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Hugh MacDiarmid

The leader of the Scottish Literary Renaissance.

Hugh MacDiarmid, the pseudonym of Christopher Murray Grieve (1892-1978), was the pre-eminent Scottish literary figure of the 20th century. As a poet, critic, essayist and political activist, he dominated the nation’s cultural scene for over five decades. He was the founding father and prime mover of the Scottish Literary Renaissance, the movement which sought to revitalize Scottish writing by fusing the heritage of the medieval makers and an international, modernist outlook. MacDiarmid inspired other poets such as Sydney Goodsir Smith and William Soutar to take up Scots as a literary medium. In the 1950s and 1960s he was at the heart of the group, including Norman MacCaig and George Mackay Brown, which met in Edinburgh's legendary literary pub, Milne's Bar.

His poetic publications include 'Sangschaw' (1925), 'Penny Wheep' (1926), 'A drunk man looks at the thistle' (1926), 'To Circumjack Cencrastus' (1930), 'Scots unbound' (1932), 'Stony limits' (1934), 'Second hymn to Lenin' (1935), 'A kist of whistles' (1947), and 'In memoriam James Joyce' (1955). Other works include 'The kind of poetry I want' (1961), 'The company I've kept' (1966), 'Celtic nationalism' (1968), 'A lap of honour' (1969), 'Song of the Seraphion' (1973), and 'John Knox' (1976).

MacDiarmid combined literary and political activism. He was a founding member of the Scottish National Party in 1928 but left in 1933 due to his Marxist-Leninist views. He joined the Communist Party the following year only to be expelled in 1938 for his nationalist sympathies.

The substantial manuscript collection includes typescripts and manuscripts of his poems and correspondence with many leading writers. There is an online description, but handlist H18 is still useful; further cataloguing work is in progress.

The bulk of his library was also acquired in 1979. Some further material was given to the Library by his son, Michael Grieve, in 1990. This is primarily a literary collection, but it also reflects MacDiarmid's interest in Scottish and international (especially communist) politics. It includes a large number of verse pamphlets and odd issues or short runs of periodicals. The collection comprises some 5,000 printed items.

The book collection is only partly catalogued and the books are currently split between several different sequences. Work is planned to reconstitute and recatalogue the entire collection.