The Reconciliation of Liberal and Romantic:
David Balfour 's rational choice
First published in 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson confessed that he considered Kidnapped the best of his career. In spite of often seen as an adventure story, we are supposed to read not a youngster’s rebirth after the kidnapped, but a historical novel as author said in the preface: “you may tomorrow open the door of the old Speculative, where we begin to rank with Scott and Robert Emmet and the beloved and inglorious Macbean”. It’s a huge honor to be ranked with Scott, the very first Scottish historical novelist, and he affirmed his Kidnapped deserved great rewards.
In Kidnapped, Stevenson chose five years after the failure of the fifth revolution of Jacobite as the background, which reminded us the historical metaphor behind the thrilling story. Nor like other Jacobites in northern England or Ireland, the Gaelic-speaking Scottish Highland clans, to whom the supporters of Jacobitism were more about inter-clan politics than about religion, and a significant factor was resistance to the territorial ambitions of the Campbells of Argyll. The significance of their support for the Stuarts was that the Highlands was the only part of Britain which still maintained private armies, in the form of clan levies. During the Jacobite Risings, they provided the bulk of Jacobite manpower. However, after 1745, The White Roses had gradually lost their supporters - France in particularly. The intriguing moment, gave the protagonist David Balfour and the writer himself both a specific time and situation, to reexamine the relationship between the Whigs and Jacobite, the modern and the romantic, also the different spiritual essence of Highlanders and Lowlanders. No one is able to be avoid of pushing by the stream of history, nobody has ability to liberate itself out of history. More than 100 years past away, Stevenson had great vision to inspect the stories of the olden days.
Actually, Stevenson makes something incisively positive out of the dilemma of history and the individual.‘David Balfour is a character of no great depth or intrinsic, but the faint irony that is both a part of his view of himself and the world.’[ Pp189, RLS - A Life Study, Jenni Calder, Glasgow: Richard drew publishing, 1990.] David Balfour is a featureless young man without any prejudice, but throughout the adventure, he showed the most prominent characteristic - the ability of rational judgment. In some extent, the reconciliation of modern liberal and romantic is based on his rational judgment. David’s rationality means he can interpret what he sees and hears, he has an independent personality as a modern man, but accomplished a romantic legend.
The belt of gold: Values and principles of Alan Breck
The other main character of Kidnapped is the highlander Alan Breck, who is proud of his clan background. When he first appeared in the chapter 9, he was described as a man with a belt of gold. In reality, the belt of gold marks the preliterate Highland exchange economy as distinct in its reliance on motivated, materialized signs. We can get a glimpse of the values and principles of highlanders through this detail.
‘My name is Stewart, he said, drawing himself up. Alan Breck, they call me. A king’s name is good enough for me, though I bear it plain and have the name of no farm-midden to clap to the hind-end of it.
And having administered this rebuke, as though it were something of a chief importance, he turned to examine out defences.’9
Warned by Alan’s dignity of clan, we are able to recognize the different values of Alan and David. For Alan, there is nothing above his clan and family background, which is inconsequential for David Balfour. He has nearly no information about family except his parents, he even did not know his treacherous uncle until father’s death. On the contrary, the loyalty and lofty of clan has already be a part of Alan’s life, consciously or unconsciously.
However, the traditional kinship is intensively challenged by the modern liberal spirit. The lowland-rulers made a great deal of obstructions.
‘Ye see David, he that was all his life so great a man, and come of the blood and bearing the name of kings, is now brought down to live in a French town like a poor and private person. He that had four hundred swords at his whistle, I have seen, with these eyes of mine, buying butter in the market-place, and taking it home in a kale-leaf. This is not only a pain but a disgrace to us of his family and clan.’12
In a sense, the highlanders were humiliated by the rulers and feel shameful for there clan. The Romantic spirit is forcibly forbidden by the lowlanders who imposed themselves as future and tomorrow. The highlanders and lowlanders are quite unfamiliar with each other, although live in Scotland together for thousand years.
The other chief character of Alan is his individualistic heroism. What we had to admit is Alan is great warrior, a ‘bonny fighter’, no matter his swordsmanship or bravery. While after fighting shoulder to shoulder with David, he showed off his achievement and neglected David’s:
‘This is the song of the sword of Alan,
The smith made it,
The fire set it;
Now it shines in the hand of Alan Breck
Come to me from the hills of heather,
Come from the isles of the sea.
