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Robert Burns Lives!
The New Studies in Scottish Literature Goes Digital (and keeps print) By Patrick Scott

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA

I am fortunate to have on my bookshelves most of the series of Ross Roy’s Studies in Scottish Literature and its subsequent reprints.  They are a constant source of reference on the works of Robert Burns and are a treasure trove of writings pertaining to almost all things Scottish, men and matters. Volume XXX is dedicated solely to the study of Robert Burns. Then there is a double issue, Volumes XXXV – XXXVI, which has special meaning to Susan and me. The following is inscribed in my copy: “For Frank and Susan in appreciation of all they have done for Scottish literature at the University of South Carolina and as a token of friendship between the four of us. Ross” (4.22.08). The four include Ross’s charming and lovely wife Lucie, who served faithfully as Associate Editor of the series.

It is heart warming to know that these volumes are being readied for worldwide internet use to aid future generations, and it’s good to know that Ross will be continuing in an advisory capacity.  I understand that when he decided many years ago to publish Studies in Scottish Literature, someone remarked Ross would have a hard time filling one volume. That was nearly five decades ago, and the volumes keep coming.

Today’s article began just this morning with an email from Patrick Scott regarding the future of the series. In rapid-fire response to my suggestion that the contents of his email be made public through the pages of Robert Burns Lives!, Patrick has shared the following update for our readers.  (FRS: 9-20-12)

The New Studies in Scottish Literature Goes Digital
(and keeps print)
By Patrick Scott

For nearly fifty years Ross Roy’s journal Studies in Scottish Literature has been an essential resource, not only on Robert Burns but on the whole range of Scottish writers. A lot of people were saddened when he announced in a huge double volume as he neared his 85th birthday that it was to be the last full volume, to be followed only by a cumulative index to the 36 volumes he had edited since founding the journal in 1963. “At that time,” he writes in a preface to this new volume, “I truly believed that the journal, which I had nursed from its infancy, was to end.” 

The SSL lion, the journal’s logo during Ross Roy’s editorship

Happily, he decided to change his mind, donating rights in the journal to the University of South Carolina Libraries, so it could continue.  This week, the first of the new volumes went online at, though the journal will continue also to be issued in print form.

Ross asked me to take on editing the journal from this volume on, and I have been lucky to recruit my South Carolina colleague Tony Jarrells to edit it with me.  Ross is continuing in an advisory role as Founding Editor, and an expanded international advisory board features a lot of names well known on Robert Burns Lives!, including Ken Simpson, Gerard Carruthers, Robert Crawford, and Murray Pittock.

The new volume includes four items of direct Burns interest.  An important full-length article by Stephen Brown argues that the original printer of The Merry Muses of Caledonia was Alexander Smellie, son of Burns’s friend William Smellie, and supports the argument by including photos of the watermarks in the paper of the Merry Muses and of another book Smellie printed at the same time.

An article by Marvin McAlister discusses the way Burns’s poem Scots wha hae, with its call for resistance to slavery, was used on the African-American stage in Harlem in the 1820s.

Ross Roy contributes commentary on the poem Burns addressed to his first-born child, to introduce a full facsimile of a previously-unrecorded manuscript of the poem in Burns’s hand.  Because it is online, you can enlarge the facsimile to examine Burns’s handwriting close up.  With the facsimile, I’ve provided details on the history of the manuscript, which was acquired for the Roy Collection last year.

The first page of the Robert Burns manuscript

The fourth and briefest item is a four-page note about the only letter Robert Burns wrote to his uncle Samuel Brown, at the time he was settling down to marriage and the farm at Ellisland, reporting a much earlier printed source for a letter where no  manuscript source can now be located, though two were recorded by earlier editors.

A new feature is an opening symposium, with a number of authors contributing different viewpoints on a single topic.  This year’s symposium, on the Present State of Scottish Literary Studies, echoes a sharp debate in the very first volume of the journal that Ross Roy edited fifty years ago.  Contributors this time round include Murray Pittock, Gerard Carruthers, Leith Davis, Matthew Wickman, Willy Maley, and Caroline McCracken-Flesher (who has a fascinating piece on “Digital Scotlands” that includes a live link to a Scottish Television clip about two Glaswegians trapped in an elevator with American voice-recognition controls: see the clip, and if you need it, the article gives a helpful transcription of what is being said).

When Ross transferred the journal, he also donated rights in past volumes to the University of South Carolina Libraries. The journal site now also includes free searchable access to earlier volumes; currently available are volumes 13-34 (1977-2004), and further volumes will be added over time. This part of the site was launched about a month ago and is already proving useful to a lot of users who haven’t had easy access to the older volumes.  Many smaller college libraries have never had the journal.  It also makes a fantastic on-line resource for Scottish high school students, who now have to answer a question about Scottish literature in their leaving exam. 

The journal volumes will continue to be available in print format to subscribers and for purchase. Previous subscribers will be contacted shortly about their wishes when the new print volume is available.

Plans are already underway for next year’s volume, which will include at least one further Burns discovery, and a symposium on the special issues in editing Scottish literary texts, unscrambling or investigating how the writers’ language is altered by successive stages of the publication and editing process. 

The purpose and scope of the journal, however, remain the ones that Ross Roy laid out nearly fifty years ago:

Studies in Scottish Literature was founded with the idea of creating a common meeting ground for work embracing all aspects of the great Scottish literary heritage.  It is not the organ of any school or faction; it welcomes all shades of opinion. . . . As a journal devoted to a vigorous living literature it will carry articles on contemporary authors (SSL vol. 1, p. 3).

What has changed is that now, in addition to the print volumes in libraries worldwide, we can also make the journal accessible in so many new ways as well and to so many new readers (as Robert Burns Lives! has been showing so effectively.) 

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