To mark the centenary of the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, we are publishing a blog by Ash Mowat, a volunteer in the Civic Engagement Team, which explores the archives of a Scottish survivor. The composer Sheena Tennant Kendall was resident in Japan from 1919 to 1924 and lived through the catastrophe, describing its impact in her diary and photographing the ensuing devastation. Continue reading
The English writer Walter de la Mare was born 150 years ago this week on 25 April 1873. To mark his anniversary, we are publishing a blog by Ash Mowat, a volunteer in the Civic Engagement Team, which also marks the centenary of Come Hither, de la Mare’s much loved anthology of verse for ‘the young of all ages’. The blog also contains details of Edinburgh University Library’s extensive collection of de la Mare correspondence. Continue reading
Today we’re introducing Charlotte Holmes, a postgraduate student who is doing some volunteer work under the supervision of archivist Aline Brodin. Her main task is to catalogue and box-list two very different collections from our archives, the Archive of Illustrators Richard and Alison Douglas Tod (Coll-2029) and the Archive of productions of Varsity Vanities and various dramatic groups (Coll-1581). Volunteering with the CRC is a great way to gain some new skills and some practical experience while working with our heritage collections. Charlotte tells us about her background and her work in our reading room:
Hi everyone! My name is Charlotte, and I am a final-year PhD student in History. My thesis is entitled “Domestic Medicine in Early Modern Scotland, c. 1650 – c. 1750”. Before this course, I spent a few years in the “real world” after my undergraduate and masters at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and the University of Edinburgh respectively. My undergraduate degree was in History and French, concentrating on Western Europe and Africa, while my masters was in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies. I am interested generally in the history of Scotland, medicine, and gender.
My position with the Centre for Research Collections is as a Box-Listing Volunteer. As it says on the tin, I have been listing what is in the boxes for two collections: the Richard and Alison Tod fonds and the Varsity Vanities fonds. Richard and Alison Tod were Scottish children’s book illustrators throughout the 20th century and the Varsity Vanities fonds contain photographs and programmes from Edinburgh University student theatre productions from the mid-20th century. Most of my role involves thinking about what researchers need to know about items in the collections: are the photographs or artwork in black and white or colour? Can we determine the year in which the item was created? Then, I enter this data into ArchivesSpace with other archival descriptors such as the call number.
I took this position because I wanted to learn some basic archiving practices. As a researcher, I only look at the published side of the catalogue and I wanted to learn how it worked from the back end. I have certainly learned how much is involved in cataloguing items: it was challenging at first to fight my instincts to analyse them and to remain as objective as possible. But there were pieces in both collections that involved some subjectivity and further research. For example, there were racial depictions that are now commonly understood to be harmful to sections of society. So, I got to stretch my research muscles as well as exercise some subjectivity within the archiving process. It made me remember that there is a very human side to archival objectivity.
What I am leaving with from my time at the CRC is an incredibly positive learning experience. Everyone that works there, including and perhaps especially the front of house staff, are helpful and supportive. My supervisor, Aline is extremely patient and explains everything well and thoroughly. When I’m in, she makes a point to come say hi. I also have a regular table in the Reading Room, which is infinitely funny to me because of course my regular table wouldn’t be at a coffee shop or pub, but in a nerdy environment! Anyway, if you are interested at all in archives and history, I would highly recommend volunteering for the CRC. It’s worth climbing the six flights of stairs, I promise!
If you are interested in volunteering with us, you can find all the relevant information, including how to be added to our mailing list, on this page: Volunteers and Interns | The University of Edinburgh
To mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of James Hogg (1770-1835), we are featuring a peculiarly timely manuscript from Edinburgh University Library’s collections. Hogg’s poem ‘1831’ will strike a familiar chord with readers in 2020. It bids a hearty good riddance to a year plagued by a rampant epidemic, public unrest, conspiracy theories, and disruption to work and trade.
The poem’s refrain damns 1831 as the accursed year of ‘Burking, Bill, and Cholera’. The first major 19th-century outbreak of cholera reached Northern England in late summer 1831, probably via ships bringing imports from India. By the end of the year, it had entered Scotland, where it spread rapidly through the growing industrial towns, killing over 9,500 people. The disease also caused massive unemployment, particularly among weavers, as the demand for their wares plummeted. Quarantine regulations further prevented hawkers and travelling salesmen from travelling between towns. Economic deprivation led to ‘cholera riots’ in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Paisley. The target of the rioters’ fury was the medical profession which was suspected of Burking cholera patients. This term alluded to the body-snatching spree of Burke and Hare, crimes fresh in the public memory. It implied that doctors were systematically murdering cholera-sufferers to meet the demand for anatomic specimens.
Some protesters also claimed that the British government was deliberately spreading cholera in order to thin the numbers of the politically troublesome working classes. By ‘Bill’, Hogg means the Reform Bill of 1831, which envisaged a huge expansion of the (male) electorate. The rejection of the Bill by the House of Lords led to a nationwide outbreak of popular violence. Rioters set fire to Nottingham Castle (hence Hogg’s references to ‘flames’ and ‘fumes’) and seized control of Bristol for three days. Suspicion that cholera was being used to suppress the working classes blurred the boundaries between ‘Reform riots’ and ‘Cholera riots’.
In popular culture, archives sometimes have a cryptic reputation: if some filmmakers were to be believed, in the middle of dust and darkness would rest ancient manuscripts and parchments containing secrets about the occult and the mystic, jealously kept by a lone archivist (or a librarian, since they often appear to be interchangeable). Even though archives do hold fascinating, touching, thought-provoking materials in a myriad of shapes and forms, any archivist would tell you that such a description is a bit more glamorous than the reality…or, is it? It turned out manuscripts can hold supernatural secrets, as I discovered in a mysterious (and bibliographic) quest started on a rainy autumnal Saturday…
Two years ago, while looking for something to do to entertain my French guests, I had found a web page describing an abandoned castle in the woods near Gifford, a small village 40-minute away from Edinburgh. It seemed like a lovely walk – and even better, a part of the castle was said to have been built in the 13th century by demoniac goblins summoned by a necromancer! Talk about intriguing. The three of us set off. The starting point of our walk was a little path heading into the woods in the middle of the countryside, near a lonely, faded Victorian house. This was a particularly rainy and quiet day; and our directions were not very clear – soon, we were lost. We knew the castle was there somewhere, ancient and hidden, but our position at the bottom of a small valley prevented us from seeing anything other than trees and colourful foliage. Eventually, we met three other walkers who sent us in the right direction. They smiled knowingly when we told them we were looking for Yester Castle, and told us they had left candles inside the vault, “for the atmosphere”… Even more intrigued, we continued our quest, passing a number of old stone bridges hidden by the autumn leaves: perhaps this trail used to be followed by the castle’s inhabitants and visitors?
Finally, after an ultimate bridge curved over the river running at the bottom of the glen, we caught sight of a stone wall at the top of a hill. There it was! We had found our castle! And thanks to the rain, we had it for ourselves. The first edifices we encountered were an impressive tall wall, and the ruins of the stone keep. The castle had been built in the middle of the 13th century by the Laird of Yester Hugo de Giffard (or Hugh Gifford), descendent of a Norman immigrant who had been given land in East Lothian during the reign of David I.
We soon spotted stairs descending into a cold, large, dark chamber. That must be it – the vault supposedly built by the same Hugo de Giffard, a man who left an ambiguous trace in historical records. Officially, we know he was one of the Guardians of the young Alexander III of Scotland; and one of the Regents of the Kingdom appointed by the Treaty of Roxburgh on 20th of September 1255. However, he also had the reputation to be a warlock and a necromancer, and according to the legend he had summoned hobgoblins to build a subterranean vault under his castle, known as Bohall or Goblin Ha’, that he subsequently used for his demoniac activities.
