policy which will materially help to solve the unemployment problem today is that of the national organisation of industry, particularly in the field of agricultural production, so that we may not continue to be dependent on foreign sources for our food supplies, which the restriction of our foreign trade now seriously endangers.
These resolutions represent the beginning of trouble which had to come, within the party. What they mean is that something like a school of physiocrats and aschool of mercantilists threatens to develop, or has already developed, within the Socialist party, repeating a division of the Individualist thought which first came into noticeable being in the time of Adam Smith and French Turgot.
Mercantilists vs Physiocrats.
Frankly, one stands with the spirit of the resolution which Glasgow opposed and defeated. The physiocratic view is that real wealth consists of land and its products. It is a producers’ philosophy. The mercantilist view is that any kind of traffic from which money can be made represents wealth-production. Paper money, scrip, banks, advertising agencies, battleships, unnecessary shops and offices, would all figure as wealth in the mercantilist view, which regards not the intrinsic value of any service or thing, but its marketable value. Mercantilism is the antithesis of Socialism. There will always be shops and offices; but any Socialism worthy of the name would abolish Glasgow as it exists at present. Ninety-nine of every hundred of its shops and offices would be absolutely unnecessary in a real Co-operative Commonwealth. Not one fourth of the men of Glasgow are engaged in work for which a Co-operative Commonwealth would have any use.
Will the shop assistants, boilermakers, rivetters, and clerks support a party which sees in the development of ‘agricultural production,’ with the subsidiary callings of the rural community, the great hope of the future? Judging by the Glasgow Trades Council’s resolution, they will not readily do so.
Does Back to the Land mean a Lower Standard of Life?
The prompt answer of the urban dweller to all proposals for agricultural development is that ‘back to the land’ means the acceptance of a lower standard of life. To adopt this view may be natural to the person who merely looks around upon existing British and American conditions; but the facts are against him on a wider survey, even today. The Danish co-operators and the French market gardeners, with their high earnings and retirement at 55 to 60 years of age, are proofs to the contrary; and the pictures of medieval English prosperity left us by Sir John Fortesque, the Rev Hugh Latimer, and the farm accounts quoted by Professor Thorold Rogers, show that the people who lived upon the land in the fourteenth to the sixteenth century enjoyed a relatively high standard of comfort even in that age of undeveloped mechanical power. A labourer’s wage was ‘twice or three times his cost of maintenance,’ says Thorold Rogers.
Anyhow, the objectors are not likely to be asked whether they are prepared to accept that lower standard or not. Britain will not continue to be the workshop of the world merely because the urban dweller wishes it to be so.
The number of the unemployed in the Clyde Valley is put at 100,000. And there is no present prospect of improvement along capitalistic lines. Freights are scarcer than ever. Cotton is dull and likely to continue so. Chemicals and the metallurgical trades reflect the general stagnation. Even coal in Glasgow does not seem to share in the slight boom caused by the Ruhr trouble, and the number of vessels reported as sailing ‘light’ or arriving ‘to be laid up’ is depressing in its immediate significance.
One half of the mercantile marine of America is laid up. Glasgow ships crowd the Gare Loch; and it is said that enough shipping is anchored in Indian waters to take home the whole Anglo-Indian population should a serious rising take place in that restless and teaming dependency.
The dour and reactionary men of the Ulster coast have just had British credit pledged to the extent of millions in guarantee of a shipbuilding venture there; but a Tory Government is not likely to do much in this way for the shipyard hands who vote Labour, even if there were a demand for shipping.
Revitalising the Home Market
The Labour Party may take the ground that the due improvement o the home market would revive overseas trade and the demand for shipping. They may argue that with the National Debt enormously reduced by a thorough-going Capital Levy, the money which now goes in interest charges to the relatively small class of the well-to-do would be diffused among the wage-earners and would transform adversity into prosperity. They may point out that the reduction in the earnings of the working class by £700,000,000 a year is quite sufficient to account for bad trade, irrespective altogether of the loss of foreign markets, since the higher wage was paid while the foreign markets, since the higher wage was paid while the foreign markets were still closed.
