Douglas Young was a tall man, six feet six inches; with his beard he looked like a Calvinist Jehovah. At St. Andrews, he acquired the nickname “God” by eavesdropping on a political discussion about the Balkans. (In the 1930’s, the Balkans were full of angry ethnic factions, fighting and killing one another.) The group was stumped over the identity of a political leader. “God alone knows his name,” one of them muttered. “Well, I know his name,” said Douglas, “and I shall tell it to vou.” For a game of charades at Oxford, he was carried in upside down as a clue for the word “dog.” (The editors of his memorial volume, A Clear Voice, call this a legend, but Nigel Nicolson in My Oxford, My Cambridge says he helped carry Douglas in.)

His father, an officer in the Bengal Artillery, was a Tory and an Imperialist, but, apart from polities, a loyal Scot. (Douglas remembered, “He was always annoyed to hear of any of his female relatives marrying a Sassanach, almost as if they had espoused a coloured person.”) Douglas was a Unionist until 1929, when he was at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh. The poet Lewis Spence’s campaign for Parliament as a Scots Nationalist appealed to Douglas’s natural conservatism and made him “an assertor of my own country’s right to self-government.” He went to St. Andrews, despite passing the entrance exams for Oxford and Cambridge, and read the great Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean (Somhairle MacGill-Eain) and the Scots poet Hugh MacDiarmid (né C.M. Grieve). Although president of the Conservative Club, he worked for Eric Linklater’s candidacy for Parliament as a Scots Nationalist in 1933.

He loved ancient Greek and was very good at it. For a career in classics, however, he had to study at Cambridge or Oxford. He chose the latter and spent four years at New College. (“We were New College because slightly later in the fourteenth century than William of Wykeham’s other establishment, Winchester School.”) He was president of the Scottish Society and advocated giving social democracy a fair trial. (Unlike his friends MacLean and MacDiarmid, he was never a Communist. In his 1943 speech on “William Wallace and This War,” he referred contemptuously to “the now popular Mr. Djugashvili, alias Stalin.”) He earned the friendship of older, more traditional scholars, like W.M. Lindsay of St. Andrews and T.W. Allen at Oxford, but not the leaders of the next generation. On C.M. Bowra, the “Great Teacher” of his time, he wrote the best limerick ever composed in ancient Greek. Eduard Fraenkel, the Corpus Professor of Latin and a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, conceived a profound dislike for him. In his final translation examinations from English into Greek and Latin, Douglas wrote, not two, but all four compositions in Greek and Latin poetry and prose. Fraenkel accused him of cheating, because no one could do it. The scholar Fraenkel most admired at Oxford was Sir John Beasley, the founder of the scholarly study of Greek vase painting, who blandly assured Fraenkel that it could be done. “You see, I did it.” (As an undergraduate, Beasley had composed a famous parody in Ionic Greek of Herodotus’s visit to England, “Herodotus at the Zoo.”) World War II gave Fraenkel an excuse for his hatred.

In 1938, Douglas turned down Oxford’s prestigious Graven fellowship to teach at Aberdeen and joined the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). War was coming, and the SNP’s official position was that its members were not to serve in the British military until Scotland had been granted dominion status, with its own parliament, like Canada or New Zealand.

As with the Balkans, it is a long story. Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, the last of Henry VIIFs syphilitic brood. The crown devolved upon the head of the son of her old bête noire, Mary Queen of Scots. James VI of Scotland, now James I of England as well, made a fateful decision. He transferred the royal court to London. So the King James Bible was translated into English, instead of Scots, and Scotland’s affairs were put on the back burner. The next century was chaotic and violent for both nations. By 1707, England was again ruled by a childless old woman, Anne. Before the throne was handed over to the Elector of Hanover and his line, the relationship of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland had to be regularized. So by the Treaty of Union they were turned into Great Britain and their parliaments were amalgamated into the British Parliament. In practice, it was the old English Parliament with a rump minority of 45 Scottish members (71 in Douglas’s day) with 16 Scots in the House of Lords, who were regularly outvoted or ignored. Attempts to restore the rightful heir to the Scottish throne were ruthlessly put down by the British crown in 1715 and 1745. From that time on England ruled Scotland as a conquered province. She did, however, grant all rights and duties of British citizenship to any Scot who would move to England. Even more emigrated overseas, where Scots excelled in many fields. Douglas estimated at some 20 million the Scottish diaspora throughout the English-speaking world, Scotti per diversa vagantes.

