With the possible exception of its first chapter, Geddes MacGregor's Scotland: An Intimate Portrait isn't as sentimental as the reviews indicated. It's true that there are sections dealing with kilts, clans, bagpipes, and the like, but the emphasis is always on conveying facts rather than perpetuating romantic myths.
He wrote the book for "the Scottish Diaspora," by which he means Scottish emigrants and their descendants. As a member of his target audience, I found the book enjoyable as well as informative. It might have less appeal for those who still live in Scotland and who would prefer a more serious analysis. You won't find any mention of the industrial and post-industrial bleakness of parts of central Scotland, for example.
Before I read this book, I thought that the harshness of the Scottish reformation was fueled by the Scots' passion for independence and self-determination. That may have been part of it, but what I learned from the chapter on religion -- and this may be common knowledge to some -- is that the pre-reformation church in Scotland was notoriously corrupt. No wonder the Covenanters were so fierce in their presbyterianism. Still, MacGregor displays throught a lightness of touch. I particularly like this bon mot from p. 77:
"If there be some truth in the old witticism that a French atheist is a Catholic atheist, while a Greek atheist is an Orthodox atheist, and a Swedish atheist a Lutheran one, then it is most certainly true that every Scottish atheist must be a Presbyterian atheist."
I could see this book appealing not only to the Scottish Diaspora but also to prospective visitors to Scotland. MacGregor's portrait communicates his deep affection for the land, its people, and their history.
Glad you enjoyed this, Derek!
May I add that religious roots, in either pre-reformation Catholicism or Presbyterianism are so deep as to make the crossover conversion well nigh impossible. And that this is only accentuated by the influx of Irish Catholics around 18th century, when each camp became more entrenched.
There are wounds that are centuries old that are still being torn up. Perhaps independence might do something to heal them, but it looks unlikely that this will be achieved (referendum September 2014).
Yeah, I read somewhere that, in the year 1790, there were 43 anti-Catholic societies in Glasgow and only 39 actual Catholics! I believe it was the construction of the canals immediately after that that brought in the first wave of modern mass migration from Ireland. The divide is particularly sad when you remember that the Gaelic-speaking Scots, who give their name to the land, were originally Irish anyway (though it's true that they settled first in Argyll, while Strathclyde at the time was a Briton kingdom). Anyway, all that was a long time before the reformation and the Covenanters.
I didn't know there was a referendum coming in 2014. Also the Commonwealth Games, I see, now that I look. (All this thinking about Scotland has made me get the maps out, pondering the expense of a trip next year.)
From the chapter on the varieties of local speech, p. 187:
"Sometimes such archaic usages are worse than puzzling. A very general usage at one time was 'intercourse' for 'conversation.' Its occasional use even today among old-fashioned people can give rise to embarrassing situations, as in the perhaps not entirely apocryphal story of the old Scottish Moderator of the Kirk who, during his year of office, was talking to the Queen, who had to leave him for a few minutes. On her return she politely expressed the hope that he had not been bored, to which he courteously replied: 'Not at all, Ma'am. I have just been enjoying intercourse with your lady-in-waiting.'"
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