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22 January 1981
Presbyteries and Profits: Calvinism and the Development of Capitalism in Scotland 1506-1707 
by Gordon Marshall.
Oxford, 406 pp., £18, September 1980, 0 19 827246 4
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The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746 
by Bruce Lenman.
Eyre Methuen, 300 pp., £9.95, May 1980, 0 413 39650 9
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... It is over seventy years since Max Weber put forward the thesis that the Protestant ethic was closely linked to the ethos of capitalism, a thesis which has inspired a long-standing debate among historians. In the cases held to support the theory, Weber included Scotland. Economic historians have at various times commented on the paradox of the Scottish case, contrasting the backward economy of the ...

Gellner’s Grenade

Rosalind Mitchison

21 June 1984
Nations and Nationalism 
by Ernest Gellner.
Blackwell, 150 pp., £12.50, July 1983, 0 631 12992 8
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... This is a small book, but one of high density, both in ideas and, at times, in expression. Gellner’s field of concern is the modern world, and though occasionally he casts a look at Mediaeval Europe and Islam, it is in the 20th century that his interest lies, as does what evidence he can muster to support his themes. His view is simple and stark. Nationalism is not the product of history, in the ...

Simplicity Smith

Rosalind Mitchison

6 March 1980
A System of Social Science: Papers relating to Adam Smith 
by Andrew Skinner.
Oxford, 278 pp., £9.75, November 1979, 0 19 828422 5
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... Here are nine separate essays on different aspects of the whole construction of Adam Smith’s thought, written originally for separate publication during the past eight or nine years, but now reworked to link and hold together. Because of the reworking, the book shows Adam Smith as the creator of a whole system of knowledge including science, anthropology, moral philosophy, psychology and history ...

Foremost Economist

Rosalind Mitchison

25 October 1979
Population Malthus 
by Patricia James.
Routledge, 524 pp., £17.50
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... Three names​ dominate the debates on the social policy of 19th-century Britain: Bentham, Malthus and Chalmers. The first two were original thinkers whose ideas often contradict the system popularly ascribed to them. We have been forced over the last few years to recognise that Bentham’s idea of government was far more sophisticated than the particular pieces of legislation usually labelled Benthamite ...

Happier Days

Rosalind Mitchison

4 April 1991
Scottish Voices 1745-1960 
by T.C. Smout and Sydney Wood.
Collins, 334 pp., £16.95, August 1990, 0 00 215190 1
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... Here is an anthology of pieces drawn from published hooks on life in Scotland, mostly memoirs and mostly familiar to historians. Old friends include George Robertson, Joseph Mitchell, Thomas Somerville and Ramsay of Ochtertyre. The accounts are separated into themes, such as school, factory and mine, leisure, crime (though none of the memorialists claim active participation in this). The excerpts are ...

Mending the curtains

Rosalind Mitchison

24 January 1991
Naomi MitchisonA Biography 
by Jill Benton.
Pandora, 192 pp., £15.95, September 1990, 0 04 440460 3
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... their bedroom. Dinner is a disaster area. Afterwards, as the dusk comes, I see a great new rent in the big drawing-room curtains which I thought I had mended once and for all. Jill Benton’s Naomi Mitchison lies on the sofa ignored by its subject, who is correcting proofs of a book of short stories. Is a biography of someone living acceptable? Is it likely to be true, or fair? Biography isn’t just the ...

Cookson County

Rosalind Mitchison

27 June 1991
The Hanging Tree 
by Allan Massie.
Heinemann, 346 pp., £13.99, November 1990, 0 434 45301 3
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Tiberius: The Memoirs of the Emperor 
by Allan Massie.
Hodder, 256 pp., £13.95, January 1991, 0 340 48788 7
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The Gillyflors 
by Catherine Cookson.
Bantam, 366 pp., £13.99, October 1990, 0 593 01726 9
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... A lot of novelists write historical novels. A lot of people read them. Notably, more Scots read historical novels set in Scotland than read the history of Scotland. The question for the historian is why. Part of the answer, of course, lies in the market facts in the question. If there is a readership, books will be produced. It might be argued that readers want their history mediated by a skilled writer ...

