This is a witty fantasy novel inspired by the true story of the unfortunate Lady Grange, who was abducted from Edinburgh in 1732 and held at various remote Scottish island locations until her death in 1745. It is also a satire on Edinburgh in the forenoon of the Scottish Enlightenment.
The year is 1739, the place the island of Hirta. The Cherub of Desire, whose Dominion encompasses the Hebrides, is persuaded to take letters from Rachel Chiesley, Lady Grange, to her friends in Edinburgh. In the course of her sojourn in Scotland, the Cherub encounters various distinguish personages, ardent and eccentric poets, lawyers, delinquent Lords, ruffians and a resourceful swan. She learns of ambitious schemes for the improvement of the œconomy of her Dominion and the creation of a grand gowf-course. Following the loss of her vessel The Sterculia as a result of a stramash in Stirling, she and her attendant angels are obliged to raise funds for its replacement by establishing a place of adult entertainment in one of the lofty tenements of Edinburgh.
by Michael Shaw, Edinburgh University Press (2019)
Michael Shaw is a Lecturer in Scottish Literature at the University of Stirling. He has previously written on Home Rule and the Celtic Revival and identity in the writing of William Sharp. This book is based on his doctoral research on Scotland’s fin-de-siècle cultural revival at the University of Glasgow which he completed in 2015. It is a ground-breaking piece of scholarship.
In a masterly survey of the cultural scene in fin-de-siècle Scotland, Shaw uncovers concerns with cultural defence and revivalism comparable with those of the Irish Revival in the work of a range of writers, artists and designers, including Robert Louis Stevenson, Violet Jacob, Margaret Macdonald, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Jessie M. King, and John Duncan. Though contemporary critics recognised and commented in this phenomenon, recognising in it a desire to resist the increasing cultural and intellectual dominance of London and reassert Scotland’s distinctive cultural identity internationally, it has received little examination since.
Shaw’s assessment challenges the assumption widespread in Scottish literary criticism that Scotland developed a cultural revival comparable with that of Ireland only in the 1920s, with the emergence of writers such as Hugh MacDiarmid and Edwin Muir. The Scottish literature of the 1890s has been widely associated with anti-national and anti-international insularity and dominated by the small-town parochialism of the Kailyard school. Shaw shows that many Scottish writers, artists and intellectuals of the period were discontent with what they perceived to be the increasing marginalisation of Scottish identity and responded by making a concerted effort to defend and revive Scottish literature and art.
Shaw identifies Patrick Geddes as a key figure in this national reawakening. His book begins with Victor Branford’s review of the Spring issue The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal published by Patrick Geddes and Colleagues in 1895. Branford is explicit that the magazine sought to stimulate a revival of Scottish national art and literature and reanimate Scotland’s European connections in the context of a wider Celtic Renascence.
Elizabeth Sharp wrote that the projects which Geddes promoted from his base in Edinburgh’s Lawnmarket were intended ‘to arrest the tremendous centralising power of the metropolis of London’ and to ‘restore to Scotland something of its old pre-eminence in the world of thought’. Geddes set out his theory of cultural revivalism in an essay entitled ‘The Scottish Renascence’ in the first issue of The Evergreen. While he laments the neglect of Scottish history and culture and the decline of Scottish literature, he sees signs of cultural awakening in the vigour of the Glasgow School of artists, an emerging literature of locality, a ‘renascent’ Scottish architecture and efforts towards the renewal in Edinburgh’s Old Town. He equates this Scottish Renascence with a growing interest in Celtic art, literature and tradition.
But Shaw is quick to point out that there was much more to Scottish cultural revivalism in this period than Geddes and his projects. In Glasgow, Charles Rennie Macintosh was calling for a ‘more national’ architecture and the Glasgow School was exploring Scottish vernacular architecture and Celtic design traditions. In theatre, Glasgow’s Scottish National Players and the Scottish Repertory Theatre took inspiration from developments in Dublin. And there was active contact and exchange between Edinburgh and Glasgow, with cultural activists and artists in the two cities drawing inspiration from each other.
As well as asserting the significance of revivalism in the Scotland of the 1890s, Shaw explores the similarities and tensions between the Scottish and Irish revivals. He examines how dissident fin-de-siècle styles, ideas and movements such as arts and crafts, decadent neo-paganism and symbolism influenced its expression. He also acknowledges the competing understandings of Celtic identity in Scottish and Irish contexts. Geddes saw Scotland as home to two distinct Celtic traditions: a Fingalian Highland Celtic tradition and an Arthurian Lowland tradition. At the same time, the authenticity of Edinburgh’s Celtic revival was contested by the authors such as Neil Munro and Andrew Lang, and John Davidson rejected it completely. The cultural defeatism of William Sharp’s Celtic Twilight writings in the guise of Fiona Macleod was anathema to Irish nationalists.
Shaw points out that although cultural revivalism looked to folklore, mythologies, histories and crafts in its efforts to resist national assimilation and often placed itself in opposition to industrial modernity, it wasn’t necessarily antithetical to modernity. Several fin-de-siècle revivalists were concerned with reconciling modernity with the continuance of national tradition.
