Author Archives: pbarnaby

Hugh MacDiarmid and Mary Poppins: An Unpublished Letter in EU Archives

An unpublished letter from Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers to Hugh MacDiarmid in Edinburgh University’s C. M. Grieve Archive casts further light on the surprising relationship between the two writers revealed in an article in today’s The National. Our letter shows that Travers was so taken by MacDiarmid’s writing that she urged her publisher to bring out an edition of his selected poems.

0078552cJennifer Morag Henderson‘s essay in The National (‘Poppins and MacDiarmid – Truly Whaur Extremes Meet’) reveals that MacDiarmid and Travers met in London in 1931 or 1932, probably under the aegis of Irish writer and mystic George William Russell (1853–1919) who wrote under the pseudonym ‘AE’. Russell was something of a spiritual and literary mentor to Travers, who was then working as a journalist and drama critic, but he also contributed an ‘Introductory Essay’ to MacDiarmid’s 1931 collection First Hymn to Lenin and Other Poems.

As Henderson notes, the meeting is recorded in a published letter from MacDiarmid to another Irish writer Oliver St John Gogarty, dated 22 January 1932, where he writes: ‘The lady with the pheasant-coloured hair [Travers] is quite a figure in Bloomsbury circles. We have had some most amusing times together – and would have had more but for the horrible tangle of my own affairs (the divorce went through last Saturday).’ Henderson wonders whether the pair discussed their conflicting views on nationalism or their mutual interest in Soviet Russia (which Travers was to describe in her book Moscow Excursion). She concludes, however, that during MacDiarmid’s messy divorce from Peggy Skinner, Travers probably interested MacDiarmid ‘as a woman first and writer second’.

mdsmrThe letter from Travers in our Grieve Archive (Gen. 2094/5 f. 2325), apparently overlooked by editors of MacDiarmid’s correspondence, confirms Henderson’s conjectures as to mutual areas of interest but also suggests that their relationship had a strongly literary character. The letter is undated. A reference to MacDiarmid’s First Hymn to Lenin which Travers ‘would love to have … some day’ might place it in the 1931-32 time-frame discussed by Henderson. The fact, however, that Travers clearly already has a strong relationship with publisher Gerald Howe, who published the first Mary Poppins book in 1934, makes the mid-1930s a more probable date.

Travers writes that ‘I have been to see Howe and with every sweet and noble adjective at my command put your suggestion of the 50-100 of your very finest selected’. Howe was ‘definitely interested’ but ‘would not commit himself’. He invites MacDiarmid to submit a selection of verse, either directly or through Travers, but on the understanding that Howe is not ‘bound in any way’. Travers confides that Howe ‘knows nothing in the world about poetry’ and depends entirely on advice from an unnamed writer who, fortunately, is a good personal friend of Travers and whom she believes she can influence in MacDiarmid’s favour.

Travers repeatedly stresses her personal enthusiasm for the project (‘Personally I think the idea such a good one!’) and mentions that Howe had particularly liked the suggestion that W. B. Yeats might write an introduction to the MacDiarmid volume.

In the rest of the letter, Travers mentions that ‘AE’ has dined with her the previous night, and that they had talked about MacDiarmid. She also mentions an article that she is writing on ‘Nationalism and Internationalism’, hinting at the political differences between the pair mentioned in Henderson’s article. While MacDiarmid, of course, combined revolutionary socialism with Scottish nationalism, the Australian-born Travers considered herself a citizen of the British Empire. Here she remarks that the concepts of nationalism and internationalism surely ‘don’t exist on other stars’.

The anthology of MacDiarmid’s selected poems never appeared. Travers mentions Gerald Howe’s fears that, as a poet, MacDiarmid might be tied to his original publisher Victor Gollancz ‘the “cutest” drafter of an agreement in London’, and perhaps that effectively stymied the project. The letter is nonetheless a record of what was clearly a warm literary friendship between figures from what one might have thought were very different worlds.

Signature of P.L. [Pamela] Travers

Paul Barnaby

 

Elizabeth Wiskemann, First Woman Professor and War-Hero

A university figure that deserves far greater recognition is our first woman professor Elizabeth Wiskemann (1899-1971), who held the Montague Burton Chair of International Relations from 1958 to 1961. Although her name is absent from subsequent published histories, the University Journal for May 1958 certainly grasped the significance of her arrival. Announcing ‘the first woman to be appointed to an Edinburgh Chair’, it presented her as ‘a writer of authority on international affairs’, who had held appointments as a ‘press attaché to the British Legation at Berne, as a correspondent of The Economist at Rome, and as Director of the Carnegie Peace Endowment for Trieste’.

While these are major achievements, her personal contribution to 20th-century history ran much deeper. From 1930, Wiskemann (whose grandfather was German) worked as a political journalist in Berlin for the New Statesman and other publications, and was among the first to warn of the dangers of Nazism. So effective were her articles in alerting international readers to the true nature of Hitler’s regime that she was expelled from Germany by the Gestapo in 1937. She continued to expose Nazi plans for German expansion in her influential books Czechs and Germans (1938) and Undeclared War (1939).

Wiskemann did indeed spend the war as a press attaché in Switzerland, but this was cover for her true job of secretly gathering non-military intelligence from Germany and occupied Europe via the contacts she had made as a journalist. In May 1944, British Intelligence learned that the hitherto unknown destination to which Hungarian Jews were being deported was Auschwitz. When the allies turned down a request to bomb the railway lines (due to limited resources), Wiskemann hit on a cunning ploy. Knowing that it would be seen by Hungarian intelligence, she deliberately sent an unencrypted telegram to the Foreign Office in London. This contained the addresses of the offices and homes of the Hungarian government officials best positioned to halt the deportations and suggested that they be targeted in a bombing raid. When, quite coincidentally, several of these buildings were hit in a US raid on 2 July, the Hungarian government leapt to the conclusion that Wiskemann’s telegram had been acted upon and put an end to the deportations.

