So, is silly season over yet? It all started to get a bit serious over the last month, with Trump and his North Korean oppo squaring up for who can press the nuclear button first - the Japanese are, understandably pretty worried. The South Koreans? Well, all I know about them is from re-runs of Mash. I’m guessing it’s not strictly accurate. Fake news?
But as we all once more stood on the brink of something truly horrible, along came not one, not two, but three wee hurricanes to take our minds of man’s inhumanity to man. Hurricane Irma has shown us that nature still holds the trump (no pun intended) devastation card in the pack.
I can’t help but wondering what is going on between US/N.Korea in the background though. And let’s not even begin with Brexit. If America and UK are two countries divided by a single language, the ‘lost in translation’ between UK and our European ‘cousins’ is clear for all to see. Not only are we not singing from the same hymn sheet, we’re not even holding anything that looks like a roadmap. Doesn’t stop the Tories from trying to take all the power in a Henry VIII style ‘land grab’ – Be afraid, be very afraid of The Great Reform Bill. That’s a warning from history for the future.
Looking forward is scary, so why not look back and get more of an idea how we came to this ugly pass. This month we have Leatham writing about The Peasant’s Revolt, and ‘The Worst Thing in the World’ as well as a lighter piece set in Turriff a century ago. But they all serve to show us that the more things change the more they stay the same. There’s a Doric poem from Tibby Tamson of the Cabrach – one of those remote and desolate places. It was always remote but the desolation was man-made! And bringing us bang up to date there’s the Orraman gaun his dinger about ‘culture’. What more do you need when the world is falling around about you? Enjoy this month’s Gateway. It’s better for you than all the Bake Off’s, Celebrity MasterChef’s, Strictly Come Dancing’s or this week’s J.K.Rowling plays grown up drama put together. In my opinion at least.
Whose culture is it anyway?
From ‘See You Jimmy’ to the Scots ‘cringe’. What does culture mean to you?
In case you didn’t know, we are currently in the midst of a cultural conversation nationally. What, you didn’t know? Well you do now. I’ve been trying to engage in this ‘conversation’ recently, but like most conversations I have, I seem to be talking into a black hole. Call me old fashioned but I thought conversations went two way… but in the absence of feedback I’ve resorted to writing my thoughts and opinions.
You might get luckier than me, you might be smarter than me – here are some places you can ‘have your say’ – in what you may find to be a rather one sided conversation.
Is anyone listening? I can’t say. But if you don’t speak you don’t have any right to get angry when your opinions and views are ignored. And hopefully, in what follows, I’ll be able to convince you that culture is something that is important to us all, and that your opinions should count – so it’s worth spending some time sending them into the black hole.
For me, culture is inextricably tied up with identity. That’s why it’s important.
In the late 19th century it was not unusual for people in Scotland to refer to their location with the initials N.B. North British. Scotland as part of the ‘Empire’ became a minority region of a greater global power. And some people were doubtless happy with that. Some people doubtless still are. Post Indy Ref I have to say, I find myself thinking of Scotland as ‘North Britain’ rather too often. I’ve become frustratingly cynical about my own culture and how it manifests in the modern world. ‘Too wee, too poor, too stupid.’ Aye. Right.
We are all aware how effortlessly the English elide British and English. It’s a behaviour we may laugh at or rail at when it comes to sport – our sportsmen/women are British while they succeed and Scots when they fail. But, beyond that, it’s something we should not simply dismiss as trivial.
In todays ‘one nation’ Britain (which seems ill at ease with the acceptance that there are four ‘nations’ in Britain apart from in sporting fixtures) if we get recognition at all, it is as a ‘minority’. And that means our culture is seen as ‘minority’ culture (along with the cultures of Ireland and Wales). I baulk at this. It’s a case of context is everything. We are only ‘minority’ in the context of British culture and identity and if you do not (as I don’t) accept that Scottish culture and identity IS a minority part of something bigger (and better?) but instead is a culture and identity in its own right, then we are in no way a minority simply by being Scots.
It all smacks of ‘too wee, too poor, too stupid’ right? Nationalism can be an ugly word, we all know that, but Scottish nationhood is NOT the same as the unacceptable face of fascism. Don’t fall into that specious argument trap. Scottish nationality is Scottish identity, which is Scottish culture. Deny one and you are on the slippery slope to losing your cultural identity.
Revision point One: Our culture is NOT in any way a minority thing. It’s the culture of our country, our people and it is a fundamental part of our national identity.
But, I hear you ask (well, it is a conversation after all isn’t it?) What is culture?
I’m sure I’ve done this before but here goes with a definition: Culture (noun)
2. the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.
For me 2 takes precedence over 1. FUNDAMENTALLY our culture is the ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular people or society. That which makes us Scots. From ‘see you Jimmy’ hats to the Scottish ‘cringe’ it is who we are. For me, 1 is a manifestation of 2. And as such, is important. You don’t have to buy into the ‘human intellectual achievement’ as being ‘high brow’ but you have to see that a full definition of culture is as follows:
Our culture is the ideas, customs and social behaviour which are manifested through our expressed communication, including the arts.
Have I convinced you yet? Our culture is who we are – as a people, a group, a community, a nation. And my contention is that Scotland has its own individual and unique culture which is NOT in any sense a minority one but a culture in its own right.
But what then, is our culture? What sets us apart from other cultures? This, is the very nub of the question. And this at the root of the questions being asked in the Scottish Government Cultural Strategy Consultation. (aka the Culture Conversation) Whether they really want to hear or not is another matter, but they are asking us what we think our culture is and what value we place on it. They are not, in my opinion, making it easy for the average Scot to engage with the ‘conversation’ as a two way thing – but that only puts the impetus on us to do more to speak out. If you shout and no one listens, you can be aggrieved. If you don’t even bother to shout, you have no right to complain. I know no one is listening, and that is frustrating, because it’s silencing by proxy, but I will speak – even if not heard.
Let’s approach from another tack. In biological terms ‘culture’ is the site where things are grown – a place which maintains tissue cells, bacteria etc in conditions suitable for growth.
I think the organic, verbal view of culture should be accorded more significance. Rather than seeing culture as a noun, something that just exists but you don’t have to engage with – which in reality means it’s imposed from on high and we ignore it as much as we can – this approach suggests it is an active thing, something we all have a responsibility to nurture and to ‘grow.’
A key question then is: do you think that culture is something that should be imposed from above, or something that we grow from the grassroots? I believe the latter. And unless we, at the grassroots level, tell them up there what we think culture is and what we expect from it (and what we are doing to maintain it) then they will tell us what it means to them (and for us). I for one resist cultural imposition. I’d like to say I think this is a trait of Scots cultural identity, but the North British effect makes me question this.
Now, how about culture as cliché. That’s something we as Scots have perhaps become too used to. ‘Tartan and shortbread’ is delivered as an ‘accusation’ - the sneering, smear of ‘kailyard’ is set over popular grassroots culture. I’d like to talk about what the ‘See you Jimmy’ hat signifies. Is it a comment of self-imposed ridicule? Is it an example of Scots humour? And what is wrong with Tartan and shortbread? These are the sort of questions I think we should be asking (as component part of the ‘bigger’ question of who we are and how we manifest ourselves.) I do not accept the ‘standard’ view on any of these issues. Who will talk with me about them?