Among the movements Shaw examines in his exploration of Scotland’s fin-de-siècle cultural scene are decadence and symbolism. Stuart Kelly has argued that in late nineteenth century Presbyterian Scotland, ‘where restraint and gravity became cardinal virtues,’ it was impossible for the excessiveness, indulgence and ‘fecklessness’ of decadence to take root. Shaw rejects this assessment, offering evidence that Scottish revivalist literature and art were often inspired by the styles and ideas of decadent writers, artists and thinkers across Europe, and often influenced those abroad.
While decadence is usually seen as a manifestation of individuation and therefore inherently ‘anti-national’, Shaw argues that it could comfortably make common cause with national revivalism in opposition to the narratives of stadial progress and improvement congenial to the elites of Europe’s great powers. In Scotland and Ireland, the space within which cultural nationalism and decadence most clearly intersected was the Celtic Revival. The Irish writer W.B. Yeats and the Scottish author and critic William Sharp are significant in this context.
As Shaw points out, Celticism in Ireland and Scotland can be seen as a reaction to a cultural identity imposed by writers such as Matthew Arnold, who characterised the Celt, in contrast to the factual, masculine and rational Saxon, as intuitive, fey, feminine and politically ineffectual. While Arnoldian Celticism could be deployed to accommodate Ireland and Scotland within Union and Empire, its stereotypes were also embraced and appropriated by writers like Yeats and Sharp for the purpose of national revival.
In his first chapter, Shaw explores the work of Robert Louis Stevenson and other Scottish romance revivalists. He argues that several of Stevenson’s works were proto-Celticist and proto-decadent and that the adventure romance genre provided a useful vehicle for interrogating Victorian social and cultural assumptions and promoting national cohesion. He points out that although Scottish writers of the Romance Revival such as Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Andrew Lang, J.M. Barrie, Violet Jacob and John Buchan all wrote about Scotland and many formed friendships with each other, there has never been sustained consideration of them as a loose, vibrant group, responding to Scottish and other contexts.
Arnold’s Celtic and Saxon stereotypes had important implications for Scotland because they reinforced the notion of a clear ethnic and cultural division between the Celtic Highlands and Saxon Lowlands. Shaw argues that a desire to challenge this narrative and the supposed inferiority and backwardness of Celtic culture was an important impulse behind Stevenson’s novels Kidnapped (1886) and Catriona (1893). He also points out that the scepticism about stadial progress, deep suspicion of mercantile modernity and sympathy with traditional cultures to be found in The Master of Ballantrae (1889) and Stevenson’s South Sea writings align him with the emerging decadent movement. Stevenson was admired by writers of decadence such as Wilde, Gide and Mallarmé for more than his long hair and velvet jacket.
Colin Kidd has argued that the narrative of a marked Celtic-Saxon ethnic divide inhibited the development of nationalism in nineteenth century Scotland. Shaw counters that by the fin-de-siècle that narrative was being actively challenged, pointing out that:
“Across murals, paintings, prose writings and poetry in fin-de-siècle Scotland, we find cultural revivalists turning to Scotland’s Celtic pagan inheritance.”
And, of course, much of that inheritance is shared with Ireland. Shaw argues that one of the most striking examples of Scottish cultural revivalism is John Duncan’s mural sequence in the common room at Ramsay Garden in Edinburgh. The Dundonian symbolist John Duncan was one of Patrick Geddes’ close collaborators, curating the art content of the Summer Meetings at University Hall and contributing illustrations to The Evergreen. The murals were painted by Duncan according to a scheme devised by Geddes. Taken together, they present an unorthodox narrative of Scottish history, featuring a unique assemblage of mythical and educational heroes, arranged chronologically. The sequence begins with the Celtic pagan warriors Cúchulainn and Fionn, followed by The Taking of Excalibur, featuring King Arthur, Merlin and Morgan Le Fay. The arrival of Christianity is represented by St. Mungo. With becoming modesty, Geddes described it as ‘the vastest and most elaborate Celtic illumination in the modern world.’
Shaw argues that Duncan’s Anima Celtica, which appeared in the Spring issue of The Evergreen, asserts a continuity between Celtic mysticism and Jacobitism and the enduring power of the Celtic past to inspire Scottish culture. Duncan went on to produce a number of significant works inspired by pagan Celtic mythology. His painting The Riders of the Sidhe (1911) is almost certainly inspired by Yeats’s poem ‘The Hosting of the Sidhe’ (1899).
One of the European cultural revivalist movements on which Shaw focuses is the Young Belgians. Their central figure was Maurice Maeterlinck, a Fleming who wrote in French. Maeterlinck became one of the key symbolist writers in fin-de-siècle Europe’, and his efforts were to earn him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1911. His circle, La Jeune Belgique, formed a movement to assert their Belgian identity, which they felt was compromised by increasing cultural homogenisation and the metropolitan pull of Paris. One writer who saw parallels with Scotland’s situation was the critic William Sharp. Sharp, who was Geddes’ partner in The Evergreen and editor of the Celtic Library series published by Patrick Geddes and Colleagues, was one of the first writers in Britain to review and translate the work of the Young Belgians, promoting them as a model for Scottish cultural revivalists.
