This chapter examines why, in one of his final poems, Smith looked to Oliver Goldsmith as something of an alter-ego. It is the epistolary aspects of Smith’s poem that are of interest here: why is it addressed to the Irish, but London-based Goldsmith rather than for example Robert Fergusson, although the title of his poem alludes to one of Fergusson’s most popular poems, ‘Ode to the Gowdspink’. Smith focuses primarily on Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village, and aspects of the eighteenth-century poet’s ‘gangrel’ life.
Douglas Young’s review, in The New Alliance, of Smith’s first poetry collection, Skail Wind (1941) is rather scathing. Young writes ‘Here is a sign of the times, another epiphenomenon of English cultural decay. To find his mode of expression, a globe-trotting English speaker, of Antipodean provenience, has recourse to Lallans, which moreover he wields not worse than many autochthonous North Britons’. He goes on to accuse ‘the makar’ of trailing ‘relics of the English Thirties’ and comments that ‘the rhythm also is too often slack, and interminable spavined lines schauchle [shamble] over the excellent paper’. In a letter to Sorley MacLean, Young is concerned that he has gone too far and caused offence. To examine the relationship between these three men is to journey to the heart of the later Scottish Renaissance with its lively debates on language and politics. As such, this chapter examines the part that Smith played in this Scottish literary circle of the late 1930s and early 1940s, placing his first collection into a wider literary context and exploring his (sometimes fraught) search for an authentic poetic voice at a time when the markers of Scottish literature were being redefined and refined.
This chapter reworks a short centenary assessment of Smith’s achievements published in the Times Literary Supplement in November 2015. Locating Smith in the Scottish tradition of the divided literary self, it explores the paradoxical emergence of an English-educated upper-middle class New Zealander as a Scots language poet with a flair for evoking the street life of a far from genteel Edinburgh. It notes the co-existence in Smith’s work of, on the one hand, broad democratic sympathy and breezy conviviality, and, on the other, an austere classicism and high modernist tendency towards literary allusiveness. The essay laments the obscurity into which the work of an engaging, bracing, endlessly entertaining poet has fallen.
This chapter introduces Smith as an artist, ambitious from childhood to paint and draw, identifying three main periods: his satirical drawings in Europe before the Second World War, his drawings and paintings in Scotland after the war, including his illustrations for his major poem-sequence, Under the Eildon Tree, and his drawings and paintings from Plockton and the Scottish Highlands. It then presents a selection of his writings as an art critic for The Scotsman newspaper, 1960–67, covering such artists as Anne Redpath, William MacTaggart, William Gillies, John Maxwell, Denis Peploe and Joan Eardley, and his criticism and appraisal of the Royal Scottish Academy and the younger artists John Bellany and Alexander Moffat, the Hugh MacDiarmid portrait by R.H. Westwater and exhibitions of new work from Italy and Nigeria, and comes to some conclusions about Smith’s predilections and skills as an art critic, and his vision of the interconnectedness of the arts.
Sydney Goodsir Smith fused an acquired mastery of Scots with a mainland-European cultural sophistication. The pedigree of his notion of the ‘gangrel buddie’ is traced briefly in Hugh MacDiarmid and in Russian literature, as in Dostoevsky’s archetype of the ‘undergound man’ and in Pushkin’s and Goncharov’s ‘superfluous man’, as well as in Garcia Lorca, the subject of a poem by Smith. He also finds an affinity with French poetry, especially in the vagabond mode, e.g. Tristan Corbière, translated into Scots by Smith. This chapter goes on to argue, against charges of his supposed dilettantism that Smith’s deep social conscience led him to identify with those from wartime Europe (especially from Poland) who suffered from displacement and exile. Like his contemporary Edwin Muir, Smith wrote poetry about refugees; both he and Muir had witnessed, in Germany and Austria, the early trappings of fascism and anti-semitism.
This chapter considers Smith’s play The Wallace in various contexts. For example, Smith’s creative output as a whole; the state of nationalist feeling in Scotland, especially literary Scotland, around the time of the play’s writing; Smith’s personal life, and his ideas and values and the history of the image of Wallace, as described by Graeme Morton. It will also compare the play with other treatments of the Wallace story, in e.g. Blind Harry, Jane Porter and Braveheart.
Smith returns repeatedly to the subject of Edinburgh. In poems such as ‘To Li Po in the Delectable Mountains of Tien-Mu’, ‘Gowdspink in Reekie’ and, ‘Kynd Kittock’s Land’ (a poem for television on which he collaborated with the photographer Alan Daiches), he attempts a synthesis of the ‘unreal’, contemporary city of modernist poetry and the historical capital whose vibrant representation in literature stretches back through Fergusson and Burns in the 18th century, to Dunbar and his fellow mediaeval makars. This synthesis involves an integration of opposites, not least the alienation of High modernism versus the sociability of the Enlightenment, and the demands of elite versus popular culture. This chapter considers how Smith resolves, or at least balances, these contradictions.
This chapter has a two-fold purpose: to offer the first sustained academic examination of Smith’s only published novel, written entirely in a unique form of neologistic and punning wordplay and to give the reader a sense of the history of the development of the novel and its placing in Smith’s oeuvre. The only other existing writings on this book, apart from contemporary reviews and passing references in theses are rather uncritical appreciations by Hugh MacDiarmid, who considered it the Edinburgh equivalent of Joyce’s Dublin in Ulysses and Robert Garioch who praised it in the festschrift For Sydney Goodsir Smith. This chapter seeks to answer the following question – is this book merely an elaborate jeu d’esprit or does it make a deeper point about language?
American History in Transition, Yoshinari Yamaguchi provides fresh insights into early efforts in American history writing, ranging from Jeremy Belknap’s Massachusetts Historical Society to Emma Willard’s geographic history and Francis Parkman’s history of deep time to Henry Adams’s thermodynamic history. Although not a well-organized set of professional researchers, these historians shared the same concern: the problems of temporalization and secularization in history writing.
As the time-honored framework of sacred history was gradually outdated, American historians at that time turned to individual facts as possible evidence for a new generalization, and tried different “scientific” theories to give coherency to their writings. History writing was in its transitional phase, shifting from religion to science, deduction to induction, and static to dynamic worldview.