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Scotland's Influence on Civilization
Scotland's Literature and Authorship


NO account of Scotland's influence on the world in the general advance of civilization would be complete without some notice of her literature and her authorship. It is here, perhaps, that her educational and elevating influence comes most distinctly into view and is most generally appreciated. It is by her public press, not less than by her sacred pulpit, that Scotland has spread her opinions before the reading world and become to a large extent a leader of its thought and a teacher of its youth. By her books, her public presses, her world-admired authors, Scotland's influence has gone largely into the education not only of the British nation, but of the whole English-speaking race. It is at least one of the potential factors in the problem of the education and the right direction of this now most prominent and influential of all civilized races.

At this point, however, our survey widens into a field almost illimitable. Who is competent to bring into one brief sketch the literary, scientific, political, educational and religious authorship of the last two centuries of Scottish history ? In nothing has this small country been more preeminently distinguished than in that brilliant galaxy of authorship which stretches its starry belt across the whole literary firmament. In every department of literature, science, art, invention, philosophy, her writers have risen to the first rank and sent their influence to the ends of the earth. Her text-books of philosophy, theology, political, legal and medical science, education and reform, have found their way into the schools of all EngIish-speaking Christendom; while the great periodical magazines and reviews have helped to form the opinions, to shape the thinking and to direct the practical administration of all nations. Scotland has thus become for generations past a "city set on a hill whose light could not be hid."

That tremendous energy of character which through all the early ages spent itself in vasting wars and carnage, as soon as the sword was sheathed at the Union of 1707, took the direction of peaceful invention, of useful industry, of practical discovery, of scientific research, of philosophical inquiry, of poetic inspiration, of historical romance, of educational reform, of political enfranchisement, of religious discussion, of elegant letters, absorbing and developing the best-cultivated intellect of the country. And now for a hundred and seventy years this highly cultivated and thoroughly-disciplined intellectual and moral force—equal, probably, in native ability to any that ever existed in any land—has been expending all its resources in productions and achievements that not unfrequently evince the highest triumphs of genius. Military glory has been exchanged for the civic arm and the laurel-wreath, and Scotland's pen has become mightier than the sword.

Thus modern Scotland, in place of a home of warriors, has grown to be the abode of an industrious, thriving, wealthy and happy people sending their well-trained and God-fearing sons and daughters into all the colonies of the British crown and into all new countries around the globe, there to make independent and happy homes for themselves. Scotland herself is filled with such homes, from the palatial residences of noble and gentry down to the humblest dwellings of her Christian yeomanry. It was of such Christian homes, where her humblest cottagers ply their daily toil and eat their frugal meal, that the greatest of her national bards sang:

"From scenes like these Old Scotia's grandeur springs,
That makes her loved at home, revered abroad;
Princes and lords are but the breath of kings,
An honest man's the noblest work of God."

One crowning glory of Scotland—that which gives her moral power at home and educational influence all around the globe—is her Christian literature and her illustrious authorship. Her literature is for the most part baptized with the spirit of the gospel and consecrated at the altar of Christ. No literature of any land has been purer, more elevating, more inspiring in all its aims and influences, for none has ever been more fully pervaded with the very life and character of Christianity. The deep inspiration that conies from the Bible, alike pervading pulpit and press, is the true source of that influence which has made Scotland so potential in the education and civilization of recent times.

Hugh Miller somewhere remarks that England has reached a higher rank of authorship than Scotland ever attained—that Scotland has produced no Shakespeare, no Milton, no Bacon, no Sir Isaac Newton, no John Locke. Is not this an overstretch of candor against his own country in the honest Scotsman? With as much truth it may be said that England has produced no Burns, no Walter Scott, no James Watt, no Sir William Hamilton, no Mary Somerville. It is difficult and unfair to offset the children of genius against one another. Each has his own high and divine vocation; each is supreme in his own line of excellence. England to this day has no Hugh Miller; Scotland never had but one, and may never have another. John Knox and Thomas Chalmers, Robert Burns and Walter Scott, Mary Somerville and Hugh Miller, David Livingstone and Alexander Duff, belong to that class of characters which we describe as sui generis. They cannot well be compared with others, but each is in his own order unique and supreme. As we go to England to find the highest Shakespeare and the sublimest Milton the race has produced, we go to Scotland to see the noblest Burns and the greatest Scott. Incomparable Robert Burns, as distinguished in song as Bruce was in battle; the child of poverty, the child of genius, the child of nature; the poet of humanity, the man of feeling, the interpreter of the common people, the artist of the soul; loved, honored, idolized, by all Scotsmen, at home and abroad, as no poet was ever loved before; his memory as fresh and green to-day in the hearts of his countrymen as it was three-quarters of a century ago; notwithstanding all his faults and foibles a true representative of the national heart and character, and therefore entitled to wear, as he does wear, the laureate-crown of Scotland!

