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Ringan Gilhaize by John Galt

Or, The Covenanters.

Edited by Patricia J Wilson. Scottish Academic Press, 1984, 375 p (including 33p Notes on the Text and 10 p Glossary) plus xii p Introduction ii p Notes, ii p Acknowledgements and iii p Note on the Text. Originally published in 1823.

Ringan Gilhaize cover

Compared to the lost cause of the Jacobites, endlessly retrodden by Scottish (and other) writers, the rise and defence of Calvinism in Scotland has been relatively neglected in the Scottish tradition. James Hogg’s The Brownie of Bodsbeckis an exception, as is Scott’s Old Mortality whose unsympathetic treatment of the Covenanting cause impelled Galt to write this riposte, and much more recently James Robertson gave us The Fanatic. The relevant events are seen through the eyes of the Gilhaize family but only in so far as any of its members were directly involved in them. The book is narrated by the titular Ringan Gilhaize and its first section tells of his grandfather’s activities during the Scottish Reformation, which in later life he endlessly recounted to the family round the fireside, and features his encounters with, among others, John Knox and James Stuart (the illegitimate half-brother of Mary Queen of Scots and whom on taking up the throne on her return from France she made Earl of Moray. A confirmed reformer, after Mary’s exile to England he became Regent of Scotland.) This time period was when the groundwork for the stern Calvinistic bent of Scottish Presbyterianism was laid and the text contains many examples of invective against prelacy, papistical idolaters and the Whore of Babylon.

The latter two sections deal with Ringan’s own life and times when, first Charles I and later his son Charles II, tried to reintroduce elements of episcopacy into Scottish religious observance. This led in the former’s time to the signing of the National Covenant and a few years later the Solemn League and Covenant, which latter was essentially an anti-royal but certainly anti-Catholic agreement between Scottish Protestants and the English Parliament for Presbyterianiam to become the established religion south of the border. (These two Covenants are sometimes rolled into one in people’s minds but it was from them that the Covenanters – in that word’s pronunciation the emphasis is placed on the third syllable – gained their name.) The Covenanter’s insistence on the view that no king could interfere between a man’s conscience and God and that rebellion against any king who attempted to do so was justified, effectively made the Covenanters heirs to the Declaration of Arbroath and holders of the Scottish conscience.

The text of “Gilhaize’s” account is mainly in English larded with Scots words and forms of speech but has that wordiness that is characteristic of novels of its time and of course is reflecting the language of between two and three hundred years earlier than when Galt was writing. The dialogue, moreover, tends to be in very broad Scots indeed.

The novel is in part a history lesson since “Gilhaize” has to provide the background to the events he himself took part in. He therefore mentions the protests in St Giles Cathedral against the prayers in Charles I’s new Prayer Book as supposedly started by Janet (aka Jenny) Geddes (though her name does not appear in contemporary accounts,) a defiance of authority which led to open rebellion and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. (For a long time these were known as the English Civil War despite the fact that they were precipitated by the necessity for Charles I to recall the English Parliament to provide money to suppress his Scottish religious rebels.)

After the Restoration of the Stuarts, fierce resentment resulted from Charles II’s apostasy in the matter of the Covenant which he had signed essentially in bad faith in what would now probably be called an act of real politique to bring the Scots Parliament onto his side in his war against Cromwell – a hopeless endeavour given the outcome of the Battle of Worcester. To the Covenanters signing was a sacred and binding act. Reneging on that could not be forgiven.

Galt’s focus on the affairs of one family allows him to illustrate the build up of both the petty and the major injustices of the anti-Covenanter legislation as well as Covenanters’ hatred of the favourite General of both the latter Stuart kings, James Graham of Claverhouse, whom the Covenanters dubbed “Bloody Clavers” for his enthusiastic prosecution of the sequestrations, fines, imprisonments and hangings which feed into the slow descent by Ringan into a haze of self-righteousness and moral zeal. A minor drawback of this is that most of the battles mentioned in the book take place off-stage since neither his grandfather nor Ringan himself were present at them. (Exceptions are Drumclog, Rullion Green in the Pentlands, and Killiecrankie, in all of which Ringan took part.)

The final vindication of the Covenanting resistance was the outcome of the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 – here Galt has Gilhaize believe in the false propaganda that a man child was palmed off on the nation as the lawful son of James VII (and II,) known to Covenanters as “the Tyrant,” and his papistical wife – which secured the Protestant ascendancy in the form of William and Mary.