After wandering around the ruins for a while, we discovered a small entrance behind the castle, enabling us to enter the chamber by crouching through a narrow corridor in complete darkness. The size of the vault is still impressive today. The ceiling is high, and reminded me a stony, upside down rib cage. At one corner of the room there were stairs going down even more deeply into the ground. We were not disappointed.
Once back to the safety of our home, far from any threat of goblins or medieval wizard, we tried to learn more about this incredible place. Finding a trustworthy source for the occult legend surrounding Hugo de Giffard was not easy. The original citation on which a large part of Hugo’s dark reputation seems to have been built was quoted in his Wikipedia page as follows: “Fordun thus speaks of him in noting his death in 1267: “Hugo Gifford de Yester, moritur cujus castrum vel saltem caveam et dongionem arte demoniacula antiquae relationes fuerunt fabricatas,” (vol.ii, p. 105).” . The quote can be translated as: “Hugo Gifford of Yester died. His castle, at least his cave and his dungeon, was said to have been formed by demoniac artifice”. The Wikipedia page for Yester Castle presented the same idea: “14th century chronicler John of Fordun mentions the large cavern in Yester Castle, thought locally to have been formed by magical artifice.” This was very vague – there was no indication of the work where the quote had been found, and which edition… We decided to get to the bottom of things. After all, we thought, the ruins of a castle built by demoniac forces during the middle ages are only cool if it can be supported by genuine contemporary evidence, not some hearsay on Wikipedia!
The source was said to be Fordun – so we assumed at first that the quotation was from the Chronica Gentis Scotorum (“Chronicles of the Scottish people”) written by the Scottish chronicler John of Fordun in the 14th century. This work was one of the first attempts to relate the history of the Scottish people, from its mythological origins to the death of David I in 1153. Which meant, of course, that it could not have mentioned Hugo de Giffard and his Goblin Ha’, built in the middle of the 13th century… We hit our first hurdle. To make matters more confusing, Sir Walter Scott himself mentions Hugo de Giffard and the infamous Goblin Hall in his book Marmion, published in 1808. We wondered – was the quote just an imaginative addition from a 19th century author to give more credit to a local legend, inspired by Walter Scott’s novel? It seemed all the online mentions of this particular extract stemmed from the same inaccurate Wikipedia citation, copied and pasted in various websites. No recent scholarly publications available online seemed to examine the legend.
However, while reading more about Fordun and his chronicles, we did find a clue: in 1440 Fordun’s Chronica Gentis Scotorum was continued by a Scottish abbot named Walter Bower born around 1385 at Haddington in East Lothian, which is only a few miles away from our mysterious castle. Ah! Could it be that the mention of the Goblin Ha’ was in Bower’s writings, rather than in Fordun’s chronicles? Bower, having grown up in the region, would have known about the local legend. The combined texts from Fordun and Bower are called the Scotichronicon, and are an invaluable source of Scottish history. Fordun was also commonly cited as the main author, especially in older sources, which would explain the mix up in the Wikipedia pages. The only edition available online was the Joannis de Fordun Scotichronicon: cum supplementis et continuatione Walteri Boweri, edited by Walter Goodall and published in 1759. Our Latin quote was in vol. 2, p. 105 – this seemed like the probable source of the Wikipedia entry, which mentioned a “vol. ii, p. 115”. Goodall’s work was for a long time the only complete edition of the Scotichronicon, and is based on Edinburgh University Library’s very own copy dating form 1510 (MS 186)…
This is when I thought – why content yourself with a transcription when you can check the original source directly? I was at the time working with postgraduate students on a project to produce an online catalogue of our Western Medieval Manuscripts, so I took the opportunity to have a look at MS 186. I retrieved the medieval book, which is of an impressive size – it is one of the few manuscripts in our collection which still have its original binding, and I must say, it did look like my idea of an ancient esoteric grimoire full of dark secrets! I then located the capitulus X, liber 21 as instructed by the 1759 edition, and…. There it was! The very same sentence in Latin, about Hugo de Giffard and his vault built by Hobgoblins.