IMG_1726Wiskemann continued to publish on German and Italian politics after the War. She was appointed to the Edinburgh Chair on the recommendation of William Norton Medlicott (1900-1987), Professor of International History at the London School of Economics, who described her as ‘a pleasant, active, middle-aged woman’ who would ‘be a very suitable choice’. Lectures by previous holders of the Chair had been poorly attended as they formed part of no degree course. Wiskemann, however, did much to boost the profile of her post by inviting national and international experts to lead discussion groups on issues of the day. The focus of her own teaching increasingly moved away from European issues to developments in post-colonial Africa. Click on the image, right, to see a handwritten list of lectures and discussion groups for 1961.

IMG_1725The Montague Burton Chair (endowed by Sir Maurice Montague Burton, founder of the men’s clothing chain) was a three-year appointment, at the end of which holders were eligible to apply for re-election. Wiskemann chose not to stand for re-election, much to the University Court’s dismay, as the Chair had proved difficult to fill. In a letter of 28 July 1960 (click right) Wickemann explained that deteriorating eyesight, exacerbated by a recent unsuccessful operation, had led to her decision. Tragically, this condition would eventually lead Wiskemann to take her own life in 1971.

Paul Barnaby, Centre for Research Collections

‘Connected Collections’, Library of Innerpeffray, 29 November 2014

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Last Saturday, I was at the wonderful Library of Innerpeffray, Scotland’s oldest lending library (founded ca. 1680) for ‘Connected Collections’, a workshop organised by Jennifer Barnes and Chris Murray of the University of Dundee. This was designed as a forum for academics, archivists, library and museum professionals, and students to discuss the promotion of creative collections at Scottish universities and work towards potential partnerships and research bids.

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After my opening talk on ‘Widening Access to Creative Collections at Edinburgh University’, Neil Curtis (Head of Museums, Aberdeen) gave an historical account of collecting and cataloguing policies over the 18th and 19th centuries noting how changing curatorial approaches repurposed and recombined Aberdeen University’s collections, sometimes creating hybrid objects. He stressed too the role of Scottish universities as combined national institutions, rather than regional entities serving only their immediate area.

Karl Magee (University Archivist, University of Stirling) introduced the archive of Stirling-born film-maker Norman McLaren and discussed, in particular, the relationship forged between the University Archives and the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum, culminating in the exhibition ‘A Dream of Stirling: Norman McLaren’s Scottish Dawn’.

John Izod (Communications, Media and Culture, Stirling University) told the fascinating tale of Lindsay Anderson’s documentary of Wham!’s 1985 China tour, the first visit to that country by a western pop group. Anderson’s radically different first version, rejected by the group’s management, is in Stirling University’s Lindsay Anderson Archive.

Julie Gardham (Senior Assistant Librarian, Special Collections, University of Glasgow) presented a number of innovative ways of promoting arts and humanities collections, including using archives as inspirational materials for creative writing workshops, pitching under-used and uncatalogued collections at potential researchers at evening receptions, and running a student blogathon, with prizes for the best and most liked posts for items on Special Collections and Archives material.

Gerard Carruthers (Francis Hutcheson Chair of Scottish Literature, University of Glasgow) argued that there was a need for a concerted effort to catalogue and explore 18th– and 19th-century poetry archives in Glasgow and the West of Scotland. This was material that had been neglected due to the prevailing misconception that Scottish poetry had descended into sentimental tartanry after Burns. He wished to see a project ‘Scottish Political Poetry and Song, 1832-1918’ researching material in newspapers and periodicals to create an alternative print cultural history.

Caroline Brown (Deputy Archivist, University of Dundee), discussed her university’s promotion of embedded archival teaching, including the award of a prize for the best piece of work using archival materials. She placed particular stress on oral history projects involving Dundee’s jute mills, the publisher D. C. Thomson, and patients and staff at a hospital for people with a learning disability.

Chris Murray (Dundee) discussed the use of archives in Comics Studies courses at Dundee University. These were largely created through building up close relationships with individual comic artists and publishers, many of whom regularly visited Dundee to give talks to the students. Archival materials were also used to inspire students to create their own comics. Dr Murray noted the difficulty in using some recent materials for teaching and research, due to donators’ concerns that materials might be uploaded to the internet.

Finally Brian Hoyle (English and Film Studies, Dundee) introduced Dundee University’s recently acquired archive of the Scottish novelist and screenwriter Alan Sharp, and discussed his interest in building an archive of unfilmed cinema scripts (of which there were many first-rate examples in the Sharp Archive).

The day ended with a round-table discussion which gave student delegates a chance to express their own views on the efforts of libraries, archives, and museums to engage with them. A common theme was a desire for easier and more uniform access to collections in institutions other than the student’s own. Archivists also expressed concerns that universities were no longer training students in the skills required (Latin, palaeography) to decipher archival materials.

The day provided an excellent opportunity for forging contacts between academics, library and archive professionals, and students working with creative collections. It was also an invaluable platform for library and archives staff to exchange ideas on outreach and widening participation. It is to be hoped that future ‘Connected Collections’ workshops will be organized to build on the relationships established at Innerpeffray.

 Paul Barnaby, Archives Team, CRC

 

William Soutar’s Caricatures of Hugh MacDiarmid

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.

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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

New Guide to Scottish Literary Papers

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).

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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)

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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:

http://www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/information-services/library-museum-gallery/crc/collections/special-collections/scottish-literature/overview

Paul Barnaby