There is much to be said for the view that a revived home market would mean more for trade prosperity than the recovery of all the foreign markets. But the question is: How is the vicious circle to be broken, that keeps the home market stagnant? Granted that a substantial reduction of imperial taxation would greatly lower prices and set money free for enhanced working class buying, how long with the process have to be deferred? How can wages be forced up with a million and a quarter of unemployed on the ‘register’ to break strikes and keep labour quiet? A Labour majority at the next General Election would ensure the Capital Levy; but what would ensure a Labour majority?
Protection from Whom?
Toryism never had the majority it has at present; and the reason lies in a matter in which the Labour party has not given very particular attention. Toryism got the votes of the Sleepy Hollows, it is said, because Tory candidates promised Protection for agriculture.
That something needs to be done for agriculture there is no manner of question. But what? The deputation of farmers and their workpeople which waited on Mr Bonar Law during the Norfolk strike heard, without protect and without alternative suggestion, his despairing plea that, in spite of election promises, a Parliamentary majority for Protectionism was not to be had, and that a subsidy was out of the question.
Protection against what or whom? It might have been asked. The produce with which British agriculture has to compete at present is mainly American, Canadian, and Australian produce. The standard of comfort for the producers of food is too low in all parts of the world; but it is not lower, but rather higher, in the competing countries than it is at home. British agriculture might well need protection from German, Russian or Austrian produce; but these countries are not exporting food; they need all they can raise for themselves.
One Great Handicap.
One great handicap to British agriculture is railway rates. These favour the foreigner as much as they punish the home producer. The nationalisation of the railways, with a uniform rate for home and foreign produce, would automatically exclude a large amount of foreign grain and meat, which has to travel thousands of miles by sea and hundreds of miles by land, both in the country where it is raised and on our own home railways. Long ago so shrewd a business man as the late Sir John Brunner pointed out that the greatest thing the Government could do for British trade would be to nationalise the railways and equalise the rates for home and foreign traffic. One sees no hint of this in Labour’s practical policy as apart from the general declaration in favour of all-round nationalisation. The present writer has publicly and privately tried to ‘rush’ Mr Ramsay MacDonald in the matter of railway nationalisation; but even during the paralysing strike of 1911 Mr MacDonald answered an urgent plea by saying ‘This is not the time to nationalise.’
The Oldest and Largest Industry
To set agriculture, the oldest and still the largest industry in Britain, on its feet, would not only be an eminently desirable change in itself, but would be the best of all preparations for setting the British Commonwealth in order generally. To this end the re-establishment of the Wages Boards, with a fixed minimum wage for the worker, fair controlled prices for produce, and insistence by the Government on efficient farming, beyond even war-time standards, would be, not merely palliatives of Individualism, but instalments of Collectivism.
But can Glasgow and its unemployed wait for the working out of anything so slow? Ought they to wait? Thousands of able-bodied young men and men in the prime of life are being ruined by enforced idleness, short commons, and the physically enervating and mentally and morally soul-deadening effects of living in a community which has no use for them. The dole is being paid for no return, except that it just keeps alive the men who draw it.
A Timber Famine
Meanwhile there is no end of work to be done in developing the waste places of our own land. The Forestry Commission has just issued a report in which it predicts a timber famine at no distant date. The Forestry Act passed in 1919 is by no means a dead letter. There are in the north eastern division of Scotland some forty unemployment schemes of forestry in operation, one quarter of which are under public authorities. But there is still admitted crying need for additions to the areas being dealt with.
The British Desert.
One great blot upon the economy of the British Isle is that a vast country like Sutherlandshire should be lying mostly derelict. Its 1200 square miles carry a diminishing population of about 10 to the square mile, or some 21,000 for the whole breadth of Scotland from sea to sea. There are fertile valleys in the neighbourhood of the rivers; but the soil is mostly poor and thin, and the region is swept by cold winds and mists from the North Sea and the Atlantic.
It is just the county for a large experiment in State afforestation. The fact that the natural conditions are so poor marks it out for public enterprise. Trees will grow where nothing else wil, and the more there are the more there will be. The planting of a great belt of woodland along the northern and western coast would do much to keep off the cold winds and mists and raise the whole temperature of the north of Scotland.
The railway service penetrates only a small portion of the area; but there are many good roads, and the motor waggon has now made the railway of less necessity.