During the Kaiser’s War, Scottish troops had suffered disproportionately heavy losses by being placed at greater risk than English troops. Scotland’s economy had suffered more than England’s from the wartime state socialism and the postwar slump, since English “governments, though stupid, were at least primarily concerned with England.” The SNP correctly predicted similar policies in the next war. They did not foresee that the British government would set up most new factories for war material in England and draft Scottish women to labor in distant and dangerous English industrial cities.

At a May Day (Labor Day) rally in Aberdeen in 1939, as war loomed, a heckler asked Douglas whether the Treaty of Union gave the British Parliament the authority to draft Scotsmen for foreign service. Douglas gave the official SNP position, that Article XVIII of the Treaty of Union preserved the Scottish Common Law and so drafting Scots was ultra vires, beyond the authority, of the British Parliament. The crowd cheered. Douglas was in Greece when Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Conscription was enacted. The SNP split into pacifists, anti-Nazis, and standpatters. (The communists were silent. Russia was an ally of Nazi Germany and, having taken its share of Poland, had invaded Finland.) Douglas stood his ground: “Dominion self-government in war as in peace, and no acquiescence in the unconstitutional conscription, either for military purposes or, as was soon imposed, for industrial work.”

The initial round of conscription had passed Douglas by, but the terrible early defeats soon caused men in their late 20’s to be “dereserved.” Douglas might not have been drafted, because of his height, poor eyesight, and the effects of a childhood injury. In any event, he refused to answer his draft notice and was summoned to the local Sheriff-Court to answer charges.

On April 13, 1942, Douglas appeared before Sheriff Norman MacDonald in Glasgow. Repudiating the name “British,” he asserted that “no government other than a Scottish government has any rights over the Scots.” He doubted British competence. “I observe the British government conducting its so-called war effort with such fusionless incompetence as to give a walk-over to the imperialist ventures of the Germans, the Americans, and the Japanese.” He felt that the way Churchill was running the war, it would end with the loss of the British Empire and world hegemony handed over either to the Axis or America. (Was he wrong?) “To judge by recent results,” he continued, “there is great doubt about the capacity of the British government to defend Scotland, which is my country. It is no service to Scotland to follow the misleadership of the British government and become a prisoner at St. Valeryen-Caux or at Singapore or elsewhere.”

Scotland was one of the great nations of Europe, not an English province. “Scots troops have played the part of Uriah the Hittite often enough already in Great Britain’s wars, and it is now high time the Scots decided to fight for Scots independence, following the example of the Serbs, the Norse, and other self-respecting nations.” Serbia and Norway had both been invaded by Nazi Germany. The comparison was a provocation. “Scots workers, women as well as men, are transported like coolies to labor for an alien imperialism furth of Scotland, while Scotland is invaded by a swarm of miscellaneous foreigners making themselves at home. All Scots must unite for the total defense of Scotland in Scotland, under Scots control.” At this point Sheriff MacDonald stopped Douglas from speaking.

The SNP printed the whole speech. It may surprise those who know only the British version of the war. “Your Lordship will have noted the frequent observations made by war-minded publicists that the population of Scotland is apathetic or unduly complacent with regard to the present hostilities. This is principally due to the obvious fact that the Scots are not fighting for any Scottish cause; we do not enjoy national independence, nor is the liberty of Scotland among the war-aims or peace-projects of the British and allied governments. . . . No intelligent Scot, of any age or sex, has any confidence in the British government; of the less intelligent Scots, at present somewhat numerous from various causes, more, in my judgment, have confidence in the government of the Soviet Union than have confidence in the British government (although I am far from suggesting their confidence is well placed).”

On April 23, 1942, Douglas came before Sheriff Sam MacDonald on a complaint of the Procurator Fiscal that he had contravened the National Service (Armed Forces) Act of 1939. Douglas argued a series of alternatives: that the Act was contrary to the Common Law of Scotland, which the Treaty of Union protected; that the Treaty of Union did not grant the British Parliament the right to draft Scotsmen; that the so-called British Parliament was in fact the English Parliament; that Great Britain had voided the Treaty of Union and as head of the Commonwealth of Nations was no longer an entity in international law, “since it had no exclusive undisputed control over all persons and things in its pretended territory, did not conduct its external relations independently of the will of all other states and did not give sufficient expectation of its permanence.”

