We all know the cliché a week is a long time in politics, but the last month has just blown that cliché right out of the water. As our new Prime Minister has just told us ‘Brexit means Brexit’ – and a pundit remarked on one of the interminable political programmes that have spawned like a virus post Referendum/Referendum (Indy/EU) ‘that’s clear but we need to know what Brexit means.’
It’s clear we are in a state of uncertainty at present and meaning seems to be thin on the ground. I cannot speculate what is going to happen – apart from to suggest it is going to be a very bumpy ride.
We’ve seen the Conservative AND UNIONIST (as our new PM reminds us) go through the mother of all political pogroms, and the Labour Party/Labour Movement is not just going through a leadership challenge, or even an identity crisis, but perhaps a defining moment. Not, I should add, its first. The Labour Party suffered its birth pangs just over a century ago. Is it now in its death throes? Thirty years ago I might have been accused of exaggeration – but then did we really see the break up the Soviet Union after a mere 70 years? I didn’t. That’s worth thinking about when we consider the European Union and our part (or not) in it as of 2016. These are not just ‘interesting’ times; they are dangerous times. Change is coming – but we are floundering around trying to make meaning of what that change might be.
I venture to suggest that a lot of our current ‘troubles’ are the result of a failure to understand that democracy comes in several flavours (not all of them tolerable.) For oh, so long, we have given ourselves up to representative democracy – and those who didn’t agree with it simply voted (or didn’t) with their feet. Then came a wave of participatory democracy in the form of Referenda. And verily, the public discovered they liked participatory democracy. It made them feel empowered.
I see it as akin to the bird in the gilded cage being let out, or the shadow people getting out of Plato’s Cave. But there is no obvious happy ending to either of those scenarios, or indeed to the one we face now.
What was overlooked in our recent process was that once the questions had been asked (and answered) people wanted to stay in the loop. But that’s not the way it works in a representative democracy.
Representative democracy is about abdication of responsibility – passing the buck to someone else who will ‘do it for you,’ whereas participatory democracy suggests that ‘we the people’ actually get involved and take some responsibility. The two things are rarely compatible.
The Labour Party/Movement debacle (for want of a better word) gives us a great example of this. Whatever you think about him here’s the basic story: The Labour Party (under New Labour and post New Labour) lose touch with ‘the people’. In an attempt to ‘democratise’ the party they open up the parliamentary leadership voting process to the ‘members’ and ‘the people’ raise a new champion – one JC- who gets their votes. He, however, almost inevitably, is at odds with the Parliamentary members (the ones who have hopelessly lost touch, remember). At the first chance of a backlash, the PLP hit back. They don’t want the people’s champion to be the leader so they try to depose him. They are really just espousing representative democracy over participatory democracy – albeit in a heavy handed and somewhat crass kind of way. We anticipate a fight to the death – and the ‘good’ bit about it is that ‘the people’ will still have something of a say in that voting process. So in a couple of months JC may rise again.
If it all sounds a bit like a soap opera, or a Shakespeare play (Coriolanus anyone) then you might like to consider that this in-fighting in the Labour Movement is not new. James Leatham records a lot of the first iteration (but he’s recording it from the position of one who would not succumb to ‘party’ lines, being a firm believer in the power of people not parties) Reading Leatham’s writings, especially from the 1890’s through till the 1920’s really shows a different view of the history of the Labour Movement (and parties.) Who says history isn’t relevant?
This month, you have the chance to take a wider view through The Gateway articles. The Settling of Britain offers a broad, historical opinion piece. ‘Education and Enjoyment’ offers a provocative, time-sensitive and yet oh so relevant view of both reading and rights (especially the right to vote). Don’t expect to agree with everything Leatham says – that’s not the point – he’s a provocateur from the past whose value today is to help us draw comparisons and challenge what we see in front of us. The Orraman continues his exploration of the literature of ‘The Edinburgh Boys’ in 1894 and the role of publishing, whereas ‘Twixt Desk and Shelves’ takes you right back to 100 years ago this month – revealing Leatham’s first observations about his recent move to the small North East town of Turriff. All in all, whether you dip in and out, or binge on this month’s edition, I hope there’s some food for thought in your consumption. Never has it been more important for us to learn to think for ourselves in the face of the machinery of parliamentary politics. We may not be about to man the barricades but we do need to be informed beyond the soundbites we are spoon-fed on social media. It’s up to us. We have been given the smallest taste of empowerment – if we want our democracy to be more weighed in favour of participation rather than representation we need to do something about it. Something more than talk. Before they talk us out of some of our fundamental freedoms, convincing us we don’t need to worry because ‘they’ will take care of all that for us. Human Rights. Climate Change. Free Movement of People. Workers Rights… these are things people have fought (and died) for in the past. We must work out how to step up to the plate and keep the fight alive. It won’t be won in the hallowed halls of the political elite. At least not to our satisfaction and benefit. Despite what the New Prime Minister says. After all, she’s not ‘new’ is she – she looks like a re-tread to me. Margaret Thatcher for the 21st century anyone?
Rab Christie, Editor.
The Orraman explores whether 1894-1895 were vintage years or vinegar in Scots fiction.
Last month I introduced you to the man who first coined the word ‘kailyard’ in anger, Miller. If you were paying attention you’ll remember the article he wrote in the New Review in April 1895. If not, divert now and read it HERE.
If you took his word for it, you would be damning two of our Edinburgh Boys right away, but I suggest that his article was simply one of thousands jockeying for position in the febrile battlefield of ‘literature/fiction’ being fought out at the end of the 19th century.
I’m not looking to strike a balance but rather to show some alternatives as to what was being written at the time – with the hope that it may get you thinking (and exploring) for yourself.
The internet is a powerful tool. Of course if you have academic privileges it’s a more powerful tool, but if you are a non academic affiliated Scot you can still get access to some of these simply by joining the National Library for Scotland and browsing their digital collections.
My research database of choice is the ProQuest Platform. Other databases (many, too many) are available and the first thing they do is make you realise just how expansive journalism, criticism and fiction were way back then. We tend to get stuck with ‘the classics’ – which are often no more than the victors in some other war – and either forget or never know, that there have always been loads of interesting writers out there who ‘never made it’ or ‘never lasted.’ And that this is in no part down to the ‘quality’ of their work but more down to the commercial viability or exploitation of them and their reputations. Which is in and of itself often just a reflection of class privilege. So if you want to get down and dirty and find writing that is off the ‘canon’ from days gone by, I suggest that starting to delve into online databases is the way to go. It also offers a transferable skill that may encourage an awakening towards a more ‘engaged’ use of current search engines. Too often people wait to ‘be told’ what is good to read. We should remember that search engines are tools not intelligent beings with your own best interest at heart. You need to engage with your own search or you are simply being spoon fed not ‘best’ but ‘most profitable.’
But back to the ‘boys.’ If we take a snapshot of 1894: Barrie was still dividing his time between fiction and drama. Conan Doyle was similarly trying to contain the public’s desire for Sherlock Holmes and direct them to his more ‘serious’ writing. Crockett had taken the world by storm with a 4 books in a year offensive stagemanaged by his agent A.P.Watt and publisher T.Fisher Unwin. Stevenson upped and died (and didn’t even finish his work in progress) and John Buchan was writing short stories and critical work and preparing for his first published novel ‘Sir Quixote of the Moors.’
All were employed by the publishing industry, and their journalistic writing is as often as interesting as their fiction! If you start looking at the magazines and journals of the day, you begin to see the ‘positioning’ of the press and the ‘marketing’ which was just as much of a feature then as it is now. I’m particularly interested in ‘The Bookman’ which was William Robertson Nicoll’s ‘baby’ and the ‘New Review’ edited by W.E. Henley which generally took an opposite stance. Henley ran the National Observer in the 1890s (which had been known as the Scots Observer until he went to London) and when he left that he set up the New Review which he edited until 1897.
The two men (and their respective publications) stand on opposing sides of the battle for hearts, minds and most importantly, cash of the ‘reader.’ But they were competing on much the same ground for what we might recognise as ‘market share’ of a fast moving and very lucrative marketplace. They were editors of magazines in the ‘middle’ of the market - There are many other journals to choose from, and all of them really interesting – as long as you remember they are not the last word on anything, rather a window into a world as turbulent as the New Statesman, Spectator and the like of our own time.
At the end of 1894 the cataclysm happened. Stevenson died. It took till the January editions for the obituaries to really start flowing, but flow they did.
‘Bookman’ in 1894/5 offers a range of obituaries to Robert Louis Stevenson, including a poem by J.M.Barrie in January 1895. If poetry floats your boat it might be worth you trying to track it down. I wasn’t that enamoured of it, so I didn’t bother to copy it – but that’s just my opinion.
-Crockett also wrote an obituary of RLS which you can access here (although you will have to sign up – for free – to the Galloway Raiders site). From 1893, Crockett and Barrie had been planning to go and visit Stevenson in Samoa. They left it too long. Had Barrie not got ill (and then married) in 1894 and Crockett not become an ‘overnight’ success after a decade of trying, things might have been very different. As it was, they were left to pay tribute to a man who was, to a great extent, a mentor to them both – and to a whole school of Scottish Historical Romance. Even Buchan learned a thing or two from Stevenson (and dare one say it, from Crockett.)
W.E.Henley, editor of The New Review was a close friend of Stevenson. He is perhaps better known today for his poem ‘Invictus’. But while we’re still in the land of Bookman. SRC also wrote a piece on JMB’s books in November 1894. http://www.gallowayraiders.co.uk/jmbarrie.html
So much for The Bookman. It’s not so easy to track down New Review articles but a dogged search can get one access. I found an article published in October 1894 titled ‘The Coming Book Season’ which offers an overview of contemporary ‘quality’ writing. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight it offers so much more. It deals with the role of publishing, the ‘issue’ of the libraries, the decline of the three volume novel, the fear of ‘sensationalism’ as distinct from Romance, (and particularly of ‘women’s’ sensationalism’) and I can’t help but feel it is bothered by the ‘popularisation’ of reading. Doubtless there are many ways to read this article, but I certainly think it’s worth a look at to give yourself some more background to the milieu in which our ‘boys’ were working. [We'll post the whole article in next month's edition of Gateway] I also am led to speculate whether J.M.Barrie in writing ‘Sentimental Tommy’ in 1889 may not have had a nod over his shoulder to this kind of attitude. Also, in his ‘drawing room’ plays such as ‘Quality Street’ (1901), ‘The Admirable Crichton’ (1902) and ‘What Every Woman Knows’ (1908)
The ‘Coming Season’ article was written for the New Review by Arthur Waugh. Who he? Critic, publisher, father of Evelyn and it looks like one of the ‘gang’ of Henley, Millar and Waugh. I feel like I’m starting to see the people behind the pens. It may all be speculation but it’s starting to make me realise that reading any of these articles will tell me at least as much about the people, their positions, perspectives and dare on say prejudices, than about the actual writers under discussion.
