Bemoaning the state of
affairs in England at the middle of the eighteenth century, a gloomy critic
remarked in the presence of Doctor Samuel Johnson: "Poor old England is
lost!" "Sir," retorted the crusty old oracle severely, "it is not so much to
be lamented that old England is lost, as that the Scotch have found it!"
The Scots had, indeed, found
England, and Johnson's jibe reflected the feeling which had arisen in
England towards the invaders. The animosity which the English entertained
against the competitors from beyond the Cheviot Hills had hardened into race
hatred of a type almost comparable with the insensate malice which has
pursued another wandering and acquisitive race in many parts of the world
since the dawn of the Christian era.
One searches in vain for
valid reasons for the Englishman's inflamed state of mind. It might as well
be admitted at once that a considerable number of the Scots were mean,
snivelling, uncouth fellows, fired with the overmastering desire to make
money in the soft south. In point of fact, the majority of them were
meanly-equipped pedlars. So numerous were these beggarly vendors of cheap
trinkets and trivial household devices that the term "Scotchman" replaced
the term pedlar along the Great North Road. When an English child saw a man
with a pack on his back in those days, and for many years afterwards, it
would run to its parents with the announcement that "a Scotchman was coming
to the door". Still, it must be remembered that a great many of these
pedlars were worthy men who were so poor when they set out for London that
they made their living on the road by selling goods. Their mode of entry
into the new country was not a dignified one, but they did not molest the
people whose trifling patronage they solicited. They were, however,
constantly under the notice of the English, and harmless though they were,
had a great deal to do with fixing the unpleasant picture of the Scottish
race which developed in the minds of the inhospitable people among whom
their lot had been cast.
Smollett tells us that, when
travelling to and from Scotland, he found, "from Doncaster downwards, all
the windows of the inns scrawled with doggerel rhymes in abuse of the
Scottish nation". Other revilers of the race were more subtle. John Wilkes
told a friend at table, who was admiring the demagogue's stewed pigeons,
that he had tried to establish an improved breed of that bird by importing
several pairs from France and other Continental countries, but they always
flew back to their Continental cotes. At last, however, he solved the
problem. He imported pigeons from Scotland, and the Scottish birds never
showed the slightest inclination to fly back to their own country!
Old Doctor Samuel Parr
expressed his opinion of the Scots in canine terms. "I hate Scotch dogs!" he
snarled. "They prowl like lurchers, they fawn like spaniels, they thieve
like greyhounds; they're sad dogs, and they're mangy into the bargain, and
they stink like pugs!"
It has been shown that this
fever of hatred against the Scots took possession of the English during the
regime of Lord Bute, and it was during that unsavoury period that the most
notable lampooners of the race came to the front. At that time London was
overrun with half-starved writers. Among them were stars like Samuel
Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, and Lamb, but for the most part the gaunt and
ragged army consisted of obscure meteors who flickered dimly across the
literary firmament for a moment, to fade into oblivion. The latter were a
colourful feature of London life, making Grub Street a place to be reckoned
with. Their audacity reached the point where it became almost sublime. They
wrote on any subject under the sun, if there was a buyer ready to pay them a
few shillings for their labour. With no knowledge of art, they composed
erudite essays on art. They dashed off barbed reviews of books they had
never read. They penned virulent satires around the characters of men they
had never met, and turgid encomiums about mountebanks who were willing to
pay for a leg-up in society. They even translated languages of which they
had only a superficial knowledge.
These industrious scamps,
some of whom were Scots, were willing to act as literary assassins for a
good dinner. They were particularly active when a new book appeared, and,
unless placated by trivial bribes, were sure to pursue the author and his
sponsors with venomous abuse. Fielding tells us that one bookseller, Lintot,
hit on the happy idea of silencing the dogs by throwing them bones while he
launched a new book. He would invite them to a dinner, stuffing them with
beef and pudding and cheap ale. It was sufficient to keep them quiet for a
while. Lintot was the first man to discover that literary nonentities can be
successfully bribed by the mere shadow of a reward, and his rather crude
method of reaching their consciences by way of their stomachs has been
employed ever since, in a more elaborate form, by certain types of men who
wish to take the edge off hostile Press criticisms.
It was this scabrous legion
of London scribblers who, during the regime of Lord Bute and his merry men,
stirred up the storm of animosity that broke upon the heads of the Scots.
