Walter Scott’s poetry to be brought to new audience with £1m project

The poetry of Sir Walter Scott will be brought to new audiences through a £1 million research project to help preserve his legacy.

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen have been awarded funding by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), to revisit the author’s original manuscripts and create a new edition of his poems.

While his novels, which include Waverley, Ivanhoe and Rob Roy, have never been out of print there are very few editions of his poetry.

Those that exist are blighted by errors due to a combination of the writer’s notoriously spidery handwriting and the speed of the publishing process which was driven by the demand for his work in his day.

Abbotsford House
Sir Walter Scott’s home at Abbotsford is now a museum (David Cheskin/PA)

AHRC funding will enable researchers at the University of Aberdeen’s Walter Scott Research Centre to return Scott’s poetry to a form which more closely reflects his original intentions and to create five volumes of what will eventually be a complete 10-volume edition of his verse published by Edinburgh University Press.

They will also bring to life the extensive notes that Scott added to his poems to offer readers a deeper insight and understanding of the meaning behind them.

It comes in a year of celebrations of the 250th anniversary of Scott’s birth in 1771.

Professor Alison Lumsden, who will lead the project, said: “Unlike Walter Scott’s novels, which have never been out of publication since they were released, there are very few editions of his poetry and those which do exist are severely compromised by 19th century editing practices.

“Scott was a prolific writer and, as well as the poems themselves, he produced long notes which are almost like alternative stories.

“He wrote these to offer a greater insight into the characters, events and experiences contained within his verse but these almost always disappeared in modern printed versions.

“We want to reinstate Scott’s notes as part of the reading experience and to establish texts as close as possible to the author’s wishes.

“Scott continued to revise his poems between editions and for The Lady of the Lake, for example, six different versions were printed within six months so it is easy to see how errors begin to creep in.”

Professor Lumsden has developed expertise in reading his handwriting through her work in creating the Edinburgh Editions of his novels.

She added: “The basis of the modern image of Scotland and our sense of Scotland is embedded in Scott’s writing.

“He is such an important part of our cultural heritage and this project will ensure that his legacy is preserved with the accuracy and detail it deserves.”

In addition to Scott’s own notes, the research team will also provide their own detailed explanations to support the modern reader and to help open up his work to new audiences.

They will work with staff at Scott’s home, Abbotsford in the Borders, now a museum, to create teaching materials for schools which will introduce pupils to the stories in Scott’s poetry and the rich legacy they provide for Scotland.

AHRC, which is part of UK Research and Innovation, has awarded £815,794 towards the £1 million cost of the project with the rest coming from the university.