A Newspaper Comment on the Gateway, and a Rejoinder.
In the Glasgow Evening News of the last Saturday of last year there appeared a double-column comment upon the first of these articles. We have a few score readers in Glasgow, but none of them seems to have thought of sending us the paper. The editor of the Educational News, however, my friend Mr Thomas Henderson, happened to call at the office of the Glasgow News, and someone suggests, as he was to be visiting Turriff, that he might take me a copy.
If an Aberdeenshire man, or an Aberdonian (they are different) had done this is would have been remarked that it was not in character. An Aberdeenshire woman (not an Aberdonian) took a parcel to the guard of the train and said: ‘Ye’ll tak’ that in tae Aiberdeen, an’ ye wunna charge me, since that ye’re gaun ony wye.’ She would have been a poor woman probably; and the proprietors of the News are not too poor. But they did exactly the same thing as she did.
The Yorkshireman or Londoner who has most to say about Scots greed is usually very costive in the disbursement of money himself. Sitting near two young couples at a band performance in Aberdeen one Sunday, I asked if they minded my smoke. ‘Not at all,’ said the livelier and prettiest lady of the two. ‘I like it.’ And she said to the other lady, ‘I wish he would smoke a pipe and nice tobacco. I was nearly buying him one the other day.’ Her husband, whose accent betrayed St Mungo’s, said jeeringly to the other man: ‘She was ‘nearly’ buying me one! That’s right Aberdeen!’ Most men would have been grateful that she hadn’t, knowing the pipes women buy.
Glasgow never misses a chance of rubbing it in. One night at a sumptuously spread table in Turriff a Glasgow business man told, among much else, of how an Aberdonian at sea claimed a certain trawl boat, seen in the distance, as of Aberdeen, and of how a Glasgow man declared it couldn’t be, because the gulls were following it!
Some of the most foolishly lavish things one has heard of have been done by Aberdeenshire men. Here is a specimen. One night in the New Inn at Ellon, a company of curlers, after supper, began to play a rink with decanters of whisky. The fun was fast and furious for a time, the waiters being ordered to bring in fresh-filled decanters, which duly met the fate of the ‘stones’ with which the roaring game had been begun. When there was no more glass in the house to smash, the curlers, as they trampled among the fragments, laughingly called for the bill. But the man who had begun the whole play had slipped out, and the others were told that the score had been paid. Ellon is an ancient little Aberdeenshire town of some 1400 of a population. The only thing I know to compare with this decanter-smashing is the trick of the old Russian nobility of making a clean sweep of all the contents of a dinner-table. But that was after they were all drunk, whereas the Ellon company would be no more than ‘canty.’ It was a deliberate piece of fun, and the more it cost and the more daft it was, the better it would be enjoyed.
But not by the sophisticated commercial man. And I do not know that I think any less of him for that. One night at a dinner in the old County Forum, Manchester, I lifted a bottle from the table and helped myself to a glass of Chablis, only to be told by my nearest neighbour that ‘There is no wine on the menu – I got that bottle for myself and my friend.’ Fortunately (as it must have seemed to him) I hadn’t drunk the wine, and he did not press me to. I said if the wine wasn’t on the menu it was on the table, and I moved to another seat where the atmosphere was less bohemian, or perhaps I ought to say citified.
There are mean and generous people everywhere, but the bigger the town the more likely the average non-bloated person is to be usually well spent-up, were it only because he has more temptations and facilities for spending. I thoroughly sympathise with that; but the man who lives up to his income does not, characteristically, do generous things. He can’t afford to.
Anyhow, we sent the News The Gateway, which is a ‘threepenny touch’ and has no advertisements. These we refuse as we refuse to advertise ourselves. And we paid the postage. The News is a penny paper, with lots of advertisements, and the News saved the postage.
The News man makes sarcastic play with the name of Turriff as a place of residence, mentioning it many times, as London comedians make the house rock with ‘Aber-r-r-r-deen.’ I would do him the credit of believing that he would prefer to live in a little, clean, tree-surrounded town if he could. Ayr wasn’t much of a town when Burns produced, just outside it, the greatest pieces of literature that Scotland possesses. Stratford-on-Avon, in Shakespeare’s day, was a smaller town than Turriff is now. Sir Walter Scott, the Lake poets, Harriet Martineau, Tennyson, Ruskin, all wrote in the country, as Belloc, Chesterton, Shaw, Maurice Hewlett, Thomas Hardy, and Arnold Bennett do now. Neil Munro left Glasgow for Inverary as soon as he could. He is a native of the little Argyllshire town; but I am not a native of Turriff. It was ‘a place to retire to,’ chosen out of the whole country. Doesn’t the News man wish he were as free an agent! The people of the cities will yet have to come back to the countryside, which will be redeemed from dullness by their presence, as they will be recreated by having work to do that will have some sense, utility, and beauty in and about it. The game of commercial civilisation is about up. Building battleships and shopkeeping among dirt and racket are not men’s work; though male children have to do them.
Our commentator is surprised that we find Glasgow speech is full of corrugated cadences. But all the midlands of Scotland speak up and down, up and down. So, for that matter, does the Ulsterman. The speech of the north of Scotland is only too much of a monotone; but this often means that a northerner can speak English (and French) with much less trace of a Scottish accent than the southerner. The cadence begins in the southern end of Kincardinshire and is intensified as one goes south.
The name of Helen Hope, the capable write to the London Daily News, is mentioned in the Glasgow paper as being a native of Glasgow who toured with a company of Scottish players for two years. The Glasgow News writer must have overlooked the fact that in the article from which he quotes the writer remarks upon the up-and-downness of her speech. My comment upon this up-and-downness was written weeks earlier. Perhaps the Glasgow writer has not lived much away from Glasgow. Anyhow, it is odd that he has not noticed the cadence.
Edward Bernstein, a man of European culture, one day in a Huddersfield hotel managed to locate the approximate county of origin of each of the speakers present, except the Aberdeen one.
The News writer hazards the remark that ‘Mr James Leatham… sets up his own work in type.’ Well, he doesn’t. he wishes he had time for that too. If the Glasgow writer had set up his work in type, probably he would not have transformed the word ‘couthy’ into the very different word ‘courtly.’ He doubtless saw a proof of his article, and it is odd that he didn’t correct that.
I intended to deal this month with some of the early pioneers of Socialism in Glasgow. But the lecture printed in this issue occupies so much space that this short comment upon a comment must serve instead.
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