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Hugh MacDiarmid

Writings: 1920 - 1931


Northern Numbers

The three series of Northern Numbers which appeared between 1920-1922 represent the first glimmerings of the Scottish Literary Renaissance. As founder, editor, and contributor, C. M. Grieve intended Northern Numbers to be a publishing outlet for new work by contemporary Scottish poets.

Northern Numbers Being Representative Selections from Certain Living Scottish Poets. Edinburgh & London: T. N. Foulis [1920].

The first series of Northern Numbers published work by eleven Scottish poets of varying stature, ranging from established authors such as John Buchan, Violet Jacobs, and Neil Munro--to whom the volume is dedicated--to relatively unknown figures like Grieve's schoolmate, Roderick Watson Kerr, and his brother Andrew Graham Grieve. Grieve's editorship is unattributed, though the forward is signed C.M.G. Most importantly, the six poems by C. M. Grieve included in this initial issue of Northern Numbers represent his first published verse.

Northern Numbers Being Representative Selections from Certain Living Scottish Poets, edited by C.M. Grieve. Second Series. Edinburgh & London: T. N. Foulis [1921].

The second series of Northern Numbers again printed work from a variety of new and established Scottish authors, including nine more poems from Grieve.

Northern Numbers Being Representative Selections from Certain Living Scottish Poets, edited by C.M. Grieve. Third Series. Montrose: C. M. Grieve [1922].

With the third series of Northern Numbers, Grieve made a clean break with the Scottish literary establishment. He dropped all but two of the contributors to the previous volumes--only he and Alexander Gray remained--and included new poetry from eighteen different Scottish poets. Published privately by Grieve himself, the third series of Northern Numbers was the last.


"Beyond Exile." Typescript, undated, 1 p. Typed notation "Salonika, 1916" appears at the bottom of the page. Manuscript of a poem Grieve wrote during his military service in Greece and which he included in the first series of Northern Numbers.
Annals of the Five Senses, by C.M. Grieve. Montrose: C. M. Grieve, 1923.

First edition of Grieve's first book. Written largely during the author's military service during World War I, this curious collection of six prose pieces and six poems was originally titled Cerebral and Other Studies and was to have been published by T.N. Foulis who brought out the first two series of Northern Numbers. After Foulis experienced financial difficulties and abandoned the publication, Grieve published the book himself under its new title.


Sangschaw, by Hugh M'Diarmid. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1925.

Sangschaw was the first book to appear under the authorship of Hugh MacDiarmid. It includes a generous preface by John Buchan, an early patron of Grieve, whose poetry was included in the first two series of Northern Numbers. Sangschaw introduced MacDiarmid's experiments in a synthesized Scots vernacular, originally published in Grieve's Scottish Chapbook and other small journals, to a wider audience. The poems were well-received by Scottish and British reviewers alike.


Penny Wheep, by Hugh M'Diarmid. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1926.

Penny Wheep was the second collection of MacDiarmid's Scots lyrics to be published. The collection concludes with three of the author's poems in English, including "Your Immortal Memory, Burns" which represents one of MacDiarmid's early volleys against the Robert Burns cult in Scotland.


"Scunner." Autograph manuscript, undated, 1 p. Manuscript copy of this early poem in Scots which was included in Penny Wheep. Signed by Hugh MacDiarmid.
"Empty Vessel." Autograph manuscript, undated, 1 p. Manuscript copy of this early poem in Scots which was included in Penny Wheep. Signed by Hugh MacDiarmid.
Contemporary Scottish Studies, by C.M. Grieve. First Series. London: Leonard Parsons [1926].

During the same period Hugh MacDiarmid was gaining a strong following with his Scots lyrics, as C. M. Grieve he continued his prose assault on established Scottish literary, aesthetic, political, and cultural conventions. Grieve produced a controversial weekly column in the Scottish Educational Journal under the heading of "Contemporary Scottish Studies." This volume collects thirty-nine of these columns along with supplementary critical and bibliographic material designed to further his objectives for a Scottish Renaissance.


A Drunk Man Looks at The Thistle, by Hugh M'Diarmid. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1926.

A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle is generally regarded as MacDiarmid's masterpiece and represents one of the great achievements in twentieth century verse. With this extended lyric in Scots, MacDiarmid accomplishes his goal of "reviving the independent Scottish tradition of poetry, and to that end to restore the literary use of Scots for all purposes of modern literary expression."


A Drunk Man Looks at The Thistle, by Hugh MacDiarmid. [Edinburgh]: The 200 Burns Club [1962].

Special edition of the poem issued on the occasion of Hugh MacDiarmid's seventieth birthday. This copy contains a presentation inscription from MacDiarmid.


A Drunk Man Looks at The Thistle, [by] Hugh MacDIarmid. Falkland: Kulgin Duval & Colin H. Hamilton, 1969.

Illustrated with eight woodcuts by Frans Masereel. This fine press edition was printed by Giovanni Mardersteig at Officina Bodoni in Verona. The edition consists of one hundred sixty copies signed by the author, the illustrator, and the printer.


A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, by Hugh MacDiarmid. [Amherst]: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1971.

This American edition, edited By John C. Weston, was published with the intent of introducing MacDiarmid's poem to a wider American audience.


Moonstruck. Lyric by Hugh MacDiarmid; music by Francis George Scott. [Glasgow: Bayley and Ferguson, 1927].

The Scottish composer Francis George Scott was a major influence upon MacDiarmid. In addition to serving as his English instructor at Langholm Academy, Scott assisted MacDiarmid with editing A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle into its final published form. Scott also set numerous examples of MacDiarmid's verse to music and this is one of his earliest such settings.


[Three songs]. Lyrics by Hugh MacDiarmid; music by Francis George Scott. [Glasgow: Bayley and Ferguson, 1927].

Proof copies of Scott's musical settings to "Crowdieknowe," "An Apprentice Angel," and "The Eemis Stane" mounted on paper and bound into wrappers. Scott's signature is on the outside wrapper.


Francis George Scott: An Essay on the Occasion of His Seventy-Fifth Birthday 25th January 1955, [by] Hugh MacDiarmid. Edinburgh: M. Macdonald, 1955.

MacDiarmid wrote this extended essay on the accomplishments of his former mentor and collaborator as a tribute for Scott's seventy-fifth birthday.


Albyn, or Scotland and the Future, by C.M. Grieve. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1927.

Even after the success of Hugh MacDiarmid was firmly established and his true identity revealed, Grieve continued to write about Scottish politics and culture under his birth name. In this extended essay, he outlines his vision of a new Scotland, including his ideas for a Scottish Renaissance in which a revival of art, literature, music, and politics would take place in contemporary Scotland.


The Lucky Bag, by Hugh M'Diarmid. [Edinburgh]: The Porpoise Press [1927].

The Lucky Bag is a collection of sixteen short lyrics issued as part of the publisher's series of verse by living Scottish poets.


To Circumjack Cencrastus or The Curly Snake, by Hugh M'Diarmid. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1930.

MacDiarmid regarded To Circumjack Cencrastus as his most ambitious effort in Scots. In a letter to his former teacher George Ogilvie (9 December 1926) MacDiarmid described his efforts to move beyond A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle and achieve an even greater success with this new work:
"Psychologically it represents the resolution of the various sets of antithesis I was posing in the Drunk Man...If I cannot altogether realise my dream, I can at least achieve something well worth while, ideally complementary to the Drunk Man--positive where it is negative, optimistic where it is pessimistic, and constructive where it is destructive."
The poem represents MacDiarmid's last extended effort in Scots and he would soon turn to English for the long didactic poems that would occupy him increasingly in the future.


Living Scottish Poets, edited by C. M. Grieve. London: Ernest Benn [1931].

This slim anthology offered Grieve another opportunity to promote the work of contemporary Scottish poets. It also gave him a chance to state firmly his criteria for a Scottish Renaissance in poetry:
"Scottish poetry is experiencing at long last a period of revaluation and experiment, and I hope that all the points I have made--a closer and more distinctive use of English; a recovery of the Scots language; an independent contact with Europe; a recognition of the need to resume our great Gaelic background; a new spirit of 'Scotland--A Nation!'in the fullest sense of the term...are exemplified in the poems I have chosen."

Grieve's selection, of course, included four lyrics by Hugh MacDiarmid and presented what would become one of his most famous poems, "The Little White Rose of Scotland," as an anonymous contribution.


"First Hymn to Lenin." Autograph Manuscript, undated, 5 pp.

Although Hugh MacDiarmid did not officially join the Communist Party of Great Britain until 1934, he had embraced Marxism by the late 1920s. In this poem, MacDiarmid is as intent on using the figure of Lenin as a symbol and source of inspiration as he is on promulgating a Marxist tract; however, "First Hymn to Lenin" certified his Marxist convictions. The poem was originally published under the title "To Lenin" in Lascelles Abercrombie's New English Poems (1930).


First Hymn to Lenin and Other Poems, by Hugh McDiarmid. London: The Unicorn Press [1931]. One of four hundred-fifty numbered copies. The frontispiece is a portrait of MacDiarmid by the Irish poet A.E. who also contributes a long introductory essay to the volume. MacDiarmid intended this collection to be the initial section of a long autobiographical poem titled Clann Albann. Although MacDiarmid produced additional work for the projected Clann Albann, it was never published under this title nor did he ever complete it.


"The Seamless Garment." Autograph manuscript, undated, 7 pp. The manuscript of this poem which was included in First Hymn to Lenin and Other Poems.
"Water of Life." Autograph manuscript, undated, 6 pp. The manuscript of this poem which was included in First Hymn to Lenin and Other Poems.
Unicorn Press

In 1931, MacDiarmid accepted a directorship with the Unicorn Press, a small London publisher which hoped to tap MacDiarmid's creative talents and contacts. His role was to serve as literary advisor which he did, until the following year, when he was asked to leave the press over a financial dispute. While he was with Unicorn Press, MacDiarmid took on a variety of editorial and promotional duties. MacDiarmid's promotional efforts included writing pseudonymous reviews of Unicorn Press publications, including his own First Hymn to Leninand Other Poems.

[Advertising copy]. [1931]. Autograph manuscript and carbon typescript, 2 pp. MacDiarmid wrote this announcement for Unicorn Press titles, including First Hymn to Lenin and Other Poems and proposed books by Paul Banks and C.H. Douglas. The latter two books are from the list of "C.M. Grieve, Publisher," though MacDiarmid has retained the London address of Unicorn Press.

"MacDiarmid on Lenin." Autograph manuscript, 7 pp. A review of First Hymn to Lenin and Other Poems written by MacDiarmid under the pseudonym of James Maclaren.

"Hugh MacDiarmid's Latest Poems." Autograph manuscript, [1931], 10 pp. Another review of First Hymn to Lenin and Other Poems, this one is signed "J.L.," one of MacDiarmid's other known pseudonyms.


"Querns in the Porridge." Carbon typescript, undated, 4 pp.

A series of short humorous sketches, signed A.K.L., yet another pseudonym, apparently written for newspaper publication during this period. The autograph notation "from C.M. Grieve, 32 High Holborn WC1" appears on the upper right corner of the initial page.

Introduction | Essay | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4 | Section 5


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