Publications

BOOKS
They Stared at the Sun: new perspectives on evolutionary theory (2014)
The Insect-Populated Mind: how insects have influenced the evolution of consciousness (2005)
Thoreau`s Vision of Insects & the origins of American Entomology (2002)
The Poem & the Insect: aspects of 20th century Hispanic Culture (1999, 2002)
Creatures of Air: poems 1976-2001
Spanish Poetry & the Civil War (60th Anniversary Lecture, Wedgwood College, 1996).
The Metaphysics of Insect Life (1995)
Angelic Fly (1992)
Unmakings [poems] (1977)
Writers of the Spanish Civil War [PhD] (1968)

ARTICLES & FEATURES
"A Note on John Wilde`s AN ADDRESS TO THE LATELY FORMED SOCIETY OF THE FRIENDS OF THE PEOPLE," Annales Benjamin Constant 26 (2002).

"The Hare & the Tortoise: Benjamin Constant and William Godwin," Revue de Littérature Comparée (1988).

"From Apuleius to A.R. Wallace: Evolutionary theory & some literary animals and insects," Bestia (1992).

"Of Cells and Mutation," Bestia (1993).

"The Present Staus of Scotland`s Rarest Butterflies," Forth Naturalist & Historian, 25 (2003).

"Gilbert Farm Cunningham of Alva: Printer, Translator, Polymath," Forth Naturalist & Historian 24 (2002).

"On the Edinburgh Poet, Sydney Goodsir Smith," Epoch (1995).

"Reflections on Borderline Press," Epoch (1996).

"D.H. Lawrence & the Nottingham Miners," Workers Educational Association Journal, 11 (1985).

"A Brief Guide to Butterfly & Moth Flight" and "On Aglais urticae," Butterfly Conservation Newsletter 3.

"On the Evolution of Butterfly Eyespots," Butterfly Conservation Newsletter 4.

"On the Remarkable Jean-Dominique Bauby," Butterfly Conservation Newsletter 5.

"The Scottish Butterfly in Literature - `Daft gowk in macaroni dress`" Butterfly Conservation Newsletter 7.

"Of Onegin, Nabokov, Robert Browning & Guido Gozzano,"
Butterfly Conservation 8.

"Thoreau`s lepidoptera" and "Diary of the Death of a Habitat" (with Marion O`Neil), Butterfly Conservation Newsletter 9.

"Nabokov`s Blue Butterflies," Butterfly Conservation News 11.

"The secrets of the common-all-garden Small White (Pieris rapae)," Butterfly Conservation Newsletter 13.

"Alfred Russel Wallace`s Swallowtails: Mimicry & Evolution," Butterfly Conservation Newsletter 14.

"Butterflies in Ancient Times," Butterfly News (June 1987).

"Butterflies in the Arts," Butterfly News (April 1987).

"Butterflies on the Western Front," [on Remarque], Butterfly News (October 1987).

"Butterfly-shaped Houses," Butterfly News (August 1987).

"W.H. Hudson," Butterfly News (January 1988).

"Emily Dickinson," Butterfly News (Spring 1988).

"Stefan Heym`s Collin," Butterfly News (Summer 1988).

"On Jiménez," Butterfly News (October 1988).

"A Decade of Lepidopteral Observations in Eastern Scotland," Butterfly Conservation News (Autumn/​ Winter 1994).

"Lepidoptera at West Birkhill Forest," Clackmannanshire Field Studies (October 1995).


POETRY
American Poetry Association, Interactions, Iron, Margin, Tabor Press, Tandem etc.
******************************************************

Jonathan Edwards wrote of Thomas Boston in the EDWARDS LETTERS volume 16, p. 235:
"I have read his Fourfold State of Man, and liked it exceeding well. I think he therein shows himself to be a truly great divine."

A FORGOTTEN SCOT: Thomas Boston
LECTURE AT THE HISTORIC ABBOT HOUSE, DUNFERMLINE, SCOTLAND

My theme today is the tradition of individualist thought and endeavour in Scotland. From Thomas Urquhart, translator of Gargantua and Pantagruel as well as the totally original digression on the nature of language and syntax, The Jewel, to the poetic master, Hugh MacDiarmid, the greatest of Scottish literature has been characterised, in the modern, post-Reformation period, by extremely distinctive and idiosyncratic lines of thought.