What about defining ourselves in quotes? The Canongate Wall at our Parliament Building is home to a number of Scots quotes. http://www.parliament.scot/visitandlearn/21013.aspx
Who picked them? Where is ‘there are few more impressive sights than a Scotsman on the make’ from Barrie? Why is that most quotable of Scots, RLS represented with ‘Bright is the ring of words.’ Why does MacDiarmid (not even his real name) have three quotes and Burns two? Why does Dumfries and Galloway have quotes from the Bible rather than from Crockett? Is it true that God is a Scotsman?
Perhaps the one that most ‘inspired’ many Scots around Indy Ref time (I know it did me) was attributed to Alasdair Grey:
‘Work as if you live in the early day of a better nation.’
But it’s actually a quote from a Canadian poet. It will serve us, surely, but it’s not from our indigenous culture. What does all this signify?
Might I suggest that the fact we are so happy to beg, borrow and steal from other cultures and are in many cases simply ignorant about our own culture - historic, scientific and literary – is not altogether the most flattering part of our cultural identity. There’s that Scots ‘cringe.’ We have a strong conceit of what ‘best’ means (perhaps too strong) but we do not give due credit to our ‘best’. We are, after all, ‘too wee, too poor and too stupid,’ (and often just too disinterested) when it comes to things cultural. We believe we are a minority. We wrap ourselves in tartan and despise ourselves for doing so. There was nothing wrong with tartan. But like many another thing, we let it become appropriated for North Britain and then commodified for the world till it stopped being anything that means anything Scottish – are we in danger of doing the same to ourselves? Too many of us deny who we are, more comfortable being part of something bigger – despite what that ‘bigger’ thing signifies. British Empire? Really? Nuclear super-power? You want that? Foolishly prosperous nation in a fundamentally unequal world? What’s to be proud of there?
Are we in danger of becoming our own cliché? I fear so. We all trot out ‘a man’s a man for a’ that’ but what do we actually mean by it? Do we really hold ourselves up as a culture which respects or promotes equality? Do we (as we used to say when I was young) coco. [that, my friends, is what I suggest is an example of Scots ‘slang’ or patois.]
I will come to Scots language in due course (never mind the Gaelic). The elephant in the room may well be that we comfortably write in English but cannot thole or conscience ourselves writing in Scots if we want to be either heard or listened to (or understood). But simply because we’ve been ‘oppressed’ by the privileging of English language, does that mean we should deny our existence outwith the context of English/British culture? [I’ve heard the language/grammar police deny that ‘outwith’ is even a word].
Scots, we are told, exhibit a fundamental duality of character. Yet we cannot be a servant o’ twa maisters (an Italian play by the way). It’s a weel kent feature of Scots identity that we believe no one should get ‘above themselves.’ We despise Barrie for his comment ‘there are few more impressive sights than a Scotsman on the make’ without stopping to consider what it actually might mean. But oh, how proud we are of Andrew Carnegie. Oh, how we want to claim J.K.Rowling as one of our own. (well, some of us do!) We are hidebound by hierarchy at every turn and would rather see ourselves as ‘too wee, too poor, too stupid’ than stand up and ‘be a nation again’ (except when singing at sporting fixtures) – oh, and of course we are all shite at sport, right? Why leave it at sport? Why not buy in to the Trainspotting Generation and show your complete lack of self-respect? I’ve heard so many people proudly declaim the ‘Scotland is a shite place’ speech from Trainspotting, that I despair. * That’s not duality, my friends, that’s self-harm. And why, as a culture, do we favour self-harm as a means of cultural expression? You’ve got the refrain pat by now – ‘See me Jimmy, I’m too wee, too poor, too stupid.’
But there is a duality. Between being proud of who we are and understanding that gallus is not the same as boastful. I just went and looked up the word – and here’s what greeted me:
stylish, impressive (esp. Glasgow “He's pure gallus, by the way“). Orig. derogatory, meaning wild; a rascal; deserving to be hanged (from the gallows)
Make of that what you will. All the worlds a… and one word in its time plays many parts – an whaur’s yer Wullie Shakespeare noo?
And then there is Scots ‘high’ culture. For me this is a contradiction in terms. For me, a fundamental part of Scots culture is that people are not held in great esteem simply because they have more (be it education, money, ‘talent’ – whatever that might mean – beauty or skill.) Surely we can all agree ‘a man’s a man for a’ that’? Or is that just another clichéd quote? I believe ‘High’ culture is an English (or British) invention. It is hierarchical in the extreme and it develops as a way to keep people in their place. Those at the top tell us what is valued and we doff our caps and agree. But that’s not something I recognise as a fundamental part of the Scots nature. I believe that the Scots ‘cringe’ is something that has been imposed on us in word and deed over generations leading us to believing our familiar refrain: ‘too wee, too poor, too stupid’ to make up our own minds or to speak our own minds.
The assault from ‘high’ culture comes in many forms. Obviously it’s seen when we are told that opera is ‘better’ than traditional music or that sculpture or conceptual art are more culturally valuable than ‘knitting’ or ceilidhs. But it’s also seen where we are told that one version of our language should be privileged over another. That we should standardise and formalise our grammar and spelling for example. That anyone who says ‘I should of went home’ is ridiculed as ignorant. I believe (though I have to say my belief is waning) that Scotland is bigger than that. More diverse than that. That as a culture we appreciate that the communicative act itself is more important than the package it’s dressed up in. That the heart is as important as the head – emotion is not a dirty word in my understanding of Scots culture. David Hume agreed with me. I doubt but whether youse do.
But as you may be aware, I’ve already been trying to develop an argument to illustrate that concept that ‘Enlightenment’ culture is not fundamentally the culture of the indigenous Scot. If you want something to talk about, here is my opinion: It wasn’t in the 18th century and it isn’t now. It’s a manifestation of a proto-British view of the world and yes, a capitalist view of the world which sits uncomfortably with a culture rooted in the community. Scotland is no longer a rural, peasant nation that’s for sure, but the privileging of the urban over the rural is not one of the prouder aspects of our modern culture.
The rural idyll is a thing of nostalgia for the urban majority, cast up to those who live in the country. A huge part of Scotland is rural. Most of its people are now urban. Yes, there is a mis-match going on there somehow isn’t there? And what impact did the Clearances (Highland and Lowland) have on our cultural identity?
It is the urban/rural duality that particularly exorcises me when I think about Scotland’s cultural identity. In the context of Scotland as a nation and cultural entity in its own right (which is the only way in which I will see it), I contend that rural culture holds the status of ‘minority’ and it is this ‘minority’ cultural tradition (and reality) I fight to promote and preserve; in the face of an urban majority which privileges the ‘high’ culture and urbane manners of the urban hierarchy, who are oh so convinced that they are not an elite (cultural or otherwise) simply because they are in the ‘majority’ in one sense. They think that ‘gritty urban realism’ and ‘Tartan Noir’ dictate what Scots culture is.
Refuting the role of the rural in Scots culture is, for me, part of the root of our problem. We have lost the power or desire to nurture our culture in the same way as we neglect or mis-represent our rural communities and landscape. I cannot argue strongly enough that it’s a ‘North British’ view of culture which presents rural Scotland either as the place where rich, landed Tories hold sway (yes, it’s true that there are more than enough of them taking more than their share of the rural pie) or a land of teuchters who are ‘too wee, too poor, and too stupid’ to understand that they should simply up and move to the cities. Rural Scotland is either a place seen as an idyllic playground (but for the rich, or aspirational) or a benighted, culture free zone - the kailyard. Though what, I ask, is wrong with kail? Is it not indeed a superfood? Why can we not see the beauty of our rural landscape (along with its harshness) without using words such as ‘majesty’ or ‘grandeur’.