The most notable of all were the notorious John Wilkes and his
poet-laureate, Charles Churchill. As types of the period in which they
blossomed forth, they deserve to be enshrined in the history of England.
Wilkes, viewed from this distance, appears as nothing more than a dangerous
demagogue and profligate. He left abundant evidence of his tawdry character
in the annals of his time, but he became popular and powerful because he led
the rabble against Parliament, and because he was the central figure in the
vicious drive against the Scots. He had the demagogue's ability to ride a
wave of popular passion, wielded a vitriolic pen, and talked convincingly.
Like all demagogues, he ended up in the shallows, but while the wind was in
the shoulder of his sail he was the idol of the London apprentices. His
fiery protests and vulgar defiances broke down the despotism of the House of
Commons to some extent, tore the veil of secrecy from parliamentary
proceedings, and established the right of the Press to discuss public
affairs. He deserves credit for these achievements, but seldom, in the
history of any nation, have reforms been brought about by the efforts of
such a shallow windbag.
Wilkes' outrageous libels and
defiances of constituted authority had made him an idol, but they also
involved him in grave charges. He was obliged to flee to France in the year
1764. At the conclusion of a discreet period of exile in that country,
however, he returned to England and was elected to Parliament for Middlesex.
The King had not forgotten the misdemeanours of his troublesome subject,
however, and Wilkes was clapped into prison as an outlaw. His supporters
rose up in wrath, and serious riots resulted. At that time the Scots Guards
were stationed in London. They were called out by the terrified authorities,
and, in quelling the ugly disturbances, killed one man. Instead of being
thanked for knocking some sense into the heads of the rioters, these heroes
of Hougomont were denounced as inhuman murderers —because they were Scots!
[Scotsmen have continued to play a big part in maintaining law and order in
the metropolis. To-day London's Chief Magistrate is Sir Rollo
Graham-Campbell, of Argyllshire, and John Gilbert H. Hackett, a Perthshire
man, is Metropolitan Police Magistrate for Marylebone.]
The demagogues had frightened
the Government, and with appropriate noise they tried to secure an acquittal
for Wilkes by vilifying the Earl of Mansfield, who represented the
implacable power of the law. Mansfield's ability and courage were far above
the ordinary—so much so that he was the raison d'etre of Johnson's famous
remark: "Much may be done with a Scotchman, if he be caught young!"
Mansfield had been educated in England.
This distinguished Scot
became Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench in 1756, and when he presided
at the famous trial of Wilkes the English mob attempted to terrorize him.
The apprentices had picked the wrong man, for Mansfield met the storm of
abuse with an unruffled temper, and faced a succession of dire threats with
calm disdain. He was a great judge. "I honour the
King and respect the people," he declared, "but many things acquired by the
favour of either are, in my account, objects not worth ambition. I wish
popularity, but it is that popularity which follows, not that which is run
[Lord Mansfield is frequently
listed as Lord Chancellor, but he never occupied that office, although the
Seals were repeatedly offered to him. The error probably arises from the
fact that he became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1757. The list of
Scotsmen who have served as Lord Chancellors is as follows :
Alexander Wedderburn (Lord
Thomas Erskine, Lord, 1806-1807.
Henry, Lord Brougham and Vaux, 1830-1834.
John Campbell, Baron, 1859-1868.
Hugh McCalmont (Lord Cairns), 1868.
Robert T. Reid (Lord Loreburn), 1905-1912.
Richard Burdon (Viscount Haldane of Cloan), 1912-15, 1924.
Robert Bannatyne (Viscount Finlay), 1916-1919.]
The cold courage and judicial
poise of this man upheld the honour of the law in the face of a popular and
dangerous rebellion that had put terror into the hearts of weaker
characters, but he was pursued by malicious slander and race hatred for
years afterwards. As late as 1780, when London was almost overpowered by
banditti, his house was burned down.
The cause of all the turmoil
came before the bar of the House of Commons in 1769, was charged with libel,
and solemnly expelled from Parliament. As a politician, however, he had as
many lives as the proverbial cat. He appealed to his constituents, and
Middlesex promptly re-elected him, despite the stigma of expulsion.
