A New Project

My last book, The First Scottish Enlightenment, was published in February and since then Covid, lockdown, and their attendant upheavals have meant that I’ve had very little time to blog or write anything publicly about my next steps. Even if I’d had the time, I’m not sure I’d have known what to say. For several years I thought I was going to follow this book with a project on carved stones in early modern Scotland – a category of artefacts which has fascinated me for as long as I can remember – and I even got as far as writing the better part of a grant proposal before realising that this wasn’t, in fact, what I wanted to do.

Instead, in the best possible way, my last project caused me to consider new questions and think about different issues in ways I couldn’t have imagined before. Over and over again, I found myself turning to the editions of the nineteenth-century Scottish publishing clubs – the Bannatyne, Maitland, Abbotsford, Spalding, and their companions. There was nothing unusual in this. Indeed, from undergraduate dissertations through doctoral theses to innumerable articles and monographs, the publications of the literary clubs appear across the spectrum of modern Scottish scholarship, even nearly two hundred years after their heyday.

The works of the publication societies are for Scotland what the Rolls Series is for England or the Monumenta Germaniae Historica for Germany.

What struck me, though, was how little we really know about the historical moment which produced these clubs and their works. Marinell Ash’s classic Strange Death of Scottish History (Ramsay Head Press, 1980) briefly and problematically addresses their output as do a small handful of more recent articles, but to a great extent they represent a blank spot in the Scottish historical and literary psyche – surprising given that the energies of a dozen or so poets, advocates, booksellers, and landed gentleman of the first half of the nineteenth century have defined the pool of printed texts available to the next eight generations of scholars.

The Strawberry Hill Gothic title page of an edition of seventeenth-century antiquarian texts edited by the indefatigable James Maidment and published by the antiquarian bookseller Thomas G. Stevenson (1837).

And so I realised that it wasn’t carved stones I wanted to study, but these nineteenth-century editors and their editions of medieval and early modern texts. That’s my new project and I’ll look forward to writing more in the near future. Already I’m full of ideas about the incredibly important place these scholars occupy in the intellectual history of Scotland and how they provide a key bridge between pre-Union Scotland and the present.

© 2019 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Book Launch Tomorrow!

Last week, I had the joy of receiving the first copies of The First Scottish Enlightenment from OUP:

This week marks the first of what I hope will be several book launch events around and furth of Scotland. If you’re at all interested, please do join me and my colleagues Scott Hames and Michael Shaw for a tripartite celebration of our respective new books at Room D1, Pathfoot Building, University of Stirling, tomorrow (27 February) at 5pm. There will be drinks and nibbles as well as a probably-not-too-embarassing speech by yours truly!

(c) 2020 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Whaur’s Scots academic scrievin?

Ilka bodie kens there’s academic scrievin in the Gaelic – jist keek at the wark o Aonghas MacCoinnich or Domhnall Uilleam Stiubhart.  Folk may speir an croup it’s no accessible tae Anglophones, but that didnae stop a Gaelic scholar yit.  Wha’s keerious, though: ye maun scrimge hard tae find the like in Scots.  Wha’s mair keerious: a thrid o folk in Scotland, includin mair than ane dominie I ken, can speik the leid, whilk is a guid sicht mair than micht say the same aboot Gaelic.  Sae whaur’s the academic scrievin in Scots?

There are, I think, a couple o reasons fer this absence.  Fer Gaels, scrievin in their native leid is a foundin pairt o their identity as an embattled minoritie group and a strang jeve agin Anglo-normativity; in short, there’s a dunch towarts scrievin academic prose in Gaelic if yer a Gaelic scholar.  On the ither haun, fer Scots there’s historically been a dunch awa fra scrievin scholarly wark in their ane leid.  Leavin aside the emphasis on learnin Inglis to gang aheid in the Empire in former generations, Scots has historically been seen as a rude chiel’s leid, a dialect, a vernacular no ganelie for “sairious” wark.  Een when it was revertit (or inventit) be Hugh Macdiarmid an co., that was for explicitly literary purposes an there were few Scottish historians o that or succeedin generations wha would hae conceivit o scrievin their buiks in Lallans.

Dae ye hae this in yer buik kist? It is, av coorse, scrievit in Inglis . . .

Noo that Scots is finally beginnin tae be kent, baith as its ane leid and as ane o the major leids o Scotland, there are still factors wha dackle its use be academics.  A lack o journals or buik series is a pairt, but mair fundamental, I misdoot, is scholars’ ane uncertainty in their use o the leid.  Fer sae lang, Scots has been the tongue o the hame and o freends – somethin tae be avoidit in the schule – and that kind o codin is difficult to change oernicht.  If yer no a native speaker, sik concerns matter less mayhap, but the challenge o navigatin a flude, complex leid and findin the words an concepts tae express scholarly thocht is nae easy (and I’ve nae doot that ye could pick mair than eneuch holes in this laboured prose).

But nane o these factors are sufficient reason no tae attempt some academic Scots.  If we care aboot the leid and want it tae continue tae thee, we should put it tae the test in all walks o life.  When you next scrieve an article, ask yersel: wha would happen if I scrievit this in Scots?  The warst they can dee is turn ye doon . . . .