O far-beholding eagles,
Here is your meat.
Now this song which he made (both words and music) in the honor of our victory, is something less than just to me ,who stood beside him in the tussle.’10
In addition to this song of triumph, I discover another detail in chapter 22. When David said :
‘‘Alan,’said I,‘you should change your clothes.’
The noble clothes will expose their identities unquestionable.It seems impossible to arrest them depends on rough graphic description for the Campbells. As long as Alan get off his noble clothes, they will be out of danger immediately, yet it challenged his heroism principle.
‘Na, troth!’said Alan,‘I have nae others. A fine sight I would be, if I went back to France in a bonnet!’’22
Though troubles caused by Alan’s individualistic heroism, none of this means Alan Breck is a self-interest man. He gratitude David and cherished their friendship in a traditional highland way:
‘ I had them from my father, Duncan Stewart; and now give ye one of them to be a keepsake for last night’s work. And wherever ye go and show that button, the friends of Alan Breck will come around you.’ 11
The gift (silver button) is an extension of a man, in clan society, who was personified. In traditional social structure, the gift exchange was established on a reciprocal basis, so the gifts are living creature with whom one enters into a social circle, and share the contract. This obsolete silver button represents the relationship between David and Alan. Through this gift, the two men was bonded with each other.
Silver button - Friendship after choices
‘I am no thief, nor yet murderer. I’ll stand by you.’9
Without regard to political affiliation, David’s rationality leads him to make the first option. Since the murder of young boy comes into his sight, he had lost faith with the Whig sailors. Although he was a small potato of his epoch, even on the deck, he still persisted the principle of his liberty: goodness and humility. What a stupid choice he made, to stand with a weak highlander in confronting fifteen Whigs, on the secular vision. He did not consider whether he could survive, but just judged the situation by rationality and went ahead.
Obviously, if the highlander is the murderer, David will make an opposite choice, such as what happened in chapter 18. David mistakenly thought Alan had a hand in the murderer of red fox.
‘I liked you very well, Alan, but your ways are not mine, and they’re not God’s: and the short and the long of it is just that we must twine.’18
The friendship between them is not only based on fighting side by side, or the precious gift - silver button. The most significant of all, for David, is the principle as Human nature. Both of them lived in a marblehearted epoch, but he does not want to be submerged by the history. He explained his principle in chapter 16:
‘There are two things that men should never weary of, goodness and humility; we get none too much of them in this rough world among cold, proud people; but Mr. Henderland had their very speech upon his tongue.’16
Alan is the self-dramtisation of romantic commitment, of individual coverage - the egotism and display that is both entertaining and shocking. David Balfour, is dourly rational, has his admirable qualities and failings which is distinctly different form his Jacobite friend. They are friends, but not share exact similar values, as Jenni Calder comments:‘David does not fall for the romance of heroism, as Scott’s Waverley does. He is a very liberal young man, and in this case we can see liberal as the opposite of romantic.’[ Pp189, RLS - A Life Study, Jenni Calder, Glasgow: Richard drew publishing, 1990.]
David Balfour clearly did the right choice to make a friend with the highlander. Even if Alan Breck was caught in blood feud with lowlanders, the most precious quality of him has never changed, that is humanly fine.
‘Mr. Henderland, ‘but there’s love too, and selfdenial that should put the like of you and me to shame. There’s something fine about it; no perhaps Christian, but humanly fine. Even Alan Breck, by all that I hear, is a chield to be respected. There’s many a lying sneck-draw sits close in kirk in our own part of the country, and stands well in the world’s eye, and maybe is a far worse man, Mr. Balfour, than yon misguided shedder of man’s blood. Ay, ay, we might take a lesson by them. — Ye’ll perhaps think I’ve been too long in the Hielands?’ he added, smiling to me.’16
Alan is not the only honorable highlander, but also Neil who felt affronted by the bribe, but also those who fight for the humanly fine. As Calder said, ‘Stevenson’s intrinsic part of morality was restraint, from damaging human nature.’[ Pp190, RLS - A Life Study, Jenni Calder, Glasgow: Richard drew publishing, 1990.]In fact, David not merely took a lesson by Alan but also experienced the suffering of highlander. He experienced an escape, and laid in the heather in a highland way.
