Saltire Society Fletcher Lecture 2020
The Saltire Society was pleased to host our annual Fletcher of Saltoun Lecture online on Tuesday 10 November 2020 We are delighted to make this engaging lecture exploring Scottish-Canadian Gaelic connections that will be presented by Professor Rob Dunbar of the University of Edinburgh free to watch online.
The Trans-Atlantic Gaelic Ties that Bind Scotland and Canada
John Lorne Campbell of Canna (1906-1996) was one of the greatest folklorists and Gaelic scholars of the twentieth century. In the early spring of 1932 Campbell took advantage of being in the United States to visit Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. One of the first of the new world Gaels he met was Jonathan G. MacKinnon (1869-1944), who edited the longest running Gaelic newspaper that has ever existed, Mac-Talla (‘Echo’), between 1892 and 1904 in Sydney, Nova Scotia. In 1937 Campbell returned to Canada to record Gaelic material, specifically to record material that the emigrants had brought with them from Scotland and that was remembered by their descendants. He also recorded MacKinnon. These were amongst the first sound recordings of Gaelic material in Canada.
Professor Robert Dunbar is Professor of Celtic at the University of Edinburgh. His research interests include the Gaelic diaspora, particularly Gaelic in Canada, eighteenth and nineteenth century Gaelic literature, Gaelic oral tradition, and language policy and planning for Gaelic and other minoritised languages. A native of Canada and a lawyer by training, he received his PhD in Celtic from Edinburgh. He has been a strong advocate for the rights of Gaelic speakers, having played an important role in the creation of the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005. He has also frequently advised international organisations such as the Council of Europe, as well as national and sub-national assemblies such as the Welsh Parliament, on language law, language policy, and the protection of minorities.
Photo kindly provided by the wonderful folk at Canna House - take a virtual tour of their beautiful gardens on the National Trust for Scotland website https://www.nts.org.uk/stories/a-virtual-walk-around-canna-house-garden .
Patriotism from Fletcher of Saltoun
to Thomas Muir of Huntershill
By Professor Gerry Carruthers
The 2016 Fletcher of Saltoun Lecture was given by Professor Gerry Carruthers at the Scottish Parliament on 3 November 2016.
Writers, like politicians, are not really to be trusted … or at any rate not trusted entirely. Writers like politicians deploy rhetoric which might not always give us an honest window on reality. But both types of creature are useful in providing the ideological and cultural myths by which we might define the kind of community we wish to inhabit. Words - and ideas - are malleable and mythic and there can be art and wellbeing in their deployment as well as - more often than - nefariousness. I like writers and politicians, apart from several maniacs among both breeds. These imagineers of our identity – for the most part – care enough about the human race to be partial about it, to give us community, to give us among other iterations of this: patriotism. But my opening words here are towards pointing out that the story of 18th century patriotism, of Scottish patriotism, generally, is not necessarily a simple or straightforward one.
Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun has an intermittent reception in Scotland before becoming the Scottish ‘patriot’ par excellence in the late twentieth century – when we have the work of David Daiches (interested in Fletcher as an early Enlightenment figure) and Paul Scott (who sees Fletcher as a proto-Nationalist). Both of these things – enlightenment and nationalism - have a renewed ‘respectability’ or at least heft from the 1970s and provide fruitful contexts for Fletcher’s disinterment. Prior to the 1970s, Fletcher’s utterances, his political speeches and pamphlets, lay largely unpublished since their own heyday of 1698-1703. For a brief time, Fletcher rose again in the work of the Earl of Buchan during the 1780s and 90s: David Stuart Erskine the 11th Earl of Buchan, was interested in republican ideas, primed in the first instance by the ideas of the American Revolution, including the influence of Thomas Paine, and then by the French Revolution. It was probably Thomas Jefferson’s admiration for Fletcher that particularly drew Buchan’s attention. Jefferson saw Fletcher as a prime BRITISH patriot within a tradition of king-defiance going back to the Magna Carta.
