Vernacular Literary Culture in Lowland Scotland, 1680-1750

Brunsden, George M (1998) Vernacular Literary Culture in Lowland Scotland, 1680-1750. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[thumbnail of 13818609.pdf] PDF
Download (12MB)


This thesis examines literature that because of the frequency of its printing, and social relevance, might be called prevalent examples of a tradition. The strength of these traditions over time, and the way in which they reflect values of Lowland Scottish society are also examined. Vernacular literary tradition faced a period of crisis during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and its survival seemed uncertain. Its vitality, however, was reaffirmed mainly because it was able to evolve. The actions of several key individuals were instrumental in its maintenance, but ultimately, it was the strength of the traditions themselves which proved to be most influential. Examined are such innovative new works as Allan Ramsay's elegies done in the vein of Francis Sempill's "Habbie Simson," as well as old standards like Blind Harry's Wallace and The Prophecy of Thomas the Rhymer. Also dealt with are popular almanacs, as one of the most prevalent examples of Scottish chap-book literature in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Works exemplifying the carnival experience, such as "Peblis to the Play" are investigated in conjunction with a look at Scottish popular culture. In all instances, the analysis of these works is undertaken with an agenda of understanding the ways in which they reflect contemporary society and politics. Works of a strictly devotional nature are not examined, largely because the Scots vernacular revival was not consumed with a desire to proselytise. However, the ways in which current religious practice and government affected common culture, as reflected in vernacular literature, is illustrated. Here, such pieces as Ramsay's "Marrow Ballad" and "John Cowper, Kirk treasurer's Man" find their relevance. Literary and cultural movements standing in opposition to the vernacular revival receive attention here, the chief being the so-called "improvement movement" which dictated that social elevation, and the reading and speaking of standard English went hand in hand. How early eighteenth century vernacularists like Ramsay, and others, came to terms with this philosophy are examined, as are some of the relevant literary forms themselves. But it is demonstrated that even some of these writings, rendered in standard poetic English, paid tribute to Scots tradition. The over-riding theme of this thesis is the progressive nature of the vernacular revival, which built upon the literary traditions of the past, but evolved to suit present conditions. Thus, as this thesis demonstrates, old and established works are given new words and themes. In some cases, the stories remain the same, such as in the case of the Wallace and the Bruce, but the language is updated to accommodate a new audience comprised of readers of English. This thesis charts the course of the shift from literary Scots towards a new "Anglo-Scots" in the works of Blind Harry and John Barbour, as well as the way in which the literary cult started by them provided the material necessary to help fan the flames of eighteenth century Scottish nationalism, one expression of such being Jacobitism. Finally, this thesis suggests some of the ways in which these early efforts at redefining native literary culture helped inspire later vernacularists such as Robert Fergusson and Robert Bums. A line thus was drawn between the literature of the medieval and renaissance eras, and that of the modern age. The mid point of this line was the period concentrated upon by this thesis, a critical stage in the development of Scots literary culture.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: Edward J Cowan
Keywords: British & Irish literature
Date of Award: 1998
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1998-75873
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2019 17:41
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2019 17:41

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year