Jessie M. King’s design for Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Death of Tintagiles (American edition)
Scottish artists who took inspiration from Maeterlinck included Jessie M. King, whose illustration of a scene from Pelléas and Mélisande was exhibited in the Scottish Rooms of the Venice Biennale in 1889 and Margaret Macdonald, whose The Seven Princesses (1906) is now displayed in the Vienna Museum of Applied Art. King also executed cover designs for five Maeterlinck plays published by Gowans and Gray in Glasgow and London between 1903 and 1909.
An influence which proved more generally appealing than the work of the Belgian writers was the art of Japan. While much has already been written about japonisme in Scotland, Shaw’s focus is on its relationship to the construction of national identity. Scotland’s Japanese connections developed within the context of the British Empire and its involvement in the modernisation and industrialisation of Japan. As early as 1866, Japanese students were being sent to Glasgow to study naval architecture. Japonisme, Shaw suggests, was attractive to Scottish cultural revivalists who were comfortable with industrial modernity but had concerns about a form of modernity which demanded the abandonment of traditional national or ethnic cultures.
Two Scottish artists strongly influenced by Japanese art were the Glasgow Boys E.A. Hornel and George Henry. Shaw argues that while the subject matter of their The Druids – Bringing in the Mistletoe (1890), which appears on the cover of his book, is Celtic, the painting makes several references to Japanese culture. He sees the depiction of the trees against an oddly white background and the moon against a rich blue sky as reminiscent of Japanese prints and points out that gilt gold details are common in oriental art. Hornel and Henry subsequently visited Japan in 1893, and Hornel contributed the illustration Madame Chrysanthème to the Autumn issue of The Evergreen in 1895.
One of Shaw’s most important conclusions is that the vibrancy, diversity and international engagement of cultural activity in fin-de-siècle Scotland calls into serious question the claims by later figures, notably Hugh MacDiarmid, that the period was defined by parochialism and sentimentality. He argues that many of the international connections established by Scottish writers and artists in the 1890s anticipated modernist developments and suggests that MacDiarmid’s need to emphasise the innovation and originality of the Scottish Renaissance of the 1920s, for which he owed a direct debt to Geddes, led him to be unfairly dismissive of the generation previous to his own. MacDiarmid himself invoked La Jeune Belgique as model from which Scotland could learn. Shaw argues that the Belgian connection represents a significant strand of continuity between the Scots Renascence of the 1890s and the Scottish Renaissance of the 1920s.
Shaw’s book is a treasure trove of fascinating information about the concerns and international influences which animated the cultural scene in late nineteenth century Scotland. He amply demonstrates that the Scotland of that period was not the provincialized and insular country it subsequently suited others to claim.
The hardback book is handsomely produced with 13 colour plates. Given that it is such an important work, it is regrettable that the exigencies of academic publishing have resulted in it being priced at a hefty £80.00, with no cheaper paperback option. That makes it less accessible to the general reader than its merit demands. Readers who are quick of the mark may, however, be able to obtain a copy at a lower price in one of the publisher’s periodic flash sales.
Scott Hames is Lecturer in Scottish Literature at the University of Stirling. He has edited two books of essays on modern Scottish literature and national identity and is an occasional contributor to Bella Caledonia. In The Literary Politics of Scottish Devolution: Voice, Class, Nation he examines the influence of writers and intellectuals in shaping the campaign for constitutional change in Scotland from the 1970s to the establishment of a devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999, exploring the relationship between the ‘dream’ of national empowerment and the ‘grind’ of electoral strategy, and examining critically how the work of authors such as William McIlvanney, A.L. Kennedy, Irvine Welsh and James Kelman relates to the concern with articulating a distinctive and authentic Scottish voice during the period of the Thatcher and Major governments.
Hames highlights the influence of writers and thinkers such as Tom Nairn, Stephen Maxwell, Jack Brand, Neal Ascherson and Christopher Harvie in shaping the initial response to the unsatisfactory outcome of the devolution referendum of 1979, but a distinctive feature of the book is a strong focus on the small magazines which engaged with Scottish political and cultural debates in the pre-internet period, particularly Radical Scotland, Calgacus, Cencrastus and Edinburgh Review.
While Hames is sympathetic to the cause of Scottish self-government, he is at pains to maintain a critical distance from his subject. He is right to subject the sometimes exaggerated claims of cultural vanguardism to critical scrutiny, but his scepticism often becomes mannered, not to say loaded and laboured. Scotland’s claims are ‘uncertain’. Assertions of popular sovereignty are dismissed as ‘nationalist notions’. Scottish nationalism contrives to be perversely ‘a-cultural’ while retaining a ‘tweedy aura’. When not being expressed through the ballot box, Scottish national consciousness is only ‘latent’. Home rule activists are characterised as ‘obsessives’ fretting over ‘nebulous difference’ and nursing ‘national injury’. Scots is only a ‘semi-separate tongue’. The Scotland of the 1990s is reduced to being ‘marginal’ and a ‘semi-nation’. Scots appear to have only a ‘half-belief in national belonging’, and Scottish identity is a ‘provisional choice’. In this narrative, Scotland exhibits a peculiar form of exceptionalism, a unique ambivalence about its authenticity. One is left wondering how this etiolated, twilight entity, with only a tenuous grip on national consciousness, could have come to possess the distinct ‘intelligentsia’ and ‘densely-networked’ civic realm which Hames identifies as key drivers of the campaign for devolved government.