I am beginning to build up an interesting speculative theory here. New wine in old vats anyone? Until the death of Stevenson, no one seems to have big issues with Crockett and Barrie being influenced by him – or that they might be part of the same ‘movement’ but once he’s dead he gains a mythic status and Crockett especially is distanced from him. The Colvin edited letters seem to suggest that Crockett was not a ‘friend’ so much as a tag-a-long. This is at odds with the Crockett side of the archive (although most of their correspondence is lost) but it does seem that a preservation order on the memory (and status) of Stevenson comes at the cost of allowing Crockett his place as a Scots historical romancer. Instead, the seed of the ‘Kailyard’ is planted. It’s just my speculation of course but… stranger things have happened.
And while we’re on the topic of strange things… how about our other Edinburgh ‘boy’ – Conan Doyle?
Here’s a contemporary article on the then Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle (yet to be knighted)
Dr. A. Conan Doyle, the novelist, whose public utterances on the platform are arousing so much interest, receives all flattering attentions with the greatest modesty. Although Dr. Doyle is the author of Micah Clarke, The Great Shadow, The White Company, and The Refugees, four of the acknowledged great novels of recent years, and though he is the creator of Sherlock Holmes, one of the most remarkable characters in modern fiction, Conan Doyle has no desire to be hero-worshiped. Anyone who has met him cannot help but be charmed with his simplicity. Consistent with all this, we have Dr. Doyle's own word to the effect that he will positively not write his impressions of America. An English magazine offered him a big price for his impressions, but the novelist refused.
Dr. Doyle is better known in America as the inventor of Sherlock Holmes, the famous detective, rather than as the author of historical novels. For this reason it seems that there is a widespread supposition that he is a sort of practical detective. As a matter of fact, however, Conan Doyle says that he has not even the instincts of a detective, adding that he is not in the least degree either a sharp or an observant man himself. When he is confronted by a particularly difficult problem he simply tries to get inside the skin of a sharp man and see how he would solve it. The fact is, Conan Doyle does not wish to pose as an authority on detective service, though he has expressed his opinion that the finest detective service is done in Paris. If the actual detective service of Paris, however, is the best in practice, France has turned out no detective stories to compare with Doyle's own detective narratives.
It is obvious to anyone who has talked with Conan Doyle that he prefers to go on record as a novelist rather than as a writer of detective stories. His novels are works that required long and laborious research, and present the life of the times they depict in the most faithful and realistic manner. They fasten the interest from the beginning, and though realistic they can yet be classed among the most stirring of historical romances. In his lectures Dr. Doyle is giving us some idea of the labor of writing a historical romance, and yet it has been noticed that the public prefers to hear how he conceived and worked out the mysteries involved in his detective stories. When I asked Dr. Doyle to explain not only how he put his puzzles together, but how he manufactured them, he simply replied that he thought the stories themselves fully explained the mechanism.
Conan Doyle, in personal appearance, looks more like an athlete than a literary man. The stoop in his broad shoulders is the only outward sign of his calling. He has big, bright, blue eyes that are sympathetic and inspire confidence, and there is a ruddy glow of good health, of cheerfulness of mind, and of kindliness of heart in his face. He converses in a simple, offhand way, which, however, never drops into absentmindedness.
Dr. Doyle is thirty-five years old. In a casual meeting with him it is impossible to determine whether he hailed from England, Scotland, or Ireland, but he himself has informed us that he was born in Edinburgh, where he spent the first nine years of his life. At a time when most boys would have contented themselves with the fantastic masonry of alphabet blocks, he was building stories with his limited vocabulary. "My companions used to tease me for stories day and night," says he, "and it was only necessary to bribe me with a tart to set me going." He went to Stonyhurst College when a boy of nine, and remained there seven years. After a term of study in Germany he went to Edinburgh, and took the regular course in medicine. It did not cure him of his literary tendencies, however. There was no remedy for them, but he found relief in trying his hand at a short story. "I sent it to Chambers's Journal," he says, "and I suppose its return would have utterly discouraged me. But they kept it, and sent me a check for 3 pounds. He then secured the post of surgeon on a whaling ship bound from Peterhead to the Arctic seas, where he passed his majority, near N. lat. 81 degrees, and had some exciting adventures with the rifle and the harpoon. The head of a Polar bear killed by him on this voyage adorns his book-case at his present home in Norwood, just out of London. He qualified in medicine on his return and shipped again as surgeon bound for the west coast of Africa. He finally settled in Southsea, Wales, and began the practice of medicine with only £3 in his pocket. Meanwhile, he continued to write stories, but never earned more than £50 a year by their sale. Habakuk Jephson's Statement, a short story written while he was at Southsea, appeared in the Cornhill anonymously, according to the law of that distinguished periodical, and was credited to Robert Louis Stevenson. Then he conceived the character of Holmes, whose adventures were to be harmonized with a correct science of deduction. The Study in Scarlet was produced, and had a very large sale.
"I had entertained the notion for a long time," he said to an interviewer, "that a historical novel could be made successful without the conventional plot, but simply through the interest that could be created in a string of characteristic scenes and incidents. Micah Clarke was written agreeably with this plan. Then I went back to Holmes again, and wrote The Sign of Four. The White Company followed, presenting a picture of what to me is the most interesting period of English history."
While this work was progressing, the doctor came to London, where he made a special study of eye surgery, intending to limit his practice to the treatment of that organ. But orders began to pour in upon him for stories, and it soon became evident that he would have to shift out of his practice, and he did. The Refugees followed, and when he came to London to give himself wholly to a new profession, his fame had gone before him and had crossed the sea, and was on the tongues of men in the remotest outposts of Britannia. Since then, his stories have become popular in America, and in this, his first visit to us, he finds that his name is by no means a strange one to the majority.
(Gilson Willets, 1894 – I have not been able to confirm the journal this article comes from – I got it via third party online website! Gilsen Willets was an American, born 1868 and died 1922, and I think he worked in films)
And let’s not forget the new kid on the block in 1895. The ‘King’ Stevenson may be dead but Buchan was going to be the new ‘King’ if he had anything to do with it. Crockett might be best positioned in 1895 but 20 years later he was dead and Buchan was the boy to be reckoned with. Guess which side of the tracks Buchan came from? Crockett surely never stood a chance.
While in 1894 both Barrie and Conan Doyle were fairly seasoned and Crockett was the new bestseller, Buchan was a mere lad of 20.
Here is a notice in The Bookman October 1895.
MR. JOHN BUCHAN.
THE author of "Sir Quixote of the Moors," just published by Mr. Unwin, and of a great deal else to come in the very near future, has surely a more precocious literary record than any other of our time. He has some years of journalistic work behind him; and at the present moment be is a scholar of Brasenose, aged twenty.
Mr. Buchan was born in Perth, lived for thirteen years in a little sea-coast town in Fife, and seven years ago went to Glasgow. At the University there he gained distinction in philosophy, and last winter he won a scholarship at Oxford. For many years his summers have been spent in Upper Tireeddale, whence his family originally came; and from continual wandering among the bills in all weather he came to know them and their people intimately. He has always been an enthusiastic angler, and his first published paper was on that subject, and appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine for August 1893. Subsequently he wrote a good many articles on kindred subjects in that magazine. In the same year he edited a small edition of Bacon's Essays for the "Scott Library." In January, 1894, was begun his series of articles in Macmillan's Magazine dealing with the wilder life of the Tweedside Hills, the tramps, and poachers, and drovers, storms, and nights spent on the heather, all the raw material from which so many writers of romance have drawn, from Scott to Stevenson-two writers, by-the bye, whose influence Mr.Buchan specially owns. These articles have been collected, and are to be published by Mr. John Lane early in next year. Another book, soon to be issued, is a small anthology of fishing songs, collected from the whole of English literature.
His only published work of fiction as yet is "Sir Quixote." There his aim was to trace the psychological effects of certain aspects of scenery and weather, as well as to examine the results of the conception of honour in certain circumstances. A book ·of short stories from his pen will appear before the summer. On a long historical novel he has been engaged for nearly three years; it deals with the adventures of a Scots gentleman, a Platonist and a scholar, in the late seventeenth century. * That, too, he expects to have ready for publication before the summer.
When one mentions that Mr. Buchan has also done a good deal of journalism, it will be owned his record is an extraordinary and an interesting one for a writer of twenty years of age.
(*The novel was John Burnet of Barns – which owes far more to Crockett than Buchan would ever admit!)
I’ve read Sir Quixote and it is clearly the work of a ‘juvenile’ and could be termed ‘derivative’ in a number of places. It also reads like he got bored, or distracted – it ends in something of a hurry. But it’s well worth a read – you can see something of the later Buchan, but it’s really interesting to note the different ‘style’ of language. He was certainly much freer twenty years later in The 39 Steps. ‘Sir Quixote’ offers a good illustration of how writing changed over that period.
I would of course remind you that Buchan isn’t maybe an ‘Edinburgh Boy’ proper, in that he didn’t attend the University (unlike the others) but he became Rector. Make of that what you will.
We’ll look more at the phenomenon of ‘New Writers’ and how they were touted through the publications of the day as well as the Curse of the Bestseller in future months. There’s something to look forward to eh? In the meantime, why not reacquaint yourself with some of our Edinburgh Boys fiction? There are much worse ways to while away your time.
Orraman, July 2016.
Not everyone can make it to Turriff for the Little Red Town Talks, so in case you missed out, here is the text from the 2nd TURRIFF TALK Schooldays, Shakespeare and Socialism – delivered by Cally Wight of The Deveron Press on 13th July 2016.
This year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. It has got me (among others I’m sure) wondering what he has to say to the modern world? I knew (and loved) Shakespeare well from my earliest teens till my late twenties. I then learned some things about commodification and fell out of love with him. Not necessarily his fault. It’s what people have ‘done’ to him.
So when I came across Leatham’s 17 studies of Shakespeare I was intrigued but not immediately enthused. Shakespeare has been in the past too long for me to claim any close relationship to him. But I read Leatham’s wee pamphlets and found an interpretation completely at odds with anything I was taught (or thought) in the years when I ‘knew’ Shakespeare. I can only suggest that Leatham is offering a socialist interpretation of Shakespeare, which is something I’d neither thought about nor come across before. But I find it is interesting to look back and see what Leatham was ‘doing’ with Shakespeare. I think it’s quite singular.
In broad terms, in the early years of Socialism, Leatham uses the work of Shakespeare in an educational context… and it all started here in Turriff.
Leatham first produced his 17 Shakespeare studies in Westwood School magazine around 1905 and they were subsequently published as 2d pamphlets. They also feature in the Gateway from 1913 till 1925. I’m currently putting them all together in one volume for publication. I’m working largely off the 2nd editions which came out around 1925. I cannot say how much revision there is between what was written in 1905 and 20 years later. It’s something I still have to explore.
Leatham’s connection with Westwood School started in 1905 but it’s not clear when he actually wrote the Shakespeare’s first. (Or rather, how late he was still writing them) He began to publish them in The Gateway in 1913 but I don’t know if the series was ‘complete’ before then. Certainly he revised them a number of times – and I am not sure how different the editions are from one another. So to a great extent this is the blind leading the blind. But it’s the best I can do for now:
Let’s first look at Leatham’s study on Macbeth. It is titled ‘An Up to Date View of Macbeth’ and dates from 1914. (though I am using the 2nd edition from the 1920s)
In this study, Leatham suggests that Shakespeare didn’t deal with contemporary issues, instead he writes:
‘Pleasing the Court.
