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.
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.’
Glasgow in the Limelight
Humour, Quickness, Turbulence
The Municipalism that blesses, the Industrialism that blights.
Glasgow has always occupied its fair share of the limelight. The ebullience of Mr David Kirkwood, with which one has much sympathy as a rule, is in character with the native temperament. The term ‘canny’ as applied to the Scot is a standing proof of the infelicity of national labels. It is always forgotten that the word ‘Scot’ means tempestuous, windy, stormy.
Glasgow had Bread Riots to correspond with the Meal Mobs of Aberdeen and the Porteous Riots of Edinburgh, with the Edinburgh ‘rabbling’ of a Lord Provost, who was found hiding in a cup-board and was roughly handled. As far back as 1725 the Glasgow mob made its power felt in a riot against the Malt Tax. Bands of men, armed with sticks, paraded the streets and threw stones at the town officers. They put the authorities into such a state of alarm that an urgent message was sent to Edinburgh for troops. The Provost connived at this summons; but its chief instigator was the local member of Parliament, Daniel Campbell of Shawfield whose handsome mansion-house was plundered and wrecked, the mob being headed by a man in woman’s attire, a common device with Scots crowds of rioters in those stormy days.
Two companies of soldiers presently entered the town, and martial law was proclaimed; but so little intimidated were the inhabitants by the mounting of guards and the display of force in general that they taunted and stoned the soldiers till they fired upon them volley after volley, killing or wounding many of those who came within range. The alarm bell in the Townhouse was rung, hundreds of citizens flocked from all parts, and, breaking into a magazine, equipped themselves with a medley of weapons and set off to avenge upon the hated English soldiers the deaths of their fellow citizens. Warned by the Provost, however, Captain Bushell and his men beat a hasty retreat for Dumbarton Castle, fifteen miles distant, which they reached through a demonstratively hostile countryside. The Provost was arrested, and more troops were sent; but for the time being the spasm had passed. In the result, the Captain who had lost his head by reason of the taunts and stone-throwing was tried and sentenced, but received the King’s pardon on account of the provocation received; the Provost was liberated; and the obnoxious M.P. who had called in the soldiers received £9000 in compensation for the wreck of his house; but the Malt Tax was allowed to stand unrepealed.
The people of Glasgow mostly had no votes then; but now that they have, they take the more excellent legislative way for the redress of grievances. For that matter, they are still prepared to assert ‘the sacred right of insurrection’ in addition. Scotland is nowhere more Scots, in the sense of being turbulent, than it is in the Second City: ‘scenes’ at Westminster are the natural, spontaneous expression of the national temper, and it never had more legitimate reason for flaming up than it has in these days of governmental ineptitude and frank reaction, with, oddly enough, a Glasgow representative at the head of it all.
But the Glasgow man is, nevertheless, over-engined. Even their fellow-labourists in Parliament urge that the Glasgow members are ‘excitable.’ The folk of St Mungo’s are subject to many more neurotic stimuli than other people. The market never ceases in the congested city. Because of the busy commercial life and the limited area upon which a dense population is piled in houses of flats, street-cleaning is largely done in the night-time, though boys with shovel and handbrush dangerously dodge the endless traffic by day as well. The whistles of night trains lumbering overhead upon the arches, and the sirens of shipping in the river must make a special strain upon the nerves even of the sleepers. To the dweller on Clydeside the peace and rest of silence is forever denied. Men may sleep through racket, but it cannot be deep, relaxed, full-stretched slumber. Tired Tommies slept during a bombardment; but it was noticeably a sleep with many starts and twitches, which must have entailed a certain nervous tension even if the starts and twitches were unconscious.
With the morning ‘horns’ an inferno of noises begins. At six o’clock in the old days, in a walk, say by Haggs Castle, from Plantation, from Scotland Street to Kinning Park, from Polmadie on the east to Govan on the west, one could trace the ululation in all notes of the scale. The hoarse roar, typical of the brutality of much of Glasgow’s industry, is not so racking as the crepitation of boring and crushing machinery; but it has nevertheless a more dismally depressing sound.
If this is a bad beginning, still worse remains behind. Glasgow has processes in her shipyards and foundries that render communication by ordinary speech impossible. It is said that 40 per cent of boilermakers are deaf, and is it any wonder if the Glasgow man’s ordinary conversation out of doors is often an angry shout where there is no cause for anger?
Much time and money are expended over the suppression or abatement of noise in London. Architects labour at floors, walls, ceilings, and windows in order to deaden sound, and outside devices to the same end are represented in the laying down of gravel and tanners bark, and the covering of opposite walls with ivy or other foliage. It is found that the minimising of noise has its direct result in the increased efficiency of the workers who have been relieved, to say nothing of their increased comfort. One would be glad to learn of a similar campaign against noise was afoot in Glasgow; but one’s experience of Glasgow’s indwellers is that they profess to rather like the noise. One has heard Englishmen, long resident in the Second City, not only defend the noise, but discover a healty asset in its smells and an aesthetic lure about Dickson’s Blazes.
The neurotic tensions caused by its noises, its rush of traffic, and the hot industrial and commercial pace, has other regrettable aids. Wullie Paterson lives mostly in two-roomed tenements, with many neighbours, and of course there are no gardens, while his bleachgreen is a pole projecting from the windo. He and his wife do not believe in open windows, nor has he a stomach for wholesome fare. ‘Nane o’ yer parrich and mulk for him,’ says one who knows him well; and he adds; ‘The baking of bannocks and the making of good Scots broth are alike outside the ordinary powers of his wife… she has a settled convitction that new bread is more digestible than stale, and treats ‘him’ and the bairns to boiled tea and ham at every other meal, with shop-made potted head and a slice of shop made plum pudding for the Sunday dinner’ - when there is one. Often I have found that there was no Sunday dinner; that early high tea took its place. The Glasgow writer, whom I am debarred from naming, adds: ‘Small wonder that Wullie Paterson is outwardly spare, grim, and fierce, and that his children grow up small of bone and badly nourished.’
Before the war there were districts of Glasgow – Cowcaddens is given for one – where the householders spent on the publicans from two to three times as much as they gave an the house proprietors in rent. The Scot all over is a heretic on the rent question. I have heard a comparatively well-to-do man in an Aberdeenshire town say: ‘Imagine paying aicht poun’ for a hoose to bide in!’
The correspondent whom I have cited above writes of the Glasgow man’s ‘savagery’ in drink, and especially after a spell of ill-luck with the ‘bookies’; but of this I have no direct knowledge, the workmen with whom I associated being free of the betting virus. A friend who was for a time in low water had to live in a working-class tenement, and his wife assured me that her husband was the only man in the building who did not give his wife an occasional thrashing.
