2013年2月10日 星期日

On Glasgow and Edinburgh

February 8, 2013, 1:45 p.m. ET
Northern Approaches
Though only 44 miles apart, Glasgow and Edinburgh are stubbornly separate worlds.

Only 44 miles separates Glasgow, on the west coast of Scotland, and Edinburgh, on the country's eastern side. But Robert Crawford recommends the traveler to fly "westward from Glasgow Airport over the Atlantic, crossing North America, the Northern Pacific, Asia and continental Europe, before descending . . . on the eastern seaboard of Scotland and then landing at Edinburgh Airport." For the country's largest metropolis—Glasgow was once the "second city of the Empire"—and its capital are a world apart. In culture, character and political tendency, they are independent city-states in a single nation.

On Glasgow and Edinburgh

By Robert Crawford
Harvard, 345 pages, $35
Ruaridh Stewart/Zuma Press/Corbis
Rooftops in Edinburgh, looking toward Castle Rock (at left).

As a native of one and the adopted son of the other, I endorse Mr. Crawford's suggestion. Having been born and brought up in Glasgow, before studying in Edinburgh, I feel an attachment to both places. But visits to the capital in my youth were like foreign travel. People in Edinburgh spoke differently, for one thing, using words like "ken" for know ("Ah d'a ken"—I don't know) and "boy" for men of all ages. Arriving at university, however, I felt that I had come to a wonderland. The Edinburgh skyline, dominated by the rearing mass of Castle Rock, with its floodlit crenelated walls and gardens at the base (forming one side of the city's main street), has never been stamped on by urban planners—as Glasgow's Victorian splendor has been. Looking toward the Castle from the neoclassical New Town (18th-19th centuries), with the waters of the Firth of Forth to your back, you are beguiled by the same spectacle that touched Sir Walter Scott 200 years ago.

Glasgow, Mr. Crawford suggests, relies on its outgoing personality to make up for what it lacks in beauty. Edinburgh talks about itself to itself; Glasgow talks to the world. Among the many pleasures of "On Glasgow and Edinburgh" is the author's unwillingness to promote one over the other. (Mr. Crawford was born in a small town near Glasgow.) Edinburgh is the older city; Glasgow has the older university. Edinburgh is the capital, but until the 1960s Glasgow was twice its size. Edinburgh's "national" sport is rugby; Glasgow's soccer. Edinburgh is a city of the arts and humanities, Glasgow of heavy industry. (Though Glasgow was home to the two greatest Scottish architects of modern times—Alexander "Greek" Thomson and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.) James Watt refined the steam engine in the west, while David Hume and Adam Smith discussed economics and causation (and dangerous atheism) in the east. "Only people from Edinburgh could dwell in a universe without Glaswegians," Mr. Crawford writes; "only Glaswegians could live on an Edinburgh-less planet. Everyone else may enjoy this pair of stubborn cities; no one can understand Scotland without paying attention to both."
Mr. Crawford allots each city roughly 130 pages and some 30 well-chosen illustrations, while an introduction amiably sets out the rivalry through time. A poet, an academic and the author of a recent biography of Robert Burns, Mr. Crawford offers not just an information-packed history but a guidebook, providing inside views of museums and a tour of Glasgow University (where the author studied), as well as a torrent of detail about buildings, neighborhoods, civic sculptures and so on. To this end, he resists straightforward opinionating, but his politics—Scottish-nationalist, left-wing and unwaveringly "correct" in matters of gender—are in plain view throughout. This leads to some radical-chic complaints.

Writing about John Maclean (1879-1923), for example, who was appointed "Consul for Soviet Affairs" in Britain after the Russian Revolution and strove to impose "Celtic communism" on Scotland, Mr. Crawford notes that he is unrepresented "among the statues in George Square[,] Glasgow's most iconic civic site." He invokes the support of the Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean (1911-96), a saintly figure in modern Scotland though few today can read his work in its original language, who "called his namesake simply . . . 'great John Maclean.' " Mr. Crawford doesn't say so ("On Glasgow and Edinburgh" lacks footnotes), but the tribute was probably uttered at about the time that great Sorley MacLean was writing poems in praise of great Joseph Stalin.

