A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen

[This essay was originally published in The Victorians Institute Journal, Volume 37 (2009): Victorian Scotland.]

In Glasgow, in the summer of 1876, Marion Bernstein published Mirren’s Musings, a collection of one hundred poems upon which her reputation rests. Among these were her most radical feminist compositions—“Woman’s Rights and Wrongs,” “Wanted A Husband,” “A Dream,” and “A Rule to Work Both Ways”—often included today in studies and anthologies of nineteenth-century Scottish verse.@ Bernstein announced in an advertisement in this book that she intended “to publish another volume, containing an equal number of entirely different poems, in about a year.” But no such volume ever appeared. She continued to write and to place her verse in the public domain, however, and the purpose of this study is to present a modest selection of the uncollected poems that she composed over her last thirty years. We have chosen twelve that reflect her increasing interest and engagement in Scottish affairs.
Little is known of Bernstein’s early life. She was born in London in 1846, to a Jewish father from Preußen and an Anglican mother from Marylebone, was stricken in childhood with a debilitating infirmity, and spent her adult years in pain and poverty. By 1874, she had relocated to Glasgow with her widowed mother, her brother, her married sister, and her brother-in-law. To support herself, when she was able, she gave private music lessons. She also embraced the Saturday Sabbath and apparently hosted religious meetings in her parlor at 5 Dunrobin Place, Paisley Road. She published her first poem in the Glasgow Weekly Mail on 28 February 1874 and joined a coterie of regular contributors to the paper. In the poems that she submitted during the ensuing months, she addresses a number of social issues—including gender inequity, wife beating, and poor living and working conditions among the laboring classes—but only occasionally does she reveal an investment in Scottish life. When the editor of the Mail complained that he had tired of receiving conventional poems on country life and encouraged submissions on city scenes, Bernstein responded with “A Song of Glasgow Town,” in which she writes scornfully of the “foul” Clyde, the “giant chimney stalks,” and the schools filled with “starving bairns.” But she addresses “the Glasgow people” from an outsider’s perspective. Her literary productivity declined sharply after the publication of Mirren’s Musings. Yet we have identified more than eighty poems—comic verses, religious verses, and occasional verses on social themes—that she published in various newspapers between 1876 and 1903. As her life in Scotland lengthened, she began to write increasingly and perceptively on topics of interest to Scots.
From the time she arrived in Glasgow, Bernstein found a cordial audience for her poetry in the pages of the local weekly newspapers, and in the poetry columns of these papers she created her own space of agency and identity. Of her extant poems, nearly a quarter were published in the Glasgow Weekly Herald and half in the Glasgow Weekly Mail. The Weekly Herald, with a balanced coverage of local, national, and international news, was the more conservative of the two papers. In every issue there appeared a column of “Original Poetry” with two or three pieces, contributed predominately by men, on topics of general human interest. In the 1870s the poems Bernstein published in these columns were chiefly expressions of her Christian faith. But it was in the Weekly Mail that she first made her mark. She wrote many of her poems on current events and on topics of general interest suggested by the paper. Published every Saturday, with a circulation of 150,000 copies, each eight-page issue cost one penny. The first page was devoted to regional or national news of a social or sensational propensity. In the issue in which Bernstein’s first poem appeared, the leading stories were an account of a “terrific gale” in the west of Scotland and a report on the ongoing trial of the Tichborne Claimant in London. There were also excerpts from other papers on events of singular interest: “Painful Suicide in Dublin,” “Horrible Murder in Paris,” and “Shocking Atrocities in the South Seas.” Other pages reported Scottish news, including incidents in Glasgow and in other cities and towns: a drowning in the Kelvin, a miners’ strike in Falkirk, and an outbreak of smallpox in Wigtown. The paper also listed recent local births, marriages, and deaths. On 28 February, these included twenty-nine births, ten marriages, and forty-four deaths. The lion’s share of the Weekly Mail was given over to advertisements, which frequently occupied a quarter of page 3, half of page 5, and all of page 8. Wanted were dyers, painters, teachers, servants, wagon makers, cabinet makers, boat builders, workmen, machine men, oil distillers, and stereotypers. Among the products for sale were cocoa and chocolate, “inexpensive hair restorer,” Scotch tweeds, wedding dresses, mangles, sewing machines, venetian blinds, and “fine old whisky for toddy.” Services offered included hat cleaning, watch repairing, and “blood purifying.” Several columns were regularly devoted to shipping and to opportunities for emigration. News and features of this sort, both in the Weekly Mail and the Weekly Herald, suggest that the Saturday papers were aimed at readers with wide-ranging interests and modest expectations; the content also reflects the rise in literacy among a bourgeois class concentrated in an increasingly urbanized Scotland.
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, poetry held a consistent place in the pages of the Glasgow Weekly Herald and the Glasgow Weekly Mail. The poetry column in the Weekly Herald appeared on page 2, where the verses competed with installments of novels by Mayne Reid, Wilkie Collins, Rider Haggard, Anthony Trollope, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. The poetry column in the Weekly Mail appeared on page 3 or page 7. There were always five or six poems, often submitted by Jessie Russell, William Penman, James Nicholson, and other regular contributors. Unlike the staid Weekly Herald, whose editor never infringed upon the literary domain, the Weekly Mail often printed a column adjacent to the poetry in which its editor offered criticism or consolation to authors whose verses he rejected. To one, for example, he wrote: “You are fortunate in having more time to write than we have to read.” But from the first he admired Marion Bernstein’s wit, and he quickly admitted her to the Mail’s fold of “correspondents.” Indeed, it was the Mail that playfully gave her the name “Mirren”—evidently after the patron saint of Paisley—which she embraced and eventually adopted for her collection of Musings. The poetry in these papers offers a unique snapshot of the public culture of Glasgow in these years, for the poets and readers alike were chiefly middle- and working-class men and women. The regular meter and alternating rhyme typical of Victorian newspaper verse made writing and reading these poems easy processes, and the result was often a poetic “shared public discourse of current events” (Houston 239).
In the 1880s the editorial policies of the Glasgow Weekly Mail and the Glasgow Weekly Herald changed abruptly. The good-natured bantering between the Mail and its contributors ceased, and the poetry column was headed by a curt notice: “We cannot undertake to correspond with persons who send us poetry for insertion. If pieces sent to us do not appear in our columns within a few weeks after they are received, our correspondents may understand that they are rejected.” There was no further interaction among the poets. And there were fewer poems by women.@ On the other hand, the number of poems written by women increased in the Herald, and the new editor, William Canton, was inclined to accept poems on subjects that reflected significant changes in the social landscape of Scotland.@ Of the selection of Marion Bernstein’s poems that follows, three were published in the Glasgow Weekly Herald and seven in the Glasgow Weekly Mail. The topics include the death of a fellow poet, the fight for women’s suffrage, the sorrows of Robert Burns, the crofters’ conflicts with the landlords, tensions between workers and masters, and a rare moment of “calm delight” in the commonplace life of the city.

A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen



Published in the Glasgow Weekly Mail, 27 January 1877, p. 3.
Can it be that he is gone,
Willie of the merry song,
Blooming face, and stalwart form,
And so young, and blithe, and strong?

He was young for wedded ties,
Yet a wife and children four
Looked to him with trusting eyes,
As a guardian strong and sure.

Sadly will the widow weep,
Of his faithful care bereft,
With the little ones to keep
By their loving father left.

Did he feel his coming end,
And for wife and children pray,
Who must lose their truest friend
When his young life ebbed away?

Fear not, Willie! slumber thou,
All life’s cares in peace resign;
Heaven will guard thy loved ones now,
With a mightier arm than thine.
William Penman was, like Marion Bernstein, a regular contributor of verse to the Glasgow Weekly Mail. A working-class poet, who labored as a blacksmith in a foundry, he wrote humorous and occasionally pungent verses in Scots. He published a volume of Echoes from the Ingleside in 1875 and was at work on another collection when he died suddenly, at the age of twenty-eight. His obituary appeared in the Mail on 3 February 1877. Within a week, the paper had received fifty-four poetic tributes to Penman, including works by James Nicholson and Jessie Russell, and within a month the Mail’s readers had donated nearly £100 to a fund for his survivors. Marion Bernstein’s poem—with its attention to Penman’s good nature—signals her participation in the society of Glasgow’s newspaper poets. Her sentiments also reflect her feminine concern for the “widow” and the “little ones.”

A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen



Published in the Glasgow Weekly Mail, 14 December 1878, p. 7.
Ye rivetters of Govan,
Who stay at home at ease,
And live upon the “strike fund”
As idle as you please,
While wiser men, and better,
Who lazy ways don’t like,
Must starve through keeping idle,
Because you’re out on strike.

In vain you hope to profit
By spoiling Govan trade;
Ye rivetters of Govan
You’re thoughtless, I’m afraid.
You hinder other’s labours,
To serve your selfish ends;
Behaving to your neighbours
Like foes, instead of friends.

“No man can serve two masters,”
And consequently you
Can’t well obey trades-unions
And serve employers too.
Cast off trades-union shackles,
And work, or you must know
That all the trade of Glasgow
To foreign lands will go.

