A History of Scotland episode 9 – This Land Is Our Land: At the start of the 19th century, everything familiar was swept away. People fled from the countryside into the industrial towns of Scotland’s central belt. Rural workers became factory workers – in some of the worst conditions in Europe. This new Scotland became a seedbed of revolution. But it wasn’t just force that kept the Scottish people in their place, it was fantasy. Neil Oliver reveals how Sir Walter Scott created so powerful a myth, it haunts the Scots collective imagination to this day.
Documentary charting the birth and growth of the Scottish nation. Scotland’s history has been badly served over the years. Defined by its relationship to England, Scotland’s popular history is full of near-mythical figures and tragic events, her past littered with defeat, failure and thwarted ambition. The martyrdom of William Wallace, the tragedy of Mary Queen of Scots and the forlorn cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie all give the impression of ‘poor’ Scotland; a victim of misfortune, leading to the country’s inevitable submission to the Auld Enemy.
After the Union in 1707, Scotland’s increasing reliance on England culminated in a crisis of confidence and identity that tortures the country to this day. But how accurate is this version of events? Using the very latest in historical research and by placing Scotland’s story in the wider context of British, European and global history, some of the myths that pervade the past will be exploded to reveal a Scotland which forged its own destiny, often with success.
A History of Scotland episode 9 – This Land Is Our Land
Sir Walter Scott
Sir Walter Scott, was a Scottish novelist, poet, playwright and historian. Many of his works remain classics of European and Scottish literature, notably the novels Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Waverley, Old Mortality, The Heart of Mid-Lothian and The Bride of Lammermoor, and the narrative poems The Lady of the Lake and Marmion. He had a major impact on European and American literature.
As an advocate, judge and legal administrator by profession, he combined writing and editing with daily work as Clerk of Session and Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire. He was prominent in Edinburgh’s Tory establishment, active in the Highland Society, long a president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1820–1832), and a vice president of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1827–1829). His knowledge of history and literary facility equipped him to establish the historical novel genre as an exemplar of European Romanticism. He became a baronet “of Abbotsford in the County of Roxburgh”, Scotland, on 22 April 1820; the title became extinct on his son’s death in 1847.
Scott’s critical reputation declined in the last half of the 19th century as serious writers turned from romanticism to realism, and Scott began to be regarded as an author suitable for children. This trend accelerated in the 20th century. For example, in his classic study Aspects of the Novel (1927), E. M. Forster harshly criticized Scott’s clumsy and slapdash writing style, “flat” characters, and thin plots. In contrast, the novels of Scott’s contemporary Jane Austen, once appreciated only by the discerning few (including, as it happened, Scott himself) rose steadily in critical esteem, though Austen, as a female writer, was still faulted for her narrow (“feminine”) choice of subject matter, which, unlike Scott, avoided the grand historical themes traditionally viewed as masculine.
Nevertheless, Scott’s importance as an innovator continued to be recognised. He was acclaimed as the inventor of the genre of the modern historical novel (which others trace to Jane Porter, whose work in the genre predates Scott’s) and the inspiration for enormous numbers of imitators and genre writers both in Britain and on the European continent. In the cultural sphere, Scott’s Waverley novels played a significant part in the movement (begun with James Macpherson’s Ossian cycle) in rehabilitating the public perception of the Scottish Highlands and its culture, which had been formerly been viewed by the southern mind as a barbaric breeding ground of hill bandits, religious fanaticism, and Jacobite risings.