In ‘Macbeth’ Shakespeare went back to a dim and scarcely historic period for his events and personages.
To us ‘Macbeth’ is not so much a creation of the imagination which might have taken any shape and course at the will of the poet, but a narrative of inevitable happenings which could have no other upshot than they have in this drama.
Viewing the play as the Tragedy of Ambition, authors have canvassed the characters and motives of Macbeth and his wife, not merely on the presented elements, but as if there were more in them than meets the eye. Was Lady Macbeth the stronger and more cruel of the two? Did she inspire Macbeth from motives of personal ambition, or was she merely his accomplice out of the love and loyalty of a wife who, in her husband’s advancement, finds her complete satisfaction, without thought of direct honour or profit to herself?
When Murder was in Fashion.
On the presented elements, the tragedy is plain enough in its meaning. Macbeth was an ambitious general and the readiness with which he took the hint of the witch as to his being king of Scotland shows that before he came under his wife’s influence he more or less embraced the idea. His successful generalship, his kinship to Duncan, the readiness with which the Crown fell to him as of right when Duncan was slain and his sons fled, showed that his title was a natural one, and suggests that his thoughts must frequently have turned to the possibility of his succeeding to the Crown. Macbeth lived in a barbarous age, in which, especially in Scotland, murder was almost a recreation, not only then but for centuries afterwards.’
In his study Leatham goes on to looks at the ambition of women. He draws parallels between contemporary and past – notes that Elizabeth I had just died – and it makes me wonder was she a lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s mind? Or was Mary Queen of Scots? Who knows?
I guess my point is, we read something and we think we know a lot about it because we assume the version we’re reading is ‘the’ version. This is no more the case with Leatham than it was with Shakespeare. Time, revisions, editors all mediate and change (often mangle) the original – sometimes beyond all recognition. We have to bear that in mind when we read, as much as we have to bear in mind that you cannot truly retrofit. Shakespeare’s view of ‘nothing’ was different from ours so that when in King Lear we have the quote ‘nothing comes from nothing’ we have to remember that he had not the advantage of Berkley’s Argument for Immaterialism, which came in the 17th century and suggests that nothing exists outside our imaginations and that things only exist when/because they are perceived – which heads us towards a more current quantum view of life.
Instead Shakespeare is looking backwards and referring to a variation of an ancient Greek philosophical and scientific expression, in itself the opposite of the biblical notion that God created the world (which is a whole lot of something) out of nothing (Genesis 1:1) So King Lear is showing himself to be pre-Christian rather than dealing with materialism – or commenting on quantum physics or the Big Bang theory. Shakespeare neither discovered nor predicted the Higgs Boson Particle.
Back to Macbeth – Leatham looks at the ambition of women in some detail in his exploration of the play. Leatham was quite outspoken against Women’s Suffrage in a couple of things I’ve read – I’m not sure if he was being genuine or provocative – you can’t always tell with Leatham – but at times his stated views in ‘Education and the Enjoyment of Life’ are enough to make a feminist’s hair curl!
He also makes the point that we know Shakespeare and his plays so well that they are almost part of our consciousness. If we set Macbeth against the quintessentially English play Henry V (I’m using the Gateway 1914 edition) we find that the latter is an anti war play published just before the start of the First World War. We have to assume that the war he is railing against is the Boer War (1899-1902) and/or the First Balkan War 1902. It reminds us that war is always with us.
One of the Shakespeare plays I (think) I’ve known best is Hamlet. Leatham’s take on it is interesting and unusual (to me at least). I’m using the Gateway 1915 edition titled: The Truth About Hamlet and it covers both the history from which the play was taken – he sums it up:
‘Such, in outline, is the Hamlet story in its squalid barbarity.’
Then continues to explore ‘the motive’ of the play. It’s interesting (to me at least) that for us Shakespeare, and especially Hamlet is a deeply ‘psychological’ play – Hamlet’s ‘dilemma’ is certainly one that rang existential bells with me as a teenager. But Leatham isn’t fundamentally interested in it from this aspect. He is more concerned with the way revenge is portrayed. And the ‘contemporary’ issues of the First World War are to the fore in his ‘interpretation.’ He writes:
That the play of ‘Hamlet’ has revenge for its motive does not seem to strike the average reader as a vicious feature. This is not remarkable when it is remembered that, in spite of so many centuries of Christian teaching, revenge is still an avowed motive in professedly Christian countries, and liberal elements of the venegeful spirit still linger in our punitive systems. Popular rage against certain classes of offenders exhausts itself in suggestions of ingenious torture, the idea being that matters are mended, that the equities are adjusted, if the culprit may himself be made to suffer pains akin to those he has inflicted on others. A passenger ship is treated as a warship and sunk at sea on the poor plea that it is carrying 4,500 cases of ammunition. Thereupon the baser section of the press, with the natural blackguardism of unregenerate man, advises reprisals on perfectly innocent people of the same nationality as the pirate-murderers, on the principle, apparently, that two sets of wrongs make one right. The death penalty would really appear to survive mainly because, as Carlyle urged, society still believes that it has to revancher itself upon the murderer by murdering him. In the early stages of the South African War, the avowed motive was the avenging of the Majuba, just as in the early days of the European War General Joffre, speaking in Alsace, publicly declared that this was a war of revenge. The newspapers, even churchy sheets, daily print statements as to something or other being avenged. In the sphere of politics, again, Irish and other Home Rulers, instead of being exhorted to do their duty on the clear political merits, were basely asked to ‘Remember Mitchelstown!’ and avenge it by giving their votes against the party in power at the time the Mitchelstown shootings took place. Political retribution is natural and needs no excuse: but the use of such catchwords as ‘Remember Mitcheltown!’ shows the extent to which the idea of revenge is inwoven with our thoughts.
…the critics still discuss the play of ‘Hamlet’ and the character of the Prince from the barbaric point of view, which assumes that revenge is quite in order as the motive of a drama.
Two Rival Theories.
There are two rival theories to the character of the Prince. The accepted view is that Hamlet is a waverer, that the native hue of his resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought. One set of critics appear to be dissatisfied that Hamlet did not go straight from his interview with the Ghost and impale his stepfather as he reeled off to bed after his carouse.
Another smaller and less hasty class argue that Hamlet was too just a man to take such summary measure upon the mere word of a spirit, who might, after all, ‘be a devil.’ Hamlet, they argue, wished to go by the evidence, and would have the proof as complete and convincing as it could be made.’
In my day, interpretations of Hamlet were that it was all a question of moral choice: ‘what is the right thing to do?’ ‘How does Hamlet know whether action is good or not’ - maybe you were taught other interpretations. It leads me to think that the suggestion that Shakespeare is all things to all men is not the sole reason his work has endured for 400 years. Indeed it may only have endured for 400 years because we reinterpret it to our own circumstances. Shakespeare may (or may not) be an expert at universalising the individual – but we should be aware of the changes that have been made by our own retro-fitting of his ‘themes’ and dramatic dilemmas. It may be what we make of him rather than any innate feature which is why we revere him. Which is an interesting thought especially with regard to the next play I’m going to look at.
Published in Gateway during the War we have Coriolanus The Soldier Type in Action. It was published in Gateway in - 1917 –while in the thick of war. (I’m using the 2nd edition, 1925) Reflecting on the nature of being a soldier.
I saw Coriolanus at the National Theatre in the 1984 and it had a huge impact on me. I was 21 years old. What it taught me was that people set someone up to be a leader, because they don’t want to take responsibility for themselves. And then, when they have that leader, they destroy him. For me, rather than having a ‘heroic flaw’ (which was what I was taught about Shakespeare’s heroes at school and university) Coriolanus was a man whose goodness was turned into a flaw by others.
Leatham’s interpretation is completely counter to my own. He sees Corolianus as true to soldier type – a true militarist – a firm believer in ‘might is right’ and all the worse for that. He says:
‘The Real Enemies.
Robert Louis Stevenson, settled in Samoa, on a great occasion found that to the bickering Samoan chiefs he could give no better advice than to stop their tribal fighting and make one good road across the island. In the same way it seems that a duty much more exigent on the German people than making war on their neighbours was to make war on the filth of their own sewers.
To those nearer home who still cherish romantic views of war, very similar advice may be tendered. One of the disgraces of Britain, and especially of Scotland, is the degraded housing of its people. To extirpate ignorance, disease, and mere filth; to give the ‘rank-scented many’ the time and taste and convenience to bathe their bodies and to clean their teeth, is better as an elementary duty, a mere starting-point, than to bear oneself with game- cock courage in a quarrel which may be of our own making. In the most martial of his plays - Henry V – Shakespeare makes his warrior-king utter a sentiment by which the character of Coriolanus may be sufficiently tried and tested.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility.
Coriolanus, so far from being modest, or still, or humble in time of peace, appears to us in all situations as the man of flouts and jeers. After the manner of the true soldier type, he had no vocation for peace.’
Of course, Leatham’s Coriolanus is mediated through the eyes of current war. The ‘war’ immediately preceding ‘my’ Coriolanus was the Falklands War. Our current interpretation would doubtless take the Gulf/Iraq Wars as its centrepoint.
It is interesting to wonder why and how we glean what we do from Shakespeare. I don’t know if my interpretation of Coriolanus was derived from a particularly potent dramatic performance or from the text. In any case that text was being ‘mediated’ both by the actors/director and me the audience. And all of us carry our own cultural ‘agendas’ be they deliberate, hidden or unconscious. What does all of this prove? Nothing except perhaps that as Simon and Garfunkel so appositely put it ‘a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.’ I had a certainly at 21 which I don’t have at 53. Which seems to be the wrong way round. My present observations are that it is hard to look beyond our own personal prejudices and ‘learn’ something from others – even from Shakespeare – perhaps especially from Shakespeare. I’m sure in 20 years I’ll say something different. And that is one problem of publishing. To some extent you are committed by what you say – we can’t always make revisions – and even if we do, we can’t guarantee that people in the future will read the ‘right’ version of what we write.
I guess the final point to leave is, ironically a quote from Macbeth:
‘Nothing is but what is not.’
Full list of Leatham's Tuppeny Shakespeare Series:
LEATHAM’S SHAKESPEARE STUDIES:
(with dates of first publication in Gateway)
1. Hamlet (June 1915)
2. Merchant of Venice (March 1913)
3. Macbeth (Feb 1914)
4. King Lear (March 1914)
5. Julius Caesar (May 1914)
6. Henry V (July 1914)
7. The Melancholy Jacques (Sept 1914)
8. Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Oct 1914)
9. The Tempest Dec (1914)
10. Coriolanus Feb (1917)
11. Richard II Nov (1919)
12. King John March (1920)
13. Henry VIII Dec (1920)
14. Taming of the Shrew Sept (1923)
15. Othello (Jan 1924)
16. Romeo and Juliet (April 1925)
17. Richard III (Sept 1925)
A century ago James Leatham moved from Hull to Turriff and began a serialisation called ‘Twixt Desk and Shelves’ in his magazine The Gateway. This is the first episode, exactly 100 years after it was first published:
Twixt Desk And Shelves
I. There’s nothing so funny as folk.
First published in The Gateway in July 1916
‘Come on here! I hinna had a lift this lang time,’ said a strong man, showing a double row of natural ivories. He had come forward out of pure neighbourliness, and as he hoisted his end he spoke as if it were quite a privilege to be allowed to heave at heavy boxes and still heavier machinery.
