The Soul of Scotland

HV Morton’s “In Search of Scotland” was first published in 1929. A year later a section of chapter two was reproduced in a pamphlet, “The Soul of Scotland”, a guide for visitors to the Scottish National War Shrine in Edinburgh Castle, something which Morton said he found it more difficult to write about than anything he had ever attempted to describe. This publication is now possibly the rarest piece of Mortoniana there is and I thought this excerpt from it would be a fitting one for today’s post.

If you mount the Castle Rock in Edinburgh you will find the Soul of Scotland. Men call it the National War Shrine…

AS I stood inarticulate before the Shrine a thought came to me which was like a light. I was, not so long ago, in Ypres at the opening of the Menin Gate. It was a fine day with a wind blowing over the old front line. When the gate was declared open Scots pipers mounted high on the ramparts played the ‘Flowers o’ the Forest’.

No man at that moment dared to look into another man’s eyes. It was one of life’s terrible moments. The lament sobbed its grand way out along the road to Hooge, it wailed its way, sobbing, sobbing, ‘the flowers o’ the forest are a’ wede awae’ into every little dip and hollow where the corn now grows. . . .

It seemed to me, as I stood in Scotland’s Shrine, that the sound of this lament had flown home to crystallize in stone upon the rock of Edinburgh. The Shrine is a lament in stone, the greatest of all Scotland’s laments, with all the sweetness of pipes crying among hills, with all the haunting beauty of a lament, all the pride, all the grandeur.

I think the Cenotaph in London and the National Shrine in Edinburgh are the most remarkable symbols in existence of the temperamental difference between the two nations. One is Saxon and inarticulate; the other is Celtic and articulate. Grief locks the English heart, but it opens the Scottish. The Celt has a genius for the glorification of sorrow. All his sweetest songs are sad ; all his finest music is sad ; all his greatest poetry springs from tragedy.

That is why Scotland has built the greatest war memorial in the world.

THE ‘Flowers o’ the Forest’ have all turned to stone.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, England
Sunday, 10 November 2019

(Originally issued as HVM Society Snippets – No.244)


Filed under Armistice day, Quotations

5 responses to “The Soul of Scotland

  1. Thank you.

    Sent from my iPad

  2. J. Drew Mc Farland

    I’m reading In Search of Scotland now, and the description is certainly vivid and would move anyone to want to see the Shrine. Switching gears entirely though, just as Morton does in Chapter 11 (6,7), I want to pass along my suspicion that J. K. Rowling might be a Morton reader. Morton goes on quite a bit about a rather strange historical character, William “Topaz” McGonagall. Perhaps the namesake of Professor Minerva McGonagall? Then in the first paragraph of part 7, “But nothing less than a cloak of invisibility would be a protection against my neighbour’s vivid children.” Then back in part 5, he calls John Knox “wizard-like” in appearance and gives a detailed description which is very Dumbledore-like. Just a thought!

    • How very intriguing, J.Drew! I missed the invisibility cloak reference, I wonder if there is a connection there? I have a feeling that Morton might be not quite PC enough for JK Rowling, although I love both of their works! Thanks for getting in touch! All the best, Niall

      • J. Drew Mc Farland

        I’m sure he’s not PC enough, but she appears not to be PC herself these days! One certainly can imagine she read the book though, and picked up a couple references.

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