Two hundred year-old fiction is problematic for the modern reader at any time – patterns of language have changed, writers no longer need to pad out stories to reach a required word count, sentences tend to be less laboriously constructed – but the remoteness here is compounded by the dense nature of the history, the numbers of historical figures, the intensity of the religious discourse. Throughout, the book rings with Biblical imagery and allusions.

Though in their particulars its concerns have now passed into history in Scotland (except for their remnants being attached to a certain football rivalry) Ringan Gilhaize, as an examination of the mindset of the religious zealot, the firm believer in a higher calling, is salutary, and still has resonance for the present day. I’m glad I read it even if the prose does not always flow as smoothly as I might have wished.

Pedant’s corner:- In the Introduction; “worthy the attention” (worthy of the attention, or, worth the attention.) Otherwise: “the Earl of Angus’ house” (Angus’s,) St Giles’ kirkyard (St Giles’s,) her Highness’ presence (Highness’s.) “When she heard the voice or anyone talking in the street” (the voice of anyone talking,) juncutre (juncture,) a capital letter in the middle of a sentence (this may have been to signify a spoken phrase immediately after it; but that was followed by an opening quotation mark to signal the speech’s continuation,) thougt (thought.) In the Notes; divive (divine.)

The Missing by Andrew O’Hagan

faber and faber, 2004, 273 p. First published in 1995. One of the Scotsman’s 20 Scottish Books Everyone Should Read.

 The Missing cover

This was O’Hagan’s first book and unlike his later fiction works is a piece of investigative reporting.

It begins as a series of histories; of O’Hagan’s family, on both sides, of Glasgow’s troubles with sectarianism, of O’Hagan’s childhood, the Bible John murders, of Kilwinning and Irvine old (that of John Galt) and New, but transforms into a meditation on people who have gone missing; as a three year old boy and, later, a young woman of whom the only trace was her handbag, did during O’Hagan’s youth in Irvine to where his family had moved in the early days of the New Town’s construction. In the text he writes that he has, since childhood, fuelled by those two incidents in his home town, had a morbid fear of disappearing. Of that ongoing sectarianism O’Hagan says, “There’s sometimes too much pleasure, and too much social cohesion, involved in an ongoing mutual hatred for it to be surrendered just like that. In the absence of much else, of course, prejudice is just a form of tradition.” Which perhaps goes a long way to explaining sectarianism’s persistence.

In the book’s course O’Hagan meditates on the cruelties children perpetrate on one another when there are no adults around; with particular emphasis on an incident from his youth – when he was a joint perpetrator – and the James Bulger case (“There was something unhelpful about the way that case was discussed….. the two Scouse boys were called devils, treated as complete anomalies, and they were hounded outside the court by adults sick with the desire for retribution,”) before finally coming to the heart of his investigation, 25, Cromwell Street, Gloucester, by way of Fred West’s connections to Glasgow via his first wife, whose body, with those of her friend and daughter, was eventually dug up in the garden of West’s previous home in Much Marcle, Herefordshire. The last quarter of the book is taken up with West’s life and activities and the missing and, up till the discovery of their bodies, his seemingly unmissed, victims.

There are different ways to be a misper (as police jargon for missing persons has it.) Some people have reasons for going missing – and want to remain so. Many folk O’Hagan met in an occasional shelter, for drop-ins, fell into that category. He also notes an increasing category of missing who are simply unnoticed until their bodies are found in their homes months or years after their deaths.

While it is the thought and possible plight of missing persons that toll through the book it is the autobiographical details of O’Hagan’s family and early life which are the most immediate and memorable to the reader. (O’Hagan refers to going to school for the first time – in long trousers. Such a change there was in fifteen years or so; in my day such sartorial splendour was not sported until Secondary School.)

In the afterword to this 2004 edition O’Hagan writes that he opened the US publication of the book with the sentence, “We are none of us safe in this world,” and now does not wish to limit its “ominous tenor”. But surely that has always been true? We could fall under the proverbial bus – or cart as was. A close examination of the awful events that take place, of the lives cut short or compromised, will inevitably lead to such a sense of insecurity. Feeding and encouraging such thoughts is what fuels the tabloid press and right wing politicians eager to reduce freedoms for the populace and scrutiny of themselves. Perhaps O’Hagan’s journalistic endeavour has obscured to him a wider perspective. There is no such thing as absolute safety. And protection from threat – terrorist or otherwise – can never be complete. Yet notwithstanding what goes on today in the world – and the UK – my generation and that of my children are generally – and statistically – safer than those of my parents and grandparents. (This may not apply to the missing of course.)