No name in literature perhaps has won a more profound and cordial homage for the genius of the man, and at the same time a deeper sympathy for the errors and misfortunes that so beset and darkened his pathway. How truly he struck all the deepest and tenderest chords of feeling in his matchless songs! And how have the hearts of all civilized men who read his mother-tongue responded in loving admiration to those songs ever since he, the unfriended ploughman, first struck his inspiring lyre! As truly of him as of Byron might his countryman Pollok have said:

"He touched his harp, and nations heard entranced."

Since the close of this unhappy life there is scarcely an English or American writer of any prominence in literature who has not paid a loving tribute to the memory of Burns. His unadorned and simple verse has been an inspiration of beauty and of love to the young poets of all the generations that have followed. The humble dwelling in Ayreshire where he first saw the light and the substantial monument that overlooks the Doon have been a sort of shrine where the travelers of all lands have come to attest their homage for his genius and their appreciation of the noble sentiments of truth and goodness that adorned his verse. It was in fitting recognition of the genius which had conferred such honor upon Scotland that his countrymen long after his death erected on one of the hills of their ancient capital a stately and imposing monument to Burns. In after-years another prominent site of the city was crowned in like manner with the magnificent monument of Scott. Edinburgh wears them both proudly among her crown jewels. Poets, orators, divines and statesmen in all civilized lands have found the name of Burns a fruitful theme, and vied with one another in throwing a chaplet of honor on his brow. In recent times his distinguished countrymen Thomas Carlyle and Principal Shairp have written, each with clear discrimination, and yet with eminently just appreciation, loving monographs on his life and character. Nothing, perhaps, in all Mr. Carlyle's numerous writings is more admirable than this sketch of the peasant-poet.

What achievements in verse beyond those so early won might he not •have reached had he but escaped those evil influences which at last overmastered his splendid powers and brought him to a premature grave ere he had passed the meridian of life! But even as it is he sang so sweetly, so truly, so gloriously, as to embalm his name for ever in the hearts of his countrymen and make that name a familiar household word in every habitation of the English-speaking race. That name is to-day one of the honored and enduring names of all literature. That name, despite the foibles of the poet, is a potential influence for humanity, for freedom, for universal brotherhood and good-will among men and nations, for right and justice, honesty and truth. It is a talisman to charm the world and make old Scotia's power felt wherever the foot of man has trod.

Who stands next among her canonized bards? Unquestionably, Walter Scott. His, however, is a double diadem. To the laurel-crown of poesy is added the amaranthine chaplet of historical romance, and the later outshines the earlier glory. Genius is the most wonderful endowment of man. It is hard to say what genius cannot do. It is not often given to human genius to achieve the highest excellence in two departments of literature so distinct as those of poetic numbers and prose fiction, yet Walter Scott, apparently at a bound and without an effort, won them both. As the new and romantic bard of the North he sang his Lay of the Last Minstrel, his Lacy of the Lake and Marmion in strains so sweet and joyous, and anon so martial and heroic, so true to nature and to Scotland, that the world heard entranced. And then, when he stood on these poetic heights, he purposed in his heart to take another step. As the author of Waverly----the "Great Unknown" —he poured forth in rapid succession that brilliant series of historical romances and life-fictions which for power of delineation, fascinating interest and universal popularity find scarcely a parallel in the annals of literature. All Scotland hailed him as the great enchanter; all the world recognized him as standing single and supreme in a department of literature which his own genius may be said to have created, and in which to this day he stands without an equal amongst his successors and imitators. Ile made a new era for Scotland. He opened Scotland to all the world as it had never been opened before. He threw a new charm over Scottish history and over Scottish scenery. The world read and admired; to this day it has not ceased to read and admire. Travelers from all lands rushed in to gaze upon the scenes of grandeur and beauty depicted on his pages. In literary history no man, perhaps, has ever done so much by his pen for a country as Scott did for Scotland—so much to exalt the national character and make it known to all the world. It has been well said that Scotland is now Scott's-land. And Abbotsford is the culminating glory of it all. 'Tis a fine tribute to the character of Walter Scott which is given by Alexander Smith: "Never was an author so popular as Scott, and never was popularity worn so lightly and gracefully. In his own heart he did not value it highly, and he cared more for his plantations at Abbotsford than for his poems and his novels. He was loved by everybody. George IV. on his visit to the northern kingdom declared that Scott was the man he most wished to see. He was a great, simple, sincere, warm-hearted man. The mass of his greatness takes away from our sense of its height. He is the light in which Scotland is now seen. He has proclaimed all over the world Scottish story, Scottish humor, Scottish feeling and Scottish virtue."

