To many the great bugbear of country life is its peace, which they call dulness. But with population on the ground, the amenities would come as a natural consequence. The aim of well-balanced social development is to have population evenly distributed, with no house out of sight of any other, with church, school, shops, and social centres, such as halls and libraries, within convenient distance. A food-producing population, working on farms and in gardens, needs the subsidiary crafts - blacksmiths, shoemakers, tailors, masons, joiners, even printers; for the country has dances, flower shows, and concerts as well as the town, even as things are.
This distribution of population is still preserved in other countries, and was the rule in this till past the middle of the eighteenth century. In his ‘Tour,’ written in 1725, Daniel Defoe thus describes the country life of the time:-
The land near Halifax was divided into Small Enclosures from two acres to six or seven each, seldom more. Every three or four Pieces of Land had an house belonging to them, . . . hardly an house standing out of speaking-distance from another . . . We could see, at every house a Tenter, and on almost every Tenter a piece of Cloth, or Kersie, or Shalloon.
. . . At every considerable house was a manufactory. . . . Every clothier keeps one horse at least to carry his manufactures to the markets; and everyone generally keeps a cow or two or more for his Family. By this means the small Pieces of enclosed Land about each house are occupied, for they scarce sow corn enough to feed their poultry. The houses are full of lusty fellows, some at the die-vat, some at the looms, others dressing the cloths; the women and children carding and spinning; being all employed from the youngest to the oldest. . . . Not a Beggar to be seen, nor an idle person.
Till long past that time the distribution of the population was 8o per cent. rural and 20 per cent. urban, whereas by the census of 1921 it was almost exactly the reverse, the percentages being: Urban, 79.3; rural, 20.7.
These are the 1921 figures, and that is seven years ago. The diffusion of electricity has already on the continent set up a tendency in the opposite direction. In France, Germany, and especially in Switzerland, electricity for power, light, and heat is everywhere on tap. The de-urbanisation of industry began before the war even in this country, high rents and rates in the large centres helping, while heavy gas and electricity bills for lights burned all day in darksome smoke-bound days were a contributory element. Coal and steam gathered men together. Electricity tends to correct this congestion. The factory in the country, with a receiving office in town connected by telephone, is the natural order, now that distance has been annihilated by improvements in the means of communication and transport. There is now no reason for large centres, and a multitude of arguments against them.
So much in broad social-industrial outline; but what of ourselves and our way of life as individuals.
I have answered that so far already in saying that there is too much of a hungry, questing tendency to migrate and emigrate. I am very far from disapproving of Scotsmen seeing the world. But Sandy does not come back. If he does it is on a visit, not as a rule to settle. In 1905 I printed a volume of poems for an Aberdeenshire man who had made money as a farmer in New Zealand, and had been twice mayor of his town. The poems breathed the most passionate love of Scotland; but this man who had prospered, and who could easily have come home often, was re-visiting his ‘Caledon, the dearly loved,’ as he called it, after an absence of over forty years. He and his old wife were both very Scots as to accent, looks, and mental make-up - hard nuts both of them. The man who is willing to stay away from a land he professes passionately to love and long for would surely have some difficulty in proving that he is not a humbug.
Blarney is supposed to be a specially Irish foible; but the Scot has it even more highly developed, and in a solemn form. Stevenson, one of the most lovable of men and of writers, had been specially racketty as a student, but latterly preached in verse and prose. George MacDonald’s tendency to sermonise in his stories was natural enough in an ex-Congregational minister but other parsons, not Scotsmen, avoid it in their non-theological writing. Harry Lauder is not only very much at home on the Rotarian platform, but preaches even in his patter, as Funny Frame did before him. Frame was a more versatile and ingenious comedian than Lauder; but caution in money matters he carried to the extent of dishonour, as I have personally good cause to remember. I am far from objecting to preaching so long as it is not too flatulently platitudinarian, as with a certain Scots type it rather tends to be. I shall not labour the point, as it is admitted. Mr. C. M. Grieve, one of the protagonists of the Scotish Renaissance movement, excuses it on the ground that the Scots character is specially prone to what has been called antisyzygy, a fizzing word coined by Professor Gregory Smith to indicate the combination in one personality of quite opposite qualities - as saintliness and vice, kindness and cruelty, a tendency to moralise combined with a tendency to play the gay dog. There is room for a treatise on this point alone. Suffice it to say that combinations of zig-zag contradictions in one individual are common to all nationalities. Lord Melbourne, Victoria’s first Premier, a great student of theology, but using ‘Damns’ even in her presence; the French and the Irish, fervent patriots, but so ready to deal with the enemy that during the Great War French country folk were constantly being shot for giving away secrets, while it was said by an Irishman that wherever two of his countrymen plotted, one of them was sure to be a traitor; Rasputin, the Holy Devil; David, the Psalmist, putting Bathsheba’s husband in the forefront of the battle; Abraham passing off Sarah as his sister; and Jacob starting the double shuffle from the hour of his birth, are examples from nations widely separated in space and time. The combination of pietism and materialism is not to be excused by a word. Humbug and hypocrisy are in no way redeemed by calling them antisyzygy.
