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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Samuel Rutherford Crockett (1860–1914)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THAT Samuel Rutherford Crockett was born in Little Duchrae, Galloway, Scotland, of a long line of tenant farmers; that, a small white-haired boy, beginning at three and a half years of age, he did his daily work on the farm and walked three miles to the parish school, where, under a master who was “a dungeon of learning,” he wrestled with Latin as far as “Omnis Gallia” and through the Greek alphabet till he was fifteen; that he then entered Edinburgh University, where he added to his sparse resources by tutoring and journalistic work; and that after severe theological training he was in 1884 ordained to the ministry of the Free Church of Scotland,—reads like a familiar story which with a few changes, such as dates and identities, might have been told of a host of his distinguished countrymen.  1
  Between the covers of his books one may learn all that is essential and characteristic of Mr. Crockett, the most important fact in his literary life being an honorable loyalty to his own home and people and faith. It is his good fortune that that home is in a region of romance and legend and daring adventure; that his people are of an austere race, whose shrewd humor underlies a solemn gravity, whose keenest joy is intellectual controversy, and whose highest ambition is that at least one representative of the whitewashed farm-house shall “wag his head in a pulpit.” And fundamentally, for his art’s sake, it is his good fortune that his faith is their faith, a stern conviction of a stern creed whose tenderest traditions are fostered by the sight of the Martyrs’ Monument on Auchenreoch Muir, and the kirk-yards of Balweary and Nether Dullarg, where under the trees the heroes of Scotland lie as thick as gowans on the lea.  2
  Nor should the influence of the scenery of Galloway be ignored on Mr. Crockett’s work. Its trackless moors and lairy coverts, the green woodlands of Earlston and the gray Duchrae craigs, the sleeping pools guarded by dark firs standing bravely like men-at-arms on every rocky knoll, the river Ken flowing silver clear, and the great Kells range, ridge behind ridge of hills “whose very names make a storm of music,”—this is the background of wild deeds and wilder passions, in whose recounting in ‘The Raiders’ and ‘The Men of the Moss-Hags’ we have as yet the highest exhibition of his genius.  3
  Construction is not perhaps his strong point, but in these stirring scenes and dramatic situations, chronicled by the hero who creates an atmosphere of fond credulity in his adventures and personality, the author is kept to his work by the stress of hard times. The action is swift, for in ‘The Raiders’ the hill outlaws come down like the blast of a terrible trumpet; and in ‘The Men of the Moss-Hags’ Lauderdale and Claverhouse are hunting the Covenanters into the caves of the earth, so that in the rush of events both he who tells the tale and he who listens are hurried along. The feature of these fine romances, especially ‘The Raiders,’ is their Homeric spirit of generous simplicity and bellicose cheerfulness. Mr. Crockett is a fighter for his loves, his fireside, and his Shorter Catechism. And though there are pathetic passages, the robustness of the men and the heroism of the women remove them from our pity to our proud enthusiasm. Were one to seek the source of Mr. Crockett’s inspiration, he would probably find it in the Old Testament.  4
  In this class of novels are included the short, somber story ‘Mad Sir Uchtred’ and ‘The Gray Man.’ Nor are these works lacking in the characteristics of his other manner yet to be spoken of. The long hours in which we ride with John Faa, Lord of Little Egypt, and with Willie Gordon of Earlston, are enlivened with shrewd comment and brilliant narration. Humanity in its least complex aspect, and robust faith in God, transport us to the other and sturdier age in which they dwelt.  5
  The other field in which Mr. Crockett has made a reputation, his earlier field, is his presentment of contemporary Scotch peasant life. Robert Fraser and Janet Balchrystie, in ‘The Stickit Minister,’ are the descendants of John Faa and May Mischief and of Willie Gordon and Maisie Lenox. They dwell in the same sweet holms and by the levels of the same lochs, bonny and broad, and their faith is nurtured on the rugged Caledonian doctrine for which these, their literary forbears, fought and died. As the shepherd knows his sheep that to us who are not shepherds show so little unlikeness, so Mr. Crockett knows the lines and lineaments of his characters. The pathos of their brave lives is kept in shadow with the fine reserve of one who will not suffer a stranger to intermeddle, but it is felt as we feel that there are dark depths to the sea whose surface waves sparkle in the sun.  6
  In this earlier manner ‘A Galloway Herd,’ ‘The Play-Actress,’ and the delicate fantasy ‘The Lilac Sunbonnet,’ are written. If in ‘Cleg Kelly,’ the story of an Edinburgh waif, there is a touch of the melodramatic, much may be forgiven an author who with the mastery of subtle peculiarities of individual types combines the power to make a novel vibrate with dramatic action.  7
 
 
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