A cultural nationalist, Buchan had a sincere interest in history and was main founder of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1780. His cultural nationalism, however, might appear rather strange to modern eyes in some of its aspects: it extended to the Earl wishing that Robert Burns might write more in English so as to achieve his true potential as a poet. Buchan also constructed the massive 21 foot-high statue of William Wallace near Melrose in 1814. Wallace had been largely written out of both Scottish and ‘British’ history, footnoted as a guerrilla-fighter. And not much romance attended today’s icon even when fleetingly mentioned in Scottish literature after the fifteenth-century. For instance, when James Thomson makes passing mention of Wallace in in his great poem (perhaps the most influential Scottish poem of all time), The Seasons in the 1720s. Buchan noticed this reference in Thomson, his favourite Scottish poet (about whom he commissioned a celebratory text from Robert Burns). The British radical left of the 1790s also began to appropriate Wallace from Thomson and elsewhere and to erect the thirteenth-century Scottish patriot as a symbol of freedom standing against the tyranny of the English crown - these radicals in London, Bristol, Edinburgh and elsewhere reading the crown as newly tyrannical following the French Revolution, and for the first time really tyrannical since the days of the Stuarts.
James Thomson was a Real Whig of the early 18th century, which meant at its ideological core keeping an eye on the monarch (making sure, principally, that he or she did not dominate parliament). Thomson is stitched together by Buchan with William Wallace, George Buchanan (the great Latin dramatist), and Fletcher of Saltoun to represent a canon of canny, royal-checking, proto-Republicans. This idea – proto-Republicanism and these figures largely fall out of the picture from the end of the eighteenth century and for the best part of a hundred years. This has a lot to do with the defeating of Napoleon’s France and the seemingly moderate, evolutionary progress of the British Reform movement from the 1820s onwards. Wallace makes a return, of course, in the monument near Stirling in the later 19th century, but Fletcher of Saltoun is more or less a thoroughly buried figure following the 1790s.
His resurrection in this last forty years or so, including in the badging of this named annual lecture we’re attending tonight, is related, as I’ve indicated already, to the causes of nationalism and enlightenment. Fletcher’s idea that an all-encompassing British parliament would be retrogressive is an obvious enough nationalist idea, though there might be hints in his writings that he was open to a kind of British federalism for sound market-reasons. His belief that London was too dominant a metropolitan trading centre and that this trend would accelerate after 1707 is a nice calculation that many would argue has been borne out. Of course, Fletcher a man with a considerable intellect and also a considerable library was attuned to the growing capital of the early eighteenth-century world, generally, and he could see the acceleration of overseas Empire occurring to England’s benefit. This is why he backed the Darien Scheme, wishing that Scotland too might begin to establish imperial enterprise; and granted his own way, a sovereign Scottish parliament after 1707 would have attempted to compete with England to some extent in the acquisition of overseas colonies. This is not a picture, perhaps, that sits entirely easily with Jefferson’s and Buchan’s reading of Fletcher as – more or less – a republican, except perhaps in the really classical Greek or Roman sense. However, Fletcher certainly had wise and critical things to say about the operations of imperial power, writing in 1698 that the Union of Crowns of 1603 had been accomplished and built upon - including especially the gradual dominance of England - by the ‘great places and pensions conferred upon Scotsmen by that court’ [ie of James VI, post-1603]. Fletcher also believed that Scotland should retain a standing army against the softening of its manhood, this latter condition leading all too easily to the easy corruption of Scots being bought off at the English court, at parliament and elsewhere. Certainly, he had a sense of Scotland within the nations of Europe and he also had a consistent fear of parliamentary sovereignty being usurped by presumed royal prerogative, which to some extent was how he read the accomplishment of the union of parliaments of 1707.
A moderate Presbyterian, Scotland’s archetypal ‘moderate’ disapproving of the extreme absolutist claims of both Covenanter and Catholic, Fletcher, represents one – rather minority position on the eighteenth-century Scottish ideological spectrum.