One night I had a shock and very nearly got myself into a scrape. Passing the end of a mean street with some friends, we could hear the screams and moans of a woman who was being dragged along the street by her husband. Women at the end of the street cried out, ‘He’s twistin’ her airm!’ They were some way off, but I started to run after them with the natural impulse of trying to stop cruelty so repellent. But my friends held me, and the men who had come out to the doors on hearing the hullabaloo declared that it served her right; that the man had gone and taken her out of a public house; and that he had ‘stood owre muckles at her hands a’ready.’
I was on a missionary visit, and the shock of this sight, and the feeling conveyed by the bystanders that the incident was comparatively ordinary nerved one’s denunciation of the horrors of civilization as it still existed in ‘cruel Scotland.’
The temper of the Glaswegians is quick, but surely it has its offsets. Wullie Pai’erson is a live wire. I don’t suppose he lasts; but for work it is an undoubted asset while it does. Even the ‘funny stories’ about Glasgow often have a touch of temper about them.
An Englishman found himself in a Glasgow street crowd which had assembled, apparently, over some accident. ‘What has happened?’ he asked.
‘A man fa’n aff a larry,’ he was told. No wiser for the quick explanation he applied to another.
‘It’s a man fa’n aff a larry.’
Still no wiser, he made a third attempt, and got a sharp answer.
‘Man, ye maun be a stupiet fellah. I’ve h’ard ye an twice, an I’ve h’ard ye twice tell’t that it’s a man fa’n aff a larry!’
The explanation, need it be said, was that a man had fallen off a lorry.
A story is told, not very often, which illustrates Glasgow’s great achievement, the deepening of the Clyde. One day a skiff of the shallow draught of the eighteenth century was stuck on a mud-bank in the as yet undeepened river. A girl came down to fill her bucket near the stranded vessel. The angry skipper hailed her: ‘If ye tak’ ae drap o’ water oot o’ this, I’ll hit ye owre the heid wi’ the marlinspike.’ He was afraid his progress might be delayed, and was for taking no risks.
In the early days of steam navigation one of the craft propelled in the new way passed another vessel in the Clyde, perhaps with a pitying smile from the man on the bridge. ‘You an’ yer blasted deevil’s reek!”’ exclaimed the man who was being outpaced. ‘I’m content tae gang wi’ the breath o’ God Almichty.’
Wullie’s phrases are sometimes picturesque enough. It was a Glasgow man who described a tall, lean man as ‘a man like a lang drink o’ watter!’
A man who had a hump on one shoulder was said to have a knot in his gallowses (braces.) A well-known Glasgow magistrate who always refers to his mother as ‘the aul’ yin,’ once described how another relative ‘Gaed lookin’ for an escape o’ gas wi’ a licht, an’ he fund it, an’ he’s been in the infirmary for three weeks!’
The same dignitary used to sing occasionally, but in his musical essays was wont to harass the accompanist by straying into another key. When asked what key he was singing he once said, ‘Aye, gie me the key o’ the washin-hoose.’
Jocular heckling has long been a feature of the political life of Glasgow. Thus a candidate was asked: ‘Wad ye be in favour o’ a blin’ man bein’ chairged for stairheid gas?’
And talking of gas, there was an air of jocular originality about the escapade of an offender who was sent to prison the other day for keeping an illicit whisky still, which he had operated with several hundred thousand feet of gas stolen by an illicit connection established with the corporation mainpipe!
But sometimes the causticity has no redeeming feature of wit or humour. At a St Andrew’s Night concert in Hull once I sat just in front of a pursy man, clean-shaven except for a moustache, who was accompanied by two women – his wife and perhaps his sister, their conversation specifically connecting them with Glasgow. On such occasions Scots people are apt to be in a specially good humour; but my man certainly was not; and though his companions sometimes demurred to his censorious remarks, his mood was infectious at least to the extent of freezing geniality in others. Thus when a very acceptable singer had finished his first number, and was leaving the platform amid a storm of applause, the man in the rear remarked, when the din had subsided; ‘Ay, Bob Burnett. He’s a good singer and he knows it!’ In due course cam Scott Sinner, the Strathspey King, whose appearance evoked the bored comment; ‘Och, ay, always the same old thing wi’ him.’ While others smiled and beamed at the surge and vim and unerring accuracy of the veteran’s playing, with difficulty restraining their desire to find the floor as the fire of music got into their feet, the scornful remark came from behind; ‘Look how he saws!’ The fiddler played his own lovely ‘Lullaby,’ gave clever barnyard imitations, and ‘took off’ a parrot with laughable realism. But it was all of no use to the critic behind, who remarked with impatience, ‘What’s next?’ almost before the artist had finished.
The Glasgow correspondent whose name I am unable to give testifies to the fundamental kindness of Wullie Pai’erson as exemplified in the attitude of his children towards him. Coming stained and tired from his toil, his little boy hails him from his street play: ‘Gie’s a cairry, feyther!’ and the father, tired as he is, lifts the urchin on to his shoulder and then carries him up several flights of stairs to his won door.
Yes, human nature has a beautiful power of resiliency and of rebound from evil conditions. Even the industrialism of Clydeside cannot corrupt it beyond remedy. Thinking of the various amenities of the great western city – it’s parks, libraries, art galleries, baths, its municipal lectures and recitals in choirs, its car service, its ferries, its fine supplies of gas, electricity and water, its farms and works department (and of course one does not!) resist the feeling that most of its evils it owes to private enterprise, and most of its amenities it owes to the Socialism of the Municipality in other words, what it suffers it suffers at the hands of commercialism in haste to be rich and too heedless of what it does in the process, and what it enjoys it enjoys to the extent that it has taken its business or its comfort or its pleasure into its own hands. The same may, indeed, be said of other cities, but in the case of Glasgow the contrast is specially violent, between the harm that others have done to the citizen, and the good that the citizen has done for himself through his own publicly elected, controlled, removable, responsible, and capable public servants. It is the great lesson that Glasgow has yet to teach to the outer world, and the moral of it is not yet at all sufficiently appreciated. That is why these chapters have been written. They will conclude with a final chapter on ‘The Abolition of Glasgow’ – a thesis that will not surprise those of its new Parliamentary representatives who, like the wideawake and capable member for Shettleston, Mr John Wheatley, realise that the export industries upon which the city and its people have existed and grown and multiplied must give place to another way of living and making a living.
James Thomson (B.V.*)
The Laureate of Pessimism
‘The joy of grief.’ – Ossian
*B.V., the pen-name used by Thomson, is a contraction of Bysshe Vanolis. The ‘Bysshe’ was Shelley’s middle name; the ‘Vanolis’ is an anagram of Novalis, the pen-name of the German poet Fredrich von Hardenberg, whose life, like Thomson’s, was strongly affected by the death of a young girl to whom he was attached.