I later put our Wikipedia editing training to good use by fixing the entries and clarifying the source and the author of the quote. This marked a satisfying ending to our quest for truth – we could rest easy knowing that our mysterious castle was an authentic ghoulish lair, and that we had done our part in disseminating knowledge through accurate bibliographical sources – could any archivist ask for more?
Aline Brodin, cataloguing archivist at the Centre for Research Collections.
 Oliver, A. Daniel, A., “The Identity Complex: the Portrayal of Archivists in Film.” in Archival Issues 37, no. 1 (2015): pp. 48-70.
 Ritchie, Robert L. G., The Normans in Scotland (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1954), p. 276.
 William Anderson, The Scottish Nation: Or The Surnames, Families, Literature, Honours, and Biographical History of the People of Scotland, vol. 2 (Edinburgh and London: A. Fullarton & co., 1862), p. 298.
 “Hugh de Giffard” (last edited in 2019), Wikipedia, Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_de_Giffard (Accessed: October 2018).
 “Yester Castle” (last edited in 2020), Wikipedia, Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yester_Castle (Accessed: October 2018).
 “Fordun, John of”, in Encyclopædia Britannica, vol. 10, ed. By Hugh Chisholm, 11th edn. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911). pp. 643-644.
 Scott, W., Marmion, 10th edn (Edinburgh: Archibald Contsable, 1821), p. 157.
 Watt, D. E. R., “A National Treasure? The Scotichronicon of Walter Bower”, in The Scottish Historical Review, Volume LXXVI, 1: No. 201 (April 1997), pp. 44-53.
 Scotichronicon, 8 volumes, ed. by D. E. R. Watt (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1987). See in particular, ‘Introduction’ to Volume 1 and Volume 8.
This week marks the bicentenary of Sir Walter Scott’s twelfth novel The Abbot, published in Edinburgh on 2 September 1820 and in London two days later. Alone among the Waverley Novels, it was presented not as a stand-alone narrative but as the sequel to an earlier volume, The Monastery, which had appeared just six months earlier. Set in the early years of the Scottish Reformation, The Monastery had sold well but had disappointed many readers and reviewers. Criticism was directed, in particular, at the pivotal role played by the ghostly White Lady, guardian spirit of the House of Avenel. Contrary to widespread belief, Scott rarely resorts to the supernatural, and his use of the White Lady struck many as an incongruous Gothic throwback.
Scott later hinted that the decision to set a second novel in the Reformation stemmed from frustration with the relative failure of The Monastery and a determination to show that the period provided fertile subject-matter. Accepted by most of his biographers, this account has been called into question by Christopher Johnson, editor of the recent Edinburgh Edition of The Abbot (2000). Johnson shows that the contract for a sequel was signed before the completion of The Monastery, and that Scott had simply found that he had enough narrative materials for two novels. The idea of depicting the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots at Loch Leven Castle—The Abbot’s central episode—had occurred to Scott as early as summer 1817.
Yesterday a plaque was unveiled at the School of Scottish Studies Archives celebrating the centenary of Hamish Henderson, who was born in Blairgowrie on 11 November 1919. As a songwriter, song-collector, poet, and political activist, Henderson is widely acclaimed as the father of Scotland’s post-war Folk Revival. He was appointed as a lecturer and research fellow at the newly founded School of Scottish Studies in 1951, where his fieldwork and his many writings, both academic and non-academic, provided a major catalyst for the movement.
The Papers of Hamish Henderson (Coll-1438), amounting to over 60 boxes of material, are one of Edinburgh University’s most important archival collections. Original manuscripts by Henderson in the collection include poems, songs, essays, articles, talks, lectures, letters to the press, and translations. There are also fieldwork notes, including many transcripts of songs, and a wide range of materials relating to Henderson’s work for the School of Scottish Studies. Henderson’s political life is reflected in papers connected to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Anti-Apartheid movement, and the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly. In addition, there are a number of personal papers, including materials relating to Henderson’s service in the Second World War.