Hames acknowledges the salience of Cairns Craig’s work on Scottish culture, specifically referencing his recent book The Wealth of the Nation: Scotland, Culture and Independence which I reviewed a year ago; yet he makes no reference to Craig’s analysis of the changing nature of Scottish nationalism in the period since the Union. As Craig points out, throughout the nineteenth century, Scots saw the British Empire as an effective vehicle for projecting Scottish identity and influence across a global canvas, not least in the Dominion of Canada. It was only after this became untenable after the First World War that there emerged a ‘resistant nationalism’ of the sort we are familiar with in other small European nations, and one which was aggressively dismissive of what had gone before. Craig argues that this ‘nostophobic’ phase, which sometimes became a self-flagellating preoccupation with the perceived inadequacies of Scottish culture, had begun to exhaust itself by the 1970s. The cultural revival led by writers and artists such as Edwin Morgan, Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochhead and Ian Hamilton Finlay after the devolution referendum of 1979 was able to combine respect for Scotland’s indigenous cultural resources with an openness to ideas from elsewhere. Oddly, Hames doesn’t attempt to engage with any of this, preferring to wear his studied scepticism about the existence and viability of a distinct Scottish cultural identity as a badge of detached academic rigour.
Hames’ relentlessly sceptical stance tends to undermine his own account of the influence of writers and intellectuals in establishing consensus around a post-referendum narrative in the early 1980s. He writes of the assembly offered in the 1970s dismissively as only ‘half-wanted’ and ‘nobody’s dream’. But if the feeling that the failure to grasp it was a lost opportunity had not been widely shared, that narrative would have had little traction.
Hames is curiously uncurious about the social, political and cultural networks which took the cause of Scottish self-government forward in the 1980s and 1990s, the people involved and the connections between them. His analysis of the forces at play during the period remains at the level of airy academic abstractions such as ‘the intelligentsia’, ‘Civic Scotland’ and the ‘elite’. He argues that ‘the Scottish elite took over a half-constructed, semi-derelict project’ of devolution after 1979, though this elite is not defined or examined in any depth. While the Constitutional Convention established in 1989 can be seen as an elite project, the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly (CSA) which preceded it, and was up and running the year after the referendum, was by no means an elite organisation. It grew out of the links which had been established between activists of various parties and none during the referendum campaign. It was grass-roots and multi-faceted. It included members of the SNP, the Labour Party and Jim Sillars’ Scottish Labour Party, as well as Liberals, Communists and Greens. The Scottish Ecology Party, forerunner to today’s Scottish Green Party, had been established just in time to campaign on the ‘Yes’ side in 1979. Hugh Miller of the Scottish Republican Socialist Party was a key figure in the Edinburgh Branch and nationally. Activists with widely different political perspectives admired his enthusiasm and commitment and respected his organisational skills. Pace George Kerevan, in its diversity and activist-driven creativity, the CSA was more closely akin to the local ‘Yes’ groups of the 2014 referendum campaign than John MacCormick’s douce Covenant Movement.
Hames’ focus is on the literature of the period, which is well and good, but in places he appears to expect literature carry the whole burden of Scotland’s claim to a distinctive cultural identity, even although the writers he cites often explicitly deploy a wider frame of reference encompassing music, film, drama and the visual arts. In his quest for authentic radicalism, he is discomfited to find Radical Scotland 27 (June-July 1987) devoting twice as much space to a positive review of The Proclaimers as to a review of James Kelman’s latest novel; Kelman being in Hames’ view ‘the outstanding political novelist of 1980s-90s Scotland’ (Hames edited The Edinburgh Companion to James Kelman). But, of course, Radical Scotland never had any pretensions to being a literary magazine. Its interest in cultural matters was always more catholic and utilitarian. Surprisingly, given Hames’ concern with authenticity of voice, he dismisses The Proclaimers rather sniffily as a ‘pop group’! And it is odd to find a book which consciously focuses so strictly on literature ending with an admonition not to forget that ‘large fraction of Scottish society who have never read (or indeed heard of) the writers consecrated in the Canongate Wall.’
Hames suggests that there was little examination of the content of Scottish culture by writers and intellectuals in the period after the 1979 referendum. In fact, there was rather a lot. Scottish Journey (1935), Edwin Muir’s bleak assessment of Scottish culture and identity was widely referenced during the period. A new edition had been published by Mainstream in 1979, with an introductory essay by T.C. Smout. Barbara and Murray Grigor’s Scotch Myths exhibition (1981) stimulated a series of articles examining aspects of the representation of Scottish identity and culture in The Bulletin of Scottish Politics and Cencrastus, but Hames’ strict focus on literature allows him to confine his acknowledgement of this fact to a footnote, on the ground of lack of space. The cover of the first issue of the relaunched Radical Scotland published in the spring of 1983 illustrates the quote attributed to Tom Nairn, that ‘Scotland will be free when the last minister is strangled by the last copy of the Sunday Post.’ Here, the new Editorial team were not asserting a tentative or questionable Scottish cultural identity but contesting the nature of Scottish identity and signalling a break with the past. It is noteworthy that the Kirk and Presbyterianism barely surface in Hames’ survey of the writing of the period, though in his criticism of the work of James Robertson the Disruption of 1843, a singularly Scottish event, does get a mention.
