This month, in the shadow of the Turra Show, we look at Leatham on Farming/Agriculture in Gateway and beyond. While James Leatham was not a farmer, he had a lifelong interest in agriculture. While working for the Peterhead Sentinel in the 1880’s he had a regular column in which he wrote as a farmer - Archie Tait. This may have been the first of Leatham's many writing aliases.
A quick trawl through the Gateway Index (which I’m still in the process of compiling) shows that articles on Harvest, Agriculture and Farming were frequent.
Over the 15 year period from 1923 to 1939 there are 22 dedicated articles as follows:
NO 134 Oct 1923 The Meaning of Harvest. The Only policy for Agriculture. An Address by Mr James Leatham p18
How the Railways Might help Agriculture. British Railway freight ‘the highest in the world’ p23
No 147 November 1924 1924 Farming Inquiry for Aberdeenshire p8
Dec 25 Railway Rates and Agriculture. By Jacobus p23
No 170 Oct 1926 The Parlous Plight of Agriculture. And the Tried and Proved Remedy. By the Editor. P1
The Brittany of Scotland. A Constituency of Farming and Fishing. How we are fixed in East Aberdeenshire. A difficulty Surmounted. By James Leatham. P9
Vol 15 No 172 Nov 1926 Speed the Plough p24 Cut-Throat Farm. By J.D.B p25
No175 Mar 1927Farmers Decline State Assistance p8
No178 June 1927 Compulsory Co-operation for Farmers. The East Aberdeenshire Resolution. What Other Countries are Doing. By O.M. Kile p24
No 184 December 1927 Orkney Farmers £180,000 for Eggs in 1926 p24
No 187 March 1928 The Farmer’s Friend p11
No192 Aug 1928 A Yorkshire Farmhouse – Cross Purposes p11
No 194 Oct 1828 Can Britain Live Without External Trade? Are Agriculture and Crafts Enough? By the Editor p10
No 197 Jan 1929 The World’s Oldest Farmer. John Chinaman’s Intensive Cultivation. By Adam Warwick p23
No 200 April 1929 Ireland Capturing the Egg market. State Intervention in Irish Agriculture Generally. Better than Barricades p25
No 211 Mar 1930 The Supreme Issue of the Hour. Stop the Wrecking of Agriculture. By the Editor p1
217 Sept 1930 The World’s largest Farmer on Russia p23
No 220 Dec 1930 Communism in China. Farmers For Soviets in Self-Defence. By Maxwell. S. Stewart p26
No 222 The Pioneer and the People. A workers’ farm that Failed and Why. The story of an Experiment. By Herbert Watson p10
Farmers hard to Please p32
No 236 Sept-Oct 1932 Vol 20 The Farmers’ Strikes. The Remedy so simple as to be incredible. By the Editor p1
No 241 Mid April 1933 Farm Carts and Heavy Crops Versus Sailing Ships And Poor Crops. The Australian Grain Ships arrive p8
No 260 Mid November 1934 Does Import Control mean just higher rents? A reply to a farmer’s odd attack. By the Editor p1
No 263 Feb 1935 Why Farm Wages are low p4
314 July 1939 British Bread the Cheapest in the world. No wonder if farmers need subsidies and men leave the land. By Jacobus p11
These show us some patterns and development of thought and I suggest will give something of a picture of the state of farming (at least from one perspective) in the interwar years.
It is certainly enough to remind us that there is plenty of politics in agriculture. For us in a rural community it is just as important as for the urban majority though perhaps in different ways. But export markets and things like the CAP are simply today’s versions of earlier issues/problems. I often wonder what Leatham would have made of it all today.
There are two major pamphlets which Leatham published on Farming – they were updated and the editions I have read are revised but they both date from 1925/6 You can download them from above and reading them gives us something of a snapshot of how interesting articles from the past can be – even if you don’t buy into the political angles or answers, there is still much of historical interest to be learned from reading them. I hope that some time in the future I’ll be able to pull together all Leatham’s writing on farming/agriculture and see what comes out in the wash!
I conclude by suggesting that keeping a record of the agricultural past is important. Turriff and District Heritage Society work hard in this respect. I would like to point you toward Allan Stephen's work pulling together the 150th anniversary of the Turriff Show and the society's participation in the Aberdeen Angus Trail. I wonder:
What else might we do to preserve the past for the future in terms of Turriff and farming?
The Deveron Press.
Syllables govern the world – Seldon
Reading maketh a full man – Bacon.
A Leeds teacher, in asking us to send him a copy of a catalogue of books, goes on, with delightful inconsistency, to say:-
There is a matter which troubles me at times, and to which I have not yet found a satisfactory answer. Perhaps you, with your wider knowledge and experience, can answer the riddle. I really should write what I mean in well-thought-out essay form, but I will try to make my point clear in this letter.
At times when I get a-thinking I wonder if one’s study of art, science, and literature is a curse instead of a benefit. What does literature do for one? It makes for wider knowledge, enables one to see the follies and operations of the great mass, the iniquities of the men in power, the ignorance of the vast majority of workers and fellow-men. But what good does this feeling of superiority do us? Literature and teachers have existed for hundreds of year, and here we are, still struggling in the mire. If I can see all this, why don’t my fellow-men see it, and strive for an alteration? The average man cares nothing for literature, and is apparently quite happy and content with a visit to a picture-house and a talk with his friends about football or horse-racing – in fact anything which does not matter. He, without reading or study, does not see the important things of life, but providing he has enough to eat and a roof over his head he is happy.
If I had not read I should be the same, and the problems of life would not trouble me, so why should I bother to study and read the so-called classics? Why not give all up, and, apart from the working hours, spend my time in being entertained by paid professionals in the music halls? If I want to read, well, there is a class of literature or reading matter which is light and exciting, but of no value reckoned from any fair standard of value, but it passes the time on.
First a word as to the general question: we shall come our correspondent’s specific points afterwards.
Cui bono? – what is the good? – is a very ancient question. The Romans asked it with respect to many matters widely differing from the topic broached by our correspondent. The subject of books and reading is discussed at some length in ‘The Best of Friends’ printed in The Gateway of Nov 1913 (No 17, Vol II), and what is said here must be comparatively offhand and merely supplementary.
I am bound to confess I have never had any of these misgivings or questionings, have never doubted the supreme value of books and reading. That a man should be able to sit down, and by looking at a series of outlines upon paper, be transported into another world – laughing, weeping, fiercely excited, or feverishly absorbed by the hour, insensible to heat and cold, impatient of interruption, regardless of the chances of making money, changing the settled conviction of years, differentiating himself from the non-reading ruck around him – seems to me the most wonderful of man’s ‘many inventions.’
The other night I lighted in to the household of a master tailor and found him telling stories to his eldest boy with some impatience. He could not understand why the boy, a bright lad, did not rather wish to read the stories for himself. I could not and cannot understand that either. To me the poorest print has a dignity that does not attach to the stateliest speech. I would always much rather read a play than see and hear it. The last time I saw ‘Hamlet,’ Forbes Robertson played the prince, and I came away, as always, disappointed. Sometimes he rollicked in the part, sometimes he stormed. But to me he was never Hamlet, but always Forbes Robertson, whereas when I read the tragedy, it is the veritable prince that speaks. There is no intrusion of an alien modern personality. Who is Forbes Robertson? What is any ordinary star actor but a patterer of words written by wiser men? I have seen many Hamlets but I know only one Prince of Denmark, and for him I have to go to the printed word of Shakespeare.
