The internet has many rules. Every day cyberspace glows a little bit brighter when a few people brush up their Netiquette and remember the age-old maxims of ‘Godwin’s law of Nazi analogies’, ‘PODH’, and ‘one cat leads to another’. Perhaps the best rule for ensuring a pleasant internet experience is extremely simple: Don’t Read the Comments. Unfortunately, it also seems to be the hardest to follow. If you, like I, struggle with this rule, do not fear: help is available in the form of regularly-tweeted reminders.
Yet for historians, these forums of opinion would offer a level of insight second only to a mass seance, which a humanities research budget just doesn’t cover these days (thanks a lot, sciences). Anyone who has grappled with the leviathan of researching public opinion and the press would agree that comments from ordinary folk would really clear things up. Well, hopefully.
My own research mostly involves reading nasty things people in the eighteenth century wrote about Scotland in newspapers. Believe me, they can write some pretty terrible stuff. Now that we’re in the 21st century, however, everyone is tolerant, accepting, enlightened and don’t be silly, of course they’re not. Unfortunately Scottophobia is a lot like that strange fungus under my bed; I keep thinking that it must have disappeared after all this time, but then it rears up right in my nostrils.
A hostile, unreasonable beast, Scottophobia can usually be found stalking the comments section of any articles vaguely related to Scotland in the Huffington Post or the Daily Mail. Let’s look at the response to Daniel Wallace’s ‘FREEDOM!’ cry after winning a gold medal at the commonwealth games. First of all we have people like ‘Georegy’:
Because no outraged HuffPost comment would be complete without broken grammar and a tenuous reference to benefit fraud. Barbara may not realise it, but her arguments have been made before. Long before. Eighteenth-century satirical prints such as The Caledonians Arrival in Moneyland (1762) showed Scots creeping into England and draining the country of its wealth.
Writing to the Gazetteer on June 4th 1776, ‘a Plain Dealer’ preempted Barbara by almost 240 years:
. . . tho’ glutted with the spoils of England, her Colonies, and Plantations, [Scotland’s] pride can submit to remain in ‘forma pauperis’, that they may ungratefully withhold from public service what they owe to public plunder.
How dare the Scots grow rich from the slaves of Englishmen! The cheek of it… Back in the HuffPost meanwhile, Anthony is complaining that he isn’t allowed to call himself English in response to no one telling him that he isn’t allowed to call himself English:
Sorry Anthony, John Wilkes beat you to it in the 1760s. Writing in his paper, the North Briton, Wilkes sought to reassert Englishness against Britishness, a term he believed simply masked encroaching Scottishness:
Back in the present, William relies on a mixture of insult, intimidation and impenetrable language to win over the people he hates so much:
‘Divided we fall’. Perhaps William shares the fears of eighteenth-century cartoonists that without the Union, England will soon fall prey to the foppish French, savage Americans, and the Dutch, who… er… have slightly plainer clothes than the others:
The Scottophobes of past and present really can teach us some important lessons. As Hegel wrote, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history. And never read the comments!”