The Struggle for Cultural Evolution in Scotland


Evergreen Volumes – Yellow Nineties 2.0
Charles H. Mackie. Front Cover for The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal. vol II, 1895. Yellow Nineties Online. Public Domain.

The Evergreen magazine encompassed the changes in Scottish culture during the nineteenth century. Specifically, focusing on the Celtic revival, Patrick Geddes and co-editor William Sharp created a periodical that consisted of a collection reflecting each season of the year. Each edition included carefully selected pieces of written and artistic works, emphasizing the influence of Scottish and Celtic culture in each.  Notably, the cycles of the seasons reflect the cultural evolution of Scotland, and the long struggle in gaining independence and recognition as a nation. Exclusively focusing on the Fall edition of the magazine allows for a more narrow scope in understanding the comparison of society to nature, it’s downfalls and revivals and how that impacts a community. This is further depicted in The Breath of the Snow written by John Macleay, a short story featured in the Autumn edition of The Evergreen. This text in particular details a community experiencing the changes of a colder season, winter. The Breath of the Snow comparatively discusses Scotland’s struggles of creating an independent national identity through symbolism and metaphor, and how it impacted a community. 

19th Century Scotland

City Tenement Housing, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1896. Google Images (Labeled for non-commercial reuse.) Public Domain.

As The Evergreen is a reflection of nineteenth century Scotland, understanding its history and culture is essential to the analysis of the contents and making of The Evergreen. Historian, Michael Lynch describes Scotland during this period as a “melting pot of different identities” (Morris and Morton, 1997). This was due to the establishment of the British Union Act in 1707, the Act had a significant impact on Scottish culture, literature and language; replacing it with a homogenized British national identity (MacDonald and Shaw, 2019). In the nineteenth century urbanization and industrialization affected the economic, political, and social climate in Scotland. Social and environmental strains caused a rapid rate of change in economic and urban development, leading to fluctuations in wealth. As a result, overcrowding and poverty in urban districts provoked mass emigration in Scotland (Morris and Morton, 1994).  Although a large portion of the younger population had left, Scotland remained at the intersection of growth and development for their country. The England-Scotland border marked a clear distinction between two different cultural systems, including politics and religion. The Border was crucial in the preservation of Scottish nationality, although the Act made it difficult. During this time, Scotland became a bureaucratic state, with a state of boards but a lack of a parliament. Due to the industrialization of a newly urban society, the need for regulatory power of a legislative body increased (Morris and Morton, 1994). The fragmentation of Scotland’s identity led to the reignited pursuit of regaining independence within the country, particularly focusing on the revitalization of culture. 

The Scottish Revival

Fin-de-siecle , or the end of a century Scottish cultural revivalism brought on a new energy within the nation, particularly within the artistic community. The nineteenth century brought a new sense of sought identity, igniting the Scottish Romance Revival, parallel to the growing Celtic Revival of the time. Patrick Geddes is one of the scholars whose ideas and writings “defy attempts to assimilate Scottish culture”(MacDonald and Shaw, 2019) into a homogenized British culture. As a sociologist with a background in biology and geography, Geddes understood and fuelled The Celtic Revival with the creation of The Evergreen. After being grouped in with the other Celtic countries, Ireland and Wales under a singular British culture, the slow evolution of remembering history to propose an independent identity in Scotland grew. The Romantic Revival brought poets together to reject assimilation and make commentary on socio-political issues through carefully thought out prose. Writers alike began discussing themes of community, culture, and country in their pieces, including John Macleay.


The Breath of the Snow

The Breath of the Snow initially appears to be a personal recount of a man observing the changes that autumn and winter bring, within nature as well as in a community. Macleay details the darkness and loneliness of winter, suggesting a metaphor for Scotland prior to its cultural revival. During this period, Scottish history and culture was interpreted and intertwined with England under the British Union Act. However, although faced with uncertainty, the Scottish peoples prevailed due to their strong sense of community. As cultural evolution is dependent on the values and history of a community, Macleay describes Scotland’s community as connected yet prepared for the hours of darkness to come. Specifically, he creates the image of a working class society, which directly relates to who was impacted the most during the struggle to gain cultural recognition. Subsequently, the middle working class is who Geddes wanted to circulate The Evergreen and its ideologies towards. This was evident in the comparison between the cost to produce the magazine and the price it was sold at, resulting in ultimately not making a profit. The message of cultural revival and pride spread, inspiring the gathering of community to promote unity.

Significance of Winter

In literature the winter most often symbolizes death and decay, bringing upon feelings of loss and melancholy. John Macleay agrees with the traditional literary symbolism of winter, as he describes the loss of crops and mood of the community. As he describes the impacts on a working class society, the loss of work and money from farming is substantial. Economic strain also has a significant impact on the social and cultural evolution of a community. In order to endure this period, winter must be observed through the lens of rest and conserving energy.

Charles H. Mackie. Lyart Leaves. The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal. Vol. 2. 1895. p. 19. Yellow Nineties 2.0. Public Domain.

