William Soutar was born in Perth, Perth Kinross, Scotland, on 28 April 1898 . He was educated at Perth Academy before entering the Navy. He then attended the University of Edinburgh, graduating in 1923 by which time he had already published his first book of poetry. Due to a form of spondylitis contracted during his military service he became increasingly crippled and after an unsuccessful operation in 1930 he was confined to bed for more than thirteen years until his death on 15th October 1943.
As early as 1923, inspired and encouraged by Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978), Soutar had begun to write poems in Scots, and he was further stimulated in this direction by the arrival in 1927, shortly before her sixth birthday, of his parents' adopted daughter, Evelyn, a distant relative who had been orphaned in Australia. Soutar became her companion, both at work and at play, as his diaries reveal. A happy result was the book, appropriately dedicated'To Evelyn', Seeds in the Wind: Poems in Scots for Children (1933).
His children's rhymes and riddles are the seminal part of his work, but Soutar's most original contribution to the Scottish Literary Tradition is the series of poems he called'whigmaleeries'. These are usually short, written in a colloquial idiom, comic in the widest definition of that word, surveying the human comedy with kindly interest and a shrewd perception of the incongruities of life. They puncture pomposity through their skilful use of what Soutar called the'aff-takin' power of Scots. MacDiarmid recognised the poet's'rare and important achievement: a comic poetry - at once really comic and really poetry'.
Soutar published ten slim volumes of poetry, and an eleventh, The Expectant Silence, which he had prepared for the press, appeared in 1944. His Collected Poems, edited by MacDiarmid, was published in 1948, but the title is erroneous; the volume omits all the poems printed in the previously published collections and a considerable number form the poet's diaries and notebooks. The'new selection' of his poems, published in 1988, draws on the totality of his verse.
But Soutar was more than a poet. In the Soutar archive in the National Library of Scotland the prose manuscripts are more extensive than the poetry: his diaries, complete from 1917 to 1943; his journals, kept concurrently with his diaries from 1930 to 1940; and a unique series of thirty-four'Dream Books'.
Very little of the prose has been published. Alexander Scott, author of a critical biography of Soutar, Still Life, edited a selection published as Diaries of a Dying Man in 1954 (reissued in paperback in 1991), but a further more generous selection is required to reveal, in Duncan Glen's words,'a body of work worthy to be beside his poetry'.
WR Aitken, 'Soutar, William, 1898-1943',Discovering Scottish Writers ( Scottish Library Association )