The Scottish nursery muse : Scottish poetry and the children's verse tradition in the Victorian period

Blair, Kirstie; Dunnigan, Sarah and Lai, Shu-Fang, eds. (2019) The Scottish nursery muse : Scottish poetry and the children's verse tradition in the Victorian period. In: The Land of Storybooks. Association for Scottish Literary Studies, Glasgow, pp. 84-106. ISBN 9781908980298

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This chapter takes its cue from two anthologies published within three years of each other at the close of the nineteenth century: Andrew Lang’s The Blue Poetry Book (1891) and Robert Ford’s Ballads of Bairnhood (1894). Lang and Ford were both Scottish writers and editors, though Lang at this point was a noted London-based literary critic, editor, anthropologist, collector of folklore and polymath, whose lavishly-illustrated decorative anthology was published by Macmillan; whereas Ford, a working-class author of humorous Scots verse and prose, also a collector of traditional literature, and an editor of Scottish poets including Robert Burns and Robert Fergusson, published his simpler collection with the Paisley firm of Alexander Gardner, a publisher known for an active interest in politics as well as Scottish literature. Both anthologies make significant claims for the importance of a Scottish poetic tradition to children’s literature, yet they point to two different strands of influence and to differing genres. Neither anthology — in common with other leading anthologies of their type — is interested in ‘children’s poetry’ in the sense of poetry deliberately written for a child reader. Lang deliberately excludes ‘poems about children, or especially intended for children’, on the grounds that actual children are seldom interested in them. Ford, on the other hand, defines his selection as poems ‘relating to the subject of child-life’, contextualizing it within an existing (Scottish) tradition of ‘nursery songs’. One anthology assumes that Scottish poetry, primarily written (or, in the case of ballads, collected) in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, is both exemplary of the kind of verse that children like to read, and an essential part of the cultural education of every British child. The other celebrates the living tradition of Scots verse about and for children as a vital part of the Scottish literary scene from the mid-Victorian period onwards, and, not coincidentally, as a cultural heritage inhabited and developed by working-class Scottish writers.