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International Socialism, Summer 1962


James D. Young

A Democratic Tradition


From International Socialism (1st series), No.9, Summer 1962, pp.32-33.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Scottish Literature and the Scottish People. 1680-1830
David Craig
Chatto. 30s.

‘A curse upon all Marxists, and upon all who want to bring dryness and hardness into all the relations of life!’

So spoke a man who was always acutely aware of the fundamental relationship between oppression and the social relations of production and between literature and life. At a time when society at large is full of people who, if they were given half a chance, would introduce and consolidate ‘hardness and dryness into all the relations of life’ (and they are just as evident in the New Statesman and in International Socialism as they are in any of the big capitalist institutions), it is cheering to come across a perceptive literary critic who belongs to a rich, argumentative, freedom-loving and libertarian tradition. Mr. Craig is such a critic, and his book, Scottish Literature and the Scottish People, could only have come out of a profoundly democratic cultural milieu. David Craig is a radical, and a critic who, without being taken in by the usual sectarian bunkum about ‘commitment,’ carefully examines the social background against which Scottish literature was produced between 1680 and 1830. Therefore the novels and poems he analyses are studied historically and related to the major and overriding factor in modern Scottish history, Calvinism.

The great majority of the major writers and poets in Scotland expressed their fierce dislike of Calvinism and, by doing so, they created a democratic tradition of unrestricted discussion and debate. The theory of predestination was strongly attacked in the 18th century by Robert Burns, David Hume, Walter Scott and James Hogg, the Ettrick Sheppard. Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner was a minor masterpiece. It has the air of something that comes clean out of the world of imagination, is far more unified than anything Walter Scott ever wrote, and has a far greater depth. This novel showed how much he hated Calvinism. James Hogg certainly understood Calvinism, and his effectiveness as a novelist was derived from his understanding. He not only exposed Calvinist bigotry, but he showed the human soul being corrupted and finally destroyed by it.

Craig is usually on the side of the writers who helped to create the literature and the tolerance that we now benefit from; but he is too good a literary critic to let Walter Scott’s Toryism blind him to the merit of The Heart of Midlothian. He also lets his radicalism come out when he says: ‘I would not myself exchange one Burns for a dozen Humes or Scotts.’ Any real rebel would agree with him; and possibly, too, classify Marx as Square and Engels as Hip.

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