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The Database of Ornament

BLACKIE was buried yesterday. At the
High Kirk, as he would have wished it,
his old friend and comrade Walter Smith
shared the service with Cameron Lees,
Flint and the Moderator :—Free Kirk
and Auld Kirk uniting in the historic
Kirk, as this merged into that communion
of multitudinous sorrow, that
reverent throng amid which the broad
Cathedral was but the sounding chancel,
the square and street the silent transept
and nave. Psalm and prayer, choir and organ rolled their
deepest, yet the service had a climax beyond the Hallelujah—
the pipes, as they led the procession slowly out, giving the
‘Land o’ the Leal’ a new pathos, and stirring the multitude
with a penetrating and vibrating intensity which is surely in no
other music. The big man beside me broke down, and sobbed
like a child; the lump comes batk to one’s own throat, the eyes
dim again, as one remembers it. It was a new and strange
instrument, strangest perhaps even to those who knew well its
Mænad call to dance, its demonic scream and thrill of war.
For here were interpulsating all the wildness with all the
majesty of Celtic sorrow, the eerie song of northern winds and
the roar of western tides. The sigh and wail of women, the
pride and lament of chiefs, gathered of old into bardic mono-
logue and chorus, were all in this weirdest, wildest, most
elemental music. So again pealed forth the chant of Ossian
over an unreturning hero amid the undying moan of Merlin for
a passing world.

In front went a long procession of Societies headed by kilt and
plaid; behind came the mourning kinsmen, with the Advocates,
the Senate, the Students, and the Town Council, in their varied
robes; then the interminable carriages of personal friends.

But better than all these, the Town itself was out; the working
people in their thousands and tens of thousands lined the way
from St. Giles’ to the Dean; the very windows and balconies
were white with faces. Coming down the Mound, in full mid-
amphitheatre of Edinburgh, filled as perhaps never before, with
hushed assemblage of city and nation, the pipes suddenly
changed their song, ceased their lament, and ‘Scots Wha Hae’
rang out in strenuous blast; the anthem of a Renascent—ever
renascent—unconquerably renascent people. ‘If Blackie him-
self could have heard that,’ ‘could have seen this’—the whisper
went through crowd and procession, when the music changed

For those who were not there the scene is well-nigh as easy to
picture as for us to recall: the wavy lane, close-walled with
drawn and deepened faces, the long black procession marching
slow, sprinkled with plaid and plume, crowded with College cap
and gown, with civic scarlet and ermine, marshalled by black
draped maces. In the midst the Black Watch pipers marching
their slowest and stateliest—then the four tall black-maned
horses—the open bier, with plain unpolished oaken coffin high
upon a pyramid of flowers, a mound of tossing lilies, with
Henry Irving’s lyre of violets ‘To the Beloved Professor,’ its
silence fragrant, at its foot. Upon the coffin lay the Skye
womens’ plaid, above his brows the Prime Minister’s wreath,
but on his breast a little mound of heather, opening into bloom.

       .             .             .             .             .             .            .

From this pageant of Edinburgh it is but one step in thought
to that solitary Samoan hill, up which dusky chiefs and clans-
men, henceforth also brethren of ours, as he of theirs, were so
lately bearing our other greatest dead—the foremost son of
Edinburgh and Scotland. The leader of nationality in ripest
age, the leader of literature in fullest prime, have alike left us.
Each was in his own way ‘Ultimus Scotorum’; each in his

own way the link with our best days of nationality and genius.
What then—save ‘Finis Scotiae!’—can remain for us to say?
‘Finis Scotiae’ indeed: yet in what generation has not this been
said? What land, alas! has had oftener cause to say it? For
whoso has read her Sagas may well ask if Scotland, rather
than even her sister- and mother-isle, be not that ‘most dis-
tressful country that ever yet was seen.’ And yet, though age
pass away at evening and manhood be reft from us at noon,
new dawn ever comes, and with it new youth. To the baser
spirits the Saga of their fathers is nought—is as if it never
was; to the narrower it is all, but ended; yet to others it is
much, and in no wise closed!

We will not boast overmuch of that incessant, ofttimes too
depleting, efflux of astute yet fiery Scots adventurers who
since the Union of the Crowns have mainly carried out their
careers in England, as erstwhile on the Continent, heading
her senates or ruling her empires, leading her commerce or
moulding her thought. Nor need we here speak of those who
think that because we would not quarrel with brother Bull,
nor abandon our part in the larger responsibilities of united
nationality and race, we must needs also sink the older loves
and kinships, the smaller nationality wholly. Never before
indeed, not even in the interregnum of the War of Independence,
not after the Union of the Crowns or Parliaments, not after
Culloden, has there been so large a proportion of Scotsmen
conscientiously educating their children outside every main
element of that local and popular culture, that racial aptitude
and national tradition, upon which full effectiveness at home,
and even individual success elsewhere, have always depended,
and must continue to depend. But to this spoiling of what
might be good Scots to make indifferent Englishmen, natural
selection will always continue to oppose some limit. Nor need
we analyse the current forms of dull prosperity; of soul-deep
hypocrisy so rife among us—in this ‘east-windy, west-endy
town’ above others—that routine-fixed intellect and frozen

