Coming Home

Andrew MacLennan, longtime history editor at Longman Publishers, explains why his love for the subject is simply second nature to him.

An active engagement with the past is not perhaps a desideratum, let alone a requirement, for a history publisher in these hard-nosed times. However, in our family it wasn’t an option: we were marinated in it from the womb, and the amniotic fluid came from our father.

Dad – a Scottish army medico – was soldier by profession, military historian by avocation, and antiquarian by habit. His enthusiasms were the early-modern history of Scottish regiments and mercenaries; and arms and armour. He collected both throughout his life, but particularly early on in his native Aberdeen. As a result, we were born into a happily chaotic family home that was part library, part arsenal, part cabinet of curiosities, and part obstacle course.

Today, it seems extraordinary how much he managed to acquire, given that his resources were modest. But he had wide sympathies and a discerning eye; and interwar Aberdeen offered rich historical pleasures and treasures for anyone ready to consider them as such. In the dark, stone houses of this  conservative, self-sufficient,  canny society, things weren’t fashioned to be up-to-the-minute. What was made, was made to last; and if you wanted them, there they were.

Dad’s pieces had function and focus for him, given his special interests; but, for us children, they became household lares and penates, revered for their family service rather than their previous careers, however distinguished. We lived under their stern but kindly eye – looked down on by tallboys, squared up to by military chests, ticked off by the grandfather clock. The dining room doubled as an armoury, with Dad’s muskets and rifles on the walls, and his swords over the fireplace. Any available mantelpiece soon silted up with quaichs, snuffboxes, porringers, grandad’s medals and other hoary knick-knacks.

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