By strikes you’ll never profit.
’Tis published far and wide
That strikes have nearly ruined
The shipyards of the Clyde.
Be wise now, and reflect, lads,
You’ve children to be fed;
And half a loaf is better
Than not a bit of bread.
The shipbuilding industry on the Clyde expanded spectacularly in the last three decades of the nineteenth century. During the boom years, the population of Govan—fueled by a flood of immigrants from Ireland and from the Highlands—grew from 14,000 in 1871 to 91,000 in 1901. Yet there were also years of stagnation and actual decline. Between 1877 and 1879, when opportunities for work were less abundant, the population of the burgh fell by two thousand. In October 1878 the Clyde Shipbuilders’ and Engineers’ Association had averted a general strike by agreeing to reductions in the workers’ wages and in their working hours. But on 9 November the Mail reported that, rather than accept these reductions, a few squads of boilermakers and riveters had walked out. “At the present time,” the paper related, “there are scores of starving families in Govan and Partick, and the prospects for the winter are anything but encouraging.” While Bernstein’s position on the strike may seem antithetical to the sympathy she often expresses for the impoverished working classes, it is consistent with the political perspective shared by many Glaswegians of differing social backgrounds, who regarded strikes as threats to the wealth and progress of Clydeside. As Leonard observes: “A radical in one tradition might be conservative in another. Marion Bernstein, though a pioneering feminist in her work, attacked Govan shipyard workers for striking” (17). Her poem created some discomfort for the Mail, whose editor wrote: “While we permit the opinions of our correspondent we do not of course endorse them; it is an easy thing to say but exceedingly difficult to prove that either strikes or trades-unions have influenced the Clyde trade in any degree.” Her poem also elicited a condescending response in verse, in which an unpracticed poet accused Bernstein of trespassing on an issue beyond her comprehension: “Take a hint and be wise, / Ne’er again criticise / Trades unions nor strikes of the men; / For though it may seem strange, / They’re quite out of the range, / Of your knowledge, experience, or pen.” Undaunted, Bernstein replied: “As a woman, I’ll say / It is womankind’s way / To heed all the affairs of our brothers; / Very ill would men fare / Without counsel or care / From their wives, sisters, daughters, or mothers.” Less important, perhaps, than her attitude toward the strike is the fact that she was willing, as a woman, to express a political opinion on an issue regarded as the province of men.

A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen



Published in the Glasgow Weekly Mail, 15 October 1881, p. 3.
They meet, they love, they wed;
   And now life’s cares begin.
He toils for daily bread,
   But bread he scarce can win.
Soon comes a little child
   Their poverty to share;
Her eyes, so sweet and mild,
   See love, but see not care.
Yet care is in the home,
   The wolf is at the door;
Thence must the husband roam,
   Such sorrows have the poor!
They part with many fears,
   Though hope shines bright above
And smiling on their tears,
   The baby coos of love.
Across the stormy sea,
   Ten thousand miles away,
The lonely man must be
   Prepared for toil or fray;
Watchful both day and night,
   For many a savage foe
Is lurking out of sight,
   To aim a treach’rous blow.
At last in savage hands
   He finds himself a prey,
And through their pathless lands
   They lead him far away.
He sees no white man’s face
   While days and weeks roll on,
He hears no white man’s voice—
   One long, dull year is gone;
And still the months roll by,
   And no one comes to save;
Then must he live and die
   ’Mong savages a slave?
No! Who would prize mere breath
   If he may not be free?
Better the risk of death
   Than long captivity.
He takes the chance of flight—
   Escaping from his foes.
But where are those he loved,
   For whom he crossed the waves?
Have they forgetful proved,
   Or are they in their graves?
There’s One who knoweth all,
   And time the truth will tell;
Whatever may befall,
   God doeth all things well.
Commit to Him your care,
   And trust the mighty Mind
That ruleth everywhere
   The lives of all mankind.
In the 1870s and 1880s, in every issue of the weekly newspapers, readers were courted by advertisements for opportunities to emigrate, and during these years more than 75,000 people left Scotland for New Zealand, Australia, North America, South Africa, and other destinations (Richards Britannia’s Children 181.) Among those who emigrated, some were Highland crofters and cottars evicted or dispossessed by the clearances. But, as Harvie asserts, “the Scots who went abroad were mainly from the Lowlands, craftsmen with their certificates, clerks, weavers with their savings taken from the penny bank. They were concerned to get on, and they created an emigration ideology to justify their move” (921). The emigrant described in Bernstein’s poem is characterized chiefly by his poverty, so it is impossible to deduce whether she has in mind a man who flees a remote rural district experiencing economic decline or one who leaves an urban area with surplus labor. Notable here, too, are deeply ingrained views about the savagery that one might encounter in new and godless lands; such notions were just as much a part of the Scottish collective imagination as the overarching British imperialism. As in several poems, including “The East Coast Fishermen,” she prescribes faith as an antidote to loss of compass.