Reality and Print.
Reality is disappointing: print redresses the balance. The address which was marred by the personal defects of the orator has an effect when read next day that a mere speech to a mob of people could not command. Gladstone used to say ‘constitootion’; Chamberlain could not get rid of the superfluous r’s in such words as ‘law’ and ‘idea,’ which he rendered as ‘lor’ and ‘idear.’ But of course none of this banality appeared in the reports. There all was so finished that the speaker was known as ‘the Birmingham essayist.’ A famous declaration of his – ‘What I have said I have said’ – was spoken at a hotel table between the puffs of his pipe – quite unimpressively.
Joseph Cowen, newspaper proprietor and wealthy merchant, a great Russophobe to whom no Russian refugee applied for succour in vain, was known to the initiated as a speaker of barbed and glancing periods; but he spoke with a thick Newcastle burr, and his puffy face and lank hair gave the lie to all that we read of the personal charm and magnetism of the great orator. It must have been unpleasant for a cultured person to listen to him; but you will find the volumes of his printed speeches on the tables of all knowing politicians who aim at effective platform work.
As it is with speakers, so it is with scenes. As a boy I knew an ex-soldier who had done sentry-go at 10 Downing Street. He was, when I knew him, a great slaughterer of cattle – was known in fact as Jamie Death. A silent man he was when sober; but I shall never forget the impression made on me when this butcher one night, in his cups, told me that Gladstone, coming down the steps, had said to him,’ Good morning, soldier!’ The whole sense I had of 10 Downing Street was spoiled when I first saw that shabby little house itself.
A few years ago I travelled miles by rail and by road to see the farm of Ellisland, into which Burns took his newly-wedded wife Jean Armour. I knew that some of Robert’s best poems were written there and that some of his happiest years were spent there. Allan Cunningham’s father had said that in renting Ellisland burns had made a poet’s choice rather than a farmer’s. This might fairly be taken to mean that Ellisland was a a spot of great natural beauty. We found it so. The Nith flows close by the door as of old. ‘Burns’s Ballroom,’ as a certain tower-like building is called, still rises sheer from the river. The path under the trees where Jean found Burns trudging up and down on the river’s brink declaiming with tears of joy some of the just-composed lines of ‘Tam o’ Shanter,’ is still very much what it must have been in the poet’s day. Dalswinton Loch and the mansion-house of the Millers are still the lairds of Ellisland. John Grierson, the tenant of the farm, would have been a great favourite with Burns; for Grierson is a character. But the place, seen in its winter bareness especially, lost the pastoral and sylvan glamour that it had in the book. To see the little shell of Alloway Kirk, scene of the elaborately horrific phantasmagoria of ‘Tam o’Shanter,’ is to realise how much genius can make of the scantiest materials. The tiny church would hardly have held witches, coffins, piping Devil, and the rest of the awful paraphanalia, let alone affording room for the dance. And tramcars run to the place!
So it must be always. Life is confused: but literature sorts it out. People we meet and incidents that transpire are casual, irrelevant. But the historian, biographer, critic, playwright, novelist, select, co-ordinate, exclude the unessential. We are now living in specially notable times; but we cannot see the wood for the trees. Small men make a big splash for the moment; but time will relegate them to their due level, and in history, and in history only, shall we see men and events in their proper perspective. Life is for time, but literature, the greatest of the arts, is for eternity.
The Strongest Plea.
The strongest plea for reading is that it is the only way of finding out remote and essential things. Calamitous mistakes are daily made because men did not read and do not know. The history of the world’s failures and disasters is the story of its ignorances, superstitions, and duties neglected from sheer lack of certainty that the task had to be performed. Of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these – I did not know. The German people, when they allowed the military Frankenstein to grow up and wax all powerful in their midst did not know that he would cost them and Europe so much; but the lesson was plain enough in history that he would controls the army controls the people and that aggression is the life0blood of a military despotism. Had the advice of Lassalle and Bebel and old William Liebknecht been taken when it was tendered year after year long ago, not Armageddon but the Co-operative Commonwealth and the United States of Europe would have been the result. We have to read, not only in order to know, but that we may be trained to observe, to weigh evidence, and to estimate probabilities.
Why bother? Asks our correspondent. But it is no bother. The bother is, not to read, but to do without. There are railway journeys, periods of waiting, illnesses, spells of enforced idleness from one cause and another; and it would be pure punishment if one had to pass the time in vacancy.
But why not read ‘light’ and ‘exciting’ literature in preference to ‘the so-called classics’? he asks. Well, most people do. When the average person asks for a book it is usually a novel that is meant, and not even one of the best at that. But why ‘so-called classics’? A heedless orator referred scornfully to ‘the so-called nineteenth century.’ If any book is called a classic we may be pretty sure it has earned the title. It has stood the test of time, a test that is more captiously applied to writings than to any other work of man’s hands; for books are man’s refuge and resort in his worst moods, and woe betide the poor author if he fail to soothe, amuse or stimulate. The books that have weathered the fads, megrims, finical fastidiousness, and sheer stupidity of generations of readers fully deserve the title of ‘classics.’
If we are to talk of the ‘so-called’ we ought to apply the derogatory epithet to so-called ‘light’ literature. The first thing that strikes one about the so-called light literature is the extreme heaviness of it. It is full of people who do not matter figuring in incidents of no significance that never took place. The full, true, and particular account of how Ermytrude transferred her affections from her husband to her chauffeur – why should that be considered ‘light’ reading while Green’s History or Plutarch’s Lives are set down as serious reading, and therefore, I suppose, heavy reading?
The Real Great and the Imaginary Small.
Why should anyone have more interest in Sam Weller than in Alfred the Great or his wise Premier, Archbishop Dunstan? Who wants to keep the company of imaginary inferior people when he might consort with real great men? During one of the darkest periods of my life I read through ‘The Rise of the Dutch Republic,’ and found solace and stimulus in the noble constancy of William the Silent and the gradual emergence of the Netherlanders as a nation from under the heel of a terrorising Spaniard. We get help in our small matters from the great men and the great occasions. I was then striving to save an old-established newspaper from the wreckers, and I did save it, and prolonged its life for thirteen years, till incompetence once more got hold of it. I did not know of any ‘light’ literature that could have helped me, or that would have been anything except impossibly dull at such a time.
What we remember.
Real people, and what they said and did on momentous occasions, are surely more memorable and interesting and every way more important than ‘the clink of teaspoons and the accents of the curate.’ The things we remember are not the saying and ‘situations’ in fiction, but the dramatic incidents of history – Scaevola putting his right hand in the altar fire, the quacking of the geese in the Capitol that betrayed the approach of the barbarians, Canute on the sea-beach, King Alfred and the cakes, Bruce and the spider, Bruce and de Bohun, the noble advice of the Miller of St Albans to his fellow rebels in the Peasant’s Revolt, Catherine Douglas putting her white arm in the staple of the broken door-lock to withstand the murderers of her king, Joan of Arc’s replies to the miserable tribunal that sought her peerless life; the single saying of Kirkpatrick and of old Bell-the-Cat, the many picturesque sayings of Cromwell (‘Stop rolling that snowball’ – a lie; ‘Take away that bauble,’ ‘I beseech you gentlemen in the bowels of Christ, to believe it possible that you may be mistaken’) ; the characteristic declaration of George II – ‘I see no good in bainting and boatry’; the vastly significant foreboding of the first Reform Bill, ‘God forgive you this measure, I never can!’ and the similar but more resigned speech of Robert Lowe at the passing of the second Reform Bill, ‘We must now educate our masters.’
