Letters to Christopher Murray Grieve (1892-1978)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection of letters to Christopher Murray Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid) are organised alphabetically and into acquisitions pre-1987 (Gen. 2094) and material acquired more recently (MSS 2942-2961). The correspondents include private individuals and publishers; names such as William Darling, Richard Demarco, Eric Linklater, David Daiches, Norman MacCaig, Sir Compton Mackenzie, Edwin Muir, Ezra Pound, Bertrand Russell, and William Butler Yeats.

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

Conditions Governing Access

Contact the repository for details

Other Finding Aids

Handlist, H18.1; Handlist H18.2; Another important finding aid is the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives. Additions to the typed slips in sheaf binders were made until 1987.

Related Material

Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library also holds around 1,800 volumes from Grieve's (Hugh MacDiarmid's) library and this deposit contains books and periodicals, loose pamphlets, and miscellaneous material (all at SC 7000-8648 and SD 5950-6108). In addition, the Index to Manuscripts shows at various shelfmarks original manuscripts and proofs of Grieve's work, typescripts, notes and glossaries, miscellaneous essays on Scottish subjects, and letters of and to Grieve. There are a few other volumes from his library at shelfmark JA.

In addition there is a draft copy of the poem First hymn to Lenin (Coll-1100) at E2006.39.

Geographical Names