‘Some grand willing lifters in this part of the country,’ said the Printer to whom all this dunnage belonged; and he smiled encouragement to his strong helpers, as well he might.
‘What was ye deein’ pittin’ a load on the cratur like that?’ protested a cross carter to the goods foreman, who had accompanied the last load. ‘She cam up the brae wi’ ‘er belly nearhnan’ trailin’ on the grun’, ruggin’ at it.’
The foreman, be sure, had his answer ready, and just as surely the others joined in the dispute. Altogether there was some stir and a good deal of curiosity among those who happened to be about as the lorries discharged load after load of this heavy cargo at one or other of the two doors that gave admission to the premises. These consisted of two long sheds which had been occupied by a cycle agent, now called to the colours. Built of wood and concrete, the whole front, practically, consisting of windows, the premises were lined with V boards, which had just got a coat of distemper above the varnish, and the outside was now painted in cheerful green, red, and white. They formed part of a terrace, the other end of which was occupied by a monumental sculptor, whose craft was freely represented in granite tombstones of diverse shapes, sizes and hues, from the ‘Bon-Accord black’ (of Sweden) and dark, spotted Labrador pearl, up to whitest Kemnay. There were ‘In Loving Memories’ in every kind of Gothic, Italic and squab Sans-serif lettering, scattered about the railed-off half of the terrace, in which a crane and a bogey or so competed with them for place. A little glass-cased shed adjoining the road contained a display of wreaths, crosses, and other trappings of woe. But the sculptor was a very hearty man, with a cheerful hail to passers-by in the road below; and to this emporium of the memento mori a further element of cheerfulness was added by the day-long rookity-coo of pigeons. Two pairs of brown-and-white pouters straddled among the obelisks and flew noisily over the urns and crosses. There was, however, a touch of the profession even about the sculptor’s pigeon fancy. Most fantails are white; but the sculptor’s pair were of funereal black.
It is one of life’s ironies that people who are content to live under leaky thatch should have a canopy of carved and polished marble or granite over their rotting remains when dead; that the Egyptians, for instance, should have put mountainous pyramids of hewn stone over their wicked and foolish dead Pharaohs, while they themselves festered in mud huts amid swarms of vermin. But the sculptor of St Congans did not give all his granite to the insensate dead. He kept some of it for the appreciative living. His own house was of granite. The polished door-jambs were of many well-blended hues; a miniature battlemented parapet of the polished stone overhung the doorway; a masonic emblem shone from the crown of an arch over the front gate. Another gate which gave entrance to the terrace had its pillars surmounted by two enormous polished balls of the precious stone. So that the dead did not have all the honour and expense.
It was, all the same, a cheerful corner, resounding to the noise of vehicular traffic all day, to which on mart days was added the lowing of much bestial and the excited shouting of those that gain a livelihood as propellors of horned beasts. Birds sang loudly in the belt of tall trees that shot up on the other side of the road; and the whistle of trains that passed near by brought an extra sense of the world-stir.
The printer’s new premises stood, as so far indicated, on a terrace raised up and railed off from the road, their elevation placing them well in view of all men. They were lean-to sheds built against a high bank; and the passers-by grinned when the read the undernoted announcement, printed in bold red letters on a white screen that ran across the lower portion of one of the wide windows, which was divided into four compartments by matter-of-fact mullions of painted wood:
The St Congans Press. Henry Haldane. Printer and Bookseller. Office of the Pelican
They grinned, and he grinned also, but on the wrong side of his face. The state of popular enlightenment was apparently on all fours here with that of the English country town he had just left. This was a matter of no direct importance to a butcher or baker, since the ignorant had their animal needs as well as the enlightened, whereas it was with the noblest part of man that a bookseller made his account. In his own native city there were ‘Presses’ galore; but these people had evidently never noted the signs or imprints of the printers who called their establishments the Caxton, Bon-Accord, St Nicholas, Adelphi, or Rosemount Press.
With the perverted menatality of those who do not see the humorous when it is there, they saw only an occasion of smiling where the absurdity existed only in their own minds. They were amused apparently at the idea of a Press being established in a town of less than three thousand inhabitants. They doubtless overlooked the fact that in a smaller town lower down the railway a printer had been established for years. Nay, he could have told them of a very considerable printer which for two generations had sent out chapbooks that were sent all over the north country, and much general printing was also turned out of this office, which was quite in the open country.
Those who smiled were thinking of the word ‘Press’ solely as applied to newspapers; and they were amused, doubtless, at the idea of a newspaper being produced in two lean- to sheds in a little country town. The printer was annoyed to think that Scotsmen, even in the country, did not know that newspapers formed only one branch of that great civilising agency the Press. Anyhow, the sheds were long and lofty and well lit, and had he felt any inclination towards the production of the ephemeral journalism of new potatoes, large gooseberries, and small presentations, there was room and to spare for even that.
As it was, the part of his stock by which he set most store lay in rough parcels closely packed along four shelves that ran the whole length of the larger shed of the two. These parcels consisted of his own publications. Some of these had gone through edition after edition, selling away steadily year after year. There was always something just out of print and calling for reproduction. At one period he had set up a press at a farmstead, and, with the whole household assisting, he could scarce keep pace with the demand.
His acquaintances sometimes remonstrated with him for wasting his time at what they were pleased to call the mechanical business of printing. In widely varying forms of appeal, they represented that he ought to give all his time to writing; that many men with less ability were making thousands a year by their pen; and that (this was the only disinterested line taken) his facility as a writer was a great trust and responsibility which he had no moral right to bury in a country printing shop; that his writings, properly marketed by a regular London publisher, would sell ten times as well, and he could produce ten times as much of his own proper work. And so on.
To all this his usual reply was that he liked to work with his hands; that he grew fat and soft sitting at a desk; that the years he had given to weekly journalism did not justify a continuance in sedentary work; that if William Morris cared to dye wool and weave tapestry; if Tolstoy wanted to make boots; and if Sir Walter stuck to his dry legal work through all his literary success, surely he, a much smaller man than those giants, might be content to do work which was endlessly varied and not at all dry in itself. There might be some doubt about the value of anybody’s writing – the writing of even the front rankers – but the man who made boots or dye woollens or printed handbills was meeting the test of everyday utility. He was in his vocation whoever might be out of it.
And so here he was today, helping the lorryman with the parts and packages, doing comparatively little damage to a new grey suit, and at the end of each bout of lifting, drawing the corks of the bottles of beer and stout with which the helpers were regaled.
The strong man with the big teeth took his bottle and glass shamefacedly, as if he would rather not have it supposed that he had had any such recompense in view when he came to lend a hand.
The fact seemed to be that all were genuinely interested in the new enterprise. They listened eagerly and asked questions as the machinery was lifted into the approximate places where it was to be erected.
The printer thought this natural enough. He remembered his own wonder as a boy as to how printing could be done in all its uniformity and beautiful exactitude. There were still arts and processes about which he was not too old to be curious. He would, for instance, like to know much more about zincography, the moulding of architraves, the hammering of copper, silver point engraving, and many other processes about which he had not had favourable chances of learning.
The cycle maker’s sign had been painted out, his own emblazoned screen was prominent enough, and the whole appearance of the building seemed to him altered; but for weeks he had slow-spoken callers who were loth to accept the new regime.
‘Could you men’ a burs’en tyre?’ said a lass one day in a hopeless tone which indicated in advance that she knew what the answer must be.
‘Oh, you’ll easily get your tyre mended, ma’am’ said the new tenant, smiling. ‘There are two cycle agents in the High Street alone. This, as you will see, is a printing office and bookseller’s shop.’
She did not go. More time was evidently required for the new order of things to soak into her mind.
An absurd old rhyme came into his head as she stood, and as he hated to talk about the weather, he said, ‘Your question, reminds me of an old strowd. I wonder if you know it.
‘Hae ye ony men aboot yer toon,
Hay ye ony men ava,
Hae ye ony men aboot yer toon
‘At could mend a broken wa’?
Ring a riddle nickadarie,
Ring a riddle nicadkee.
Do you know it?’
She went off as if she were insulted by the question.
A previous tenant of the place called in one day, displaying a very offhand manner. Strolling in, he immediately asked, ‘What are you going to do here?’
Printer: It is the business of a printer to print, and the business of a bookseller to sell books. I am a printer and bookseller.
Casual caller: Who are you going to print for?
Printer: There must be lots of printing to do in a complete town of over 1000 population, with three churches, three lawyers, three chemists, a higher grade school, a provost, a town council, a school board, gasworks, a parish council, and a score or two of shops. But I may have all the world for my market if it comes to that.
Casual Caller: Eyh?
The printer took no notice of this rude interjection. He remembered as a boy having seen a captain of militia give a man a sounding welt on the face for just such a form of address, and he (the onlooker) had been thoroughly startled and impressed by the well-deserved chastisement. He had forgotten that this kind of rudeness was rather distinctively Scottish (though he suspected it was Colonial as well), and he did not like being reminded of it now. The abstract countryman was perfect, but the concrete one was often not a little of a boor, who behaved as if the word ‘Sir’ or any other courtesy would blister his mouth.
Some of the most dexterously courteous and tactful people he had known belonged to the shire in which he now stood. He had known one man – a retired draper – who had always addressed his gardener as ‘Mister Adams’ and his whole demeanour was in keeping. Rochester’s celebrated poem on ‘Nothing’ enumerated Scots courtesy among the painfully non-existent things; but the printer had always resented the imputation. Yet – after all, here was the thing showing up, undeniable, and very objectionable. If a person spoke distinctly, within hearing range, and there were no noises to drown the sound, then the person who failed to hear might be deaf, but was more probably just wool gathering. In speaking to a deaf person one raised one’s voice, and got the pitch sooner or later. So if it was wool-gathering the apologetic ‘Sir’ or ‘I beg your pardon’ was only courteous.
By ‘Eyh?’ was something of a local institution apparently. He had been working indoors one evening while a painter and a neighbour worked outside. When one made a remark the other never failed to say ‘Eyh?’ At the other end of the building and with a wall between him and them, the listener heard the first remark; but the two men working side by side never seemed to hear it. The result was that the one person who was not engaged in the conversation had to hear it all twice over. Thus:-
Painter: They say he’s left five thoosan’’
Painter: They say he’s left five thoosan’
Stonecutter: Oh he’ll hae left the dooble o’ that.
Stonecutter: He’ll hae left the dooble o’ that.
That kind of thing kept up for half an hour rather tends to get upon one’s nerves. In his wage-earning days the printer remembered that if an office man failed to catch a remark twice running, he would be sharply requested to ‘wake up’ or ‘take the wax out of your ears.’ But, other men other manners, evidently. He had known men say ‘Eyh’ at every remark who would answer you presently without having the remark repeated, if you just waited; which showed that it was not a case of failing to hear, but simply an objectionable mannerism arising from a kind of mental laziness, or a contemptuous disregard for your company.