Parliament again dealt with him, ruling, "That Mr. Wilkes, having been in
this session of parliament expelled the House, was and is incapable of being
elected a member to serve in the present parliament."
There was another election in
Middlesex, and Wilkes was again returned with an emphatic majority! Once
again Parliament expelled him. Once again the matter was referred back to
the people, and once again Wilkes went back to Parliament with a whacking
majority. Parliament, however, had the last word, and it was determined to
cast out the troublesome intruder. It ruled that Colonel Luttrell, the man
who had been defeated by Wilkes, was the legal representative of Middlesex.
In doing that, of course, Parliament had gone too far itself. Middlesex
county rose up in wrath against the dubious ruling, and Wilkes was elected
an Alderman of London. It was the first move of this colourful trouble-maker
towards oblivion. He had had his fling. The rabble soon forgot him, and
without a rabble at his back he was just a forlorn figure moving through the
obscuring fogs of London.
In his campaign against the
Scots, Wilkes was ably assisted by Charles Churchill. This poet, who had a
strong infusion of Scottish blood in his veins, rose to fame as a satirist.
It was the quickest way to gain literary fame in those days, for the English
public had a voracious appetite for everything that was mean and cruel, and
their idols, pompous fops like Garrick, were excessively sensitive to
adverse criticism. The day of Pope had passed. That of Byron had not yet
dawned. It is a fitting commentary of the low state of English morals and
mentality at the time that a satirist of Churchill's mediocre talents should
have been accepted as the connecting link between the star that preceded him
and the still more glittering one that succeeded him.
He was born in Vine Street,
Westminister, in the year 1731, and was the eldest son of the Reverend
Charles Churchill, rector of Rainham, in Essex. Young Charles was educated
at Westminster School, where he rubbed shoulders with Warren Hastings,
Cowper, and George Colman. At the early age of eighteen he made an
unfortunate marriage, and from that time onward struggled in obscurity and
penury. At last the elder Churchill took the young couple under his wing,
providing them with their greatest need—food and a roof over their heads. It
was decided that Charles should prepare himself for Holy Orders. He was
ordained a deacon, and his first curacy was South Cadbury, in Somersetshire.
He officiated there until the year 1756, but the Church cramped his style.
He left holy affairs to holier men, and became a teacher. Years of poverty
followed, during which he was dogged by duns and bailiffs, but at long last
his old schoolmaster came to his rescue. His creditors were scattered, and
Charles took to writing poetry.
He had found himself, but he
did not find sympathetic publishers. His first effort, The Bard, came back
to him. His second, The Conclave, a satire on the Dean and Chapter of
Westminister, was declared good but held out of print because it was deemed
too libellous. It must have been vicious! His third effusion, The Rosciad,
raised him to sudden fame. The Rosciad was a defence of the theatre, and its
barbed stanzas contained a biting reference to the lordly Garrick, who was
then strutting across the stage in vainglorious absurdity. The attack suited
the depraved appetite of the London public. Garrick lampooned ? It was the
talk of the taverns, and Churchill found himself a celebrity. There were
counterblasts, of course. Churchill's shady past was raked up by the
pamphleteers. It was pointed out by one of Garrick's hired literary gunmen
that Churchill had let two corpses lie for hours in a churchyard awaiting
burial because he, the officiating clergyman, had been in the orchestra of
Drury Lane when he ought to have been at the graveside reading the Burial
Service. Another blast from the Garrick camp pointed out that Churchill was
severe on actors "because they had the impudence to dine on fish and fowls
in a superb apartment, while he was obliged to duck into a cellar in St.
Giles, where the knives and forks were chained to the table for fear the
company should steal them, and there dine sumptuously upon ox-cheek"!
All this exchange of delicate
criticism only stirred the great English satirist to fresh efforts, and when
next he deigned to discuss Garrick it was in these words:
Let the vain tyrant sit
amidst his guards, His puny green-room wits and venal bards, Who meanly
tremble at the puppet's frown, And for a playhouse freedom lose their own.