One of the most significant exemplars of Scots culture from my childhood is what has now been enshrined as the ‘right to roam.’ The fact that there’s no law of trespass in Scotland, is I have always believes, a sign of cultural strength. In current ‘law’ Scotland has some of the best ‘access’ laws in the world – but I need no law to tell me where and whether I can walk. For me, one of the most important elements of my cultural identity is the belief that whoever may ‘own’ the land on paper, I am connected to the soil beneath my feet by a deeper law. I do not own Scotland, but Scotland perhaps owns me. It’s this visceral relationship to my country that is central to my cultural identity. I am ‘of Scotland’ in a sense that I belong. And my belonging is not about ownership it is as vital as breathing.
I’m a rural Scot. I am interested in rural Scots culture. Thus I champion all that it can achieve and represent. We have writers who write about rural Scotland – everything from escapism to ‘gritty rural realism’ – whether or not it is privileged by the urban, ‘high’ ‘North British’ culture or not. I contend that it is partly (as Scots) having lost our connection with the land that explains how we’ve lost our connection to a vital part of our culture. It’s not ALL our culture of course but it’s an important component part.
I should start to draw my one-sided conversation to a close. I wonder how far we deserve the culture we are being fed (or palmed off with)? I suggest that, sadly, every time we express disinterest or apathy we deserve what we get. Every time we ‘accept’ a top down offering, every time we doff our cap at ‘high’ culture and accept our place as ‘North British’ we are putting one more nail in our own cultural coffin. Every time we think of Scotland as a ‘minority’ part of something bigger which is fundamentally not what we even are, we are putting in one more nail.
Here’s the situation folks. Scotland has a unique culture. It is rooted in our common ancestry and identity. It’s not all pretty, but it’s ours. We are ‘see you Jimmy’ and ‘Scotsmen on the make’ and our biggest cultural ‘issue’ is our own response to our diversity and duality – our own inability to see the significance of the rural/urban split – our own misunderstanding of our own past/s. Our landscape is diverse and so is our culture. But it is OUR culture. We are not simply part of some bigger British Empire. We need to recontextualise who we are. We need to think really deeply about it. We need to talk about it. We need to challenge it.
We need to challenge why most of those in positions of ‘power’ in ‘high’ culture are not indigenous Scots, or are people who are happy to be a minority part of ‘British’ culture. We need to question why we view culture as something to be imposed on us, and why the diversity of our own minorities are not valued – why do the urban majority/elite laugh at or despise rural ways?
Our culture is both part of our identity and an organic thing that we should nurture if we want to preserve and ‘grow’ it into something to be proud of once more. In my opinion the problem is, for too long we’ve overlooked it, neglected it, and allowed ‘consultations’ that do not truly consult, to tell us who we are, what we should be and what we deserve culturally. The Scottish ‘cringe’ is too often a reality.
For me, Scots culture has aye been rooted in the community. I see community being eroded as fast as the dunes on some of our ‘prestigious’ beaches. I sense that I’m fighting a rear-guard action – and that the result of our cultural conversations will in no way bring out that ‘better nation’. I fear that Scots culture is headed for extinction as I leave you with that famous toast ‘here’s tae us, wha’s like us? Damn few an’ they’re a’ deid.’ If we want to be more than this, and more than a Burns cliché , we will have to stand up and speak for ourselves. I urge you to, one way or another, get involved in the Cultural Conversation. If we don’t nurture our own culture, we’ll be forever condemned to that most noxious of refrains. ‘too wee…’ If I were English at this point I might quote Orwell and state ‘I will not love Big Brother.’ But I’m Scots so I’ll point my finger at Welsh and say ‘I refuse to be a Trainspotter.’
‘It's SHITE being Scottish! We're the lowest of the low. The scum of the fucking Earth! The most wretched, miserable, servile, pathetic trash that was ever shat into civilization. Some hate the English. I don't. They're just wankers. We, on the other hand, are COLONIZED by wankers. Can't even find a decent culture to be colonized BY. We're ruled by effete assholes. It's a SHITE state of affairs to be in, Tommy, and ALL the fresh air in the world won't make any fucking difference!’
It’s a rant, but being proud to rant it is no badge of pride. If you are Scots and proud of this, I pity you. If you are Scots and find this in any way offensive – step up and do something about it. Start talking about what Scots culture means to you. Don’t let yourself be defined by North Britain or by Trainspotting. Want to ‘be a nation again?’ Then get off your bahookie and kick the ba’!
Wagging the World from Turriff. An attempt at an Industrial-commercial organisation.
The east Aberdeenshire town of Turriff has less than 3000 of a population, and there are none of the industries in the town that bring men together in large bodies, such as weaving sheds or boot factories. An implement works sends out threshing-mills to the ends of the earth; but for the rest we are mostly engaged in catering to the immediate requirements of an agricultural population. The town is very countrified. The shop-keepers – and we are a town of shops – deal with farmers; two days a-week we are overrun with farmers; two nights a week we have the cycling farm servants present in force. We live in an atmosphere of cattle and crops, and not a few men in business in the town have direct farming interests, having their own little flutter in the crop-raising or stock-breeding field.
Wherever I have been since leaving my own native city twenty-three years ago there has always been some local industrial obsession. In Manchester it was spindles and cotton; in Peterhead it was herrings; in Huddersfield it was looms and tweeds; in East Yorkshire it was market gardening, and the local elections turned upon dung. Now in Turriff, it is said, it is cattle and turnips.
But there are citizens of the world even here. George Durward, a master tailor in a small way, is a keen Socialist who has worked and lived in various parts of the outer world, Glasgow and Dublin among them. He is a member of the local school board, has helped greatly to organise the farm servants, and his shop is a hotbed of discussion and friendliness, he himself being the incarnation of uncommercial good nature and helpfulness. Babbling over with projects that have no relation to his own prosperity, he has just introduced a motion at the school board which will admit of much more discussion and publicity than it has received; though it has by no means suffered neglect in the locality either. Here is the motion, which unfortunately has not become a resolution, the board having decided that its duty was not to legislate but to administer, not to initiate suggestions but to receive instructions from the higher authorities, and do its best to carry them out. Mr Durward moved: -
‘That the board express its approval of the following resolution, and submit it to the meeting of citizens; - That whereas the existence of so many small traders catering for the same class of wares is most un-economic, both in man-power and working expenses, the Board recommend that the production and distribution of local requirements be centralised for the period of the war, and that the profits accruing from the centralised establishment be divided among the traders in proportion to the amount of business they were doing before the war. For instance, on tailor’s shop instead of eight could, if properly organised, supply local needs and liberate upwards of a dozen men for national service, with considerable saving in working expenses. The same economy of man-power and working expenses could be effected in almost every other trade. And whereas the presence of so many able-bodied men in Turriff on market day suggests that our present agricultural power is not being taken full advantage of, we recommend to the Board of Agriculture the advisability of substituting for the present market system an establishment of agricultural bureaux composed of a valuator appointed by the farmers, one by the butchers, and another by those supplying keepers. Such bureaux would effect the transfer of fat and keepers, and thereby prevent the waste of man, horse and motor power. The School board undertakes to maintain the children attending school of those volunteering for national service who find the minimum wage of 25s per week too small to meet their family requirements.’
