Published in 1895 by Bliss, Sands and Foster, it is a collection of work that the author states are ‘tales chiefly of Galloway gathered from the years 1889 to 1895’ – that is, it is primarily a compilation of serialised work from before he was famous.The book is dedicated to George Milner of Manchester (Crockett’s father in law) with the words ‘a man most Generous, Brave, True, to whom, because he freely gave me that of his which I most desired – I having Nothing worthier to give, Give This.’ Crockett had early harboured the desire to be a poet (something R.L.Stevenson finally convinced him to abandon) but he manages to include poems, both his own and others (notably Andrew Lang and Milner himself) woven into ‘Bog Myrtle’ which is laid out as five ‘Books’ (a Romantic poetic form!) being ‘Adventures,’ Intimacies,’ ‘Histories,’ ‘Idylls’ and ‘Tales of the Kirk.’ A reader taking these headings too literally would be confused however, since they really serve as an ironic ‘take’ on the headings as often as not. Any writer will know how difficult it is to ‘construct’ a collection out of a body of work and it can be hard for the reader to work out why it has been done this, that or a certain way. That can be the case with ‘Bog Myrtle.’ However, I suggest that to enjoy the collection in the way it is intended, one has to set aside the modern critical penchant for ‘understanding’ why it has been presented in the way it is, and simply dip in and out of it enjoying each story or part as one goes. It works best, perhaps, viewed as something of a collage of twenty nine stories plus an excellent epilogue which shows Crockett’s natural descriptive powers at their finest as he takes us through ‘A Galloway Night’ in the company of the flora and fauna. It’s worth reading for the Preface alone, where Crockett seeks to explain what he is doing - offering a poignant and moving exposition of the writing process. ‘Bog Myrtle and Peat’ offers an introduction to the ‘types’ of Crockett’s longer fiction. Prepare for the unexpected and lose yourself in it. I believe that’s the way to approach and to enjoy this book.
VOLUME 15 OF THE GALLOWAY COLLECTION. BUY THE BOOK ONLINE HERE
‘The Stickit Minister’ was first published in 1893. ‘The Stickit Minister and some Common men’ to give it its full title, was compiled out of the many stories Crockett wrote during the 1880s for the Glasgow Penny Weekly and The Christian Leader.
Crockett himself explained how it came about: I was writing editorials on theological subjects for religious periodicals, and one day the editor of The Christian Leader wrote to me and asked me to send him an editorial which was wanted at once. I had no time to write one, and I told him so, but at the same time I sent him one of the sketches which I had in my drawer, and asked him if he could use that instead. It was the story called A Day in the Life of the Reverend James Pitbye, which is in ‘The Stickit Minister.’ I didn't think that the editor would use it. However, he wrote me: 'Never send me anything else.' So I continued sending him these sketches, and they met with a great deal of appreciation, and were widely copied into the papers, especially in Canada and Australia. Almost all the tales in ‘The Stickit Minister,’ appeared in this way in The Christian Leader. I used to get as much as a guinea apiece for them. I did not think of republishing them in a collected form till I was strongly urged to do so by Doctor Nichol. So I submitted them to Unwin, and that is how ‘The Stickit Minister’ came to be. It was successful almost from the very first.'
Of the twenty four stories in ‘The Stickit Minister,’ ministers feature as central characters in the majority. The collection also introduces us to Saunders McQuhirr, a redoubtable character. He is a down to earth Cameronian elder, who is clearly drawn from Crockett’s own grandfather. The title story is told by Saunders McQuhirr and is the story of Robert Fraser who sacrifices his career for his brother. He remains ‘Stickit’ (which means that he was without a parish of his own) in order that his brother may forge a career in medicine. Saunders son Alec tells the same story from a different perspective in the 1900 collection ‘The Stickit Minister’s Wooing.’ We are also taken out of Galloway and get our first introduction to Edinburgh urchin Cleg Kelly, who got a novel of his own in 1896.
The collection offers a good introduction to Crockett’s narrative style, his ironic couthy humour (without which one can fail to understand stories such as ‘The Heather Lintie’) and his uncompromising stance on poverty as well as his use of ‘Scotch’ dialect in his work. It is a good book to dip in and out of and a great introduction to Crockett’s early writing.
Crockett dedicated ‘The Stickit Minister’ to R.L.Stevenson thus: Dedication to Robert Louis Stevenson of Scotland and Samoa I dedicate these stories of that Grey Galloway land where about the graves of the martyrs the waups are crying – his heart remembers how. And in response Stevenson wrote Crockett a poem.
The publisher, T.Fisher Unwin specialised in discovering new writing talent and published some of the most experimental writers of the period, H. G. Wells, John Galsworthy, Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, George Moore, and Ford Madox Ford. Like Crockett, they moved on to other publishers when they became famous. Unwin published six of Crockett’s early works, which are among his best known, perhaps because Unwin invested so much time, energy and marketing skill in promoting him as a new writer.
VOLUME 13 OF ‘THE GALLOWAY COLLECTION’ BUY THE BOOK AT UNCO
Stories in the collection:
1. The Stickit Minister
2. Accepted of the Beasts
3. Trials for License by the Presbytery of Pitscottie
4. The Heather Lintie
5. The Split in the Marrow Kirk
6. The Probationer
7. The Lammas Preaching
8. The Tragedy of Duncan Ducanson, Schoolmaster
9. Why David Oliphant remained a Presbyterian
10. The Three Maister Peter Slees, Ministers in the Parish of Couthy
11. The Courtship of Allan Fairely, or Earlswood
12. John Smith of Arkland prepares his sermon
13. A day in the life of Rev. James Pitbye,
14. The Glenkells Short leet
15. Boanerges Simpson's Encumbrance
16. A Knight-Errant of the Streets
17. The Progress of Cleg Kelly, Mission Worker
18. Ensamples to the Flock
19. The Siege of M'Lurg's Mill
20. The Minister of Scaur casts out with his Maker
21. John Black, Critic in Ordinary
22. The Candid Friend
23. A Midsummer Idyll
24. The Tutor of Curlywee