Dr Alexander Dick, UBC
This paper is a chapter of my current research project, Scottish Agriculture and the Literature of Improvement 1750-1850 which studies the impact of the Scottish agricultural revolution on the ecology, culture, and literature of Scotland during the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The first half of that project considers how Scottish landowners and the philosophers and scientists they patronized refashioned the rural landscape of post-union Scotland in the image of enlightenment reason. It also considers how these same improvers confronted and described the already existing practices and cultures of Scottish agriculture and how this confrontation compelled them to change the strategies by which their mandate would appear and circulating, changes that led to the development of many of the institutions and genres of the Scottish Romanticism, including the intellectual journal, the statistical survey, and the historical novel. The second half of the project looks at this process from the receiving end, focusing on the reading strategies--some complicit, some resistant, often both--of rural labouring-class Scots during the improvement period and traces their engagement with the questions of religion, education, and ecology with which the improvers were also contending. The concluding chapter, from which the present paper comes, examines labouring-class memoirs from the late eighteenth and through first half of the nineteenth centuries. The memoirs are interesting, I suggest, primarily for the way they foreground the mixed character of labouring-class reading, its combination of Calvinist and improvement principles. Many of the memoirists were particularly inspired by the example of Robert Burns and use his story as a model not only for their hopes of personal betterment but also as a conduit for the senses of failure and alienation.