In any case, Scots blarney is responsible for an abundant lack of social confidence and the enterprise and fair dealing based upon such confidence. I once took part in the discussion following a largely-attended and notable lecture. A typical Scots business man hurried after me at the close of the meeting to ask what I thought of the lecture. In some surprise, I said: ‘You have just heard what I thought of the lecture.’ ‘Ay, ay,’ was the answer; ‘but I mean your private opinion?’ As if having two opposite opinions were a matter of course.
The lack of confidence born of double dealing is deepened by the dilatoriness of parts remote from the centre of things. Locally we are not so very bad in this respect; yet a wall has just been rebuilt after having lain for years as it fell, leaving one side of the parish church enclosure open. In 1918 a balance sheet was published in connection with a fund to build a spire on the parish church. There were £130 in the fund even then. The spire has not materialised yet. £1300 were raised for an ex-service men’s institute, and there is an offer, still standing, of an additional £330 from the ex-service men’s headquarters. But the building lingers. Some years ago, I understand, a bazaar was held to raise money for a playing-field for the children. A sum of £2oo was the result, and it is the only result so far. No one, it appears, knows where the money is. Successful sports were held in the Den, and a concert took place which was largely attended - both under the auspices of an ex-service men’s organization. The proceeds have been lost sight of. At the present moment there are some thirteen masons in Turriff, and only bits of jobbing work for them to do. An additional housing scheme has been under contemplation for months, and would provide work for these men as for the building trades generally. But the Council was so badly used by the building fraternity over its last scheme that dilatoriness has begot dilatoriness, and trade suffers in consequence. So far as the Council is concerned, so soon as it is known that we wish to secure a particular site, up goes the price. We have powers of compulsory purchase; but we hesitate to enforce them, and the housing shortage, which is being so handsomely overtaken elsewhere, becomes worse as time passes with so little done. In one recent year England spent £22,000,000 on subsidised houses. Scotland, with heavier arrears, spent £1,500,000 that year.
Any moderately prosperous community which will build houses at present will attract population by the mere provision of accommodation for it. At every fresh letting of municipal houses we have as many applicants left over as we have been able to serve; and they are usually persons whom it would be altogether desirable to have as tenants and citizens. In Turriff we have built houses, made roads, and this year opened an auxiliary water supply. In spite of all this expenditure, present and prospective, the local rates are substantially down. The valuation of the town has been increased, and as working expenses have not been raised in proportion, the rate per £ has fallen with the greater number of £'s to be rated upon.
We are only at the beginning of municipal housing. Scotland has been, and is, kept back in population, wealth, and civilization by the way in which she has hung back in the matter of housing, English municipalities were building houses as far back as 1857, at low rates of interest, but without any subsidy. The pre-war demand of the Social-Democratic Federation was for houses to be let ‘at rents sufficient to cover cost of construction and maintenance only.’ This Collectivist demand was so little heeded, when all is said, that a succession of Acts became necessary - the Addison, Chamberlain, and Wheatley Acts - under which roughly a third of the rent of each house has to paid by the general public, so that State-aided housing now takes rank alongside State and rate aided schools, roads, libraries, picture-galleries, baths, wash-houses, crèches, scientific research, water-supply, lectures, organ recitals, art galleries, museums, fire brigade, police, army, navy, coastguards, and all the other Socialistic and Communistic services - Socialistic where they are paid for, Communistic where they are given free and put upon the rates.