It is a usually neglected yet necessary endeavour to reflect on and pay attention to people who are perhaps too easily forgotten and whose fate may or may not be grim. Even in this digital and camera-surveilled age it is possible to disappear, apparently without trace. The light O’Hagan shines on the problem is not sparing neither is it comfortable.

Pedant’s corner:- Conopticon Variety Theatre (Panopticon I think,) elevator (in Irvine that would be a lift,) the knave (it was of a church; so, nave,) “up to high do” (doh,) “there’s other places” (there are,) “the audience are able” (is,) “than to most anyone else” (USianism; than to nearly anyone else.) Dr Chambers’ (Chambers’s,) “who has made the trip” (the rest of the sentence argues for “had made”,) “she would be beat-up” (beaten up.) “Isa had began an affair” (had begun,) absense (absence,) sat (seated, or sitting.)

Reading Scotland 2015

A lot of my Scottish reading this year was prompted by the list of 100 best Scottish Books I discovered in February. Those marked below with an asterisk are in that 100 best list. (In the case of Andrew Greig’s Electric Brae I read it before I was aware of the list and for Robert Louis Stevenson his novella was in the book of his shorter fiction that I read.)

Electric Brae by Andrew Greig*
A Sparrow’s Flight by Margaret Elphinstone
The Guinea Stamp by Annie S Swan
The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson*
Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks by Christopher Brookmyre
Buddha Da by Anne Donovan*
Flemington by Violet Jacob*
Tales From Angus by Violet Jacob
Annals of the Parish by John Galt
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
Change and Decay in All Around I See by Allan Massie
The Hangman’s Song by James Oswald
Wish I Was Here by Jackie Kay
The Hope That Kills Us Edited by Adrian Searle
Other stories and other stories by Ali Smith
Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi*
The Gowk Storm by Nancy Brysson Morrison*
No Mean City by H McArthur and H Kingsley Long*
Shorter Scottish Fiction by Robert Louis Stevenson*
The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett*
Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith
Fair Helen by Andrew Greig
The Dear, Green Place by Archie Hind*
Fur Sadie by Archie Hind
Greenvoe by George Mackay Brown*
Stepping Out by Cynthia Rogerson
Open the Door! by Catherine Carswell*
The Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn*
Scotia Nova edited by Alistair Findlay and Tessa Ransford
After the Dance: selected short stories of Iain Crichton Smith
John Macnab by John Buchan
Another Time, Another Place by Jessie Kesson
Consider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith*
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan*
Poems Iain Banks Ken MacLeod
Mistaken by Annie S Swan
Me and Ma Gal by Des Dillon*
Tea with the Taliban: poems by Owen Gallagher
A Choosing by Liz Lochhead
The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins*
Born Free by Laura Hird*
the first person and other stories by Ali Smith

That makes 42 books in all (plus 2 if the Violet Jacob and Archie Hind count double.) None were non-fiction, 3 were poetry, 2 SF/Fantasy, 19 + (4x½ + 3 doublers) by men, 13 + (3 doublers and 1 triple) by women, 2 had various authors/contributors.

Annals of the Parish by John Galt

Or the Chronicle of Dalmailing during the Ministry of the Rev Micah Balwhidder, written by himself.
Oxford University Press World’s Classics, 1986, 272 p – including xiv p Introduction, 1 p Note on the Text, 2 p Select Bibliography, 3 p Chronology of John Galt, 3 p Textual Notes, 29 p Explanatory Notes.

Annals of the Parish cover

Not just one of the 100 Best Scottish books but a World’s Classic no less, and set in the interesting times of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries so taking in growing industrialisation and, at a distance, the American War of Independence and The French Revolution. The book is couched as the parish memoirs of the Rev Balwhidder who is at first not welcomed by his new congregation as being imposed on them by the parish’s heritors but wins them over soon enough. Initially he refers to Dalmailing as the clachan (village) but the town grows in size when manufacturing begins.