A very different position was occupied by Allan Ramsay, the individual who sets the strongest template of the imagination for eighteenth-century Scottish patriotism, as expressed in culture. He it was who began to channel a vocabulary of Jacobite anti-Unionism into the ‘mainstream’ Scottish mentality that has pertained down to the present day. However, by the 20th century Ramsay had been denuded of his original ideological import by critics and commentators. His aristocratic, Tory, Jacobite ideological leanings had been largely forgotten, subsumed as he had been in a generalised narrative of eighteenth-century Scots vernacular poetry being a repository of proto-proletarian values: Scots poetry as urban street life. An important counter to this de-historicisation occurred in 1978 when Fred Freeman discovered in Edinburgh Central Library, Ramsay’s first published work - the sole remaining copy apparently - of his ‘Poem to the Memory of Archibald Pitcairn’. What this proved beyond any doubt, which curiously some of Ramsay’s 20th century editors had doubted, was that Ramsay’s Easy Club was Jacobite. Now there could be no mistake: the club had paid for the publishing of the Pitcairne poem, which celebrated William Wallace and those from seventeenth-century Cavalier culture who had opposed, indeed sometimes persecuted the Covenanters. Ramsay’s text also depicted the men who had signed the Treaty of Union boiling in gold, this portrayal of punished betrayal taken straight from the pro-Stuart or Jacobite lexis after the Stuarts had been deposed from the throne in the 1680s.
Ramsay’s ‘patriotic’ mission, most generally, involved promoting art: music, painting and theatre as well as printed literature. This was in the face of the Whiggish, Calvinist city authorities in Edinburgh who were often hand in glove with/ indeed sometimes one and the same with a theologically conservative strand in the Kirk. Ramsay promoted high art and low art: the conceit being that we, the heirs of the Cavaliers of the 17th century British Civil War, do it all: fine love poetry, song, smut, satire, seriousness, drinking ballads, broad comedy and everything else besides. Ramsay’s mission was to reinsert all of this varied artistic palate back into a Scottish cultural landscape that he saw as denuded by the dominant Puritanical mentality. As time went by though, Ramsay was read as a purveyor of earthy, urban Scots poetry: he was, but he was much more besides. Part of his patriotism involves a very clever manoeuvre where he draws on one of his seventeenth-century heroes, William Drummond of Hawthornden, and especially Drummond’s macaronic poem, Polemio Middinia. This text celebrates the good things that are to be found for eating within Scotland’s seas. Ramsay takes this idea even further in poems where the seas around Scotland’s coasts veritably boil with life - such as ‘The North Sea Fisheries’ and ‘The Prospect of Plenty’, where in the latter he includes the fish and other goodies in Scotland’s freshwaters, its rivers. The underlying idea is that we Scots might not have England’s ‘green and pleasant land’ but we do have our own powerful, plentiful, nourishing natural resources. This is a literary strand that leads a little later to Robert Fergusson’s poem, ‘Caller Oysters’ and ultimately to Robert Burns’s ‘To A Haggis’. Good hearty, fresh food on which any nation might support a hardy, indeed war-like, population. There is a strand of this simple, powerful eating trope too that leads us to more recent times and the deep-fried mars bar – but let’s not go there!
Among other bits of the Scottish literary canon that came in via Ramsay’s Stuart-patriotism, specifically, were the use of the Habbie Simson and Christis Kirk stanzas, both of which signalled their mode as festive fun, the latter as a text particularly liked by Stuart-loyalists because it was variously attributed to not one but two Stuart Kings, two Jameses: our king is both cultured, a poet, and can write about the ordinary folk disappearing off into the bushes with one another. All life, all culture is here in our monarch, in our nation, we have a sovereign who is also the Gaberlunzie man!
In his song collecting and editing, Ramsay was also the one who most centrally fed to Burns the text ‘Auld Lang Syne’ – in Ramsay’s version this is a comrades song, about two old soldiers parting, enemies of the roundheads after the wars of the 1640s. With Burns of course, the song becomes universalised, a more general song of leaving and cleavage, suitable to the late eighteenth-century period when routine emigration from Scotland is becoming common.
