Read A History Maker Online

Authors: Alasdair Gray

A History Maker

 
 


Economics:
Old Greek word for the art of keeping a home weatherproof and supplied with what the householders need. For at least three centuries this word was used by British rulers and their advisers to mean
political
housekeeping — the art of keeping their bankers, brokers and rich supporters well supplied with money, often by impoverishing other householders. They used the Greek instead of the English word because it mystified folk who had not been taught at wealthy schools. The rhetoric of plutocratic bosses needed
economics
as the sermons of religious ones needed The Will of God.”

— from
The Intelligence Archive of

Historical Jargon.

Dryhope Tower  
and Saint Mary's Loch,  
Bowerhope to the left on the far shore,  
around 1822 

BEFORE VANISHING from the open
intelligence net Wat Dryhope gave me a
printout of the next five chapters saying, “My
apology for a botched life, mother. Do what
you like with it.”

I put it on a shelf behind old encyclopædias.
The title scunnered me. Not knowing it was
ironical I feared that his memoirs, like those
of ancient politicians, would hoist a claim
to importance by blaming his failure on
wicked enemies and stupid helpers. The
words “a botched life” suggested something
different but equally dreich: the start of
Augustine's Confessions where the saint
prepares us for his extraordinary conversion
by denouncing his very ordinary early
nastiness. I loved Wat most of my gets so
had no wish to read what might make me
despise him. Nor could I burn his writing
unread. I placed it in easy reach and ignored
it for years
.

   

One grey dank autumn afternoon two
months ago I had fed the poultry and was
snibbing the henrun gate when I fell down
flat and took an hour to regain breath and
balance. I have had several tumbles lately,
each worse than the last; have also started
recalling events of twenty, forty, sixty years
ago more clearly than this morning or
yesterday. Lying on the cold ground I knew
that if not killed by a stroke I must soon join
my daughters softening into senile dementia
in the house where I was born. On returning
to the tower I took Wat's printout from the
shelf and dusted it. After filling a glass with
uisge beatha I began to read and finished
long before nightfall without sipping a drop.
Admiration for Wat had become my strongest
feeling; also anger with myself for keeping
his work so long from the public. Later
readings have not lessened my admiration
for the clarity of the narration and honesty
of the narrator.

   

A History Maker
tells of seven crucial
days in the life of a man with all the
weaknesses that nearly brought the matriarchy
of early modern time to a bad end yet
all the strengths that helped it survive,
reform, improve. Wat Dryhope, like Julius
Caesar describing his Gallic wars, avoids
vainglory and self-pity by naming himself
in the third person and keeping the tale
factual. He also writes so cannily that, like
Walter Scott in his best novels, he gives the
reader a sense of being at mighty doings.
Adroit critics will notice his sly shift from
present to past tense in the first chapter. Like
Scott he tells a Scottish story in an English
easily understood by other parts of the world
but leaves the gab of the locals in its native
doric. This shows he wanted his story read
inside AND outside the Ettrick Forest, and
I have warstled to help this by putting
among my final notes a glossary of words
liable to ramfeezle Sassenachs, North
Americans and others with their own variety
of English
.

   

Yet with all its art four fifths of Wat's story
is proven fact on the testimony of a whole
horde of independent witnesses. The first
chapter is not only confirmed by public eye
records but clearly based on them. These
records also confirm his account of the
reception before the Ettrick Warrior house,
his platform announcement, his talk with
Archie Crook Cot in the third chapter, and
quotations from public reports and discussions
of the new militarism in the fifth. Open
intelligence archives confirm the judgement
on the Ettrick–Northumberland cliffside
battle by the Council for War Regulation
Sitting in Geneva, and the night of puddock
migrations to fresh water in southern
Scotland that year, and the dates and
wording of the advert and banquet invitation
issued by Cellini's Cloud Circus
.

   

I have also sent copies of
A History Maker
to everyone I could find who is mentioned
in it. Only Mirren Craig Douglas (that bitter
woman) returned it without comment, which
from her must signify assent. Wat's brothers
Joe and Sandy — his mistresses Nan and
Annie and the Bowerhope twins — the
veterans and servants of the Warrior house
— the sisters who nursed him — I who
schooled him — General Shafto who took
him to the circus — all say he tells the truth
as they recall it. Only the account of his
doings with Meg Mountbenger in the
gruesome fourth chapter are not confirmed
by another protagonist, and why should he
turn fanciful about her when honest about
others? Some critics say Lawrence's account
of his rape in
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom
is
an invention by which a lonely masochist
got public sympathy for his queerness.
Perhaps. Nothing else in Lawrence's story
depends on that rape so he may or may not
have tholed it. But after Wat left Bowerhope
that morning only a sore carnal collision
can explain his state when he was found
by the loch side, and explain his remarks to
his sisters, and his story to me, and his
dissemination of a plague which withered
powerplants in every continent but
Antarctica. If still alive Meg is sixty-three.
Should she reappear and deny Wat's story
let none believe her. She was always a
perverse bitch. She was the first of my gets,
but I never liked her
.

   

So I bequeath
A History Maker
to the
open intelligence, having added to the end
notes explaining what those who ken little
of the past may find bumbazing. For
posterity's sake my notes about the
immediate present are put in the past tense
too, since the present soon will be. Wat was
a scholar and a fighter. His tale of warfare,
love and skulduggery also meditates on
human change. It antidotes a dangerous
easy-oasy habit of thinking the modern world
at last a safe place, of thinking the past a
midden too foul to steep our brains in. Last
week a Dryhope auntie asked me, “Why
remember those nasty centuries when honest
folk were queered, pestered and malagroozed
by clanjamfries of greedy gangsters who
called themselves governments and stock
exchanges? I wouldnae give them
headroom
.”

   

This wish not to see how we got here is
ancient, not modern. Over three hundred
years ago Henry Ford said, “History is
bunk.” He was a practical genius who
changed millions of lives by paying folk to
make carriages in big new factories, while
getting millions more to sell and buy
carriages these factories made. Having
mastered the new art of industrial growth
he thought intelligent life needed nothing
else. By 1929 the big new factories had made
more carriages than could be sold at a profit.
The owners closed the factories, millions of
makers lost their jobs and houses, and even
some rich folk suffered. Ford, not seeing that
his method of making money had produced
this poverty, blamed the collapse of industrial
housekeeping on Communists and Jews and
said Adolf Hitler's fascism was the cure. He
was partly right. The Second World War let
him expand his factories again for he used
them to make machines for the American
armed forces. He was not nasty or stupid by
nature, but ignorance of the past fogged his
view of the present and blinded him to the
future
.

   

A History Maker
shows that good states
change as inevitably as bad ones, and should
be carefully watched. My pedantical lang-nebbed
notes at the end try to emphasize that.
They also emulate my son's modesty by
naming me in the third person. If any future
reader learns what happened to my brave,
discontented, kindly, misguided, long-lost
son I hope he or she will add a postscript for
the satisfaction of posterity. I am sorry that
I will not be here to read it
.

   

Kate Dryhope
           

Dryhope Tower
        

8 December 2234
     

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