Now, there was nothing in the world, except one thing, to prevent that resolution being carried into practice. That one thing was the willingness of the tradesmen concerned. Durward himself is a tailor with plenty of work to do, if his public pre-occupations and his interest in discussion would allow him to attend to it. Yet he was willing to go and take a seat on the ‘board’ at the largest tailoring establishment in the town, where, he says, there is ample room for all the tailors in the town, and where the work could be carried on with obvious savings in working expenses of various kinds. How far that would apply to other businesses is not a question of principle, but only of detail or of degree. The little town is mainly a centre of distributors rather than manufacturers, the boot retailers, the grocers, chemists, standing cheek by jowl on opposite sides of the street, for all the world as Charles Dickens the Socialist described them in ‘Great Expectations’ some scores of years ago:-
‘Mr Pumblechook appeared to conduct his business by looking across the street at the saddler, who appeared to transact his business by keeping his eye on the coach-maker, who appeared to get on in life by putting his hands in his pockets and contemplating the baker, who in his turn folded his arms and stared at the grocer, who stood at his door and yawned at the chemist. The watchmaker, always poring over a little desk with a magnifying glass at his eye, and always inspected by a group in smock-frocks poring over him through the glass of his shop window, seemed to be about the only person in the High Street whose trade engaged his attention.’
It isn’t quite so leisurely as all that. There is work to be done even by the distributor who has only to take goods in and pass them out again without adding anything to their value. But the way in which all the traders in a small town unfailingly muster to the frequent funerals shows that they have plenty of leisure.
In varying numbers of shops the same stocks have to be duplicated and stored in duplicated shelves, jars, boxes, nests of drawers. Dozens of doors have to be opened every morning, dozens of fires lit, dozens of floors have to be swept, windows cleaned, goods dusted, safes opened, books taken down, blinds pulled up, travellers interviewed, and time wasted in waiting for custom. All these places are within a few minutes’ walk of each other. The whole effective distribution could be managed from a fraction of the establishments, and thousands of pounds might be saved in the mere volume of duplicated stocks which have to be kept in waiting for occasional, and, it may be, rare customers.
If the business of the community is ever to be really organised the waste of distributive commerce are the first of the great national wastes that must be tackled. Every attempt to draw attention to this matter is immensely valuable, since it prepares the mind of the public for the municipalisation that must come sooner or later, war or no war.
This resolution, however, left the matter to the voluntary principle; and that, as always, is of no use, even in time of war. Why should Mr Pumblechook give up his life of leisure and relative independence in order to become a servant? Naturally he asks, with Shylock, ‘On what compulsion must I?’
And so, I suppose, he must be left either to a heavy-handed Government ukase or to the multiple trader who comes along and just quietly takes away his trade till at last the blind comes down or the shutters go up.
Tibby Tamson o’the Buck
Or A Cabrach Wife's Views on Things in general.
(John Mitchell, 1917)
I’m Tibby Tamson o' the Buck, jist come tae Aiberdeen,
Tae hae a look aboot me an' tae see my dother Jean ;
Her man's a Gordon Heelander fae roon aboot Braemar,
Tho' noo he's ower the seas tae France tae help them wi' the war.
They surely were sair pitten till't tae tak' the like o' him
A little-bookit, bowdle-leggit aiblach, gley't an' grim
Gweed kens fat Jean saw in him, for she's neither blate nor blin',
Tho' aince a lassie's he'rt is won she's nae tae haud nor bin':
She'll wyve romance aroon the heids o' natir's queerest freaks,
An' mairry ony mortal thing in kilt or tartan breeks ;
For fae the plooman at the pleuch tae king upon the throne,
Love's glamour gilds wi' glittrin' gowd the form it lichts upon.
Jean thinks a hantle o' 'im tho', an' haith, tae hear 'er speak,
She'd gar ye think if he'd com mau n' the war wid en' neisht week ;
It's Jock said this, an' Jock did that, an' Jock's the hefty chiel,
That fears na' man or mither's son o' German, Turk, or deil.
She's rale consairnt aboot 'im, tae, an' that's fat brocht me here,
Tae keep her oot o' langer in the forenichts lang an' drear;
For sin' the hinner-en' o' hairst she hisna heard a cheep,
An' warslin' wi' the worry o't's clean ca'ed her aff her sleep;
Sae as my kye hid a' gaen yeel, I bribet Betty Law
Tae min' my curnie hens an' deuks the time that I'm awa'.
An' that's weel min't, for I brocht in a twa-three dizzen eggs
Tae gie the wounit lads a treat as lang's they laist, for fegs,
I doot I'll hae tae thraw their necks-the hens', I meant tae say-
For meat's sae dear they're eatin' aff thcir heids maist ilka day.
'N I daurna peel my tatties noo, nor gie them neeps or kail,
'N I hae tae claw the pottie oot an' eat it a' masel' ;
I dinna jist see daylicht throu't, the logic's gey ajee,
For I aye thocht b' keepin' hens that they were keepin' me.
An' wow's me, for the wee bit pig, that ate the orrals u p,
Wi' the sweelins o' the cogie an' an antrin bite an' sup ;
Its bed an' boord wis never misst, bit noo it's plai n tae see
A teem troch for the grumphie means a teem pigstye for me.
Fat needs I girn or gru m'le tho', they've deen their best, nae doot,
Tae han'le men an' maitters that they kentna ocht aboot ;
A starnie sugar for oor tea's noo byous ill tae get,
Tho' Farfar rock is raffy, an' there's routh o' pandrops yet.
The fite bread-weel, it's dirty fite, like water fae the Dee,
It's stodgy on the stammick an' it disna please the e'e ;
Bit aye the price gangs loupin up, for bakers like their fun,
As they sqeeze anither penny oot o' crumpet, scone, an' bun.
An' as the brewer turns the maut, an' sowfs ower "Scots wha hae,"
He thinks, weel if the Scots will hae, the Scots will hae tae pay ;
As for the publican, peer stock, he's dowie an' depresst,
An' gey sair grippet wi' the war, the 'oors, an' a' the rest.
Bit we may fairly lippen him tae jine the game o' spoof,
As he claps a penny on the gill at fifty un'er-proof,
The ane blames Lord Dumdaberdon, the ither Davy port,
Bit 'tween the twa they're keepin' meat an' drink baith unco short.
They've commandeert the tatties, an' they've commandeert the hay,
They've commandeert the aits an' meal, forbyes the neeps an' strae,
They've commandeert the fusky that keeps oot the caul an' wet,
If they'd commandeer some com monsense, we'll get tae Berlin yet.
An' noo they're fichrin' wi' some fads 'boot plooin' parks an' plots,
An' ilka ane's a gair'ner fae Lan's En' tae John o' Groats ;
Balgownie's goufin' links they'd saw wi' cabbages an' beans,
An' plant pitaties, leeks, an' kail on Murcar's bonnie greens.
They'd saw ait-seed on Tap o' Noth, an' here on Benachie,
An' barley on the Brimmon Hill wid nane astonish me ;
It's scunnerfu' the things they say an' waur the things they vrite,
An' sair tae see the brains o' Britain bummlin' ower sic styte.