There is extensive incoming correspondence from major figures in the worlds of literature, folk music, and scholarship, illustrating the extraordinary breadth of Henderson’s interests and the extent of his influence. There are letters from:
- Writers such as George Mackay Brown, Helen Cruickshank, Ian Hamilton Finlay, W. S. Graham, Tom Leonard, Norman MacCaig, Hugh MacDiarmid, Naomi Mitchison, and Tom Scott
- Singers, songwriters and musicians including Martyn Bennett, Shirley Collins, Lizzie Higgins, Ewan MacColl, Jean Redpath, Jean Ritchie, Jeannie Robertson, Peggy Seeger, and Pete Seeger
- Folklorists and song-collectors including Margaret Bennett, John Lorne Campbell, Peter Kennedy, A. L. ‘Bert’ Lloyd, Alan Lomax, Iona and Peter Opie, and Duncan and Linda Williamson
- Figures from the world of screen and theatre including Joan Littlewood, Dolina Maclennan, and Jonathan Miller
- Historians and cultural commentators such as Richard Hoggart, Tom Nairn, E. P. Thompson, Philip Toynbee, and Raymond Williams.
There are also numerous manuscripts of songs collected by or submitted to Henderson, as well as original verse by writers including Joe Corrie, T. S. Law, Norman MacCaig, Hugh MacDiarmid, Naomi Mitchison, and Tom Scott.
There is further material of Henderson interest in other archival collections held by Edinburgh University Library, including letters from Henderson to Helen Cruickshank (Coll-81), Maurice Lindsay (Coll-56), Michael Sharp (Coll-1492), and Hugh MacDiarmid (Coll-18). Considering the pair’s much publicized disagreements on the role and significance of folksong, there is a surprising wealth of Henderson materials in our MacDiarmid Collection. Together with 70 letters from Henderson, there are manuscripts of poems and songs by Henderson, including the anti-Apartheid anthem ‘Rivonia’, an impassioned plea for the release of Nelson Mandela.
For more information on the Papers of Hamish Henderson see:
Acquisition and Scottish Literary Collections Curator
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of two of George Mackay Brown’s landmark publications, An Orkney Tapestry and A Time to Keep. While Brown was already well established as a poet, these works made his reputation as a master of prose.
Unusually, An Orkney Tapestry was a commissioned publication. In late 1967, literary agent Giles Gordon approached Brown on behalf of Victor Gollancz publishers to inquire whether he might be interested in writing a general guide to his native Orkney. Although it was not the kind of work that appealed to Brown, Gollancz were offering a generous advance, and it presented an opportunity of visiting parts of the Orkney archipelago that he had not previously seen. The manuscript that Brown eventually submitted, however, was very far from a conventional guidebook. Instead, in An Orkney Tapestry, Brown wove prose, poetry, and drama together to commemorate the stories and traditions that had forged the character of the islands and their inhabitants.
The book consists of six sections: a polemical sketch of contemporary Orcadian life; a history of the ‘ghost village’ of Rackwick; a retelling of crucial episodes from the Orkneyinga Saga; an essayistic account of Orkney folklore; a short story-like evocation of a ballad singer’s performance at the Renaissance court of Earl Patrick Stuart; and a play ‘The Watcher’ concerning the apparition of an angel in an everyday Orkney setting.
Brown’s intention was to stress the importance of stories in creating a community and holding it together. A community cuts itself off from these formative stories at its own peril (p. 23), and Brown feared that the life of contemporary Orkney was increasingly meaningless (p. 19). An Orkney Tapestry is as much a jeremiad as a celebration. Time and again, Brown rails against progress–or rather a dogmatic, utilitarian ‘religion’ of Progress–as a ‘cancer’ that ‘drains the life’ out of ‘an elemental community’ (p. 53). He laments the loss of the old Orcadian speech and the uniformity created by compulsory education and the omnipresent new media of radio and television. With An Orkney Tapestry, he hopes to reawaken Orcadians to their history and traditions, and to inspire them to return to their life-giving roots.
