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