Information Services

Scottish Literary Archives

Edinburgh University Library holds exceptionally significant archive and manuscript resources for research into Scottish literature.

There are particularly substantial collections of materials by 20th-century writers including George Mackay Brown, Helen B. Cruickshank, Hamish Henderson, Norman MacCaig, and Hugh MacDiarmid. Important earlier resources include the Laing Collection, which covers four centuries of Scottish literature, and the Corson Collection of Sir Walter Scott Materials.

Twentieth-Century Scottish Writing

Follow the link above for a guide to our collections of literary manuscripts, correspondence, and personal papers by some of the major Scottish writers of the 20th century. We have particularly substantial and wide-ranging collections of materials by George Mackay Brown, Helen B. Cruickshank,  Hamish Henderson Maurice Lindsay, Norman MacCaig, Hugh MacDiarmid, Sydney Goodsir Smith, and Fred Urquhart. There are smaller but significant collections for Duncan Glen, Marion Lochhead, Edwin Muir, Tom Scott, and Andrew Young. There are also archives for the Edinburgh University-based literary journals 'The Jabberwock' and 'Scottish International'.

Earlier Scottish Writing

As the inaugural Professor of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres at the University of Edinburgh, Hugh Blair (1718-1800) held the world's first Chair of English Literature. He played a vital role in the Scottish Enlightenment, both as a theologian, whose five-volume collection of 'Sermons' was widely read, and as a theorist of literature. He is perhaps best known for his 'Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres', a frequently republished and much-translated guide to composition. This is a small collection, consisting of correspondence and manuscript notes of his sermons and lectures on rhetoric. There are further Blair manuscripts in the Laing Collection.

The philosopher, historian, and novelist Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) is one of the great social commentators of the 19th century. His wife Jane Welsh Carlyle (1801-1866) is perhaps the period's most accomplished letter-writer. This collection consists primarily of correspondence, mostly from Thomas, to a wide range of recipients, reflecting the couple's extraordinary social circle, which included writers, scientists, philosophers, and politicians. There are also class tickets, galley proofs, holograph drafts, autographed notes, photographs, and an etched portrait. More Carlyle manuscripts are to be found in the Laing Collection.

Allan Cunningham (1784-1842) was a popular poet, songwriter, and ballad-collector, best known for the naval song 'A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea is a Sea-Song'. He also established a reputation as an art-critic and as the biographer of painters including Sir David Wilkie. This small collection contains manuscripts of poems and correspondence with figures including Sir Walter Scott and Letitia Elizabeth Landon. There are further Cunningham manuscripts in the Laing Collection.

The manuscript collection assembled by the great antiquarian David Laing (1793-1878) is Edinburgh University Library's most important archival resource for Scottish historical and literary studies. It includes manuscripts by practically every major Scottish writer from the medieval period through to the mid-19th century. There are particularly extensive and significant collections of manuscripts by Robert Burns, Allan Ramsay, and Sir Walter Scott. See also Other Literary Archives for information on non-Scottish authors featured in the Laing Collection.

One of Scotland’s most prolific and versatile writers, Andrew Lang (1844-1912) worked in fields as varied as anthropology, folklore, classical scholarship, Scottish history, poetry, drama, and children’s writing. Today, he is perhaps best known for the ‘Coloured’ Fairy Books, consisting of tales that he collected and co-edited with his wife Leonora Blanche Alleyne (1851-1933). This is a small collection of 35 letters, which convey the full breadth of Lang’s writing and research interests.

Assembled by James Clarkson Corson (1905-1988), Deputy Librarian of Edinburgh University and Honorary Librarian of Abbotsford, the Corson Collection is perhaps the world's largest self-standing collection of Walter Scott materials. Besides a printed collection of nearly 7,000 volumes, the Corson Collection includes many archival documents. There are manuscripts of letters by Scott and his contemporaries; artworks and visual materials relating to Scott’s life and works; memorabilia and realia designed for the tourist market; 50 years’ worth of Scott-related news cuttings about Scott; and a large number or photocopies and transcripts of articles and other writings on Scott. The Corson Collection also includes Corson’s own research papers, consisting primarily of working materials for published and unpublished works on Scott. There are further Scott manuscripts in the Laing Collection. See also the Walter Scott Digital Archive, a website designed around the Corson Collection, which includes an Image Database of materials from the collection.

Related Links