Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Scottish Literature

By Ian Brown; Alan Riach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Scotland, Empire and Apocalypse -
From Stevenson to Buchan

Murray Pittock

Stevenson […] was a most potent influence […] He had the same antecedents
that we had, and he thrilled as we did to those antecedents – the lights and
glooms of Scottish history; the mixed heritage we drew from Covenanter and
Cavalier; that strange compost of contradictions, the Scottish character; the
bleakness and the beauty of the Scottish landscape.
(John Buchan, Memory Hold-The-Door (1940))1

Stevenson’s death in 1894 took place far from Scotland. The literary values he represented, which Buchan celebrates – those of Scott in The Master of Ballantrae and Weir of Hermiston, Hogg in ‘Thrawn Janet’ and Jekyll and Hyde and the contemporary ‘Book for Boys’ of his friend W. E. Henley in Kidnapped and Treasure Island – were being challenged by a new generation which showed signs of departing from them altogether. Patrick Geddes’ (1854–1932) The Evergreen (1895–6) was a journal for the new group of programmatic ‘little magazines’ which flourished in the sometimes intense atmosphere of the 1890s. The Evergreen, which in some respects was a respectable counterpart to The Yellow Book (as the contemporary notices were not slow to point out), was in others close to the literary magazines of the Celtic Revival in Ireland. It posited a ‘Celtic Renascence’, a ‘cultural rebirth’ in Scotland, as part of a pan-Celtic movement which saw the development of international Celtic congresses at Dublin (1901), Caernarfon (1904) and Edinburgh (1907) and of Celtic games such as hurling, shinty and Gaelic football, which developed quite rapidly in Scotland as well as in Ireland. From 1887, Geddes ‘organised annual summer schools’ which brought international artists to Scotland, and in 1891 asked John Duncan the painter, ‘to oversee a Celtic Arts and Crafts School’. Just as The Evergreen borrowed the title of Allan Ramsay’s 1724 publication (which aimed ‘at a return to local tradition and living nature’), so, like Ramsay, Geddes sought to develop Edinburgh’s status as a cultural capital by all the means at his disposal: the building of Ramsay Garden round Ramsay’s original ‘Goosepie’ house in 1892–3 was an indication of Geddes’ homage to his predecessor, as well as his own plans for the future of the city. Others were also active in this movement, both in Scotland and Ireland.

-25-

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