However, these were spots on the sun. Every place had its drawbacks. As he looked across at the belt of woodland on the other side of the road, with the green fields showing beyond it, while the birds warbled their cheeriest, he felt there were compensations here at any rate.
To find more episodes of 'Twixt Desk and Shelves' oinline the first 10 episodes are being serialised online at McStorytellers (episode 2 HERE)
The head of a great shipbuilding concern said the other day that the object of education was not merely to teach men how to earn a living, but how to live. This is very far from being a new idea; though as the declared opinion of a ‘captain of industry,’ it is distinctly novel – so novel, indeed, that the smaller sort of journalist turns it over as if it had never been heard before. It is a long time since Ruskin wrote ‘Industry without art is brutality.’ The Romans had a saying, ‘Vita sine literis mors est’ (Life without literature is death.) The French Academy was founded in the seventeenth century by Cardinal Richelieu ‘To keep the fine quality of the French spirit unimpaired.’ (maintenere la delicatessen de l’esprit francais.) Bacon said, still earlier, that ‘studies are for delight, for ornament, for ability’; and he also said: ‘Reading maketh a full man, converse a ready man, and writing an exact man.’ So that the doctrine that education is not intended merely or chiefly to make chemists, technicians, foreign correspondents, and ‘smart’ typists, but to enable people to make the most of life, is a very fairly old doctrine, even if we do not cite the declaration in the Shorter Catachism as to ‘man’s chief end.’ As to the interpretation of this last there would appear to be some doubt. One man defined it as ‘To Glorify God and enjoy him(self) for ever.’ Another said man’s chief end was to get ends to meet – an anxious-minded view with which one has much less sympathy than with the other rather epicurean reading.
But what signs are there that the place of studies as a necessary equipment for civilised life is at all adequately realised? Exceedingly little. Today I have seen two catalogues of books which seem to have special significance here. The one is a long and closely-printed catalogue of an old-established Edinburgh bookseller, whose customers would mostly be professional men and well-to-do people generally. There are not a score of novels in its 28 double-columned pages of small print, and those that figure there are first editions of classics. This is typical of the proportion of fiction in such catalogues, of which I regularly see a number. The other catalogues I have seen today is the list of additions to a library supposed to be popular. The library is assumed to be an auxiliary of a society whose business is professedly educative. The proportion of fiction to general literature is six to one, and the general ‘literature’ is of the lightest. The experience of the ordinary bookseller dealing in new books is that fiction, and the lightest of fiction at that, makes up by far and away the major part of his trade.
Much has been made of the success of certain popular series, such as the Everyman Library; but booksellers have pointed out that if Everyman is selling, it only means that other series are neglected in its favour. One bookseller has reminded us that there is nothing today to be compared, in value, interest, and real novelty, with the International Science Series of twenty to thirty years ago. All the volumes in that series were copyright books by the most distinguished authors then living, and they were published at prices from three to five times the price of the Everyman volumes, the latter being non-copyright books, from which the authors, mostly dead, derive no benefit, besides being old books from which latter-day science, theories, speculations, and current thought generally are excluded. In any popular series fiction holds by much the larger place. The buyers and readers of such books are doing nothing for literature, and in the trifling prices they pay for their mental fare they give no proof of any literature worth mentioning. To give ninepence for a fat novel that will keep the whole household reading, one member after another, for months, is a mere war economy of the most obvious kind. And the fashion of the sixpennies and sevenpennies (now raised to ninepence) had set in long before the outbreak of Armageddon.
It is true that more single-volume books are issued at long prices than ever before; but that is the worst sign of all. When one could buy a substantial new book by Herbert Spencer, Tyndall, Darwin, or Bain, for five shillings, it was a sign that a liberal education as to numbers had been printed; but when a book of three or four hundred pages is priced at sixteen shillings it means that the publisher expects a limited sale and has to take his expenses out of a much increased price. There will probably be less for the author than there would have been out of the lower priced book.
Does all this matter? Will doubtless be asked. It matters just all the world. It means that we are falling under suspicion of becoming a nation of light-minded ignoramuses, living butterfly lives in which we desire nothing more than to be vacuously amused, to pass the time with tosh that we forget as soon as read, for the excellent reason that there is nothing in it to remember worth the snuff of a candle.
In the really great periods of history the nations that were doing things generally had a literary output in accordance with their achievements in other fields. The Golden Age of Greece, the era of the great naval victory of Salamis and the great military victory of Marathon, in which a mighty despotism was beaten by a small free State, was the age of Aeschylus and Aristophanes, the former commemorating the triumph of freedom by writing the drama of ‘The Persians’ with its magnificent choruses. The spacious and fruitful days of Elizabeth, that saw the formidable power of Spain broken in the Netherlands and on the seas, was the age of Shakespeare and a galaxy of other writers who are still read. The ‘days of good Queen Anne’ not only witnessed a succession of brilliant victories over the armies of despotic France, but it was a period of copious and classical output in literature. The long Victorian era, most glorious of all in achievement of every kind, was never without a host of poets, orators, historians, critics, playwrights, and novelists who created real characters, who never wrote without a genuinely useful social purpose, and who are still alive in their most immortal part, their writings.
The person who does not read history does not know history, and there is no way of having sound views of present facts and tendencies or of gauging future probabilities without a knowledge of the past. Everything that exists or takes place has antecedents. The present war, for instance, is merely a fresh outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war after an interval of forty years, during which time France has never ceased to talk of the revanche and to make much of her army as the means of securing it. The alliance with Russia was made, not for defence but for offence. So soon as Karl Marx heard that Germany was to annex Alsace-Lorraine he had declared that France would form an alliance with Russia. And the forecast was speedily fulfilled.
I recollect hearing an English Tory inveighing against Home Rule as being unheard of, impossible, unworkable, and absurd; and when it was pointed out that Ireland had a Parliament for centuries, and that at the time her last Parliament was taken from her the population was double its figure at the time he was speaking, he collapsed like a house of cards, murmuring that he ‘didn’t know that.’
No; but his ignorant vote would help to keep the desired and desirable change back in this as in other matters where all that is needed is a little liberalising knowledge.
Economics, political science and philosophy, poetry, criticism, biography are all necessary ,not only to the performance of our civic duties, but to anything like adequate intelligent enjoyment of life. Let anyone listen to the talk of an average casual collection of workmen or middle-class men, and what a mass of prejudice, half-baked opinion, and timid shying off from first principles and essential fact it will be found to be! Listen, for example, to a discussion on women’s suffrage, and what sort of ‘arguments’ will be oftenest heard. Those in favour will have much to say of how women pay rates and taxes and manage businesses, and therefore they owught to have votes. Those against will doubtless rest content with nothing beyond jeers, cheap chaff, or the mere statement that they are not in favour; there is always a kind of honest man who thinks the mere statement of his hostility is enough.
None of the disputants seems to think of appealing to facts, to the experience of how Votes for Women has worked. In every branch of local politics women have long had the vote, and have almost uniformly misused it in the most flagitious way. In some of our colonies women have all the franchises, and nobody can say anything more than that they have increased the labour and expense of elections.
Women councillors initiate nothing. Woman is not an initiator. She does not even initiate her own hats. William Morris, a married man and a good cook, declared that no woman ever invented a new dish or failed to spoil an old one. Women have no pockets, and are constantly losing their handbags. They wear frocks that button up the back, and they need someone else to truss and untruss them.
The case against Votes for Women might be allowed to rest upon the one physiological fact that the female animal, including women, converts the energy she stores to a different purpose from that to which a man devotes it. The energy which goes in man to the nourishment of brain and biceps, in woman goes largely to the nourishment of the generative and lacteal organs, whether she wishes it or not. The man-like woman who writes powerful books (like ‘George Eliot’) or who becomes a soldier (like Christian Davies) is an unsexed woman. Her female functions are starved in the interests of her masculinity.
Tell this to the average suffragist, male or female, and there will not only be not reply, but you will probably be assured that they never heard of this aspect of the case.
The fact is, the state of political intelligence is such that there are far too many uninformed voters in the country already; and so far from its being desirable to increase the number, a good case could be made of disfranchising many men, except that you can’t take a bone from a dog. The franchise in the hands of the ignorant or unreasoning is like a revolver in the hands of a child – a deadly weapon – and it was never meant to be that. To give women the vote because they have worked at munitions and conducted tramcars is an utterly irrelevant plea. Women’s most valuable and dangerous service to the State is not and always has been the bearing and rearing of children. If services rendered gave a claim, that would be the strongest claim presentable on her behalf. But the franchise is given for the good of the state, and there is no reason to believe that Votes for Women would be anything but a reactionary evil of the most dangerous kind, as the results of municipal elections have abundantly proved.
To return from our overgrown illustration to the male thesis, I have no hesitation in saying that, be the causes what they may, the popular taste in literature is not only much lower than it was forty years ago, but it may be almost said to be non-existent. The grounds of this serious statement are so numerous that only a very few of them can be even mentioned here.
Books that used to be read as a matter of eager delight, and that are still so read by those who know good literature, are now used in the schools as lesson-books, not at all to the satisfaction of the pupil. Forty years ago boys of the poorest class bougth and read the plays of Shakespeare in penny pamphlets, printed in small type. Now Shakespeare is much less read and much less played. The Waverley novels were issued in threepenny editions by the enterprising Dicks, and were bought and read by poor boys who raided their scanty pocket-money for them as a treat. So great was the demand for the better class of fiction 35 to 40 years ago that journals were produced consisting almost exclusively of standard novels run as serials. The authors represented included Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, Lytton, Fielding, Smollet and Antony Trollope. The same class of literature has not become lessons! Imagine a youngster treating ‘Ivanhoe,’ ‘Old Mortality’ or ‘Kenilworth’ as a task to be conned and to be examined in! Forty years ago we read these books for pleasure after our home lessons were done, or, indeed, often and often before they were begun.
A secondary school teacher was complaining the other night that he could not get his class to take the least interest in the exploits of Hannibal, even in war time; whereas forty years ago we read about the Punic wars as a matter of keen pleasure, finding money for ‘The Wars of the Carthaginians’ with small encouragement from our seniors.
Thackeray tells of how, passing through a poor quarter of London, longer ago than forty years, a seamstress’s child recognised him and cried ‘There goes Becky Sharpe!’ Many of the tales of both Dickens and Thackeray appeared in fortnightly numbers, and into many a humble household they went as a matter of course. Some of us were familiar from infancy with these novels in the blue and the green covers in which they appeared in their serial form. The home which did not contain a set of the Waverley novels, the poems of Burns, ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress,’ Pollok’s ‘Course of Time,’ and Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost,’ was poor indeed. The Sketch and the Mirror are a very wretched exchange for these books and for the widely circulated periodicals issued by the house of Chambers in those days.
The modern writers who might most appropriately be compared, in point of merit and status, with Dickens and Thackeray, would be H.G.Wells, G.B.Shaw, Arnold Bennet, and G.K.Chesterton. Could one fancy the child of a poor seamstress recognising any of these as they passed down a modern mean street?
One knows households, whose head owns a motor car and has a bank balance of four or five figures, in which there are no books of general literature except such as have been got by the young people for school use. And ordinarily (I mean except in war time) we have to wait until these people, by God alone knows what process, make up what they are pleased to call their minds that something shall be done now which ought quite obviously to have been done fifty years ago. Our cities and the people in them might be made beautiful, the lease of life might be greatly extended, work might be made a pleasure, the man with the muck rake might be a gentleman t not too dainty for daily use, the wealth of the country might be increased at least tenfold, if – and what virtue in an if! – if prejudice could be dissipated by the dissipation of ignorance. But ignorance is hugged like a garment, and the heart of the reformer is broken and his unselfish life wasted by the neglect and the defeat, again and again, of proposals that would, in practice, beneficently transform the whole face of society. The man who knows what has been successfully done, and would enlarge the sum of human good, may well have the feeling of one who is kept out of a great estate by the mere dog-in-the-manger obstinacy of others who do not even want the estate for themselves.
A people which does not read cannot reason. A people which does not read has no mental furniture; and the mind does not work in vacuo – it must have something to work with and upon. We reason by analogies, and the analogies of the non-reader must be few and curtailed.
The amazing thing is the lack of a worthy curiosity. It seems only natural to want to know exactly what took place at a time of historic crisis; how exactly the thing happened, who were the actors, how an institution, say, like the ancient and powerful monarchy of the Bourbons at last toppled and fell. When you recommend Dickens’s ‘Tale of Two Cities’, and give an outline of the story, the hearer will say, ‘Oh, I have seen it at the pictures.’ It is something that one would imagine their curiosity would be aroused to know the whole story, say, as it is narrated by Thomas Carlyle in his graphic and witty history of the French Revolution. One result of the war has been to lead me to browse in the ten volumes of Carlyle’s ‘History of Frederick the Great’ in order to find out how the Prussians came to be so infatuated with their precious Hohenzollerns. This is the natural thing to do.
The way in which everybody fell away from the last of the Jameses, and how the English Revolution was compassed by the king’s flight at last, is an intensely interesting story, with many memorable touches as it is told by Macaulay; and one simply cannot understand how any adult English-speaking person is not curious to know the full particulars of an event so interesting in itself and so momentous in its consequences.
But there is no widespread curiosity about this epoch or about anything of the kind. We have left behind us for the time serious study and inquiry. A characteristic so human, so nobly human, as intellectual curiosity, must recur again to the nation; but there are no present signs of it.
There are many improvements in taste – in furniture, clothes, domestic architecture, the production of books, the arrangement of newspapers, the services in church. But the taste in literature, music and the drama has steadily deteriorated; English is still the Cinderella of popular education; and rag-time, and the cinema, and the musical comedy oust the better class of music and the best class of play from most theatres.
Will education become more narrowly ‘utilitaritan’ as a result of the war? Shall we beat the Germans in the field only to copy their ideas and methods in education and business? There is vast need for improvement certainly; but surely not in the direction of imitating the training that has produced the Hun, a slave to his taskmasters and a monster of aggressive cruelty to all against whom his wolfish ferocity is directed.
The Settling of Britain.
The raison d’être of these historical notes is that the essentials of history find next to no place in the school text-books in current use, The compilers of school histories tell us the year in which the Battle of Flodden was fought, or that in which Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded, though these events have no very discernible effects on the lives of the people of Scotland and England to-day. On the other hand, they do not tell us when or why the Feudal System was introduced, or when and how that system was abolished, though the consequences of both the introduction and the abolition remain of momentous importance in the lives of the people to-day. The purely military and sensational episodes of history are narrated with comparative wealth of detail; the rise and growth of fundamental institutions are ignored. Thus every schoolboy knows about the Death of De Bohun, the Douglas’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and the battle of Otterbourne; but ask a class of secondary-school pupils when the British Political Revolution took place, and you will be told ‘We never got that.’
When the school historians do, rarely, indulge in constitutional details they are sometimes wrong in the most elementary particulars. ‘A History of the British Empire,’ long popular, misled the scholars and teachers of a generation with the information that ‘the Three Estates of the Realm, or constituent parts of the Parliament, are the Sovereign, the Lords, and the Commons.’ The truth is, of course that the Three Estates are the Barons Spiritual, the Barons Temporal, and the Commons. The Sovereign is not, and, never was, an Estate of the Realm. The making of such a mistake regarding such a matter is, as Carlyle would have said, ‘significant of much.’ The attitude of mind which makes for elaborate attention to personal details regarding a dead king, while lightly and inaccurately treating a great and permanent institution of most civilised countries, does not tend to sound or large views of the relative importance of historic facts. It is merely interesting to learn that Curtmantle had bow legs and that Elizabeth had red hair; whereas it is important to know that Parliament was in its origin, as it still is in its composition, an assemblage of direct representatives of certain classes in society. The fact is that, to the average historian, history is still a collection of battles, sieges, court intrigues, and individual biographies rather than, as it should be, an account of the corporate life and growth of a nation; is still a series of separate incidents, connected only by the sequence of time, rather than a synthetic view of the evolution of a people, in which politics, industry, art, religion, commerce, warfare, geographical discovery, technical invention, and the popular standard of comfort act and re-act one upon another, shaping, fusing, and determining the character of the national life as a whole.
In spite of the oft-repeated protests of such historical critics as Macaulay, and the example which some few modern historians have set of how history should be written,* the subject, as taught in schools, continues to be a chronicle of the unedifying deeds and misdeeds of sovereigns and generals. The lives of the great body of the nation, and the social, industrial, and even political changes that took place, are alike ignored, or, at best, but slightly treated. For the details and meaning of these changes, as for the features of a given age, we have to turn to Social histories, Constitutional histories, Histories of Civilization, of Prices, of Work and Wages, ‘Economic Interpretations of History,’ works on ‘The Duties of Civic Life,’ and other books of a special historic character, If such details are not of the essentials of history, there are none. That the general history of a period or a country, as ordinarily narrated, fails to include such particulars forms the reason for these pages.
*Justin M‘Carthy’s ‘Short History of Our Own Times,’ for instance. Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Tales of a Grandfather,’ though neither accurate nor up-to-date, is wonderfully comprehensive in conception and method, despite the ‘brave neglect’ of its style and its excusably romantic bias.
The four centuries from the accession of Alfred the Great (871) to the death of Henry III. (1272) represent the period of the settling or founding of Britain upon the main lines - political, economic, and judicial - on which the United Kingdom stands to-day.
When Alfred became King of the West Saxons the island-contained at least ten more or less independent rulers. When Edward I. became King of England and Ireland there were but two besides himself, and before the end of his reign the death of Llewellyn of Wales left but one, the King of Scotland (Alexander III.). During this period (1172) the kilted Kings of Ireland, the Dermods and Donalds, the Murtoughs and Malachies and Mahons, of Leinster and Munster, of Meath and Thomond and Ulster, paid homage to Henry II., as did also the Danish rulers of Dublin and Wexford. As an annalist writes with pathetic brevity, ‘Earl Strongbow came into Erin with Dermod M‘Murrough to avenge his expulsion by Roderick, son of Turlough O’Connor; and Dermod gave him his own daughter and a part of his patrimony; and Saxon foreigners have been in Erin since then.’
These four centuries not only witnessed a union of principalities: they also saw a consolidation of the English in England and of the Scots in Scotland for purposes of really national defence and government.
Lack of Public Spirit.
The bugbear of the Saxon kings and a great contributory cause of the successful Danish and Norman invasions and occupations was the incapacity of the Saxons to hold together, to act unitedly. The Saxon freeman would repel, if he could, an invader who appeared in his own neighbourhood; but he did not willingly leave the shire, and he was easily persuaded to believe that an enemy was completely routed when he had only temporarily fallen back on suffering a slight reverse. Home-loving by instinct, the thought of the good wife, the bairns, and the farmstead left unprotected, sometimes inclined the Saxon to panic when the day seemed to be going against him afield.
But in truth the parochial character of Saxon defence was not merely a matter of feeling. It was a matter of institutions as well. The fyrd, or shire levy, was required, legally, to serve only within its own county, and that for a short period at a time, the service including the manning of the district forts and stockaded mounds which the Saxons had copied as a defensive device from the Danish ravagers. Of course this merely local obligation was in practice frequently departed from; but the danger had to be very great and clear, and that its gravity and clearness were not always recognised is shown by the repeated successes of the Danes, the Scots, and the Welsh. Alfred tried to secure more willing and effective service from the fryd by calling up only one half of the available levy at a time, so that the civil work of the community need not be entirely suspended. That, however, does not appear to have removed the objection of peaceful men to the business of war, although Alfred and some of his successors were able to expel, and for long periods to keep out, the Danes.
Stolid, unimaginative, with no political ideas beyond the folk-moot where he said Ay, Nay, or merely clattered his weapons in token of assent, the Saxon freeman, with all his good qualities, was no active friend to the peace and good order of the land as a whole. He was an Individualist, as his descendants still are to too great an extent. He was the primitive prototype of the man who to-day takes no interest in politics, and selfishly boasts that he ‘minds his own business.’
Penalty - The Feudal System.
With this absence of a national ideal, and its practical drawbacks of selfish personal ‘independence’ and lack of social cohesion, Alfred and the later Saxon kings did their utmost to cope. The ‘lordless man’ was declared an outlaw and was treated as such. The freeholding Saxon tribesman, himself a master of serfs, had now to set about finding a master in one or other of the neighbouring thegns, at whose hands he would receive in fief the lands he already held in his own right. This was the beginning of the Feudal System in Britain,
Thus the best men of the time - Alfred himself and, later, the great Premier Archishop, Dunstan - had to degrade the freeman to the position of a vassal as a penalty for his lack of public spirit - a lack which usually carries, sooner or later, its due penalty everywhere.
The Continued Lack.
But to make the freeholder a villein, liable to compulsory military service under his lord’s banner, did not suffice to consolidate and render effective the defence of the country, either on land or on sea. The feudal machinery of defence could not supply the lack of public spirit and a national ideal.
The Danes might ravage Northumbria; but the West Saxons behaved as if that were none of their affair. William of Normandy might land in Sussex as the starting-point of a general invasion; but the Northumbrians, instead of hastening to help Harold against the foreign invader, joined with the Danes under Hardrada and Tostig, the King’s own rebel brother, to make the task of their monarch still more impossible. Harold had to defeat this rebellious coalition of his own subjects with the Danish invader ere, by marching night and day, he could give his attention to the Norman. Even then a large part of Harold’s muster consisted of ill-armed rustics. That the chivalry of France was repulsed again and again from the rough stockade behind which the Saxons plied their fearful axes, was chiefly due to the desperate valour of Harold’s own house-carles or bodyguard*1 rather than to the general support accorded by the Saxon people to the Saxon king.
Harold’s navy, it is believed, would have been more than a match for the mere transport boats in which William crossed the Channel - burning them when he landed at Pevensey - but the Saxon Buscarles,*2 locally raised, had gone home to their own ports at the time of crisis, and the Saxon fleet was useless save for a career of piracy after the kingdom had fallen into the hands of the Norman.