heart against which Blackie’s very extravagances were part of
his testimony. There are signs that some reaction in all these
matters is at hand; and it is after all the narrower, not the
baser view of nationality that is the danger. For we have gone
on increasing our libations and orations every St. Andrew’s
Day, the same for St. Robbie’s and now for St. Walter’s, till all
the world perforce must join our revels. But all this while the
history we boast of has become well-nigh unknown among us,
the education we boast of (despite University and school’ Com-
missions’ and the like) steadily falls behind that of other Euro-
pean countries and even of Canada and the Colonies. Science
and law go dormant, literature disappears, medicine even makes
money; and so on. Yet from patriotism to fool’s paradise, as
between all extremes, there is but one step, and few there be
who do not find it.

Where then lies the true patriotism? As in olden warfare,
primarily in energy for the living; only secondarily in honours
to the dead, fit though these be. Living Scotland—living Greece
—living Samoa,—these were the loves and cares of those two
men whom we have been honouring; the traditions and heroes
of these in full measure afterwards. What then is this Scotland
of ours? What life does it actually show? What ideas and what
aims are nascent among its youth? What manner of history will
they make; what literature will they write? And we—what coun-
el in thought, what initiative in action, can we offer them? Here
are questions (as our Scottish manner is) to ask rather than
answer, but to which at some other season we may well return.
But may we not learn something of these deeper organic factors
of national life and possible renascence by their existing fruit?
What of current literature, of every-day places and people?
To the observant pessimist the impression is depressing enough.
The vacant place of native literature supplied with twaddle and
garbage in varying proportion, settled by the fluctuation of
newsagents’ imports; cities corresponding medleys of the
squalid and the dull; people in keeping—mean or intemperate

in mind, when not also in body, canny to one fault, fanatical to
another,—even the few wise timidly discreet, the few noble
indiscreetly valiant.

But even were such hard sayings fully warranted, a reply
remains—that these are phenomena of Winter, not of Spring—
of death, not life. The slush of winter concerns us little; when
buds begin to swell and shoots to peep, it delays little though
the decaying leaves to pierce be deep and many—in the long
run it even helps. Shrewd and practical intelligence yet
ardent imagination are not necessarily at variance; their
co-existence has stamped our essential national virtue and
genius, even as their dissociation has defined our besetting sins,
our antithetic follies. Industrial initiative and artistic life are
reappearing, and each where it was most needed, the first amid
this ice-pack of frozen culture, the latter in our western
inferno of industry. Architecture too is renascent; the work
of the past dozen years will on the whole bear comparison
with anything in English or Continental cities, in a few cases
may even challenge it, and in at least one case, that of the
noble Academic Aula of Edinburgh, carry the challenge back
to the best days of the Renaissance. The current resuscitation
of Old Edinburgh, more unnoticed just because more organic,
is hence a still deeper sign. First came the opening up of the
Cathedral, the rebuilding of the City Cross, then of the Castle-
Gates and Parliament Hall. Now the old courts and closes
from Holyrood to Castlehill are slowly but steadily changing,
and amid what was and is the most dense and dire confusion
of material and human wreck and misery in Europe, we have
every here and there some spark of art, some strenuous begin-
ning of civic sanitation, some group of healthy homes of work-
man and student, of rich and poor, some slight but daily
strengthening reunion of Democracy with Culture; and this
in no parliamentary and abstract sense, but in the civic and
concrete one. The Town House too is on plan, the Castle
slums are doomed. Upon the surrounding hills rise the domes

and towers of great observatories—this of stars and that of
mind; on the nearer slope stands already the Institute of
History. Through the old town, so oft aflame, the phoenix,
which has long ‘lain among the pots,’ is once more fluttering;
and year by year, the possibilities temporal and spiritual of the
renascent capital return or appear. The architectural cycle
will soon have turned to its ancient starting-point, and the
doves rest once more on St. Margaret’s chapel pinnacle.
The social and moral cycle also. When we remember how
every movement—moral or social, industrial or spiritual—
sooner or later takes architectural embodiment, we shall better
understand the meaning both of the Old New Town and of this
New Old one. We remember too how often architectural
movements have accompanied and preceded literary ones.
And as in things both social and natural, small types serve
as well as great, and straws mark currents, a passing word
maybe said of our own small beginnings in these pages. For
not merely historic or picturesque sympathies, but practical
if distant aims are bringing men back to Old Edinburgh to
work and learn. Among the many traditions of the historic
houses among which some of these are making their homes,
none has been more inspiring, as none more persistently
characteristic of Edinburgh than that of Allan Ramsay, who
amid much other sowing and planting, edited and published
an ‘Evergreen’ in 1724. This little collection of old-world
verse, with its return at once to local tradition and living
nature, was as little in harmony with the then existing fashion
of the day in literature as its new namesake would hope to be
with that of our own,—the all-pervading ‘Decadence.’ Yet it
helped to urge succeeding writers to higher issues, among
which even Percy’s ‘Reliques,’ and Scott’s ‘Border Minstrelsy’
are reckoned. So our new ‘Evergreen’ may here and there
stimulate some new and younger writer, and hence beside the
general interests common to all men of culture, it would fain
now and then add a fresh page to that widely reviving

Literature of Locality to which the kindly firesides of Thrums
and Zummerzet, the wilder dreamlands of Galway and Cader-
Idris, of Man and Arran and Galloway are ever adding their
individual tinge and glow.