Instead of paying unemployment benefit and giving subsidies or guarantees to Ulster shipbuilding and African cotton-growing, surely it would be more reasonable to spend money on reclaiming the north of Scotland from desert.
The population of Glasgow has always been largely recruited from the Highlands, and to the Highland as many should be returned, under favourable conditions, as would go. The land is mostly the property of the Duke of Sutherland, who has already had State grants for improvements. He could be bought out on the hire-purchase system – the rental of 17 years being treated as purchase-money, and the valuation to take no account of sporting values.
Settled down in well-organised colonies, housed at first in army huts till the unemployed masons could build houses, the colonists could carry on the work of tree-planting and preparing the ground under State forestry officers. What of agriculture and horticulture could be combined with forestry work might go on under skilled guidance; and the men and their womenfolk might carry their own amusements and arts of life into a district which badly needs invasions of the kind. Much of civilization was introduced to Scotland by the 10,000 soldiers of General Monk’s garrison, who introduced vegetables such as had not before been seen in the north, and generally set an example of industry to the flaunting idle, ‘braves’ of the district.
Such a scheme need cost the Government no more than is being paid at present without return while the physical and moral benefits to the transplanted citizens from Clydeside must needs be incalculable.
The county supported of many more people than it does now. Hugh Millar says that in one decade 15,000 persons were driven off the land; and the story of the clearances represents an indelible tale of shame to those responsible for it as carried out.
The scheme for transplanting suggested would not, by itself, mean the depopulation of Glasgow; but as part of a general return to the natural way of living it may well be as salutary as it is likely to be found necessary. It would be the beginning of a reversal of present tendencies. The coastwise population of the highlands is being shipped abroad in hundreds at a trip; but this is because of the loss of the Continental herring markets. Agriculture and afforestation have not been seriously tried there in the light of the newer knowledge or under the spur of newer necessities.
Climate and soil can both be made, and results justify the labour and expenditure. Trees and enclosures raise the temperature as a contingent advantage, and of course trees represent genuine wealth in themselves. We are all physiocrats to the extent of accepting that. But as regards the mercantilist theory that trade for export can go on for ever, that is obviously illogical. As Johnson put it long ago –
‘Depend up on it, this rage of trade will destroy itself. You and I shall not see it; but the time will come when there will be an end of it. Trade is like gaming. If a whole company are gamesters play must cease; for there is nothing to be won. When all nations are traders there is nothing to be gained by trade, and it will stop first where it is brought first to the greatest perfection.’
This does not mean that the end of Glasgow has come, and that within measurable distance it will become a deserted heap of ruins like the derelict cities of antiquity. But it does mean that Glasgow has to all appearance reached the point when further growth is neither probably nor desirable, and that a move in another direction is fully due.
Can Britain Feed Herself?
That the land of Britain is capable of supporting its present population from its own soil, and enjoying an improved standard of life in doing so, is hardly worth proving. The facts are notorious to all serious students. The textile manufacturing State of Saxony supports over 600 persons to the square mile with home-grown food. So does Belgium, and exports manufactured goods and foodstuffs as well. The British farmer considers seven tons of potatoes to the acre a good crop, though favoured districts, such as the Howe of the Mearns, raise the figure to 14. But the German farmer produces over 116 tons to the hectare (just under three acres) which is nearer 40 tons to the acre. For one thing, German sewage is not wasted. Berlin’s river, the Spree, is kept unpolluted by the city’s sewage , which is pumped up from self-contained sewers and is used on 18 sewage farms.
Back to the land is no untried experiment, no leap in the dark. France has no unemployed, and is even importing British workmen, because the people use their land, and, while they produce goods for export, do not depend on foreign markets.
The city is – all cities are – the abode of death. The life of the great centres is kept going by new men from the country. The business men, the professional men, are of fresh stock. Old firms and old families either disappear or they are kept alive by the infusion of country stock or by their members combining country life with urban.
None need dread or shun a return to the life of smaller or more scattered communities. Rather it is a consummation to be striven for. Humanity wilts and dies out in purely urban surroundings in the course of a very few generations. William Morris, much as he loved London, when he came to write his utopia ‘News from Nowhere,’ thinned out the city to extinction. In this he probably only adopted the most feasible alternative to Macaulay’s picture of a New Zealander who ‘shall in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St Pauls.’ The ancient States persisted in clinging to the wrong way of life till it had to be ruin complete and entire. Let us hope that neither Glasgow nor London, nor Britain as a whole will refuse to adapt herself in time, to changing conditions of living and of getting a living.
