One of the most noticeable and surprising features of the unsuccessful referenda of the 1970's in both Scotland and Wales was the lack of confidence in both people's assessment of their futures as independent nations. The Acts of Union of 1536 and 1707 must have been devastating blows to those who saw Wales and Scotland as separate cultural entities with different histories, traditions, values and political aspirations from those of England. Many in Wales continue to this day to view the English race as the "Sais," a term matched by the Scottish use of "Sassenach." Both terms mean "Saxon," with all its negative connotations. In Scotland, with all that went on following the 1707 Act, when so much self-confidence and self-respect was lost, it is remarkable that a resurgence of patriotic pride took place at all. That it did, in a movement that finally came to full fruition in the Referendum of 1997, is due, in no small part, to three of the country's finest writers, Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Robbie Burns was born in 1759 in Alloway in Ayrshire, an area that provided so much of his inspiration. Like that of most poets, his influence seems to have been far greater outside his native country than at home. His poetry consists of a small part of the curriculum of countless high schools in the USA today. To Scots, Burns above all is the one who restored pride and a sense of worth to a people sadly treated by history. For all that they had endured, "for a'that," the Scots remained a warm-hearted, open-handed, trusting people, who by fighting for their own rights, had also fought for the rights of man everywhere; and if Burns portrayed them as great drinkers and lovers, well, so much the better.
Burns continued the tradition of writing verse in Scottish dialect that had been one of the surprising features of earlier Scottish literature as practiced by James Watson, William Hamilton, Alan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson. The depth of his reading is astonishing, as is his ability to turn this knowledge into poems that describe so adequately the joys and sorrows of country life, the pleasures of love, drink, the hypocrisy of so many religious leaders and of the ambiguities of nature. Above all, Burns was the poet of the common man, sharing the everyday experiences that we all can identify with.
Sir Walter Scott was born in 1771 into an age that had begun the transformation of Britain into the world's leading industrial power. Social changes were part of his boyhood and youth. The Scottish enlightenment was part of his manhood and old age. In addition, the memories of the glorious failure of the Jacobite cause had not yet faded into distant memory. There must have been many an old soldier telling the story of what might have been. Thus, the imaginative Scott had a fertile field upon which to draw his inspiration.
Toiling feverishly during the last few years of his life to pay off his creditors, Scott produced works that rank him with the world's greatest authors. He excelled in three main areas: bringing to light and refining age-old ballad with tender, loving care; producing moving, imaginative narratives in original verse form; and authoring the series of the Waverley noves, known throughout the English-speaking world as tales of chivalry par excellence.
Scott gave back to the Scottish people their history; to the world, he gave a picture of a romantic, exciting and patriotic Scotland. The culmination of his career came in 1822, when as Scottish patriot loyal to George IV he presided over the wildly popular majestic ceremonies that welcomed an English king to Edinburgh for the first time in 171 years. Burns reminded his readers that this was another country, though part of Britain, true, but certainly not another England.
Chapter 12: Scots Wha Hae Continued