Hames quotes the following passage from Robertson’s novel, And the Land Lay Still (2010):
“There were magazines recording and encouraging this process of self-exploration. They were small-scale, low-budget, sporadic affairs, and their sales were tiny – a few hundred, a very few thousand – but the people running them weren’t doing it for the sales. They were doing it to address the pervasive sense of wrongness. And the people who read them – culturally aware, politically active people – were hungry for what they provided. More than anything, perhaps, the magazines said you are not alone.”
Sadly, we learn less than might have been expected about these people. Kevin Dunion and Alan Lawson, the successive editors of Radical Scotland are identified, as are Joy Henry, the editor of Chapman, and Peter Kravitz, the editor of Edinburgh Review. Norman Easton, editor of the predecessor to Radical Scotland, Crann Tára, is not identified, neither is Ray Burnett, Editor of Calgacus, or Ian Dunn, the co-founder of the Scottish Minorities Group who edited two issues of Radical Scotland prior to the relaunch of the magazine in 1983. With the exception of Cairns Craig, the members of the editorial team at Cencrastus remain anonymous.
Several members of the new editorial team at Radical Scotland had been active in the SNP 79 Group, and involved in the production of its newsletter, 79 Group News. Following the proscription of the 79 Group by the SNP in the autumn of 1982, they were in need of an alternative vehicle for the promotion of their ideas. However, Hames is mistaken in his claim that the magazine was taken forward by ‘an entirely new editorial team’. There was an element of continuity, and that played a part in facilitating the change to the new regime, but it is worth noting that an interesting strand of writing on sexual identities and minorities in Scotland did not survive the transition. Hames references an excellent essay by Douglas Robertson and James Smyth on the story of Radical Scotland, about which Robertson has first-hand knowledge as a member of the editorial team. I remain astonished that it was rejected by the journal Scottish Affairs and is still unpublished.
While my personal knowledge of the period has led me to be acerbically critical of several aspects of this book, I do believe that it is a valuable piece of work, breaking important new ground in exploring the ‘complex and pervasive intermingling of Scottish literature and politics over the past few decades’ and highlighting the part which small political and cultural magazines played in bringing that about. Hames is right to warn against a reductive critique of Scottish writing and writers. He provides valuable insights, such as the suggestion that ‘Loosening the grip of MacDiarmid’s acolytes on ‘Scotland’ as a topic and possibility was arguably the crucial legacy of Scottish International.’ He draws our attention to observations by Scottish writers which remain all too relevant. Tom Nairn’s comment that English nationality has little political horizon beyond Anglo-Britain and its imperial residues remains true today as we teeter on the edge of Brexit. James Kelman’s parody of the stand-off between Civic Scotland and the Major Government over devolution, in which ‘the height of their defiance is to carry on waiting until they give us power,’ has an uncomfortable resonance in the political predicament in which Scotland now finds itself. Hames is correct to conclude that Scottish devolution is not only a set of political structures but a cultural condition, but surely mistaken in suggesting that it is “a condition just short of independence” – as we are currently finding out.
There is much more to explore and much more that can and should be written about the relationship and interactions between culture and politics in the period between the referendums of 1979 and 1997. Scott Hames has made a welcome start.
A version of this article was published inBella Caledoniaon 30 December 2019.
by Cairns Craig, Edinburgh University Press (2018)
Cairns Craig is a leading scholar in Scottish and modernist literature. He has been Professor of Irish and Scottish Studies at the University of Aberdeen since 2005. Before that, he taught at the University of Edinburgh, serving as Head of the English Literature Department from 1997 to 2003. In the 1980s he was a member of the Advisory Committee and Editorial Board of the literature, arts and cultural affairs magazine Cencrastus. His The Wealth of the Nation: Scotland, Culture and Independence explores how recurrent cultural revival has successfully sustained Scotland as a nation through 300 years of Union. It is an important and ambitious work, and was recently shortlisted for the Saltire Society Literary Awards History Book of the Year.
Craig invokes Adam Smith in seeing the true wealth of the nation as lying in its culture and sees the explanation for Scotland’s survival as lying in the successful accumulation and reinvestment of cultural capital. In examining Scotland’s cultural resilience, he deploys a number of unfamiliar concepts, with which the reader must try to get to grips. The first of these is that Scotland’s sense of itself as a distinctive cultural entity took a ‘xeniteian’ form during the period of the British Empire, with Scots migrants taking advantage of the opportunities Empire created to take Scotland out across the world, and busily reconstructing the institutions of their homeland throughout the Imperial territories. This influence was strong enough to survive the loss of the American colonies. Scottish thinkers like Adam Smith, Hugh Blair, Francis Hutcheson and Thomas Reid had a profound influence on the institutions of the emergent United States. The Scots Presbyterian minister John Witherspoon was a signatory to the Declaration of Independence and was a key figure in the development of the College of New Jersey which would later become Princeton University.
Scotland’s ‘Imperial nationalism’ continued to project Scotland as an independent cultural entity through the celebration of its writers throughout the Nineteenth Century. Thus, Craig argues:
“In the very period when, according to the standard view, Scottish intellectual life was in decline in Scotland, Scottish ideas were achieving their greatest world-wide influence.”