A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen



Published in the Glasgow Weekly Mail, 5 November 1881, p. 3.
Though there’s sorrow on the sea,
    Though there’s mourning on the shore,
There are some from care set free
    Who shall sorrow nevermore;
Now they slumber peacefully,
    All their toils and trials o’er.

You on whom affliction’s rod
    Falls so heavily to-day,
Question not the love of God
    Who has called your friends away;
’Neath the waves, as ’neath the sod,
    Just as calmly slumber they.

All must yield at last to death.
    Would you rather die alone
Or while death enfranchiseth
    Souls of friends to join your own?
Happy band that entereth
    Hand in hand the world unknown!

Mourners, weeping on the shore,
    You can soothe each other’s tears;
Grief so shared is soonest o’er—
    Sympathy sustains and cheers.
You will love each other more
    From this time through after years.

Though to you the ceaseless surge
    Of the waves along the shore
Only seems a dreary dirge
    For the friends you see no more,
Does it not your spirits urge
    To new hopes scarce felt before?

Does not Heaven seem more dear
    With so many loved ones there?
Surely its bright scenes appear
    Nearer now than once they were,
E’en while falls the mourner’s tear
    Does not hope rebuke despair!

Though bereavements rend the heart,
    Love is neither lost nor vain,
There is hope for those who part
    That they all shall meet again.
Faith gives peace ’mid sorrow’s smart—
    Peace divine that conquers pain.
Marion Bernstein was fascinated by accounts of storms and of perilous voyages. In an acrostic sonnet, she narrates the tale of Mary Mouat, who was rescued off the coast of Norway after drifting helplessly in a small fishing boat from the Shetland Islands for several days and nights; her male companions had been washed overboard in a storm, and she survived by lashing herself to the hatchway. “The East Coast Fishermen” was inspired by a report she read in the Glasgow Weekly Mail for 22 October 1881 of a “fearsome gale that swept over the entire kingdom.” More than 160 fishermen were drowned, and the few who were saved described the “awful suddenness,” the “howling north-east wind,” and the “terrible surf” as the worst they had ever encountered. Several boats capsized and disappeared; several were driven onto the rocks; one was toppled by an “immense wave” and “all its crew were lost.” Along the coast, in village after village, “wives and mothers and young girls were crying bitterly.” In her poem, Bernstein acknowledges the “sorrow on the sea” and the “mourning on the shore,” but she urges those who grieve to embrace the camaraderie in death of those who have drowned and in grief of those who survive them. Heaven, she concludes, seems nearer to the living for the presence there of the dead.

A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen



An Everyday Story

Published in the People’s Journal for Glasgow and Edinburgh, 6 January 1883, p. 3.
The pointsman stood at the crossing
   For eighteen hours in the day,
Watching the trains fly past him,
   And turning the points each way.

He was blithe, alert, and watchful
   The first twelve hours of the day,
The last six hours he grew drowsy,
   And so would you, I should say.

But the drowsiness creeping o’er him
   He strove with and kept at bay,
Yet shapes came flitting before him
   From Dreamland, not far away.

For eighteen hours, with precision,
   He was turning the points that day,
And then came a dread collision,
   For the pointsman mistook the way.

O what a scene of terror,
   What terrible forms of pain!
All through a moment’s error
   Of an overwearied brain.

Why was that brain o’er-wearied?
   Why? Let his masters say;
Why was the pointsman working
   For eighteen hours that day?

Most people are selfish and foolish,
   And so such a system thrives;
Too selfish to care for the pointsman,
   Too foolish to think of their lives.

And so we see death and disaster,
   With anguish, affliction, and tears,
And want is the poor man’s master,
   And oppression goes on for years.

They will keep to their heartless system,
   And many such scenes will cause,
As long as the law permits them;
   How long shall we bear such laws?
“The Pointsman” expresses Bernstein’s sympathy for the switch operator who labors “eighteen hours” a day and her contempt for the “heartless system” that cares little for the working person or for the public safety. As the subtitle suggests, the poem is based not on a specific incident but upon a “story” that might occur everyday. The poem was published in the People’s Journal for Glasgow and Edinburgh, a weekly newspaper with “thoughtful leaders on social topics.” Two weeks earlier, in the issue for 16 December 1882, the paper had reported on a meeting in Glasgow of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants for Scotland. Tensions had arisen between the men, who had “frequently to work 70 and 90 hours in the week” but had demanded “a day of ten hours,” and the directors of the several railway companies, who had declined to confer with them. A representative for the petitioners insisted that “the concessions asked are not only reasonable, but absolutely necessary to the interests and the safety of the traveling public.” Just one week later, in a grim coincidence, the same newspaper reported three serious railway collisions—near Glasgow, at Kilbirnie, and at Essendene—in which three miners were killed and scores of passengers were injured. All three accidents occurred at junctions. In nineteenth-century Scotland, one scholar observes, “women poets were often reluctant radicals, attempting to reconcile piety and a desire for respectability with an acute awareness of injustices” (Bold 257). But not Marion Bernstein. For poetical purposes, she conflates the incidents into one and imagines that an “overwearied” operator has failed at the switch.