So, too, with its expression of youngest Scottish art, its
revival of ancient Celtic design. All organic beginnings, to
survive and grow, need fit time even more than fortunate
place. Nor would we dare to be replanting the old poet’s
unsunned hillside were not the Great Frost ended, the Spring
gaining surely, however unsteadily, throughout the land, in
face of all chill nights and sunless days. Our Flower, our
Fruit of yesteryear lies buried; and as yet we have no other.
Only here and there peeps and shivers some early bud. But
in the dark the seed coat is straining, the chrysalid stirring.
Spring is in the world; Spring is in the North.

Small signs of Renascence all these, perhaps illusory ones,
many may say— our own countrymen of course most con-
vincedly of all. The Literature of Locality, we are told by
many reviewers, has had its little day, and is subsiding into
mere clash o’ kirkside, mere havers o’ kailyard; so doubtless
the renewal of locality may polarise into slum and respectability
once more. Be it so; this season also will have its term.
One day noble traditions long forgot will rouse a mightier
literature, nobler localities still unvisited bring forth more
enduring labours for their crown. Though Charlie may no
come back again, though the too knightly king, so long
expected back from Flodden, lie for ever ‘mid the Flowers o’
the Forest, though Mary’s fair face still rouse dispute as of
old, the Wizard’s magic book still waits unmouldering in his
tomb. The prophetic Rhymer listens from Elfiand, Arthur
sits in the Eildon Hills, Merlin but sleeps in his thorn. For

while a man can win power over nature, there is magic; while
he can stoutly confront life and death, there is romance. Our
recent and current writers have but touched a fringe of their
possibilities. The songs of militant nationality may lose their
power, the psalmody of Zion no more stir the sons as it was
wont to do the fathers, yet gentler voices may reappear, older
runes win a reading.

        ‘In Iona of my heart, Iona of my love,
        Instead of the voice of monks shall be lowing of cattle,
        But ere the world come to an end
        Iona shall be as it was.’

       .             .             .             .             .             .            .

A final picture by way of summary. From our modern per-
spective a little place like Grahamston on the Edinburgh-
Glasgow line, if noticed at all, is only a place of tedious stop.
At most here or there a student of Scots literature or local
history may remember that it owes its name to that ‘Good
Grahame of truth and hardiment’ who was to Wallace what in
more fortunate days the Good Lord James became to Bruce,
and whom he buried here after his last battle. Few, however,
visit the actual tomb, still fewer with intelligent eyes, unless
they have learned to read the concrete tide-marks of history,
to interpret the strata laid down by each period, which are to
the books called History, as the natural strata to the books of

But when we have seen the surviving memorials that crowd
the Acropolis, and line the Sacred Way, and stand around the
Dome of Aachen, we may stop by this little roadside, and find
to set in our Schools of History no more noble, no more touch-
ing presentment of the indestructible sovereignty of the ever-
returning past than a picture of these poor stones, whose very
dust to us will then be dear. For when the knightly effigy
that it was Wallace’s last act of power to lay was trampled
dim by unthinking feet, the village folk or their priest laid a

new stone and carved its legend in their homely way. This,
too, wore out as the centuries went by, but a new stone was
laid; again, and yet again, till now four stones rest super-
posed, a great shrine of the rude modern ironwork of the place
at length enclosing all. The monuments of victory in St.
Paul’s, of glory in Westminster, of world-service in the
Pantheon, of world-conquest in the Invalides, are each of
course great in their way beside this poor tomb, which after
all well-nigh fails to preserve from utter forgetfulness the dim
hero of one of those innumerable defeats which mark Scottish,
which make Celtic history. Yet here the teacher will some
day bring his scholars and read them Blind Harry’s verse.
And so in some young soul here and there the spirit of the
hero and the poet may awaken, and press him onward into a
life which can face defeat in turn. Such is our Scottish, our
Celtic Renascence—sadly set betwixt the Keening, the watching
over our fathers dead, and the second-sight of shroud rising
about each other. Yet this is the Resurrection and the Life,
        when to faithful love and memory their dead arise.

                                                                                                PATRICK GEDDES.

MLA citation:

Geddes, Patrick. “The Scots Renascence.” The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal, vol. 1, Spring 1895, pp. 131-139. Evergreen Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2016-2018. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.