Robert Henryson was really the last of the great communal and, as it were, semi-folk literature writers, based as so much of this work is in the fable. As Edwin Muir put it with characteristic succinctness and precision, Henryson “lived near the end of a great age of settlement, religious, intellectual and social” and “exists in the long calm of storytelling which ended with the Renaissance, when the agreement about the great story was broken.” From this dividing point onwards, it is up to every writer to put the totality together for themselves - as indeed to some degree it is for every thinking individual today. John MacQueen, perhaps the finest modern scholarly critic of Scottish literature, had no doubts as to Boston`s standing, even if he suspected he was on the wrong side of the enlightenment line. As he wrote: “In any discussion of the Scottish Enlightenment, Boston, as chief representative of the opposition, must figure on a scale almost comparable to that appropriate for Hume or Montesquieu...Boston`s Human Nature, for instance, had a greater immediate impact than Hume`s Treatise.” This is because he was able to synthesize his reading of the Bible, quoting from an encyclopaedic biblical memory, while working his way through and advising on 1,001 moral dilemmas.

It is probably slightly inaccurate to call Thomas Boston an eccentric thinker, since so much of his life and thought was bound up with the life of the church. Yet it was out of the attitudes of Boston, who was taught by the father of Ebenezer and Ralph Erskine, the Reverend Henry Erskine, that the seeds for the Great Disruption in the Church of Scotland of 1843 were sown. (Jonathan Edwards` works were published in Scotland by a further Erskine, Dr. John. Edwards` writings were instrumental in fuelling the breakaway Scottish Evangelical Church.) Thomas Boston never believed there should be a split in the Church, though he had much sympathy with the breakaway elements. Indeed his son, Thomas Boston the younger as he was known, was in time to make common cause with Thomas Gillespie of Dunfermline fame and, while opposing the remoteness of the Church hierarchy from the ideal of presbyterian democracy, insisted that there should be no breakaway.

But back to the beginning of this story of Thomas Boston the elder. He was born at Duns in Berwickshire on March 17, 1676. He was to die at Ettrick Manse on May 20th 1732 at the age of 56, the only survivor from a family of 7. He was thus born under Charles II, a boy of 9 when James VII succeeded his brother, and was 12 at the time of the so-called Glorious Revolution. He lived through the time of the persecution of the Covenanters, the abolition of Prelacy, the re-establishment of Presbytery, the Union of 1707 and the Rebellion of 1715.

