by Ian Hamilton
Today I have been correcting the proofs of a book. It is called STONE of DESTINY. It was first published in 1952 in London and New York under the title NO STONE UNTURNED. It reached the New York stage a year later in a musical called THE HOT ROCK. Twenty years ago Lochar and then Corgi published it under the title THE TAKING OF THE STONE of DESTINY. A rewritten version will be published in June by Birlinn under the simple title STONE of DESTINY.
To reach simplicity has taken a long time. It has taken fifty-six years. I chose Birlinn over Penguin to be the publisher of this edition as Birlinn is a great Scottish publishing house. It is the only publisher to have four representatives on the road in Scotland and one in London. It has an agreement with Tesco. My book will be on sale in every town and village in Scotland and it will appear on the bookshelves in every Tesco store. The cover price will be Â£7.99, maybe less in Tesco. It will be widely read. At the same time and under the same title a film will be released. It was shot last year in and around Glasgow University and in and around Westminster Abbey, the first film to be shot there for forty-seven years. It has an all star cast.
Both film and book tell the story of how on Christmas Day 1950 four young Scots broke into Westminster Abbey and stole back the Stone of Destiny looted from Scotland by Edward of England in 1296. I was one of these young people. The Stone was kept there in a Coronation Chair specially made for the purpose. The English know it as the Coronation Stone. For five hundred years before 1296 every Scottish King had been crowned on it. Every English King and Queen since 1296 has been crowned on that chair with that Stone in its shelf under the seat.
If you want to conquer a country humiliate its people and steal its historical treasures. The Stone of Destiny is Scotlandâ€™s greatest historical treasure. We never forgot it. Yet to this day it has national eloquence for English Royalists. When it was returned in 1996 it was only returned on loan. It has to be taken back to Westminster for the next Coronation, and the next, and the next, and the next. They will come and take it back to Westminster Abbey without first asking permission of the Scottish people in our Parliament assembled. (I think they should come to Edinburgh and be crowned with the Scottish Crown, the oldest in Europe. Why should it just be the English Crown if weâ€™re a United Kingdom? But that has nothing to do with this article.)
My book is a simple statement of facts. It is not political. It ends with these words.
“When, on 25 March 1707, James Ogilvie, Earl of Seafield, Chancellor of Scotland, signed the Act of Union, ending Scotlandâ€™s ancient independence, and merging the two Parliaments of Scotland and England into the United Kingdom Parliament, he threw down the quill with these words, â€˜Now thereâ€™s the end of an auld sang.â€™
It may be, it just may be, that on Christmas Day 1950 four young people wrote a new verse to that old song. Whatever we did, the song is still being sung.”
I am the second son of a Paisley tailor. He was not well educated in a conventional fashion, yet he read widely. Among his favourite authors was Rudyard Kipling. For people who have forgotten Kipling he was the poet and writer of Empire. He was a great author. He created the myth of the inviolability of the British Empire. It was this myth which guarded the Stone for we found it an easy theft. It was screwing up the courage to do it that was a bit harder. Kipling also created the myth of England as a land of rolling shires and kindly children. In Puck of Pookâ€™s Hill, one of my favourite books, he creates two children in an idealized setting. To Dan and Una comes Puck of Pookâ€™s Hill who tells them sanitized stories of their countryâ€™s past. In Scotland we have nothing like it. TALES of a GRAND-FATHER is a poor wordy thing, but we shouldnâ€™t be envious of Puck. Instead we should read it because it tells us how the writers of a country and the story-tellers of a country help to create that country in the eyes of those who live in it. The book has music in it, the music of words.
Here is Dan and Unaâ€™s song, so powerful that it has made Church hymn-books both here and in England and rightly so.
The Childrenâ€™s Song
LAND of our Birth, we pledge to thee
Our love and toil in the years to be;
When we are grown and take our place,
As men and women with our race.
Father in Heaven who lovest all.
Oh help Thy children when they call;
That they may build from age to age,
An undefiled heritage.
Teach us to bear the yoke in youth,
With steadfastness and careful truth;
That, in our time, Thy Grace may give
The Truth whereby the Nations live.
Teach us to look in all our ends,
On Thee for judge, and not our friends;
That we, with Thee, may walk uncowed
By fear or favour of the crowd.
Teach us the Strength that cannot seek,
By deed or thought, to hurt the weak;
That, under Thee, we may possess
Man’s strength to comfort manâ€™s distress.
Teach us Delight in simple things,
And Mirth that has no bitter springs;
Forgiveness free of evil done,
And Love to all men â€™neath the sun!
Land of our Birth, our faith, our pride,
For whose dear sake our fathers died;
Oh Motherland, we pledge to thee,
Head, heart, and hand through the years to be!
With such words as these Kipling made the English nation proud. Do not mock them. This is a very powerful nationalist song in a very powerful nationalist book. Some people may find the references to God offensive but as an atheist I can live with Him. Until you read the prose that goes with it this song sings for any country
In future editions of theÂ Â blog Iâ€™m going to consider the effect of writing on the existence of a nation. Iâ€™m going to leave space for others to join in. Politicians would call it a dialogue. Even if you donâ€™t join in Iâ€™ll go on writing anyway.
â€˜Old men forget,â€™ said Shakespeare. I havenâ€™t. Not yet anyway.
Take a note in your diary. The publication date for STONE OF DESTINY, the book whose proofs I’ve been correcting, is set firmly for 1st August.