A few days ago I gave a talk to the Friends of William Soutar in Perth on the friendship between Soutar and his fellow Scots poet Hugh MacDiarmid, as illustrated by letters in Edinburgh University Library’s C. M. Grieve Archive (MS 2960.18).
Soutar, confined to bed with a debilitating disease for the last 13 years of his life, adorned some of his letters with affectionate pen-and-ink caricatures of MacDiarmid (whom Soutar always addressed by his real forename ‘Christopher’). On 9 January 1937, he pokes gentle fun at the workaholic MacDiarmid’s idea of ‘taking it easy’, portraying him as a Marxist superman surrounded by piles of manuscripts headed ‘Lyrics’, ‘Autobiog.’, ‘Epic’, and ‘Articles’. When war breaks out, he suggests (19 December 1940) that the drafts of MacDiarmid’s works in progress will make a more than adequate bomb shelter.
Soutar was an Edinburgh University student, matriculating in 1919, after serving in the Royal Navy during the First World War (an experience that turned him into a pacifist). He began a medical degree, but soon switched to English Literature, where he proved a notoriously difficult student. He refused to study both Anglo-Saxon and novels in general as he considered both irrelevant to his future career as a poet. He did, however, publish early verses in The Student, many of which reappeared in his first published volume Gleanings by an Undergraduate (1923).
For information on our holdings of William Soutar manuscripts and correspondence, see Scottish Literary Papers.
Paul Barnaby, Centre for Research Collections
A new online guide to some of our major collections of Scottish literary papers is now available on the Centre for Research Collections website. It provides an overview of fourteen of our most significant twentieth-century collections, covering the literary manuscripts and correspondence of poets George Mackay Brown, Norman MacCaig, Hugh MacDiarmid, Edwin Muir, Sydney Goodsir Smith, Helen Cruickshank, Tom Scott, Andrew Young, Maurice Lindsay, and Duncan Glen, of short-story writer Fred Urquhart, and of historian and biographer Marion Lochhead. There are also pages on novelist John Buchan’s correspondence as literary adviser to Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd (in our Nelson Archive).
The guide not only lists the most significant literary manuscripts for each writer, but highlights links between the collections, charting correspondence between the featured writers, and mutually inspired creative and critical writings. For each writer, there is also a list of manuscript materials of relevance in other Edinburgh University Library collections. There are further links to online hand-lists and to relevant entries in the Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue.
The literary papers cover a great variety of materials:
- Manuscript and typescript drafts of literary works, such as Norman MacCaig‘s version of the Brecht/Weil song Mack the Knife (above right)
- Correspondence, including George Mackay Brown‘s application for a summer job at Edinburgh University Library (below left)!
- Photographs, such as W. R. Aitken‘s portrait of Hugh MacDiarmid and family on Whalsay, Shetland (above left)
- Other visual materials, such as Sydney Goodsir Smith‘s sketches for staging one of his plays (below right)
In due course, the pages will be expanded to cover smaller Scottish collections and pre-20th-century manuscripts, and to detail our holdings of writers (like Sorley Maclean or Edwin Morgan) for whom we have no discrete named collection. We hope that the guide will provide an invaluable gateway to our collections for anyone interested in researching 20th-century Scottish writing. To explore the site, go to: