Make mine Glasgow
ONE is not, of course, against a little partiality per se. As a Spanish proverb says, ``A friend to everybody and to nobody is the same thing.'' But I have to admit I'm a trifle disappointed, in this respect, with Mr. Perry.
This unquestionably jovial gentleman is author of an article in the Wall Street Journal which two American friends independently felt might be of interest to me. It was. His theme was one of which it is impossible I should have been unaware: viz. the rivalry -- by no means new and about as serious as a pillow-fight -- between the two biggish cities of Scotland, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Since I live in Glasgow and, more to the point, am married to a Glaswegian, my partiality can hardly be in question. I know (though merely an Englishman) on which side my oatcake is buttered.
But James M. Perry (admittedly relaxing at the time from his normal occupation as a writer on politics and things of that nature), being a visiting American with no particular ax to grind, displayed every sign of munificent impartiality as he nimble-footed it between the two cities like a Big Fight referee. Merry brickbats were slung to and fro by interviewed council officials and PR men in the two cities, and Mr P. recorded it all with a gleeful wit.
Until, that is, he faced what all writers sooner or later face: the question of how best to end his article. Then he walked smartly into the hole he had been skirting with such deft scrupulosity.
``Which city,'' he asks penultimately, ``will emerge on top?'' And, no longer raining equally on the just and the unjust, he comes down squarely on the side of -- well -- Edinburgh.
Here's how he answers his own question:
``Edinburgh hails its native sons, including Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Glasgow points with pride to Charles MacIntosh. He gave the world the waterproof raincoat.''
Now quite clearly, being a writer, Mr. Perry's sympathies bend toward Sir Walter and Robert Louis, rather than in the direction of cloaks lined with impermeable caoutchouc. The mere fact that he misspells Charles Macintosh's name, capitalizing where no capitalizing is called for, instantly suggests his bias.
His interest, obviously, lies in culture rather than couture, in The Arts instead of Trade, in the aesthetic as opposed to the utilitarian.
Far be it from me to argue that when Charles Macintosh obtained a patent in 1823 for rendering two fabrics proof against wetness by uniting them with a solution of India rubber previously subjected to the solvent of coal naptha, he had invented something of more lasting significance to the globe than the author who brought out the same year, under a not-altogether-effective cloak of anonymity, ``Peveril of the Peak,'' ``Quentin Durward,'' and ``St. Ronan's Well.''
But there must be something in this anonymity business. Why was Scott so keen to hide his authorship of the novels while Macintosh was only too proud to lend his name instantly and forever to water-repellent clothing of all shapes and materials?
Nor would I for a moment labor the fact that Mr. Macintosh did a great deal more than manufacture raincoats; that, as his biography states, ``his connection with the manufacture of India rubber was almost accidental, and has some-what obscured his fame as a chemist.''
Nor would I spend time pointing out to Mr. Perry, who probably has little use for the elasticity of caoutchouc anyway, that the company to which Macintosh gave his name was not in Glasgow at all, but in Manchester, England; or that this firm went on to introduce such things made of India rubber as portable baths, cushions for billiard tables, suspenders, chest-expanders, fishing trousers, and door springs -- not to mention footballs, slurry pipes, and elastic bands.
Nor would I trouble him (since his fascination in the subject is in some doubt) with suggestions that even great writers at times go out in the rain without their umbrellas; nor that ``Murray's Handbook for Travellers in Southern Germany'' of 1837 observed that ``A Mackintosh is almost indispensable'' (one wonders if Murray was responsible for introducing a ``k'' into the name). I am not likely, either, to point out that William Powell Frith, whose painting ``The Railway Station'' of 1862 is thought by some to be the greatest of Victorian pictures, when writing his autobiography as late in that century as 1888, and in spite of his certain knowledge that the sale of rubberized raincoats had received quite a setback on the introduction of rail travel and the consequent, increasing unpopularity of travel in horse-drawn carriages, open to storm and tempest, had said: ``I like the Mackintosh very much.''
It seems, in all, useless to indicate the inestimable value to the arty and the literati, and therefore by extension to art and literature, of dryness in the face of contrary weather conditions. So I won't.
But I will, nevertheless, issue (as an honorary Glaswegian, you understand) a plucky challenge to Mr. Perry: I hereby ask him to admit, if he can, in good print, that before writing his article he had heard of at least one Glaswegian who contributed as much to the arts as either Scott or Stevenson, and that, so as not to spoil his undoubtedly funny punchline, he had deliberately, with mischief afore-thought, quashed any mention of such a person. . . . Well, Sir?
Or to state that he had never, in all his investigation of the two cities, encountered either the name or the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh of Glasgow, considered by many to be one of the most inspired and inventive architects ever produced by the Western world -- and that, so as not to spoil his inestimable punchline etc., etc., . . . as before. . . . M-m-m? Mr. Perry?
And if these challenges don't move him, then can he aver that he has read, without a yawn, every word of one single unabridged novel by Walter Scott?
If so, he has done more in the line of duty than any Scotsman I have met in five years here, and I will accordingly take my hat off to him -- but not my raincoat. Glasgow rain is second to none.