While, as Galt himself admitted Annals of the Parish is not a novel since it has no plot, the book still has enough human activity to sustain interest. Characters are sketched economically and develop by repeated exposure to their doings. Mrs Malcolm in particular engages the narrator’s and hence the reader’s sympathies. Some of the lesser characters’ names are playful. Mr Cayenne has a temper, the mason is a Mr Trowel, there is a Mr Toddy who owns a drinking establishment, Mr Cylindar is an engineer, the doctors Tanzey and Marigold are named after medicinal plants.

There are many biblical allusions and several animadversions against Roman Catholicism – to be expected of a Presbyterian minister of the time, though the Parish elders and Rev Balwhidder himself mellow in this regard later in the book as a consequence of the French Revolution. At one point he observes that, “The world is such a wheel carriage that it might properly be called the WHIRL’D.” (If someone 200 years ago could write that how much more would their disorientation be now?)

Modern sensibilities may be a little shocked by the mention of a “blackamoor” servant named “Sambo” (my quotation marks.) And there is the phrase “avaricious Jew” – though that epithet is directed at the Rev Balwhidder when he seeks an augmentation of his stipend.

In the notes it is said that the word Utilitarian – and thus its ism? – might have been lost (Jeremy Bentham gave it up for ‘greatest happiness principle’) had not John Stuart Mill recovered it from Annals of the Parish.

For a piece of fiction with no plot Annals of the Parish is surprisingly readable, even two centuries on. As a portrait of small town Scottish life at the time it is admirable and its lessons not applicable to Scotland alone.

Pedant’s corner:- David and Goliah (Goliath,) but if was one of misfortune (it.) Once again I noticed dulness with one “l” and there was “when I now recal to mind.” There is one use of the word bairns for children but otherwise weans is used throughout.

Read Scotland 2014 Overview

Twelve months gone and 29 books “Scottish” books read. (Or 30 if The Member and The Radical count as two; then again perhaps only 27 if A Scots Quair is treated as a single book.) That’s 2½ per month, give or take. And, if you discount the exceptions already mentioned, not a repeat author in the list.

2 were non-fiction; 4 outright SF/Fantasy; 18 were written by men (20 if the trilogy is separated) and 9 by women. (That gender disparity is lessened by 50% if you consider only authors still alive in 2014, though.)

I’m pleased to have caught up with John Galt and have already bought two more of his novels, delighted to have read A Scots Quair at last, made acquaintance with William Graham, Neil M Gunn, Carole Johnstone, Jackie Kay, Agnes Owens, Muriel Spark and Alan Spence and refound Naomi Mitchison. My main discovery, though, was Andrew Greig whose That Summer is the best book by a writer new to me (Scottish or not) since I first encountered Andrew Crumey.

My review of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life is still to appear. See later this week, or even tomorrow.

There is apparently a Read Scotland Challenge 2015. I don’t think I’ll make 29 this year. I’ve got a lot of other reading to catch up on.

The Member and The Radical by John Galt

Canongate Classics, 1996, 263 p, including 2 p glossary, 6 p notes (The Member) and 4 p notes (The Radical) plus 8 p Introduction.

The Member and The Radical cover

Galt was a Scot born in Ayrshire whose novels mainly dealt with the impact of the industrial revolution and has been called the first political novelist in the English language. The Member was the first example of the Parliamentary political novel, The Radical deals with Parliamentary matters only towards its end. These two works of fiction were first published in 1832 (in January and May respectively) and subsequently in one volume as The Reform that November but apparently not republished till 1975 (The Member) and this edition (The Radical.) The two hundred year old idioms do take some getting used to but it is worth persevering.

The Member: An Autobiography.
This is prefaced by a “Dedication” to one William Holmes, wherein Scot Archibald Jobbry laments the imminent passing of the Great Reform Act and the inevitable depredations which it will bring in its train. Many years before Jobbry had returned from India where he had made his fortune and decided to purchase a seat in the House of Commons despite it being technically illegal to do so. He shows himself a sly and acute bargainer. During this process he opines, “a Tory is but a Whig in office, and a Whig but a Tory in opposition.” Some things don’t change. In this regard Jobbry later says MPs have been, “inveterate to retain the distribution of places and pensions – the natural perquisites of Members of Parliament” and, “The democratical think state salaries always exorbitant, and the aristocratical never think wages low enough.”