So we should notice one ‘myth of the people’: Ramsay writing in Scots, collecting folk-songs – and proverbs too – which comes from his Aristocratic, Jacobite mentalite which is intent on the re-culturation of Scotland. A high cultural outlook essentially feeding, somewhat accidentally, a more demotic cultural predisposition. Often the way, I think: that classic Tory paternalism becomes appropriated within an outlook that is, a bit later, Socialist or even Communist.
We should notice how the myth of the Scottish people has contending ideological or ‘patriotic’ streams: a Jacobite source and a very different source: the Covenanters. And to this latter source, at least by the time of the French Revolution and for a moment or two anyway, Robert Burns subscribes in rhyme. In 1795, Burns pens his short set of lines:
The Solemn League and Covenant
Now brings a smile, now brings a tear;
But sacred Freedom, too, was theirs:
If thou'rt a slave, indulge thy sneer.
‘Freedom’ is a hot term by the 1790s and in using it for the harshly treated, historically marginalised Covenanters, Burns is contributing to the contemporary project of seeing these individuals as proto-democrats. This is a project begun by Enlightenment historians who are bringing all kinds of marginalised bits of Scotland back into more objective focus. And Burns is reading these historians. For instance, we see another marginalised thing, ‘despotism’ alongside the Covenanters ‘fanaticism’ when Burns also writes sympathetically about Mary Queen of Scots - at the other end of the religious and ideological spectrum of course from the Covenanters. This is why Burns is the poet of Scotland – he knows that there is more than one way of being Scottish, that Scottish identity is multifarious, not the one essential thing historically any more in the eighteenth century or before than it is now in the early 21st century! Is Burns a Jacobite, is he a Covenanter? These are the wrong questions! He tells us that – much more importantly - the dubiety is not about himself, but is Scotland’s, Scotland is both of these identities and neither completely.
The dubiety in Burns’s work runs deep. Let alone different bits on the spectrum of Scottish identity, he has a rather chequered relationship with his cradle Calvinism: notoriously he satirises the Scottish kirk (and we’ll come back to this shortly), but he also praises its ecclesiology, most famously in ‘The Cottar’s Saturday Night’. This is a showpiece poem in his first book, the Kilmarnock edition of 1786 and it was also his calling card to the British Romantic movement, many of these writers such as Coleridge were also Dissenting Protestants and they read the culture behind ‘The Cottar’s Saturday Night’ as essentially dissenting, as anti-establishment in church and state. And so it was, to an extent. We see the Cottar and his family at supper eating good simple, healthy food (that strand then of ‘anti-luxury’ of simple, tasty Scottish fare (the peasant food that would become sought after by Gourmands in the late 20th century and – also - of what is good rations for the warrior); we have Burns projecting ‘a wall of fire around [the] much-lov'd isle’ which has led some critics to suggest that – realistically – he must mean Britain, and in a poem that talks of ‘scenes like these from which old Scotia’s grandeur springs’. He doesn’t – he is being metaphorical, he is referring to Scotland alone and a similar occlusive image – the ‘wall of fire’ is the fiery faith protecting the Scottish people. The poem is written in the Spenserian stanza form: again Burns is helping to revive a mode: and an appropriate one – common to the Protestant heritage of all of Ireland, Scotland and England. It badges the poem. For a moment at least – or 192 lines of verse - Burns’s (enlightened) sympathy is with his cradle Presbyterian culture. Burns in this poem says you the Presbyterians have a patriotic, national culture: in the face of long-standing Anglican and Scottish Episcopalian (and Catholic) jibes that ecclesiastically and Whiggishly, as unionists, the Scottish Presbyterians had no culture.
A large irony is that to begin with and into the early nineteenth century Burns has a more secure English Protestant audience than a Scottish Protestant audience. To begin with, leaving aside the kirk satires, this was because Burns in his modes was heir to the cultural nationalism, the Jacobite Patriotism of Allan Ramsay, wielding the Scots language in verse and the Habbie and Christis kirk stanzas, writing about festival HOLI-days – all of these things much more to be associated with Episcopalians and Catholics in the east and especially the North East of Scotland. Much of Burns’s poetic technology was pre-programmed in its modalities to get up the noses of the Whigs, the Calvinists, as it had originally been designed to do by Allan Ramsay and other years earlier in the century.