A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen



Published in the Glasgow Weekly Herald, 20 January 1883, p. 2.
To do our duty is our right,
   A right we’ll never yield,
For duty done is virtue’s might
   And honour’s shining shield.
To vote for all that’s right and just,
   To vote down all that’s wrong;
These are our rights. For these we must
   Cry out in speech and song.

To be a safeguard to the weak,
   To curb the pride of power,
To give just honour to the meek,
   And poverty to dower;
These are the aims of righteous laws;
   But if the laws are wrong
Our votes must right them. That’s our cause,
   Our work, our prayer, our song.

Though oft oppressed, our steadfast hearts
   Will never be afraid,
The strength a righteous cause imparts
   Will keep us undismayed.
For O! the world is full of need,
   The world is full of wrong;
For freedom to do good we plead
   With pen, and speech, and song.
All her poetic life Marion Bernstein lobbied for women’s rights and for women’s suffrage. Gordon asserts that, although working-class women were not “politically dormant,” it was women from the middle and upper classes who spearheaded the quest for universal suffrage in Scotland (230-31). The ideology that informed this movement was thus influenced by class-based notions about the mission of women to influence political discourse and to redress grievances about access to public participation. In “Woman’s Rights and Wrongs”—written in response to a similarly titled poem by Jessie Russell—Bernstein asserts that winning suffrage for women would be the best means of rectifying the wrongs perpetrated by men. And in one of her best-known poems, “A Dream,” she imagines falling asleep in the present, awaking in the twentieth century, and discovering that “woman’s rights were established,” that “there were female chiefs in the Cabinet,” and that “the Commons were three-fourths feminine / While the Lords were seen no more.” Although much of her verse is consistent with this tone, there are also poems in which she assumes a more radical stance on women’s needs. In “Wanted A Husband” she seeks a man who will not expect his wife to perform her domestic tasks, be “a cheerful companion whenever desired,” and “contentedly toil day and night” without his support in return. In “A Woman’s Plea,” moreover, she affirms what would become an established feminist agenda: “To vote for all that’s right and just, / To vote down all that’s wrong; / These are our rights. For these we must / Cry out in speech and song.” In June 1906, in a deft challenge to gender as grounds for “legal incapacity,” the Committee of Women Graduates of Scottish Universities would ask the court of sessions, Scotland, to rule that, since they had been admitted to graduation on the same terms as men, “they were entitled to receive voting papers, to vote, and to have their votes counted” (Mayhall 66). Although the case was not successful, it did advance the suffragettes’ cause by introducing a new and significant strategy for seeking women’s constitutional rights. Had she not died four months earlier, Bernstein would have been cheered by this extraordinary critique of women’s unequal status under the law.

A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen



Published in the People’s Journal for Glasgow and Edinburgh, 3 February 1883, p. 3.
While others will tell of thy triumphs,
    Thy genius, and thy fame,
I can only think of thy sorrows
    Whene’er I hear thy name.

I think of the heart of a poet
    Always unfit to bear
Sad poverty’s heavy burden
    Of sordid, ceaseless care.

Poor Burns! how thy sensitive nature
    Fretted beneath the strain
Of want and debt and dependence,
    A threefold, galling chain.

It crushed the strength of thy spirit
    With more than Arctic cold,
It froze thy heart into stillness
    Ere forty winters old.

Ah! the price of thy meanest statue
    Might then have changed thy fate;
Dost thou see the wealth that is lavished
    Over thy grave, too late?

Dost thou witness how oft the poet
    Is deemed of little worth
Till the voice of the minstrel is silent,
    And the spirit passed from earth?

Nay, methinks thou hast brighter visions
    Than the passing shades of Time;
Thou seest the things eternal
    The realities sublime.

Where thou art they think not of sorrow,
    Such thoughts have passed away,
As the shadows of morning twilight
    Flee at the day of day!
In “Mirren’s Autobiography”—a poem in published in 1880 in the first volume of a celebrated series of Modern Scottish Poets—Marion Bernstein presents her personal history more evasively than effusively.@ The particulars that she reveals have to do with her childhood illness, with her consequent lameness and confinement, and with the Christian faith that sustained her as the years passed. But little emerges of her adult life. What is known is that a missionary who visited Glasgow in 1879 had found Bernstein and her mother “in circumstances of distress.”@ As her health deteriorated and she was no longer able to teach, she was reduced to subsisting on paltry pensions from Colquhoun’s Bequest for Incurables and the Indigent Gentlewoman’s Fund. It is not surprising, then, that she came to regard Robert Burns as a kindred spirit. Neither a peasant nor a rustic, Bernstein nevertheless shared Burns’s egalitarianism and his affection for the working classes. In “Robert Burns” she expresses both sympathy and empathy for his “threefold galling chain” of “want and dependence and care.” And, writing ostensibly about him, she strikes a distinctively self-reflexive chord: “I think of the heart of a poet / Always unfit to bear / Sad poverty’s heavy burden / Of sordid, ceaseless care.”