The poetic dart may not have
carried the sting of one launched by Pope or Byron, but it put panic into
the breast of Garrick. He had had enough. Calling his hired wits and venal
bards to heel, he called off the fight and cringed to the poet. Churchill
was made. A thousand pounds in royalties came to him. Could it be true ? In
a daze he got rid of his clerical garb, replacing it with a blue coat with
metal buttons, a gold-laced waistcoat, and a gold-laced hat and ruffles. In
this brave livery of moral and intellectual emancipation he strutted around
London, carrying a stout cudgel as a restraining hint to the men he had
To advertise his consuming
hatred of the Scots, he hit on the device of dressing his little boy in a
plaid. Curious people would sometimes stop to ask the poor child why he was
dressed in such an outlandish manner. The boy would parrot: "Sir, my father
hates the Scotch, and does it to plague them!"
Charles Churchill had broken
with the past. He was a new man, glorying in his success. He got rid of his
humdrum wife and became a gay dog, emulating the profligate Wilkes, who
boasted that he could seduce any woman he chose to seduce. Churchill did not
display the amatory finesse of his master, however, for at the very outset
of his career of freedom he seduced a stone-cutter's daughter with results
that involved him in deeper trouble than his cast-off wife had ever caused
In the meantime, he had
turned his poisoned pen against the hated Scots, and from it came, in 1763,
his masterpiece, entitled, The Prophecy of Famine. This long and bitter
diatribe may not be great poetry, but it has this distinction—it is the most
sustained hymn of hate that has ever been sung against Scotland and the
Scottish race, and it reposes on the dusty shelves of literature as evidence
of the intense hatred of the English people of that period towards the
invaders from the north.
As a rule, bitter and
uncompromising denunciations of a country and its people percolate into that
dark and stagnant cesspool of literature which is fed by scurrilous and
fugitive writings. Because of its curious historical significance,
Churchill's masterpiece narrowly missed that fate, and while the dust
gathers on its yellowed pages it has a perennial interest.
It appeared in January of
1763, was inscribed to John Wilkes, Esq., and the second edition carried
this heading: "Nos patriam fugimus-Virgil.'" ["We all get out of our country
as fast as we can."] We are not surprised, therefore, when, after warming to
his task, Churchill addresses the hated race as follows :
To Northern climes my happier
course I steer,
Climes where the goddess reigns throughout the year;
Where, undisturbed by Art's rebellious plan,
She rules the loyal laird, and faithful clan.
To that rare soil, where virtues clust'ring grow,
What mighty blessings doth not England owe!
What waggon-loads of courage, wealth, and sense,
Doth each revolving day import from thence!
To us she gives, disinterested friend,
Faith without fraud, and Stuarts without end.
When we prosperity's rich trappings wear,
Come not her generous sons and take a share?
And if, by some disastrous turn of Fate,
Change should ensue, and ruin seize the State,
Shall we not find, safe in that hallow'd ground,
Such refuge as the holy martyr found?
Nor less our debt in science, though denied,
By the weak slaves of prejudice and pride.
Thence came the Ramsays, names of worthy note,
Of whom one paints, as well as t'other wrote:
Thence, Home, disbanded from the sons of prayer,
For loving plays, though no dull dean was there:
Then issued forth, at great Macpherson's call,
That old, new, epic pastoral, Fingal
[James Macpherson, born 1738, who published his spurious Epic poems of
Fingal Temora in 1763, and who was scathingly denounced by Doctor Samuel
Thence Malloch, friend alike
of Church and State, Of Christ and Liberty, by graceful Fate, Raised to
rewards, which, in a pious reign, All daring infidels should seek in vain.
Having scarified a few of the
Scots who were enjoying a dubious fame in London, the poet turns his heavy
guns towards the north:
Pent in this barren corner of
Where partial fortune never deign'd to smile;
Like nature's bastards, reaping for our share,
What was rejected by the lawful heir;
Unknown among the nations of the earth,
Or only known to raise contempt and mirth;
Long free, because the race of Roman braves,
Thought it not worth their while to make us slaves;
Then into bondage by that nation brought,
Whose ruin we for ages vainly sought,
Whom still with unslacked hate we view, and still,
The power of mischief lost, retain the will:
Consider'd as the refuse of mankind,
A mass till the last moment left behind,
Which frugal nature doubted, as it lay,
Whether to stamp with life, or throw away;
Which, form'd in haste, was planted in this nook,
But never enter'd in Creation's book;
Branded as traitors who for love of gold,
Would sell their God, as once their King they sold,
Long have we borne this mighty weight of ill,
These vile injurious taunts, and hear them still;
But times of happier note are now at hand,
And the full promise of a better land;
There, like the sons of Israel, having trod,
For the fixed term of years ordain'd by God,
A barren desert, we shall seize rich plains,
Where milk with honey flows, and plenty reigns;
With some few natives join'd, some pliant few,
Who worship interest and our track pursue;
There shall we, though the wretched people grieve,
Ravage at large, nor ask the owner's leave.