What was Burns patriotic about? Scotland? Yes, about the Jacobites as well as the Covenanters and Presbyterians when in the mood, which was more often in the case of the former than the latter. About Scotland’s songs? Most certainly, as he collaborated with James Johnson in compiling the monumental multi-volume Scots Musical Museum from the late 1780 through the 1790s. About Highlanders – which was a change of tune from the contemptuous attitude of his predecessor Robert Fergusson. Burns could also call himself a Whig, celebrate the Revolution of 1688-89 and describe himself as ‘A Briton’ on occasion. None of these positions was particularly insincere when set against each other. There is so much rubbish spoken by 20th century Scottish commentators about the Caledonian Antisyzygy, Dissociation and Paradox in Scottish culture, about crises of confidence and identity – 1960s psychobabble, Anglocentric stereotypes that come from a strange kind of envy – wishing that Scotland had the same organic, integrated, TRADITION that England historically had. Well, guess what? England does not have any such thing either. Culture, politics, patriotism are all diffuse - often even within the one individual.
One of the most striking examples of Scottish patriotism occurs with the first Scottish Prime Minister of post-1707 Great Britain from 1762-63, John Stuart, Earl of Bute. He saw it as his duty to lead Britain as a Scot who had opposed the Jacobites. And he had to endure the most outrageous slings: Charles Churchill’s The Prophecy of Famine: A Scots Pastoral (1763) went through four well-selling editions in ten months. It attacked Stuart – because of his name, as a Jacobite. It said the Scots are coming south like a plague of locusts to eat all our food and take all our jobs. The illustration to the poem was particularly popular [a highlander, ragged, flea-written, even the sheep sniffing one another’s bums, mountains, the Ossianic moment one second before; Scotland filthy, wild, unresourceful]. Curious thing about the 18th century: much more anti-Scottishness than anti-Englishness caused by the union … It is this context that gives rise to what I think is the greatest Scottish novel of all time, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771) by that ‘North Briton’, Tobias Smollett. The post union novel that is scrupulously fair and enlightened: giving pros and cons of Scottish culture. A true act of patriotism!
If one were in a room of Robert Burns fans and Thomas Muir cheerleaders, how might one annoy them?
Point out that with a wee bit more synchronicity and a little hypothetical history, Robert Burns and Thomas Muir would have been shooting at one another. Had the French actually invaded, say in 1798, bringing with them Muir – whom they styled their First Minister of the Scottish Republic; and had Robert Burns still been alive in that year - then as a member of the Dumfries Local Militia, our poet would have been waiting to rebuff the new First Minister’s advances with some considerable force.
Two of our most archetypal ‘patriots’ so far as twenty-first century Scotland is concerned are Burns and Muir. Since I have mentioned Burns the volunteer, let’s say a little bit more about this before dealing with Muir, ‘the Scottish martyr’. It was during World War One that the lost minute book of the Dumfries Volunteers was rediscovered. And there could not have been a more resonant time for this rediscovery, lots of men – usually much younger than Burns – had lost their lives. By 1918, 1.7 million British casualties, with Scotland notoriously suffering a far higher rate of attrition than England. This is the context in which William Will of the London Burns Club edits the minute book – and with some emotion. He says in his introduction that those who had doubted Burns’s loyalty and patriotism (ie during the French Revolution) were wrong. The minute-book shows Burns, unlike most of his colleagues never being fined for infractions in duty, always with a well pressed uniform. The implication was clear – Burns was the kind of young man who would have put himself in the firing line in the present campaign against the Hun. The London Burnsian is a type singled out by Hugh MacDiarmid for particular loathing in A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (although as a matter of taste, as a matter of personal moral compass, I find MacDiarmid’s pronouncements about the London Blitz during World War II utterly rebarbative). It is true that – like so many before and since – Will is attempting the impossible in trying to shoe-horn Burns into a later period of history. Burns through 1795 (the year he joins the Dumfries Militia) to 1796, the year of his demise, seems in his writings to cling to support for principles of reform, if not revolution unleashed by the French. At the same time, it is the case that Burns - as his song ‘The Dumfries Volunteers’ shows – doesn’t want his country invaded by the French. Who wants their country invaded by anyone? That song ends with the lines,
But while we sing God Save the King
We’ll ne’er forget the people.