Heather - Escape in a highland way
When David listened to the escape story of Alan’s clan, nobody could imagine he will share it on himself, but nothing is impossible. Let us take a brief look at what happened on Alan’s copatriot.
‘A sair job we had of it before we got him shipped; and while he still lay in the heather, the English Rogues, that couldn't come at his life, were striking at his rights.’12
And now, David lay in the heather with Alan, to avoid chasing of Campbells. They choose rocks as temporary shelter, climb the heugh of Corrynakiegh, pass through the moor, even nearly ruin themselves in Cluny’s cage. They share aches and pains from brandy, tighten their belts, and feel alarmed in the dark. All varieties of highland elements get together in the escape.
From David’s point of view, he does not have to endure the torment. He is not the murderer of red fox, he is a lowlander who is not related to the struggle between Stewart and Campbell. During the escape, the idea of being separated from Alan appeared more than once.
‘This put a second reflection in my mind: that if I were to separate from Alan and his tell-tale clothes I should be safe against arrest, and might go openly about my business. Nor was this all; for suppose I was arrested when I was alone,there was little against me; but suppose I was taken in company with the reputed murderer, my case would begin to be grave. For generosity’s sake I dare not speak my mind upon this head; but I thought of it none the less.’22
Whether in a highlander’s manners or his own perspective, it is shameful for him to abandon a friend. Till the inevitably quarrel did he tell Alan the truth. Because of different values, the quarrel is unavoidable, while when they exaggerate their differences they become most like the mirror of each other. At last, David said:
‘O man, let’s say no more about it!’ said I. ‘We’re neither one of us to mend the other — that’s the truth!’
We should change the thinking model of true or false. The author has never had a desire to judge won or lost. ‘Stevenson loved what he had created in Alan Breck. But he was close at David’s side when he walked down the High Street to claim his inheritance.’[ Pp191, RLS - A Life Study, Jenni Calder, Glasgow: Richard drew publishing, 1990.]Not only they two neither one is better, but also the two political parties - neither one to mend the other. Apparently, there must be something irreconcilable between the Whig and Jacobite, between the present and past, especially between the liberal and romantic spirit. Nevertheless, should we ask who is right and who is wrong? The standard answer perhaps never exists. Actually at the end of their flight, David Balfour has already become an rational highlander. The irreconcilable conflict between liberal and romantics finally reconcile with each other, through the great efforts by the two protagonists, through the rational choice of David Balfour.
The dual personalities in Alan Breck is as similar as David Balfour. The reconciliation is not only about David, bur a harmonization both ways. In such a epoch, no one escapes the main stream of history. The people live a dull life in highland, yet they have to suit for the historical development and the memory of clan is going to be a legend, no trace.
Literature is not according with mechanical division which we learned in the historical books, but the representation of the specific individuals, which aims at revealing epochal characteristics. We were all shaped by the history, seems not have the strength to break the historical ropes. In turn, history is made by human, shaped by us. Under the background of era, what it is the best viewpoint for an ordinary people? Maybe the standpoint of rational perspective is the best of view. In some extent, Stevenson attempts to find another ‘middle way’, which is different from Scott, to reconcile the contradiction through history.
With the development of human society, there must be a kind of inner spiritual force above history, written in stone. And that is ‘humanly fine’. Whatever the symbol is, the belts of gold, the silver button or the suffering heather, a great deal of goodness in Scottish has been displayed to the readers.
After reading kidnapped, we have to consider what is the intention of Stevenson. Beyond all doubt, Stevenson offered a whole new possibility for us to comprehend the history and the present. In addition to this, we have to take into account real life of Stevenson. History is the concrete precondition of the present. If we would like to know deeply about current’s life, we have to come back into history. As a result, the conflict of Whig and Jacobite may be a map of the distance between ideal and realities of Stevenson’s life.
At the end, I would like to cite a splendid comment from Calder that ‘Stevenson wanted life to be an opera, yet realized the impracticalities of buying cigars in recitative.’[ Pp191, RLS - A Life Study, Jenni Calder, Glasgow: Richard drew publishing, 1990.] The chivalry and heroism, though charming, has been a dream of yesterday. Rationality is the best substitutes of reality.