How vast the difference between the career and writings of the two James Thomsons! The poet of ‘The Seasons,’ as well as poor ‘B.V.,’ was a Scotsman; but the eighteenth-century Thomson was as fortunate as the other was the reverse. We need not grudge the earlier poet his comparatively prompt success. The man who first in his century turned the attention of poets from ethical gymnastics and society trifles to observation of nature, the country, and rural sights and scenes and sounds well deserved the sinecure post (as surveyor-general of the Leeward Islands, at £400 a-year) which enabled him to polish the stanzas of ‘The Castle of Indolence’ as he lounged and sucked the peaches in his garden at Richmond.
The one James Thomson was pretty much everything that the other was not. The author of ‘The Seasons’ was a son of the manse, had a university education, went to London at 25, found tutorial employment at once, and made a hit with his first poem ‘Winter’ the following year (1726).
The nineteenth-century Thomson was the son of a Greenock skipper, who died in ‘B.V.’s’ boyhood, and the orphaned lad, educated in a charity school (the Royal Caledonian Asylum), became an army schoolmaster. He disliked life in the army, and left it in 1862, to become in turn solicitor’s clerk, secretary of bubble companies, contributor to the National Reformer, contributor to ‘Cope’s Tobacco Plant,’ and finally miscellaneous journalist, but always having his mind occupied with unpopular themes and he himself showing even more than the usual traditional unskilfulness of the poet ‘to note the card of prudent lore.’
When all is said, the son of the Port Glasgow skipper is immeasurably the finer poet of the two. In power and passion, in brooding thought, in the quality of ‘heart,’ in the wedding of apt expression and sonorous music to the most intimate, fateful, and daring speculations of the human mind, the happy, indolent sinecurist was a child by comparison with the fate-buffeted poet of pessimism.
As a philosophy of life pessimism is probably anti-social; yet one is not quite sure. From at least the time of Job there have been pessimists, and it would be hard to say whether or not they have found less zest in life than the optimists. It is certain they have often been excellent citizens.
Broadly speaking, the optimist is one who hopes for the best and takes the world easily, often with excellent results to himself, or, as more often happens, to herself (for women are more optimistic than men). The results to society are a different matter.
The pessimist, on the other hand, full of a sense of the perversity of human affairs, lays himself out to play checkmate to Fate, to leave the fewest possible chances to Fortune to play him jade’s tricks. Thus, by guarding against the worst, he often secures the absolutely best.
The optimist believes that, all being for the best in this best of all possible worlds, given good intentions, he will contrive to muddle through.
The pessimist believes that man is his own providence; that nothing is but doing makes it so; that the choicest or most lavish gifts of Nature are useless unless turned to account by man the co-operator; that Nature has her own way of going forward with her work, and that while often she is kindly and beneficent, sometimes she can be appallingly cruel; in any case it is for man to look around and ahead, learning the law of her operations and co-operating with her kindness and exploiting it to the utmost, but guarding against her occasional caprice and cruelty.
An optimist will build and plant on the slope of a volcanic mountain, arguing, if he thinks about the matter at all, that the mountain has been quiet for generations and will surely last his time. The pessimist will labour elsewhere.
Of course there are degrees of both pessimism and optimism. Dr. Pangloss represents Voltaire’s satirical portrait of the unteachable optimist. The Brothers Cheeryble and Mark Tapley are among Dickens’s numerous attempts at the character of the optimist. Dickens’s cheerful characters must have exercised an exceedingly wholesome effect in checking mere grumbling and fostering a fashion of cheerfulness. Unfortunately his optimists are all minor characters, and the impression conveyed is that their outlook owes much of its roseate hue to comparative thoughtlessness and inexperience of life.
The moderate pessimism that makes men more careful is to the good; but excessive pessimism like that of James Thomson, instead of leading to the taking of extra care and pains, begets despair and the anticipation of failure half-way. The philosophy of the confirmed melancholiac is that ‘man was made to mourn,’ and that all attempts to combat Fate are foredoomed to failure. Others not so far gone have outfaced adversity with a heart for any fate. Samuel Johnson, Grimaldi the greatest and saddest of clowns, Heine chained to his mattress grave, all refused to be beaten. With a little luck, Thomson also might have done so. The descriptions of him as a young man are that he was ‘wonderfully clever, very nice-looking, and very gentle, grave, and kind.’ His portraits show the good looks, his writings prove all the rest and a good deal more. The man who conceived ‘Aquatics (Kew)’ and ‘Sunday up the River’ was witty and spirited and had a capacity for happy laughter.
But Thomson had sheer bad luck from the start. He was unlucky in being made an army schoolmaster. No branch of work in connection with the army could have suited one of his ideas and temperament, and as it happened, he was first sent to teach the rough and uncultivated men of a militia regiment. He was even more unlucky in the circumstances of his discharge from the army, which took place because of the minor fault of a brother schoolmaster. He lost his sweetheart by death at an early age, and mourned for her all his life. He was unlucky in the opinions he espoused and the associates with whom he consorted. A man who knew Latin, French, German, and Italian was worthy of a better change than Thomson made when he left the army to become a solicitor’s clerk. He was unlucky in his friendship with Mr. Bradlaugh and the fact that some of his best poetry appeared in The National Reformer, which could not give him the audience he deserved. His friends are of opinion that Mr. Bradlaugh, despite his kindness to the poet, did not appreciate his poetry, especially the best of it. Certain it is that readers of the National Reformer protested against the appearance in it of some of Thomson’s finest verse - that is to say, the greatest pieces of literature that ever did appear in the Reformer.
Thomson is said to have inherited a taste for drink. In any case the convivial habits of the army had taught him to drink, and his lonely life as a bachelor in London lodgings, his lifelong sorrow for the loss of his early love, and the precarious nature of the living he earned would all combine to foster irregular habits.
When in October, 1809, the poem ‘Sunday up the River’ appeared in Fraser’s Magazine, James Anthony Froude was so charmed with it that he conferred with Charles Kingsley on the subject, and Kingsley being of the same mind, Froude invited the poet to breakfast with him. They got on very well together, and it might have been hoped that something would come of the meeting. But if Froude and Kingsley admired ‘Sunday up the River,’ not many besides appear to have been struck with it. The critics did not ‘discover’ the new poet, and when he afterwards submitted the splendid ‘Weddah and Om-el-Bonain’ to Froude it was not accepted. Poor Thomson sent nothing further to that quarter. ‘Weddah’ finally appeared in the National Reformer. Thomson sent a copy to Mr. William Michael Rossetti, who recognised the beauty and power of the poem at once, and both the Rossetti brothers remained Thomson’s friends. ‘A Voice from the Nile’ appeared in the Fortnightly Review; but the bulk of Thomson’s work, and all the best of it, appeared in the National Reformer, and was almost, of course, as good as buried there.