That we remember such incidents and sayings is the best proof that we are startled and entertained by them. If that be not ‘lightness’, I do not know the meaning of the word.
On the other hand, what do we remember of the so-called ‘light’ literature? Some time ago I read, for want of anything better to do, a fearful but wonderful story called ‘The Gamblers,’ by (I believe) William de Queux. I do not recall a single incident, or a single character of it. It was the most absolute melodrama, not on, but between, the boards. This is the characteristic feature of ‘light’ reading – that one promptly forgets all about it, the memory becoming a complete tabula rasa six weeks after the event.
During many years I attended the theatre as a dramatic critic. Of ‘Girls who took the wrong turning’ of ‘Worst Girls in London,’ of ‘Spans of Life’ and ‘Grips of Iron’ I have witnesses scores; and from not one of them does one carry away a single definite recollection, whereas from the classics – novels or plays that have stood the attrition of the years – the least attentive have tags of wisdom and poetry for the everyday need, recollections of whimsy from Falstaff and Dogberry, of poignant pathos from Lear:
Pray do not mock me:
I am a very foolish fond old man.
Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less,
And to deal plainly,
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
Methinks I should know you, and know this man;
Yet I am doubtful, for I am mainly ignorant
What place this is; and all the skill I have
Remembers not these garments; nor I know not
Where I did lodge last night. Do not laugh at me,
For, as I am a man, I think this lady
To be my child Cordelia.
You may read ‘The Speckled Bird,’ or ‘The Blue Lagoon,’ if you like. ‘No profit comes where is no pleasure ta’en.’ But I find the best good enough for me. It is no more merit to read what one likes than it was for Jack Horner to put in his thumb and pull out a plum. He said he was a good boy because he did what he wanted to do. That is where the humour of the rhyme lies. But if a man toils at the so-called classics when he would rather be reading Nat Gould’s latest, it is not quite so droll. I do not read Nat Gould because I do not care for Nat Gould. I read Shakespeare because I care for Shakespeare. But if it does not take all sorts of people to make a world, there are certainly all sorts of people in the world. When one night not long ago I heard Olivia at the theatre ask her Uncle Toby, who is drunk as usual, ‘How came you by this lethargy so early in the day?’ the delicate humour of it made me laugh aloud, but I felt a little shamefaced when I found myself alone in the enjoyment of the joke. And yet why should I? A man ought to be glad that he finds something good where others find nothing at all. Which brings me to another question.
Are the Masses Happy?
Our correspondent seems to rather pity himself that the masses are happy in their sloppy reading, their talk about nothing, and their music halls, enjoyed while he ‘bothers’ with the so-called classics. Good Lord! The boot is so entirely on the other leg. Who can honestly say that the masses are happy? Are the lower animals happy? How can they be? Last night I looked out of the window of a railway carriage and found a waggon-load of beeves opposite. There they stood, packed head and tail, standing in the cold and dark, jolted about with the lurches of the train, with probably little memory of the past, without comfort in body, with no resource of speech or song, with nothing to do but keep their feet and thole it out. We in the carriage had seats, light, company, speech, our pipes, and the freedom to get out at the next stopping-place if we cared to. Who has not seen pigeons humping themselves on the housetop by the hour, their heads in their feathers, looking, and we may be sure feeling, unutterably bored and without possibility of comfort or entertainment?
That is certainly how I see the great mass of mankind. They perform the same dull tasks day after day, with no entertainment save occasional grumbling and swearing. Their rudeness to other people and even to each other is to me the proof that they are miserable. Let no one mistake for happiness the howl of the hooligans at race or football match, or the mirthless skirl of the hoyden in the streets. Those who need to be in a crowd before they can laugh do but make-believe to be happy. But he that laughs in a solitude over a book enjoys himself to a surety. Watch a crowd at a fire or riot or the baiting of an unpopular speaker. The passions that build up without real provocation on those instances are the ebullitions of misery. The Scotsman baited in London or Dublin, the Jew baited everywhere, know in their deepest consciousness that the stupidest men take the largest share in the persecution; the measure of the stupidity is the measure of the spleen. Many working men beat their wives, and the more ignorant and miserable they are the greater is their cruelty.
The theory of Arcadian simplicity and accompanying good nature will not hold water. Kindness is a product of cultivation. Offer something to a poor man, and he will say ‘What, for nothing!’ Give a casually met out-of-work silver money, and he will exclaim in amazement ‘Well, I’ll go to hell!’ The well-bred person does kindnesses, and he understands them when he receives in kind. If the well-bred man is not always a well-read man he has learned from those who are. If he ‘has not been to school he has met the scholars.’
It is true that reading sensitises the student to the ills of life; but if it also enables him to help in the redress of those ills, the balance is more than adjusted, and he has done his duty, and pleased himself in addition. The plain way of wisdom is to reduce the pains and increase the lawful pleasures of life. It is not enough to be happy with cakes and ale. A pig is happy in its stye. Man has to fulfil the law of his being, and try to be happy in the best possible way. To the conscientious man who realises that the world is not to be bettered without effort the alternative to doing his duty is that he shall be miserable at the thought of opportunities neglected and of lions that have not been met in the path. Even then, there are consolations by the way, and one of these is the contemplation (in literature) of the great and glorious deeds of the illustrious dead who walked the way before us.
The struggle does avail. We are not quite so much ‘in the mire’ as we were in comparatively recent days. The war is a temporary set-back to many of our hopes; but the war itself may well be the fruitful occasion of tremendous events in the direction of making democracy the real master in its own house.
Since the following pages were first printed in THE GATEWAY, glorious events have, happily, robbed them of some of their point. There is still enough point left, however, to justify their issue in pamphlet form, as the public demand already shows.
The Liberties Bought with a Price.
ARE THEY WORTH DEFENDING?
We have received from two foreign Socialist organizations in London a long manifesto discussing ‘The Rights of Foreigners’ in which some highly extraordinary claims are made. The document may indeed be taken as representing that frank desertion of Socialism by Socialists, and that entire perversion of Socialist principles and practice by men who still call themselves Socialist, which this time of test and trial has witnessed. Conscientious objectors declare themselves Socialists whose names never appeared on the roll of any of the Socialist organizations, and who are not known to have done any service on behalf of Socialism whatever. More than once we have had special raids upon dance parties held under professed Socialist auspices, the authorities having come to the conclusion that these gatherings offer special facilities for the easy capture of a heavy bag of young men eligible for military service.
