Sir Sidney is by far the better known. Liberal (Whig) Member for Edenborough South from 1854 to his death in 1877, we have copious personal correspondence together with the official parliamentary record. Conscientious but uninspiring, might sum his political career, for though his attendance record at the House was exemplary he made only three speeches, none of great effect. Liberal, we should recall, meant something rather different in the mid-nineteenth century than it does now and Sir Sidney was no upholder of social freedoms or campaigner for individual rights. Liberalism of the mid-nineteenth century was more akin to libertarianism: the right of a man to manage and prosecute his trade and affairs without constraints, restrictive practices or excessive taxation. Sir Sidney’s sympathies lay with the trade and merchant classes while those of a Tory disposition lay with the church, judiciary and landed gentry. The political battle of the nineteenth century was between Liberal proponents of change and Tory guardians of the existing order. Neither party concerned itself with the poor and destitute, believing they must look to God and to their own industry to improve their lot. In this, Sir Sidney was typical and all three of his speeches concerned the rights and freedoms of Edenborough’s merchantmen to practise their business without parliamentary restraints.His publishing partner, Master John Lucas, was typical of those whom Liberal policy sought to assist. The son of an Argyll ship-builder he had risen by his own skill and efforts to become the proprietor of the Crosshaven Ironworks in Leith and had considerable investments in coalmining and construction. Unfortunately, almost all his personal and business correspondence was lost in a fire in 1897, and for many years he has been regarded as a typical hard-nosed businessman and the probable inspiration for MacGregor’s ‘Robert Lockhart’ character. Recently however, a chance discovery in the Edenborough Records Office reveals a happier view of the man. The Factory Act of 1863 (of which Sir Sidney had been a staunch opponent) required annual inspection of all manufactories employing over fifty people and a log kept of all accidents resulting in maiming or death. Lodged in the Official Records Office, the inspection records for the Crosshaven Ironworks have survived and reveal Lucas’s company had throughout the 1860s one of the best safety records in all of Scotland and was often praised for the care it took in its employee’s welfare.If MacGregor did not base Robert Lockhart on Lucas, we certainly have evidence he took his frustrations with his publishers onto the page in other areas. Comparing the original manuscript with the 1865 edition, we note the Hanseatic Hall in Edenborough was located in Lawnmarket in the former, but in the published version, it relocates to Canongate, suspiciously close to Beresford & Lucas’ premises. Furthermore, MacGregor’s depiction of the bumbling Otto von Danneberg does bear close resemblance to Sir Sidney. As neither of these two changes were forced on MacGregor or detract from the story (if anything von Danneberg as we know him is an improvement on the character MacGregor originally described) I have retained them from the 1865 edition. (See Reading between MacGregor’s lines)
Following initial rejection of the manuscript in 1863, MacGregor engaged in repeated bouts of editing and revision to create an acceptable version for his publisher. That this took two years may surprise, but having seen the volume of correspondence between Canongate and MacGregor’s home in Tweeddale it is remarkable the work survived at all. Inevitably, MacGregor’s story suffered in the process and its publication in a three volume edition in 1865 received a muted response from critics and readers alike.
Undeterred, MacGregor continued work on the second novel in the sequence, Works of the Master but choosing to disregard what a lesser writer might regard as ‘lessons learned’ he continued to write in his new ‘natural’ style, as he termed it, resulting in a fresh bout of disagreement between MacGregor and his publishers. This time, however, he had foreseen difficulties and the required revisions took only three months compared to two years for the first volume. This proved rather more successful with the public than its predecessor and the third volume, Devices & Executions, followed in 1869.