March 31 marks the 175th anniversary of the birth of one of Scotland’s most prolific and versatile writers, Andrew Lang (1844-1912). The author or co-author of 249 volumes, Lang worked in fields as varied as anthropology, folklore, classical scholarship, Scottish history, poetry, drama, and children’s writing. As a perennially in-demand journalist, he also penned articles and reviews on an almost daily basis.
At the Centre for Research Collections, we hold a suitably diverse collection of 35 letters (Coll-732) from Andrew Lang to a number of literary and professional colleagues. The publications mentioned in these letters convey the full breadth of Lang’s interests: controversially pro-Jacobite studies of Mary Queen of Scots and Charles Edward Stuart, translations from Homer, an epic poem on Helen of Troy, a history of Oxford University, a study of three French Romantic poets, and anthologies of ballads and folktales.
Although many of the letters are brief and business-like, they provide a vivid glimpse into the daily labour of a Late Victorian professional writer. There are letters asking magazine editors what they pay contributors; thanking his literary agent Hughes Massie for a cheque; requesting transcripts of historical manuscripts held by the British Museum; offering advice to young authors; submitting work on behalf of protégés; accepting or declining invitations to address clubs and societies; and turning down commissions when over-committed or short of inspiration.