The root cause of this ambivalence is a reluctance to accept that the past can only be judged in its own terms. We may be horrified at those terms, as Wilson is, but imposing our values illumines not history but ourselves. Spinoza set out the Hippocratic oath that should bind all who approach the past: ‘not to mock, lament or execrate but to understand human actions’. Only when we recognise slavery as a constant in human history can we understand why Hawkins could see nothing wrong with supplying the newly extended labour market in Spanish and Portuguese America. Even John Newton would continue slaving after his conversion. We may not wish to endorse Drake’s piratical values, but can and should still celebrate his circumnavigation as a huge achievement in its own r ight as well as its enduring impact. And we have to remember context. Wilson suggests that the Elizabethans should have left Ireland to the Irish, yet that was unrealistic not only in light of the previous 400 years of history but also in terms of European power politics and cultural values. Only context explains how the acutely sensitive Spenser was ready to see the Irish wiped out by famine, or worse, but was still able to sleep comfortably in his bed. What benefit was there in the ninety-four apologies Pope John Paul II is said to have offered for past church errors? Is it not more valuable to note that many of the errors arose from attempting to implement what was sincerely believed to be the divine will? History has moral utility when we understand how humanity has behaved in the past and so are made less confident in our own righteousness.
Do not look to The Elizabethans for an authoritative nar rative. Read i t to understand why, despite ‘ the Difficulty’, Queen Elizabeth I and her subjects still do matter. Just as a person is normal with, not without, his or her neuroses, a country is normal with a history. As A N Wilson concludes, perhaps a little against his will, part of what made Britain so resourceful in later centuries was a l egacy o f ‘ t he evolved exper i ence o f t he Elizabethan age’. To order this book for £20, see LR bookshop on page 20
and Burns Night wherever they find themselves in the world. Descendants of Scottish emigrants bedeck themselves in tartan and, especially in Canada and the USA, stage Highland Games and form pipe bands. All this is well known. So too is the fact that people have been leaving Scotland for centuries. Before 1700 they went mostly to Europe: the Netherlands, France, Poland, and Russia. Some went as soldiers of for tune, many as traders and merchants, and a smaller number as political refugees. Since the Treaty of Union with England in 1707, while far fewer have settled in Europe, huge numbers have crossed the border to England, where, often, in two or three generations, they became English. Even more have emigrated overseas, first to English colonies where the old English empire became a British one, and subsequently to countr ies like China and Argentina which were never formally annexed to the empire but came within what one may fairly call the British imperial economic zone. The USA, however, was the favoured
P a i n t i n g t h e G l o b e Ta r t a n TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH: SCOTLAND’S
GLOBAL DIASPORA, 1750–2010
By T M Devine (Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 397pp £25)
DURING AN EARLY eighteenth-century war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, the generals of the two armies came together to negotiate a truce. ‘Aye, aye, Sandy,’ said the Turkish one, ‘we’re a gey lang way frae the back o’ Bennachie’ – for the two men had been brought up on neighbouring farms in Aberdeenshire. The t a l e may be apocr yphal, but is quite likely t r ue, and I l i ke to th i nk they indulged in reminiscences of their childhood, s peaking t he b ro ad Aberdeenshire Doric.
Scots have a deep, if often sentimental, attachment to t he i r homeland, o f t en expressed in – sometimes mawkish – song. They celebrate S t Andrew’s Night
MA in biography Consistently rated ‘excellent’ by external examiners and inspectors The course is taught by Jane Ridley and will be based in London from
October 2011. Available full-time (12 months) or part-time,
by research or as a taught MA. Start October or January. For more information visit our site www.buckingham.ac.uk/london/biography or email firstname.lastname@example.org destination: ‘more than half o f a l l emig r a t i ng Scots embarked f o r t he USA between 1853 and 1914.’ Canada, Australia and New Zealand came next; until the selection of players from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga became common, a disproportionate number of New Zealand’s r ugby i n t e r na t i onal s had Scots names. In this book Tom Devine has set himself the task of recording what he f airly calls the Scottish
LITERARY REVIEW September 2011
Diaspora, accounting for its fruits and its effect on Scotland itself. It is a bold undertaking, for the story, as he tells it, spans every continent and almost three hundred years with a backward glance to earlier centuries.