Edinburgh University Library hold a much-corrected MS draft of An Orkney Tapestry (Gen 1868/5) together with a fair copy with instructions for a typist (Gen 1868/4).
We also hold George Mackay Brown’s letters to fellow poet Charles Senior (E2000.11), in which he traces the genesis of An Orkney Tapestry. In a letter of 28 December 1967, Brown tells Senior that he has been commissioned to write ‘a book about Orkney’. It is not ‘the kind of thing I like doing’ but should ‘bring in a couple of hundred quid or so’. On 8 January 1968, he reports that his usual publisher Chatto & Windus have reluctantly granted him permission to write for Gollancz, but Brown is unsure ‘whether I’ll be good at that sort of thing or no’. By 13 January, his doubts have grown: ‘I’m not good at patient research and reappraisal and I have no idea where the drift of history is taking the Orcadians’. He hopes to hit upon some ‘valid & original way’ to tackle the commission. On 20 January, he declares that he is determined, at least, not to write ‘some kind of a glorified guide book’. By Candlemas Day (2 February), the book is clearly beginning to take shape. It will be ‘highly impressionistic’ and entirely free of statistics: ‘I shun figures and tables as I would the devil’. He is planning a chapter on Rackwick, and a section contrasting a medieval or renaissance bard with the contemporary Orkney poet Robert Rendall. By 9 February, he reveals that he has been working on the ‘Orkney book’ all week, and has finished the first draft of the chapter on Rackwick (‘interlarded with poems’). This has left him ‘with a flush of achievement’, though he suspects that closer scrutiny may discover ‘a hundred flaws’. On 16 February, he laments the difficult of translating (‘or, rather, freely adapting’) Norse heroic verses for the third chapter of An Orkney Tapestry. These ‘stretched all my faculties to the utmost’ but ‘it’s good for writers to tackle something hard now and again’. Unfortunately, the correspondence with Senior is suspended at this point, as Senior was now, in fact, living close by in Orkney. These few letters, however, give a vivid impression of how An Orkney Tapestry swiftly evolved from impersonal commission to personal vision.
Within a fortnight of publication, An Orkney Tapestry had sold over 3,000 copies. One of its first readers, composer Peter Maxwell-Davies was so transfixed by Brown’s prose, that he was inspired to move to Orkney and make it his base for the rest of his life. Edinburgh University holds manuscript librettos for three works that Brown wrote for Maxwell-Davies: Apples and Carrots (MS 2846/4/2), Lullaby for Lucy (MS 2843/8/1), and Solstice of Light (Gen. 2134/2/4).
Another enthusiastic reader was veteran poet Helen B. Cruickshank. We hold Cruickshank’s well-thumbed copy of An Orkney Tapestry (JA3388), inscribed on the title-page by Brown and by artist Sylvia Wishart (whose illustrations for An Orkney Tapestry first brought her to prominence). There is also a brief letter from Brown on the half-title page, congratulating Cruickshank on the receipt of an honorary M.A. from Edinburgh University. A further letter from Brown in our Helen Cruickshank Papers (Coll-81) grants Cruickshank permission to quote a line from An Orkney Tapestry in her memoir Octobiography (Montrose: Standard, 1976): ‘Decay of language is always the symptom of a more serious sickness’. What Brown says of the decay of Orcadian speech (An Orkney Tapestry, 30), Cruickshank applies to the decline of her native Scots (Octobiography, p. 77).