Throughout the 18th century and into the 19th, his most famous book, HUMAN NATURE IN ITS FOURFOLD STATE was to be found side by side with the Bible and Bunyan`s Pilgrim`s Progress on the most humble agricultural worker`s shelf . It was translated into Gaelic, Welsh, Dutch and many other languages. Visiting Abbotsford House again recently to take a closer look at Walter Scott`s library, I found a copy of Boston`s Memoirs amid that vast collection of books. There is but one mention of Boston in Scott`s novels and none in his correspondence or diaries. The mention comes in his very first novel Waverley, and I am only drawing attention to it here because it exemplifies the rootedness of Boston`s writing in the everyday life of Scotland at that time. The novel tells of the education of the English Jacobite, Edward Waverley, in the customs and politics of Scotland at the time of the second coming out. A toast to “the little gentleman in black velvet who did such service in 1702" in tripping King William`s horse and killing him is the occasion of a sword clash between Jacobite Bradwardine and Hanoverian Balmapple. Serious injury is only halted by the good sense of Widow Macleary, owner of the inn, or change-house, who intervenes to prevent further ado. As Scott writes:
“The well-known clash of swords, which was no stranger to her dwelling, aroused Luckie Macleary as she sat quietly beyond the hallan, or earthen partition of the cottage, with eyes employed on Boston`s Crook of the Lot, while her ideas were engaged in summing up the reckoning.”
So the great strength of Boston in his milieu is that his writing, which grew out of his sermons, is inextricably bound up with the Scottish people for some one and a half centuries. Although he was from the Borders, as we shall see, his impact was also very great on Fife, and specifically West Fife, a tradition that can even be discerned at work today when the majority of folk have little knowledge of the relevance of these earlier religious divisions to the daily attitudes of today.
His father was John Boston, a nonconformist who suffered imprisonment and confiscation of his goods for his beliefs. He was originally from Ayrshire and Berwickshire itself was similarly a strong Covenanting county. In 1662 many of the parishes in the Presbyteries of Duns, Chirnside and Earlston were in the charge of ministers who refused to conform to the new ecclesiastical order imposed by the Scottish Parliament and enforced by the Privy Council. It was when Thomas was taken by his father to hear Henry Erskine - father of Ebenezer and Ralph - preach that his youthful curiosity was aroused in the Bible. This was to take him to study Logic, Metaphysics, Ethics and general Physics at Edinburgh University, where the old Arts Faculty was a training ground for future Ministers. He graduated in 1694, was licensed as a Minister at Chirnside in 1697, and ordained at Simprin in 1699. There was little in this background to suggest that he would write a book of such significance in its time as his Human Nature in its Fourfold State of Primitive Integrity, Entire Depravation, Begun Recovery and consummate Happiness or Misery. Of course with these older preachers, misery was almost inseparable from the moments of happiness, a creed perhaps not as irrelevant to today`s consumerist society as the advertisers would have us believe.

But let us just for a moment recall the type of event someone like Boston - or Bowston as he was pronounced in the Borders before going up to University - would be taking part in. It has little in common with today`s Church, and gives us a deeper understanding of the way the people of Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries got their ideas and information.
Open-air preaching was common. So the Lord`s Supper, which was popularly known as the `Occasion` or the Great Work, or the `Sacred Solemnity.` Held during summer months - usually June or July - it was often celebrated in a locality at intervals of 2-3 years, and it was costly in terms of hospitality, so that often 8 or 9 parishes would have to join together. People would flood in from all around, so that a population of 500 might be swollen to 2,000 by folk who would come by road or track to listen to the `preachings` on Thursday, Saturday and Monday, as well as taking communion on the Sunday. Henryson`s The Preiching of the Swallow may be an indication that these post-Reformation preachings had their roots in earlier times. Provisions were scarce and refuges difficult. In the fields, barns and woods or floor of the kirk, people would seek rest. The seriousness with which they took the words of the minister is indicated by the fact that many came in real fear that they were not accepted by Christ. They would return to their barns seeking `light at the throne` - very different from the TV age! When Ministers were popular, they were accompanied by tears and groans from the populace, but when a boring preacher arrived, they withdrew to the beer barrels set up, thus giving these dry-as-dust preachers the ironical title of `ale ministers.` Others such as Thomas Boston, and later Ralph Erskine, were known as `kail-pot preachers`, because their appeal kept the audience in thrall till nightfall, so that the kail was left simmering to the point of burnt in the pot at home.

Again, before taking a closer look at Boston`s ideas, let us recall the independence of mind of the clerics of the day. You`ll know of Robert Kirk, minister of Aberfoyle at the same time as Boston`s ordination, and author of a wonderful book, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies. It was reported that in 1692 as he daundered by the Fairy Mound, musing upon the wee folk, a green door opened and he was bidden to join the ceilidh. Thereafter he was never seen again. Literally - away with the fairies. And just as there are grim messages in Boston`s Fourfold every now and then about the “curse under which the damned shall be shut up in hell” - though as I shall point out this aspect of Boston`s work has been much exaggerated by institutional academics and the Moderates in the Church of Scotland - so there were amusing moments in this fire and brimstone aspect of the day. One church minister at the culmination of his sermon declared to a known reprobate; “And when ye`re doun there amang the reek and lowe o` hell, ye`ll luik up and cry: `Lord, Lord, I didna ken.` Then the Lord in his Infinite Justice and Mercy will reply: "Weel. Ye ken noo!”