My good friend Liam McIlvanney rightly points out that we should note the equivocation here, the loyalty to the ‘people’ balancing the cause of the sovereign. This is true enough, although the poets, many of the men who would go on to be part of the United Irishmen in the rebellion of 1798, felt that Burns - once their poster-boy - had sold out when the song appeared in the Ulster press.
The usage of ‘people’ here is interesting enough and can be read as code for the reform movement begun in 1792 – the Society of the Friends of the People, though there is no evidence that Burns had any links to this, and, indeed, as an exciseman, as an employee of the crown he would need to be careful about such associations. ‘People’ was even more of a watch-word for Thomas Muir sentenced to 14 years transportation to Botany Bay in 1793 for alleged ‘sedition’, even though what he had seemingly been doing was principally sharing his library book recommendations. Among these, that ultimate British bogeyman of the 1790s, Thomas Paine, a powerful intellectual motor to both the American and French revolutions. Paine is the ultimate anti-British patriot (at least before Mel Gibson!), a cosmopolitan leader of international reform and justice.
Muir at his (rigged) trial made the famous pronouncement, ‘I have devoted myself to the cause of The People. It is a good cause – it shall ultimately prevail – it shall finally triumph.’ [These are the words that appear on the monument to Muir and the other ‘martyrs’ on Calton Hill not far from this place.] Now, even more certainly than with Burns, ‘The People’ here references the Friends of the People, among whose Edinburgh conventions in the early 1790s, Muir was a leader. But something else is at play: Muir’s Presbyterianism and especially his allegiance to the more orthodox Calvinist Popular Party. Muir’s certainty about the future, unless blind optimism, could not have been based on a reading of present wretched 1793-circumstances for the cause of reform in Scotland and in Great Britain more widely. It was not really that he believed in some Enlightenment-sense that ‘Reason’ was bound to prevail in time, and that peaceful democracy would be seen as a good thing. Rather, I’d suggest, Muir’s sense of futurity has more to do with a mentality about the Elect, what he is gesturing towards is a sense that God will make all things right, at the end of time, certainly, but also in some earthly sense at some point where the kingdom of God among men might be established. But … let me not labour that point too much, but instead focus a little more closely on Muir’s Protestant Patriotism.
Burns may have been – almost certainly was – sympathetic to Muir and the others tried for sedition during 1792-3. But for most of their lives, and probably even beyond this period had the two men thought about one another at all they would have done so with some suspicion. Burns was allied to the Moderates, the liberal theologians and intellectuals of the eighteenth-century, who would operate at the centre of the Scottish Enlightenment. Beginning with Francis Hutcheson, the Ulsterman who takes up the chair of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow in 1729, through Adam Smith, Thomas Reid (both also at Glasgow) and Dugald Stewart (at Edinburgh University), a new philosophy of reason opposing traditional religious emphases of ‘faith alone’ came to be the underfelt of Scottish university education.