Stravaigin' doon the toon ae day we drappit in tae Hay's
Jean's unco weel upon't, ye ken, and caresna fat she pays
"Here Jeems," says she, "we'll hae the tabble dottie, if you please";
Says Jeems, "Ye'll jist hae broth an' beef, forbyes some breid and cheese;
"For that's the Food Controller's hinmaist order an' decree,
That twa coorses sall be luncheon an' for the denner th ree ;
Bit I'll gie you twa bowls o' broth an' syne twa plates o' meat,
Sae fat's the diff’rence if ye get as muckle's ye can eat? "
"Weel, weel,'' says Jean, "there's nae ill deen, an' jist tae mak up for't,
"We'll warm the cockles o' oor he'rts an' hae a gless o' port."
"A gless o' port,'' says Jeems, "My wird, d'ye ken it's half-past twa,
An' fae that time till sax o'clock ye get nae drink ava'?
They'd fine me for the sellin' an' fine you for the drinkin' o't,
An' I daursay they'd fine us baith jist for even thinkin' o't.
I thocht we'd baith fa' throu' the fleer wi' fa ir black-burnin' shame-
Sae cannily we got oor trocks an' took oor wyes for hame.
"Deil tak yer meat an' drin k control," says I, "as fac' as death,
The neisht we'll hae will be a boord tae regilate oor breath,
Tae hain the caller air we draw in case that it rins short,
An' them that needs an extra whiff maun get a leeshins for't.
Sae Jean," says I, "fat needs ye tchauve an' trauchle here yer lane?
Ye're fairly fochen aff yer feet an' worn tae skin an' bein ;
Ye needna fash aboot McPhee, for yon's a wily wratch,
He'll jink the German Geordies, an' come back athoot a scratch.
Sae draw your blin's an' steek your doors an' leave things ticht an' snod,
The neebor wife will tak' the cat, an' we will tak' the road,
Tae faur controllers dinna fash tae mak' bad intae worse,
An' fouk jist eat an' drink fat suits their palate an' their purse."
Sae het-fit tae the hills we hied, wi' loupin' he'rts aflame,
An' feet sae lichtly liftin', for they kent the road wis hame ;
We daidelt not by murm'rin' streams, green howes, or shady dells,
For hill-fouks' he'rts aye hanker for the smell o' heatherbells.
My bield's nae muckle bookit, jist a cosy But an' ben,
But aye I'm weel contentit for my warl's jist- The Glen ;
The Dev'ron's eerie sechin sooch, the birr-bick o' the groose,
Is mair tae me than gowd or gear, braw freens, or muckle hoose.
Ay, sweet's the soun' in Heelan' lugs tae hear the whirrin' flicht
O' muircocks i' the gloamin' as they're reistin' for the nicht.
An' couthy fouk are Cabrach fouk, an' kin'ly, weel-a-wyte,
For tinkler, tramp, or beggar-wife need never wint a bite ;
There's nae haud-in o' meal an' milk, it's eat an' aye come back,
As roon a roarin' kitchie fire they claik the country's clack ;
An' halesame is the hamely fare in ilka hoose an' ha',
For galshachs an' clamjamfry trash we canna thole ava',
An' buirdly chiels an' strappin' deems we rear w' pride an' care
On parritch, brose, an' barley meal, an' sic-like country fare
As birselt here-meal bannocks byaukit wi' a suppie whey,
Weel thoom't wi' butter fae the kirn, sweet as the new-mown hay,
A knievelock o' a murlie kebbuck rossen at the fire,
Sweel't ower wi' wauchts o' foamin' milk jist feshen fae the byre.
On snavy days the orra loon will girn a baud or twa,
Forbye's there's aye. a hen tae pluck for freens that chance tae ca'-
A hoch o' braxy mutton noo an' than's nae a wa'-cast,
An' fish is nae a fairly wi' the Rooster rinni n' past.
At Aul' New Year the Merchan's mairt is shot for at Brigen',
An' fan the Mullert's soo is kill't it's pairtet throu' the Glen ;
Aul' Dusty cairts it roon himsel' we's shalt an' shoggly gig,
An' shoggly tae's the Mullert b' the time he pairts the pig-
A towmon syne he tum'let heelster-gowdie in the lade,
An' gin they got 'im oot, peer sowl, he'll ne'er be nearer dead ;
The siller that he'd gotten for the pork wis tint or spent,
An' Bell's aul' bonnet hid tae dae anither Sacrament.
Losh guides.! I'm surely ravelt noo, an' haverin' lots o' styte
'Boot Mullert's pigs, an' Merchan's mairts, an' things nae worth a dyte,
My lyaugin' tongue wags deavin' on, nor dackles or devauls,
Tho' gie't its due, it's nae the ane that aften flytes or scauls.
Weel, as I said, Jean's browlies noo, an' losh, I'm gled tae see
The roses in her cheeks again, the sparkle in her e'e ;
An' fa cam hirplin' in thestreen a' clairtet ower wi' glaur,
Confooselt an' confuffelt wi' the doors an' scaurs o' war ?
Bit wee McPhee, her sojer-lad, dischairged an' hame for gweed,
An' wi' a teem sleeve hingin' limply fae his shoother-heid.
Jean near ban' gaed deleerit wi' the sudden sicht an' shock,
Syne scraupit aff the dubs an' dirt until she cam tae Jock ;
She clappit him, an' straikit him, an' kisst him ower the croon-
For love's the pooer that keeps the warl' gaun furlin' roon an' roon-
An' aifterhin he taul's aboot the battle o' the Aisne,
An' hoo he focht a hale platoon an' kill't them ane b' ane,
Till deil a German Hun wis left tae cairry on the fray,
Sae picki n' up his ither airm he stoppit for the day.
I widna conter Jock McPhee for a' th is warl's gear,
I widna gang as far as say that Jock Mc Phee's a leear;
He maybe raxed a thochtie far, tho' troth, it's hard tae tell,
For aince a Gordon's birse is up, he'll face the deil 'imsel'.
Jist lat 'im hear the pipers blaw a mairch or Heelan' reel,
An' Heaven help the foe that waits tae taste his wee bit steel,
For lat the odds be fat they may, the Cordons "cairry on,"
It's a wye they hae the lads that hail fae Dev'ron, Dee, an' Don.
An' Jock's a wicket, wittrous wratch, that aye cud stan' his grun',
An' jist the contermashous kin' that likes a fecht for fun ;
But noo wi' medals on his breist an' strips upo' his airm,
He'll fecht his battles ower again gaun pottrin' roon the fairm.
An' if ye e'er set fit aroon the shoother o' the Buck,
Jist speer your wye tae Bodiebae-ye're welcome tae pot-luck ;
An' tho' I dinna haud wi' drink nor bibblin aye wi' drams,
I keep a knaggie in the press for incomes, stouns, an' dwaums;
An' ower a feuch o' bogie an' a' skirp o' barley-bree
Ye'll hear the story o' the war fae Sergeant John Mc Phee.
An' fan my day's darg's at an en' an' fir-logs lowin' bricht,
I'll tak my shank an' wirset-clew, an' wyve wi' a' my micht ;
God help my willin' fingers for it's a' that I can dae,
Tho' my he'rt's amang the kilties far across the grey Nor' Sea.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD. FROM 1903.
AND the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together ; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed: their young ones shall lie down together ; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the basilisk's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain ; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.-Isaiah xi., 6-9.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward…For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption , to wit the redemption of our body. For by hope were we saved : but hope that is seen is not hope : for who hopeth for that which he seeth ? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.-Romans viii., 18-25.
