Leatham's descendents visit Turriff.
This May, Norlaine Thomas (great grand-daughter of James Leatham) came to Scotland to discover her roots and pay tribute to her ancestors.
James and Isobel Sinclair (Duncan) Leatham had four daughters. Mabel Margueritte was born in 1897, married Aberdeen born James Aiken (born 1888) and they moved to Winnipeg, Canada. (She died in 1977 and he died in 1974) Their son, Donald Aiken (1914-2004) was Norlaine’s father and was a journalist of some repute in Canada.
http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/people/aiken_dl.shtml for more info.
While the original Deveron Press print works are no longer standing (nor, indeed the building Leatham moved to in the 1940s) the Municipal Building in which Leatham served as councillor and then Provost, has been largely restored and the picture above shows Norlaine sitting in the very chair her great-grandfather sat at some 80 years previously.
Norlaine was happy to take a set of the ‘Deveron Press Centenary Edition’ back to Canada. Her brother retains a complete bound set of Gateway Magazines, and she has the roll top chair given to Leatham by the Print Workers Union.
The fire still burns bright for Leatham within his family circles in Canada, and we continue to do what we can to promote and advocate for his work here in Scotland.
James Leatham (centre) sits in the Provost's chair in 1940.
In words and pictures, the legacy of James Leatham endures!
Largely Political (originally published 1917)
As the printer and his neighbour the Sculptor were having a little talk in the early morning, an old man, carrying a broadish, strongly-made box strapped across his back, passed down the road towards the railway station. The Printer smiled sympathetically as he watched the old one pad briskly along with the carriage of one who in spite of his beard and threescore and ten years still walked like a boy out for the day. Apart from the sympathy one feels with (not for!) old men, the Printer recalled his first and only meeting with the old pedlar. They had both been waiting the train at Littlefield, and the box, with its American cloth cover nailed down with brass studs, had attracted the printer’s attention. The pedlar stood apart, and as the printer sat down on the long, broad set which held the box he had said with a smile ‘What a nobby box! If ever I take to the road this is just the kind of box I shall have.’ The old man had smiled taking this blarney just as it was meant to be taken, and they had got into lively crack as to the pedlar’s diocese.
As the two neighbours looked out after him today the stonecutter’s face opened in a responsive grin.
‘Ay, that aul’ mannie an’ anither lad had been drinkin’ somewye oot shoor; an’ they had cast oot, an’ the ither lad was gaunt i strick ‘im.’ The aul’ mannie put doon his box on the road, an’ stood up upon’t; an’ says he: ‘Ye widna strick a man in his ain shop, wid ye?’
As they talked there entered a tall, clean-shaven young chemist who had been dispenser in a great London house and had also followed his calling in Italy. He had lately succeeded to his father’s business in St Congan’s, and there being little else to think about in the town, his talk usually turned to business. The subject of artificial teeth cropped up, about which the Sculptor developed views of his own.
Chemist: Ye should get a set o’ false teeth, man, an’ be able to chew yer food properly, an’ nae be troubled wi’ indigestion.
Sculptor: Div ye seel false teeth?
Chemist: Na, na. It’s a pure masonic, philanthropic suggestion.
Sculptor: Och, man. I could easy get a set o’ false teeth for naething. The like o’ me ‘at works aboot graveyairds could easy come be a set o’ false teeth. The aul’ gravediffer got a row for the upper jaw oot o’ Miss Gregory’s aul’ grave, wi’ a lot o’ gold aboot them. Then he got a row for the lower jaw oot o’ aul’ Grassies lair. He offered me the twa sets; but na, na, says I, I’ll jist stick ti the droon’t loaf. Jock Williamson bocht a dandy outfit o’ teeth in Aiberdeen; bit he was fear’t ti pit them in. He fancied ‘imsel’ forgettin’ aboot them, an’ gaunt i bed wi’ them in, an’ them fai’in doon an’ chokin’ ‘im i’ the nicht.
Printer: I knew a man whose teeth used to fall down when he spoke and he was fond of making speeches. And I knew another old man who used to take out his teeth before he started to eat. So that neither of them could have had much use of their teeth. They would have just been ornamental in their case.
Sculptor: Fin Jock Williamson brocht his hame fae Aiberdeen he bung’t them intil a drawer; an’ I suppose they’re there yet.
The Readiness is all.
The Printer was passing along the top of a high bank to his midday meal when he noticed a jolly acquaintance down in the road below.
‘I’ll tak the high road, an ye’ll tak the low road,’ he chanted.
‘Ay, but I’ll be at the Station afore ye!’ came the quick answer.
‘I want you to post the Pelican to…’ and here the lady gave an address in Derbyshire. The Printer took down the name and pocketed the four shillings with a smile. This was the fourth order he had booked that week, and in two of the cases it had been a reader paying for the magazine to go to someone else. This he regarded as a sincere form of compliment.
‘I was a great believer in the Sunday Judge at one time,’ continued the lady; ‘but I got tired of its protectionism, its change of star artistes, and its want of any policy except the policy of purveying novelties and catering all the time for the average man.’
‘Why don’t you include the average woman?’ asked the man behind the desk.
The Lady: ‘Oh there’s nobody to cater for her in decent journalism. I suppose her custom isn’t worth having. Anyhow, why should she be specially catered for? The truth is the truth: the facts are either material or they aren’t. Why should the form of presentment be different? If a paper is a good man’s paper it should be a good woman’s paper.
Printer: You don’t want ‘chiffon’ and fashion news, then?
Lady: No, nor domestic hints, nor a love story about a dark, bearded man of fifty who is in love with a girl of twenty-five.
(She was on the sensible side of forty herself, and a personable, buxom woman, with a suggestion of temper about her quick, dark eyes that would probably be belied on experience. She was still a bacheloress, a busy and capable teacher in a south-country school, and with her plump figure, good looks, and good taste, she had probably been a little difficult to please; perhaps too busy and interested to think much about men.)
Printer: Are you not a suffragist, then, in these days when even a Tory Government accepts Votes for Women?
Lady: Oh, don’t talk about it. I should only be too pleased if I thought women were fit to have the franchise – if I even thought they were likely ever to take a decent interest or share in politics. But – well, I have been a reader of the Pelican for a long time now: and if I had been in any doubt about women suffrage, your articles would have confirmed me on the anti side. By the way, you haven’t been writing anything about it of late.
Printer: No, what’s the use of setting up a flag of negation? They’re to have the last of the franchises, right enough; and here we can but Wait and see. I don’t suppose they’ll really do much harm.
She: But you pointed out that already they do harm. You told us long ago about the reactionary way in which they vote in municipal elections.
He: Yes, but that’s only in the few places where any harm can be done. In most towns there’s so little to choose between one municipal candidate and another. In municipal politics there are no party divisions in Scotland at all, nor need there be: for Liberal and Tory are both non-progressive in municipal politics. In English towns there is no difference either – except where the Socialists come in with their ‘live’ programme, and then there’s something to fight about. In Bradford, Leicester, Manchester, Leeds, Huddersfield there are two sets – Individualists on the one side, who want no more Collectivism; Socialists on the other who believe we are at the beginning, not the end, of the Socialising process. In Yorkshire we used to have elections fought on such questions as Municipal Coal, Milk, Infirmaries, Housing – in short, the gradual extension of the sphere of Colleive control till private enterprise got edged out of the field.
Lady: How interesting and good! And the women voted against things like that?
Printer: Well, they did – in the result. But the pitiful thing is that they did not so much vote consciously against these things, but only against the men who represented them. As a matter of fact, they liked the ideas – cheap coal, pure and cheap milk, good houses and plenty of them, let at fair rents: properly equipped infirmaries maintained out of the rates, with the abominable street and door-to-door cadging abolished once for all, and no shipping of the services – how could they be opposed to all these?
Lady: what was the matter with the men then?
Printer: Well, I heard one woman say: ‘Wot’s good o’ votin’ for t’Labour men – they’ve no money.’ And another said to the canvassers, ‘No, I’m votin’ for Mr Taylor. He came here in his motor-car, and was very nice. So was Mrs. She were wearin’ a lovely set o’ firs – fifty pound if they were a penny. They were both very nice, and I’m sure they’d be good to the poor.’
Lady: Disgusting isn’t it? I remember now. And you told us about some woman who held up her boots to the candidate, and…’
Printer: She said ‘Th’other man says he’ll give me a pair o’ boots: what are tha prepared to do?’
Lady: And what did the canvasser say?
Printer: It was the candidate himself – a man of means who gave his time almost entirely to the poor children. He was secretary to the Cinderella Society, which sent poor children for a spell into the country, which found them clothes and shoes, and gave them occasional treats during the winter – at Christmas for instance. He said; ‘I’m not buying the seat. If you elect me I shall serve you, and you will owe me no more than I shall owe you.’
Lady: Exactly. And Mr Taylor was preferred.
Printer: No, Mr Taylor was in another ward. But it was the boot briber who was returned in this case. In both cases it would be owners of slum property; both sweaters almost to a certainty; and beyond all doubt they would vote against any attempt on the part of the community to extend its control over its own means of life.
Lady: Both Tories?
Printer: One a Tory, the other a Liberal. But nothing to choose between them when it came to real politics. Their idea was just keeping the ring. In that municipality they had actually gone back a generation. In the early eighties they had adopted the Housing Act and had erected a village of houses which belonged to the corporation and were managed by a clerk at the Town Hall. I have met him coming away from collecting the rents on a Monday morning, and he turned up his book showing all the rents regularly paid – weekly, as is the custom with the working-class homes in England. These well built cottages were let to a good class of tenants, and there were always applicants waiting for the first vacancy. The property was kept in excellent repair by the corporation, and in equally good order by the tenants. I have gone over some of these houses, and tenants said they were actually better houses now than they were at first – that improvements had been made.
Lady: Did they pay? There is always a cry that housing schemed don’t pay. Glasgow, for instance –
Printer: Oh the Glasgow housing scheme was saddled with a debt of three million spent on clearing out rotten slums which the actual housing scheme had nothing to do with. The Birmingham schemes all pay. The significant thing about this Huddersfield scheme I speak of is that the corporation kept the rents low and lost some £50 a year over it. But of course they were gradually wiping off the original cost of the scheme, and the time would come when the sinking-fund charge would all be paid off, and the houses would be free both of interest and sinking-fund charges. Anyhow, another sixpence a week on the low rents would have extinguished the loan; but the corporation wanted to be able to say that there was a loan as an excuse for not rapidly developing other housing schemes.
Lady (smiling) Surely not.
Printer: Well, you shall judge. You are to understand, first of all, that Huddersfield is the most Socialist town in Britain. At every Parliamentary election there are three candidates – Liberal, Socialist, Tory. The Liberal always wins; but the Socialist usually polls a small third of the votes, and is in second place; though at last election a strong local Tory climbed for once into the second place. Well, the manufacturers know what Socialism is. They know that the game is up with them if this way of it is allowed to succeed. And so they actually go out of their way to keep Socialism back. The town had Parliamentary powers to wire and fit electric lighting appliances; but they actually divested themselves of this power – abrogated the clause in the Omnibus bill which gave them this power – because it was found that the plumbers objected to corporation servants doing what they claimed was their work. The corporation supplied the current, and carried it into your premises; but then the plumber had to be called in to take up the tale and fit you with wires, switches, and globes.
Lady: And the councillors abolished this power they had. Seems extraordinary.