When Thomson’s greatest poem, ‘The City of Dreadful Night,’ first appeared in the Bradlaughite sheet some notice was taken of it by The Academy and The Spectator, and the numbers containing it were in great demand. Among those who congratulated Thomson was George Eliot, whose letter was more esteemed by him than it deserved to be. The successful novelist had herself coveted success as a poet, and did not achieve it; but that does not prevent her from adopting a slight air of patronage in the following letter which she sent:
Dear Poet, - I cannot rest satisfied without telling you that my mind responds with admiration to the distinct vision and grand utterance in the poem which you have been so good as to send me.
Also, I trust that an intellect informed by so much passionate energy as yours will soon give us more heroic strains, with a wider embrace of human fellowship in them - such as will be to the labourers of the world what odes of Tyrtæus were to the Spartans, thrilling them with the sublimity of the social order and the courage of resistance to all that would dissolve it. To accept life and write much fine poetry is to take a very large share in the quantum of human good, and seems to draw with it necessarily some recognition, affectionate and even joyful, of the many willing labours which have made such a lot possible. - Yours sincerely, M. E. LEWIS.
An invitation to visit her home and some human fellowship extended to the poet would have been better than a stilted letter; and to an ordinary kind woman this would have seemed the natural and proper salve to apply to a spirit which could find expression in language like the opening stanzas of ‘The City’:-
Lo, thus, as prostrate, ‘In the dust I write
My heart’s deep languor and my soul’s sad tears.’
Yet why evoke the spectres of black night
To blot the sunshine of exultant years?
Why disinter dead faith from mouldering hidden?
Why break the seals of mute despair unbidden.
And wail life’s discords into careless ears?
Because a cold rage seizes one at whiles
To show the bitter old and wrinkled truth
Stripped naked of all vesture that beguiles,
False dreams, false hopes, false masks and modes of youth;
Because it gives some sense of power and passion
In helpless impotence to try to fashion
Our woes in living words howe’er uncouth.
Surely I write not for the hopeful young,
Or those who deem their happiness of worth,
Or such as pasture and grow fat among
The shows of life and feel nor doubt nor dearth,
Or pious spirits with a God above them
To sanctify and glorify and love them,
Or sages who foresee a heaven on earth.
For none of these I write, and none of these
Could read the writing if they deigned to try;
So may they flourish, in their due degrees,
On our sweet earth and in their unplaced sky.
If any cares for the weak words here written,
It must be someone desolate, Fate-smitten,
Whose faith and hope are dead, and who would die.
Yes, here and there some weary wanderer
In that same city of tremendous night
Will understand the speech and feel a stir
Of fellowship in all-disastrous fight;
‘I suffer mute and lonely, yet another
Uplifts his voice to let me know a brother
Travels the same wild paths, though out of sight.’
O sad Fraternity, do I unfold
Your dolorous mysteries shrouded from of yore?
Nay, be assured; no secret can be told
To any who divined it not before;
None uninitiate by many a presage
Will comprehend the language of the message,
Although proclaimed aloud for evermore.
The title of this great but unspeakably sad poem would doubtless be suggested by the insomnia to which Thomson was a victim. Several of his chief poems, such as ‘In the Room,’ ‘Mater Tenebrarum,’ and ‘Vane’s Story,’ suggest habits of midnight work and a mental activity in the night time which would be an affliction if the creative mood was not upon the poet. The Dantean gloom of ‘The City of Dreadful Night’ is unrelieved by the highly specific details in which the Italian poet indulges himself. Description, indeed, there is; but it is shadowy, tending to create an atmosphere rather than giving concrete details. It is bodeful, argumentative, compassionate with a glowing ineffable pity that has nothing to match it in literature. Thomson can be picturesque in many different styles of graphic delineation, but in ‘The City’ he has a message to deliver and is so full of it that he forgets the artifices of the picturesque. Argument, infinite pity, infinite passion are the staples of the poem, and there is not a weak or a slovenly line in it.
The way in which the phantoms of misery crowd upon the wakeful is reflected, as said, in much of Thomson’s work. In fact he has a poem with the title of ‘Insomnia,’ in which the bane of the actively minded is depicted with a power more simple and direct than in ‘The City of Dreadful Night.’ He says:-
I heard the sounding of the midnight hour;
The others one by one had left the room,
In calm assurance that the gracious power
Of sleep’s fine alchemy would bless the gloom,
Transmuting all its leaden weight to gold,
To treasures of rich virtues manifold.
New strength, new health, new life;
Just weary enough to nestle softly, sweetly,
Into divine unconsciousness, completely
Delivered from the world of toil and care and strife.
Just weary enough to feel assured of rest,
Of sleep’s divine oblivion and repose,
Renewing heart and brain for richer zest
Of waking life when golden morning glows,
As young and pure and glad as if the first
That ever on the void of darkness burst
With ravishing warmth and light;
On dewy grass and flowers and blithe birds singing,
And shining waters, all enraptured springing,
Fragrance and shine and song, out of the womb of night
But I with infinite weariness outworn,
Haggard with endless nights unblessed by sleep,
Ravaged by thoughts unutterably forlorn,
Plunged in despairs unfathomably deep,
Went cold and pale and trembling with affright
Into the desert vastitude of night,
Arid and wild and black;
Foreboding no oasis of sweet slumber,
Counting beforehand all the countless number
Of sands that are its minutes on my desolate track.
And so I went the last to my drear bed,
Aghast as one who should go down to lie
Among the blissfully unconscious dead,
Assured that as the endless years flowed by
Over the dreadful silence and deep gloom
And dense oppression of the stifling tomb,
He only of them all,
Nerveless and impotent to madness, never
Could hope oblivion’s perfect trance for ever:
An agony of life eternal in death’s pall.
The philosophy of this unhappy man did not in its main principles necessitate that he should be a pessimist at all. He sees in the Universe, he says, neither Good nor Evil; only Necessity.
I find no hint throughout the Universe
Of good or ill, of blessing or of curse;
I find alone Necessity Supreme;
With infinite Mystery, abysmal, dark,
Unlightened ever by the faintest spark,
For us the flitting shadows of a dream.
And again -
The world rolls round for ever like a mill;
It grinds out life and death and good and ill;
It has no purpose, heart, or mind, or will.
What we are here for is a question which many have asked and no one has answered. Walt Whitman was as optimistic a poet as Thomson was the reverse; yet while he says he does not know what anyone is here for he also says he will go on trying to find out. Meanwhile he sings the love of comrades, the lifelong love of comrades.
