Mourn, hapless Caledonia, mourn

Thy banished peace, thy laurels torn!

Thy sons for valour long renown'd,

Lie slaughtered on their native ground;

Thy hospitable roofs no more

Invite the stranger to the door;

In smoky ruins sunk they lie,

The monuments of cruelty.

THIS is from The Tears of Scotland, the finest poem in the English language about the battle of Culloden. It was the first published work of Tobias Smollett, one of Scotland's most distinguished if least acknowledged literary sons. It is all the more remarkable because of the circumstances of its composition in London, at a time when bonfires were being lit in the streets to celebrate a famous victory, and Scots, whatever their sentiments, had to be careful lest they were ignorantly mistaken for enemies of the state.

His grandfather, Sir James Smollett, was Provost of Dumbarton, and represented the burgh in the Scottish Parliament. He actively supported the Revolution, and was knighted by William III in 1698. Sir James was an important advocate of the Union between England and Scotland, and was appointed as one of the commissioners who drew up the articles upon which it was based, and he became the first representative of Dumbarton at Westminster. The future novelist was thus a scion of a significant Whig family. He was in his 25th year when the Jacobite Rising was brought to an end.

Smollett was born in Renton, and educated at the University of Glasgow. At 14 he was apprenticed to a doctor, and lived in a back attic in Gibson's Land in the merchant city of the Glasgow tobacco barons. He first went to London in 1739 and then became a surgeon's mate in the Navy. He returned in 1744 to the city of Johnson, Garrick, and Handel. In Glasgow he had written in a play, The Regicide, about James I but was refused by Garrick with whom he fell out. He later quarrelled with Rich, the manager of Covent Garden, and, as a consequence, his masque Alceste to music by Handel was never performed. The composer is reported as saying: ``Dat Scot is ein tam fool; I could have made his vork immortal.'' Smollett was hot-tempered.

When the Jacobites got as far as Derby in 1745, there was panic in London. By that time Smollett was trying to make his way as a physician, practising first in Downing Street and then in Mayfair. In his History of England he later described the capital when the Highlanders were within four days' march of it. ``Some Romish priests were apprehended: the militia of London and Middlesex were kept in readiness to march: double watches were posted at the city gates, and signals of alarm were appointed. The volunteers of the city were incorporated into a regiment; the practitioners of the law, headed by the judges, the weavers of Spitalfields, and other communities, engaged in associations; and even the managers of the theatres offered to raise a body of their dependents for the service of the government.''

It was typical of him to mention such unlikely defenders of the place as judges and members of the theatrical profession. He went on to put his finger on what was, then as now, likely to be the most reliable indicator of how bad things were: the reaction of the financial community. They were ``overwhelmed by fear and dejection'', he reported and, surprisingly, ``reposed very little confidence in the courage or discipline of their militia''.

Smollett, who was a witness to these events, continued: ``Alarmed by these considerations, they prognosticated their own ruin in the approaching revolution; their countenances exhibited the plainest marks of horror and despair''. To be fair, he added that the Jacobites became insolent, and that the poor, who had nothing to lose, were indifferent.

This situation did not last long, and it was reversed a few months later. Smollett's account of Culloden in the History is measured, but sympathetic to the rebels whom, however, he upbraids for not tackling Cumberland as his army crossed the Spey.

``An entire body of rebels marched off the field in order, with their pipes playing, and the pretender's standard displayed; the rest were routed with great slaughter; and their prince was with reluctance prevailed upon to retire. In less than 30 minutes they were totally defeated, and the field covered with the slain. The road as far as Inverness was strewed with dead bodies; and a great number of people, who, from motives of curiosity, had come to see the battle, were sacrificed to the undistinguished vengeance of the victors.''

Smollett's unstinting condemnation of the government's troops is a masterly piece of invective. ``The glory of the victory was sullied by the barbarity of the soldiers. They had been provoked by their former disgraces to the most savage thirst of revenge. Not contented with the blood which was so profusely shed in the heat of action, they traversed the field after the battle, and massacred those miserable wretches who lay maimed and expiring: nay, some officers acted a part in this cruel scene of assassination, the triumph of low illiberal minds, uninspired by sentiment, untinctured by humanity.''

In April 1746, George II, the German prince on whose behalf the Duke of Cumberland was acting at Culloden, went to the Drury Lane Theatre, partly' at least, to show his resilience in the face of the turmoil which was going on in his kingdom. A messenger arrived at the theatre with dispatches from the duke confirming the rout of the Young Pretender. He was taken to a retiring room, and the King left the royal box. Overjoyed by the news, George rushed back into the theatre to address his nearest subjects, but his excitement was so great, and his command of English so bad, that all that the startled audience heard was ``Hey, hey, hey!''

The next day a group of young men were in the British Coffee House in Cockspur Street which was one of the regular haunts of London Scots. The group included one visitor to London, Alexander ``Jupiter'' Carlyle, who had recently been on the Continent, Jack Stuart, the Provost of Edinburgh's son, Robert Smith, the Duke of Roxburgh's tutor, who had introduced Carlyle to Smollett, Smollett himself, and Robert Graham of Gartmore. When the news of Culloden came, Stuart stormed out of the place, unwisely in the opinion of some of the others, because his father was in the Tower of London accused of having aided the rebels when they were in Edinburgh. To show his feelings in this way might well have got him into trouble, too.

Those who were left began to play cards, excepting Smollett who chose not to play, sat down elsewhere, and began to write. Graham asked him whether he was composing some verses, and Smollett showed them The Tears of Scotland which then consisted of six stanzas. The last stanza read:

The pious mother, doom'd to death,

Forsaken wanders o'er the heath;

The bleak wind whistles round her head,

Her helpless orphans cry for bread;

Bereft of shelter, food, and friend,

She views the shades of night descend;

And stretch'd beneath th' inclement skies,

Weeps o'er her tender babes and dies.

According to Graham, his friends considered that the end of the poem was so strongly expressed that it might give offence to those with a different opinion from their own, whereupon Smollett retired in some indignation, and wrote a seventh stanza:

While the warm blood bedews my veins,

And unimpaired remembrance reigns,

Resentment of my country's fate,

Within my filial breast shall beat.

And, spite of her insulting foe,

My sympathising verse shall flow;

``Mourn hapless Caledonia, mourn,

Thy banished peace, thy laurels torn!''

The poem was published shortly afterwards, and enjoyed very considerable popular success which is indicative of public sentiment in the immediate aftermath of the rising, even in England, towards the butchery which had taken place at Culloden.

That evening Smollett, who was then living in Mayfair, conducted Carlyle through the streets to his cousin's house in New Bond Street where Carlyle was to have supper.

``The mob were so riotous, and the squibs so numerous and incessant that we were glad to go into a narrow entry to put our wigs in our pockets, and take our swords from our belts and walk with them in our hands, as everybody then wore swords; and, after cautioning me against speaking a word, lest the mob should discover my country and become insolent, `for John Bull', says he, `is as haughty and valiant tonight as he was abject and cowardly on the Black Wednesday when the Highlanders were at Derby'.'' (Carlyle: Autobiography).

Carlyle pointed out that although Smollett was by then a Tory, he was not a Jacobite, ``but he had the feelings of a Scotch gentleman on the reported cruelties that were said to be exercised after the Battle of Culloden''. Smollett maintained these sentiments and in his brilliant final novel, Humphry Clinker, there is both an amusing and an affectionate picture of Scotland.