It is estimated that at their peak the Edinburgh-based journals the Edinburgh Review and Blackwood’s Magazine enjoyed an international readership of over 100,000. In the 1820s, Francis Jeffrey’s Edinburgh Review was selling 4,000 copies per issue in the USA, as much as any USA-based publication in the period.
At home, Walter Scott and the dramatist Daniel Terry were engaged in a theatrical reconstruction of Scottish identity which served the needs of Empire. For George IV’s visit to Scotland in 1822:
“Scott and Terry created a political theatre in which a Hanovarian monarch could appear upon the stage of Edinburgh to act the part of a Stuart king.”
Craig distinguishes between two contrasting manifestations of nationalism in Nineteenth Century Europe – resistant and projective nationalism. Scotland’s nationalism was decidedly of the latter variety.
“Scotland had no need of a ‘resistant nationalism’ precisely because it was an imperial nation engaged in projecting its national culture to the world. The historical problem of Scotland’s ‘absent nationalism’ in the nineteenth century is a non-problem because far from lacking a nationalism, Scottish nationalism was vigorously engaged on imposing itself wherever Scots had achieved a determining or a significant role within the territory of the British Empire. Scottish nationalism did not need to assert itself within the British state because the ‘world was its field’, and its aim was to make Scotland the spiritual core of the imperial project.”
Craig argues that the trauma of the First World War fatally undermined Scotland’s xeniteian empire and the assumptions underlying her projective nationalism. While the British Empire soldiered on until after the Second World War, the Age of Empires had ended. The Scottish industries which had served the British Empire were plunged into Depression between the Wars. Core areas of the Empire where Scottish culture had taken root were asserting their own independent national identities. The Scottish Renaissance which Scotland’s writers and artists promoted from the 1920s was resistant in character and whereas Scott’s imperial nationalism had indulged a nostalgia for Scotland’s past, the new nationalism was aggressively dismissive of what had gone before – what Craig describes as ‘nostophobic’. Hugh MacDiarmid’s modernist manifesto demanded the rejection of what had passed for Scottish culture since the Reformation.
Craig argues that nostophobia, a pessimistic pre-occupation with the cramping, provincial inadequacies of Scottish culture, became the dominant intellectual discourse in Scotland in the period following the Second World War, with figures as diverse as Edwin Muir, Allan Massie, Alexander Trocchi and the film-maker Bill Douglas contributing to the construct. Perhaps the Strichen runaway Nora Low should be seen as the pioneer poster-girl of the nostophobes? As Lorna Moon she achieved success in Hollywood as a screenwriter for the early talkies and died in a tuberculosis sanatorium in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1930.
By the 1970s, nostophobia had achieved its ultimate distillation and, as Craig points out:
“Far from being the minority opposition in modern Scottish culture, nostophobia was, in fact, the ideology of much of the cultural ‘establishment’.”
In an article in the house magazine of Scottish nostophobia, Bob Tait’s Scottish International, Tom Nairn argued that the Scots, liberated from the debilitating constraints of a failed national culture, were well placed to provide the intellectual vanguard of a new post-nationalist world. It is therefore richly ironic that Scottish International’s What Kind of Scotland? conference in the Spring of 1973, at which John McGrath’s The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil was given an enthusiastic standing ovation, can be seen as marking the exhaustion of the nostophobic impulse. I still remember with relish the censoriousness with which the commissars of internationalism greeted the play’s popular appeal.
Meanwhile, through the efforts of American scholars, as well as Duncan Forbes and George Elder Davie, Scotland’s Eighteenth Century thinkers and their Nineteenth Century successors had become the subject of renewed interest. Craig reminds us that the concept of a ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ only gained currency in the 1960s, and that:
“The ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ did not send out its intellectuals to populate the world – rather, Scottish ideas swept around the world and returned to remake Scotland’s past into an Enlightenment.”
Craig uses the term ‘theoxenia’ to describe the cultural response to the political hopes dashed by the result of the Devolution Referendum of 1979 – a perspective which is able to combine respect for Scotland’s indigenous cultural resources with a receptiveness to the gifts of gods who come as strangers. He sees Edwin Morgan, Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochhead and Ian Hamilton Finlay as leading contributors to this latest phase of cultural revival.
Craig is strongly focused on Scottish literature and philosophy, with nods to art and drama. He engages primarily with the intellectual dimension of Scottish culture. In Popular Literature in Victorian Scotland (1986), another Aberdeen-based academic, William Donaldson, has drawn attention to the important part which newspapers, notably the Dundee-based People’s Journal and the Aberdeen Free Press, played in sustaining popular Scottish culture in the Nineteenth Century. In seeking explanations for the remarkable survival of Scotland as a cultural entity, the roles of the popular press, music hall, pantomime and folk and popular music would repay further examination, bringing figures like William D. Latto, Hamish Henderson, Stanley Baxter, Jimmy Logan, Rikki Fulton, June Imrie, Michael Marra, Elaine C. Smith, Sheena Wellington and Karine Polwart into the frame. A full exploration of the part played by popular media in cultural resilience would also require us to examine broadcasting and the problematic role of the BBC. There is clearly scope for a lot more work in this area.