The most important thing in the world-the divine event to which the whole creation moves-is the ordering of the lives of all kindly creatures on lines that make for benignity, friendliness, and mutual service and interdependence. By this I do not mean the forming once for all of a social system regulated upon a hard-and-fast social code covering all the details of life like the Institutes of Lycurgus or the Book of Leviticus ; not an attempt to make a perfect social system, but the establishing of society on principles from which it might have a chance of growing into increasing perfection, without periods of deadlock, of misdirected progress, or of retrogression such as civilised communities have always hitherto displayed. In short, a society, not perfect in details, but, on the other hand, not fundamentally wrong, as a system based on rank, privilege, and monopoly, instead of on industry and ability, must always be. I claim these humane conditions, as I say, for all "kindly " creatures.
I confess I have no hope for the lion, the asp, the bear, and the basilisk, which the eloquent and sonorous Isaiah represents as living in millennial amity with the creatures who at present form their food. The carnivora do not obviously serve any good purpose in the world. They say a tiger is immensely fascinating just when he is about to eat you; but that is a species of attraction which most men are pleased to have no experience of. Indeed, man-devouring animals seem to be neither useful nor ornamental. In any case, there is no reason to doubt but that they will coninue in the future to go the way they are going, at present-that is to say, the way of complete extermination. The prophet says "the lion shall eat straw like the ox "; but apart from the fact that the lion shows no tendency in the direction of becoming a vegetarian, we should want to know what he was prepared to do for his straw. Man, originally omnivorous and cannibal, and still an eater of carrion-fish, flesh, and fowl-becomes more and more vegetarian and fruitarian in his diet, and while I am fond of beafsteak, I think it is perhaps not too much to expect that a time will come when men will turn with loathing from the idea of breeding and feeding an animal in order to kill and eat it. Use and necessity reconcile us to many things; but I do not think I could be a butcher. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Lord High Executioner in "The Mikado " who "Couldn't kill a bluebottle." And I do not consider that have any right to ask others to do what I should not like to do myself.
The millennial picture of Isaiah, the Kingdom of God spoken of by Jesus, and the more specific schemes of the latter-day Socialist are all varying forms of one aspiration and one vision-the vision of a reformed and happy and peaceful world. Nature will always doubtless remain "red in tooth and claw." We can exterminate and are rapidly exterminating beasts and birds of prey. But the lightning will still deal death from the blue. The earthquake will swallow cities and devastate a countryside. The cruel sea will continue to engulf the trusting voyager in one hour, and the next will smile over the living and the dead in its depths. Floods and typhoons will not conceivably cease to remind man how puny and helpless he is against the mighty forces and elements of Nature.
But if Nature must always remain a capricious and often cruel step mother, at least man in the mass need not continue to suffer inhumanity at the hands of a despicable few of his fellow-creatures. A hundred tenants need no longer give their substance to one landlord. A thousand workmen need no longer hand over any part of their gains to one capitalist. That the community as a whole should be deceived by professional mumbo jumbos- priest, lawyer, official, medicine man, newspaper editor-is no necessary or inescapable law of the order of things. Not the education which produces sharps and sharks and intensifies the struggle for existence. Not the science which ministers to the wealthy and mocks the miserable with triumphs in which they do not share. Not the wealth which burdens and vulgarises Midas and enslaves the mass of the people in a still more helpless and hopeless slavery. Not the rude health and brute strength which make men careless and cheerful under evil conditions, scoffing at public spirit and civic self-sacrifice, delighting in wars and boatraces and football matches, and scorning sweeter manners and purer laws.
Not any of these things constitutes the most important thing in the world-not all of them together. The harvest to the husband man, the product to the producer, strength and wisdom in man, beauty and gentleness in woman, health, happiness, and long life to all, and humane treatment to the lower animals-these things and the conditions that will finally render these things possible form together the most important thing in the world. As the theological formula runs, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and all these things shall be added unto you," so the newer and more practical formula may be said to be "Seek ye first economic justice, and all these things shall be added unto you." We often hear men say that life would not be worth living if there were no Here after-by which they mean no serenely happy existence of the disembodied spirit. I do not say that. I do not say that life would not be worth living even if we had no hope of better conditions up0n earth. An active and healthy person finds life interesting and streaked with strips of happiness holidays, honeymoons, personal successes, the gladdening defeat and discomfiture of wicked enemies-no matter how evil his social surroundings may be. But I do say that, the hope of, and the belief in, a great future for the human race on this earth give a man courage to face difficulties, and a happy unconcern as to consequences, such as the early Christians and the Scottish Covenanters carried with them. This hope and this belief inspire affection between man and man such as I have seen no other faith, creed, sect, or movement inspire. The pictures of an imaginary heaven, with pearly gates and golden streets and jasper walls and all the quiring and wheeling of Milton's heavenly militia, make a tinsel show indeed by comparison with the perfectly natural and realisable conception of a new earth and a new man. This great hope and belief, moreover, play an incalculably beneficent part in supplying driving force and inspiration for the stow business of social reform-probably the slowest of all kinds of progress certainly much slower than the progress made in applied science and the arts of life.
The most important thing in the world is easy to state thus broadly; but what of the days we live in? What indications do they afford of an approach to the millennial state? None of us here can remember a time when the forces of reaction were so strong as they seem in Britain at present. When the Gladstone Administration of 1868 to '74 was turned out of office after a career of comparatively brilliant reforms rapidly consummated, there followed a period of reactionary wallowing, during which Parliament and people did many things calculated to grieve the friends of progress. It was during this time that Queen Victoria was styled Empress of India by the theatrical Disraeli. It was during this time that Mr Plimsoll was moved to indignant protest by the evasive tactics of the Tory Premier over the reform of the conditions of life and labour in our mercantile navy. It was during this time that the Transvaal was temporarily annexed on the crocodile plea that that was necessary in order to save the Boers from the onslaught of the Zulus. Above all, it was during this time that Britain once more interfered to save the Turk, repeating the mistake which had been made in 1854 when we went to war with Russia to perpetuate Mabometan cruelty and misgovernment. We annexed another Imperial burden in Cyprus in those years; we went through the farce known as the Berlin Conference; and we found all too good occasion to invent the name Jingo to denote the class who consider that the business of a Government is to make war and steal territory abroad rather than to develop and perfect our life and institutions at home. That we also got into one little war in Afghanistan and another little war in Zululand is not to be wondered at in a time when Disraeli was the darling of the people and Gladstone and his wife had one day to take refuge in a friendly doorway from a threatening crowd of Cockney Jingoes.
That was an evil time; but after all, it lasted only six years, with lucid intervals, whereas the present spell of theft, murder, and retrogression has lasted without interruption for over seven years. That period was marked by the magnificent campaign against the Turk undertaken in the country by Gladstone; whereas on the present occasion no equally effective protest has been anywhere raised against the criminal relapse into barbarism. The years from 1895 to 1903 have been characterised by such a putting back of the hands on the clock as Britain has not seen since the Restoration of the Stewarts followed the Republic of Milton and Cromwell. We have seen the co-operative societies twice attacked. We have seen the perfectly false charge brought against workmen that they generally practice the malingering policy known as "Ca' canny." We see at this present moment a general attack, now led by the Times, against the one really satisfactory and progressive branch of public life in Britain-namely, Municipal Socialism. Fom taking part in a Peace Congress we have seen Britain turn to enter upon one of the most disgraceful wars in which she has ever engaged-a war in which a monarchy attacked a republic-a war in which we have had a country of plural voting and property qualifications fighting against a state administered on a basis of simple manhood suffrage-a war professedly waged to secure the franchise for aliens by a country which refuses the franchise to aliens-a war waged against alleged iniquitous taxation, mainly raised from millionaire mineowners paying the lowest gold-royalty in the world, by an Empire whose own taxation is iniquitous without an) doubt about it, since it includes taxes upon the food of the poor while allowing the landlords' rents to escape taxation -a war waged by an enormous empire against two puny states whose combined populations did not exceed that of a single third-class British city-the motto of the aggressor apparently being "Hit him on the head: he's only a little 'un " a war from which our countrymen returned to be acclaimed as heroes, though they were ten to one against their indifferently armed and still less disciplined foe.