The bitter unfairness of this misrepresentation of Socialism by weeds and weaklings who do not realise the very rudiments of the exacting creed they profess is seen when we recollect that the intellectual leaders of Socialism are everywhere on the side of the Allies. And be it said that Socialism has everywhere owed its inception to intellectuals. Even in Germany itself, Dr. Leibknecht, Kautsky, Haase, Ledebour, Bernstein, level much the same indictment against Prussian world-policy that the publicists of the civilised world have been compelled to formulate against it. Sweden is said to be pro-German; but Branting, the leader of the Social-Democrats in the Swedish Parliament, has given his voice for the Allies, doubtless with the consent of his followers. Dr. Vandervelde and Professor Huysmans for Belgium; Thomas, Marcel Sembat, Viviani, and Briand for France; the gallant, single-minded Leonida Bissolati, Socialist leader and Cabinet minister, who served as a private in the Italian army and has just been decorated for conspicuous bravery - make a very good showing for the attitude of international Socialism towards this world-crisis. With Hyndman, Bax, Cunninghame-Graham, Blatchford, and A. M. Thompson vehemently pro-Ally in this country, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald on the fence, and Mr. Snowden a mere preacher of stalemate who does not say the Allies do not deserve to win, but only that neither side is likely to win, it is intolerable that Socialism should be persistently associated with pro-Germanism. Pro-Germanism never did have a leg to stand with, and those responsible for the successive developments of its policy of outrage are now revealed to the world as criminals beside whom the vilest private-enterprise offenders, from Christie of the Cleek and Burke and Hare down to Charles Peace, appear as mere retail traders in the anti-social.
Who and What are the Manifestants?
The manifestants are Russian and Jewish Socialists who are faced with the alternative of either returning to Russia and accepting military service there, or, on the other hand, accepting the burden of citizenship and military service on behalf of the land which has given them shelter, freedom, and the opportunity of doing fairly well for themselves - as many Russians and Russian Jews have undoubtedly done.
The Open Safety-Valve.
Some of these men are probably political refugees, whose efforts to lift the blight from Holy Russia had secured them the unwelcome attentions of the Tsar’s police. To hand them back to the clutches of the despotism from which they have escaped would be distasteful in the last degree; though let me say here - what I have often said in pre-war times - that the open safety-valve for European despotisms has proved an excellent thing for the despots and a very evil thing for the peoples they misgovern. No despotism was ever scotched - no people ever attained constitutional rights and freedoms - by its leaders running away from the fight. Where the issue involved is one of certain death to stay, it is no more than prudence to go, and it would be a hard saying to declare that life should not be cherished till a more favourable opportunity arises for striking the blow for a better day.
But most of those who come away from Russia have left to escape dangers much less than that of death or prison-exile. And how on earth is popular liberty to be secured in Russia or anywhere else if the popular leaders abandon the cause and the country together?
In this connection one often thinks of a certain vastly luminous incident. In 1637, before the storm broke that established the supremacy of Parliament in Britain, Oliver Cromwell, John Hampden, Sir Arthur Haselrig, and other revolutionary leaders, had actually booked their passages in a small flotilla which awaited them in the Thames. The sailing of the ships was prohibited by royal proclamation, and the interdicted emigrants returned to the struggle which, among other incidents, cost King Charles his head. Had they been allowed to sail for New England, who can say how events might have gone in old England?
There is no honourable way of escape from political tyranny. The English tyrant-quellers saw that as against Charles it was a question of Your head or mine. It is no chauvinism, but necessary defensive pride, to point out that we in this country have again and again brooked our tyrants to the teeth. Cromwell declared, while still only a colonel of horse, that if he met the king face to face in the field he would fire his pistol at him as at another. The British way is not the way of the cowardly hedge-shooter. We do not throw bombs and run away. We do not slaughter the tyrant’s wife and his servants in order to get at him with clumsy, irresponsible vengeance. We indict him by legal process, as we did Charles First; we meet him in battle array as we did Richard Second, twice over; or we put him in terror of death and send him skipping over the seas as we did the last of the Stewart kings. British kings have been assassinated it is true. Rufus was cleanly shot in the eye with an arrow; the faineant Edward Second was done to death horribly in Berkeley Castle; and the first and third Jameses of Scotland were stabbed from motives of private vengeance by men who had at least no recoil of horror from letting the blood of kings. But our national way is the open way, the fair way, the constitutional way. It is a dangerous way for the citizen; but we have never lacked citizens who were prepared to run the risk. And that it is a way which kings and other tyrants hold in wholesome dread there are many examples to prove. King John, the ablest and boldest of the Plantagenets, signed the Great Charter, thereafter rolling in fury on the floor of his tent and tearing up handfuls of turf as he exclaimed, ‘They have given me four-and-twenty overlords!’ meaning the twenty-four provisions of the Charter. Haughty Elizabeth wept tears of penitence before her angry subjects later in the day, and withdrew the obnoxious measures that had provoked the storm. Charles the Infatuated broke his solemn pledge, and signed the death-warrant of his all-too-faithful Strafford, rather than rouse the Commons. William Fourth swore, but did as he was told.
Some of the Centuries’ Martyrs.
The bearding of tyrants and repressors was not always safe - very far from it. The blood of Simon the Righteous, perishing, sword in hand, in the defeat of Evesham, after incomparable services in a benighted age; the deaths of Tyler and Ball, of Cade and Kett, of Latimer and Ridley, of Vane and Argyle and Russell and Sidney; the death of Sir John Eliot hastened by confinement in the Tower, from which his appeals for liberation were found by Charles to be ‘Not humble enough’; the cropped ears of Prynne and Bastwick and Burton; the many martyrs of reform in Scotland and England banished beyond the seas or dying by the hand of the hangman - these and hundreds and thousands more of the named and nameless dead have purchased our liberties with a great price.
Do our Jewish and Russian guests hope to enter into the heritage of freedom and right so dearly won, and now again as dearly defended, free, gratis, for nothing?
A Pre-Empted World.
Man, heaven help him, is not born to freedom in any spot of earth. He comes into a world pre-empted. The landlord claims the earth, the capitalist claims the tools and raw material, the priest claims his mind, the military caste claims his thews and sinews and stoutly-beating heart. In this favoured spot of earth we long since Conquered the kings and were preparing to conquer landlords and capitalists, the way being free of all constitutional barriers - of all barriers save those of the mind. We had no conscription - we alone among the great nations of Europe. We had secured the freedom of the press, of the platform, and of combination - which some of the European nations were without. Our people were so far emancipated that the great majority of the population never went to church and made jokes about hell-fire, as about harps and trumpets and crowns. Envious of the blessings we had won from the powers of despotism, aliens abandoned the contest with these powers in their own lands and flocked to the Isles of Inheritance, there to bask and prosper in a sunshine of liberty and right which, such as it is, had never yet been made to shine upon their own country by the blood and sufferings of their more tame-spirited kin.
And then two of the greatest of the despotisms attacked a republic and three limited monarchies, and for a time the whole promise and prophecy of liberty and right hung in the balance. The assaulting despotisms had nothing whatever to give the world, except, in the case of Germany, the dulness of regimentation and organization - life regulated on the system of the card index. Germany’s achievements - the Protestant Reformation, her nurture of music, her encouragement of philosophy - all belong to the period before the Prussification of the German States as a whole. The triumph of Germany would have spread an iron-handed blight over the self-governing nations of Europe, in which all forms of native genius, all forms of the democratic spirit, would have gone under. For, unlike the Roman, who was disdainfully tolerant towards the subject races whom he conquered, as the Briton is to-day, the Teutonic temper is to Prussianise all. A victory for Prussianism would have meant not only slavery for the outside world, but it would have killed Social-Democracy in Germany itself.