For us, the earth shall bring forth her increase,
For us, the flocks shall wear a golden fleece;
Fat beeves shall yield us dainties not our own,
And the grape bleed a nectar yet unknown;
For our advantage shall their harvests grow,
And Scotsman reap what they disdain'd to sow;
For us, the sun shall climb the eastern hill;
For us, the rain shall fall, the dew distil;
When to our wishes, nature cannot rise,
Art shall be task'd to grant us fresh supplies,
His brawny arm shall drudging labour strain,
And for our pleasure suffer daily pain;
Trade shall for us exert her utmost powers,
Hers all the toil, and all the profit ours;
For us the oak shall from his native steep,
Descend, and fearless travel through the deep:
The sail of commerce, for our use unfurled,
Shall waft the treasures of each distant world;
For us, sublimer heights shall science reach;
For us, their statesmen plot, their churchmen preach;
Their noblest limbs of council we'll disjoint,
And, mocking, new ones of our own appoint!
Here we shall leave the good
Charles and his poisoned quill, for he had become a great man. England made
him her poet-laureate. It was not because she had no other poets to turn to.
While Churchill ranted, a shaggy and threadbare poet called Oliver Goldsmith
was working in the back shop of Ralph Griffiths, the bookseller, for his
board and lodging. Griffiths, oddly enough, was not an exploiting Scot !
Samuel Johnson was in a worse plight, for about this time he was not getting
enough to eat, and he tells us how he walked around St. James's Square one
chilly night, with the luckless Savage—because they had no place to
sleep—inveighing against the minister, but "resolved to stand up for the
country". What a country!
Charles Churchill died at
Boulogne, France, in his thirty-third year, while paying a visit to Wilkes.
His body lies in St. Martin's, Dover, and is marked by a tombstone that
bears this enigmatic and sardonic inscription :
Here lie the Remains
of the celebrated
Life to the last enjoy'd, here Churchill lies
Let him lie. "He has shown
more fertility than I expected," Samuel Johnson said of him. "To be sure, he
is a tree that cannot produce good fruit, he only bears crabs. But, sir, a
tree that produces a great many crabs is better than a tree which produces
only a few!"
So violent was the English
prejudice against Scotsmen at this period that many timid immigrants from
the north deemed it prudent to anglicize their names. David Malloch, for
example, changed his to Mallet, which was probably a good thing—for
Scotland. Mallet was, beyond doubt, one of the most successful literary
buccaneers then residing in London, and his casual cheek and downright
dishonesty tinged his career with humour. In 1744 this brazen customer got
wind of the fact that the old Duchess of Marlborough had put aside a
thousand pounds to cover the cost of preparing a laudatory biography of the
Duke. Mallet was the biographer chosen—a most appropriate choice,
considering the nature of the task. He entered upon his duties. The
enthusiastic Duchess advanced him money and arranged a pension for him.
Mallet took up his quill. Several years passed. The Duchess made inquiries
from time to time. Mallet was busy. A really great biography was not written
in a day. Patience, Your Grace! The Duchess was indeed patient, for Mallet
devoted himself to the biography for twenty years, and at the end of that
period had not produced one chapter. It is quite possible that Mr. Winston
Churchill feels grateful for the fact.
Other Scotsmen of more
consequence than Mallet saw fit to change their names. Meikle, the
translator of the Lusiad, changed his to Mickle. William Strachan, the
famous London publisher, changed his to Strahan—a poor shift. John MacMurray,
another Scot who opened up a shop in Fleet Street, cut himself adrift from
his Mac, and became plain John Murray. John MacMillan, who published James
Thomson's Winter, also dispensed with the Scottish prefix to his name, and
prospered as John Millan— obviously an unnecessary precaution, because
another Scot called MacMillan won enduring success in London as a publisher
without doing damage to his good name. When Garrick produced Home's Fatal
Discovery in London, he was so nervous about the unpopularity of the Scots
that he decided to conceal the fact that a Scot had written the play. This
was accomplished by the shady device of naming an Oxford University
undergraduate as the author. The play was a success until the public learned
that a Scot wrote it. The discovery was indeed fatal, for The Fatal
Discovery died as soon as it was linked with its real author.