Is it not possible to be happy if we will master so much of the laws of life, learn enough of how the world-mill does its grinding and adapt ourselves to the requirements with as much of wisdom and courage and kindness to others as possible? If the universe is a grinding mill it is the business of philosophy to teach us how to avoid the wheels that would hurt us while making them do our offices, as already said.
Part two next month.
The Great Enemy of Mankind.
Mankind has many special enemies; but the greatest, the most comprehensive, enemy of all is the hoofless, hornless, tailless, depersonified devil of ignorance. A poet writing in this locality has epitomised the position in three quatrains.
Ancestral man scarce stood erect,
Low-browed and hairy, Nature’s slave;
His puny powers of no effect,
He gorged on carrion in a cave.
And now man soars aloft on wings,
Holds converse o’er ten thousand miles,
A million ships his sustenance brings,
A hundred arts his ease beguiles.
Ancestral man was fierce and dull,
Stark torture was his daily toy,
But now the wheel has circled full -
Man shares his fellows’ grief and joy.
The countless steps in that great ascent have been achieved by gradually acquired knowledge, with its mental and moral by-products, understanding and sympathy. Knowledge is of course the antidote to the bane of ignorance. Ancestral man was naked and often cold till he learned that warmth could be secured by wearing the skins of beasts, to be followed later by the plaiting of mats, and still later by the weaving of cloth. He devoured his food raw till he learned, by rubbing one stick upon another, to produce fire. He lived in caves and borrows till he learned to make tents of hides, or huts of mud and osiers or of blocks of ice. But the arts and relaxations of life in northern lands did not arise till, to clothing, cooking, and housing, he added the great boon of artificial light. As Charles Lamb whimsically suggests, our forefathers, lying around churlishly in the dark, had no temptation to cultivate wit or humour when it would have been necessary to feel the face of your neighbour in order to find out if he was smiling; and he concludes that jokes came in with candles. It ought to be added that the fashioning and decorating of weapons of war and the chase and utensils of domestic use also benefited by the introduction of the fir candle and the oil lamp.
The Noble Calling of Teacher.
It is the business of the teacher to abate or entirely to remove the multifarious disabilities imposed upon man by his ignorance of the laws, facts, and forces by which he is surrounded, and there can be no nobler or more useful calling.
But thus to enlarge our survey of the scope of teaching, to take all knowledge for our province, as Bacon said he had done, would be to extend our thesis beyond what would, for this occasion, be practical limits. Every mother who initiates her daughter into a little turn of housewifery, every workman who gives a lesson, be it only by performing a cast of his calling before the eyes of a tyro at the trade, would in that sense be a teacher. Let me say at once, also, that I have no desire to make school education technical, industrial, or even commercial, except in so far as the general education which all men and women equally require may be and ought to be of service in the specialised callings of life.
The other day, in connection with the centenary celebrations of the birth of Louis Pasteur, we were reminded afresh of Huxley’s saying that Pasteur by his discoveries had in a few years’ time saved as much money as would have covered the whole indemnity paid by France to Germany for the war of 1870-71. I refer to that, not with the object of emphasising the value of chemistry as a special study, but only by way of showing that if one branch of one science can be of so much value to the world, it follows that ignorance of that as of other sciences must have its counterpart of disastrous loss. It is not from ignorance of such matters as Pasteur studied that the world is most likely to suffer. Pasteur’s researches affected diseases in cattle, sheep, fowls, vines, and silkworms, and the souring of wine and beer. We may he sure that any discoveries affecting trade, and in no way connected with politics, will be promptly accepted and applied. We need have no fear that discoveries having an immediate and obvious commercial value will, on any large scale, be wasted upon an unreceptive world. [On a revision, I am not so sure of this. There was the idea of the synthetic dyes, rejected in Britain, the country of its origin, and taken up with success in Germany. And there is the French intensive cultivation, still neglected in Britain. The claim is at least relatively true. - J. L.] But there are, nevertheless, realms of knowledge, the discoveries in which would be of at least equal value, which are not at all generally explored or their safe and certain principles turned to account in practice.
Reading the Basis.
I am to confine my attention to the humanities.
The basis of all education is reading. The laboratory demonstration is founded, oftener that, not, upon a lesson which the demonstrator has previously read. The oral lesson in class is usually an exposition either of the actual printed lesson before the class, or it will embody the results of the teacher’s own reading. In efficient teaching the teacher will use the fruits of much reading cognate to the subject in hand. The teacher who is, as the saying has it, only one lesson ahead of the pupil will not, in my view, be much of a teacher.
My first complaint against the education of to-day is that it does not teach young people to read with understanding and delight, or even with ordinary fluency; in short, to love reading. For thirty-five years I have had to read proofs as a corrector to the press, both north and south of the Tweed, my copyholders being boys and girls supposed to be of rather special intelligence. The reading was best in Aberdeen, tending in some instances to be too rapid and declamatory. This was during the eighties. Going to Manchester in the early nineties, I found it not quite so distinct or so ready. The pronunciation was more accurate, when you heard it, though, with changing copyholders, there were some who muttered and mumbled and stuttered and stumbled, evidently not enjoying the job at all. Returning north, I found reading uncouth in Peterhead, though not without animation. Going to Yorkshire in 1908, I found it not so good as it had been in Lancashire a dozen years earlier, but better than in Peterhead. In Turriff it is worst of all - least intelligently understanding and most barbarous in accent, though one minds the accent less than the lack of understanding.
As regards the understanding, so necessary to clean type-setting, the truth is I spend my days in a struggle with dirty proofs, the result of inability on the part of the compositor to recognise the identity of common words in fairly plain handwriting, mostly my own. It is so bad that if one’s vigilance be relaxed, some wholly unexpected and incomprehensible error is sure to pass. If half a sentence is left out, its omission is not detected till the proof is read, which means that no attempt is made to follow and apprehend the chain of reasoning.
Spelling and Pronunciation.
Certain simple words are habitually mis-spelt, time after time. Among these are such words as ‘briny,’ which, by one young person after another and by the same person again and again, is rendered ‘brimy’; ‘identify,’ which regularly appears as ‘indentify’; ‘would have been’ for ‘would have been,’ ‘hundreth’ and ‘lenth’ for ‘hundredth’ and ‘length,’ ‘smock’ for ‘smoke,’ ‘accidently,’ ‘franticly,’ ‘strageticly’ (for ‘strategically’!), ‘pattren,’ and ‘alright,’ which are all wrong in accordance with the wrong pronunciation. A word as spelt is an ideograph, a picture of the idea, with its etymology, affinities, and evolution preserved; and if you have not the right spelling you have not got the picture. The vicious circle is that words are wrongly spelt because they are wrongly pronounced, and they are wrongly pronounced because they are wrongly spelt. It is the wrong spelling that comes first with what may be called book words, as apart from the simple words a child uses before it learns to read. The person who writes ‘sep e rate,’ as so many do, can have no idea of the root word ‘p a rity,’ as in comparative and disparate.