Anyway, let`s have a look at the book for which Boston is best remembered, his Human Nature in its 4fold State. Here`s a passage - wonderfully studded with natural imagery as so often in his work, mostly from the Bible, but some at least surely inspired by his Borders environment:
“Man is more witless, in what concerns him most, than the stork, or the turtle, or the crane, or the swallow, in what is for their interest, Jer. vii, 7. His is more stupid than the ox or ass, Isa. i, 3. I find him sent to school, to learn of the ant or emmet, which having no guide or leader to go before her, no overseer, or officer to stir her up to work; no ruler, but may do as she lists, being under the dominion of none yet provideth her meat in the summer an harvest, Prov. vi, 6,7,8, while the natural man has all these, and yet exposeth himself to eternal starving. Nay more than all this, the scripture holds out the natural man, not only as wanting the good qualities of those creatures, but as a compound of the evil qualities of the worst of the creatures, in which do concenter the fierceness of the lion, the craft of the fox, the unteachableness of the wild ass, the filthiness of the dog and swine, the poison of the asp, and such like.”
Well, it may not be a happy diagnosis, but it`s worth recalling the report by the World Wide Fund for Nature that a third of the world`s resources have been used up since 1970 alone. At this rate by the year 2040 the globe`s natural resources will be exhausted and maybe earlier taking into account pollution. So, I don`t think it`s enough to cry `doom and gloom merchant` at the Minister, as has been the case in recent decades. Boston`s core psychology of humankind, following but systematizing traditional biblical lore, is given at the very opening of the book -
“PRIMITIVE INTEGRITY, ENTIRE DEPRAVITY, BEGUN RECOVERY, AND CONSUMMATE HAPPINESS OR MISERY.”
Boston`s structures clearly follow those of insect metamorphosis. So humanity`s state of innocence at birth is the phase of the EGG ; the state of corrupt nature as the egg breaks open and is unmade is the LARVAL stage of development, the caterpillar is a greedy wee creature; the transitional state of grace is the CHRYSALIS or preparatory stage, a pupation or pupilship; and finally the emergence of the IMAGO, the final stage where one is perfectly happy - or eternally miserable!

Now again, see what a dynamic description Thomas Boston gives of the stage of the pupatory, the dying of the early larval cells in preparation for birth of the imago. Again, notice how enviably he is so rooted in a single book, the Bible, that he clearly virtually knows it by heart:
“I come to shew why this change is called regeneration, a being born again. It is so called, because of the resemblance between natural and spiritual generation, which lies in the following particulars,
First, Natural generation is a mysterious thing: and so is spiritual generation, John iii, 8. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so every one that is born of the Spirit. The work of the Spirit is felt, but his way of working is a mystery we cannot comprehend. A new light is let into the mind, and the will is renewed; but how the light is conveyed thither, and how the will is fettered with cords of love, and how the rebel is made a willing captive, we can no more tell, than we can tell, how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child, Eccl. xi, 5...Regeneration is not so much the curing of a sick man, as the quickening of a dead man, Eph. ii, 10. Man in his depraved state is a mere non-entity in grace, and is brought into a new being, by the power of him...O glorious creature new-made after the image of God!”
With the publication in 1998 of an Everyman edition of the Bible as a literary text to be studied, and Edinburgh Canongate`s edition of single books introduced by a celebrity writer - Doris Lessing, Will Self and others - the bible is making a comeback in the mainstream of the British reading public. But none will be found who can so weave quotations and passages as Boston can.
Strangely for this minister of the hellfire and damnation school, he is usually at his best when he is not at his most threatening, but when he tries to imagine the movement towards Paradise. And he is not without sly humour. So -
“The unregenerate would find fault with heaven on several counts. When Mahomet gave out paradise to be a place of sensual delights, his religion was greedily embraced; for that is the heaven men naturally choose. If the covetous man could get bags full of gold there, and the voluptuous man could promise himself sensuous delights there, they might be reconciled to heaven, and meet for it too: but since it is not so, tho` they may utter fair words about it, truly it has little of their hearts. Every corner there is filled with that, which of all things they have the least liking of: and that is holiness, true holiness, perfect holiness.”
There is a crafty warning to his patriotic flock that heaven will seem like a dwelling for outsiders in a foreign country.

