Creative Commons License
Victorians Institute Journal Annex content in NINES is protected by a Creative Commons License.
Peer Reviewed

A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen



Published in the Glasgow Weekly Mail, 9 January 1886, p. 3.
Ye sons of Scotland, rise in union,
   To set your native mountains free;
For wealth and greed, in base communion,
   Enslave the land from sea to sea.
From lands that were their sires’ possession,
   Behold, your neighbours are exiled;
Submission strengthens harsh oppression—
   Shall Scotland be a forest wild?
      Brave sons of Scotland, rise!
        Arise, and not in vain; 
      Drive out the sportsmen and their deer,
        And claim your hills again!

Think how your brethren and their children
   Are driven to a foreign shore;
Now drive out those who dispossessed them,
   Recall them to their hills once more!
The price of land is fairly given
   By paying twenty years of rent,
Yet many now from Scotland driven
   Would pay thrice o’er and be content.
      Arise, ye Scots, arise!
        Insist on Nature’s plan,
      Drive out the sportsmen and their deer,
        God gave the land to man.

“Give back the land,” cries Alexander,
   Ah! no; ’tis given by God’s own hand;
Then let your battle cry be even grander—
   Not “give,” ’tis yours; “take” back the land!
When sire and son have given rental
   For holdings lairds now choose to clear.
This wrong is more than sentimental,
   ’Tis plunder without shame or fear.
      Arise, ye Scots, arise!
        Contend on Nature’s plan,
      Drive out the sportsmen and their deer,
        God gave the land to man.
Bernstein’s title is instructive. Burns’s “A Man’s a Man for ‘A That”—which expresses his antipathy toward rank and his sympathy with the spirit of the French Revolution—was occasionally called “The Scottish Marseillaise.” And a number of contemporary accounts of the crofters’ revolt regarded the agitations of the 1880s as a great triumph of popular protest. According to Richards, the massive report of the Napier Commission “constitutes the greatest single document on nineteenth-century Highland society, economy and history” (The Highland Clearances 381). As a work of collective oral testimony, much of which was published in the popular press, it unleashed literary and political forces in support of the crofters. On 17 October 1885 Alexander Murdoch had published a poem titled “Give Back the Land!” in the Glasgow Weekly Mail. Clearly, he and Bernstein shared a similar understanding of “nature’s plan,” for he wrote: “Who gave to titled wealth the land? / That is not theirs—no, not an inch! / ’Twas got by fraud, or force of hand; / Then laws were made the theft to clinch! / Up, Scotland! Tear the lie to rags! / Your birthright of the soil demand; / Are crofters less than grouse and stags? / Give back the land! Give back the land!” But Marion Bernstein’s reference to “Alexander” is more than an instance of her interactions with her fellow poets. Where Murdoch addresses the lairds and pleads for the return of the crofters’ lands, she addresses the crofters themselves and urges them to take action. Her verse is both radical and insistent. In its tone and in its substance, “The Scottish Marseillaise” both parallels the Crofters Act of 1886 as “a decisive and unambiguous piece of class legislation on behalf of the common people” and reflects “the development of the Victorian conscience, which was markedly more responsive than ever before to accounts of poverty and oppression” (Richards The Highland Clearances 376-77).