Hohenzollernism had become a laughing-stock in Germany. To the Social-Democrat the Kaiser was ‘Genosse Wilhelm’ - Comrade William - whose royalist rhodomontade got them adherents daily; and if they cursed at Zabernism, they chuckled at the memory of ‘Captain’ Koepenick’s exploit.
But already all that hostility to imperialism is forgotten. The Kaiser never was so popular. The military class never till now seemed at once the bulwark of the nation’s defence and the great extender of and contributor to, its glory. If that feeling persists through starvation, death, and the defeat of all Germany’s ultimate aims, what madness of dull pride would the world have witnessed had Kaiserism succeeded?
The Call of the Hour.
If ever men lived in a time when the liberty of the world was menaced it is now. If ever there was a time when it was necessary to show what democracy can achieve it is now. And if the races who make up the composite British Commonwealth are prepared to defend with their own bodies and lives the rights and status which their forefathers gloriously won at no less cost and hazard, on what ground of equity or reason shall the refugee refuse to contribute his share to the defence of liberties which he is so glad to share? Is the alien of all men the only man who shall share the rights of freedom without sharing its duties?
A ‘Law’ and a ‘Principle.’
Nothing less than that is the claim made in this impudent manifesto. The claim is even made with the tongue of derision in the cheek of effrontery. It is made in name of the law of nations, which these denationalised men cannot forbear from alluding to contemptuously as ‘the so-called law of nations.’ It is only a ‘so-called’ law, but it contains, they say, ‘the principle of the Right of Foreigners.’ Did ever a despised whole contain so valuable a part? If the whole is only ‘so-called,’ why is not the ‘principle’ also but ‘so-called’?
The Basis of Democratic Power.
These outlaws of a benighted empire appeal to ‘modern democratic ideology’ as having given ‘the full development of the principle of the Right of Foreigners.’ But what right have they to appeal to democratic ideology if they have made no contribution to it, and avow their distaste to making any contribution to it now? Far be it from me to say that Democracy has not an ideological basis. It is because it has its foundations in the eternal equities that the worst democracy is better than the best oligarchy. If men were automata oligarchy would be right; but the best conducted nation walking in leading-strings is less admirable than even the errors of men who live free, responsible lives in which they strive to find the more excellent way. It is because democracy is so right for the masses and so inconvenient for the classes that it has so often to be fought for. And the world (or human nature) being as it is, the institution of democracy has its only basis in the power of democracy. Democracy is a power in western Europe, the United States, and the British Colonies because our forefathers ‘died and slew to leave us free.’ The democracy did not win its power by appeals to ideology. It won its power by appeals to the pike. The Swiss democracy won its status with the spear at Sempach and Morgarten. The Scots won it at Bannockburn. The English won it at Marston Moor, Naseby, and Worcester. The French won it by razing the Bastille, executing Louis XVI., and making their own republic.
There’s no receipt like pike and drum
For crazy constitutions
sang Macaulay in jest which it is impossible not to accept as truth. The Reform Bill of ’32 was carried only because the land was full of riotings and burnings, and the soldiers, it was declared, could not be relied on to shoot their own class and kin, the rioters.
The nation had so proved its temper in past times that the authorities needed only a hint that its blood was up. When on July 23, 1866, a Reformers’ procession, barred out of Hyde Park, threw down half-a-mile of railings and took possession of the park in spite of the police, a Tory Government made up its mind that the Household Suffrage Bill had to be passed. It knew that if it did not, there would be plenty more to follow.
Force is the ultima ratio of democracies as of kings, and the peoples of western Europe are free because they have used the strike and the pike and have burned ricks and smashed machinery, while at the same time they have no cossack tools of despotism prepared to dragoon a nation at the bidding of a tyrant. Dirty work is often done in free communities still; but there is a limit to even military discipline, and it has often been reached in all the western nations. That it has never been reached in the Russian or German armies is the disgrace of these armies and of the nations to which they belong, for whence does the subservience of an army derive except from the subservience of the people who recruit it?
The Retort Direct.
To the Russians and Jews who send me this manifesto I say: You have now an opportunity of fighting for freedom under favourable circumstances. Our statesmen are not, like your Russian statesmen, in league with Germany for a secret peace. Our officers have not to be exhorted to refrain from stealing, as the Grand Duke Nicholas exhorted the Russian commanders. We do not fight for a tyrant emperor, but for our own free institutions - indeed for freedom the World over, the freedom that is menaced by the bare thought of Teutonic ascendancy.
You ask for ‘equality before the law’ with British citizens, but the whole purpose of your manifesto is just precisely to escape that equality. You declare that ‘democratic principles . . . involve opposition to all that restricts human liberties and support for all that develops them.’ Those are the very grounds upon which we ask you to fight the Teuton and to destroy the despotism which has placed the millions of the Central Powers at the mercy of their non-elected war lords.
You invoke the statement of the American Secretary of State, Seward, that
There is no principle more distinctly and clearly settled in the law of nations than the rule resident aliens not naturalised are not liable to perform military service.
But this only means that it has been so for a long time - not that it should for ever continue to be so. New occasions demand new duties. Generous-minded men rush to perform a merely human duty such as the service of freedom and humanity wherever they are threatened. When Italy strove against the tyranny of the Pope and of the House of Hapsburg hundreds of gallant young Englishmen rushed to put their lives at her service in a glorious cause, and Algernon Charles Swinburne, democracy’s greatest poet, sang his most impassioned songs over the spectacle of an ancient dismembered nation rightly struggling to be free and united once again. All this is the natural impulse of generous young manhood, and you are evidently young, since service is demanded of you.
When the republic of France was harassed by the Germans seven and forty years ago Garibaldi left his island home to help in its defence, bringing a band of his devoted red-shirts with him. His elderly crippled son and his gallant grandsons were among the first volunteers from other lands who came to help the French Republic once more at this time. Some of the flower of America’s young manhood have fought and died in the early days of the present struggle, taking their stand as a sacred duty on the side of the free nations as against the old and damned imperialism which you thralls of eastern and central Europe have allowed to grow up and become bloated, to curse and decimate and devastate the homes and lives of better and braver men than yourselves.
Many hard things have been written and said of the Jews, but the hardest thing of all is this which you write of your selves. Naked, unashamed, perhaps unconscious of the infernal impudence of the claim, you say you wish to have all and more than all the rights of British citizenship, while at the same time your main purpose is to claim immunity from the supreme service and sacrifice that our young British manhood gives and makes with a song and a jest upon its lips. And you address this appeal to one who has given thirty years’ unrequited service to the democracy, while you and your tribe have been feathering your nests, reaping where other men have sown, and still you want only to go on profiting by the sacrifice of better men than yourselves, taking their places, their businesses, their posts, and their emoluments. It is little wonder if the Russians still wallow in religious superstition and political disability; little wonder if the Jews are a scattered, despised, and persecuted race, if these be your conceptions of the great game of life.