Printer: You’ll see more of that as the struggle between Socialism and Capitalism develops. From the point of view of the master class – plumbers, farmers, manufacturers – electricity is generated, cattle are fed, and cloth is woven, not that our streets and homes may be lit, the hungry fed, and the naked clothes, but primarily that they may make profits out of their business. Anything that shows how the community can get along very much better without them than with them is a thing to be downed as soon as possible. I could give you incontestable proofs of that from the municipality I speak of, where the class ware is seen in its naked outlines.
Lady: And that is in Yorkshire! I always thought of Yorkshire as being slow-going and canny.
Printer: Well you are wrong so far. Don’t forget that Yorkshire returns a good many Labour members of Parliament. Scotland has only three all told – Barnes, Wilkie, and Adamson. But Yorkshire returns as many from Leeds, Bradford and Attercliffe. And there are others. But that’s the whistle of your Macduff train. ‘Bon voyage!’
Its Causes and Some Results.
The words Renaissance, Rinascimento, Renascence mean more than any plain English word will connote. The Renaissance was not only a revival of learning, and a religious reformation, and a revival of the arts, but it also stood for a complete rebirth of the human spirit, a complete change of attitude towards all the problems of life and time, and especially towards the problem of the government of the universe.
The revival has been attributed to five main events - the invention of printing in 1444, the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, with the diffusion over Europe of the Oriental learning, the discovery of America by Columbus and Vespucci in 1492, the Protestant Reformation (1517), and the publication of the Copernican theory in 1543. Copernicus had written his book 36 years previously, but had kept it back from fear of the Church. A dignity of the Church, Cardinal Schomberg, had urged him to publish the book, but when it appeared it had the same stormy reception which was accorded to Galileo’s discoveries later in the day. The Inquisition condemned the book as heretical, and in a decree prohibiting it, the compilers of the ‘Index Expurgatorius’ denounced the views of Copernicus as ‘that false Pythagorean doctrine utterly contrary to the Holy Scriptures.’
The view which had obtained up to that time was the Ptolemaic theory that the earth was fixed in space. If the earth were in motion, as the Pythagorean system claimed, Ptolemy argued that it would leave the air and other light bodies behind it. He therefore not only gave the earth a fixed position, but placed it in the centre of a system, the Sun, Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Saturn revolving round our planet, with the fixed stars lying beyond the orbit of Saturn. Copernicus established the fact that the earth was a mere point in the heavens, that it revolved, that the sun, moon, and heavenly bodies exercised the force of gravity. Copernicus anticipated some of the discoveries of Newton and other later astronomers, and although his theories were not all equally accurate, his book fully deserved its name ‘De Revolutionibus.’ It displaced the earth as the great centre of the cosmic scheme, to which all the other luminaries existed only as servants or subordinates, to give light by day or by night. The revolutionary speculations of Copernicus were supplemented ere long by those of Galileo, Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), and Kepler (1571-163o); and the invention of the telescope by Hans Lippershey in 1608 enabled the later star-gazers to verify Copernicus where he was right and to correct him where he was in error.
The Fall of Constantinople.
But it was the fall of Constantinople, the great capital of Christendom, that broke the restrictive power of the Church of Rome, and rendered inevitable the diffusion of Arabian learning. Previous to the date of the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 the Church had dominated the world, and all civilization had to filter through her, or, as often happened, had to be crushed and kept back. The Roman Church had patriarchs (bishops) in Alexandria, Rome, and Jerusalem, as well as Constantinople; but these cities had fallen one after the other before the all-conquering hordes of the Khalifs. The hosts which overthrew the Roman power by the conquest, finally, of Constantinople were very largely a rabble. Gibbon’s chapter dealing with the siege of Constantinople showed that the chief cause of the downfall of that ancient city was the devotion born of absolute conviction on the part of the Mahometans that they had the true faith and the message that would alone redeem the world.
The fall of the great Christian cities went far to destroy the prestige and power of the Church in civil affairs. The Church had pretended to be able to work miracles, to hold the powers of life and death, of heaven and hell; and when the common people saw that she could not even save herself from the rabble armies of fanatical Mahometans their faith in her pretensions to possess larger powers received a death-blow.
The clergy of the Church of Rome, sufficiently corrupt before the downfall of the Western Empire, became even more cynically faithless after that event. Pope Leo the Tenth, the pontiff of the period, himself said: ‘What profit has not the fable of Christ brought us!’
Mahomet had learned his theology from the Nestorian Christians, whose teachings were Pantheistic and entirely free from the idolatry that characterised Christianity at the time.
Mahomet’s teaching was unitarian, and the Mahometans utterly condemned the idea that God shared his power with Jesus or the Virgin Mary. They fulminated against the worship of saints and images, and a conquering Khalif rode his horse into the sea after passing triumphantly across Northern Africa, and solemnly declared to God that but for the ocean he would have carried the faith in the unity of God into whatever lands there might be to the westward. This was centuries before the voyages of Columbus and Vespucci and Vasco di Gama and Magellan had proved the rotundity of the earth and the existence of a western hemisphere.
The New Learning.
What was this new learning which the fall of Constantinople and the waning authority of the Church of Rome liberated over Christendom?
Originally the Saracenic followers of Mahomet had been contentedly, even determinedly ignorant. It was an early head of the Saracenic Empire, the Khalif Omar, who, when asked what was to be done with the remainder of the great library of Alexandria, said: ‘If the books agree with the Koran, the word of God, they are useless and need not be preserved; if they disagree with it they are pernicious. Let them be destroyed.’ And the furnaces of the baths at Alexandria were, it is said, kept going for six months with the wisdom of the ancients.
But there came a time when all this zealotry against enlightenment gave place to its opposite. Within a hundred years of the death of Mahomet translations of the classical philosophers into Arabic began to be made. Even the ‘Odyssey’ and the ‘Iliad,’ despite their pagan allusions, were rendered in Syriac for the benefit of the learned. From 753, when Almansor transferred the seat of the Khalifate to Bagdad, the Saracens devoted immense and increasing attention to literature and science. And this taste for knowledge persisted long after the division of the Saracenic Empire into three parts. In Asia, in Egypt, in Spain the Khalifs so cultivated the finer pursuits of life that when Catholicism once again secured the ascendancy in Spain Cardinal Ximenes could deliver to the flames in the squares of Granada no fewer than eighty thousand Arabic manuscripts, many of them translations of Greek and Roman authors. At Tripoli the Crusaders burned a library fancifully stated to have contained three million volumes.
The Saracens boasted that they had produced more poets than all other nations combined. Probably none of the poets of antiquity has had so great a popular vogue as the wonderfully modern Omar Khayyam, who had many fellows in all parts of the widespread Mahometan empire, which extended from the Great Wall of China to the Atlantic Ocean, from the Caspian Sea to the Indian Ocean.
Science they cultivated after the manner of the Alexandrian Greeks - by observation of Nature and practical experiment, not by barren speculation. Using the mathematical sciences, they wrote on trigonometry, hydrostatics, optics, mechanics. They founded chemistry and devised many of the appliances still used in distillation, filtration, sublimation, and fusion. They invented algebra. They adopted the Indian numerals. They compiled tables of specific gravities and of astronomical observations. Quadratic equations were invented by Mohammed Ben Musa; cubic equations by Omar Ben Ibrahim. Sines were devised to take the place of chords in trigonometry. They named the stars and measured their distances. They fixed the length of the year and verified the precession of the equinoxes. The recorded astronomical observations of Ibn Junis, astronomer of the Egyptian Khalif, Hakem, A.D. 1000, were found by the modern Laplace to be of great scientific value, bearing as they did on eclipses, conjunctions of planets, and occultations of stars. They invented the clock pendulum as one of their many novelties in clockwork, and they devoted themselves to the construction and improvement of astronomical instruments. Applying chemistry to medicine, they were the first to publish pharmacopœias. In optics they corrected the Greek theory that the ray proceeds from the eye and touches the object seen, substituting the hypothesis that the ray passes from the object to the eye.
The Fatimite library at Cairo contained one hundred thousand volumes, elegantly written, illuminated, and bound. Among these were 6500 books on astronomy and medicine alone, and the books in this library were lent to outside readers. In this library were two geographical globes, one of massive silver constructed at a cost of 3000 golden crowns; the other of brass, said to have been made for Ptolemy himself. The 600,000 volumes in the library of the Spanish khalifs represented only one of the many large Moorish collections in Spain. Andalusia is reported to have had seventy public libraries; and private libraries were often so large that a doctor refused to enter the service of the Sultan of Bokhara because the carriage of his books would have required four hundred camels.
Every khalif had his historian. There were histories, not only of illustrious men and of notable events, but even of great horses and camels. ‘The Thousand and One Nights’ was only one of the many works of imagination which the followers of Mahomet produced. Statistics, law, geography, medicine were all the subject of treatises. An ‘Encyclopædic Dictionary of All the Sciences,’ by Mohammed Abu Abdallah, existed centuries before such a work was dreamt of in Christian Europe. Colleges were dotted all over the Saracenic Empire. The mosque had its school when the church had none. The first medical college in the world was that established by the Saracens at Salerno in Italy; the first astronomical observatory was that founded by them at Seville in Spain.
The great Khalif Al-Mamun had declared that ‘they are the elect of God, his best and most useful servants, whose lives are devoted to the improvement of their rational faculties,’ and that ‘the teachers of wisdom are the true luminaries and legislators of this world, which, without their aid, would again sink into ignorance and barbarism.’
This spirit profoundly affected the arts of life. Under the Saracens agriculture showed improvements in irrigation, the employment of manures, the breeding of cattle and horses, the introduction of the culture of rice, of sugar, and of coffee. In manufactures they extended the production of silk, cotton, and woollens; they were expert in the treatment of leather, as the words cordovan and morocco still attest. The Toledo blade is only one example of their skill in mining, forging, and metallurgy generally.
The lighter side of life also bears enduring marks of their genius. They invented the game of chess; they excelled in music; they were fond of the improvising genius of the story-teller, the poet, and the minstrel.
The civilization which the Spaniards overturned was in some respects a civilization of more than twentieth century elegance. Their streets were well paved and lighted. Their houses were frescoed, carpeted, warmed in winter by furnaces, and cooled in summer with perfumed air brought in pipes underground from flower beds.
At a time when all the rest of Europe was both gluttonous and drunken, the Moors were abstemious as regards food, while wine was forbidden by their religion and avoided as a matter of instinct. But baths were everywhere, and when the overthrow of the Moorish power came, the Catholics who venerated matted hair, long beards, and dirty nails, revelled in the destruction of the appliances of cleanliness.
The overthrow of Mahometanism in Spain was the triumph of a lower civilization over a higher.
Mahometan Speculation in Religion.
As regards the government of the universe, the Mahometans were fatalists in a degree, but only because they believed that the course of natural law was never broken. While the Catholic believed in miracles, in constant interpositions of Providence, and was continually asking the Saints or the Madonna for favours, Islam believed the will of God to be unchangeable. When he prayed it was to give thanks for past favours. To whatever might come he was resigned. He had no conception of any outside interference with the sequence of events. Cause naturally produced effect, and the effect was in turn a cause of something else. The wounded and the sick could indeed be tended, since there was a law of recovery as well as of death. But there was no idea of interfering with the natural sequence of events by the invocation of miracle or the suspension of natural law. What must be must be, and though the event could not be prejudged, God knew what was best, and nought was done without His will.