So that when teachers shudder at the mention of Communism they forget that they are themselves the products and the employees of a communistic institution, the couple who have no children paying for the education of the parents who have ten. This of course is entirely right. Children do not belong to their parents. They belong to the nation. They give the nation the benefit of their education, and will themselves be the nation long after their parents are dead or have otherwise ceased to be responsible for them.
Scotland lags behind in the provision of municipal houses, and loses population to England and the Colonies because of the lack of trade and prosperity which would be immensely stimulated by expenditure on building. This apart altogether from the civilization, health, and happiness to be furthered by transferring the people from slums and mean streets to sunny garden cities, such as the Hilton estate outside of Aberdeen, where over 4000 working folk are accommodated in roomy houses, electrically lit, with gardens back and front.
One reason why municipal housing has hung fire in Scotland is the low housing standard which has always prevailed. To people who have been accustomed to pay twelve, ten, eight, or even as low as three or four pounds for a house, the lowest rent sanctioned by the Ministry of Health seems excessive. Many heads of families insist on living in mean houses, and will rather pay doctor’s bills than pay rent for a better house. In England weekly rents of 15s. for a working class house are quite common in the provinces, and £1 in London. This would be a fifth to a third of the tenant’s income. Whereas the Scots idea is a rental of a 15th to a 2oth of the income. In Iceland, owing to the high price of building materials, which have to be imported, the urban tenant has to pay one-half of his income in rent. If he is able to live on the other half, why not? A house is the place in which a family lives, moves, and has its being.
Our ancestors lived in darksome, smoky abodes, and were accustomed to say that they liked better to hear the lark sing than the mouse cheep, meaning that they preferred out of doors. The same idea must have been in the mind of a mother I once heard say as I passed by, ‘Jist gie them a piece an’ bung them oot!’ She was referring to her children, I take it, and was reflecting the old-fashioned idea that a house is a lair in which to eat and sleep, closely packed. The newer conception of a house is a home, for the enjoyment of reading, social intercourse, and music, provided with books, pictures, a musical instrument or two, and with room enough to afford separation from the discomfort and distraction of cooking, washing, and baking, and give seclusion and quiet to those who wish it.
‘Remote, Unfriended, Melancholy, Slow.’
We are remote; we may be unfriended; but we need not be either melancholy or slow. One of the greatest genial hustlers I know is a local man. He is open-handed, fair-dealing, a good employer, and has in his time given some service to the public, as his father gave much before him. And father, son, and now grandson have their reward in what is probably the largest business of the kind north of Aberdeen. There is no reason except one why from this little town travellers should go over a large part of the county, booking orders in the neighbourhood of larger towns and possessing a monopoly of one important line of supplies. No reason, I say, except one, and that is business aptitude, and especially despatch and diligence.
But one sees men gossip by the hour. I have seen three men with their hands at one windlass raising a bucket out of a hole. I have passed men supposed to be working who morning, mid-day, and afternoon were gossiping and malingering, with a change of abettor each time. If their employer could not afford it they were robbing him. If he could afford it, then he must have been robbing those for whom the work was being done.
The person always a failure at home who succeeds abroad has almost to a certainty changed his ways, and he might have done that without going away. I want to see the economic development go forward; for without population there are amenities of life that cannot be secured. Man is, or should be, an intelligent animal, and bovine mooning is unworthy of the species. But quite often a remark addressed to people in the country is met with ‘?’ or ‘What was that ye said?’ Sir Walter Scott remarked of Scots country folk that the commonest response to a remark or question was the inquiry ‘What’s yer wull?’ I was brought up in a different school. In the newspaper office a question not promptly answered was met with sardonic shouts of ‘Wake up!’ or ‘Take the wax out of your ears!’ A local variant of ‘What’s yer wull?’ is ‘What way?’ Both are in form and substance ungainly interrogations which mean, not that the questioner hasn’t heard, but that he hasn’t understood. Politeness, as George Eliot said, is an air-cushion which eases the jolts of social intercourse; but when I hear a person say ‘Eyh?’ I recall a scene I witnessed from a barrack gate once in Aberdeen. The adjutant of a militia corps addressed a question to one of the men on parade who must have been what is called a raw recruit, for he answered ‘Eyh?’ with a blank and not respectful look. They have summary ways and despotic powers in the army, and at some distance off we could hear the resounding slap in the face which rewarded this supercilious monosyllable.
PART THREE THE FINAL PART DUE NEXT MONTH.
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