But you are neither Russians nor Jews. Are you men at all True men have generous emotions of pity for suffering, of rage at injustice, of hatred for tyranny. But you must be pigeon-livered and lack gall. It will be doing a service to the world, not only to put you in the fighting line, but to put you in the hottest forefront of the battle, so that you may stop the bullets that would otherwise cut short the lives of men having some element of manhood and good citizenship in them. It is such things as you who people the world with bad citizens and bad neighbours. It is such worms as you who keep nations in the mire. You, equally with the Germans, are our enemies, the enemies of all free men. The Teuton fights to perpetuate tyranny in the world. You refuse to fight against tyranny. Your inaction has the same result as his action. You are both enemies of the human race, vertebrate vermin to be dealt with after the manner of that kind. For the moment, the fighting line will serve. We give our own brave and bonny lads not without sorrow and rage and hatred; but we shall weep no tears for you.
A Last Word.
We are very far from forgetting the noble company of heroes and martyrs, men and women alike, who lived and died for the cause of popular liberty in Russia. No country in the world ever had such a galaxy of consecrated lives during the few decades covered by Herzen and Bakounine to Vera Sassoulitch, Sophie Perovskaya, Kropotkin, and Stepniak. But the struggle was not continued long enough, the passion for liberty and right was not sufficiently diffused among the people, and Russia has always had too many traitors and sycophants. A nation has the government and institutions it deserves to have, and it cannot be an accident that Russia is still politically five hundred years behind Britain, the most rebellious country in the world, where kings and governments have been put up and knocked down like ninepins in a bowling alley.
It is the men that make the nation. The spirit of liberty is not a chance thing; it is human, individual; it persists in families and localities. The West Riding towns that recruited and sheltered the victorious army of General Fairfax now vote for Labour and Socialist representatives, just as the city of Aberdeen, which supported William Wallace and Robert Bruce, is still always in the forefront of political and municipal progress.
Here is your parable. I do not despair even of you. You have sins of omission to repent of. Accept the present call to service, either on behalf of your own country or on behalf of the hospitable land which has entertained you in security under the law. Try to believe and understand that it is even more blessed to give than to receive. A deathblow to imperialism in any part of the world is a blow to it in all parts of the world. The defeat of Germany cannot but mean better days in Russia. The cause of the Allies is one and the same thing in all parts of the field. If you would bring forth fruits meet for repentance, go afield and there repent.
(The economic evolution here charmingly sketched does not merely describe general tendencies of which, mutatis mutandis, we have all seen examples, but is a specific account of what took place in the village of Lurgan, now a town. Mr Cunninghame-Greham and others of us knew natives of the place, forty years ago, and from them we heard of what was and is, Graham visiting it at a time when the advanced politicians of Scotland and Ireland had more in common than they seem to have now. The sketch will be reprinted as a pamphlet.)
I knew a little village in the North of Ireland – call it what you please. A pretty, semi-ruinous, semi-thriving place. Men did not labour over much there. All went easy (aisy the people called it); no man troubling much about the sun or moon; still less bothering himself about the fixed stars or planets, or aught outside the village. All about the place there was an air of half-content, tempered by half-starvation. No man ran; few even hurried. Every hedge was shiny with half broken-down, cut, flat, free seats. All the population lounged against these; for they served to prop men up as they discussed for hours on nothing. Cows marched up and down the lanes; sometimes children led them by a string, or, seated on the ground, made believe to watch them as they ate, much in the same way, I suppose, that shepherds watched their flocks on a memorable occasion near Bethlehem, or as the people do in Spain and the East today. Goats wandered freely in and out of the houses. Children raggeder, and happier, and cunninger than any others on the earth, absolutely swarmed. Herod (had he lived in those parts) could have made an awful battue of them, and they would not have been missed. Children, black-haired, grey-eyed, wild-looking, sat at doors, played with pigs, climbed on the tops of the cabins, generally permeated space.
Trees there were few. The people said the landlords cut them down. The landlords said the people never left a tree alone. However, let that pass. Creeds there were, of course – Catholic and Protestant. Both sides claimed to have the majority of the sheep. They hated one another; or they said so, which is not the same thing, by the way. Really, they furnished mutually much subject of entertainment and conversation. In this village no one really hated very much, or very long. All took life quietly.
On the great late folk fished lazily, and took nothing save only store of midge-bites. The roads were like pre-Adamite trucks for cattle: nothing but the cow of the country could cope with them; and even that sometimes sustained defeat. Still these folks, given enough potatoes, were not miserable, far from it. Wages were low - some 8s 6d a week - but still they were not driven like slaves, as is the artisan of England and of Scotland.
In the morning early, out into the fields to wile away the time and lounge against the miniature round-towers that serve for gate-posts.
Those who did not go remained at home, and, squatting by the fire at ease, looked after their domestic industries and through the jambwall hole kept a watchful eye on foreign competition, or the passing girls and women, and criticised them freely. Still there was peace and plenty of a relative degree. No factories, no industries at all, plenty of water power running to waste, as the Scotch agent said, and called God to witness that if there were only a little capital in the town, it would become a paradise. What is a paradise? Surely it is a land in which there is sufficiency for all, in which a man works as little as he can – that is to say, unless he prefers to be a slave – which no one did, or he would have been looked on as a madman, in the village of which I write. These men reaped their corn with sickles, as their forefathers did, in lazy fashion. Agriculture was all it never should have been. Sometimes a woman and an ass wrought in one plough – the husband at the stilts.
Men were strong, lazy, and comfortable; women, ragged, as lazy, and, when children did not come too fast, not badly off. The owner of the soil never came near the place. Patriot lawyers talked of liberty, and oppressed all they got within their toils; but still the place was relatively happy. Those who did not choose to work (and they were not a few) passed through their lives without doing a hand’s turn, and were generally respected. Anyone who tried to hurry work was soon dubbed tyrant. Thus they lived their lives in their own way.
If they were proud of anything it was because their village was the birthplace of a famous greyhound. In my lord’s desmesne his monument is erected – the glory of the place Master Magrath – after the Pope, King William, Hug Roe, O’Neill, or Mr. Parnell, he seemed the greatest living thing that ever breathed. Himself it was that brought prosperity amongst us. Quality would come for miles to see him, and leave their money in the place. A simple little thing to see him; ye had never thought he had been so wonderful. The old Lord (a hard old naygur!) thought the world of him. ‘Twas here he used to live, but did his business (winning the Waterloo Cup) over there in England. England seemed as vague a term as China to them, and as distant. Master Magrath, the Mass, the Preaching, the price of cattle at the fairs, whether little Tim O’Neil could bate big Pat Finucane – these were the subjects of their daily talk. A peaceful, idle, sympathetic, fightingly-inclined generation of most prolific Anglo-Celts or Celto-Angles.
Agiotage, Prostitution, Respectability, Morality, and Immorality, and all the other curses of civilised life, had no place amongst them.
Not that they were Arcadians; far enough removed from that. Apt at a bargain, ready to deceive in little matters. In great ones, on the whole, reliable enough. Had there been but only more to eat, less rent to pay, one faith instead of two or three, no public house, and if the rain had cleared off now and then, the place had been about as happy as it is possible for a place to be in this vale of tears. Little enough they recked of what went on in Parliament, on the stock exchange, or in the busy haunts of men.
