The Literary Tradition

Cairns Craig

in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Scottish History

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199563692
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

The Literary Tradition


Robert Burns, both the son of a peasant and an ardent reader of earlier Scottish poetry, made Scots vernacular a key and continuing element in Scotland's literary and national identity, even while the nation's eighteenth-century literati were training themselves to avoid ‘Scotticisms’ and to produce polished English. The role of Scots gave Scottish literature its defining difference from the English literature that the Scots so assiduously studied in their courses in Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. That the oldest continuing literary language in Scotland was not Scots, but Gaelic, did not have the same defining impact on Scottish literature and Scottish identity. The most influential literary event of eighteenth-century Scotland was the publication, in 1760, of James Macpherson's Fragments of Ancient Poetry. Macpherson's Ossianic poems are doubly poems of memory. In 1730, the London-based Scot James Thomson published a long poem entitled The Seasons, whose celebration of the natural world introduced into anglophone poetry something that would later be identified as ‘Romanticism’.

Keywords: Scottish literature; Scotland; Scots; poetry; Robert Burns; James Macpherson; memory; James Thomson; Romanticism

Article.  14993 words. 

Subjects: History ; Social and Cultural History

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