Draft copy of Hugh MacDiarmid's poem 'First The hymn to Lenin'

Scope and Content

This is an ink manuscript letter on 4 pages. Pages numbered 10, 11, 12, and 13.

The first page of the poem is headed:


First Hymn to Lenin

(To Prince D. S. Mirsky)

Administrative / Biographical History

Poet, essayist, literary critic, historian, and social commentator, Christopher Murray Grieve, also known as Hugh MacDiarmid, was born on 11 August 1892 in Langholm, Dumfriesshire. He was educated at Langholm Academy then at Broughton Junior Student Centre in Edinburgh prior to studying at Edinburgh University. After wartime service with the Royal Army Medical Corps, 1915-20, in Salonika, Italy, and France, he became a journalist in Montrose, Angus. There he worked for the Montrose Review and edited three issues of the first post-war Scottish verse anthology Northern Numbers (1921-23). In 1922 he founded the journal Scottish Chapbook, advocating the revival of Scottish literature.

Grieve was a Labour member of Montrose town council from 1923, but in 1928 he was one of the founder members of the National Party of Scotland (now the Scottish National Party). Later on however he came to accept Marxist philosophy. He was a formal member of the Communist Party from 1934 until 1938 when he was expelled, and rejoined in 1957. Indeed, in 1964 he was a defeated Communist candidate opposing Sir Alec Douglas-Home in a Perthshire constituency in the General Election.

In 1929, he worked on Vox in London, and in 1930 was living in Liverpool, working as a public relations officer. Another spell in London followed. In 1933 Grieve moved to Whalsay in the Shetland Islands, staying there until 1941. In these wartime years, he worked as a manual labourer on Clydeside, 1941-43, and then on British merchant ships engaged in estuarial duties, 1943-45. After the Second World War, he lived in Glasgow, Strathaven in Lanarkshire, and then from 1951 in Biggar on the upper Clyde. As a poet, Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid) was the pre-eminent Scottish figure in the first half of the 20th century, and was the leader of the Scottish literary renaissance. Indeed, he has been acknowledged as the greatest Scottish poet since Robert Burns.

Grieve rejected English as a medium and wrote in an amalgam of various Scots dialects. Later on he wrote Scotticised English, and then returned to Standard English. His poetic work in these mediums, and under the pseudonym Hugh MacDiarmid, included A drunk man looks at the thistle (1926), To Circumjack Cencrastus (1930), First hymn to Lenin (1931), 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). These titles represent only a very small proportion of Grieve's enormous output as poet, prose writer, editor, and translator.

Grieve was writing well into the 1970s but died of cancer in Edinburgh on 9 September 1978.

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The bibliographical/administrative history was compiled using various encyclopaedias/biographical dictionaries available to the library.

Other Finding Aids

None prepared for this collection.

Archivist's Note

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections.

Custodial History

Found in another item (Norman McCaig library), November 2006, Accession no: E2006.39.

Related Material

Within Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library, there is a collection of Letters to Christopher Murray Grieve (1892-1978) (Coll-18), shelfmarks Gen. 2094; MSS 2942-2961. There are also books and periodicals, loose pamphlets, and miscellaneous material (at SC 7000-8648 and SD 5950-6108).