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.

A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen



Published in the Glasgow Weekly Herald, 20 September 1884, p. 2.
Women of Glasgow,
   What do you mean?
Why were you idle
   All through such a scene?

Where were your banners?
   Where were your trades?
Have women no need
   Of political aids?

Much work for small wages,
   Great wrongs, which few note,
Are yours, till you right things
   By getting the vote.

Now, when are you going
   To make such a show
For feminine franchise,
   I’m anxious to know?

Lay sewing and cooking
   Aside for one day;
Assemble by thousands
   In splendid array.

I don’t mean in dresses
   Of costly expense;
I mean in the splendour
   Of bright common-sense.

Prove your right to the vote
   By the thousands who crave it;
And with steady persistence—
   To ask is to have it.
Before 1832 only 5,000 Scottish men enjoyed voting privileges. After the passage of the First Reform Act, the number of voters jumped to 65,000 and included men in emerging middle-class professions. In 1868, the Second Reform Act extended voting rights to skilled workers, and the electorate swelled to 230,000 men. But in the late 1870s there was increasing agitation for universal male suffrage. On 6 September 1884 a great demonstration was organized in Glasgow, and 64,000 working-class men and rural householders marched through the streets to Glasgow Green, where another 200,000 citizens had gathered to cheer them. The tide of protest was strong, and a Third Reform Act doubled the number of voters to 560,000. By the end of 1884, forty percent of all men in Scotland were eligible to vote. But women were excluded from the rolls. In her poem “On the Franchise Demonstration of the 6th Inst,” Bernstein addresses her female readers and chastises them for their passivity: “Women of Glasgow, / What do you mean? / Why were you idle / All through such a scene?” A significant number of women had joined the workforce after 1870, and Bernstein urges them to follow the example of the men who had demonstrated. Gordon notes that working-class women had supported the Chartist Movement at the start of the nineteenth century, but had done so chiefly to win their suffrage. Now, with many adult women working at unorganized textile manufacture and domestic labor, it was more difficult for them to campaign on matters of concern to them, even on an issue like the franchise. Nevertheless, Bernstein trumpets: “Prove your right to the vote / By the thousands who crave it; / And with steady persistence— / To ask is to have it.” The appearance of this poem in the Glasgow Weekly Herald signals a shift also in the paper’s position on women’s suffrage and echoes the tenor of the daily Glasgow Herald, which had begun to quote opinions “to reassure those who imagined the movement to be out of harmony with the religious aspect of women’s work and duty” (Leneman 36).

A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen



Published in the Glasgow Weekly Mail, 5 September 1885, p. 7.
A worn and weary woman
    Lay on a poorhouse bed;
She knew that she was dying,
    She wished that she was dead.

For her years had all been dreary,
    And her cares a mighty throng,
And her heart had grown a-weary
    That she should have lived so long.

“Let me die,” she whispered softly,
    In a slow and silent prayer;
“Take me from earth’s gloomy shadows,
    ’Twill be brighter ‘over there.’”

But she knew not that the angels
    Watched and waited at her side,
Till she saw their glorious faces
    When they took her, as she died.

And as Lazarus was carried
    From a beggar’s grave away,
So the pauper woman’s spirit
    Rose with angel hosts that day.

Never more to see a shadow,
    Never more to know a care;
Far away from all earthly sorrows,
    She is happy “over there.”

As her wan and wasted body
    Lay unmourned upon its bier,
Careless strangers washed it roughly,
    Not a single friend came near.

For when care her strength had wasted,
    When in daily need of aid,
Every earthly friend had failed her—
    To their charge it will be laid.

As friends grudged what would have fed her,
    Grudging “Guardians” had to feed;
Even now, with sore begrudging,
    They supply her latest need.

See the scanty poorhouse coffin,
    For her wasted frame too small;
She is crushed and smashed to fit it!
    Soon the grave will cover all.

Yet the Lord looked down from Heaven,
    Though they thought He would not see;
And He said, “As thus they did to her,
    They did it unto Me!”

Not of kings, or queens, or princes,
    However great they be,
Hath Christ said, “Your deeds towards them
    I count as done to Me.”

But He said this of the stranger,
    Of the ragged, starving poor,
Of the sick and lonely pris’ner,
    Of the beggar at your door.