In my experience as a printer, prepositions, copulatives, and the passive particles ‘has’ and ‘have’ are altered in defiance both of the written copy and the requirements of sense in the sentence. A dictionary kept at hand is worn foul with frequent consultation, English being apparently found to be, many times in a day, an unknown tongue.
This tells its own tale as to the lack of reading; but the neglect of reading is made obvious in other ways. The assumption that children will not read for pleasure is reflected in the schoolbooks. The everyday labour of the savage, hunting, becomes the sport of the civilised man; and, reversing this, in school nowadays you use as lesson-books the novels of Sir Walter Scott and the plays of Shakespeare, which we sat up to read for pleasure at nights after our lessons were done. We used to buy single plays of Shakespeare, Massinger, Ben Jonson, ‘The Gamester,’ ‘The Rivals,’ ‘The School for Scandal,’ and the plays of more modern dramatists - all in the penny reprints of William Dicks. The print was small; but the appetite was avid. I still retain, after some wandering, ‘The Shaughraun,’ ‘The Octoroon,’ ‘A New Way to Pay Old Debts,’ and ‘Rob Roy,’ as relics of those days of our later school time or early years of apprenticeship.
Youthful Omnivorous Reading.
A local teacher complained one day that not one boy in his class knew anything about Hannibal on being questioned. In my schooldays most of the boys of my class at the age of ten to twelve were accustomed to read and discuss with enthusiasm a book entitled ‘The Wars of the Carthaginians,’ in which, of course, Hannibal was the central figure. It was one of the volumes in the old Cottage Library, published by Milner & Sowerby, of Halifax, many of which formed the subjects of our schoolboy and school-girl talk. Books we all read then were ‘The Wolf of Badenoch,’ ‘The Scottish Chiefs,’ ‘St. Clair of the Isles,’ ‘Gulliver,’ ‘Tales of a Grand-father,’ ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ and the ‘Arabian Nights.’ These in addition to a heavy weekly crop of ‘penny dreadfuls’ such as The Boys of England, The Young Men of Great Britain, The Sons of Britannia, The Boys’ Standard, and serials in numbers, such as ‘Jack Harkaway,’ ‘Tom Floremall,’ and ‘Tom Wildrake.’ These we bought and lent to each other, not without abundant comparing of notes, and vocal efforts in the art of dramatic and graphic narration ourselves. My recollection of these serials is that they were well written, that the proprieties were observed, that villainy was always punished and virtue duly rewarded. They could have done us nothing but good, and the reading itself was a mental exercise.
We were all boys fond of a lark, and did not mew overmuch in the house. In fact, our reading inclined us to adventures by flood and field, without any Boy Scout paraphernalia or tutelage. We were free agents, and if the freedom was sometimes abused, there was the less of the Jessie Ann about us.
Of myself as of my own children I can say we had read all the novels of Scott before we had gone very far into our teens. (Disparaging remarks are sometimes made about the tales written in the period of Scott’s decline, such as ‘Count Robert of Paris.’ I can only say that I enjoyed this story of the Varangian Guard and the Court of Constantinople so much that it made me turn as a youth to Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall’ for the history of the place and period.) To have such books given us as studies, as lessons, would have seemed to us as laughable as it would have been to bribe us to eat sweets. As a boy I had a stouter appetite for print and more aptitude for assimilation than I have now. There were in our house two big volumes of small print in double columns called ‘Chambers’s Information for the People,’ and I read these pretty well from cover to cover, including articles on Metallurgy, Mining, Arboriculture and Horticulture, Farming and Live Stock, Printing, even on the Clan Tartans; and I learned the first nine or ten rules of Algebra, only to forget them again because they were useless to me and in themselves quite uninteresting. On the other hand, I have not forgotten about the agricultural improvers, Mechi, Jethro Tull, and ‘Turnip’ Townshend, because their work is useful to us all and in itself interesting.
At the age of fourteen I found myself one of some half-a-dozen apprentices in an Aberdeen printing office, most of us from humble homes, but all of us reading such books as Plutarch’s Lives, Macaulay’s Essays and Lays, with, as the years went on, Mill’s ‘Political Economy,’ Henry George’s ‘Progress and Poverty,’ Spencer’s ‘Study of Sociology,’ and presently a volume of essays by Prof. Bain, including an essay on ‘The Art of Study.’
It was a time of much discussion of anti-theological science, and the reviews were full of articles by such men as Huxley, Tyndall, Grant Allen, St. George Mivart, Herbert Spencer, and Frederic Harrison. We boys in our teens read such books as Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’ and ‘Descent of Man,’ Oscar Schmidt’s ‘Doctrine of Descent and Darwinism,’ and the Nature books of John Burroughs. Of these youths one is now a retired colonel, having risen rapidly from the ranks; another is a minister of the gospel in Canada; three are master printers; and one is or was the Liberal member of Parliament for Bedford-Leigh in Lancashire.
What of To-Day?
Is such reading being done by the young men of to-day? I see no signs of it. It was an excellent training for citizenship, as apart from obsequious climbing and gradgrind getting on. The climber works for self. The good citizen seeks his advantage in the general wellbeing. But now at the end of the school year one hears parental complaints about the poor pass in English. The blame is put upon the teachers. It is the business of the teacher to make silk purses out of sows’ ears - if he (or she) can. But obviously this possibility is greatly limited by the quality of the lugs available. Given a good standard of intelligence, the pupil needs only direction and the run of the text-books in order to absorb all sorts of learning. On the other hand, there is a certain brute-beast recalcitrance, cool unconcern, or sheer stupidity – sometimes the attitude is a blend of all three - upon which exposition and reiteration are expended in vain, producing little effect beyond a feeling of annoyance in the teacher. Parents who give their children no help or encouragement, who have forgotten the rules or lessons themselves, or perhaps never knew them, who maintain a home atmosphere that is inimical to books and reading, who regard all reading as a waste of time, expect the teacher to undo the effects of their own heathenish materialism, and this during a few hours of the day on five days of the week.
English as a language cannot be taught. You may teach the grammar; but the learning of a language in its length and breadth is a matter of years of delighted reading.
It is not reasonable to expect that teachers can make much of the English of pupils who come from households where there is no feeling for books and language, or indeed for education as a whole. A teacher can tell what sort of home a pupil comes from. The child from a commercial domestic atmosphere, where all the little talk there is relates to business and bargains and chattels and prudence, and not taking risks, and having an eye to the main chance, is as a rule a slow, recalcitrant scholar, except perhaps in arithmetic, the tendency of which is, naturally, in accord with his peculiar genius.
