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174 8. Symbolism and Empire: Stevenson, Scott, and Toy Soldiers ADAM KOZACZKA In 1901, a blend of patriotism and business acumen prompted William Britain’s eponymous toy-making firm to release miniature versions of the Cameron Highlanders, then active in the Boer War (1899–1902). The realistic khaki paint scheme originally intended for Britain’s ‘Set 89’ adhered to the toy soldier industry’s meticulous devotion to verisimilitude, but was replaced before release by a wilfully inaccurate scheme featuring tartan. By this point an anachronism on the battlefield, tartan had been discontinued from active use and relegated to dress uniforms by practically-minded equipment reforms. Peter Johnson, the historian and toy soldiers expert, describes ‘Set 89’ as, ‘incorrectly, but shrewdly,’ satisfying consumers who had come to associate tartan with the Highland soldier: ‘what boy would not prefer to have that square – that symbolic formation of British imperial steadfastness – in the colourful glories of old, instead of the modern drab uniforms of the ‘new warfare’?’1 By choosing ‘colourful glories of old’ over ‘modern drab,’ Britain’s not only uses anachronism to sell toys, but also endorses a popular understanding of national history and current events for which inaccurate representation is preferable to weak iconography. From such a perspective, recognisable symbols evocative of national pathos are in fact more politically useful than the kind of scientific impartiality demanded by the historical establishment in 1901 (and arguably still today).2 That this substitution was done specifically with Highlanders suggests that William Britain’s firm had, whether consciously or not, arrived at that nexus of associations for which Scottish and masculine identities blended in a vibrant and violent past.3 If ‘Set 89’ was a patriotic toy that relied on anachronism to lionise a now-utilitarian military establishment, then such simultaneously patriotic and commercially lucrative material rhetoric was made possible by a tradition of Scottish creative writing about history 175 symbolism and empire: stevenson, scott, and toy soldiers that has been studied precisely according to its rhetorical deployment of anachronism. Ever since Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814), books set in Scotland’s past have lamented the passing of masculine character types rendered as abler and nobler than the men of the reader’s present. Despite Scott’s apparent devotion to upholding the political establishment and its narratives of progress, his novels exhibited such fondness for the warlike masculinities of the past that contemporary reviewers warned against their possible influence on children who might admire memorable, but not all together good, characters.4 Three-quarters of a century later, fictional Scots of the past were still being presented as more interesting and more genuine than the reader’s real contemporaries. Though Robert Louis Stevenson’s Alan Breck Stewart exaggerates his accomplishments while his Master of Ballantrae is ‘neither bad nor very able’5 their larger-than-life, romantic exploits – brushing shoulders with the heroes and villains of the ’45 and even sailing with the pirate Blackbeard – construct a historical gender fantasy within the adventure novel. The men of the past are thus rendered not only more interesting but indeed more potent and self-motivated, albeit more violent, than the men of the reader’s present. The violent flaws explicitly identified with Jacobite characters in Scott and Stevenson over time become advantages: the unruliness, the violence, and the rebellion associated with an earlier masculinity seem in practice to expand their purchase on masculine ‘authenticity ’. Stevenson liked the ‘bad guys’ of British literature and popular history, making clear that as a child he adored stories of eighteenth-century Jacobites almost as much as he did tales of eighteenth-century highwaymen.6 Walter Scott had a different political relationship with transgressive characters insofar as violence is presented unsympathetically in the Waverley novels. Characters he condemned, however, often went on to have afterlives in which their violent tendencies became laudable qualities. By the 1880s and 1890s, Scott’s novels had been generically reclassified by a market in which their exciting historical plots made them appear to be of a type with the increasingly popular boys’ adventure novel (see further Chapter Two in the present volume).7 Theresa Michals sees violence in particular as having been reinterpreted by Victorian audiences: ‘Scott may have intended violence 176 adam kozaczka to appear immature or deplorable, but Victorian boys’ fiction located in violence many of its excitements’.8 Though Scott was ‘manly reading’ in the second two decades of the nineteenth century,9 by the late Victorian period he had instead...


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