Indeed, the fact that so many
astute Scots in England changed their names during this period has
completely obliterated a great deal of the history attending the success of
Scots in England during the succeeding century.
The complaint of the English
was that the wealth of their country was being gobbled up by the invading
Scots. "While they confine their benevolence, in a manner, exclusively to
those of their own country," said Doctor Samuel Johnson to Boswell, "they
expect to share in the good offices of other people. Now, this principle is
either right or wrong; if right, we should do well to imitate such conduct,
if wrong, we cannot too much detest it."
The lexicographer, of course,
belittled the Scottish people at every opportunity, and bemoaned the fact
that they were waxing fat in the country of their adoption, while Englishmen
went hungry. That view, however, did not square with the facts of history.
England was not a land flowing with milk and honey at the middle of the
eighteenth century. Her own most distinguished literary figures were on the
verge of starvation. Unemployment was a stark and insoluble problem. Hordes
of hungry soldiers, demobilized and thrown upon the thin charity of a
thankless country following Pitt's wars, roamed the country. Agriculture was
in a primitive and un-prosperous condition. Factories were hovels of
inefficiency, and the wages paid to the workers who toiled in them were
scarcely sufficient to keep body and soul together. Foul contagious diseases
swept the population in recurrent pandemics. England, indeed, was "a fen of
stagnant waters". There were less than 6,000,000 people in the country, and
out of this number every fifth person was dependent upon parochial charity
in order to live. England, we repeat, was no Promised Land for the Scot, but
there is this astounding fact to be added—all the deplorable conditions just
enumerated were swept away by the constructive genius of the invaders
against whom the English railed.
The case of Doctor Samuel
Johnson himself is a striking enough illustration of the thin justice which
Scotsmen received at the hands of Englishmen during the period under
discussion. No man has been more gleefully quoted against the Scots than the
crusty old scholar. His lusty lunges at the alleged barbarisms of Scotland
and its people have been the stock-in-trade of Englishmen who seek sound
authority for belittling the northern race. True, there is no malice in
Johnson's blows, and we have it on the authority of his famous biographer
that, "All these quick and lively sallies were said sportively, quite in
jest, and with a smile which showed that he meant only wit," but:
The Moving Finger writes; and
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
Justifying his perennial
prejudice against the Scots, Johnson put it in these words to the attentive
Boswell: "When I find a Scotchman to whom an Englishman is as a Scotchman,
that Scotchman shall be as an Englishman to me." That algebraic statement
implied, of course, that the lexicographer was suffering cruelly, like other
Englishmen, at the hands of the Scots. Let us look at the record.
It has already been noted
that Lord Bute, a Scot, granted Johnson a pension that rescued him from
poverty, a generous act curiously at variance with the shabby treatment
which the lexicographer received at the hands of his own countrymen. When
Johnson began the monumental task of compiling the First English Dictionary,
he employed six scholarly amanuenses and five of the six were Scots—the two
MacBeans, Shiels, Stewart, and Maitland. When the Earl of Chesterfield, with
calculated malice, called him "a respectable Hottentot", Englishmen were
silent, but a Scotsman, the great Sir David Dalrymple, arose to defend
Scotsmen, in fact, became
Johnson's guardian angels, probably because the Scot has always been quick
to recognize and venerate scholarship. The experiences of the lexicographer
with London publishers were pathetic, until he made contacts with Scotsmen
who had entered the publishing field in the metropolis. From that moment
onward Samuel Johnson's fortunes took a decided upturn. Mr. Andrew Millar, a
Scot, took the principal charge of conducting the publication of the great
dictionary, and he remained the trusted friend of its author. The same may
be said of William Strachan, who, in addition to being Johnson's banker and
friend throughout his life, tried to get his idol a seat in Parliament.
We come to the final chapter
in this strange record of the generosity and loyalty of Scotsmen towards
their greatest detractor. We know what Johnson said about the Scots because
an Ayrshire laird, James Boswell of Auchinleck, recognized his genius and
set down the small gossip of his life with meticulous and loving care.