There can be no doubt that the literature of Scotland took a new departure with the writings of this gifted man. In him the North Briton became a very cosmopolitan whose teeming productions commanded the admiration of the world. The "author of Waverley" belonged not alone to Scotland, but to literature—to all lands, all classes, all generations, of men. When the veil of mystery that had so long concealed his identity was at length lifted, the noble character of the man was as conspicuous as the consummate genius of the author.

No writer of modern times has done more to revive and to keep alive the spirit of past ages than Sir Walter Scott. In this respect he has been the benefactor of the world. He has thrown over history a light of romance in which the young and the aged of each generation since his time have continued to read it with new interest. This he has done by both his poetry and his historical novels, in all of which, unlike many of his successors, he invariably adhered to the most exalted standard of virtue and wrote no line which the moralist could wish to blot.

Able critics like Professor Shairp have pointed out the striking resemblance between his longer romantic poems, such as the Lay, Lady of the Lake and Marmion, and the heroic poems of Homer. In these national ballads of Scott there is not a little of the life and fire as well as of the descriptive energy of the highest epic poetry, and the true Homeric spirit of the Iliad is breathed forth in all his battle-scenes, such as that of "Flodden Field," in the last canto of Marinion, or that of "Bannockburn" in the Lord of the Isles, or even that of "Fitzjames and Roderick D'hu," in the Lady of 1/he Lake. Leaving out of view the supernatural machinery of the old pagan mythology which Homer delighted to introduce, these spirited pieces of Sir Walter would not suffer in comparison with the descriptions of the very prince of poets.

In Professor Shairp's fine little volume on the Aspects of Poetry, in speaking of Scott's influence on the world, and especially of his wonderful power to delight the heart of childhood and youth almost beyond any other writer, the author gives us the following very suggestive remarks: "Moralists before now have asked, `What has Scott done by all his singing about battles and knights and chivalry but merely amuse his fellow-men? Has he in any way really elevated and improved them?' It might be enough to answer this question by saying that of all writers, in verse or prose, he has done most to make us understand history, to let in light and sympathy upon a wide range of ages which had become dumb and meaningless to men, and which but for him might have continued so still. There must be something high or noble in that which can so take unsophisticated hearts. In his later days Scott is reported to have asked Laidlaw what he thought the moral influence of his writings had been. 'Laidlaw well replied that his works were the delight of the young, and that to have so reached their hearts was surely a good work to have done.' Scott was affected almost to tears, as well he might be. Again, not the young only, but the old, those who have kept themselves most childlike, who have carried the boy's heart farthest with them into life,—they have loved Scott's poetry even to the end. Something of this, no doubt, may be attributed to the pleasure of reverting in age to the things that have delighted our boyhood. But would the best and purest men have cared to do this if the things which delighted their boyhood had not been worthy? It is the great virtue of Scott's poetry, and of his novels also, that, quite forgetting self, they describe man and outward nature broadly, truly, genially as they are. All contemporary poetry—indeed, all contemporary literature—goes to work in the exactly opposite direction, shaping men and things after patterns self-originated from within, describing and probing human feelings and motives with an analysis so searching that all manly impulse withers before it and single-hearted straightforwardness becomes a thing impossible. Against this whole tendency of modern poetry and fiction, so weakening, so morbidly self-conscious, so unhealthily introspective, what more effective antidote than the bracing atmosphere of Homer and Shakespeare and Scott?"

This able and accomplished writer closes his justly-appreciative criticism upon his gifted countryman with the following passage, which may be commended not only to Scotsmen, but to all admirers of the character and genius of Scott throughout the world: "To have awakened and kept alive in an artificial and too money-loving age that character of mind which we call romantic,' which by transformation can become something so much beyond itself, is, even from the severest moral point of view, no mean merit. To higher than this few poets can lay claim. But let the critics praise him, or let them blame. It matters not: his reputation will not wane, but will grow with time. Therefore we do well to make much of Walter Scott. He is the only Homer who has been vouchsafed to Scotland—I might almost say, to modern Europe. He came at the latest hour when it was possible for a great epic minstrel to be born, and the altered condition of the world will not admit of another."

We can scarcely agree with so sweeping a vaticination. There are yet more things in heaven and earth than are known to our philosophy or sung by any minstrelsy. The writer forgets that there is a great Western world, with its teeming millions and its rising civilizations and its unfathomed capacities, that as yet has had but little history, still less philosophy, and is only collecting the materials for its epics. The possibilities of the future on this side of the Atlantic are still large.