The commercial success of An Orkney Tapestry was largely matched by critical approval. Seamus Heaney praised it as ‘a spectrum of lore, legend and literature, a highly coloured reaction as Orkney breaks open in the prisms of a poet’s mind and memory’ (Listener, 21 August 1969). For J. K. Annand, it was ‘one of those rare books which capture and convey the essential character of a place’ (Akros, January 1970). Not everyone, however, was entirely convinced. Robin Fulton, in the New Edinburgh Review (November 1969), felt that the problems raised by Brown ‘deserve more serious treatment than can be afforded by polemics and jeremiads’ and wondered ‘how closely in touch’ Brown was ‘with the way of life he professes to reject’. Brown rails against progress as a ‘new religion’ but ‘in fact who does in 1969 naively accept such a belief?’ (p. 6). Similarly, Janet Adam Smith felt that ‘Mr Brown is a far better poet than preacher and some of his diatribes on the present run too glibly’ (Times, 12 July 1969).
No such doubts were expressed about Brown’s second major publication of 1969, A Time to Keep, his second short-story collection after A Calendar of Love (1967). Alexander Scott wrote that Brown ‘gives more fundamental insights into our common humanity in even the shortest of his stories than will be found in a hundred full-length fictions of the conventional kind’ (Lines Review, 28 March 1969). Janice Elliot described him as a ‘precise, poetic, and dazzling writer’ (Guardian, 7 February 1969). Paul Bailey wrote the stories ‘often brought me close to tears’ and that there ‘are few writers alive today with the courage to be so simple and direct, or with the talent—the sheer, unforced talent—to lighten up the most humdrum detail’ (Observer, 2 March 1969). Even Robin Fulton, despite some reservations about the volume as a whole, declared that its strongest tales were ‘among the finest stories written by any Scottish writer’.
We do not hold any manuscripts or working papers relating to A Time to Keep. We do, however, have Norman MacCaig’s personal copy of the volume, signed by MacCaig on the half-title page.
For further information on our Papers of George Mackay Brown, see:
Sources (other than previously cited)
- Timothy Baker, George Mackay Brown and the Philosophy of Community (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009)
- Maggie Fergusson, George Mackay Brown: The Life (London: John Murray, 2007)
- Berthold Schoene-Harwood, The Making of Orcadia: Narrative Identity in the Prose Work of George Mackay Brown (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1995)
- Hilda D. Spear, George Mackay Brown: A Survey of his Work and a Full Bibliography (Lewiston: E. Mellen Press, 2000)
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.
Cataloguing the correspondence of Thomas Nelson & Sons
Last January, our intern Isabella started a 10-week placement at the CRC, as part of her MSc in Book History and Material Culture. Using our online system ArchivesSpace, she is cataloguing part of the records of Thomas Nelsons & Sons Ltd., a British publishing firm founded in Edinburgh in 1798. So far, she has been dealing with correspondence, advertising material, and printed material relating to publishing, all dating from the end of the 19th century. Here are some of her most interesting finds:
1. W. H. Allen & Co.: Pictured above is a beautiful embossing from the stationary of W. H. Allen & Co. Ltd., a London based bookseller and publisher. The company were ‘publishers to the India office’ as can be noted on the seal. The coordination of a lion and a unicorn most likely represents the company’s work across Scotland and England.
2. There are three letters from one Mrs. Allan enquiring about the potential for her 15 year old son to take up an apprenticeship with Nelson & Sons. She describes her son as being a naturally gifted illustrator and when the company takes a bit long to reply she sends further letters describing how she and her son are ‘wearing of waiting’ for a response. Though the company eventually accepted samples of the young Mr. Allan’s work, he was not offered an apprentice position.
3. Lady Aberdeen Insignia: Pictured above is the signet of Lady Ishbel Aberdeen who wrote to the offices of Nelson & Sons on September 14th 1896, sending several copies of Canadian literary reports and magazines as well as personal letters inquiring as to whether the company would wish to send any penny or bargain literature they may have the copyrights for to Canada as she believes the country is in desperate need of ‘good, cheap literature.’ She speaks about her children’s magazine “Wee Willie Winkie” named after the Scottish fairy tale as well as the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC). Lady Aberdeen was the founder of the NCWC, an advocate for the creation of the Victorian Order of Nurses as well as a well-known supporter of the Canadian suffrage movement. The signet is a blue embossed crown containing her initials wrapped together with a vine-esque tie (information on Lady Aberdeen acquired via the Canadian Encyclopaedia).