Sheriff MacDonald listened to Douglas’s arguments, congratulated him on his learning, and regretted that he saw no second way but to sentence him to 12 months in prison. Douglas appealed to the High Court of the Justiciary and was freed on bail. In honor of his stand, he was elected Chairman of the High Council of the SNP, a position he held until 1945. On July 9, 1942, he addressed to the High Court an hour-and-a-half version of his four objections. The court ignored all four and, in dismissing his appeal, ascribed to Douglas the contention, “All the acts of the Imperial Parliament since 1707 were void and of no effect,” which he had not said. His legal objections were never adjudicated and, significantly, the proceedings were never published. He served eight months in prison (July 9, 1942 to March 10, 1943) and was released early for good behavior. Sorley MacLean wrote from Egypt that the only two places to be during the war were fighting the Nazis, as he was doing, or fighting the English, like Douglas. (He compared W.H. Auden, who had fled to safety at little Swarthmore College in the United States.)

Douglas emerged from prison, took a wife, and, as soon as his honeymoon was over, started contesting a by-election (held in February 1944) in Kirkcaldy Burghs in his native Fife county. He promised the voters that if elected he would work to give Scotland dominion status through a bill modeled on the British North America Act of 1867, which had created the Dominion of Canada. The Labour candidate, who supported Churchill’s coalition government, expected little opposition from either Douglas or a pacifist who was running as a Christian Socialist. The Labourite won with 52 percent of the vote (8,268 votes), while 42 percent (6,621) voted for Douglas, a far cry from the virtual unanimity of which we hear in official accounts of World War II. There was an explosion in the Cabinet. Ernest Bevin, the powerful head of the Transport and General Workers Union, a Labourite who was Churchill’s Minister of Labour, insisted on beginning a new prosecution against Douglas, this time for opposing industrial conscription.

In the meantime, Douglas was obtaining the signatures of the prime ministers of the various Dominions in favor of dominion status for Scotland. Most signed, including “the Liberal Mackenzie King, of Canada, and the Gaelic-speaking Socialist Peter Fraser, of South Africa.” One month after the by-election, the Ministry of Labour summoned Douglas to be interviewed for a job in a munitions factory and proceeded against him, when, as expected, he refused. At the Sheriff Court in Paisley on June 12, 1944, his case was heard “by a rather deaf and testy old gentleman, who kept interrupting and seemed not to understand what was said to him,” Sheriff-Substitute A.M. Hamilton.

Douglas made several points. First, whatever the purported omnipotence of the British parliament over Englishmen, its authority in Scotland was limited by the Treaty of Union of 1707, which was meant to restrain the power of the central government, like the United States Constitution. Second, Article XVIII of the Treaty of Union explicitly preserved Scottish Common Law in the area of private right. This was relevant to military conscription, but was crucial in the case of the innovation of industrial conscription. Douglas cited two parallel cases from English and Scottish law, where two Negroes asserted their freedom before English and Scottish courts. The Scottish court in 1779 found that villeinage, serfdom, did not exist under Scottish law and freed the man. The English courts in 1707 found that villeinage was part of English law and refused to free the slave. Industrial conscription was English Law applied to Scotland, in violation of the Treaty of Union. On May 25, 1944, the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Australia, banned industrial conscription because it “imposed on the people the status of villeinage.”

Third, Douglas argued that Parliament had no right to “delegated legislation,” that is, to give to administrative bodies, such as the Ministry of Labour, the power to create and enforce their own laws. This last point is still important to us because the limitations the United States Constitution imposed on the central government have been circumvented by creating bureaucracies which are free to make, interpret, and enforce their own law. Douglas praised Hayek’s recent Road to Serfdom and denounced Socialists who wanted to keep industrial conscription after the war in the cause of full employment. “The slogan of Full Employment,” he argued, “is appropriate only to a Servile State.” The Ministry of Labour’s treatment of young Scottish women and Douglas himself showed the dangers of such a system.