Once in a way a Home Rule speaker spoke in the village. The folk turned out to cheer with all their might. In a week or two an Orangeman came round, and the cheers, if possible, were louder. In fact, they looked upon the rival Cheap Jacks as travelling entertainment sent by Providence to amuse them.
Except on Pitcairn’s Island, Tristan d’Acunha, or in some group of islets in the South Seas before the advent of the missionaries, I doubt if folks anywhere fared better on the whole.
But still a change was near.
One fine day a traveller from Belfast – a loyal Orangeman of course – came to the village. Instantly it struck him – What a place to build a mill in! here is water power, here is a strong and vigorous, but poor population. Of course, the priest, the minister, the Scotch agent, the attorney, and the others of the few who formed the elite of the village, and read the newspapers and believed all that was in them, just because it was in print, were mightily uplifted.
We want capital. The want of capital is, and always has been, the drawback of the land. Had we capital we should all be rich, there would be plenty; pauperism would vanish, and all become as flourishing as over there in England, where, as all men know, the streets are paved with gold.
Alas! They never thought that on the golden pavements rain down floods of tears that keep them always wet, hiding the gold from sight. They never knew of the villainy and rascality of the world, of the way in which men work, and work, and slave, and slave, and still are poor. They never dreamt, in fact, what the world was, and how it crushes and devours those who leave little villages like this, and launch the vessel of their lives upon its waves. They could not see the perished and half-starved children; did not know the smug sufficiency of the cruel Christian man of commerce; had never heard the harlot’s ginny laugh at the corner of the street. All this existed not for them at all. Therefore the proposition seemed to them a revelation straight from heaven. Yes, build a mill, and all will turn to gold. The landlord will get his rents, the minister his dues, the priest his tithes, the working-man, instead of being fed on butter-milk and filthy murphies, drink tea (they call it tay), and feed on bacon and St.Louis beef (in a neat tin), white bread, and speedily become a gentleman. Wages will rise, of course; our wives and children, instead of running barefoot or sitting idle at the doors, will wear both shoes and stockings, and attend Mass or the preachment ‘dacent.’
The syndicate of rogues, with due admixture of fools, and dupes, was got together; the mill was built. The village suffered a great and grievous change. All day long a whirr and whiz of wheels was heard. At daybreak a long string of girls and men tramped along the dreary streets and worked all day. Wealth certainly began to flow; but where? Into the pockets of the shareholders. The people, instead of sturdy, lazy rogues, became blear-eyed, consumptive, bandy-legged. The girls, who formerly were patterns of morality, now hardly reached eighteen without an ‘accident’ or two. Close mewing up of boys and girls in hot rooms brought its inevitable result. Wages did not rise, but, on the contrary, rather inclined to fall; the people flocked from the country districts to get employment at the far-famed mill.
The economists, of course, were all delighted; would have thrown their hats into the air had their idea of thrift not forbidden them to damage finished products. Now capital had come; yet somehow it seemed to prove a curse. The goods made in the mill were quoted far and wide, known for their inferior quality throughout the world. The benefits to the shareholders were immense.
Yet still content and peace were gone. The air of the place seemed changed. No longer did the population lounge about. It had no time. No longer did the cows parade the streets, or goats climb cabin-roofs to eat the house-leek. The people did not saunter through their lives as in the times when there was lack of capital, and therefore of advancement, as they thought. They had the capital; but the advancement was still lacking. Capital had come – the capital which is the dream of every patriotic Irishman. It banished peace, idleness, beauty, and content – made slaves of the people, giving the fetid atmosphere of the mill for the fresh breath of the fields and lanes. Of course there was a gain. Savages who did not need them purchased, at the bayonet’s point, the goods the people made; perhaps it was a gain to them. The people did not gain, though, but became raggeder than ever. Perhaps the thought that savages wore, on their arms or round their necks, the stockings they had made, consoled them for the loss of their former peaceful lives. Perhaps, too, having little ear for music, they rather liked the change from being roused at seven by the lowing of the kine to being routed out at six by the dulcet strain of the ‘steam hooter’, calling them to work in the dark winter mornings – calling them to toil on pain of loss of work and constant starvation – seeming, indeed, to my ears to say: ‘Work brother!’ Up and to work; it is more blessed far to work than sleep. Up! Leave your beds; rise up; get to your daily task of making wealth for others, or else starve; for Capital has come!’
Brexit means Brexit but we still are none the wiser what Brexit means. However, why worry. It’s summer – traditionally silly season – and we have the Olympics to consume. We can forget about migrants and poverty and social justice (even as we watch Brazil spend millions on sporting events just metres away from people living in abject poverty) and cheer on our boys and girls. It’s all about medals after all, isn’t it? About being winners in the game of life.
This month in Gateway Leatham is at his provocative best, with his articles on Liberties, on Education and on Agriculture. There’s loads to read and even more to think about so I’m keeping my input this month short and will simply direct you towards the authored pieces.
Our Public Domain slot is given over to another great overlooked Scottish writer – Robert Bontine Cunninghame-Graham (aka Don Robert0) whose article/pamphlet on ‘Economic Evolution’ was first published by The Deveron Press and is reproduced for you here. Cunninghame-Graham wrote both fiction and non-fiction for Gateway over the years and if you want to find out more about him…
There’s a look into the third Little Red Town Talk which, in the wake of the Turra Show explores Leatham’s writing on farming and agriculture from a century and more ago.
And last but not least, the Orraman gets his teeth back into the ‘Edinburgh Boys’ suggesting we need to read between the lines of Wikipedia (and other sources) in order to find anything of substance regarding writers and their reputations – how they are made and lost – and more importantly, to avoid being prejudiced (or plain ignorant) about a writer before reading his work.
So. Short but sweet from me this month – and all the better for that some may say.
In our new series of articles 'The Blight of the Bestseller' Orraman explores the legacy of the Edinburgh Boys.
You remember ‘The Edinburgh Boys’? In the following months I want to explore the relationship between the men and their work – specifically looking at the blight of the bestseller. But in case you’ve come late to this party I’ll give you a reminder of our ‘boys’ and their pedigree. Or at least the public face of them according to Wikipedia. Isn’t that the first port of call for everyone’s research these days? I should caution that an encylopedia is only as good as its editors. While Wikipedia is nominally open to all, if you don’t have the technical skills to add your knowledge then however much ‘real’ knowledge you have, it won’t find its way onto the site. A consequence of this democratisation can be that the most prominent information isn’t the most important, relevant (or even correct) and yet is sourced by people who just want a quick ‘google’ for ‘facts.’
One of my aims is to illustrate how much further you need to go to actually know anything about our ‘boys.’ The other is to read into the gaps. The places the average surfer perhaps doesn’t bother to go.
The consequences of cheap/mis-information are both deep and broad. So while Wikipedia does offer a quick, cheap, snack – it’s not always good for you and it can’t replace a properly cooked meal – if you pardon my analogy.
The first thing I’ve done is given you the unadulterated thumbnails of our boys as found on Wikipedia, complete with photos of our ‘boys’ in all their glory.
Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet, FRSE (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832) was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright and poet with many contemporary readers in Europe, Australia, and North America.
Scott's novels and poetry are still read, and many of his works remain classics of both English-language literature and of Scottish literature. Famous titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Old Mortality, The Lady of the Lake, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian and The Bride of Lammermoor.