Returning for a moment to the alfresco `Great Occasions`, it was of course a disaster if the weather was inclement, and the rain came on, for there was little shelter. Nor again later when the ministers were turned out of their churches in the Disruption, and were forced to give their sermons down at Whiteadder in the Borders or Hill of Beath here. Boston gives a description of one such event in his Memoirs:
“On Saturday there was some thunder before we went out, between 2 and 3. When I began my sermon it returned and went to a great pitch. Upon the back of the 2nd and 3rd clap, I said to the people, `The God of glory thundereth. He will give His people strength and bless them with peace`; so I went on undisturbed, the fire now and then flashing in my eyes. The people sat decently and gravely without any disturbance more than the drawing of their cloaks about them as in the case of rain. In the time of prayer after sermon the thunder went to a prodigious height, that I could not miss the imagination of being struck down in a moment, but through grace was kept undisturbed in my work.”
As one commentator has ironically remarked, “the picture of the minister -himself safe from the rain in a wooden tent - placidly giving 2 sermons, besides prayers, a psalm and tokens, while the congregation, utterly unprotected, were flashed on by lightning, deafened by thunder, and threatened with a deluge of rain, is highly impressive.”

The time has come to fill in one or two more local details with regard to Boston`s life, much of which impinged on Fife. I have deliberately avoided straying into the minefield of church history, and again I only intend to refer to this period as that which sowed the seeds for the 1843 Disruption in passing. In 1699, Boston gained his first ministry - at Simprin in the Borders, a parish entirely of agricultural workers. The manse was especially built for him, but, alas!, it no longer stands, and all there is left is a panelled door preserved in a nearby cottage. He was at Simprin until 1707 - about which year in relation to Boston and the Union more later - and it was while visiting one of his flock here, a Scottish soldier who had been involved in the Civil War in the middle of the 17th century that he came across a book which was to have a great influence on him, and indeed on the Scottish church, namely The Marrow of Modern Divinity. This book by an Englishman, Edward Fisher, had been published in 1645 and is a compilation in dialogue of debate by reform divines. Here is Boston`s own description of this crucial moment in the history of the Church of Scotland:
“As I was sitting one day in a house of Simprin, I espied above the window-head 2 little old books, which when I had taken down I found entitled, the one The Marrow of Modern Divinity, the other Christ`s Blood Flowing Freely to Sinners...Finding them to point to the subject I was in particular concern about, I brought them both away. The latter, a book of Saltmarsh`s, I relished not, and I think I returned it without reading it quite through. The other...I found it to come close to points I was in quest of...I used to be hampered in my proclamation to men of the free, open and universal liberty of access to God in Christ for salvation...The time of the singing birds had come.” Once again, in a beautiful phrase, Boston links with surrounding nature, and the whole filament of his reading and belief lights up. It was to give Boston and his friends the title of Marrowmen, who are generally interpreted as fundamentalist as opposed to the Moderates who of course came to dominate the established Scottish church.

This is actually rather deceptive in my opinion, because, as we shall see, the qualities of imagination of the Marrowmen as exemplified in Fourfold State also has an intensive chiliastic or ideal aspect, though the Marrow itself did not have too great an influence at this time on thiswriter of such a homely book of homilies. Which is probably why it was so popular, and relatively free of dogma. Anyway, The Marrow of Modern Divinity was to be reissued under the impetus of this renewed interest in 1718 by James Hog of Carnock, and was to have a very great impact in West Fife, even though it was denounced by the St. Andrews Presbytery. At St. Andrews, Principal Hadow denounced the idea of universal redemption which the Marrowmen held. The root idea was that grace was an absolute right of people, and not conditional. The Marrow taught that salvation was open to all humans. It explicitly denied that Christ died only for the chosen few, the elect. Indeed Boston`s very first publication, imaginatively titled Soliloquy on the Art of Man-Fishing argues that as fish are taken unexpectedly in the net, so people are sometimes taken by the gospel. This seems to have particularly stuck in the craw of the principals of universities and colleges. Four years later, it was to be a rallying point for 12 ministers led by Ebenezer Erskine, and the church was on the long road to a split over a century later. I should say again that although Boston had his severe disagreements, he always opposed separation, along with a like thinker Thomas Gillespie, whose Relief Church was joined by Thomas Boston`s son to set up a branch of the Relief church at Colinsburgh. All had severe reservations about the mainstream direction of the church. However, to return to the life of Boston himself. Before his ministry at Simprin beginning in 1699, he had had a number of roving commissions, so to speak, at Clackmannan and Dollar, Stirling and Carnock. And then Culross, where he had been invited by James Frazer of Brea (who for those interested in these details, died at Culross on September 13th, 1698 when it is recorded “there was a great eclipse of the sun betwixt 8 and half past 10.") Boston in his Memoirs takes up the story: “The week after that communion my acquaintance with Katherine Brown, now my wife, was carried on to a direct proposal of marriage made to her. She was the 5th daughter to Robert Brown of Barhill in the parish of Culross.” Barhill House, long demolished, apparently stood on the crest of a hill above Culross, though one editor notes its site is marked by a field called Barhill Park. As a result of this courtship, he preached quite a bit in West Fife, making contact with like-minded theological thinkers, above all the James Hog of Carnock (one `g` as distinct from the Ettrick Shepherd Hogg) who, as I say, was to take up his reading of The Marrow to the extent of republishing it.
Boston left the parish of Simprin in 1707. He takes up the story himself in his Account of My Life:
“On the first day of May, I was admitted minister of Ettrick: a day remarkable to after ages, as the day in which the Union of Scotland and England commenced, according to the Articles thereof agreed by the 2 Parliaments. And on that very account I had frequent occasion to remember it; the spirits of the people of that place being embittered on that event against the ministers of the Church; which was the occasion of much heaviness to me, tho` I never was for the Union, but always against it from the beginning unto this day.”
The opposition was on the basis that deference to the Church of England was a roundabout way of becoming thirled again to Rome, because of the more ritualistic nature of the English Church`s practices. Indeed the struggle for the independence of the Scottish Church had already been threatened in 1703 with the dissolution of the General Assembly by Lord Seafield in Queen Anne`s name. As Boston put it, “This was one of the heaviest days that ever I saw, beholding a vain man trampling on the privileges of Christ`s house. If the liberty of the Church should stand upon the Queen`s allowance or disallowance, we are assured not only to lack Assemblies, but also to lack the public preaching of the Evangel.” Again the Oath of Abjuration in 1712, which was part of the Toleration Act caused a crise de conscience. Boston objected to taking this because it entailed accepting the extension of the English Church`s prerogative over the Scottish. Boston was present at the debate at the Assembly, and lined up with the scruplers, as the objectors were called. As he puts the matter in his Autobiography, “the declared intent of the Oath to be, to preserve the Act inviolable upon which the security of the Church of England depends...and upon that shocking discovery, my heart was turned to loath that Oath which I had before scrupled.” So although the Act had been designed to whip the Episcopalians into line, the English government used it to make it clear who, 5 years after the cementing of the Union, was in control. On top of this in 1712, was the Patronage Act which gave landowners the right to appoint ministers, a clear blow against the presbyterian right to elect elders and deacons. Only is the patron did not present within 6 months did the right of presentation pass to the presbytery. Indeed it was this Act in particular, along with the Act of the General Assembly of 1732 allowing consultation of the congregation only after a Minister had been elected that led to the famous gathering of the Erskines and others at Portmoak, up the road in Kinross-shire which set the church on the road to the split of the Disruption. The penalties were huge for non-conformity; £500, an enormous sum for the ministers of the day. So Boston was not afraid to put his head on the line.