4. Frank Mahony: Pictured above are six printed illustrations from illustrator Frank P. Mahony. Mahony was an artist from Melbourne Australia whose work was used in the construction of the ‘New South Wales Reader’ a larger and heavily documented project undertaken by Nelson & Sons transcontinentally in congress with several agencies in Australia including leather workers, booksellers, and authors. As can be seen, the copies of the illustrations have been warped from years of being curled into a scroll-esque form at the centre of a group of letters and cost projections for the ‘New South Wales Reader.’ In order to examine each paper with minimal damage, two glass weights are placed at the edges of the copy pictures to examine them as a whole without compromising the form the paper has taken over years of storage.
5. Oxford University Press: This letter addressed to Nelson & Sons is a copy of a letter from the University Press of Oxford requesting manuscript materials for the Presbyterian Hymnal with Tunes, a project which was spearheaded by Reverend James Anderson of Toronto. The initial correspondence regarding the publication of the Presbyterian Hymnal between Reverend Anderson and George Brown of Nelson & Sons deals mostly in obtaining or paying license for the use of tunes from other previously published hymnals. The various letters sent between the two men gives a glimpse into the nature of musical copyright laws and penalties in 1896 both in Canada, where the Reverend Anderson was based and in Scotland where Nelson & Sons offices were. The publication of the hymnal went on to be so successful that the University Press of Oxford requested to take up the publication of the piece as well.
6. Schwebius letter: Much of the cataloguing done for this archive requires some previous exposure to palaeography, or the study of dated handwriting. However, sometimes in deciphering particularly unclear script a second opinion or cross referencing is required to confirm the context of a letter in order to properly interpret the piece. For this letter, the name Schwebius, though written twice, was not entirely apparent in its spelling. The content of the letter referred to the sale of a foundry and various machines from a leatherworker in New York. The cataloguer referred to a digitized directory from the library of Hoboken, New York which not only lists the recipient of this letter, a George Schwebius, but mentions details of his business which were substantiated by the letter from the Nelson Archive. Corroborating information across archives and databases allowed not only for the correct spelling of the sender’s name to be identified but gave further insight into the transactions between the sender and Nelson & Sons.
7. George Brown’s Signature: In 1896 Nelson & Sons decided to invest several substantial sums which were guaranteed by an American investment firm. Their correspondence with the American firm was directed to a Mr. Stewart Tods and concerned the investment of two separate sums of more than 10,000 dollars each. The letter, though entirely concerned with business, reflects the genial nature of professional signatures from the time. Here George Brown, a manager at Nelson & Sons, signs ‘Believe me, Yours Faithfully’. Though the letter concerns references to significant sums of money and is a reflection of a transaction, the signature is incredibly genial and far more affectionate than would be used in the same manner of business today.
8. Nelson & Sons employed a vast number of employees who all were integral to discovering, creating, and marketing literature. From travel writers to leather testers, Nelson & Sons often employed numerous professionals to vet their literature including Jane Macgregor and Jane Borthwick. Though each women worked with the company under other supervisions at various periods, Jane Borthwick was a translator of German hymns as well as a writer of English hymns, a collection of letters in this archive reveals that these two women were also engaged as test readers for the manuscripts sent to the company. Many of the letters sent by Borthwick and Macgregor reference literature they have been sent which contains female protagonists, from which it could be inferred that Nelson & Sons were recruiting female employees for female driven literature.
The Thomas Nelson collection (Coll-25) on our online catalogue: https://archives.collections.ed.ac.uk/repositories/2/resources/85801