This rest ensures that the community is prepared to handle the challenges they face  going forward, this is especially important for Scotland. Applying natural cycles to the analysis of Macleay’s message, it can be seen that Spring; a season of rebirth and growth, is right around the corner. Spring will bring a fresh crop and a new beginning, or in other terms, the Celtic Revival. The spring edition of The Evergreen focuses on the harmony within community and amongst nature as the revival begins its ascent. Featuring folklore and writings that celebrate the newly revived Scottish culture, drawing on history to ensure a place in the present. The Spring edition depicts a Scotland that is reaping the rewards of their patience and their struggle to gain cultural independence. Understanding the Fall edition allows for a deeper comprehension of all of the other seasons in The Evergreen. Understanding the reasons for a fall in the first place and a country’s reaction to it, helps to analyze the true effects of what happens after independence is gained. For Scotland, it is evident that a culturally rich and independent society emerged during the Celtic Revival.


The Evergreen Explained

The incorporation of Scottish folklore, poems, and art in The Evergreen highlights the creators ideologies surrounding culture and community, particularly advocating for cultural recognition. The Celtic Revival and the Scottish Renaissance worked to address the issues that came from a lack of independent national identity, in which The Evergreen played an important role. While the magazine’s primary focus was the Celtic Revival, it also displayed a rich understanding of aestheticism and adapted accordingly (Grilli, 2016). In addition to the contents within each edition, the exterior of the magazines were made to appear like books, with gold trimmings and intricate details. This was done so that the contents and ideas presented inside would be taken seriously and be made more appealing to elitist circles in addition to their intended audience (Grilli, 2016). Although such lengths to ensure each magazine was pristine created a financial strain for the creators and editors, distributing their message took precedence over monetary gain. In connecting natural sciences with sociology, The Evergreen successfully emphasizes the unity in community and the natural states of ups and downs that pass through societies.

Patrick Geddes. Spring, Produced in The Evergreen, vol. 1, 1895, p. 4. Yellow Nineties 2.0. Public Domain.

The representation of nature in The Evergreen must be examined through the perspective of symbolism, as well as observing the whole rather than just a part. In doing so, the positive and negative aspects are revealed, however they are accepted as codependent and inevitable. In order to appreciate the prosperity of spring and summer, it is necessary to accept the winter. However, through this acceptance, maintain a strong understanding of one’s morals and values. This becomes harder to do without a cultural identity to take comfort in, for Scotland it was especially challenging having such a rich cultural history repressed and replaced with a homogenized British identity. As well as having delayed industrial and urban development in comparison to England, Scotland had to rely on themselves to thrive and change through time. Due to the reliance on community and mutual survival, the Scottish peoples prevailed in beginning their cultural evolution. 

Society and Nature

The relationship between nature and society is evident in The Evergreen, particularly in The Breath of the Snow. The season of autumn represents change and the shedding of the old, as winter makes its way around to bring death. However, in this case death is necessary in order for the new to grow, or cultural evolution to begin. The entire fall edition of The Evergreen symbolizes the struggles Scotland faced in pursuit of cultural independence. Consequently, the struggles meant that members of communities had to come together in order to withstand it. Similarly to how John Macleay describes a community in the face of the upcoming winter, struggling yet remaining together.  As a Biologist and Sociologist, Patrick Geddes understood the complexities and influence one had on the other, especially during the nineteenth century. Geddes believed that similar to the processes of nature, members of a society should function as an integrated component (Claes, 2012). The constancy of cycles seen in nature correlates to the cycles societies undergo in the face of change. As Macleay describes the impacts of winter on a community, it is imperative to understand the positive changes and developments that come once winter becomes spring. This cycle can be compared to effects English hegemony had on preventing cultural evolution and the fight to a cultural revival that brought social development and change. 


The conclusion that can be drawn from the analysis of the fall edition of The Evergreen, as well as the periodical series itself is the connections made between nature and society. With a keen focus on the Celtic Revival, The Evergreen uses the cycles of nature to symbolize the cultural evolution Scotland underwent in the nineteenth century. The Breath of the Snow by John Macleay describes Scotland’s geography and community as it prepares for winter. Detailing the effects on spirit and on livelihood, Macleay places emphasis on the unity of a society, particularly through dark times. This directly correlates to the state of  Scotland while under the British Union Act, with no sense of independent identity. During this time, Scotland’s culture, literature, art and language was often repressed and replaced with English ideals and ways of life. The result of this led to a paralyzed country, in terms of cultural growth and development, with no sense of identity or recognition. The Evergreen understands and acknowledges this struggle and uses nature as a parallel to predict and promote a more prosperous future, or the Scottish Revival.



Works Cited

Ardis, Ann. “Modernist Print Culture.” American Literary History, vol. 27, no. 4, 2015, pp. 813–819., 

Grilli, Elisa. “Funding and the Making of Culture: The Case of the Evergreen (1895–1897).” Reconsidering ‘Little’ versus ‘Big’ Periodicals, vol. 1, no. 2, 2016, 

Claes, Koenraad. “‘What to naturalists is known as a Symbiosis’: literature, community and nature in the Evergreen.” Scottish Literary Review, vol. 4, no. 1, spring-summer 2012, pp. 111 Gale Literature Resource Center,  


MacDonald, Paul and Shaw, Michael. “The Fin-De-Siècle Scottish Revival”, Edinburgh University Press, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central, p. 33-87


Morris, R. J., and Graeme Morton. “Where Was Nineteenth-Century Scotland?” The Scottish Historical Review, vol. 73, no. 195, 1994, pp. 89–99. JSTOR, Accessed 12 Dec. 2022.


Hanna, Julian. Manifestoes at Dawn: Nation, City and Self in Patrick Geddes and William Sharp’s Evergreen.