Boswell's Life of Johnson is recognized as the greatest biography in our
language. It preserves, for England and the world, the revealing
conversation of the man who organized our language and added to its lustre.
All the harsh things that he uttered about our little Scotland are preserved
because a Scotsman preserved them. Without Boswell the Scot, Johnson the
Englishman would be merely a name, an obscure scholar who wrote a
It would be idle to deny that
the Englishman had some justification for his prejudice against the Scots.
Authentic records of the period indicate that too many of the invaders were
mean, greedy fellows who were so desperately anxious to "get along" that
they were contemptuous of all the rules of conduct generally observed by
civilized people. Marching south with these were a goodly number of
sententious windbags who considered themselves scholars, snivelling
sycophants who ousted Englishmen by their ability to fawn, and hard-headed,
rapacious scoundrels who simply shouldered their future competitors aside in
the scramble for fortune. We hear about these types in the complaints of the
English who were jostled by them on the Great North Road, but we do not
hear, until later, about the kindly, honourable, industrious, and immensely
capable Scots who really formed the peaceful army of whom the objectionable
types we have mentioned were merely the camp-followers.
The real reason for the
Englishman's animosity towards the Scots lay deeper than the surface
irritations mentioned. It was psychological. Two races had clashed in
London. One was proud, easy-going, and a little jaded, with a system of
education that left its lower classes illiterate and ignorant. The other was
proud too, but it was also immensely virile and practical, and its poorest
representatives were educated. In spite of poverty, Scotland had built up a
system of free schools that gave every child, however poor, a chance to
receive a sound elementary education. The humble parish school, and the able
and devoted "dominies" who ruled them, became one of the glories of
Scotland, and the chief bulwark of its democratic, independent, and
enlightened character. In these modest little stone buildings, all children
were equal before the master, and they were taught to work hard and to think
clearly. Put through these sound and democratic little workshops of
education, the Scottish child received a training in citizenship that years
of polishing in private schools never completely eradicated; it made him, if
he was sound at the core, for ever a part of Scotland.
"Sir," said Doctor Johnson to
Boswell, in discussing Scottish education, "their learning is like bread in
a besieged town; every man gets a little, but no man gets a full meal. There
is a diffusion of learning, a certain portion of it widely and thinly
spread. A merchant has as much learning as one of their clergy."
There was a grain of truth in
Johnson's remarks, but what higher praise could be given a poor country than
to point out that it had placed education within the reach of all? It is
this principle of the Scottish educational system that makes Scotland a
truly educated nation; it is this principle that has been the immovable
corner-stone of her democratic social structure.
[A few weeks before this book
was published, we were shown through the Glasgow High School by the Depute
Rector. Among the portraits of former pupils of this ancient and democratic
school which hang on the walls of "the hall" were those of Sir Colin
Campbell, Sir John Moore, and Sir Thomas Munro, the great soldiers; Andrew
Bonar Law and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who served the country with
distinction in the office of Prime Minister; Viscount Bryce, the great
diplomatist; Thomas Campbell, author of "Ye Mariners of England"; George
Buchanan, the erudite tutor of King James I of England; Sir William
Hamilton, the distinguished philosopher; Sir James Guthrie, the famous
painter; the Very Rev. P. McAdam Muir, D.D., the distinguished churchman;
Professor Hales, the distinguished educationist of King's College, London;
William Gunion Rutherford, the famous headmaster of Westminster School; John
C. Watt, Master of Jesus College, Cambridge; Sir Malcolm Watson, the
distinguished authority on tropical medicine; Lord Weir, the famous
ironmaster, and Lord Maclay, the equally famous shipping magnate.
In this abbreviated list of
names of former pupils of Glasgow High School we catch yet another glimpse
of the immeasurable contribution which Scottish public schools have made to
the development of England— and we also catch a glimpse of the true glory of
This was the power that the
Scots took with them down the Great North Road. A lean, penniless, and
determined breed. They had to succeed, and they did succeed. Deep down, the
Englishman knew that these earnest and resourceful men from beyond the
Cheviots were the stronger breed, and it was the impact of the disturbing
fact upon his subconscious mind that caused him to cry out upon them, and
gnash his teeth.