Allan Massie

The Old Quarrel

That Sweet Enemy

By

The English and the French have enjoyed a love–hate relationship for centuries. I say ‘the English’ because the Scots stand rather apart, or betwixt and between. Individual Scots – notably, as Robert and Isabelle Tombs remark, Adam Smith – have helped form a British mindset which the French find repugnant; yet Scots retain fond memories of the Auld Alliance and still speak of England as ‘the auld enemy’ – no sweetness there. Moreover, by a decree of Louis XII, never rescinded, Scots resident in France were to be regarded as French nationals. In August 1944 Colette, most French of all French writers, told her husband she would not believe in the liberation of Paris till he brought her a Scottish officer. ‘In a kilt?’ ‘Certainly in a kilt.’ He produced a major from a Highland regiment, who stayed to lunch. ‘My wife reads a lot,’ he said, ‘I expect she’ll have heard of you.’ This is by the by. It must be admitted, however, that the French usually speak of ‘Angleterre’ and ‘les Anglais’, rather than of Britain and the British.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Seventy years on, the time we have left to gather such first-hand testimony is running out.' John Keay on the sig… ,
    • The author 'seethes with contemptuous indignation at the shiny junk that an unregulated construction industry dumps… ,
    • 'The physical courage he demonstrated as a young man [...] gave way to intellectual power; radical thought, gifted… ,
    • 'While Jane Austen didn’t perhaps achieve the full recognition that she deserved in her lifetime, even then she out… ,
    • 'All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And t… ,
    • 'You are interested in a particular subject; basic research hardens this interest into an obsession, after which th… ,
    • 'Keynes predicted that future generations would enjoy such an improved standard of living that they might work just… ,