The Victorian Age is synonymous with Empire, industrial might, poverty, and inequality.  

Pronounced public morality led inexorably to hypocrisy.

Phantom figures in formal wear, alongside an urchin wraith.


At the same time, however, it was a time of reform and revolution:

of all-embracing universal ideas.

Ideas about self, society, and the world.

The world and all who lived in it was within reach for the first time,

and ideas could be applied to them all,

and in the arrogant optimism of the moment, these ideas could be perceived as forever.



Throughout his life Maxwell Fyfe believed in law as a lively natural force.



History has taught us time and time again

that no society can long endure which is not based on morality and order.

But it takes time to build a free society and a sound system of justice.




Wherefore we will and firmly decree

That the English Church shall be free

And that the subjects of our realm shall have and hold

All aforesaid liberties, shall be free,

All aforesaid liberties shall be free.



In 1924 a young lawyer such as I thought of the rule of law as something unassailable:

we imagined that the horrors and sacrifices of the First World War had not been futile,

and that mankind had at last learnt its lesson and would henceforth live in accordance with reason.


What happened to these fond imaginings?

Every hope that we nursed was disappointed; reason was once more dethroned;

one brutalising dogma after another bore dreadful fruit.



Rights and concessions,

Freely, quietly,

Duly and in peace,

Fully, entirely.


Wherefore we will and firmly decree

All aforesaid liberties shall be free,

Forever, shall be free.



Yet there is a doctrine which has for various reasons become a little dusty and old fashioned in recent years

and which I myself should like to see restored to the position that it used to occupy.

I refer to the doctrine of the law of nature.


“You may throw out Nature with a pitchfork,” said a Latin poet who was also a good gardener,

“But she will always come back.”



Wherefore we will and firmly decree

All aforesaid liberties shall be free.


For themselves and their heirs,

From us and our heirs,

In all manners

In all places,





As has been said.



Maxwell Fyfe was born and brought up in Edinburgh, with holidays in Sutherland.

At eighteen he went to university in Oxford,

and then, as a young lawyer, served on the Northern Circuit in Liverpool.

And it was the constituency of West Derby in that city that he was to serve as MP.



How do we become who we are, make our plans, choose our battles?

A list of life tells nothing, statements of recall little more.





I do not want to be a boring ‘proud father’,

but I think that I am entitled to be glad that I have done something positive  as well as negative

in regard to tyranny, which so many of my generation in the twentieth century have accepted without a murmur.



It's no aye rainin' on the misty Achils,

It's no aye white wi' winter on Nigour;

The winds are no' sae mony sorrowin' Rachels,

That grieve, and o' their grief will no' gie owre.



Non Semper Imbres



Memory is a highly selective instrument.

Looking back, the years of manhood present themselves in a kind of opaque mist

in which certain events stand out clearly,

in much the same manner that the sun picks out individual landmarks on a fitful summer day.



Dark are Benarty slopes, an’ the steep Lomon’

Flings a lang shadow on the watter plain;

But fair Lochleven’s no for ever gloomin’,

An’ Devon’s no’ aye dark wi’ Lammas rain.


The birks tho’ bare, an’ the sune-naked ashes,

Not always widow’d of their leaves appear;

The oaks cry oot beneath November’s lashes,

But not for all the months that mak’ the year.


Non Semper Imbres

Non Semper Imbres

Non Semper Imbres



To the imagination of my boyhood the countryside  had a magic of its own.

I shall never forget the joy of walking over the heather, finding a place to bathe

and later pulling a heavy boat in half a gale on Loch Shin and watching its length fade into the hills

or further west seeing the mass of Ben Mohr Assynt climb into the clouds.



Non Semper Imbres

Non Semper Imbres

Non Semper Imbres



The light plays clearly on my Edinburgh childhood; the cobbled, dimly lit alleyways of the old town,

the symmetrical splendour of the great streets, the aloof and enthralling majesty of the Castle.

The sunshine and laughter on Blackford Hill where I played and dreamed.

The glorious vistas from Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags. All are etched indelibly on my memory.




When I sat in the service o' foreign commanders,

Selling my sword for a beggar-man's fee,

Learning the trade o' the warrior who wanders,

To mak' ilka stranger a sworn enemie;

There was ae thought that nerved me, and brawly it served me

With pith to the claymore wherever I won,

'Twas the auld sodger's story, that, gallows or glory,

The Hielan's, the Hielan's were crying me on!


The ram to the gateway, the torch to the tower,

We rifled the kist, and the cattle we maimed;

Our dirks stabbed at guess through the leaves o' the bower,

And crimes we committed that needna be named:

Moonlight or dawning grey, Lammas or Lady-day,

Donald maun dabble his plaid in the gore;

He maun hough and maun harry, or should he miscarry,

The Hielan's, the Hielan's will own him no more



I had never been to London or Oxford before.

Indeed I had only paid one visit to England ... so it was an unforgettable moment when in October 1917

I boarded the night train for London leaving Waverley Station.

It was crowded with soldiers going back to France to the bloody battles that were raging.

I arrived in Oxford in the evening. I was enormously thrilled.

The collection of College buildings was something which staggered my imagination.


The beginning of my lifelong legal and political connection with Liverpool could not have been less inspiring.

I did not know a soul in this vast cloud-enshrouded, mushy, and weeping city.


I cannot adequately express my emotions of pride and happiness when I first entered the Palace of Westminster as of right, a Member of Parliament.


To enter the House of Commons is not merely to enter a political institution, it is coming upon a new world, complex, hazardous, inconstant, demanding and perpetually fascinating.


The pride and pleasure never faded throughout the twenty  years I sat in the Commons.



Many a misty glen, many a sheilling pen,

Rose to our vision when slogans rang high;

And this was the solace bright came to our starkest fight,

A' for the Hielan's, the Hielan's we die!


O the Hielan's, the Hielan's, praise God for His favour,

That ane sae unworthy should heir sic estate,

That gie'd me the zest o' the sword, and the savour

That lies in the loving as well as the hate.

The hill-berry mellowing, stag-o'-ten bellowing,

The song o' the fold and the tale by the hearth,

Bairns at the crying and auld wives a-dying—

The Hielan's sent wi' me to fight round the earth!



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