For Christ scorns the pride of riches,
    And the rank by worldlings prized;
And He holds the nearest to Him
    Those whom this world hath despised.

Tremble for your pride, ye scorners,
    Guilt lies darkly at your door;
And “Rejoice in tribulation”
    Ye who suffer with the poor.
In “Mirren’s Autobiography” Marion Bernstein insists that, despite growing up “feeble and lame,” she has diverted her attention from her own disability to “the sorrows of others.” Among these sorrows were the living conditions suffered by the urban poor. “Coffining the Pauper” was suggested by a brief report, tucked into the lower left corner of page 6 of the Glasgow Weekly Mail for 8 August 1885, of a complaint filed in Dublin against a supplier of coffins for “the poor of the union.” The grim story—only 160 words in length—relates some of the “shocking and inhuman scenes” that played out when corpses were “squeezed” into undersized coffins. Bernstein transforms the report into a parable, with Christian undertones suggested by Proverbs 19 and Matthew 25.

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).

A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen



Published in the Glasgow Weekly Herald, 19 September 1903, p. 5.
Calmest of lochs! no tempests rise
Where thy bright waves reflect the skies,
No wreck beneath thy surface lies.
No merchant ships sail over thee
With cargoes of anxiety.
No emigrants e’er leave thy strand
As exiles from their native land.
No ships of war go forth from thee
To work destruction. Thou art free
From all the “sorrow on the sea.”
Thy white-sailed yachts glide to and fro,
I love to see them as they go;
Because I know their human freight,
Not bowed by Care’s oppressing weight,
Travel in peace, for pure delight
In all things beautiful and bright.
On and around thee they can find
A beauty of serenest kind,
Smooth lawns, green trees, among whose boughs
Many a song bird builds its house.
I hear their voices all day long
Charming the hours with happy song,
I see the children, free and gay,
Upon the green grass at their play,
Beside the smooth and shining waves
That roll not over hidden graves,
Like greater lochs, whose dark depths hold
Many a tragedy untold.
How well I love this peaceful scene,
Where all is evermore serene,
As changing seasons come and go,
’Neath summer sun, or winter snow,
For ever sweet, for ever bright,
This tranquil pleasance charms my sight,
And wakens thoughts of calm delight.
“St Vincent Loch” is Marion Bernstein’s last published poem. The site she describes was originally platted in 1849 as “Stobcross Estate” and was developed by the architect Alexander Kirkland (1824-92) as a middle-class residential property. Fronting the buildings were gardens, a bowling green, and a large pond where children sailed toy boats in the summer and ice skated in the winter. Eventually, the neighborhood came to be called “St Vincent Crescent.” The poem recalls a number of the themes Bernstein explored in her later work: shipwreck, emigration, warfare, and other “sorrow on the sea.” In many poems, moreover, she dwells on the deaths of friends, on the acceleration of the passing years, and on human frailty and weariness. There are occasional light moments—celebrations of the earth and of heaven—but they are rare. Implicit here is the tension between the physical confinement imposed by age and the imaginative freedom inspired by an ordinary city park. In “Mirren’s Autobiography” she had compared herself to “withered flowers” that “crumble to dust” and had expected that her readers’ memories of her would “pass away.” It is pleasant, therefore, to think that a woman who had spent most of her years struggling against so many forms of oppression should close her poetic life by painting a “peaceful scene” and enjoying “thoughts of calm delight.”

In her early poems Marion Bernstein wrote critically, even scornfully, of her northern environs. But as the years passed, she took pains to represent her Scottish connections. In 1898, in her application for a pension from the Indigent Gentlewomen’s Fund, she acknowledged that she was not a “Scotchwoman” but asserted that she had “lived in Scotland for over twenty-four years.”@ And in her application for a grant from the Royal Literary Fund, submitted in 1904, she directed the committee’s attention to her having “had the honour of a biographical notice in Mr D. H. Edwards’ Modern Scottish Poets.”@ Although her name and her verse were excluded from other collections of Scottish poetry published during her lifetime, she addressed the issues that confronted Scots at the end of the nineteenth century, and she earned a place in the Scottish literary canon.

A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen

Works Cited

Bold, Valentina. “Beyond ‘The Empire of the Gentle Heart’: Scottish Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.” A History             of Scottish Women’s Writing. Ed. Douglas Gifford and Dorothy McMillan. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1997. 246-

Devine, T. M. Clanship to Crofters’ War: The Social Transformation of the Scottish Highlands. Manchester: Manchester
            UP, 1994.

Gordon, Eleanor. “Women’s Spheres.” People and Society in Scotland: 1830-1914. Ed. W. Hamish Fraser and R. J.
            Morris. Edinburgh: Donald, 1990. 206-35.