Part Two to follow next month.
There was no need to carry the bridge gates by storm. The friends of the rebels within, estimated at 30,000, urged the guards to open the gates. ‘These honest men are our friends and yours,’ said they to the soldiers. ‘What they do is for our good.’ In no long time the gates were opened, and Tyler and Ball, with 20,000 of a following, then entered the city. The rebels set fire to the palace of John of Gaunt in the Savoy, the Duke himself being absent in Scotland; they burned the new house of the Knights Templars of St. John; and they co-operated with the townspeople in similar reprisals upon the hated Flemish merchants. On the way in they had thrown open the gates of the Marshalsea Prison. It was probably one of the liberated prisoners who was found making off with a piece of silver plate from the Duke of Lancaster’s house. Declaring that they were ‘seekers of truth and justice, not thieves and robbers,’ the insurgents threw the plunderer and his booty back into the flames - a circumstance which contrasts oddly with the alleged pillaging of the Archbishop’s palace at Canterbury. There would doubtless be more than one set of opinions represented among the revolutionists.
With his training in the French wars, Wat Tyler would have a soldier’s manners, and this would account for his taking the life of Richard Lyon, a rich citizen to whom Tyler had been servant in France. ‘Having once beaten him,’ says Froissart, ‘the varlet had never forgotten it.’
That night the insurgents encamped in front of the Tower, which, slenderly garrisoned, contained the king and the court party. During the night a council of war was held within the Tower, at which William Walworth and others proposed to fall upon the rebels while they slept, co-operating in this with a number of men skilled in arms who were guarding their houses in the city. It was reported at the council that the services of 8000 fighting men could be counted upon.
But panic had seized the courtiers, and Lord Salisbury’s advice to the king was taken. The Earl advised Richard to go and temporise with the insurgents; ‘for,’ said he, ‘should we begin what we cannot go through, it will be all over with us and our heirs, and England will be a desert.’
Horse-Play with a Grave Sequel.
In the morning the rebels threatened to attack the Tower if the king did not come forth to them. Alarmed by the threat of utter extermination to all within, the king asked the besiegers to withdraw to Mile-End, promising to meet them there and grant their demands.
Tyler and Ball, however, feeling, doubtless, that they could learn the nature of the king’s promises without being present at the interview, not caring to abandon the ground they had won, and probably caring as little for any promises Richard might make, remained with a strong force after the king had left. The gates of the Tower had not closed behind the outgoing king when a party of the insurgents forced their way in, tugged the beards of the knights in the garrison in ‘upland’ horse-play, cut the bedding of the Princess and greatly frightened her, though she was allowed to go unmolested to a house called the Wardrobe, where she remained till the following day. But the proceedings in the Tower were not confined to horse-play. When the Treasurer and the Chief Commissioner in connection with the poll-tax were found in the chapel, the insurgents dragged them from their sanctuary, and beheaded them on Tower Hill, along with the hated Chancellor, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Broken Pledge.
The young king, meanwhile, rode to Mile-End. ‘I am your king and lord, good people,’ said he to the assembled peasants. ‘What will ye?’ ‘We will that ye free us for ever,’ was the answer, ‘us and our lands, and that we be never named nor held for serfs.’ ‘I grant it,’ said Richard, at the same time bidding them go home, and pledging his word to issue charters of freedom and amnesty. Richard advised that two or three representatives from each parish be left behind to receive and carry home these letters, and he further promised to give one of his banners each to Kent, Essex, Sussex, Bedford, Suffolk, Cambridge, Stafford, and Lincoln. The meadow rang with shouts of joy at these concessions made in pleasing tones by the diplomatic youth, and the great gathering proceeded to break up.
Thirty clerks were set to the writing out of charters and pardons, and Richard rode off well pleased, we may assume, with his morning’s work.
But Tyler and Ball, having, doubtless, their well-founded misgivings as to the efficacy of the king’s redress of grievances, remained in the city with 30,000 followers. According to Green, they stayed ‘to watch over the fulfilment of the royal pledges.’ There are several good reasons for believing the leaders had much more in view. The chronicler says: ‘These all continued in the city without any wish to receive the letters or the king’s seal.’ And he adds that they declared the king’s letters would be of no use to them. Their case, the case of the Kentish men as a whole, was different from that of the men of other counties, who had revolted against villeinage among other grievances, whereas the men of Kent were not villeins.
The rising could in no sense be said to be at an end. Those who had gone home were chiefly the men of Essex. The bands from the more northerly counties had been summoned by the Kentish leaders, and were still only on the road to London. Among those expected to put in an appearance were Vaquier and Litster, with their contingents; and some of the Kentish men are alleged to have spoken of not leaving the city to be pillaged by the newcomers.
In the Provinces.
While London is in the hands of ‘the true commons of England,’ there is rioting at St. Albans, at Bury St. Edmunds, at Winchester, Cambridge and York, at Beverley and Scarborough, in Surrey, Sussex, and even as far west as Devonshire.
At Bury St. Edmunds the villeins killed the Prior and Chief-Justice Cavendish, ‘the biggest of all the furred cats of the law.’
At Norwich the rebels, headed by William Litster, and numbering forty thousand of the men of three surrounding shires, sought to induce Sir Robert Salle to be their leader. Salle was the son of a mason, but had been made a knight for his ability and courage in the wars. He ‘was one of the handsomest and strongest men in England,’ and the men of the east strove to persuade him that a man of his birth ought to be on the popular side. ‘Begone, false traitors,’ said the mason’s son. ‘Would you have me desert my natural lord for such a company of knaves as you are. I would rather have you all hanged; for that must be your end.’ So saying, Sir Robert would have mounted and ridden off; but, missing his stirrup and his horse taking fright, he was surrounded and cut to pieces, though not without scaith to the men whose rage he had roused by his spurning of them and their cause.
To St. Albans William Grindecobbe returned with one of the king’s letters absolving the villeins from the oppressive privileges exercised over them by the abbot. Forcing their way into the abbey precincts, the men of St. Albans commanded the abbot to surrender the charters that bound them as serfs to his house. A badge of their servitude consisted of the millstones, retained in the abbey after a law-suit in which the monks make good their claim to be the sole possessors of milling rights in the town. These millstones were wrenched from the floor, and broken into small pieces, ‘like blessed bread in church,’ that each man ‘might have something to show of the day when their freedom was won again.’
After leaving Mile-End, Richard rode to the Wardrobe, in Carter Lane, to which his mother had flown early in the day, and we can well imagine that the meeting between them would be anxious enough.
On the Saturday morning the boy king went to Westminster, heard mass, and paid his devotions at the shrine of Our Lady there – ‘a statue . . . in which the kings of England have much faith,’ says the French chronicler, innocent of sarcasm.