Up to Islip

Rosalind Mitchison

2 August 1984
An Old Man’s Diary 
by A.J.P. Taylor.
Hamish Hamilton, 155 pp., £8.95, April 1984, 0 241 11247 8
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... The examining in my university is over for the year. After the usual haggling – ‘is this worth 69 or 70?’ – with nasty points of principle raised and evaded, the lists have been signed, and that is the end of what a colleague once described as ‘the annual session of egg grading’. We are free to go to the hills, equipped with walking boots, a hotel booking, a Highland bus time-table and ...

Washday

Rosalind Mitchison

10 January 1983
A woman’s work is never done: A History of Housework in the British Isles 1650-1950 
by Caroline Davidson.
Chatto, 250 pp., £15, October 1982, 0 7011 3901 3
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... This book is not founded on doctrinaire feminism but on very wide reading. It uses memoirs and letters, local history publications, ballads and chapbooks, social surveys, inventories and advertisements, and the richness of its sources gives it a fine flavour. There are also some historical oddities to be noticed. One eccentricity is the confusion between Charles I and Charles II. Another is the back-to-front ...

Highland Fling

Rosalind Mitchison

18 June 1981
Clans and Chiefs 
by Ian Grimble.
Blond and Briggs, 267 pp., £10.95, December 1980, 0 85634 111 8
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... A book containing no reference apparatus and no bibliography is not claiming to be a work of scholarship in any of the usual senses. Carefully and spiritedly done, the interpretation and presentation of history for the general public is entirely respectable. But what we have here is neither careful nor spirited. That Dr Grimble has read, unevenly, but in places deeply, if without system or critical ...

Modern Wales

Rosalind Mitchison

19 November 1981
Rebirth of a Nation: Wales 1880-1980 
by Kenneth O. Morgan.
Oxford, 463 pp., £15, March 1981, 0 19 821736 6
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... This is Volume VI of the new history of Wales, under the general editorship of Professor Glanmor Williams. It presents general history as general history ought to be – which means that though the main emphasis lies on the changing world of politics, this is related closely to the basic economy and to alterations in the values of the society, particularly in religion, literature and national sentiment ...
24 January 1980
Lord Cockburn: A Bicentenary Commemoration 
edited by Alan Bell.
Scottish Academic Press, 204 pp., £6, December 1980, 0 7073 0245 5
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... Henry Cockburn’s writings make him a vital historical source for the study of Scotland in what he called ‘the last purely Scotch age’. They cover the spread of the new industrial world and Georgian architecture, assaults on woodland and ancient monuments, the adaptation of refined society in Edinburgh to Evangelicalism, the threat of radical revolt, closer connections with England. It was a world ...

Knowing more

Rosalind Mitchison

14 September 1989
Poets, Polities and the People 
by V.G. Kiernan, edited by Harvey Kaye.
Verso, 239 pp., £29.95, June 1989, 0 86091 245 0
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For King and Conscience: John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee 
by Magnus Linklater and Christian Hesketh.
Weidenfeld, 244 pp., £16.95, June 1989, 0 297 79540 6
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... Victor Kiernan is here presenting essays produced over the last 45 years: the texts are only occasionally given recent additions. The topics include three essays on literature but are otherwise historical: on English patterns of protest, the expansion of literacy among working men, political aspects of religion, and Communist activity in the Thirties and after. The writing is elegant and, mostly, cool ...

Out of it

Rosalind Mitchison

5 April 1990
History of Old Age 
by Georges Minois, translated by Sarah Hanbury Tenison.
Polity, 343 pp., £29.50, September 1989, 0 7456 0549 4
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A Fresh Map of Life: The Emergence of the Third Age 
by Peter Laslett.
Weidenfeld, 213 pp., £16.95, September 1989, 0 297 79451 5
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... These two writers are both concerned with the old and the elderly, but to very different effect. Minois presents a repertoire of comments on the old, from the ancient world to the 16th century: most comments are hostile. Girning about the disagreeable features of the old seems to have been a recognised literary form. Writers experimented with new nasty similes or enlarged upon a repertoire of unpleasant ...
18 June 1981
... its Home Rule banner, but striking a strong chord, too, in Labour, Conservative and Liberal support for political devolution – seemed to exhibit all the ‘protean strength’ which has fascinated RosalindMitchison in the collection she has edited of essays on Northern European nationalism.* Here was a community, as she points out, confirmed in its feeling of separateness and cultural integrity by ...

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