This is a picture of S.R.Crockett (whose 156th birthday we mark next week on 24th September) is perhaps an unlikely looking candidate for a McRenegade. So let me introduce you.
He was born the illegitimate son of a dairy maid. Brought up by strict Cameronian Grandparents on the tenanted farm of Little Duchrae, Balmaghie (Galloway). A true ‘lad o’ pairts,’ he won a Bursary to Edinburgh University. This covered fees but was not enough to live on so he supplemented his income by tutoring and writing articles for a range of magazines and periodicals.
He travelled abroad as a tutor for several years then came back, fell in love with the daughter of a Manchester Mill owner and entered the ministry. How many of us fell into the same elephant trap in our 20's? The need to knuckle down, to provide for a family, to live up to expectations. The desire to make people proud. And how few of us ever escaped? I did, and perhaps that’s why I have such respect for others who jumped ship, however they did it and whatever the consequences of their unacceptable departure.
If you read the modernist narrative (the green-eyed version by those who didn’t like the fact that this wee upstart ‘made it’ and ‘made it big’) then he wrote superficial ‘kailyard’ sentimental nonsense. Sticks and stones, anyone? Give a dog a bad name. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I wonder what misrepresentation is – perhaps an obvious sign of fear and/or jealousy.
Because if you don’t buy into the dominant ideology (and here on McRenegades why would you?), if you scratch the surface of S.R.Crockett ‘Free Church Minister’ you’ll see quite a radical – who became a renegade – itching to get out.
If you have any interest in the emergence of capitalism (joint-stock companies as were) and the many varieties of socialism around from 1880-1914, then Crockett offers a distinct and unique view. One that you may not have heard before and all the more refreshing for that. Beneath, or alongside the accessible plots (because, yes, he was writing for ‘ordinary’ people not for the elite) you find a lot of very interesting socio-political stuff going on. And while we’re on the plots – he practised what he preached – he didn’t write down to people, he wrote the kind of stories people enjoyed reading -page turners – but managed to keep his ‘voice’ true. He was (and this is the best accolade I can give a writer) an honest writer. And he preached his radicalism through the popular press. It may be seen as ‘quiet’ radicalism
today, but things were different then. Our ‘nostalgia’ was ‘realism’ for many a century ago.
Even in his historical romances Crockett strikes a blow for the ordinary man. Diametrically opposed to Walter Scott, who let’s face it was a bastion of the establishment , Crockett adopted, adapted and updated the genre Scott helped give birth to, and offered ordinary people the chance to see that history is not just about BIG VOICES. Of course for this he’s been roundly slated by generations of cultural elitists – who mostly have never read his books. Just as well or they’d realise how stupid they look describing his work as Kailyard.
Plenty other of Crockett’s novels centre round what we might call ‘class struggle’ and his perspective is that of the rural working class. ‘Strong Mac,’(1904) and ‘Rose of the Wilderness’ (1909) might interest people today who care about Land Reform, whereas ‘Cleg Kelly’(1896) offers both an insight into urban poverty and a searing indictment of the running of the railways. If you want to read it for yourself (or are too lazy and would prefer my non-dulcet tones) just click HERE.
Crockett was a McRenegade not just because he turned his back on the Kirk and wrote for a living. Not just because he despised hypocrisy and spoke out about it whenever he could – for example when he became a celebrity he learned to play golf and he played with Old Tom Morris and Willie Auchterlonie. Asked by a member of the R&A (of course they allowed him in, he was a ‘bestselling author’ for goodness sake, all doors are open to such) why he didn’t play with gentlemen rather than caddies he replied find me as fine a gentleman as Auchterlonie and I shall be glad to play with him.’
I suggest that Crockett was a McRenegade not just because he wrote from the perspective of the ordinary man, but because even though he achieved celebrity status in his lifetime, he remained fundamentally an ‘ordinary’ man. For me he’s the prose equivalent of Rabbie Burns, and his credentials should be every bit as celebrated.
This view sits uncomfortably with the ‘renaissance’ narrative of Scottish culture over the past century, which is a narrative still imposed from the top down of course! I’d say that Crockett is every bit (if not more) of a McRenegade than the likes of Irvine Welsh. Of course their written style is different, that’s a given, but don’t be fooled into thinking that Crockett is any less important a writer than the ‘greats’ we have all grown up with. It’s a long spectrum from Scott to Welsh and you need to ask yourself WHY we are pointed in the direction of some writers over others. Why are some ‘airbrushed’ from history. Believe me, Crockett isn’t the only one.
If you want to find out more about Crockett and his books – there’s a hell of a lot to choose from after all – go to www.gallowayraiders.co.uk and you’ll find a wealth of information and discounts on both ebook and paperback versions of many of them. Enjoy!