In a final short chapter, Craig addresses the ambivalence of Scottish politicians towards Scottish culture. The Labour Party and the SNP have both pursued essentially neoliberal culture strategies, seeking to recruit artistic and literary creativity into the service of global capital and enterprise. Craig asserts the value of cultural capital on its own terms as the real basis of a nation’s wealth. In the independence referendum of 2014, it was neither the SNP’s technocratic 649-page white paper nor the worthy and stolid official Yes campaign which pushed support for independence from 30 to 45%, but the explosion of creativity from writers, artists and local activists. The SNP would be smart to learn lessons from that for any future independence campaign. As Craig concludes:
“Financial capital, as was shown in the case of the Royal Bank of Scotland, is no guarantee of sustained independence; cultural capital guarantees a country’s ability to resist dependence, even if, in Scotland’s case, it has not proved – as yet – able to deliver political independence. But without cultural independence a country ceases to exist…”
Septimius Severus in Scotland: The Northern Campaigns of the First Hammer of the Scots, by Simon Elliott (2018), Greenhill Books, Barnsley
This book is chiefly of value for the improved account of the campaigns of Septimius Severus in Scotland which Simon Elliott is able to provide by drawing on recent archaeological evidence and his own knowledge of Roman warfare. However, he doesn’t get there until Chapter 7. The rest of the book is filled out with a description of the Roman military machine at the time of Septimius Severus, an account of the earlier life of the Emperor, and details of his aggrandisement of York as an Imperial Capital in advance of the campaigns.
The justification Elliott provides for the anachronistic use of the term ‘Scots’ in the title is half-hearted and unconvincing, leading to the suspicion that it may have been imposed on him by his publisher. In the text, he identifies the tribes which the Severan campaigns were intended to subdue as the Maeatae and the Caledonians.
Simon Elliott is of the ‘It’s Grim Up North’ school of British historians. Northern Britain is described as ‘that dimmest of Roman Border territories’ and ‘a Conradian heart of darkness’. It is even suggested that the blame for the failure of Rome to incorporate Northern Britain into the Empire can be laid at the door of the natives themselves, as they simply lacked ‘an elite sophisticated enough’ to buy into Rome’s imperial project.
Elliott argues, with some evidence, that the campaign of genocide which Septimius Severus sought to unleash in Scotland was sufficiently thorough to remove the threat of attack from the North for 80 years. However, one is left wondering how consistent that idea is with the fact that, following his death, the northern border of the Empire reverted to the line of Hadrian’s Wall. Adam Ardrey, in his book Finding Arthur (2013), suggests that Caracalla deliberately frustrated his ailing father’s genocidal intentions with the aim of concluding a speedy peace with the Maeatae and Caledonians on his death.
Scotland’s Homes Fit for Heroes: Garden City Influences on the Development of Scottish Working Class Housing 1900 to 1939 by Lou Rosenburg (2016), The Word Bank
Lou Rosenburg’s book makes a very valuable contribution to our understanding of the evolution of working class housing provision in Scotland in the early part of the 20th Century. It is meticulously researched, well written, attractively laid out and generously illustrated with photographs, plans and period artwork.
The book explores the form and design influences on the 240,000 houses built by Scottish local authorities between 1919 and 1939, with a particular focus on those built under the Town Planning (Scotland) Act 1919, the Coalition Government’s response to the wartime demand for ‘Homes fit for Heroes’. The new housing schemes were strongly influenced by the English arts and crafts forms of the garden cities movement. Cottages became the preferred form of provision as traditional tenements fell out of favour because of their association with overcrowding and insanitary conditions. However, habit and budgetary constraints often led to compromise and a native form of garden suburb development emerged, incorporating distinctively Scottish elements such as pavilion-style tenements and four-in-a-block cottage flats.
Before the First World War, a number of cottage developments influenced by garden suburb principles had been pioneered by local authorities and public utility societies. During the War, the need to accommodate civilian defence workers led to significant new developments at a number of strategically important locations, including Rosyth, Gretna, Greenock, Glengarnock and Invergordon.
By 1925, 25,000 houses had been completed under the 1919 Act, only a fraction of the 120,000 units which the Ballantyne Commission had estimated to be required in 1917. Shortages of labour and materials meant that local authorities and public utility companies were unable to achieve the construction levels required. Despite the generous subsidies made available by central government, high construction costs meant that rents were generally set at levels which were beyond the means of poorer households. In the mind of officialdom, the ability to pay rent quickly became a more important consideration than war service.
Rosenburg’s painstaking scrutiny of valuation rolls has identified some 300 schemes developed under the 1919 Act. These are very widely distributed throughout Scotland, with a remarkable 30% outside burghs. Many are of outstanding quality. Some of the most charming examples were built in small settlements in rural areas, often by county councils. While the contribution of public utility societies was modest, a significant garden cottage scheme was developed by the Kinlochleven Village Improvement Society to provide accommodation for employees of the British Aluminium Company, and the Scottish Veterans’ Garden City Association built nearly 200 houses in small developments across Scotland.
A welcome aspect of Rosenburg’s book is the information he provides on the work of officials such as William E. Whyte, politicians such as John Wheatley and Jean Mann and architects such as Joseph Weekes and John A.W. Grant. The personal contributions to the improvement of housing conditions of figures such as these deserves to be more widely recognised.
