Sunday, January 25, 2009

Wha's Like Us?

David Lindsay (‘Pro-Life, Pro-Family, Pro-Worker, Anti-War') HERE(25 January):

‘A Hardy Son of Rustic Toil’

One is that he and Scotland do not quite fit. Or, rather, did not. His sheer genius turned a culture bipolar between Calvinism and Enlightenment rationalism into one conducted within a triangle with the Westminster Confession and its staunchest upholders in one corner, the likes of Adam Smith and David Hume in another, Robert Burns (and also, later, Sir Walter Scott) in the third, and most people somewhere in the middle.

And another is that his writing in Scots identified him in his time as falling within a category mostly comprised of Episcopalians and such Catholics as there were in the eighteenth-century Lowlands. He maintained good relations with both, even if it is true that he had little or nothing in common with either beyond a hostility both to rationalism and to Calvinism (or at least, in the Episcopalian case, to the Westminster variety of it). And those hostilities not only formed his own rural proto-Romanticism, but then went on to inform, not least through him, the Mediaeval and Jacobite nostalgia of the Episcopalian Scott.

Indeed, Burns entered Continental intellectual life via the Scots Catholic seminaries in exile. Such seminaries serving these islands have a great deal to answer for. Among very much else, they also introduced football to the Iberian Peninsula.”

David Lindsay writes of Robert Burns, of course, which readers unacquainted with Scottish history may not realise until his name is mentioned, and if even they realise of whom David speaks, many would be perplexed by the depth of his historical associations into which he places Burns’ life in mid-18th century Scotland.

What a tangled web of bloody strains and passions Scotland was in those days!

It echoes still of these in the present, the most violently destructive, or at least most threatening, of them now subdued; the population is larger, the certainties of the old loyalties are more ephemeral; the old battles are almost forgotten or, at best, dimly remembered; and the venerable firebrand warriors of the creeds, passions, and hatreds, are no more.

Scotland has moved beyond them, nostalgia for its past and people, at its most potent on one or perhaps two days a year, but even then it never rise beyond a few limp gestures of empty defiance, despite, or because of, the drink and the almost pathetic nursing of national sentimentality posing as solidarity.

Of Adam Smith and David Hume, they were of a mind that saw reason as the slave of the passions, and Smith, we know, signed the Calvinist Confession of Faith in 1751 to conclude his election as a professorial member of Glasgow University (the Cathedral located conveniently next door).

We also know he chose not to be ordained at Oxford into the Church of England and serve his times as an Episcopalian Church Minister in Scotland. We also know he was not a Jacobite, though he was a friend of several, and that he had stiff things to say about the Roman Catholic Church and 'papist' priests and their ‘superstitions’.

Smith also “entered Continental intellectual life” but not through any roots of it in Scotland, except from its books of which he read aplenty in French, Italian, and the ancient Greek and Latin; however, he met, mixed with, and was stimulated intellectually by, those intellectuals who frequented the Salons of Paris, in particular the Physiocrats and their daring économistes, not forgetting Voltaire in Geneva.

David Lindsay writes an evocative piece, probably of most marked relevance to those who know their Scottish history, and Lost Legacy congratulates him for it. Link and read it today on Burns' Birthday.



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