The shenanigans accompanying elections in those days are amusingly described. On this point Jobbry tells us, “It is by no means plain why paying for an individual vote should be so much more heinous than paying for a whole borough.” These vices are still with us, if in altered form. To my mind selling off state assets is an even higher category of bribe than either of those Jobbry mentions, promising lower taxes only slightly less so.

Galt often uses the utterly obsolete form “quo’ I” for “I said” when Jobbry is relating his own direct speech.

In talking to fellow Parliamentarian Sir John Bulky, Jobbry – despite being a Tory (even if of a restrained sort) – says, “It is not a time to reduce public appointments when there is a national distress; the proper season is when all is green and flourishing.” (Tell that to the present UK coalition!) Sir John replies, “lessening expenditure during a period of general hardship – is paving the way to revolution.” Fat chance.

We also have, “a wild and growing notion prevails that governments … are of less use than had always been supposed; a doctrine (in) which the most civilised and refined communities will be driven to the wall.”

The Radical: An Autobiography.
The life story of one Nathan Butt (try saying it in a Scottish accent,) an individual poles apart from Alexander Jobbry in outlook and here presented in a much less favourable light than Jobbry was in The Member – though he is much disturbed by his Radical friends indulging in bribery to get him elected. Again there is a dedication, this time to Baron Brougham and Vaux, late Lord High Chancellor. Butt’s enthusiasm for Napoleon turns to a feeling of betrayal by “that very bad man.” The narrator refers to his “friend” John Galt and quotes one of his poems. Metafiction in the 1830s. There is a harsh schoolmaster called Mr Skelper* – no doubt inspired by Mr Thwackum.

Several phrases resonate with the present day. “The age required that men who had large private properties should have resigned what they withdrew from the public purse.” (For this nowadays read Amazon, Google, Starbucks evading tax?) “The newspapers now and then tell us of this gentleman, who on his audit-day remitted so many per cents to his tenantry; but I doubt if the fashion has yet become common.” Quite! “There is something in their” – priests and clerics – “office which leads them to imagine themselves superior to the commonalty of mankind.” One of the characters has “a prophetic vista of the time when the English language, by the American States, and the Oriental colonies, would be universal all over the Earth.”

There is a glossary in the final pages which strangely only goes up to the letter “l” – at least in my copy.

*See skelp in the Dictionary of the Scots Language. Type in “skelp” in the search box and then click “skelp,v”.

Projected New Year Reading

Happy New Year everyone.

As I mentioned before the good lady suggested I should take part in her blog friend Peggy Ann’s Read Scotland Challenge. This post is about what I intend to read. (Whether I will actually get around to it all is another matter. There is the small matter of a review for Interzone to be got out of the way as a first priority and other reading to be done.)

When it came up I looked on this project partly as a chance to catch up on Scottish classics I have so far missed. In the frame then is Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s A Scots Quair trilogy – I have read most of his œuvre but not this, his most well-known work. The televison series made of it in the 1970s has been in my memory for a long time, though. I also have his Persian Dawns, Egyptian Nights in my tbr pile and a collection of shorter pieces under the title Smeddum many of which I have already read. I have not managed to source his The Calends of Cairo and doubtless if I did it would be horribly expensive.

Another Scottish classic I haven’t read is J MacDougall Hay’s Gillespie, which lies on my desk as I write this but, according to Alasdair Gray, has the “worst first chapter that ever introduced a novel worth reading.” I consider myself warned.

If I can get hold of a copy then John Galt’s The Member and the Radical will go on the list.

As far as modern stuff is concerned there are multiple novels by Christopher Brookmyre and Allan Massie on my shelves and as yet unread, two by Alan Warner, Andrew Crumey’s Mr Mee and James Robertson’s latest The Professor of Truth.

Plenty to be going on with.

We’ll see how it goes.

A Short Survey of Classic Scottish Writing by Alasdair Gray

Canongate Pocket Classics, 2001, 159 p

Short History Scottish Fiction cover

The book is diminutive in size (16 cm tall, 11 wide) but not content. It rattles through the history of writing in and by Scots from Anglo-Saxon times till the early 20th century. It focuses on what Gray – and most other commentators – consider to be the best in the tradition; hence classic in the book’s title. More recent Scottish writing is deliberately excluded as being too close for a proper perspective.

Several of the works mentioned in the survey were of course overlooked or even derided on first publication and it is only with time their merits have come to be recognised. Overall, though, the literary output from this small nation is shown fit to stand comparison with any.

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