While Die was tramping the road between Aberdaron and Liverpool, William Cameron (b.1784), or ‘Hawkie’,49 was touring the Scottish borders and northern England (Figure 15.4). He walked with the aid of a ‘stilt’, or crutch, due to a leg injury. As with many autodidacts, a childhood injury protected him from hard labour, offering more opportunity to study. Hawkie’s crutches, combined with a penetrating voice, made him instantly recognisable. Born in Plean, near Stirling, the son of an impoverished mashman,5" he became a charismatic itinerant book pedlar, or a ‘patterer’.51 He claimed to have risen through ranks of beggars and chapmen to become the undisputed king of the Glasgow city speech criers. But the young invalid, destined to become the croaking ‘Trongate Demosthenes’, fought hard for his education.’2
Hawkie’s experience of school demonstrates how random provision of schooling could be in late 18th-century Scotland (see Chapter 11):
At the age of four I was out to school; the teacher was an old decrepit man ... writing and arithmetic were to him secrets as dark as death ... At this
FIGURE 15.4 Cover of Hawkie: The Autobiography of a Gangrel (1888), reproduced by courtesy of the British Library.
school I continued for four years, and was not four months advanced in learning, although I was as far advanced as my teacher.53
After finally learning to write in his next school, in Milton, Cameron was at 12 bound apprentice to a tailor in Stirling, but he abandoned the position soon. Fortunately, after his 13th birthday, he heard that his indenture had been lifted, so he could safely return to Stirling, where he joined the city’s parish school of St. Ninian’s. It was here that he began to study Latin in the daytime; in the evenings he learned arithmetic with one Robert McCallum.54
As an adult, Hawkie supplemented his begging by selling books in the city streets. He made a name for himself, in Glasgow especially, as a chapman, performing colourful passages from the chapbooks he was selling. He was a celebrity amidst the crowds of Old Trongate. In Old Reminiscences of Glasgow and the West of Scotland (1868), Peter Mackenzie reported that ‘Hawkie was a most inveterate drinker of ardent spirits. This was his chief or greatest misfortune. Almost every penny he got went to the nearest whisky shop. He was never riotously or outrageously drunk upon the public streets’. He may have been continuously intoxicated, but he could still excel at his trade. One day he came up against a man called Jamie Blue—a fellow speech crier and chapman—who, according to Hawkie, had ‘the reputation among the illiterate as a matchless scholar’.55 They held a heated bookselling competition, which Hawkie describes in his autobiography:
I urged the weakness of his ambition, and showed him the meanness of his conduct; but Pompey was no more determined for the Empire of Rome, than Jamie was to be “Head speech crier”.56
Hawkie, orator and Latinist, implies he was the equivalent of Julius Caesar. He displayed such erudition as this, sold more books and won the contest hands down.