If Robert Burns was broadly onside this cultural current, Thomas Muir was not. In 1786 the Rev William McGill published his[G1] Practical Essay on the Death of Christ. The upshot was six years of litigation in the ecclesiastical courts all the way up to the General Assembly as opponents of McGill sought to have him charged with heresy and even excommunicated. Who was the lawyer at the centre of these proceedings? Thomas Muir. Who was one of McGill’s closest friends who defended him repeatedly in poem and song? Robert Burns. Who, during this period, was one of the pamphleteers, allies of Muir publically castigating McGill? William Peebles who in 1811 produced the remarkably venomous Burnomania; the celebrity of Robert Burns considered in a Discourse addressed to all real Christians of every Denomination. McGill was a versifier in English, heir of the continuing tradition of writing in English, the Presbyterian way, rather than in the Jacobite, Popish tinged mode of Scots. The case against McGill had echoes of several others going all the way back to Francis Hutcheson, whom the Presbytery of Glasgow had tried to indict on Heresy charges for teaching that the so-called ‘heathen’ might have access to salvation without Christ. Similarly, McGill in his treatise was held by his opponents to go against the idea of Christ as sole mediator of salvific destiny.
Muir acted out of principle in pursuing McGill, and part of that Popular Party mentality was being against Patronage: the 1711 Patronage Act had essentially removed the right of kirk congregations to appoint their ministers, placing this power in the hands of local landowners instead. As a Moderate, albeit liberal in theology, Robert Burns – unlike Muir – supported Patronage and in texts such as ‘The Ordination’ satirises the idea of supposedly drunken weavers presuming to choose their own minister. The moderate logic here was that educated men of property were more ‘enlightened’, would choose less fanatically than the hoi polio of the parish. Muir in the late 1780s and early 1790s, as he acted against McGill also represented the congregation of his home parish of Cadder as it attempted to resist the patronage choice of a local landowner. Part of Muir’s micro-Patriotism revolved around the historic rights of the Church of Scotland that he read as affirmed at the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89, and also ensured as he claimed by the treaty of parliamentary union of 1707. Proper patriarchy exercised by the local congregation and not patronage was the historic legacy of the Covenanters: a kind of ecclesiastical sovereignty invested in the people. This covenanting legacy flows into the 1790s Friends of the People idea and the ideas of Thomas Paine generally: where parliamentary sovereignty is about the rights of ordinary, non-propertied suffrage, or democracy as we would recognise the idea today.
I don’t want to give away too many of the new discoveries in the book edited by Don Martin and myself, for which you have a flyer and which will be launched in just over a month’s time. But we have some dynamite - we now know a lot more about Muir’s Kirk Politics and his expulsion from the University of Glasgow. In 1785, Muir excluded himself from the university to pre-empt his imminent expulsion. Muir was part of the circle of John Anderson who bequeaths in his will the foundation that becomes the University of Strathclyde, conceived by Anderson as a more solid Calvinist institution than the soft Presbyterian University of Glasgow. Conventional accounts of Anderson’s and Muir’s disputes with Glasgow were about corrupt finances. I don’t think the finances were corrupt and it was actually a religious struggle. Ultimately, Muir ends up radicalised by his experience of the British justice system and wants a full-scale French invasion of Great Britain with the establishment of three republics: England, Ireland and Scotland. He is the ultimate Presbyterian Republican, though more theologically and constitutionally pure than Fletcher of Saltoun. He deserves something of the epithet, ‘the father of Scottish democracy’ but we should be aware of his religious, his confessional, propensities as much as his secular ones.
So, 1707 is not the only pulse point in eighteenth-century Scottish history that elicits patriotic response. We can also cite the Kirk Patronage Act of 1711, the Premiership of the first Scottish Prime minister of Great Britain following the Union, that of John Stuart from 1762, and the outbreak of the French Revolution of 1789. Nationalists, Jacobites, Whigs, Calvinists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Unionists, Enlightenment philosophes and Reformers all had their own intensely Scottish versions of patriotism, all had their sincere cultural investments.'
Samuel Johnson famously pronounced that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. In fact, eighteenth-century Scottish cultural history shows that it is the first port for those who care about one or more of their community, culture and nation. The multifarious Scottishness of the eighteenth-century is salutary in the early twenty-first century at a time when unionism and nationalism seem all too easily on occasion to become brittle, bitter, over-discriminated factions. Here’s to a braver Scotland!
About Professor Gerard Carruthers FRSE
Professor Gerard Carruthers FRSE is Francis Hutcheson Chair of Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow.