- A Plea for the Doric
Forgi'e, oh, forgi'e me, auld Scotlan', my mither!Like an ill-deedie bairn I've ta'en up wi' anither; [ill-behaved child]And aft thy dear Doric aside I hae flung,To busk oot my sang wi' the prood Southron tongue.
They say that our auld hamlet tongue, my ain mither, [homebred]Is deein', and sune will be dead a'thegither;Whan thy callants hae ceased to be valiant and free, [lads]And thy maids to be modest, oh juist let it dee!
Shall the tongue that was spoken by Wallace the wicht, [valiant]In the sangs o' thy poets sae lo'esum and bricht, [lovely/tender; bright]Sae pithy an' pawkie, sae tender an' true, [sly, roguish]O' sense and slee humour an' feelin' sae fu';
Shall the tongue that was spoken by leal Scottish men,Whan they stood for their richts on the hill an' the glen—Oh, say, maun it dee, when the last words that hung [must it die]On the lips o' the martyr war ain mither tongue? [End Page 41]
Oh, think ye the tongue that at red BannockburnBade charge to the onset—think ye it maun turnto a thing o' the past, that our bairns winna ken [wouldn't know]To read mither tongue on that mither's fire en'?
Just think gif the "Cottar's ain Saturday Nicht"War stripped o' the Doric, wi' English bedicht—To the leal Scottish heart it wad ne'ever be the same;Wi' sic truth and sic feelin' it wadna strike hame.
At the saft gloamin' hour, "when the kye's comin' hame,"And the young heart is loupin' to hear the dear name,What tongue like the Doric love's saft tale can tell,'Neath the lang yellow broom, an' the red heather-bell?
I'm wae for Aul Reekie, her big men o' print [Edinburgh]To Lunnon ha'e gane, to be nearer the mint;But the coinage o' brain looks no a'e haet better,Though Doric is banish'd frae sang, tale, and letter.
But there's a'e thing I'm sure o'—ere lang I maun gang,Yet aye when I dow I maun lilt a bit sang; [while I can]And sae soun' shall I sleep 'neath the auld mossy stane,That I'll never hear tell whan the Doric is gane.
Janet Hamilton's "Plea for the Doric" may be seen as part of a proud tradition of non-canonical works that embraced chants, odes, ballads, and blank verses by authors from all walks of life. Among these were itinerants, labourers, factory workers such as Ruth Wills, successful journalists such as Eliza Cook, and active socialists and feminists such as Ethel Carnie. Against the background of that tradition, "Plea for the Doric" may also be interpreted as a blunt critique of certain norms and expectations imposed by "Lunnon"'s "big men o' print." Reformist authors who created arresting working-class characters—the singer in Gaskell's Mary Barton, for example, or the seamstress in Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh—never found a place in their works for a working-class writer.1
Janet Thompson Hamilton (1795-1873) was a Scot with no formal education. She grew up in Langloan, a tiny rural village later engulfed by the coal mines of Coatbridge, a town in North Lanarkshire, east of Glasgow. Taught to read by her mother, Hamilton married at thirteen, bore ten children, composed verse in her head, organized a modest local circulating library, learned to write in her early fifties, and worked at the tambour-loom until she could no longer see. [End Page 42] Keenly interested in temperance, anti-slavery campaigns, and worker education, she was also an appalled witness of the industrial "progress" that made her little village one of the most ravaged areas in all of Victorian Britain—the subject of her scathing satire "Oor Location."
Partially blinded by her work at the tambour-loom, Hamilton became totally blind in her sixties and dictated her verse thereafter to James Hamilton, one of...