The child from a home in which the humanities have something of a look in - books, music, cheerful human chat and plenty of it - is apt to be friendly with his teacher, interested in his lessons, and, even with quite moderate parts, will get on with the work of the class with cheerful readiness and some show of progress.
When one hears complaints of alleged bad teaching one is very sorry, first of all, for the teachers who have to struggle with invincible stupidity, almost without hope; for even if the average youngster is taught certain things, and learns them, they are forgotten in a year or two after leaving school. People who do not read and discuss soon lapse into barbarism. As the Roman saying has it, ‘Life without literature is death’ (Vita sine literis mors est). One need not claim that teachers have done their best, or even that their best would be good enough if they had done it. But preachers and teachers and writers need encouragement to do their best, and there is no encouragement from a blank wall of stupidity. The ineffable Spooner once intended to address a rural meeting as ‘sons of toil,’ but, with his trick of reversing, he called them ‘tons of soil.’ Anyone who has addressed a rustic audience indoors on a week-night, must have felt that Mr. Spooner’s inverted description was not entirely inappropriate. The ‘soil’ may be all right for some kinds of seed; but when we find a typical rural centre showing a bad educational record year after year, it is impossible to resist the feeling that the fault lies, not with the teachers, but with pupils, parents, and the general atmosphere as regards the things of the mind.
Inimical Atmosphere Generally.
One town I know was known of old as Grabtillum and as Porkopolis. We do not associate brilliant intellectuality with grabbing and with swine. A community does not as a rule have it both ways, though we may cultivate material prosperity and still give our leisure to the finer things of life. Manchester – ‘the modern Athens,’ as Gladstone called it - is one of the most intellectual cities in Europe, and this expresses itself in its abounding and brilliant and independent Press, in much political discussion, in a school of drama, in lectures, a literary quarterly, and the best music out of London. By music, Sir Charles and Lady Hallé lived in honour and dignity there for many years. A Londoner writing in a Sunday paper described how, as he stood one day in a Manchester bookseller’s shop, he witnessed a railway cart draw up to the door with a load of copies of Lord Morley’s ‘Recollections,’ when that book was still comparatively new. On his surprised inquiry, he was told that this was only one of several consignments they had had of that hook, which sells at 24s. for the two tall volumes. The business men of Manchester have the reputation of being the keenest and brainiest of all men of business, yet this critic could ask with some show of reason, ‘Is there any other town in the world where the doors would, so to say, have to be taken off the hinges to receive repeated consignments of a book dealing with high politics and literature?’
The other day a local Tory was complaining about the extreme addiction to sport on the part of the young people. I mentioned that I had hoped something from the re-starting of the Mutual Improvement Association after the awakening caused by the war; that a Literary Society started in a neighbouring small town 25 years ago was still going strong; that the ‘best people’ - clergy, lawyers, business men, doctors, and bankers - took the most active part in its work; that largely-attended meetings were held, speakers being often brought from a distance; and that it was considered ‘the thing’ to belong to ‘the Literary.’ But here, I said, ‘the heads of the town’ play bowls in the summer time and billiards and cards in the winter, and pass the door of the ‘Mutual’ on their way up to the Club. The young men follow suit. It is the frivolous seniors who make the frivolous juniors. We cannot give all our time to business and unlettered pleasure, and expect to be cultivated folk and to have brilliant boys and girls.
The atmosphere of country life is inimical to learning. It ought not to be, but it is. A local farmer who reads Pater and Buckle, and has a room expressly built for the housing of books, once said, ‘What is there for a body to do in the country in the winter nichts but read?’ But he is a rara avis. In the country the emphasis is put, not upon what a man is or knows, but upon what he has. As I want nothing for nothing, and am not likely to get anything for nothing if I wanted it, I have no motive to adopt this sycophantic attitude, even if I were willing to do so. What need anyone care how much a man has if he is dull and unpleasant to meet? And what need anyone care how little a man has if he be keenly intelligent, companionable, easily lighted up, and possessed of great universality of interest.
PART TWO NEXT MONTH
A list and commentary – Compiled in answer to a reader.
A correspondent writes from Wakefield asking me to supply ‘a list of books recommended’ by me for the ‘study of Literature, History and Economics. The compilation of any such list, if done with real care and judgement, would take some doing. It would require, for one thing, the jealous exclusion of many books which may make a special appeal to the individual fancy of the compiler, but could hardly be expected to rank among books of general value and interest. For example, I am very fond of browsing in Spalding’s ‘History of the Trubles and Memorable Transactions’; as a youth I greatly enjoyed Deidrich Knickerbocker’s ‘History of New York’ (Deidrich is just Washington Irving); and I can still pass a pleasant hour with Johnson’s Dicctionary. But these represent the byways rather than the highways of literature; and while all must walk the highways, each one should choose his own byways.
Among the byways would be local books such as my Spalding’s ‘Trubles.’ The taste in much byway literature will doubtless often depend upon the reader’s turn for dialects. Personally I love all the dialects of English and Scottish speech, which means that I not only have no difficulty with them, but relish peculiarities as different as the Deveonshire ‘thikky’ for ‘this’ the Lancashire ‘gradely’ for ‘proper,’ the Yorkshire ‘gainest’ for ‘quickest’, the Ayrshire ‘bake’ for ‘biscuit,’ and the Aberdeenshire ‘fell kneggam’ for ‘strong smell.’ George MacDonald’s novels and ‘Johnny Gibb of Gushetneuk’ are in different ways, masterpieces, and the former at least has a huge public south of the Tweed, as have also Galt, Miss Ferrier, Crockett and J.M.Barrie. ‘Mannie Wauch’ also is a delightful tale relating to the Lothians. But most of these must be barred from such a list as one has in mind.
Some years ago there was much flourishing of lists in a discussion on ‘The Hundred Best Books,’ stated as ‘The Hundred Best Poems,’ by a New York Journal and taken up by, I think, the London Daily Telegraph. A good deal of what seemed freakishness and a good deal of what was undoubted priggishness found expression at this time. Incidentally, King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, declared a preference for Dryden, who, he thought, had been slighted in the lists sent in.
Of course a hundred books are neither here nor there. There may very well be a thousand ‘best books.’ Schoolboys who go through Collins’s ‘History of English Literature,’ of Spalding’s, or Logie Robertson’s, will feel that a hundred books would represent but a very small proportion of the front-rank authors they have had to review, from Caedmon’s Persephone to the Irish plays and poems of Yeats and Synge. A man of quite moderate leisure may easily read a hundred average-sized books in a year. This weekend with five or six hours of the Saturday and Sunday spent out of doors, I have, among a good deal of writing and other work, read two books of over 450 pages, besides several newspapers, and I have not burned the midnight oil, nor am I a rapid reader.