The numerous serious revolts which took place at intervals, long after the conquest of England, had at least the one feature in common, that they were planless, sporadic, spasmodic, devoid of national unity. The English were not yet a nation.*3
*1 The house-carles of Harold’s time were a very much stronger force than the handful of gesiths who formed the bodyguards of the early Saxon kings. From the time of Canute they numbered several thousands strong.
*2 Boatmen. The Yarmouth herring boats were called ‘busses,’ as the Dutch herring boats still are.
*3 We can now afford to regard the Norman Conquest as representing a beneficial infusion of new blood and new ideas; but the price of this higher civilization must have seemed exorbitant to the six generations of the conquered race that paid it.
Nor were the Scots. In the time of Alfred there was in Scotland the British kingdom of Strathclyde, having its capital at Alcluyd (Dumbarton). There was an Anglian kingdom of Lothian, occupying the south-east corner from the Forth to a shifting boundary in Northumbria. The Picts and Scots, united under Kenneth Macalpine, occupied Scotland from sea to sea, with Scone as their capital city. Mar and Moray were under independent Celtic mormaers. The Hebrides, Caithness, Orkney, Shetland, and Sutherland were still held by the Norse jarls. But while these five provinces became united under Malcolm Canmore, that king did homage to the English monarch for his possessions in England. It was not till the reign of Alexander I. that the complete separation and independence of Scotland within its own boundaries was established and recognised.
The Saxon Witanagemote, or Assembly of the Wise, had great powers, including that of choosing the king; though the succession extended, apparently as a matter of course, collaterally among the king’s brothers before it descended to his sons. Descent did not determine the succession; it merely indicated the field of selection; and sometimes, as in the case of Harold the Last, a king was adopted from a source outside the blood royal altogether.
With the coming of the Conqueror a period of absolute monarchy set in. The Curia Regis of the early Norman Kings was simply a committee of the king’s creatures. This regime lasted till the end of Henry III.’s reign, when the first elective Parliament of the Three Estates of the Realm was convened by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, called by the men of his day Sir Simon the Righteous’ The Witanagemote was composed of men of rank, who held seats and voted, not as the delegates of a constituency, but merely by virtue of their social position. They represented only themselves.
The Parliament of 1265, on the other hand, was, in its most important chamber, both elective and representative. The Commons, or Third Estate, consisted, not only of knights of the shire (who alone formed the Third Estate in continental Parliaments), but burgesses of the towns in addition. The voters were freeholders of the annual value of not less than 4os. The word Estate is derived from the Latin status - a condition in life. The founders of Parliaments everywhere recognised that the various classes in society could be properly represented only by men belonging to each particular class - a sound view, of which the return of 150 Labour members to Parliament is a partial recognition to-day. The Labour Party represents a Fourth Estate of the Realm. Members of the House of Commons were remunerated on a scale which varied from time to time, and differed as between the knights of the shire and the burgesses, the former being assumed to live more expensively. In the time of Edward III. the rate was fixed at 4s. a-day for a knight and 2s. a-day for a burgess - sums equal to 4os. and 2os, respectively of our money.
In Ireland informal meetings of ‘eminent persons’ belonging, of course, to the English colony, led to the convocation of a Parliament in 1295. Knights of the shire only were summoned at first. Burgesses were not added till 131o. The Parliament of 1354 numbered only 20 members. When the Irish Parliament was abolished, by gross corruption, in 18o0, it numbered 30o members.
The introduction of Parliamentary government into Scotland does not fall within our period. The first regular Scottish Parliament met in 1318, in the reign of Robert the Bruce, that, indeed, being the act of most abiding significance in the Scottish Deliverer’s reign. Well-informed men, making light of the sentiment of nationalism and the passion for independence, have questioned whether the results of Bannockburn did not simply delay the spread of civilization in Scotland. But, so far as we know, no one has ever denied the utility of the great body of Scots Law enacted by successive Parliaments during the four centuries of Scottish legislative independence. The Scots Parliament, abolished by suborned votes in 1707, was a Parliament of one chamber only. After 1427 the members were paid £5 Scots (8s. 4d. sterling) per day during the session of Parliament, this allowance extending to time spent in travelling to and from the place of assembly.
Rise of the Towns.
The growth and prosperity of the towns was looked at with unfriendly eyes by the aristocracy. Writing of the granting of a constitution to London in 1191, Richard of Devizes said: ‘What evils spring from these communes can be gathered from the saying about them, that they mean an upheaval of the rabble, a menace to the kingdom, and a lukewarmness in religion.’ Prior to this the burgh had practically belonged to one overlord or another; but now the government was vested in the craft guilds, the lord’s taxes were commuted, and the burgh was freed from the grosser forms of seignorial oppression.
The Saxon conqueror found the soil of England cultivated by a population of slaves and free and half-free coloni. For centuries he kept it so. There was a great export trade in slaves. It was the sight of fair-haired lads from Northumbria exposed for sale in the market-place of Rome that made Pope Gregory the Great vow to transmit Christianity to England. The landing of Augustine, with forty monks, in 597, was the result. The debtor who could not pay was sold into slavery. Slaves were bred and reared for the market. Unnatural fathers sold their sons into bondage. Bristol traded in slaves till the eighteenth century, and the Scottish ports were not free of the same scandal. Sometimes, as in the case of Peter Williamson, of Aberdeen, the kidnapped bondman escaped and returned; though he got little redress from the merchant magistrates who were themselves interested in this white-slave trade.
The feudal system, introduced by the Saxon rulers, was made more rigid and formal by the Normans. ‘Hear, my lord,’ swore the vassal as he knelt bareheaded, his hands placed within those of the superior, ‘I become liegeman of yours for life and limb and earthly regard, and I will keep faith and loyalty to you for life and death; God help me.’ Yet the superior was only a tenant of the Crown, as the vassal was a tenant of the superior. The basis of tenure was military service in the case of both, though this could be escaped by the payment of scutage or quit money, with which the king could and did hire foreign troops. The system of military tenure obtained in England, as a matter of law if not of practice, till 166o, when by an act of the Convention Parliament of Charles II. the landholders voted themselves out of their feudal obligations, making themselves in fact if not in law landowners; though it is but fair to say that they imposed upon themselves a tax of twenty per cent. of their rentals. Except where it has been commuted by the payment of a lump sum, this tax is still paid on the basis of a valuation made in the reign of William and Mary (1692), since when, of course, the value of the land has enormously increased.
Feudalism in Scotland.
We have seen how feudalism was introduced in England by Alfred and Dunstan as a natural punitive consequence of the Saxon’s lack of public spirit. The Feudal System was introduced into Scotland during the reign of Malcolm Canmore. Desiring to see his dominions more thickly peopled, and the refinements of life diffused among his Celtic subjects, Malcolm tempted both Norman and Saxon settlers to his northern kingdom by gifts of land, to be held in fief according to the feudal system whose workings he had seen during his residence in England. In Scotland in the eleventh century, as in Canada to-day, land was of less value than population.*
The feudal system in Scotland did not penetrate to the Highlands. The clan tenure was in theory, if latterly not in practice, different from the ordinary tenure of these islands. The clansmen owed fealty to the chief of their sept and name, but it was a fealty based, not on the use of property derived from him, but on considerations of blood ties, protection accorded, and the sentiment of personal loyalty. The tribesmen were co-owners with the chief of the lands occupied by the clan.
At the Reformation, one half of the land of Scotland (according to Sir Walter Scott) belonged to the Church, and one cause of the ready acceptance of Protestantism by the Scottish nobility was the renunciation, by the Reformed clergy, of Prelacy, of formal political power, and of legal claims upon the confiscated lands. It is possible to admire this unworldly spirit of the Scottish clergy while regretting its practical consequences in the diversion of the Church lands from public to private uses. The endowments and teinds of the Scottish Church are an insignificant substitute for the vast properties administered by the Church in pre-Reformation days, largely for hospitable, charitable, and educational purposes, in addition to religious teaching. What the Church renounced and the poor lost, the nobles hungrily devoured, without gratitude and as a matter of course.
For Scotland the military tenure was not legally abolished till 1747, the Jacobite rising of 1745-6 having called attention to the mischievous power which the Scottish feudal superiors still possessed of dragging peaceable men out to fight in quarrels in which they had no interest.
*Nowadays philanthropy reverses King Malcolm’s wise policy, and encourages emigration, especially from the parts already most thinly peopled. These are now, on the principle of contraries, termed ‘congested districts.’
The Appropriation of Britain.
But while the feudal system provided for the defence of the country, which to-day costs us over £116,000,000 annually,* there were, side by side with the feudal estates, millions of acres of common land. According to the Domesday Book, there were, in addition, in England alone, 1922 manors, 68 royal forests, 13 chases, and 781 parks whose revenues went into the public purse. According to constitutional authorities, these properties were strictly inalienable; but they have mostly been alienated; and the net revenue from the Crown Lands was in 1925-6 only £950,000. At the Reformation Henry VIII. resumed possession of the monastery lands as being Crown property, and it is calculated that the capitalised value of these would now be over a hundred millions sterling. But the monastery lands, the common lands, and the Crown lands have mostly been either enclosed by Act of Parliament, given away to royal favourites, or gradually and covertly filched by the neighbouring proprietors. Thus in the reign of Charles I. it was found that Rockingham Forest, one of the royal demesnes, had been encroached upon by the adjoining landholders till it had shrunk from sixty to six miles in width. A Commission being appointed, in 1633, to deal with these appropriations, many noble depredators were not only deprived of large tracts of the land they had annexed, but were fined in addition. An old rhyme runs:-
Why prosecute the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common,
And leave the larger felon loose
Who steals the common from the goose?
The enclosure of public lands, however, continued long after the time of Charles I. So late as 182o the Duke of Rutland of the period enclosed 2,000 acres of common land in the Derbyshire parish of Holmesfield, and actually charged the parishioners with the expense of the Act under which his appropriations were made! In the hundred and twenty years from 176o to 1880 no less than ten million acres were transferred from public to private ownership.
Thus by a process spread over a thousand years, and natural and necessary enough in its beginnings in the time of Alfred, but in its later stages plain robbery, whether legal or illegal, were the people of Britain made aliens in the land of their birth, the soil passing to a handful of owners who have done less to give it the value it now bears than the meanest hind who lives upon it by their sufferance.
*The cost of the Navy was £58,100,000 in 1926-7, of the Army, ,£42,500,000, and of the Air-Force, £16,000,000.
The serf and his unfree dependants (who could be married only with the consent of the seigneur) constituted the majority of the population, which in the middle ages was distributed over the country instead of being huddled in towns. Under Saxon as well as under Norman rule the craftsmen were freemen, some of them, such as the potter, travelling from village to village. But the cottager, the copyholder, and the field labourers were serfs, although the actual conditions of life of these classes varied in detail. In the early days of the Saxon occupation the house servants were absolute chattel slaves, to be bought and sold. The Saxon cottager had a minimum holding of five acres; his Norman successor half a virgate - not less than twelve acres. He owned stock and paid rent, never more than sixpence an acre, and usually considerably less. One demand of the labourers in the Peasants’ Revolt was that the rent of land should not exceed fourpence an acre. Sometimes the rents were nominal. By one free tenant a pound of pepper (value 1s. 6d.) is given annually for nine acres. On Cuxham Manor, in Oxfordshire, the serfs gave (for their twelve acres) a halfpenny on November 12, a penny every time they brewed, a quarter of seed-wheat at Michaelmas, a peck of wheat, four bushels of oats, and three hens on November 12, and at Christmas a cock and two hens and twopenceworth of bread. The value of these payments and services is put at 9s. per annum, 3s. only being rent for the house and land occupied by the serf, the remaining 6s. simply the penalty of serfage. In addition, the cottage serf (Saxon, cotsetla; Norman, coterelli) had to give labour on the lord’s demesne at the call of the bailiff.