In the rest of Europe the worship of relics, holy wells, and the pictures and images of saints was among the daily observances of life. Even schoolmen discussed how many angels could dance on the point of a needle, and the tendency of air or water to rush in to fill a depression was explained on the theory that Nature abhorred a vacuum. The humanities of ancient Greece and Rome were unknown to the people. Artists painted gospel subjects and gospel figures. Rooms were decorated with ‘the story of St. Margaret, Virgin, and four Evangelists,’ or ‘a Mary with her child,’ or ‘the figures of the guards of the bed of Solomon,’ or ‘the history of Dives and Lazarus.’ These are extracts from specifications of mural paintings as ordered to be executed by artists of the thirteenth century. Dante could deal with no subjects more momentous than Paradise, Purgatory, and the Inferno. The absorption in scriptural subjects was natural with a people whose only literary teaching consisted of the expositions of Biblical topics which they heard from the pulpit. To-day we decorate our rooms with pictures of natural sights or scenes, a stag drinking from a lake, with a background of blue mountain, brown heath, green grass, or russet trees; portraits of relatives, kings, or generals; perhaps a few pieces of statuary which, even if they be only plaster casts, show the swift grace of a pursuing Diana, a bold pose of a defiant Ajax, the pathetic beauty of a Venus of Milo, the muscular repose of a resting Hermes, the debonnair aplomb of a Venus Genetrix. If our natures take colour from the objects by which we are surrounded these are better company than the guards of the bed of Solomon or the swarthy and bearded fishermen evangelists, though these also have their place in art.
Ruskin is delighted with the rejoicings of the people in the Santa Maria Novella of Florence over the acquisition of a new picture to their church, and points out that these were so often renewed that the district became known as the Joyful Quarter. The dark side of the picture is that these same people even to this day have a horror of the Evil Eye, and break into frenzied violence against the sanitary officials who seek to stamp out epidemic disease.
Even the rude drama of pre-Renaissance days was concerned with scriptural subjects, because these were the only literary themes which found a place in the minds of the people.
The Return to Nature.
With the Renaissance came a return to Nature in all the arts. The consequences of this return have not all of them been good, nor was the blight of a Manichean theology lifted all at once. But the leaven was and still is working. It tended to make the world a more cheerful and desirable place to live in. It tended to make man think of himself less as an intruder in the world than as a wonderful creature with a miraculous brain and ten fingers who could plan and execute great works in the world and enjoy much legitimate happiness.
In the year 1000, when the Arabs were busy with their science and their applied arts, all Christendom lay under a cloud because the Crack of Doom, the end of the world, was expected. The fields lay uncultivated, the sick untended, the dead unburied.
The sense of human unworthiness which gave rise to these superstitions did not make men more virtuous. Drunkenness, fierce street-fights, brutality to wives and children, sanguinary massacres at the end of battle or siege were the rule. The sense of being hopeless sinners seemed to reconcile men to being what it was said they must be. They were under a wrath and curse no matter what they did. And they behaved exactly as might have been expected.
The Renaissance was at least the beginnings of a movement, painfully slow in its filtration downwards, whose tendency was to persuade man to think well of himself and to see to it that he was worthy of his own self-respect. Needless to say, the Renaissance is not yet complete.
Italy was the first theatre of the great change. It produced painters such as Raphael, Titian, Correggio; sculptors such as Donatello and Michael Angelo; poets such as Ariosto and Petrarch; philosophers like Machiavelli, Bruno, Telesio, and Campanella, whose ‘City of the Sun’ still finds a place alongside More’s ‘Utopia’ as a picture of an ideal commonwealth.
The Italian gentleman of the time was a man of taste and literary knowledge, a very much finer man than the rude soldiers and chieftains of Northern Europe. But the authority of the Church having been discredited, the Italians seemed to think they could get along without any moral code whatsoever, and some of the nobility and gentry actually did so.
The Renaissance produced better men in Germany. In Art Germany had its Albert Durer and its Holbein (who later came to England). It had its witty Erasmus, its humorous Ulrich von Hutten, its learned Paracelsus, Melanchthon, and Reuchlin. But the Germans of the Renaissance were more concerned about domineering over the priests and nobles who had domineered over them before the change came than they were about personal moral or æsthetic perfection. Luther, with his pugnacity, was the most typical German of the Renaissance.
The lack of printed books at first gave a great vogue to oral teaching. The family of the Aldines during three generations were the great printers of the Renaissance. Printing probably had more to do with the great revival than any other agency whatsoever. These early printers were writers and translators as well as printers, and they opened up the humanistic literature of antiquity, especially that of the Greeks.
The Renaissance, take it as a whole, was a movement towards Reality in life. Its literature dealt with man, not with the supernatural, the necromantic. Its painters no longer painted imps and angels, but men and women and landscapes. Its doctors did not try to cure with exorcisms, or adder’s blood, or incantations pronounced when the moon was at the full.
The spirit of the Renaissance is very well expressed in the words of Denis, the French soldier in the great novel of the Renaissance: ‘En avant! Courage, tout le monde; le diable est mort’ (Let us advance! Courage, all the world; the Devil is dead). The Renaissance, such as it was in the fifteenth century, marked the beginning of the world-movement whose outcome it is to make more and more plain that man is master of his own fate if he will but be humble and willing to learn; that there are no supernatural interferences with the orderly course of cosmic law, nothing to prevent mankind in the mass from believing that they have control of their own destiny.
The Abolition of Glasgow
Will the Glasgow Socialist M.P’s hold the field? They probably will; for the Labour vote is the steadiest of all. The law of the pendulum does not apply to it. The Socialist vote all over the world does not diminish, but steadily increases. It is to be hoped that the Clydeside phalanx will remain intact; for its members are more likely to adapt themselves readily to the changed prospect of trade and the world position of industry than any other class of man who could be elected. They have no vested interests in the continuance of commercialism. They are mentally and economically free men in the sense that members of the shareholding class are not.
The beginning of trouble.
But already difficulties have arisen, as reflected in the following resolution which the Glasgow Trades Council has adopted: -
The Conference, recognising the attempts to revive foreign trade as a method of providing employment are doomed to failure, inasmuch as Great Britain can never again be ‘the workshop of the world,’ hereby declares that the only policy which will materially help to solve the unemployment problem today is that of the national organisation of industry, particularly in the field of agricultural production, so that we may not continue to be dependent on foreign sources for our food supplies, which the restriction of our foreign trade now seriously endangers.
These resolutions represent the beginning of trouble which had to come, within the party. What they mean is that something like a school of physiocrats and aschool of mercantilists threatens to develop, or has already developed, within the Socialist party, repeating a division of the Individualist thought which first came into noticeable being in the time of Adam Smith and French Turgot.
Mercantilists vs Physiocrats.
Frankly, one stands with the spirit of the resolution which Glasgow opposed and defeated. The physiocratic view is that real wealth consists of land and its products. It is a producers’ philosophy. The mercantilist view is that any kind of traffic from which money can be made represents wealth-production. Paper money, scrip, banks, advertising agencies, battleships, unnecessary shops and offices, would all figure as wealth in the mercantilist view, which regards not the intrinsic value of any service or thing, but its marketable value. Mercantilism is the antithesis of Socialism. There will always be shops and offices; but any Socialism worthy of the name would abolish Glasgow as it exists at present. Ninety-nine of every hundred of its shops and offices would be absolutely unnecessary in a real Co-operative Commonwealth. Not one fourth of the men of Glasgow are engaged in work for which a Co-operative Commonwealth would have any use.
Will the shop assistants, boilermakers, rivetters, and clerks support a party which sees in the development of ‘agricultural production,’ with the subsidiary callings of the rural community, the great hope of the future? Judging by the Glasgow Trades Council’s resolution, they will not readily do so.
Does Back to the Land mean a Lower Standard of Life?
The prompt answer of the urban dweller to all proposals for agricultural development is that ‘back to the land’ means the acceptance of a lower standard of life. To adopt this view may be natural to the person who merely looks around upon existing British and American conditions; but the facts are against him on a wider survey, even today. The Danish co-operators and the French market gardeners, with their high earnings and retirement at 55 to 60 years of age, are proofs to the contrary; and the pictures of medieval English prosperity left us by Sir John Fortesque, the Rev Hugh Latimer, and the farm accounts quoted by Professor Thorold Rogers, show that the people who lived upon the land in the fourteenth to the sixteenth century enjoyed a relatively high standard of comfort even in that age of undeveloped mechanical power. A labourer’s wage was ‘twice or three times his cost of maintenance,’ says Thorold Rogers.
Anyhow, the objectors are not likely to be asked whether they are prepared to accept that lower standard or not. Britain will not continue to be the workshop of the world merely because the urban dweller wishes it to be so.
The number of the unemployed in the Clyde Valley is put at 100,000. And there is no present prospect of improvement along capitalistic lines. Freights are scarcer than ever. Cotton is dull and likely to continue so. Chemicals and the metallurgical trades reflect the general stagnation. Even coal in Glasgow does not seem to share in the slight boom caused by the Ruhr trouble, and the number of vessels reported as sailing ‘light’ or arriving ‘to be laid up’ is depressing in its immediate significance.
One half of the mercantile marine of America is laid up. Glasgow ships crowd the Gare Loch; and it is said that enough shipping is anchored in Indian waters to take home the whole Anglo-Indian population should a serious rising take place in that restless and teaming dependency.
The dour and reactionary men of the Ulster coast have just had British credit pledged to the extent of millions in guarantee of a shipbuilding venture there; but a Tory Government is not likely to do much in this way for the shipyard hands who vote Labour, even if there were a demand for shipping.
Revitalising the Home Market
The Labour Party may take the ground that the due improvement o the home market would revive overseas trade and the demand for shipping. They may argue that with the National Debt enormously reduced by a thorough-going Capital Levy, the money which now goes in interest charges to the relatively small class of the well-to-do would be diffused among the wage-earners and would transform adversity into prosperity. They may point out that the reduction in the earnings of the working class by £700,000,000 a year is quite sufficient to account for bad trade, irrespective altogether of the loss of foreign markets, since the higher wage was paid while the foreign markets, since the higher wage was paid while the foreign markets were still closed.
There is much to be said for the view that a revived home market would mean more for trade prosperity than the recovery of all the foreign markets. But the question is: How is the vicious circle to be broken, that keeps the home market stagnant? Granted that a substantial reduction of imperial taxation would greatly lower prices and set money free for enhanced working class buying, how long with the process have to be deferred? How can wages be forced up with a million and a quarter of unemployed on the ‘register’ to break strikes and keep labour quiet? A Labour majority at the next General Election would ensure the Capital Levy; but what would ensure a Labour majority?
Protection from Whom?
Toryism never had the majority it has at present; and the reason lies in a matter in which the Labour party has not given very particular attention. Toryism got the votes of the Sleepy Hollows, it is said, because Tory candidates promised Protection for agriculture.
That something needs to be done for agriculture there is no manner of question. But what? The deputation of farmers and their workpeople which waited on Mr Bonar Law during the Norfolk strike heard, without protect and without alternative suggestion, his despairing plea that, in spite of election promises, a Parliamentary majority for Protectionism was not to be had, and that a subsidy was out of the question.
Protection against what or whom? It might have been asked. The produce with which British agriculture has to compete at present is mainly American, Canadian, and Australian produce. The standard of comfort for the producers of food is too low in all parts of the world; but it is not lower, but rather higher, in the competing countries than it is at home. British agriculture might well need protection from German, Russian or Austrian produce; but these countries are not exporting food; they need all they can raise for themselves.
One Great Handicap.
One great handicap to British agriculture is railway rates. These favour the foreigner as much as they punish the home producer. The nationalisation of the railways, with a uniform rate for home and foreign produce, would automatically exclude a large amount of foreign grain and meat, which has to travel thousands of miles by sea and hundreds of miles by land, both in the country where it is raised and on our own home railways. Long ago so shrewd a business man as the late Sir John Brunner pointed out that the greatest thing the Government could do for British trade would be to nationalise the railways and equalise the rates for home and foreign traffic. One sees no hint of this in Labour’s practical policy as apart from the general declaration in favour of all-round nationalisation. The present writer has publicly and privately tried to ‘rush’ Mr Ramsay MacDonald in the matter of railway nationalisation; but even during the paralysing strike of 1911 Mr MacDonald answered an urgent plea by saying ‘This is not the time to nationalise.’
The Oldest and Largest Industry
To set agriculture, the oldest and still the largest industry in Britain, on its feet, would not only be an eminently desirable change in itself, but would be the best of all preparations for setting the British Commonwealth in order generally. To this end the re-establishment of the Wages Boards, with a fixed minimum wage for the worker, fair controlled prices for produce, and insistence by the Government on efficient farming, beyond even war-time standards, would be, not merely palliatives of Individualism, but instalments of Collectivism.
But can Glasgow and its unemployed wait for the working out of anything so slow? Ought they to wait? Thousands of able-bodied young men and men in the prime of life are being ruined by enforced idleness, short commons, and the physically enervating and mentally and morally soul-deadening effects of living in a community which has no use for them. The dole is being paid for no return, except that it just keeps alive the men who draw it.
A Timber Famine
Meanwhile there is no end of work to be done in developing the waste places of our own land. The Forestry Commission has just issued a report in which it predicts a timber famine at no distant date. The Forestry Act passed in 1919 is by no means a dead letter. There are in the north eastern division of Scotland some forty unemployment schemes of forestry in operation, one quarter of which are under public authorities. But there is still admitted crying need for additions to the areas being dealt with.
The British Desert.
One great blot upon the economy of the British Isle is that a vast country like Sutherlandshire should be lying mostly derelict. Its 1200 square miles carry a diminishing population of about 10 to the square mile, or some 21,000 for the whole breadth of Scotland from sea to sea. There are fertile valleys in the neighbourhood of the rivers; but the soil is mostly poor and thin, and the region is swept by cold winds and mists from the North Sea and the Atlantic.
It is just the county for a large experiment in State afforestation. The fact that the natural conditions are so poor marks it out for public enterprise. Trees will grow where nothing else wil, and the more there are the more there will be. The planting of a great belt of woodland along the northern and western coast would do much to keep off the cold winds and mists and raise the whole temperature of the north of Scotland.
The railway service penetrates only a small portion of the area; but there are many good roads, and the motor waggon has now made the railway of less necessity.
Instead of paying unemployment benefit and giving subsidies or guarantees to Ulster shipbuilding and African cotton-growing, surely it would be more reasonable to spend money on reclaiming the north of Scotland from desert.
The population of Glasgow has always been largely recruited from the Highlands, and to the Highland as many should be returned, under favourable conditions, as would go. The land is mostly the property of the Duke of Sutherland, who has already had State grants for improvements. He could be bought out on the hire-purchase system – the rental of 17 years being treated as purchase-money, and the valuation to take no account of sporting values.
Settled down in well-organised colonies, housed at first in army huts till the unemployed masons could build houses, the colonists could carry on the work of tree-planting and preparing the ground under State forestry officers. What of agriculture and horticulture could be combined with forestry work might go on under skilled guidance; and the men and their womenfolk might carry their own amusements and arts of life into a district which badly needs invasions of the kind. Much of civilization was introduced to Scotland by the 10,000 soldiers of General Monk’s garrison, who introduced vegetables such as had not before been seen in the north, and generally set an example of industry to the flaunting idle, ‘braves’ of the district.
Such a scheme need cost the Government no more than is being paid at present without return while the physical and moral benefits to the transplanted citizens from Clydeside must needs be incalculable.
The county supported of many more people than it does now. Hugh Millar says that in one decade 15,000 persons were driven off the land; and the story of the clearances represents an indelible tale of shame to those responsible for it as carried out.
The scheme for transplanting suggested would not, by itself, mean the depopulation of Glasgow; but as part of a general return to the natural way of living it may well be as salutary as it is likely to be found necessary. It would be the beginning of a reversal of present tendencies. The coastwise population of the highlands is being shipped abroad in hundreds at a trip; but this is because of the loss of the Continental herring markets. Agriculture and afforestation have not been seriously tried there in the light of the newer knowledge or under the spur of newer necessities.
Climate and soil can both be made, and results justify the labour and expenditure. Trees and enclosures raise the temperature as a contingent advantage, and of course trees represent genuine wealth in themselves. We are all physiocrats to the extent of accepting that. But as regards the mercantilist theory that trade for export can go on for ever, that is obviously illogical. As Johnson put it long ago –
‘Depend up on it, this rage of trade will destroy itself. You and I shall not see it; but the time will come when there will be an end of it. Trade is like gaming. If a whole company are gamesters play must cease; for there is nothing to be won. When all nations are traders there is nothing to be gained by trade, and it will stop first where it is brought first to the greatest perfection.’
This does not mean that the end of Glasgow has come, and that within measurable distance it will become a deserted heap of ruins like the derelict cities of antiquity. But it does mean that Glasgow has to all appearance reached the point when further growth is neither probably nor desirable, and that a move in another direction is fully due.
Can Britain Feed Herself?
That the land of Britain is capable of supporting its present population from its own soil, and enjoying an improved standard of life in doing so, is hardly worth proving. The facts are notorious to all serious students. The textile manufacturing State of Saxony supports over 600 persons to the square mile with home-grown food. So does Belgium, and exports manufactured goods and foodstuffs as well. The British farmer considers seven tons of potatoes to the acre a good crop, though favoured districts, such as the Howe of the Mearns, raise the figure to 14. But the German farmer produces over 116 tons to the hectare (just under three acres) which is nearer 40 tons to the acre. For one thing, German sewage is not wasted. Berlin’s river, the Spree, is kept unpolluted by the city’s sewage , which is pumped up from self-contained sewers and is used on 18 sewage farms.
Back to the land is no untried experiment, no leap in the dark. France has no unemployed, and is even importing British workmen, because the people use their land, and, while they produce goods for export, do not depend on foreign markets.
The city is – all cities are – the abode of death. The life of the great centres is kept going by new men from the country. The business men, the professional men, are of fresh stock. Old firms and old families either disappear or they are kept alive by the infusion of country stock or by their members combining country life with urban.
None need dread or shun a return to the life of smaller or more scattered communities. Rather it is a consummation to be striven for. Humanity wilts and dies out in purely urban surroundings in the course of a very few generations. William Morris, much as he loved London, when he came to write his utopia ‘News from Nowhere,’ thinned out the city to extinction. In this he probably only adopted the most feasible alternative to Macaulay’s picture of a New Zealander who ‘shall in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St Pauls.’ The ancient States persisted in clinging to the wrong way of life till it had to be ruin complete and entire. Let us hope that neither Glasgow nor London, nor Britain as a whole will refuse to adapt herself in time, to changing conditions of living and of getting a living.
A time to look backwards and forwards. It’s been a privilege to act as editor for three years bringing The Gateway to life once more.
Sometimes it feels depressing to look at Leatham’s writing and realise that he had many answers to problems we still encounter – and realise that if people had listened to his reasoning then, we may not have had these problems still. If people failed to listen to him then, how much more do they need to listen to him now, when hindsight shows us where we have taken wrong forks in the path, and Leatham is able to suggest where we might have taken a more positive approach. And a positive approach is something I try to hold on to, because without it there is no possibility of change for the better.
The work of Leatham, and past/present responses to it certainly provide a salutary lesson in the way our society works and how it has developed. Utopian idealism has always been with us – but real, robust choices have also been both possible and revealed. Reading Leatham’s work has highlighted to me both the futility of going against the grain, and the very vital importance of continuing to speak truth to power without fear or favour.
It is not our personal responsibility that things have ‘turned out’ the way they have. But the realities we live in now have been explored, explained and many times presaged by Leatham’s writing. Perhaps it is too late to ‘go back’ to correct errors of the past, but surely an understanding of the path we’ve taken (or been forced to take) might help us to engage with building a better future. Or is this just another cycle of ‘utopian idealism’? Cynicism, defeatism and the drive for individualism are all victims (sometimes willingly) of the economic system we live under.
I am left with no final conclusion other than that I wish more people had taken the notion of Co-operative Commonwealth seriously in days gone by, and that more people looking for a ‘better’ or ‘alternative’ system, would educate themselves in it now. There are alternatives.
When I began my editorship I was, perhaps naively, bemused by why his work had been so ignored, so thoroughly air-brushed from our social and cultural history. Now I have grown to know Leatham more through his writing, I am confident I know the answer. He was dangerous. He is still dangerous. His ideas are complex, challenging and comprehensive. He represents over sixty years of a man’s views – a man who saw the world as it was – and knew how he would like it to be.
I am convinced he will remain in the shadows because he shines light into some very dark places – places those in power are determined will stay dark to us all. And because of all this I am proud to have been responsible in some small way to bearing witness to a truth that was not afraid to speak its name. A truth that is once more available to readers - to those brave enough to engage with it and those who want to reach out beyond the cage (gilded or otherwise) in which we find ourselves today.
In this, the last online Gateway we look both ways, with our full focus on the work of Leatham. His seven Part: Glasgow in the Limelight concludes (and will soon be available as a complete work) and we offer a chapter of the thought provoking and entertaining ‘serial’ Twixt Desk and Shelves, which ran in Gateway for twenty five years from 1916 to 1941. Written in 1917 it offers some unusual views on women’s suffrage. His argument, though perhaps unpopular, has some resonance. Far from being a misogynist, I read it as suggesting that women (people in general) should be educated before they are simply given a vote. With the power comes the responsibility after all. The argument for an educated electorate is rather compelling when you consider some of the results of our exercise of democratic votes in the past few years!
One day, I hope to edit a complete edition of Twixt Desk and Shelves, as they show an interesting ‘alternative’ social history of Turriff and its people. Also this month is Leatham’s pamphlet about the Renaissance – affording us the opportunity to reflect back on a ‘rebirth’ and consider its consequences in a post-Renaissance world. Finally, it seemed fitting to include news of the recent visit to Aberdeen and Turriff by descendents of Leatham himself. It proved, if it was needed, that there is a vibrant link between past, present and future, and I am happy to have played my part in the process.
This is the final online edition, but it is not the end either of Gateway or Deveron Press. In the future we will be putting more work online as and when we can. We will build an online Index of all articles in Gateway to aid further exploration. We will continue to work to ‘voice’ authors who have something important to say and whose stories might otherwise remain hidden. We will publish in digital and print form where possible to keep spreading the word and advocating for the writing of Leatham and others who have been forced into shadows and neglected for too long. We will keep shining light into the dark places of our country, our culture and our world. Please do keep enjoying the archive of material online as it remains freely available.
Rab Christie, Editor.
'Gey weet' as I sit here. An' yesterday was 'het'. The weather is about as predictable as anything else these days.
But one thing that is certain, is that my stint here on New Gateway is coming to an end.
This is the penultimate editorial before I conclude my stint of 30, in small tribute to Leatham's 30 Volumes of the original. There was never any way I could compete. But in the two and a half years I've been doing this, I've learned a lot and gained even more respect for Leathams energy, enthusiasm and commitment.
Criticism is easy, when it is 'that's no verra guid' variety. But few who criticise put their own talents or effort on the line.
All too frequently I hear complaints about authors - it used to simply be dismissed as 'vanity' publishing, but digital technology has opened the genie's box and it's now easier than ever for 'voices' to be heard. Which is, of course, a double edged sword.
So let's think a bit about standards. It would be lovely if everyone was well educated enough to be able to write perfect prose without typos or errors. It would also be lovely if people were a bit more kind to each other's creative endeavours. Those who criticise most do tend to be those with the 'best' education. 'Best' in the sense that they have been through schools that dinned in the rules (moral, social and grammar) but they mostly have one other thing in common - an inability to accept, or even thole (and certainly not celebrate) diversity.
I am not either endorsing a 'rush to the bottom' or a 'dumbing down' of anything. But I am suggesting that there are worse things in the world than typos or split infinitives. We have learned (or some of us have) that 'emotional' intelligence is also a 'thing.' It's something sadly lacking in many of the privileged (often who do not even see themselves as that - like us all, they consider themselves 'normal.) who rant and rave about 'bad' writing.
I'll nail my colours to the mast and say that in my opinion it's the ideas behind the words, the concepts, that make writing/and reading a value to the individual and society. We should, of course, strive to be a) the best we can be and b) the clearest we can in communication - but we should also recognise that different people have different limits, experiences and, yes, let's admit it, education. If a typo spoils your day, or your reading, you perhaps need to go and reappraise why you read.
I've read many incredible stories (and articles) by people who can't work out where an apostrophe goes. Mostly it doesn't matter. Sometimes it does. But if they are transporting me to another world, be that fact or fiction, I'm just grateful they've put in the time to share.
So let's all take J.M.Barrie's dictum on board - 'shall we make a new rule of life: always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary' - in respect of what we read (and write)
Perhaps you'd like to cogitate on that while you read this month's articles. Errors there will be. Time pressures there always are. Money there is none. But as Barrie also said 'the fault, Dear Brutus, lies not with the stars but within ourselves.'
Open your mind fully and you will find much less to 'criticise' in life and much more to revel in.
HOW MY MOTHER GOT HER SOFT FACE
On the day I was born we bought six hair-bottomed chairs, and in our little house it was an event, the first great victory in a woman’s long campaign; how they had been laboured for, the pound-note and the thirty threepenny-bits they cost, what anxiety there was about the purchase, the show they made in possession of the west room, my father’s unnatural coolness when he brought them in (but his face was white) — I so often heard the tale afterwards, and shared as boy and man in so many similar triumphs, that the coming of the chairs seems to be something I remember, as if I had jumped out of bed on that first day, and run ben to see how they looked. I am sure my mother’s feet were ettling to be ben long before they could be trusted, and that the moment after she was left alone with me she was discovered barefooted in the west room, doctoring a scar (which she had been the first to detect) on one of the chairs, or sitting on them regally, or withdrawing and re-opening the door suddenly to take the six by surprise. And then, I think, a shawl was flung over her (it is strange to me to think it was not I who ran after her with the shawl), and she was escorted sternly back to bed and reminded that she had promised not to budge, to which her reply was probably that she had been gone but an instant, and the implication that therefore she had not been gone at all. Thus was one little bit of her revealed to me at once: I wonder if I took note of it. Neighbours came in to see the boy and the chairs. I wonder if she deceived me when she affected to think that there were others like us, or whether I saw through her from the first, she was so easily seen through. When she seemed to agree with them that it would be impossible to give me a college education, was I so easily taken in, or did I know already what ambitions burned behind that dear face? when they spoke of the chairs as the goal quickly reached, was I such a newcomer that her timid lips must say ‘They are but a beginning’ before I heard the words? And when we were left together, did I laugh at the great things that were in her mind, or had she to whisper them to me first, and then did I put my arm round her and tell her that I would help? Thus it was for such a long time: it is strange to me to feel that it was not so from the beginning.
It is all guess-work for six years, and she whom I see in them is the woman who came suddenly into view when they were at an end. Her timid lips I have said, but they were not timid then, and when I knew her the timid lips had come. The soft face — they say the face was not so soft then. The shawl that was flung over her — we had not begun to hunt her with a shawl, nor to make our bodies a screen between her and the draughts, nor to creep into her room a score of times in the night to stand looking at her as she slept. We did not see her becoming little then, nor sharply turn our heads when she said wonderingly how small her arms had grown. In her happiest moments — and never was a happier woman — her mouth did not of a sudden begin to twitch, and tears to lie on the mute blue eyes in which I have read all I know and would ever care to write. For when you looked into my mother’s eyes you knew, as if He had told you, why God sent her into the world — it was to open the minds of all who looked to beautiful thoughts. And that is the beginning and end of literature. Those eyes that I cannot see until I was six years old have guided me through life, and I pray God they may remain my only earthly judge to the last. They were never more my guide than when I helped to put her to earth, not whimpering because my mother had been taken away after seventy-six glorious years of life, but exulting in her even at the grave.
She had a son who was far away at school. I remember very little about him, only that he was a merry-faced boy who ran like a squirrel up a tree and shook the cherries into my lap. When he was thirteen and I was half his age the terrible news came, and I have been told the face of my mother was awful in its calmness as she set off to get between Death and her boy. We trooped with her down the brae to the wooden station, and I think I was envying her the journey in the mysterious wagons; I know we played around her, proud of our right to be there, but I do not recall it, I only speak from hearsay. Her ticket was taken, she had bidden us good-bye with that fighting face which I cannot see, and then my father came out of the telegraph-office and said huskily, ‘He’s gone!’ Then we turned very quietly and went home again up the little brae. But I speak from hearsay no longer; I knew my mother for ever now.
That is how she got her soft face and her pathetic ways and her large charity, and why other mothers ran to her when they had lost a child. ‘Dinna greet, poor Janet,’ she would say to them; and they would answer, ‘Ah, Margaret, but you’re greeting yoursel.’ Margaret Ogilvy had been her maiden name, and after the Scotch custom she was still Margaret Ogilvy to her old friends. Margaret Ogilvy I loved to name her. Often when I was a boy, ‘Margaret Ogilvy, are you there?’ I would call up the stair.
She was always delicate from that hour, and for many months she was very ill. I have heard that the first thing she expressed a wish to see was the christening robe, and she looked long at it and then turned her face to the wall. That was what made me as a boy think of it always as the robe in which he was christened, but I knew later that we had all been christened in it, from the oldest of the family to the youngest, between whom stood twenty years. Hundreds of other children were christened in it also, such robes being then a rare possession, and the lending of ours among my mother’s glories. It was carried carefully from house to house, as if it were itself a child; my mother made much of it, smoothed it out, petted it, smiled to it before putting it into the arms of those to whom it was being lent; she was in our pew to see it borne magnificently (something inside it now) down the aisle to the pulpit-side, when a stir of expectancy went through the church and we kicked each other’s feet beneath the book-board but were reverent in the face; and however the child might behave, laughing brazenly or skirling to its mother’s shame, and whatever the father as he held it up might do, look doited probably and bow at the wrong time, the christening robe of long experience helped them through. And when it was brought back to her she took it in her arms as softly as if it might be asleep, and unconsciously pressed it to her breast: there was never anything in the house that spoke to her quite so eloquently as that little white robe; it was the one of her children that always remained a baby. And she had not made it herself, which was the most wonderful thing about it to me, for she seemed to have made all other things. All the clothes in the house were of her making, and you don’t know her in the least if you think they were out of the fashion; she turned them and made them new again, she beat them and made them new again, and then she coaxed them into being new again just for the last time, she let them out and took them in and put on new braid, and added a piece up the back, and thus they passed from one member of the family to another until they reached the youngest, and even when we were done with them they reappeared as something else. In the fashion! I must come back to this. Never was a woman with such an eye for it. She had no fashion-plates; she did not need them. The minister’s wife (a cloak), the banker’s daughters (the new sleeve) — they had but to pass our window once, and the scalp, so to speak, was in my mother’s hands. Observe her rushing, scissors in hand, thread in mouth, to the drawers where her daughters’ Sabbath clothes were kept. Or go to church next Sunday, and watch a certain family filing in, the boy lifting his legs high to show off his new boots, but all the others demure, especially the timid, unobservant-looking little woman in the rear of them. If you were the minister’s wife that day or the banker’s daughters you would have got a shock. But she bought the christening robe, and when I used to ask why, she would beam and look conscious, and say she wanted to be extravagant once. And she told me, still smiling, that the more a woman was given to stitching and making things for herself, the greater was her passionate desire now and again to rush to the shops and ‘be foolish.’ The christening robe with its pathetic frills is over half a century old now, and has begun to droop a little, like a daisy whose time is past; but it is as fondly kept together as ever: I saw it in use again only the other day.
My mother lay in bed with the christening robe beside her, and I peeped in many times at the door and then went to the stair and sat on it and sobbed. I know not if it was that first day, or many days afterwards, that there came to me, my sister, the daughter my mother loved the best; yes, more I am sure even than she loved me, whose great glory she has been since I was six years old. This sister, who was then passing out of her ‘teens, came to me with a very anxious face and wringing her hands, and she told me to go ben to my mother and say to her that she still had another boy. I went ben excitedly, but the room was dark, and when I heard the door shut and no sound come from the bed I was afraid, and I stood still. I suppose I was breathing hard, or perhaps I was crying, for after a time I heard a listless voice that had never been listless before say, ‘Is that you?’ I think the tone hurt me, for I made no answer, and then the voice said more anxiously ‘Is that you?’ again. I thought it was the dead boy she was speaking to, and I said in a little lonely voice, ‘No, it’s no him, it’s just me.’ Then I heard a cry, and my mother turned in bed, and though it was dark I knew that she was holding out her arms.
After that I sat a great deal in her bed trying to make her forget him, which was my crafty way of playing physician, and if I saw any one out of doors do something that made the others laugh I immediately hastened to that dark room and did it before her. I suppose I was an odd little figure; I have been told that my anxiety to brighten her gave my face a strained look and put a tremor into the joke (I would stand on my head in the bed, my feet against the wall, and then cry excitedly, ‘Are you laughing, mother?’) — and perhaps what made her laugh was something I was unconscious of, but she did laugh suddenly now and then, whereupon I screamed exultantly to that dear sister, who was ever in waiting, to come and see the sight, but by the time she came the soft face was wet again. Thus I was deprived of some of my glory, and I remember once only making her laugh before witnesses. I kept a record of her laughs on a piece of paper, a stroke for each, and it was my custom to show this proudly to the doctor every morning. There were five strokes the first time I slipped it into his hand, and when their meaning was explained to him he laughed so boisterously, that I cried, ‘I wish that was one of hers!’ Then he was sympathetic, and asked me if my mother had seen the paper yet, and when I shook my head he said that if I showed it to her now and told her that these were her five laughs he thought I might win another. I had less confidence, but he was the mysterious man whom you ran for in the dead of night (you flung sand at his window to waken him, and if it was only toothache he extracted the tooth through the open window, but when it was something sterner he was with you in the dark square at once, like a man who slept in his topcoat), so I did as he bade me, and not only did she laugh then but again when I put the laugh down, so that though it was really one laugh with a tear in the middle I counted it as two.
It was doubtless that same sister who told me not to sulk when my mother lay thinking of him, but to try instead to get her to talk about him. I did not see how this could make her the merry mother she used to be, but I was told that if I could not do it nobody could, and this made me eager to begin. At first, they say, I was often jealous, stopping her fond memories with the cry, ‘Do you mind nothing about me?’ but that did not last; its place was taken by an intense desire (again, I think, my sister must have breathed it into life) to become so like him that even my mother should not see the difference, and many and artful were the questions I put to that end. Then I practised in secret, but after a whole week had passed I was still rather like myself. He had such a cheery way of whistling, she had told me, it had always brightened her at her work to hear him whistling, and when he whistled he stood with his legs apart, and his hands in the pockets of his knickerbockers. I decided to trust to this, so one day after I had learned his whistle (every boy of enterprise invents a whistle of his own) from boys who had been his comrades, I secretly put on a suit of his clothes, dark grey they were, with little spots, and they fitted me many years afterwards, and thus disguised I slipped, unknown to the others, into my mother’s room. Quaking, I doubt not, yet so pleased, I stood still until she saw me, and then — how it must have hurt her! ‘Listen!’ I cried in a glow of triumph, and I stretched my legs wide apart and plunged my hands into the pockets of my knickerbockers, and began to whistle.
She lived twenty-nine years after his death, such active years until toward the end, that you never knew where she was unless you took hold of her, and though she was frail henceforth and ever growing frailer, her housekeeping again became famous, so that brides called as a matter of course to watch her ca’ming and sanding and stitching: there are old people still, one or two, to tell with wonder in their eyes how she could bake twenty-four bannocks in the hour, and not a chip in one of them. And how many she gave away, how much she gave away of all she had, and what pretty ways she had of giving it! Her face beamed and rippled with mirth as before, and her laugh that I had tried so hard to force came running home again. I have heard no such laugh as hers save from merry children; the laughter of most of us ages, and wears out with the body, but hers remained gleeful to the last, as if it were born afresh every morning. There was always something of the child in her, and her laugh was its voice, as eloquent of the past to me as was the christening robe to her. But I had not made her forget the bit of her that was dead; in those nine-and-twenty years he was not removed one day farther from her. Many a time she fell asleep speaking to him, and even while she slept her lips moved and she smiled as if he had come back to her, and when she woke he might vanish so suddenly that she started up bewildered and looked about her, and then said slowly, ‘My David’s dead!’ or perhaps he remained long enough to whisper why he must leave her now, and then she lay silent with filmy eyes. When I became a man and he was still a boy of thirteen, I wrote a little paper called ‘Dead this Twenty Years,’ which was about a similar tragedy in another woman’s life, and it is the only thing I have written that she never spoke about, not even to that daughter she loved the best. No one ever spoke of it to her, or asked her if she had read it: one does not ask a mother if she knows that there is a little coffin in the house. She read many times the book in which it is printed, but when she came to that chapter she would put her hands to her heart or even over her ears.
Who is John Galt?
Like all good mysteries, you need to do a bit of detective work for this article to really work. Prepare to click back and forth, go to other places and back again – do some research, some thinking and address the question seriously. You have been warned. You have nothing to lose but your ignorance.
For many a generation this question has been asked in connection with the mammoth work of the American Right Wing ‘Atlas Shrugged’ by Ayn Rand. We might consider her the mother of neo-liberalism. But if you really want to find out who John Galt (the Scottish writer, the one, the original) then you don’t need to wade through that novel. You could do worse than read some of his own works: The (list names) and even Ringan Gilhaizie are ‘entry points’ But his ‘realist’ style from days long past can be hard to digest for some these days, so if you like to be informed before you dive in, you might like to read about him (and the debate surrounding him) here first.
Gateway Volume 1 number 6 re-published the article ‘John Galt, first of the Kailyarders’ and with Galt’s birthday being celebrated in May I thought to revisit it as well as that old hackneyed, overworn and completely outmoded concept in Scots cultural and literary history ‘Kailyard.’ If you remember I’ve gaun ma dinger on this subject a fair few times before- we haven’t given it a ‘category’ in the magazine, not wanting to give it that level of privilege… but scroll yourself back through my 2016 articles and you’ll find more than you ever wanted to.
Folk do tend to get themselves into a fankle when they discuss the K word. I’m still waiting to come across an argument from the academic elite which explains the thing in straightforward terms. It’s become the mother of all weasel words if you want my opinion. (Which presumably you do or you’ll have stopped reading by now!) A particular confusion was recently exposed by Cally Phillips of the Galloway Raiders in an article which, you can access HERE – I urge you to do so and then come back to my thoughts.
Done your required reading? Got some context? Well, prepare to embark again… because since Cally’s article was posted, the ‘esteemed’ James Robertson delivered a speech to the James Galt Society and you can read it HERE. He gives Crockett something more of a mention than the International Companion Cally critiqued – he accepts at least that Crockett was ‘an author’ but he doesn’t seem clear what either Crockett is about, or what Crockett is actually saying in his own introduction.
Blinded, I fear, by the myth of the Kailyard, Robertson toes party line (or what he thinks is established Scots literary ‘truth’). I just watch them all go round in circles as they try to justify their opinion of Crockett’s lack of worth based on an argument which itself doesn’t make sense. Crying that Crockett is ‘confusing’ is like trying to take a mote out of another’s eye before removing the plank in one’s own. Come on guys, let’s use the same criteria all round. If Galt is realist and Crockett is like Galt then Crockett is realist. But Galt is realist in a ‘rural’ way and that’s good yet Crockett is ‘realist’ in a ‘rural’ way and that’s bad? How so? And if both mix rural realism with romance (which then shows all the signs of a Scots Romance tradition transmuted from poetry to prose) isn’t it fair enough to suggest that this IS something of significance in the history of Scots literature and applies to all who use these methods – and that it ISN’T correct to dismiss this as kailyard. Never mind Who is John Galt? For me the question today in Scots literature is ‘Who is kailyard?’ And we need the question addressed with rigour and sense. The days of simply slinging the mud and closing eyes to Scots rural realism as we hang on to the discredited cult of MacDiarmid is fast approaching.
They are coming out of the shadows. Barrie and Crockett and others no doubt will follow. The gauntlet is being thrown down. If you are lazy enough still to bandy the word Kailyard in the context of the writing of the late 19th century Scottish writers – be careful – a quiet, rural revolution is afoot. People are waking up to the fact that ‘the dark ages’ of Scottish literature weren’t actually that dark after all.
Clearly, if evil preponderated in the world, men and institutions would go from bad to worse. But it is undeniable that on the whole they go from bad to good, from good to better. The lease of life is longer to-day than ever it was, which means that the average standard of health is higher than ever it was. There is less disease, and consequently less suffering from that cause. Plagues no longer decimate whole continents. Surgery is both more skilful and more humane. Before the days of anaesthetics patients were doped with spirits; the wounded man-of-war sailor, when going under the surgeon’s knife, was given a piece of leather to chew after he had been liberally dosed with rum. The hours of labour are shorter. Children are treated with more kindness at home and in school, nor are they allowed to go so early to work. The Elizabethan father tyrannised over wife and children. Servants were physically chastised. The penal code was barbarous and exacting. Homes were dark and noisome. Travel was restricted. Food was neither so good nor so varied. The salted meat eaten during the winter months, with the drinking of ‘hot and rebellious liquors,’ bred impurity of the blood and affections of the skin. The pains of life were greater and more numerous, the pleasures vastly fewer. The development of laughter and a sense of humour shows that we take our pleasures less sadly than the folk of Froissart’s day. Man’s inhumanity to man is lessened by sweeter manners, purer laws, and if the increase of education and good taste has made us more sensitive to the minor pains of life, we go on eliminating these as well as the grosser and more palpable evils.
Pessimism as a modern philosophy came too late in the day. To the extent that Schopenhauer’s teaching is not the outcome of personal hoggishness it is due to his study of Indian literature - the literature of a non-progressive Oriental people who in his day found little pleasure in life because they initiated no changes, made no movement towards making their lives more interesting.
Why a finely tempered mind like Thomson’s turned to pessimism has been so far accounted for. He was commercially a failure. He makes one of the dim characters in ‘The City’ say:-
And yet I asked no splendid dower, no spoil
Of sway or fame or rank or even wealth;
But homely love, with common food and health
And nightly sleep to balance toil.
It is not unlikely that that passage expresses poor Thomson’s own feeling. In spite of his philosophy as to the hopelessness of human effort to lighten human misery, he himself was comparatively energetic. Although he was not forty-eight at the time of his death, and much of his time had been spent in teaching and in clerical and secretarial work, his collected poems occupy over 800 pages in the fine two-volume edition published by Bertram Dobell. Exclusive of his work for ‘Cope’s Tobacco Plant’ (much of it merely intelligent compilation), he has left several volumes of essays and fantasies. So that for one who professed a belief in the futility of human effort, he was himself inconsistently industrious. His life was better than his philosophy.
Thomson, to all appearance, had a large infusion of Celtic blood, as he clearly had of temperament. The Celt is not unhappy merely because he nurses a melancholy humour. He loves losing causes and leads forlorn hopes because he is moved by the beautiful and the good as he conceives them rather than by that which is prosaically safe and certain. The more risk the more excitement and interest. He is driven by feeling rather than reasoning. A certain cause ought to succeed. He will support it because it is right, will go out to fight and to fall with a greater degree of pleasure than the Saxon will feel in backing a comparatively sure thing, for the Saxon does not love risk for its own sake, and is never over sure. The middle course, the compromise that settles nothing, but averts strife - that is repugnant to the true Celt. When he sings it is of beauty and bravery and death, and the music is as plaintive as the words. But that does not mean that he is unhappy.
Much of all pessimistic talk and writing arises from healthy weariness of the uneventfulness of life. The person who is always in one place, and living a humdrum or tiresomely hustling life at that, tends to become stale, and in the mood of stalemate everything is seen with a jaundiced eye. ‘What’s the good of anything?’ asks the Cockney song, and supplies its own answer ‘Why, nothing.’ No deeper feeling than a tired whimsy can have been behind the following outcry in ‘Vane’s Story’:-
For I am infinitely tired
With this old sphere we once admired,
With this old earth we loved too well;
Disgusted more than words can tell,
And would not mind a change of Hell.
The same old solid hills and leas,
The same old stupid, patient trees,
The same old ocean, blue and green,
The same sky, cloudy or serene;
The old two-dozen hours to run
Between the settings of the sun,
The old three hundred sixty-five
Dull days to every year alive;
Old stingy measure, weight and rule,
No margin left to play the fool;
The same old way of getting born
Into it naked and forlorn,
The same old way of creeping out
Through death’s low door for lean and stout;
Same men with the old hungry needs,
Old toil, old care, old worthless treasures,
Old gnawing sorrows, swindling pleasures;
The cards are shuffled to and fro,
The hands may vary somewhat so,
The dirty pack’s the same we know,
Played with long thousand years ago;
Played with and lost with still by Man –
Fate marked them ere the game began;
I think the only thing that’s strange
Is our illusion as to change.
That Thomson could be quietly jolly is amusingly shown in the following poem entitled ‘Aquatics (Kew),’ written in 1865, well within the period of his settled habit of mind:-
Tommy Tucker came up to Kew,
And he got in a boat - an outrigger too;
O, but the pity, the pity!
For Tommy had made up his mind to show
His pals and the gals how well he could row.
Would he were safe in the city!
The thing like a cradle it rocked in the tide,
And he like the blessed babby inside:
O, but the pity, the pity!
To hire out such shells, so light and so slim,
Is cruel as murder, for Tommy can’t swim.
Would he were safe in the city!
And why should they stick out the rowlocks that way?
He couldn’t keep both hands together in play:
O, but the pity, the pity!
He spluttered, missed water, and zig-zag’d the boat,
Each pull made a lurch, brought his heart in his throat.
Would he were safe in the city!
The river was crowded behind and before,
They chaffed, and they laughed, and they splashed, and they swore:
O, but the pity, the pity!
He twisted his neck to attend to some shout,
A four-oared came rushing - CONFOUND YOU, LOOK OUT!
Would he were safe in the city!
They made him so nervous, those terrible men,
That he could enough crabs for a supper of ten:
O, but the pity, the pity!
He crept back, a steamer came snorting astern,
With hundreds on deck - it gave him a turn:
Would he were safe in the city!
A mass of strange faces that all stared and laughed,
And the more Tommy flustered the more they all chaffed:
O, but the pity, the pity!
They passed him and roared out: ‘HEAD ON TO THE SWELL!’
But he thought he would rather keep out of it well:
Would he were safe in the city!
So it caught him broadside, and rolled him away,
As a big dog rolls over a puppy in play:
O, but the pity, the pity!
It rolled him right over – ‘Good HEAVENS! HE’LL DROWN!’
For his arms they went up, and his head it went down.
Would he were safe in the city!
Three men dragged him out with a hook through his coat.
He was blue in the face and he writhed at the throat:
O, but the pity, the pity!
They hung his head down, he was limp as a clout,
But the water once in him refused to turn out:
Would he were safe in the city!
To the house by the bridge then they carried him in;
He was taken upstairs and stripped to the skin:
O, but the pity, the pity!
They wrapt him in blankets, he gave a low moan,
Then lay there as stark and cold as a stone:
Would he were safe in the city!
Then they forced down his throat neat brandy galore,
He had taken the pledge, too, a fortnight before:
O, but the pity, the pity!
As it mixed with the water he woke in a fog,
For his belly was full of most excellent grog:
Would he were safe in the city!
He got very sick, then felt better, he said,
Though faintish, and nervous, and queer in his head:
O, but the pity, the pity!
He paid a big bill, and when it got dark
Went off with no wish to continue the lark:
Would he were safe in the city!
His coat was stitched up, but had shrunk away half,
And the legs of his trousers just reached to the calf:
O, but the pity, the pity!
No hat; they had stuck an old cap on his head;
And his watch couldn’t tell him the time when he said:
Thank God I am safe in the city!
The quotations given show our poet as pessimist or as light humourist. But he had periods of equable serenity as well. In ‘Sunday up the River’ he appears to us as the great-hearted happy lover, who can give himself to the delights of a day with the Adorable She without any background of misgiving. He lives wholly in the present.
I looked out into the morning,
I looked out into the west:
The soft blue eye of the quiet sky
Still drooped in dreamy rest.
The trees were still like cloud there,
The clouds like mountains dim;
The broad mist lay, a silver bay
Whose tide was at the brim.
I looked out into the morning,
I looked out into the east:
The flood of light upon the night
Had silently increased;
The sky was pale with fervour,
The distant trees were grey,
The hill lines drawn like waves of dawn
Dissolving in the day.
I looked out into the morning;
Looked east, looked west, with glee:
O richest day of happy May,
My love will spend with me!
This happy poem is full of felicitous changes of rhythm and form, but all is joyous. In the full tide of his happiness he says as the lovers float in their boat:-
Give a man a horse he ran ride.
Give a man a boat he can sail,
And his rank and wealth, his strength and health
On sea nor shore shall fail.
Give a man pipe he ran smoke,
Give a man a book he can read;
And his home is bright with a calm delight,
Though the room be poor indeed.
Give a man a girl he can love,
As I, O my Love, love thee;
And his heart is great with the pulse of fate,
At home, on land, on sea.
This beautiful poem is full of reaches of lyric joyousness like that, and leaves the reader with the feeling that in reasonably propitious circumstances the poet could have been steadily and quietly happy without necessarily losing the passionate energy which was the mainspring of his genius.
An Uninspiring Time.
The fifties and sixties or even the seventies of the last century were not a specially brilliant time. None of the great hopes now cherished by large masses of the people had any place in the national life of Thomson’s day. Politics took little stock of social legislation at all. The franchise had been granted to the urban householders by the Act of ’67; but it was done grudgingly, and the newly enfranchised had no very definite ends in view when they found themselves introduced to political power. Those versed in the political secrets of the time tell us of the difficulty Gladstone had, even in the middle eighties, in understanding what Mr. Chamberlain with his unauthorised programme could really be driving at. Leaping and bounding commercial prosperity, as measured in Budgets, with interludes of ‘a spirited foreign policy,’ represented the politics of the day. The social outlook of Thomson’s time was so arid that even a poet of the abounding virility and comfortable circumstances of William Morris felt bound to describe himself as ‘the idle singer of an empty day’ and to repudiate all idea of tilting at the social monsters of the time. Had Thomson lived another twenty years he might, like Morris, have found a purpose and a hope in life in spite of his temperamental bias. As it was, he had destroyed most of the illusions that made life worth living long before that sad day in June, 1882, when he died in the University Hospital, London, from internal hæmorrhage.
He regarded his life as ‘one long defeat.’ His career raises the sorely vexed question, once again, of what is to be done, what CAN be done, with the typical poet. There is no certain answer. As the world grows older and the constituency increases of those who know great poetry when they see it, perhaps it will be possible for a poet to get at least as good a living as a professional footballer, it not as the direct result of the purchase of his poems, then by a pension from the State. Even then, it is extremely doubtful if a poet so unconventional as James Thomson would be accepted as a fit object for a pension. Poor ‘B. V.,’ he perhaps more than any of his brethren fulfils Carlyle’s figure of the poet as a man set on fire and sent down the river of life a blazing spectacle for the benefit of the on-lookers on the banks.
Can it do any good to call attention to such work? Is the Book of Job or of Jeremiah or of Lamentations deserving of notice? As one of the really great poets of the nineteenth century Thomson commands notice from those who would see literature (and life) truly and see it whole. That he should have been mostly ignored by literary criticism up to now is not difficult to account for. His story is inexpressibly sad, as are his themes. But when allowance is made for the distastefulness of dwelling upon the tragedy of his life, it is still remarkable that those who have cared to write of Chatterton and Savage and Villon, of Poe and Burns and Byron and Keats and Shelley - all of them men of tragic lives, and Villon at least with a squalid career - should have fought shy of a great poet of our own day who committed no crime against anyone save himself. Perhaps it is because those others were overtaken by tragedy, while Thomson seemed to go out to meet it half way, and certainly in the end embraced it and made it his theme. Is it only another of Thomson’s pieces of ill luck that he should be denied even the posthumous fame to which his genius so richly entitles him? We must look upon all phases of thought be it only to reject them for clear reason. The life of James Thomson is one more proof of how sadly true it is
Can the Teacher Make Readers?
There can be no intelligent citizenship without good reading and plenty of it; and the lack of intelligent citizenship costs the world vastly more than the cattle, vine, and beer diseases cured by Pasteur, The mistaken South African War cost Britain 250 millions, and the Boers were handed back their virtual independence after all, just as Mr. Churchill’s attempts to suppress Bolshevism have cost the taxpayer 150 millions, besides the loss of Russian trade. Intelligent citizenship would have prevented these flamboyant adventures on the part both of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain and Mr. Winston Churchill.
What can the teacher do to stimulate a love for good reading? He can at least show his own love for it and he can show the fruits of it. I have grateful, affectionate recollection of how my own old schoolmaster communicated his enthusiasm to us. When the summer holidays came he was off to the Trossachs one year, to the northern Highlands another, to the West Highlands, the battlefields, the ruined abbeys, the castles and peel towers of the Borders, the Islands of Orkney and Shetland, the Scottish and Welsh mountains (he had climbed the higher ones), and the famous falls, about which he had botanised and geologised and had scrambles and wettings. He ‘did’ the old historic towns such as Stirling, St. Andrew’s, and Linlithgow, and the palaces of Scone and Falkland. As a good Scot he knew something of the history, antiquities, geography, industries, literature, the varieties of dialect, and the treasures of Scottish song. He could make a history or geography lesson entrancing by extra detail told with enthusiasm and embellished with anecdotes and narratives of personal adventures. All this he would work off, smiling, his heavy eyebrows twitching, and his eyes sometimes flashing, while he kicked one heel upon the other in his pleasure and excitement, which naturally communicated itself to us and made us pleased and excited too. This, of course, is a matter of personality, and a teacher either has it or he hasn’t. In many cases he would disdain thus to wear his heart on his sleeve, from some absurd idea of dignity, about which the really great are never troubled. As Josh Billings says, ‘Owls are grave, not because of their wisdom, but because of their gravity.’ I can say only that Dr. John Roy communicated his own enthusiasm for the things of the mind to several generations of lads who have done well for the world and in the world.
He taught English literature biographically, making us love Goldsmith the man and then making us admire the gentleness and simple beauty of his style. He made fun of the turgidity of Macaulay, but made us realise the patient care and accuracy with which he collected information. From ‘Caedmon’s Paraphrase’ to ‘Locksley Hall’ our teacher ranged over the field of English Literature, and made us admire and reject for reasons given. There was no Stopford Brooke primer then, nor was Logie Robertson’s book in the field. But I keep my Collier’s ‘History of English Literature’ still, and do not find it far out even in the light of later standards.
In history it was again Collier, errors and all, but supplemented by much disquisition from his own reading. In Scottish history he was strong on the splendid ‘Tales of a Grandfather,’ in which there is colour and flow and animation unknown to the bald and sterile summaries of to-day.
Probably most ardent students of history will find that they owe their taste for the subject quite as much to the glamour of the Waverley novels as to anything they learned in school in the way of professed history. The first Duke of Marlborough said he knew the history of England chiefly from reading Shakespeare’s historical plays.
I do not know exactly how history fares in the schools of to-day. I fancy, rather badly. One was glad to learn that, under the influence of the propaganda of the League of Nations, the old-fashioned conception of history as a series of stirring stories of campaigns and the prowess of heroes was likely to be considerably modified. That is very much to the good; but what has taken its place? Boys want heroes and girls heroines. A book such as Charlotte Yonge’s ‘Book of Golden Deeds’ should make an admirable schoolbook, and, as a corrective to our shopkeeping tendencies, too much cannot be made of the devotion and the vast life-interest of the career of a man such as Bernard Palissy, the self-taught potter, who for a critical and successful experiment fired his oven with the chairs and stools of his poor home, in spite of the protests of his weeping wife.
Individual heroes do not represent history of course; but the driest period of history, as recognised, has its heroes, and the struggle over institutions can be as fascinating as hand-to-hand fighting. The story of the Reform Bills of the nineteenth century abounds in incidents as good as the staple of the ‘bloods’ that boys read. There were in Scotland midnight drillings of pikemen, spies, treachery, arrests, transportations, and hangings, the pathos and romance of failure and suffering, followed in no long time by the success of the Bill of ’32 and the Municipal Corporations Act of ’33, which were not carried even in England without the, burning of Northampton Castle and the partial burning of Derby and of Bristol. In Bristol also Sir Charles Weatherall, the City Recorder, a strenuous opponent of the Reform Bill, had again and again to be rescued from the hands of a mob bent on lynching him. In 1867, before the later Reform Bill became an Act, the railings of Hyde Park were thrown down by sheer pressure from a dense mob, and the Home Secretary appealed with tears to the Reform leaders to help him in preserving order. There were rick-burning and the smashing of machinery by the Luddites ere the Factory Acts and the Repeal of the Corn laws were passed; and in the Chartist movement leaders were imprisoned, one of them, the brilliant orator and poet, Ernest Jones, writing a poem in prison with his own blood.
All these incidents give colour to the story of reform even in the nineteenth century. But, truth to tell, modern history has little of a look-in with the compilers of school histories. Even professors like to end their history with Claverhouse, or at the latest the Forty-Five, and one meets graduates and teachers who have never heard of any of all these stirring and momentous modern occurrences and movements.
Historical Test Questions.
I once in the hearing of a teacher noted over the north as a collector of folk-song mentioned casually ‘the English Revolution.’ ‘What English Revolution?’ he asked, blankly. What could I say but that I meant the Revolution - the Revolution of 1689, which established the right of Parliament to rule the country, gave it control of the army and the navy, limited the power of the monarchy to constitutional and more or less decorative functions, and, in short, did for Britain what the Revolution of 1789 did for France. The English Revolution was rightly considered of so much importance by Charles James Fox and Sir James Mackintosh as to justify them in writing histories of it, and it is the great theme of Macaulay’s four volumes as well as one of his essays. But evidently my headmaster friend had not attached any special significance to it.
The ordinary school histories are both snobbish and inaccurate, and so dessicated by condensation that the facts given can be regarded as no more than so many pegs upon which to hang a dissertation. They need to be supplemented by the more copious narratives of Green, Macaulay, Freeman, and Froude, with amplification on the social and economic side from such books as De Gibbins’ ‘Industrial History’ and Professor Thorold Rogers’ ‘Economic Interpretation of History’ and ‘Six Centuries of Work and Wages.’
A bad tone was given to English history for many years by the High Tory prejudices of David Hume, and as to many episodes he is both skimpy and inaccurate. For one thing, Cromwell, the greatest chief magistrate Britain has ever had, got no kind of fairness till Carlyle published the Life and Letters.
For another, the great English uprising known as the Peasants’ Revolt was long founded on the biassed, scornful, and erroneous account of French Froissart. Froissart represented John Ball, the intellectual leader of the revolt, as a mad priest, and confused Wat Tyler, of Maidstone, the military leader, a soldier of fortune who had served abroad, with John, the Tiler of Dartford, who cut down the poll-groat bailiff with his helving hammer. John Ball was really the greatest of Wickliffe’s Lollard preachers, who, with the newly-translated Bible in hand, went out to preach the Kingdom of Heaven upon Earth, and attacked serfdom specifically. I have written a short history of what was really a splendid movement, the first fruits of reading the Bible in the vulgar tongue; and I am glad to say my amended version of the revolt is now used in a good many English and Irish private schools.
One other historical error of great significance is the statement that the Three Estates of the Realm consist of Sovereign, Lords, and Commons. This tends to destroy the whole idea of Representative Government. The three estates really are (1) the Barons Spiritual, (2) the Barons Temporal, forming together the House of Lords, and (3) the Knights of the Shire and the burgesses of the towns, forming, as the Third Estate, the House of Commons as originally convoked by Simon de Montfort. The word Estate means a status or condition in life. The estates were classes who got their living in a particular way. So that those who deprecate the idea of class feeling and class representation in politics are denying the whole principle of representative government, which was expressly designed to secure direct class representation. The idea was that there might well be an antagonism of interests between the classes, and that the members of one estate could no more represent the other than the buyer can represent the seller, or the master the servant, or the offender be his own judge.
The New Fourth Estate.
There has now risen up a Fourth Estate in the Realm, the workers with brain and hand, and this estate also has found 142 direct representatives in Parliament. The English National Union of Teachers is, I believe, affiliated to this estate, recognising that its members live neither by rents nor by profits gained from the labour of other people, but upon wages earned by service to the community. The difference between wages and salaries is that wages are paid weekly or fortnightly, and salaries monthly or quarterly. This is a distinction rather than a difference. The nature of the status is the same. A workman asked that his wage be called salary, irrespective of the amount, on the ground that salaries were always rising, but wages were always coming down!
Is it possible that a slight weakness in history in the north of Scotland goes some way to explain how or why the northern teachers have not found their class consciousness, and have not given it political expression, but still continue to support the old historic parties, without considering their fundamental significance?
State-controlled education, without price, if not without money, represents not Socialism, but Communism, Socialism meaning everyone according to his deeds, while Communism means everyone according to his needs. The father of ten children has them educated partly at the expense of the man who has none, and this is quite as it ought to be. But it embodies the Communistic principle nevertheless. It seems an anomaly that the northern teachers, unlike other men and women engaged in the public services, do not help the only political party which seeks to confer upon all servants of the community, as well as upon the public, the advantages to be obtained from the elimination of private enterprise, with its appalling waste, inefficiency, and economic injustice.
I am content to leave the matter there, as I am not engaged in political propaganda, but in the discussion of education in general and the teaching of history in particular. The story of the past is worthy of study only as it helps to illuminate the problems of the present.
I should have liked to touch on the teaching of morals and manners in school; should have liked a word, a good many words, on the place of athletics; should have liked to answer the question ‘Does Sport Produce Sportsmen?’ and should have liked to discuss the value of certain subjects, such as Mathematics and Technology. I confess I am jealous of every subject that curtails the time given to literae humaniores. For we need the humanities more than ever. Young people are not ‘finished’ at school. They are only begun. The teacher can but introduce them to the great field of knowledge which they must cultivate for themselves, or not, in after life.
With the world in chaos around us, due to jealous, greedy, domineering ignorance, and an incapacity to profit either by the examples or the warnings of the past, there never was a time when knowledge, breadth of mind, and goodwill were more needed to set the feet of the nations in a more excellent way. It the child is father of the man, how tremendously grave is the responsibility of those who have the moulding of young minds and dispositions in their keeping! Parental control and influence never were more lax than now. The young people of previous generations were chivvied and tortured. To-day one feels that the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, and that they tend rather to be pampered. The one policy is nearly as mistaken as the other. Neither adults nor juveniles can afford to run on a loose rein. Life consists of doing what we would rather not, from getting up early on cold mornings to giving up life itself for an ideal or on a humane impulse.
Living on Our Past.
Nor will it do to live upon our past and the heritage handed down to us. And that is what we are doing to too great extent. The fathers that begat us made roads by forced labour or forced payments. They planted hedges and woods that gave shelter, raised the temperature, improved the amenities, and provided an ultimate supply of timber. ‘Be aye stickin’ in a tree,’ said Dumbiedykes. ‘It’ll be grouin’ while ye’re sleepin’!’ They built stone walls and farmhouses, and they marled and subsoiled and took in the peatbogs and barren places. They won great civic liberties and rights, not without suffering and death itself. We do none of these things. The young men fought to preserve the liberties of Europe, but they make little use of them now that they are won. Surely some part of the responsibility for all this slacking lies at the doors of those who have had the shaping of the present generation.
The Scotland of Burns’s Day.
The day before yesterday was the anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, and one can’t help thinking of the immense difference there is between the Scotland of Burns’s day and the Scotland of to-day. There are the motor cars, the furs and finery of the women, the better housing, all the improved features of the merely material civilization; but what does it profit a nation if it gain the world and lose its soul?
The Scotland of Burns’s day and for two generations to come - say to the time of Dr. John Brown, the brilliant, big-hearted lover of dogs and humans - was a Scotland possessing a veritable galaxy of talent and genius. Contemporary with Burns, or just before him, were Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson, Hume and Robertson, the historians, with Sir Archibald Alison and Patrick Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee. There were Thomas Reid, and Dugald Stewart, and Sir Wm. Hamilton, the great exponents of the ‘Scottish school of philosophy.’ There was, in a niche all by himself, Adam Smith, the father of political economy as a branch of moral philosophy in his allowance. There were Galt and Scott and Miss Ferrier, the novelists; Home, the reverend author of ‘Douglas, a Tragedy’; and of critics and essayists what a company! Jeffrey and Christopher North and Macvey Napier, who were to attract north to Edinburgh, Sydney Smith, De Quincey, and the contributions of Macaulay, those classic essays sent home to the Edinburgh Review from India, during the brilliant ten years of Macaulay’s exile, while he revised the Indian Penal Code.
The Edinburgh Review was the most powerful periodical in the world at the time. But it was not the only Edinburgh one. There were Blackwood, Tait’s Magazine, Fraser’s Magazine, Macmillan’s, The North British Review, and Chambers’s Journal.
Then there were the great dames who made songs and sang them, accompanying themselves on harpsichord, spinnet, or harp, They spoke Scots, as their menfolk did, but they spoke it with grace and comeliness, we are told. They had high spirits and wit, both natural and the kind distilled from books and reading.
A Distinctive Spirit.
The Scotland of those days had a distinctive spirit and genius. But what can be said of the Scotland of to-day? It is a colourless province of the all-too-predominant partner, rich in money and comfort indeed, but at what a cost! Its books and plays and music are mostly English. It has adopted the inferior part of English civilization. The fine English courtesy and manners it has not adopted, nor has it acquired the English gift for music. It is not uncommon to hear sneering remarks about the tinkling of pianos in every house in England; but if there is this universality of taste for music in England, there is yet, mixed up with much that is merely popular and not very good, an undoubted body of real musical taste. It is better to have errand-boys and shopgirls going about singing or whistling operatic airs heard at ‘the pictures,’ and showing the possession of an ear for music, than to have a handful of the select knowing music and playing it with a painful dependence upon the printed score, and making music a mere drawing-room and concert accomplishment, without having it really in their hearts and their heads.
It is the graces that make life worth living. Coal and bread are highly necessary, but no one can wax enthusiastic over a ridge of coal or a mountain of bread, and the villa on the cinder heap does not provoke one to lyric raptures. There is more artistic, disinterested happiness in a wayside cot, with a fiddle in it and a few well-thumbed good books, than in mansions that contain pianos that no one in the house can play, and, for books, chiefly motor-car catalogues and company prospectuses and share-lists. The sections of the newspapers devoted to ‘wills proved’ convey the impression that Scotland is per head a richer country than England nowadays; for the Scots legatees often head the lists with fortunes of five, six, and even seven figures, while English testators taper away down with diminishing sums of four and three figures. Quite enough for anybody to leave. Why should anyone add to the pains of death by having so much to leave for other people to fight about and be demoralised by? Is it because the Englishman prefers to live rich rather than die rich that he leaves so comparatively little?
It rests with us to ask ourselves individually what are we to do about this temporary loss by Scotland of her soul.
Were I a teacher I should like to be able to feel that I had done my duty to the full, both in school and in the world; for the teacher also is a citizen, with the obligation resting upon him in a special degree, in proportion to his intelligence, to help to hand on some addition to the heritage of liberty and right left by those who ‘did their deeds and went away.’
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