Douglas was found guilty and sentenced to three months in jail. He appealed again to the High Court, arguing that both the act instituting industrial conscription and the enforcement of the act by the Ministry of Labor violated Article XVIII of the Treaty of Union. On October 6, 1944, the Court affirmed the earlier High Court ruling that Douglas was denying the validity of all acts of the British parliament since 1707. The Lord Justice-Clerk (Lord Cooper) interrupted Douglas with a series of questions until, by a slip of the tongue, he assented to that denial. Having confused Douglas into contradicting his own written appeal. Lord Cooper sent him to prison for three months, without hearing the appeal. There was much resentment of the government’s actions, even among those who disagreed with Douglas’s stand against military conscription, since it was clear that he was being harassed because of his good showing at the by-election.

“The question raised,” Douglas later wrote, “was, of course, that of federal constitutionalism, a question perfectly familiar to every American and Australian. . . . It was not enough for a sheriff or other judge to take refuge behind an Act of the Westminster Parliament if that Parliament itself had its powers restricted by an Act of two Parliaments, namely the terms of union, an international treaty, between Scotland and England. The English have been accustoming themselves to the dogma of the omnipotence of Parliament, but such a dogma is untenable in relation to Scotland, whose Parliament was never omnipotent, and is incompatible with the Treaty of Union which constituted the British Parliament to begin with.”

Douglas saw the importance of Scottish nationalism for a federalist Europe. “Things are never settled until they are settled justly, and there will be no just or satisfactory international order in Europe till each nation of Europe has its due, equality of rights in its own affairs. . . . On this view my litigation about the Treaty of Union may be seen as a slight contribution to a rationally united Europe.” Douglas foresaw a European parliament and, eventually, a world parliament, answerable to the world’s national parliaments. In such a world, Scotland would need its own voice, that is, its own parliament.

He did not predict the formation of the current European Union, modeled on the omnipotent parliaments and bureaucracies of France and England. “The insular English, with their peculiar dogma that one is better without any rational constitution and that a legislature should be allowed to please itself and govern at discretion” are now entangled in a European Union ruled by a European parliament and a Brussels bureaucracy free to impose laws on their helpless subjects, just as Westminster and Whitehall rule Scotland. Jacques Delors, in a speech to the European Parliament on July 6, 1988, predicted that 80 percent of all laws on economic, social, and fiscal affairs would originate in Brussels. It is no coincidence that among those who have said “no” to the European Union arc the peoples of Norway and Serbia, chosen by Douglas as Scotland’s peers in 1942.

The years that followed the war were filled with success and frustration. The unpopular Churchill government fell in a General Election in 1945. In 1948, the SNP, up to then open to members of all parties or none, insisted that members of other parties resign. Hugh MacDiarmid, a Communist, and Douglas, a Labourite, resigned, although they had sat on the High Council.

Douglas devoted himself to poetry and scholarship. I lis original poems in “Lallans,” a name for the Scots dialect he took from Burns, led to an active role in the international writers’ organization PEN, of which he was Scottish President (1957- 1961). His translations of “The Twenty-Third Psalm of King David” and Valery’s “Cimetiere Marin” were widely acclaimed, and his theatrical versions of Aristophanes’ Frogs and Birds (“Puddocks” and “Burdies”) were performed at the Edinburgh Drama Festival.

As a scholar, he made important contributions to the study of Greek manuscripts (codicology). His critical edition of Theognis in the prestigious Teubner series (1961) is still in print and remains of value because of his personal examination of the manuscripts and his notes on many passages. In Chasing an Ancient Greek (1950), a book about his trip to examine Greek manuscripts and visit the PEN congress in Venice in 1949, he explained why Theognis is worth reading. “Theognis had a mind of his own and spoke it, on matters of general as well as of personal interest. As such a spokesman he is a social and historical ‘document’ of the first importance, all the more so that he is the most substantial relic of personal literature from the aristocratic particularist age, before Athenian national socialism and Macedonian dynastic imperialism.” Douglas is describing himself. During the last decade of his life, he worked on the text and manuscripts of the Greek tragedian Aeschylus. For many scholars, Aeschylus is the engaged artist of the radical Athenian democracy, but not for Douglas. “Aeschylus was clearly a constitutionalist of the ‘strict construction’ school, who wished the supreme court to have the general guardianship of the democratic constitution so as to repress alike any tendencies to despotism or to anarchy.”