With the Scottish Government consulting on the reform of the planning system, Scotland’s Homes Fit for Heroes provides a timely reminder of a period when Government felt confident enough to drive forward improvements in the form and quality of new housing.
‘Sikunder Burnes: Master of The Great Game’ by Craig Murray (2016), Birlinn, Edinburgh
Craig Murray tells the story of Alexander Burnes, a lad from Montrose who secured a commission with the British India Company at the age of 16 and played a prominent role in The Great Game, the struggle between the British and Russian empires for domination of Central Asia.
Burnes won fame with his published account of the commercial mission he led to Bhukara in what is now Uzbekistan in 1832, as a cover for the gathering of intelligence on the region. In 1837, against the background of mounting concern that a Russian-backed Persian army threatened Herat, the Governor General of India, Lord Aukland, put Burnes in charge of a second mission into Afghanistan. He was cordially welcomed at Kabul by Dost Mohamed Khan, the reigning Emir, and treated with him with a view to securing his alliance with the British. However, Burnes’ efforts were fatally undermined when the Governor General back in Simla concluded that removing Dost Mohammed and restoring Shah Shuja ul-Mulk to the throne in Kabul would suit British interests better. Against his better judgement, Burnes accompanied the British Army of the Indus which invaded Afghanistan for this purpose in 1839. He was murdered by a mob in Kabul shortly before the disastrous British retreat from the city in January 1842.
Murray shines a brutal light on the haughty incompetence of those in charge of British Imperial policy at the time. Lord Palmerson, Aukland, and his adviser, Sir William McNaghten, fare particularly badly under his withering scrutiny. Understandably, given his experiences as British Ambassador in Uzbekistan, Murray is tempted into comparisons with events in our own time. Chapter headings include ‘Regime Change’ and ‘The Dodgy Dossier’.
There are a few typographical errors which could have been eliminated by more careful proof reading. For example, Lieutenant Robert Leech, one of Burnes’ close colleagues and companions on his later missions, disconcertingly intrudes himself on his first trip up the Indus in 1831 (p.71), presumably standing in for Ensign John Leckie.
‘Memoirs and Confessions of a County Planning Officer’ by Frank Tindall (1998), The Pantile Press
This book provides a fascinating account of the professional career of Frank Tindall, who was Planning Officer for the County of East Lothian between 1950 and 1975.
Tindall acknowledges his debt to the holistic planning philosophy of Patrick Geddes and his son-in-law Frank Mears. Indeed, he followed directly in the footsteps of Mears, who was planning consultant for East Lothian from 1937 until 1950. Between them, Mears and Tindall established a tradition of sensitive conservation and renewal from which the area has greatly benefited.
Like Mears, Tindall promoted policies designed to check rural depopulation. Considerable effort was put into the improvement of infrastructure and the environment, safeguarding rural schools and consolidating villages through the provision of new housing, small workshops and community facilities.
The book contains numerous references to Tindall’s efforts to safeguard and extend woodland cover. Notable achievements included the saving of a number of the County’s remaining fragents of ancient oakwood, securing public access to Pressmennan Wood and the transformation of Woodhall Bing at Pencaitland into a popular recreational woodland. He made a particular point of encouraging tree planting in development schemes and concern over the potential impact of commercial afforestation of the Lammermuir Hills led him to advocate that planning control be extended to cover forestry schemes.
For the last ten years of his working life Tindall was Director of Physical Planning for Lothian Region. During that time he was instrumental in creating the Regional Council’s Land Reclamation Unit. He was also responsible for the establishment of the Central Scotland Woodlands Project, which had its origins in Mears’ Central and South-East Scotland Plan of 1949.
Survey work for the County Development Plan revealed the extent of neglected and degraded woodland in East Lothian. Tindall and his staff sought to promote positive woodland management and were ground-breaking in encouraging the planting of upland catchments to tackle problems of flooding and erosion. There remains considerable scope for extending tree cover in East Lothian and a renewal of effort in that area would be a fitting tribute to Frank Tindall’s memory.
‘Some Branch Against the Sky: The Practice and Principles of Marginal Gardening’ by Geoffrey Dutton (1997), David & Charles
In the autumn of 1996, some of the participants in Reforesting Scotland’s Meigle gathering were lucky enough to visit Geoffrey Dutton’s ‘marginal garden’ on the edge of the Forest of Alyth. His remarkable transformation of an exposed upland site through judicious planting of native and exotic tree and shrub species is an inspiration to anyone interested in creating and working with a reforested environment.
In his earlier book, Harvesting the Edge: Some Explorations from a Marginal Garden (The Menard Press, 1995), Dutton dealt with the scientific, environmental and spiritual interests and concerns which drew him towards marginal gardening. If that work addressed the why, this book is concerned primarily with the how. It contains a wealth of information on the practice of marginal gardening through the seasons, drawing on the experience of some forty years. An annex offers general principles for making and maintaining a wild marginal garden.
The book is full of valuable advice on matters such as site elevation, the creation of shelter, developing the character of a site, and the performance of tree, shrub and herbaceous species in the challenging climatic conditions of the eastern Highlands. It displays a keen aesthetic sensibility and is written with style and a dry, self-deprecating humour. ‘Essential reading for wild and marginal gardeners everywhere!