Wages and Prices.
Under the Normans the cottagers became practically freemen. They paid 1s. 2d, to 2s. a-year for their cottages, and had to give a day or two at hay-making, for which they were paid a halfpenny. They were also bound to give one to four days at harvest-work, when they were fed at the lord’s table, were allowed a loaf of bread each, and had sixpenceworth of beer among them. During the rest of the year they were free to work for wages on the lord’s demesne.
But while fare and lodging were as described, there was at least rude plenty. There was much hiring of casual labour, and before the great rise in wages caused by increasing prosperity and the Black Death (1348), which cut off one-half of the labourers, wages are given as 6d. an acre for ploughing, a penny for hoeing, and 2½d. for mowing. Women were paid a penny a-day for such work as weeding. Cultivation cost the lord of the demesne about £1 an acre, and at this rate all authorities are agreed that the labourer was fairly well off - a penny having 30 to 4o times its present purchasing power. By the fourteenth century wages for artisans were, as recorded, sixpence a-day, and for labourers fourpence. A list of prices obtaining in the fifteenth century gives eggs at 25 a-penny, hens and rabbits 2d. each, chickens ½d. to 1d., hogs 2s. 3d., sheep 1s. 2d. to 1s. 4d., oats 1s. 2d. to 2s. 4d. a quarter. The outside price of a labourer’s board was a shilling a-week. The working day did not exceed eight hours. These conditions relate to what is described as ‘The Golden Age of Labour.’
The Scottish Golden Age is placed in the period of peace and prosperity extending from the reign of Malcolm Canmore to the death of Alexander III.; but the nearest approach to definite data is the elegy in Wyntoun’s ‘Cronykil’ beginning -
Quhen Alysander oure King was dede
That Scotland led in luive and le,
Away wes sons of Ale and Brede,
Of Wyne and Wax, of Gamyn and Gle.
Oure gold was changyd into lede.
In Saxon times the law had been administered by the thegns in the hundred-moots, or courts of the hundred or district. But each family had to be its own policeman. If a member of the family was slain his kindred had the right to maintain a blood-feud with the family of the transgressor till recompense was made. The State had the right to make the injured family accept a price or ‘wergild’ for the dead man’s life. Every man had his price. Thus a thegn was worth six ceorls, and if a ceorl killed a thegn he was either sold into slavery or his own life paid the forfeit, since he had not the wherewithal to pay the wergild.
Trial by Jury.
In the reign of bustling Henry II. trial by jury began to be introduced. Prior to the last quarter of the thirteenth century the guilt or innocence of an accused person was in the eye of the law established by one or other of the three ordeals - fire, water, or battle - or by compurgation, the sworn testimony of eleven of the accused’s neighbours that he was innocent. It was from the practice of summoning witnesses that the jury system originated. The possession of a mind unbiassed as regarded the crime to be tried would have been no recommendation of a juryman in those early days. The jurymen were the neighbours of the accused. They were witnesses who came to give evidence themselves rather than adjudicators to decide upon the testimony given by others. It was only as population grew and life became more complex that the office of juror assumed its present character.
Peine forte et dure.
But an accused person could, as late as the eighteenth century, refuse to be tried by a jury. Fearing the prejudices of his neighbours, or having only too good reason to fear their just award, he could offer himself for any of the three ordeals. To compel the recalcitrant one to accept a trial by jury, they could imprison him, starve him, and heap weights upon his naked body as he lay on a dungeon floor till they squeezed the life out of him. But if he died in this way his heirs still inherited his property, whereas had he accepted trial and been convicted, his effects might have been confiscated. The peine forte et dure was not abolished till 1772, nor the last of the ordeals till 1819.
The Great Charter, granted by John in 1215, while it curbed the royal power and initiated the reign of statute law in place of government by royal charter so far as England was concerned, established also several important judicial rights. Two of the grand clauses of the Charter run:-
No freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or disseised, or outlawed, or banished, or any ways destroyed, nor will we pass upon him, nor will we condemn him, unless by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the laws of the land.
To no man will we sell, or deny, or delay right or justice.
The rights thus granted had to be re-affirmed and fought for over again in the reign of Charles I.; but it was a great matter to have the Charter to which appeal could be made.
The Condition of the People.
But this progress - political, judicial, feudal, municipal - was confined to the freemen. The lot of the serf showed little improvement. Even so late as the time of Chaucer that kindly observer could, with only too much truth, describe the widow’s home in the line,
Full sooty was her bower and eke her hall.
The cottage of the labourers consisted of one apartment partitioned across the floor, the pigs and poultry being housed on one side, the family eating and sleeping on the other. There was no chimney. The smoke had to escape as it might by the doorway and the chinks in the ill-joined wooden or wattled walls. Living miserable lives, it was little wonder that both men and women should spend much of their time carousing, gossiping, and quarrelling at the village alehouse. Disease was common, though cases of leprosy were not so rife as the number and extent of the lazar houses would lead us to suppose. Drunkenness, to which, primitively, most people are prone, was encouraged by the amount of salted food eaten. With no root crops to serve as winter food for cattle, beeves were mostly slaughtered at the end of autumn and the flesh salted for winter use. Save game and fish, there was during the winter no flesh food that was not pickled. In six shires there were no fewer than 727 salt-works. Although in the time of the Angevin kings there were thirty-eight vineyards in England, there were few potherbs to act as anti-scorbutics in the dietary of the people. To the introducers of carrots, cabbages, and turnips we owe more than to the kings and generals who consumed but created not.
Housing of the Well-to-do.
The house of the well-to-do Saxon was a wooden hall, with bedrooms and a bower surrounding it, all on the ground floor. The kitchen and other offices were outhouses, and in fine weather (as shown in illuminated manuscripts) cooking was done out of doors. This applies also to the Norman times. The Norman house, whether built of stone or wood, was, fundamentally, an affair three rooms - the hall, a lofty apartment occupying the whole height of the main building; behind it, and on a lower level, a vaulted cellar which served as general storeplace; and, over the cellar, the solar or private apartment of the master of the house and his family. The title of solar, meaning sun-chamber, is a significant commentary on the mediaeval idea of a house as a darksome place of safety and shelter rather than of pleasure. The solar is confessedly the only decently-lighted room in the house. And even in it the windows, as may be seen from existing examples, were small.
Access was gained to the solar from the dais, or raised platform at the upper end of the hall. It was the sitting-room and bedchamber, not only of the family, but of the guests, male or female, of their station in life. A measure of privacy was secured by hangings suspended between the beds; but on this there was no very strict insistence. The ‘chivalry’ of the middle ages was superficial, and the relations of dame and squire were free and easy. The walls of the solar were wainscoted and the floor carpeted.
The floor of the hall was called the marsh, a name which would often be appropriate enough, despite the covering of rushes and boughs with which it was strewn. It had no fireplace. When there was a fire it was made in the centre of the floor, the smoke escaping as it might by a louvre or lantern in the roof. Through the high-set, narrow, unglazed windows birds entered and flitted overhead. The family ate at a cross table set on a dais, the servants from boards set on trestles along the sides of the hall. At the conclusion of the meal these boards were removed, and the servants, male and female slept where they had eaten, sometimes on mattresses spread on the floor, but often on straw or rushes. Saxon and Norman alike slept ‘in naked bed.’ An amusing series of instructions for the management of a household enjoins the mistress to teach her servants ‘prudently to extinguish their candles before they go into their bed, with the mouth or with the hand, and not with their shirt.’ That is, they were not to undress in bed and throw their last garment over the candle to put it out.
In the high, narrow Scottish keep of later days the cellar, hall, and solar were set one on top of another.
Late hours are a luxury of civilization. The Saxons and early Normans rose early. The rhyme which extols the virtues of ‘early to bed and early to rise’ does not specify an hour for either the lying down or the rising up. But the Norman rhyme ran -
Lever á cinq, diner á neuf,
Souper á cinq, toucher á neuf,
Fait vivre d’ans nonante et neuf.
That is to say -
To rise at five, to dine at nine,
To sup at five, to bed at nine,
Makes a man live to ninety and nine.
‘The Canterbury Tales’ convey the impression that, despite the bad roads, the absence of wheeled conveyances, and the dangers from thieves both high and low, there was a good deal of moving from place to place. The impression is heightened by the explanation given of some of the words, referring to locomotion, that have come down to us from the Middle Ages. Thus roamer meant a person who had repeatedly travelled to Rome; a saunterer was a person who had made, or was making, the pilgrimage to the Sainte Terre or Holy Land; to canter was to pursue the amble associated with those who rode to Canterbury. But travel was confined to the well-to-do or to those who preyed upon them, such as the crafty Pardoner sketched by Chaucer. The knight, the franklin, the merchant, the master mariner, the well-conditioned Wife of Bath might be able to afford the time and money required for a journey to London and thence to Canterbury; but the only industrious person of humble means who is found in the company is the Ploughman, who, however, is not a serf or even a free wage-labourer, but a small farmer. The unfree villager of the period had neither the means nor the liberty to travel beyond his own parish, much as he would have wished to make the pilgrimage to all manner of holy places; for, with all his grossness, the serf was intensely devout and credulous.
We are apt think of the middle ages as non-progressive, as stagnant with an oriental stagnation, But the many changes briefly indicated in these pages as having taken place in the four centuries 871 - 1272 show that Britain has never stood still for long; that if her peoples acquire increased liberties and rights it is only by the public spirit and sustained civic courage of the best men among them; and that if liberty and right languish or are curtailed, the explanation is to be sought in popular apathy quite as much as in any necessary aggressiveness or stubbornness of the powers that be.
The fact, indeed, is that popular rights have in this country been multiplied with little effort or endurance on the part of the people as a whole, except, indeed, in Ireland, where the ‘tree of liberty’ has been abundantly watered with the blood of martyrs. Where Italians, Poles, and Irishmen often fought and died in vain, Englishmen and Scotsmen succeeded in gaining their ends with a comparatively moderate amount of agitation. At the least promise of redress of grievances the mass of the people promptly fell away from their leaders. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the great armies of the two Peasants’ Revolts went home contented with promises that were not fulfilled; and the death of Walter the Tiler in 1381, the death of John Cade in 1450, were alike accepted by their followers with fatalistic resignation as proofs that the popular will could not count in public affairs. By a happy process, in which they have borne little part, the people of Britain now possess both political power and a measure of education, and the more intelligent workmen are turning both to account for the political, economic, and social ends of the largest class in the nation. The future at last has elements of hope for the masses, who, having helped the aristocracy and then the plutocracy to fight their battles, are now arming and mustering for a great victory on their own account.
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