Although primarily remembered for his extensive literary works and his political engagement, Scott was an advocate, judge and legal administrator by profession, and throughout his career combined his writing and editing work with his daily occupation as Clerk of Session and Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire.
A prominent member of the Tory establishment in Edinburgh, Scott was an active member of the Highland Society and served a long term as President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1820–32).
Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson (13 November 1850 – 3 December 1894) was a Scottish novelist, poet, essayist, and travel writer. His most famous works are Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde andA Child's Garden of Verses.
A literary celebrity during his lifetime, Stevenson now ranks among the 26 most translated authors in the world. His works have been admired by many other writers, including Jorge Luis Borges, Bertolt Brecht, Marcel Proust, Arthur Conan Doyle, Henry James, Cesare Pavese, Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Vladimir Nabokov, J. M. Barrie, and G. K. Chesterton, who said of him that he "seemed to pick the right word up on the point of his pen, like a man playing spillikins."
Samuel Rutherford Crockett (24 September 1859 – 16 April 1914), who published under the name "S. R. Crockett", was a Scottish novelist.
[Crockett offers us a chicken/egg conundrum. As Scotland's Forgotten Bestseller we must ask - is there no information about him because he is not worth reading or is he not read because there is no information about him?]
Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1st Baronet, OM (9 May 1860 – 19 June 1937) was a Scottish novelist and playwright, best remembered today as the creator of Peter Pan. He was born and educated in Scotland but moved to London, where he wrote a number of successful novels and plays. There he met the Llewelyn Davies boys, who inspired him to write about a baby boy who has magical adventures in Kensington Gardens (included in The Little White Bird), then to write Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, a "fairy play" about an ageless boy and an ordinary girl named Wendy who have adventures in the fantasy setting of Neverland.
Although he continued to write successfully, Peter Pan overshadowed his other work, and is credited with popularising the then-uncommon name Wendy. Barrie unofficially adopted the Davies boys following the deaths of their parents.
Barrie was made a baronet by George V on 14 June 1913, and a member of the Order of Merit in the 1922 New Year Honours. Before his death, he gave the rights to the Peter Pan works to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, which continues to benefit from them.
Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle KStJ, DL (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930) was an Irish-Scots writer and physician, most noted for creating the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and writing stories about him which are generally considered milestones in the field of crime fiction.
He is also known for writing the fictional adventures of a second character he invented, Professor Challenger, and for popularising the mystery of the Mary Celeste. He was a prolific writer whose other works include fantasy and science fiction stories, plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction and historical novels.
John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, GCMG, GCVO, CH, PC (/ˈbʌxən/; 26 August 1875 – 11 February 1940) was aScottish novelist, historian and Unionist politician who served as Governor General of Canada, the 15th since Canadian Confederation.
After a brief legal career, Buchan simultaneously began his writing career and his political and diplomatic careers, serving as a private secretary to the colonial administrator of various colonies in southern Africa. He eventually wrote propaganda for the British war effort in the First World War. Buchan was in 1927 elected Member of Parliament for theCombined Scottish Universities, but he spent most of his time on his writing career, notably writing The Thirty-Nine Steps and other adventure fiction. In 1935 he was appointed Governor General of Canada by King George V, on the recommendation of Prime Minister of Canada R. B. Bennett, to replace the Earl of Bessborough. He occupied the post until his death in 1940. Buchan proved to be enthusiastic about literacy, as well as the evolution of Canadian culture, and he received a state funeral in Canada before his ashes were returned to the United Kingdom.
You may feel this is all you want to know about any of our authors. But it’s certainly not enough to make any kind of informed decision about what they write and why you might want to read it. Which is what I’m all about.
To save you some work I’ve put together a quick table – an overview of some of what I think are the most relevant pieces of information (and filled in a couple of the more obvious gaps) Of course there is more information on each Wikipedia page, but there are also inconsistencies and poorly researched information.
Everyone who does research privileges certain information and I am no different. But what I’m starting to do is read between the lines, and I encourage you to do this to – to find out what we are not being told. From this start point I will talk at greater length about each man in the coming months:
If you cannot read the table on the page, then please download the pdf version for reference.
With regard to the information above, I'm noting a few things of interest and which I will comment on further in specific articles:
Dates – These pretty much speak for themselves. One thing to note is the age at which each man died (longevity can have a profound effect upon ‘success’ in publishing terms. Also the dates of the writers career. For how much of their lives were they making a living (or actively pursuing) literary pursuits?
Scott (60s) Stevenson(40s) Crockett (50s) Barrie (70s) Conan Doyle (70s) Buchan (60s)
Nationality Note that all bar Scott are titled Scottish. As any Scot will know you’ve really ‘made’ it when you are no longer Scottish but ‘British’. Also note that for literary purposes Scottish writers are often described as ‘English’ literature – this is certainly the case with Scott. It’s quite a can of worms. For another time.
In the 19th century Scots tended to be referred to as North British. Luckily we’ve got over that now!
Family The class the author starts off in and the class he marries into are important factors not clear from this table. Note that all of them have responsibility for at least 3 children during their lives (not always their own)
Education Apart from Buchan all were educated at Edinburgh University. Their education prior to University is of course also important and ranges from home-schooling, to parish schools to public boarding school.
Profession This is not a ‘self-defined’ category but rather a retrofitting from the point of the editor/s. Note that Crockett isn’t even listed as Novelist whereas Buchan’s political profession is rather ignored.
Writing Style/Literary Movement Again, highly suspect because retrofitted. Periods and literary styles are mix-matched. Scott is claimed for Romanticism (but Stevenson and Crockett are not) Stevenson and Crockett are labelled Victorian/Edwardian (which is often the kiss of death for ‘literary’ types. Worse, Crockett and Barrie are labelled ‘Kailyard’ an increasingly discredited appellation and in both cases inappropriately applied. Buchan is simply listed as ‘Adventure Stories’ which would have infuriated him. Similarly Conan Doyle is crushed by the power of Sherlock Holmes. Put simply, there is MUCH more to this section than ever meets the eye and yet surely it is one of the most important to be accurate and clear about if you are trying to inform a new readership?
Famous Works This of course will form the backbone of my future pieces. Again it is woefully inadequate reflecting either the superficiality or plain ignorance of those editing the sections. But of course these are how the men ARE remembered: Scott for the Waverley novels, Stevenson primarily for Treasure Island and Kidnapped, Crockett not at all (though The Raiders is the one anyone who has read Crockett is most likely to have read) Barrie for Peter Pan , Conan Doyle for Sherlock Holmes and Buchan for the Thirty Nine Steps. These are all fine books but my contention in the pieces that follow will be that they have done as much harm as good to the reputations of the writers who wrote them.
Titles/Political leanings You’ll note that four of our men end up being ‘Sir.’ So they are definitely in the elite, as often from their political as their literary stances. But politics hardly gets a mention. Scott is noted as a Tory. Wikipedia is pretty quiet on the others. Again there’s a lot of ‘class’ to look at in the lives of our writers as this plays (I contend) quite an important role in how they are remembered. We still live, after all, in aspirational times.
I hope this has given you something to ponder until next month. And maybe even encouraged you to either read some of the ‘famous’ works or explore into some of the lesser known aspects of our Edinburgh Boys.
To find past articles please use monthly archives.