The Scots are a wandering people. Devine quotes the actor Sir Henry Irving speaking in 1896 of ‘the capacity of the Scot for … transporting Scotland all over the earth. I have an idea that when the North Pole is discovered, it will be found to bear a strong resemblance to Arthur’s Seat.’ The Victor ian Liberal politician Sir Charles Dilke, touring the empire, remarked that ‘for every Englishman that you meet who has worked himself to wealth from small beginnings without external aid, you find ten Scotchmen’. So numerous were the Scots in the colonies that Dilke, not wholly s e r i ously, thought it was ‘strange, indeed, that Scotland has not become the popular name f or t he United Kingdom’. John Buchan wrote in Greenmantle that ‘we are the only race on earth that can produce men capable of getting inside the skin of remote peoples. Perhaps t he Scots are better than the English, but we’re all a thousand per cent better than anybody else’ – a satisfying conclusion.
Devine knocks some of our complacency on the head. It is not true, he says, that Scots didn’t benefit from the slave trade, as is commonly believed (in Scotland, anyway). On the contrary, though Bristol and Liverpool may have been the main trading ports, Scots merchants and shipping companies were happily active in the trade, and many West Indian sugar plantations were owned or managed by Scots. One remembers that Robert Burns himself was about to take up a post as an overseer in a slaveworked sugar estate when the success of the first edition of his Poems caused him to change his mind. Likewise Devine has no time for the notion that Scots – and especially dispossessed Gaelic ones – had a particular affinity with native peoples. They robbed, exploited and killed them just as willingly and efficiently as the English. One of the great trading companies, Jardine Matheson, based in Hong Kong, made its fortune by running opium into China and persuaded the British Government to go to war in defence of its drug trade. Nevertheless the Scottish contribution to the making of the modern world was vast, and quite disproportion-
a t e t o t he s i z e and population o f t he countr y. Nineteenth-century Scotland was one of the g reat workshops of the world. As late as 1914, a fifth of the world’s shipping was built on the Clyde, and the North Br i t i sh Locomotive Company constr ucted railway engines for South America and much of Europe (now in Edinburgh we can’t even build a tramline, and if it is ever operational the trams themselves will have been built in Spain). Tea plantations in India and Ceylon were owned and managed by Scots. Modern Malaysia is in many ways a Scottish creation, its prosperity deriving or ig inally from the rubber plantations run by Scots companies Guthrie’s and Sime Darby. An Australian historian, James Collier, declared in 1911, ‘with pardonable
Flying Scotsmen exaggeration’, that ‘the Scots own all the land in Australia while the Irish own all the public houses’. Scottish investment trusts provided the capital for the development of the American West and also of Argentina. One may wonder where a l l th i s energy has gone. Certainly the entrepreneur i a l sp i r i t and agg re s s ive confidence o f n i neteenthcentury Scotland seem t o h ave evaporated. Pe r h a p s t oo many o f our able and ambitious young people left the countr y. Perhaps i t i s merely that we lost the competitive advantages which we enjoyed in the early decades of the Industr i a l Revolution.
Devine’s history is full of tantalising suggestions as well as a mass of fascinating incident and information. Some parts make for stodgy reading. He is a number-crunching histor ian, and his pages are crammed with statistics. There are times when one would wish for more vivid character sketches and a greater wealth of anecdote. Yet there is much meat here, and the book is a quarry from which others may extract much of value. There are paragraphs which the general reader – but not the academic historian – will pass over quickly or with a weary sigh, only to be brought up with a start by something new or unexpected. Tom Devine offers social and economic rather than narrative history, but so much of the material he has uncovered and organised is of compelling interest that this reviewer at least is ready to excuse the tedious passages. To order this book for £20, see LR bookshop on page 20
LITERARY REVIEW September 2011