The present list omits thousands of books that the compiler has read and enjoyed, but that are not to be included in any ‘select’ or ‘choice’ list. As with human beings, so with friends, we have a few lifelong friends and we have hundreds of acquaintances whom it is pleasant to meet, and there are thousands of people whom we meet only once or twice in a lifetime, though we may thoroughly enjoy the brief intercourse with them while it lasts.
Here, then, is my list, which follows the division of subjects suggested by my Wakefield correspondent.
Shakespeare. ‘Others abide our question; thou art free’ (Arnold)
The Bible ‘A remarkable and venerable anthology of fragments of Semitic literature’ (J.Cotter Morison). ‘Barbarous Greek done into divine English’ (referring to the Greek of Septuagint)
Montaigne’s Essays. Bacon’s Essays, Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’
Milton’s ‘Areopagitca’ (prose poetry) and shorter poems.
Selections from The Spectator. Grey’s ‘Elegy,’ Pope. Cowper.
Goldsmith’s Poems and ‘Vicar of Wakefield.’
Boswell’s Life of Johnson.
Burn’s Poems. Life of Burns by J.G.Lockhart.
Coleridge, Keats, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Hood.
Scott’s Novels, not even excepting ‘Count Robert of Paris,’ his least successful. It deals with the vastly interesting Greek Empire and the Varangian Guard at Constantinople.
Macaulay’s Essays, Lays, and History
Carlyle’s ‘Sartor Resartus,’ ‘Heroes and Hero-worship.’ ‘Past and Present,’ and the essays on Burns, Scott and Boswell’s Johnson.
Charles Lamb’s Essays of Elia
Emerson’s Essays, Lectures and Poems
Most of Dickens Novels
Thackeray’s ‘Four Georges,’ ‘English Junmorists,’ Esmond’ and ‘The Virginians.’
James Thomson’s ‘City of Dreadful Night,’ and ‘In the room,’
Omar Khyyam, Fitzgerald’s Translation
Watt Dunton’s Essay on Poetry, Encyclopedia Britanica.
Swinburne’s ‘Songs Before Sunrise,’ D.G.Rossetti’s poems.
All of Tennyson. Much of Browning
Charles Reade’s ‘Cloister and Hearth.’
Lytton’s ‘My Novel,’ ‘The Caxtons’, ‘Last Days of Pompei.’
Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’ and ‘Descent of Man.’
George Eliot. All her novels except ‘Middlemarch.’
Charles Kingsley’s ‘Westward Ho,’ ‘Hereward the Wake,’ and ‘Notre Dame.’
Renan’s ‘Life of Jesus.’
Dumas ‘Monte Cristo,’ ‘The Black Tulip,’ and ‘The Three Musketeers’ series.
Zola ‘The Dram-shop,’ ‘Nana,’ ‘Money,’ ‘Germinal,’ ‘La Terre,’ ‘Dr Pascal,’ and the trilogy ‘Lourdes, Rome, Paris.’
Ruskin. Practically anything the reader can lay hands and find time for. If anything to be omitted, say ‘The Harbours of England,’ most of ‘Fors Clavingera’ and ‘Time and Tide.’
Matthew Arnold’s ‘Culture and Anarchy,’ and ‘Celtic Literature.’
Hawthorn’s ‘Scarlet Letter’.
Washingon Irving’s ‘A Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon.’
Morris Prose ‘A Dream of John Ball,’ ‘A King’s Lesson,’ ‘The Aims of Art.’ ‘Art and Socialism’ Poetry – Easier to state what may be omitted, such as the shorter and more modern poems, with ‘Sigurd,’ and the translations of Virgil and Homer. Some of the later poems are very fine, among them, ‘the Burgher’s Battle.’
Calverley’s Parodies. Kipling’s Stories (all of them)
Stevenson. Very nearly all of him. ‘Tales and Fantasies,’ and ‘The Merry Men’ are not quite up to his standard.
G.B.Shaw. Never wrote a dull or unimportant sentence. Novels, plays, essays all entirely momentous and readable.
H.G.Wells. Always supremely full of insight, abounding in felicity of phrase. Scientific, constructive, and in the collection of tales entitled ‘The Country of the Blind,’ represents the last word in quasi-scientific ingenuity, fertility and boundless inventiveness.
Neil Munro (Hugh Fowlis) ‘Erchie,’ ‘Para Handy,’ ‘The Vital Spark,’ ‘Jimmy Swan’ and ‘The Daft Days.’ The most nimble and versatile of all Scottish writers in the foregoing books which are in a quite different category from the same writer’s ‘John Splendid,’ Gillian the Dreamer,’ Fancy Farm’ and ‘The New Road.’ These may be omitted.
Irish Literature. J.M.Synge, Lady Gregory and W.B.Yeats.
‘The History of Political Economy’ by J.K.Ingram, Professor of Political Economy in Dublin University. This author (who is a Socialist) contributes the article on Political Economy to the Encyclopedia Brittannica. That article may be read instead of the book, which is now, I believe , scarce.
‘Communal and Commercial Economy,’ by John Carruthers. This book, also scarce, has as summary a pamphlet ‘The Political Economy of Socialism.’
Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations.’
Mill’s ‘Principles of Political Economy.’
Laurence Grunlund’s ‘Cooperative Commonwealth.’ (has been called the New Testament of Socialism.)
The Student’s Marx. Aveling
Henry George’s ‘Poverty and Progress.’
Sir Leo Chiozza-Money’s ‘Riches and Poverty.’
Ruskin’s ‘Unto this last.’
Spencer’s ‘The Study of Sociology.’
Bellamy’s ‘Looking Backward’ and its sequel ‘Equality.’
Morris’s ‘News from Nowhere.’
Green’s ‘Short History of the English People.’
Scott’s ‘Tales of a Grandfather.’
Torold Rogers ‘Six Centuries of Work and Wages.’
Justin McCarthy’s ‘History of our own Times.’
‘The Rise of the Dutch Empire,’ J.L.Motley.
Carlyle’s ‘French Revolution.’
Plutarch’s Lives. Langhorne’s translation.
The student will probably be struck with the number of omissions – notable omissions he may perhaps think. There is no Chaucer, Rabelais, Racine, Moliere, Plato or Dante, no Rousseau or Balzac, no Goethe or Lewing, or Wincklemann, no Hans Anderson, Grimm, Ibsen, Brandes or St Beuve. But this is not a student’s list – unless, indeed, he is a beginner. General literature is largely represented, and it is largely represented by novelists and poets at that. But if we could see the general reader with these books on his shelves, were in only as passing we should feel we were getting on in the development of intellectual interests.
When all is said, Literature of all subjects is least to be taught by tabloid. A lifetime and a temperament are required for it.
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