After Burns and Scott, there is a brilliant array of poets and literary writers whose names are household words with all who speak the English tongue--Snnollett and Falconer; MacPherson, Boswell and Beattie; Thomson, sweet singer of the Seasons; Campbell, author of the Pleasures of Hope; Graham, the bard of the Sabbath; Mackenzie, the Scottish Addison, author of the Man of Feeling; Professor Wilson, of the Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life; Robert Pollok, of the Course of Time; James Montgomery, the sweet psalmist of the Church; Motherwell and Aytoun: Jane Porter, Joanna Baillie, Allan Ramsay, George Macdonald, John Lockhart, Lord Jeffrey and the great reviewers.

Nor has the Muse of History withheld her wreath from Scottish brows. The historical writers of Scotland, in the fullness of their research and in the splendor of their diction, hold a rank not excelled by any of the great historians of modern times. High on the rolls of fame stand the great names of George Buchanan, William Robertson, David Hume, Sir Archibald Alison, Thomas Carlyle and Sir James Mackintosh, the latter to his brilliant genius as a profound philosophical historian adding the still more brilliant reputation of the jurist, the statesman and the orator. As an advocate at the bar and as a debater in the British Parliament, like his countrymen and predecessors on the same field, Lord Erskine and Chief-Justice Mansfield, he won his way to the foremost rank of greatness in an age of great men. This distinguished trio—Erskine, Mansfield and Mackintosh.—may be taken as the representatives of a class of North Britons who, finding Edinburgh too small for their genius, have pressed their way to the metropolis of the empire, and from the high seats of power in Parliament, on the bench and in the Cabinet have made their names and their influence felt as far as Britain's power is felt. In eloquence, learning and statesmanship there are no greater names than those of the Scotch trio—Erskine, Mansfield and Mackintosh. They are the full-grown compeers and equals of Chatham, Fox and Burke, and on this high ground of eloquence Scotland stands side by side with England.

Of the writers just named, some might almost be called the oracles of literary opinion, so great was the reputation they gained at home and so wide their celebrity abroad through their varied productions. Such was the case with the learned and at that time popular historians Hume, Robertson and Alison, read all over England and America. So was it with the eloquent and brilliant Sir James Mackintosh, always the advocate of popular rights. Equally popular and fascinating in their day were the writings of John Wilson ("Christopher North") and the critics of the Edinburgh Review and Blackwood's Magazine, and a host of young writers, some of Scotch and some of English birth, like Lord Jeffrey, Henry Brougham, Sydney Smith, Thomas de Quincey, Thomas Macaulay, John Lockhart and Mackintosh, who either in person gathered around Edinburgh as their literary metropolis or through the pages of the great Reviews held periodical communication with the reading public of the world.

In this connection one distinguished name deserves a more distinct notice as filling a large space in the world's thought during much of the present century. It is that of Thomas Carlyle, a Scotchman by birth and education, who spent the larger portion of his protracted life at Chelsea, near London, where by his numerous writings he achieved the widest literary renown as a profound and original thinker. He lived in a circle of men of letters of the highest order, where his brilliant genius was fully appreciated, and probably no one of them all during his whole career obtained a stronger hold upon the world's attention. His first important work, the Sartor Resartus of some fifty years ago, introduced him to the public as a remarkable writer, and his succeeding volumes—Heroes and Hero- Worship, The Life and Letters of Cromwell, The French Revolution, Frederick the Great, Miscellanies and Latter Day Pamphlets—but served to confirm the public estimate of his great ability. His writings have been read around the globe. They have been a power among all civilized men of our times, and it may be questioned whether any single writer of the century has exerted a wider and deeper influence over the minds of men, especially of young men. Some of these writings have become a part of the permanent literature of the age, and, though there has come a reaction against his influence as an oracle of opinion, they will no doubt long continue to be read with interest.

Carlyle wrote no poems; he rather held the verse-makers in contempt, as he did so many other classes. Still, his writings have some of the noblest elements of poetry. He has been styled a great prose- -poet, though he is far from being a fine prose-writer. He sets all the laws of good English at defiance and sacrifices every element of grace and beauty on the altar of giant strength. In vigor and impassioned fervor no one ever went beyond him. His countryman Professor Shairp, in an admirable critique on his genius, says: "Carlyle's book on the French Revolution has been called the great modern epic; and so it is—an epic as true and germane to this age as Homer's was to his." As to religious opinion, it is difficult to say what Mr. Carlyle held—if, indeed, he held anything firmly. One of his contemporaries not unaptly describes him as "a Puritan who had lost his religion." He would appear, however, never to have given up the two fundamental beliefs in God and immortality. Unquestionably, his writings inculcate throughout a stern and high morality as set forth in the Christian Scriptures. Professor Shairp says: "Though the superstructure of Puritanism had disappeared, the original superstructure remained: the stern, stoical Calvinism of his nature was the foundation on which all his views were built. His religious faith, if we may venture to trace it, would seem to be the result of three things----his own strong, stern nature, his early Calvinistic training, and these two transformed by the after-influx of German transcendentalism tempered by Goethism."


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