A time to look backwards and forwards. It’s been a privilege to act as editor for three years bringing The Gateway to life once more.
Sometimes it feels depressing to look at Leatham’s writing and realise that he had many answers to problems we still encounter – and realise that if people had listened to his reasoning then, we may not have had these problems still. If people failed to listen to him then, how much more do they need to listen to him now, when hindsight shows us where we have taken wrong forks in the path, and Leatham is able to suggest where we might have taken a more positive approach. And a positive approach is something I try to hold on to, because without it there is no possibility of change for the better.
The work of Leatham, and past/present responses to it certainly provide a salutary lesson in the way our society works and how it has developed. Utopian idealism has always been with us – but real, robust choices have also been both possible and revealed. Reading Leatham’s work has highlighted to me both the futility of going against the grain, and the very vital importance of continuing to speak truth to power without fear or favour.
It is not our personal responsibility that things have ‘turned out’ the way they have. But the realities we live in now have been explored, explained and many times presaged by Leatham’s writing. Perhaps it is too late to ‘go back’ to correct errors of the past, but surely an understanding of the path we’ve taken (or been forced to take) might help us to engage with building a better future. Or is this just another cycle of ‘utopian idealism’? Cynicism, defeatism and the drive for individualism are all victims (sometimes willingly) of the economic system we live under.
I am left with no final conclusion other than that I wish more people had taken the notion of Co-operative Commonwealth seriously in days gone by, and that more people looking for a ‘better’ or ‘alternative’ system, would educate themselves in it now. There are alternatives.
When I began my editorship I was, perhaps naively, bemused by why his work had been so ignored, so thoroughly air-brushed from our social and cultural history. Now I have grown to know Leatham more through his writing, I am confident I know the answer. He was dangerous. He is still dangerous. His ideas are complex, challenging and comprehensive. He represents over sixty years of a man’s views – a man who saw the world as it was – and knew how he would like it to be.
I am convinced he will remain in the shadows because he shines light into some very dark places – places those in power are determined will stay dark to us all. And because of all this I am proud to have been responsible in some small way to bearing witness to a truth that was not afraid to speak its name. A truth that is once more available to readers - to those brave enough to engage with it and those who want to reach out beyond the cage (gilded or otherwise) in which we find ourselves today.
In this, the last online Gateway we look both ways, with our full focus on the work of Leatham. His seven Part: Glasgow in the Limelight concludes (and will soon be available as a complete work) and we offer a chapter of the thought provoking and entertaining ‘serial’ Twixt Desk and Shelves, which ran in Gateway for twenty five years from 1916 to 1941. Written in 1917 it offers some unusual views on women’s suffrage. His argument, though perhaps unpopular, has some resonance. Far from being a misogynist, I read it as suggesting that women (people in general) should be educated before they are simply given a vote. With the power comes the responsibility after all. The argument for an educated electorate is rather compelling when you consider some of the results of our exercise of democratic votes in the past few years!
One day, I hope to edit a complete edition of Twixt Desk and Shelves, as they show an interesting ‘alternative’ social history of Turriff and its people. Also this month is Leatham’s pamphlet about the Renaissance – affording us the opportunity to reflect back on a ‘rebirth’ and consider its consequences in a post-Renaissance world. Finally, it seemed fitting to include news of the recent visit to Aberdeen and Turriff by descendents of Leatham himself. It proved, if it was needed, that there is a vibrant link between past, present and future, and I am happy to have played my part in the process.
This is the final online edition, but it is not the end either of Gateway or Deveron Press. In the future we will be putting more work online as and when we can. We will build an online Index of all articles in Gateway to aid further exploration. We will continue to work to ‘voice’ authors who have something important to say and whose stories might otherwise remain hidden. We will publish in digital and print form where possible to keep spreading the word and advocating for the writing of Leatham and others who have been forced into shadows and neglected for too long. We will keep shining light into the dark places of our country, our culture and our world. Please do keep enjoying the archive of material online as it remains freely available.
Rab Christie, Editor.
To find past articles please use monthly archives.