The King, attended by some sixty horsemen, returned across Smithfield, where 20,000 of the insurgents were encamped. It is said he meant to fly into the country; but, apart from the fact that there does not seem to have been any place to which he could have escaped, the course of the morning’s ride does not warrant the view that he sought to avoid the rebels. It might very well seem to him that he had got over the most critical stage.
Murder of Tyler.
Seeing the royal cavalcade approach, Tyler rode forward to confer with the King. Froissart, willing to put the rebel leader as much in the wrong as possible, represents him as advancing so rudely that his charger’s head touched the crupper of the king’s horse. It is, indeed, not improbable that Tyler sought to provoke an altercation, in order to give his followers a pretext for seizing the king’s person: with Richard in the rebel camp, the ‘true commons’ would have had a show of legality for all their acts. The mistake he made, from his point of view, was in leaving his followers too far in the rear. After a good deal of provocative talk, and a quarrel fastened at length upon a squire in the king’s following, Tyler ended with a threat. Addressing the squire, he said, as reported, ‘By my troth, I will not eat this day before I have thy head.’* At this, William Walworth, closely accompanied by a dozen men armed beneath their robes, rode forward, and Walworth cut the rebel down with his dagger, a weapon still, perhaps appropriately, preserved among the valuables of the London Fishmongers’ Company. The other horsemen, surrounding the fallen rebel to conceal what was going on from his followers, a squire, John Standwich, thrust his sword through Tyler’s belly, ‘so that he died.’
When the rebels found their leader slain, they drew their bows upon the king and his company. Richard boldly rode forward to the menacing ranks, and at the cry, ‘They have killed our captain,’ he said: ‘I am your king and captain. Remain peaceable.’ Demoralised by the death of their leader, the rebels allowed the king to ride back to his friends without effort to detain him. Some of the lords present advised taking to the fields; but Walworth again proved the strong man. Declaring that they had done what was right, he advised the king and his followers to remain where they were, and assured them that speedy assistance was likely to arrive from the city.
Another account represents Tyler as having called for a pitcher of ale, which he proceeded to drink in the presence of royalty - a breach of etiquette which aroused the loyal ire of Walworth.
Demoralization of the Insurgents.
Alarmist messengers ran towards the city crying, with a not uncommon faculty for reversing the order of things, ‘They are killing our king and mayor.’ Presently there arrived, one after the other, various contingents of the king’s supporters, among them Sir Robert Knolles and Sir Perducas d’Albret, ‘well attended’; Nicholas Bamber, the king’s draper, ‘with a large force of foot’; and several aldermen at the head of 600 men-at-arms, the entire muster being put at seven to eight thousand. With amazing helplessness, the rebels allowed this rally of the king’s party to assemble on the ground, apparently without any attempt at resistance.
Sir Robert Knolles suggested an immediate attack on the insurgents; but Richard forbade this, saying he would have his revenge later in the day. He, however, demanded the return of the banner which he had given the Kentishmen the previous day, as well as the letters of exemption and indemnity. The letters were at once torn up before the faces of the insurgents, who now rapidly dispersed, many leaving their arms on the field.
Overjoyed at the fortunate turn affairs had unexpectedly taken for him, the king knighted Walworth, Standwich, and Bamber for their share in the day’s proceedings.
Returning to the Wardrobe, Richard was received with tears of joy by his mother. ‘Ah, ah, fair son, what pain and anguish have I not suffered for you this day,’ said the Princess. ‘Rejoice and thank God, madam,’ replied the king; ‘I have this day regained my inheritance - the kingdom of England, which I had lost.’
The same night proclamation was made that all who had not been resident in the city for a year must leave it; and reprisals set in generally. With an army of forty thousand men, Richard marched through Essex and Kent, doing summary execution. The bands on the march to London, hearing of the collapse of the movement, returned to their homes.
But the revolt was not yet suppressed. The Norwich dyer Litster was still surrounded by a large army, and, under the title of King of the Commons, had been compelling captured noblemen to act as his meat-tasters and to serve him at table on their knees, as their own servitors had been expected to serve them.
At Billericay the villagers sought the same rights as had been granted to the rebels at Mile-End, and, on being refused, betook themselves to the woods, and fought two stubborn engagements with the royal troops.
In Essex if was difficult to get juries to convict rebels brought before them. Even bourgeois sympathy was with the rebels. All they wanted was political intelligence and a leader, but lacking this how great was their lack. Ball, taken to prison in Coventry, was tried and sentenced to be hanged. Jack Straw is said to have been beheaded in London, where his hiding-place was betrayed by the men whom he had sought to serve.
Richard’s Breach of Faith.
The Essex men, who had gone home from Mile-End in good faith, sent a deputation to Richard to plead that their charters of manumission might be confirmed. But Richard had been alarmed, and his anger now was in proportion. ‘Villeins you were and villeins you are,’ he replied; ‘in bondage you shall abide, and that, not your old bondage, but a worse.’
A Noble Miller.
William Grindecobbe, the noble miller of St. Albans, was promised pardon if he would persuade his townsmen to restore the charters they had taken from the monks. Turning, on the day of his trial, to his late followers, he exhorted them to make no sacrifice for his sake. ‘If I die,’ he said, ‘I shall die in the cause of the freedom we have won, counting myself happy to end my life by such a martyrdom, Do, then, to-day as ye would have done had I been killed yesterday.’
Parliament and the People’s Demands.
Impressed by the stubbornness of the rebels, and fearing to press matters to the uttermost extreme, the Royal Council submitted the question of enfranchisement to Parliament, which met on the 16th of September. The Treasurer, Sir Hugh Segrave, informed the Commons that ‘the king had been forced to grant the insurgents letters patent under the Great Seal, enfranchising to a considerable extent those who were only bond servants and villeins of the realm, for which the King, knowing it to be against law, directs them to seek remedy and provide for the confirmation or revocation thereof. If they desire to enfranchise and manumit their villeins by common consent he will assent to it.’
But the landlord Parliament unanimously answered ‘That all grants of liberties and manumissions to the said villeins and bond tenants, obtained by force, are in disherison of them the Lords and Commons, and to the destruction of the realm, and therefore null and void, and this consent,’ they ended, ‘we shall never give to save ourselves from perishing all together on one day.’
In this mood they passed statutes providing that all releases made during the late tumult should be void, and that a remedy should be provided for all who made complaints regarding ‘charters, releases, obligations, and other deeds and muniments burnt, destroyed, or otherwise eloined [made away with] on their furnishing sufficient proof of the muniments so lost and of the form and tenor of the same.’
(In proof of the continued scarcity of labour and the arrogant vindictiveness of the landlords, Parliament in 1387 enacted - though their enactment came to little in the result - that any boy or girl who had served at the plough or cart till the age of twelve should thenceforth abide at the same labour; that it should be illegal for them to be taught any other mystery or handicraft.)
Not wholly abortive.
Thus ended the great movement of ‘the true commons of England’ - a movement which put the landholders of England in the sorest strait in their history. And yet not altogether thus. The process of enfranchisement did go on. Cruel tyrant as he was, Richard came to favour manumission of the serfs, and the Church, which maintained its hold on its own serfs, did its best to induce deathbed penitents to free theirs. By 1391 the king allows the sons of serfs to be admitted at the Universities - a proof that not only their social but also their economic status was no longer what it had been.
Still, it is impossible to agree with those writers who claim that all the demands of the insurgents realised within fifty years. Actual manorial records testify to the continuance of forced labour till far into the sixteenth century, Elizabeth found serfs to emancipate on the royal manors as late as 1574; and this is no isolated instance.
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