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Peer Reviewed

A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen



Published first in the Christian Leader, 23 August 1883, p. 3; second, in the People’s Journal for Glasgow and Edinburgh, 25 August 1883, p. 2; third, in the Glasgow Weekly Mail, 25 August 1883, p. 3.
I have a very large estate,
   All for me, all for me;
My cares are small, my wealth is great,
   All for me, all for me.
Once other people shared my land,
And rented holdings far from grand,
But I have made them understand
   It’s all for me, all for me.

The common people I do not
   Like to see, like to see.
A vulgar village is a blot
   On propertie, propertie.
Although they say their homes are dear,
I’ll have no vulgar peasants here,
I’ll keep my land for sheep and deer,
   All for me, all for me.

The dirty creatures now complain—
   Blaming me, blaming me;
They say, “We’re anxious to remain,
   Let us be, let us be!”
I’ll harass them by night and day
Until I drive them all away,
Upon my land not one shall stay,
   It’s all for me, all for me.
Few topics in Scottish history have been debated and disputed more persistently than the causes and effects of the Highland clearances.@ There is general agreement, however, that by the mid-1870s, after many years of evictions and forced removals from the lands they had worked for centuries, the displaced and dispossessed Highlanders began to agitate in earnest for the restoration of their traditional farming and grazing rights. “Thenceforward the crofters and their leaders took the battle to the landlords and sought to wrest control of the land from their masters” (Richards The Highland Clearances 356). A result of these protests was the appointment of a Royal Commission—chaired by Lord Napier—into the condition of the crofters. The evidence taken in representative communities was reported variously in the press. The Scotsman and other allies of the landlord interests offered only general accounts of the proceedings and expressed few opinions, while opponents like the Oban Times declared that “the Highland lairds are on their knees” (Devine 221). From the spring to the winter of 1883, the Glasgow Weekly Mail published extracts from the evidence—many sarcastic in tone and incendiary in substance—which included recollections of violent dispossessions and dislocations. On 4 August the paper quoted the testimony of a clergyman who asserted that “the management of most Highland estates was despotic in its nature” and that “one man’s will ruled whole parishes.” Such statements inspired “The Highland Laird’s Song” in which Marion Bernstein levels a rare and radical indictment against the hereditary landed classes.@ Her refrain—“all for me, all for me”—portrays the laird as greedy, arrogant, and contemptuous of the “common people.” In addition to its appearance in the Mail, this poem was printed in the Christian Leader and in the People’s Journal for Glasgow and Edinburgh, two of the most liberal papers in Scotland.