Tag Archives: Scottish Literary Papers

MacDiarmid and ‘Nisbet: An interlude in post-war Glasgow’


Letter-head from a letter to Christopher Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid) from the Project Theatre, Glasgow, 1932

Letter-head from a letter to Christopher Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid) from the Project Theatre, Glasgow, 1932

Among the many letters to Hugh MacDiarmid from producers and directors  of theatre companies across the UK and Europe,  and from editors of journals and reviews, is a couple of pieces of correspondence from the Director of the Project Theatre, Glasgow.


Writing on 9 November 1932, the Director, Frederic Grant, mentions that the Theatre producer had found an old number of the Scottish Chapbook (August/September 1922) in the Mitchell Library. On looking through it he came across a one act play written by Grieve entitled Nisbet, He now had ‘the urge to produce’ the play the next month – December – ‘along with other one act plays’. Grant was ‘under the belief’ that they play had ‘not yet been produced’ and requested Grieve’s ‘permission to give it stage presentation’.

Body of the letter from Frederic Grant to Christopher Grieve, 9 November 1932, asking permission to put on 'Nisbet'.

Body of the letter from Frederic Grant to Christopher Grieve, 9 November 1932, asking permission to put on ‘Nisbet’.

The play in question was Nisbet, An Interlude in Post War Glasgow which had been published in 1922 in two issues of the Scottish Chapbook which had become an important outlet for his writing. The Nisbet in question was John Bogue Nisbet a young poet friend of Grieve who was killed at Loos during the First World War. The two used to go cycling and camping in Berwickshire and elsewhere.

Grant’s letter continues: ‘In accordance with our rules we do not pay authors for performing their plays when it is a case of first time on any stage. Our organisation has been founded for various reasons, one outstanding feature is our desire to help playwrights to have their work presented to the public’.

A second letter from the Project Theatre on 3 January 1933 announces that Nisbet had ‘jumped its first hurdle’. Grant continues: ‘I didn’t think for one moment you ever expected it to be played. Some of the passages came out very well indeed, but as you may agree there was a lack of theatre. Nevertheless the experiment was interesting’.


Grant then describes how the Theatre workshop had created a back-cloth ‘in symbolic design, depicting piles of tenements and everything that is loathsome of Glasgow’. he also refers to the review in the Daily Record the morning after (probably 24 December 1932) in which the play was described as a ‘Cerebral Puzzle’.

Nevertheless, the Director of the Project Theatre was keen to know if Grieve had ‘any more to offer us?’ The Theatre was ‘intent upon doing new plays whenever possible. What a wealth of expression our present time affords’.

The Project Theatre liked to ‘be not too tame neither’ !

Dr. Graeme D. Eddie, Assistant Librarian Archives & Manuscripts, Centre for Research Collections

bannerThis piece was written using: (1) Correspondence within the MacDiarmid collection, Ms. 2966; (2) Lucky Poet. A self-study in literature and political ideas, p.83 London: Jonathan Cape, 1972. In Library general collections – PR 6013. R735 Macd; (3) ‘Hugh MacDiarmid, Author and Publisher’, J. T. D. Hall, in Studies in Scottish Literature, Vol. 21. Issue 1. January 1986



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).

IMG_08732014-04-30 10.49.08

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:


Paul Barnaby