Harvie, Christopher. Scotland and Nationalism: Scottish Society and Politics, 1707- 1977. London: Allen & Unwin, 1977.

Houston, Natalie M. “Newspaper Poems: Material Texts in the Public Sphere.” Victorian Studies 50.2 (2008): 233-42.

Leneman, Leah. A Guid Cause: The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Scotland. Aberdeen: Aberdeen UP, 1991.

Leonard, Tom. “The Buried Voices: Forgotten Scottish Poets on Class and Gender.” Hidden Voices. Ed. Frances
            Campbell. Glasgow: Lapidus, 2007. 15-17.

Mayhall, Laura E. Nym. The Militant Suffrage Movement: Citizenship and Resistance in Britain, 1860-1930. Oxford:
            Oxford UP, 2003.

Richards, Eric. Britannia’s Children: Emigration from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland since 1600. London:
            Hambledon, 2004.

Richards, Eric. The Highland Clearances: People, Landlords and Rural Turmoil. Edinburgh: Berlinn, 2008.

A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen


1 See Tom Leonard, ed., Radical Renfrew: Poetry from the French Revolution to the First World War by Poets Born, or Sometime Resident in, the County of Renfrewshire (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1990); Hamish Whyte, ed., Mungo’s Tongues: Glasgow Poems 1630-1990 (Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1993); Edwin Morgan, Glasgow Poets Past and Present: The Story of a City (Hamilton, NZ: U of Waikato, 1993); Valentina Bold, “Beyond ‘The Empire of the Gentle Heart’: Scottish Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century,” A History of Scottish Women’s Writing, ed. Douglas Gifford and Dorothy McMillan (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1997) 246-61; Robert Crawford and Mick Imlah, eds., The New Penguin Book of Scottish Verse (London: Penguin, 2000); Alan Riach, “The Literature of Industrialisation,” The Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature, 2: Enlightenment, Britain, and Empire (1707-1918), ed. Susan Manning (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2007) 236-43; and Florence Boos, ed., Working-Class Women Poets in Victorian Britain (Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2008).

2 In 1880-82 the Glasgow Weekly Mail published a series of forty-five sketches of “Minor Scottish Poets” selected by Alexander G. Murdoch (1843-91). Jessie Russell was No. 33 and Mary Cross was No. 42. The remaining subjects of these “biographical notes” were men.

3 William Canton (1845-1926) assumed the position of editor of the Glasgow Weekly Herald in 1876. A prolific writer of fiction and poetry, he remained in Glasgow for fifteen years and then went on to London as editor of the Contemporary Review and the Sunday Magazine. We are grateful to David Finkelstein for assistance in identifying Canton as the person responsible for changing the socio-intellectual climate at the Herald.

4 Modern Scottish Poets, ed. D. H. Edwards, 16 vols. (Brechin: Edwards, 1880-97. In addition to the verses of hundreds of minor Scottish figures, Edwards printed selections from Thomas Carlyle, Arthur Conan Doyle, William Sharp, Robert Louis Stevenson, and James Thomson.

5 John Nevins Andrews, 1829-1883, was one of the leading figures in the establishment of the Seventh-Day Adventist church and its first official missionary to Europe. His account of his visit to Glasgow and his meeting with Bernstein and her mother appeared in the Review and Herald, 17 July 1879, p. 28.

6 See J. M. Bumstead, The People’s Clearance: Highland Emigration to North America 1770-1815 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1982); Willie Orr, Deer Forests, Landlords and Crofters: The Western Highlands in Victorian and Edwardian Times (Edinburgh: Donald, 1982); Peter Womack, Improvement and Romance: Constructing the Myth of the Highlands (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989); Murray Pittock, The Invention of Scotland: The Stuart Myth and the Scottish Identity, 1638 to the Present (London: Routledge, 1991); T. M. Devine, Clanship to Crofters’ War: The Social Transformation of the Scottish Highlands (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994; Ewen A. Cameron, Land for the People?: The British Government and the Scottish Highlands, c. 1880-1925 (East Linton: Tuckwell, 1996); Eric Richards, The Highland Clearances: People, Landlords and Rural Turmoil (Edinburgh: Berlinn, 2008).

7 Bernstein’s assault on the laird is surprising because, as Devine observes, “poetry of the nineteenth century demonstrates a tendency to blame factors, tenants, tacksmen, sheep-farmers and even sheep [for the crofters’ cultural dislocations] but rarely individual landowners” (215).

8 Records of the Royal Society for the Relief of Indigent Gentlewomen of Scotland, Summary Sheets of Applications to the Trustees of the Fund for the Year 1898, Application No. 51. We are grateful to the Society for permission to cite this record.

9 Royal Literary Fund, Form of Application for an Author, File No. 2686, 4 October 1904.


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