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Hugh MacDiarmid, Harry Lauder, and Scottish popular culture

Goldie, D.W.S. (2006) Hugh MacDiarmid, Harry Lauder, and Scottish popular culture. International Journal of Scottish Literature (1). ISSN 1751-2808

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Abstract

Hugh MacDiarmid was, to put it mildly, no great fan of twentieth-century Scottish popular culture. His work is peppered with slighting and outright derogatory references to popular writers and entertainers and to the recreational tastes of his compatriots: from the 'puerile and platitudinous doggerel' promoted by the degraded Burns cult; through the popular writing of those like Annie S. Swan and 'most other accepted Scottish litterateurs' who 'know nothing of literature and life' and 'have no ideas or ideals'; to the works of the popular Scottish Players movement, George Blake, John Brandane, Neil Grant, J. J. Bell, and Hugh Roberton, which are 'entirely destitute of literary distinction or significance'. [1] Among all this spleen sits one pre-eminent target for MacDiarmid's ire: an entertainer who was probably, at the time, the world's most famous living Scotsman, and who in MacDiarmid's resentful description 'rules the roost' — Sir Harry Lauder. [2] MacDiarmid's criticisms of Lauder take the form both of generalised attacks on the malign influences of popular culture in Scotland and more direct ad hominem assaults on Lauder's character. The gist of this commentary, as instanced in To Circumjack Cencrastus, is that Lauder is prime among a number of peddlers of 'hokum, hokum, hokum' — a part of a cultural racket that panders unashamedly to a debased popular taste and thus makes the work of serious art impossible.