The novelist John Buchan, on the other hand, is fingered here as "the Glasgow-educated imperialist," only a handshake away from that "clique of imperialist, capitalist bosses" always eager to exploit shipyard workers and others. The tendency leads the author into clunking phrases such as "around the time of World War I, both capitalism and imperialism were fiercely interrogated" and repeated remarks about Glasgow's "resolutely masculinist" identity.
On the whole, however, Mr. Crawford's tone is nicely judged. About the Gorbals, the notorious district just south of Glasgow's River Clyde, once home to prosperous (imperialist) tobacco lords but later a byword for criminality, he writes:

What turned the Gorbals into a slum was partly the migration of the better-off to garden suburbs, leaving behind the prototypes of the Gorbals Die Hards [ruffians from Buchan's novel "Huntingtower"]. Tenements per se were not to blame. Indeed, with their common stairs and weel-kent (well-known) neighbors, some even came to be romanticized for promoting community spirit.
That is astute, except that there was nothing romantic about it. The community spirit was a function of people related by blood and marriage living upstairs and downstairs from—if not in the same room as—one another, sharing problems, endless cups of tea, the odd hauf-bo'tle (whisky) and an outdoor toilet (the "cludgie on the stair"). It was swept away in the slum-clearance programs of the 1960s. What replaced it—cheaply built, badly designed high-rises on desolate urban plains—has itself already been demolished, leaving a sorry patch of something less than desert. Was it all worthwhile? Probably yes, though for anyone familiar with the virtues as well as the vices of the old Gorbals the answer is hard to yield.
A bizarre survivor is the Citizens Theatre, in the heart of Gorbals Street, where many a young littérateur thrilled to productions of Beckett and Brecht, produced with panache by a world-class theatrical team in the 1970s and '80s. Most Gorbals Die-Hards did not feel the thrill, though, and you could be called a "pouf" (homosexual) and threatened with untheatrical violence just for watching a play. That pestilence, fortunately, has been largely swept away.
Politically, Scotland is a livelier place today than it has been for centuries. A referendum will be held in 2014 to determine whether a majority wishes to secede definitively from England. The country's intellectuals are broadly in favor, Mr. Crawford among them, but they must remember the strange paradox of Scotland's genius: that the country's greatest era, the 18th-century Enlightenment, came into being just as its original parliament expired. How could this counterintuitive evolution occur? One answer is that an independent creative spirit had been wedded to a prosperous, practical neighbor (England), creating favorable circumstances for the likes of Hume and Smith to thrive, together with scores of others. A wide horizon is a force for good.

There has been another Scots renaissance in recent years, involving novelists like Alasdair Gray (Glasgow) and Irvine Welsh (Edinburgh) and a group of painters loosely attached to the Glasgow School of Art (designed in the 1890s by Mackintosh). Some of the energy that stirred it is defiance, a desire to say: We can run our own affairs, inscribe our own images. But skeptics are entitled to ask if the "independent Scotland in Europe," as its proponents put it, would be independent in mind and spirit or just in politics. Would it find itself backed into a windy corner of what used to be Great Britain, with the wild North Sea as backdrop?

Mr. Crawford writes approvingly of a rally in Glasgow in 1992, at which "about 40,000 people massed" with a banner that read "Free Scotland." And here we need our guide to act the skeptic. The notion that in 1992 these people were unfree would have aroused a scornful chuckle in Eastern Europe (the Berlin Wall had fallen just three years before) and would have seemed like nonsense to the majority of the protesters' parents, who saw themselves living a "free" dual existence, happily shared between Scotland (always first) and the United Kingdom.
Yet "On Glasgow and Edinburgh" is a thoroughly enjoyable book, all the more so for provoking arguments (the Glaswegian's favorite hobby). Readers familiar with the two cities will enjoy the recitation of familiar history and the frequent occurrence of unfamiliar fact and anecdote. Those who have not (yet) gazed from Castle Street in the New Town to Castle Rock, the high glory of the Old, will read about it and make plans to visit. After Edinburgh, they should fly around the world and arrive at Glasgow and discover Scotland all over again.
—Mr. Campbell is an editor at the Times Literary Supplement in London and the author of "Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin."
A version of this article appeared February 9, 2013, on page C8 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Northern Approaches.