So it is in this context that the amazing popularity of the 4fold State has to be seen. Jonathan Edwards thought Boston one of the greatest of all divines. There is a tradition that a farmer journeyed a distance of 25 miles each way to listen to the discourses that formed the Fourfold State each week. At Boston`s last communion on 13th June 1731, no fewer than 707 communicated, many of them coming to Ettrick from the neighbouring parishes of Peebles, Selkirk, Hawick and Moffat. And indeed some of Boston is not a whit inferior to Shakespeare. Consider this section from the later part of his book, and compare it with the contemplations of Prospero in The Tempest, “we are such things as dreams are made on”-
“Moses compares our days to a sleep, Psal. xc, 5. They are as sleep, which is not noticed, till it be ended. The resemblance is pat: few men have right apprehensions of life until that death awaken them: then we begin to know, we were living. We spend our years as a tale that is told, ver. 9. While an idle tale is a telling, it may affect a little; but when it is ended it is forgot: and so is man forgotten, when the fable of his life is ended. It is as a dream, or vision of the night, in which there is nothing solid; when one awakes, all vanisheth. Job xx, 8...Man in this world is but, as it were, a walking statue: his life is but an image of life; there is so much of death in it.”

This is as grand as the sermons of Jeremy Taylor, bishop of Down and Connor, who is much celebrated as a literary stylist. Boston`s strength is that he truly was a considerable writer on the basis of the Bible, one who did not merely preach, moralise and pontificate, but believed in the quickening of the Word, in fact of literature itself, though he would not have seen it like that. But it was not to meet the approval of the mainstream of the Church. One Thomas Davidson, a shepherd`s son from the Jedburgh area, recalls being put onto the Boston book by a minister who thought his - Davidson`s that is - ideas a little dishevelled. He recounts how what he calls the “old Drumclogger” put him onto the book -
“He advised me to read Boston`s Fourfold State. Now some days after this I went down Leith Walk {R.L. Stevenson`s birthplace to be} and upon an old book stall at which I halted for a minute, what should catch my eye but a copy of the Boston. I grinned at it and denounced the Reverend Drumclogger in my mind, and was just going to pass on when I felt inspired by what I considered the most ingenious method of gratifying my spleen that could possibly occur to any mortal. `Buy thee` quoth I to the Fourfold State; `yes, thou shalt be bought with a vengeance! Thou shalt be so effectually bought that thou shalt be withdrawn from circulation. I will bury thee beneath all the rubbish I possess, and there thou shalt slumber unread till `cockle-shells be silver bells` - thou old nightmare!` So I bought him for a shilling , and buried him with much care and deliberation at the bottom of a box of the most forsaken and desolate literature I possessed; and after that had wonderful ease of mind for many years.”

But this was not the end of the matter. For some years later, he goes on:
“I had occasion to turn this sepulchral box upside down, and there, in his quiet grave, I ushered in a resurrection morning upon Boston`s Fourfold State. I plucked the old mummy out of his corner, and just to convince myself I felt amiable towards the Rev., that in fact I entertained a kind of laughing kindliness towards him, I said to myself `I will read this book.` And I did read it...And I will not let him off for this one: `the righteous shall in the world to come rule over the wicked, and they shall rule them with a rod of iron` Now if any human being can feel satisfaction at his prospect of his duties as a saint, he must be in a bad way...However just to prove to myself that I am at peace with all men against whom I ever had any ground of quarrel, I have set the old anatomy upon a bookshop in respectable company; and whenever I look at it I say to myself, `the Rev is a nice man and so are all his co-Presbyters - all nice men; and good heavens, what an amiable creature am I!`”
And that is where Boston has been - in my opinion unfairly - stuck. Certainly all except those of the Ian Paisley tendency can do without the hellfire and damnation bits. But there is an organic living kernel here, a response to his immediate natural environment in the Borders, along with this perception of a fourfold pattern to life. It would, I submit, be a great error to throw out the baby with the bathwater.




See also Home

Science and the Humanities
Science and the humanities
"In this volume, Spooner makes use of the most recent data from science to strike out in an interesting direction by returning to one of the great unresolved mysteries: how to fuse science and the great works of imagination without doing violence to one or the other of these great human enterprises."
Poetry and Entomology
A consideration of poets from Darío to Rueda and Lorca; Cernuda and Aleixandre to Valente.

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