Each time he applied for a Professorship in Scotland, he was turned down, despite impressive letters of recommendation. The great scholar of Greek religion, H.J. Rose, called him “without exception or doubt the most brilliant student I have ever taught.” (In America, when confronted by obstreperous students, he would listen to their comments and then say, “H.J. Rose always said the best students disagree with their teachers.”) In 1946, the chair at Glasgow went to A.W. Gomme, a senior scholar engaged in writing an important commentary on Thucydides. (He died before completing it.) Douglas taught Latin at University College, Dundee, but when in 1953 its Latin department was swallowed up by St. Andrews, he transferred to the Greek department of his old university. When he applied for the Greek chair there, he was passed over in favor of K.J. Dover, a young Englishman of much promise, whose most important scholarship, which included helping to finish Gomme’s commentary, began appearing in the late 60’s. Dover liked St. Andrews, and a few years later turned down the offer of the Regius Professorship of Greek at Oxford to stay there.

If Douglas was unhappy about a Sassanach occupying a Scottish chair, no change in his cheerful disposition ever betrayed it. Dover is a fine scholar, but he docs not suffer peers gladly. In his recent autobiography, Marginal Comment, he plays down Douglas’s contributions to Classical Studies and harps on their scholarly differences, which were based on principle. (On the next page he defends a nonthreatening friend for mistranslating Latin.) He attributes to himself the growing popularity of Greek studies at St. Andrews in the late 50’s and says the program had problems in the 70’s because “I was beginning to lose my grip as a teacher.” He does not note the correlation of the program’s ups and downs to Douglas’s presence. I and many others can attest that Douglas was a born teacher. The most striking failures in Dover’s career of almost unbroken success were his two chances to reach wider audiences, his Sather Lectures at Berkeley (1967) and his BBC show, The Greeks (1980). Dover gloats over Eduard Fraenkel’s refusal to come to a reception if Douglas were invited, but omits the details of their relationship. He breathed a sigh of relief when Douglas left. Having done his best work at St. Andrews, Dover returned to Oxford in 1976 as President of Corpus Christi College, where, by his own account, he seems to have spent much time fantasizing about the suicide of a difficult colleague.

After he was turned down for the Greek chair at Aberdeen in 1965, Douglas began to take seriously offers from America, finally accepting a position at McMaster University in Canada in 1968. The next year, he was appointed Padd=ison Professor of Greek at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was as active and cheerful as ever, with no sign of resentment that he had become one of Ammianus Marcellinus’s Scotti per diversa vagantes. He was popular with students and faculty and started writing one section of a major international commentary on Homer’s Odyssey. On October 24, 1973, he was found dead at his desk, with a copy of Homer open in front of him.

He was a constitutionalist, a federalist, and a nationalist in an age of power politics, imperialism, and international finance. He loved the languages and customs of the smaller nations of Europe—Serbia, Greece, Scotland—in an age when Germany, Britain, and the United States either ignored or trampled them. The SNP has won seats in the British Parliament and has crippled the Conservative Party in Scotland. Poetry is still written in Lallans, though many would agree with Edwin Muir, “they never seemed to me to be very gifted, except for Grieve” (Hugh MacDiarmid). In the latest Scots anthology from Edinburgh, Douglas’s name does not appear. His edition of Theognis is still in print and his articles are quoted. Fraenkel hated him, but Otto Skutsch, another refugee from Hitler who became Latin Professor at London, always beamed when Douglas’s name was mentioned. Scholars came from all over the world to visit him at Chapel Hill, where he had time to direct only two dissertations before his untimely death, on the manuscripts of Aeschylus and Sophocles, the latter written by me, the former by Dr. Thomas Fleming. Douglas spent his 60 years fighting for lost causes: the restoration of the Scottish nation and its literature and the texts of ancient Greek poets. In his essay on Francis Herbert Bradley, T.S. Eliot wrote, “We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successor’s victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that anything will triumph.”

Douglas’s best-known poem, which he used to hear quoted back to him on the hustings and at the market, contains his vision of what one man can accomplish. It is called “Last Lauch” (Last Laugh).

The Minister said it wald dee,
the cypress-buss I plantit.

But the buss grew til a tree,
naething dauntit.

It’s growan, stark and heich,
derk and staucht and sinister,

Kirkyairdie-like and dreich, . . .
But whaur’s the Minister?