The International Brigade: Modernism and the Scottish Renaissance

  • Alan Riach


In 1943, in Lucky Poet, Hugh MacDiarmid wrote of ‘the young scientist and artist, Mr Ivan T. Sanderson, author of those fine books, Animal Treasure and Caribbean Treasure’, who ranked, according to MacDiarmid, ‘as one of the greatest Scottish writers, and personalities, to-day’. With reference to Caribbean Treasure, MacDiarmid continued, although it

deals with a scientific expedition to Trinidad, Haiti, Surinam, and Curacoa, I feel that he is really writing all the time about his native Edinburgh, and that when he describes a grison (a kind of weasel) as ‘circumambulating an obstacle by pouring round it, like a train’, whence he mistook it at first for a snake, or writes of a cave in which he flashed his torch on a circle of land-crabs who ‘dropped their tall periscopic eyes, and waved their huge pincers in front of them — a few blew bubbles that hissed and squeaked in the silence’, or tells us of the three-fingered sloth, the absurdity of its subhuman face only less absurd than its three blunt, stumpy, insensitive paws, or of the pigmy ant-eater whose eyes on capture filled with tears, though if you were sentimental enough to be taken in by that, it produced its highly effective armament, ‘claws as dense, tough, and sharp as a gaff’, he is not describing the strange fauna he found round the Saramanca, Coppename, Surinam, and Parva rivers, but giving masterly word-pictures of many of the types of citizens of his native Edinburgh to-day, and wish that he would come back to Scotland here and continue his work, along lines not unlike the ‘Mass Observation’ activities of Tom Harris[s]on and Charles Madge and their colleagues.1


National Identity Late Nineteenth Century International Context Modern Movement String Quartet 
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© Alan Riach 2005

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  • Alan Riach

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