Copyricht 2019 Kelsey Jackson Williams

A Scottish Regiment in Catholic Riga?

While skimming through Haralds Biezais’s 1957 edition of the church book of St. Jakobskirche in Riga during its brief tenure by the Jesuits (1582-1621), I found an unexpected entry:

None of these individuals appear elsewhere in the church book unless the Albertus Kromeus who witnessed a 1606 baptism is to be taken as one and the same with Albertus Kromme; it would seem their residence in Riga was of short duration. Our one clue comes in the form of John Hill, presumably the same man who was a captain in the Swedish service in 1610 when he was amongst Karl IX’s mercenaries in Russia (he was later in the Polish-Lithuanian service under Sigismund III).

We can, however, make a few educated guesses based upon the record itself. Hill is described as “Capitanaeus scotores militum” – “captain of the Scottish soldiers”, while Boehne and Kromme are plain soldiers (miles), with Boehne further clarified as being a “miles arcen[sis]”, i.e., a soldier belonging to the garrison of the castle at Riga. It seems reasonable to suppose that Hill was the commanding officer of Boehne and Kromme and that all three belonged to a Scottish regiment which was in Polish-Lithuanian service in 1607 and which, based on Hill’s later service record, temporarily entered Swedish service before returning to that of the Commonwealth. We might even be tempted to imagine that Boehne and Kromme were Patrick Ban and Alasdair Graham, suggesting a potentially Gaelic-speaking origin for at least some of the regiment’s soldiers.

This is all conjecture and no such regiment is immediately identifiable in Peter Paul Bajer’s Scots in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but it is tempting to imagine that what we see here is an early example of the flood of Scottish soldiers who would come to play such an important part in European history during the Thirty Year’s War.

(c) 2019 Kelsey Jackson Williams

A Mysterious Box, Part V

After decades of separation, I am tremendously pleased to write that Dr. Alfred Huhnhäuser’s photograph albums are now once again in the same archive – the University of Stirling’s Special Collections – as his other papers!

The photographs finally reach Stirling Special Collections and are greeted by archivist Rosie Al-Mulla.

And that concludes this series on the “Mysterious Box”, which turned out to be more remarkable, implausible, and serendipitous than I could have ever predicted when I first began to explore its contents.

© 2019 Kelsey Jackson Williams.

Probative Quarters in Cupar

The final post in the series on Alfred Huhnhäuser’s photographic archive is coming soon, but in the meantime here’s a lighter one – the fruits of some field work in Fife over the weekend.

Part of my preparatory work for the first volume of the Scottish Corpus of Carved Stones (which may or may not have exactly that title in final form) has been to undertake a visual survey of every early modern carved stone in the kingdom of Fife. This has resulted in all manner of wonderful discoveries, such as this recumbent slab currently propped against the side of the kirk in Cupar:

The inscription can be reconstructed with the assistance of a reading taken in 1933 (characters in brackets represent text legible at that time but now unreadable):

A recumbent slab with an inscribed border is probably the single most common form of early modern Scottish funeral monument, but what sets this stone apart from the ordinary are the nine coats of arms in the central panel. The scroll to the left (the viewer’s right) of the heraldic helm reads “THE MOTHERS SYD” and an equivalent inscription headed “THE FATHERS SYD” can be presumed to have once been present on the companion scroll.

What we’re seeing here are the deceased’s “probative quarters”, the arms of their eight great-grandparents. The legal and cultural practice of recording noble ancestry for a given number of generations – usually back to great- or great-great-grandparents – was common on the continent, especially the German lands, but only intermittently practiced in Scotland (for another example, see my blogpost here). In Fife it seems to have had particular currency in the early modern period, but this stone is still exceptional for dramatising its subject’s ancestral nobility in such a striking fashion.

Visible on the left hand (paternal) side are the arms of: (1) Crichton of Cranston Riddell, (2) Corstorphine of that Ilk, (3) Forrester, and (4) unreadable. On the right hand (maternal) side are those of: (5) the Earls of Buccleuch, (6) Beaton of Creich, (7) the Earls of Roxburgh, and (8) the Earls of Erroll. Any heraldically literate viewer would have been acutely aware of Thomas Crichton’s illustrious pedigree and his kinship to a series of powerful noble families across Scotland.

It is a distressing evidence of the rapid deterioration of these monuments over the course of the twentieth century that the inscription on the Crichton memorial, almost fully legible in 1933, should now be fragmentary, and that the closest analogy to this stone, the 1734 monument to John Melville in nearby Kilmany, should be completely lost, though fully legible as late as 1896. These irreversible erasures of Scotland’s artistic heritage make me all the more determined to do as much as I can to make the Corpus of Carved Stones a reality before it’s too late.

The only surviving record the Melville monument at Kilmany, reproduced from R. C. Walker’s “Notes on a Heraldic Monument at Kilmany, Fifeshire”, PSAS 31 (1896-97): 94-98.

© 2019 Kelsey Jackson Williams

A Mysterious Box, Part IV

This evening I’ve been sorting through the remaining photo albums in advance of handing Dr. Huhnhäuser’s collection over to the university. There are so many volumes I haven’t even mentioned here and so many wonderful photos, like the Christmas family group above or the interior shot below, that I haven’t touched on.

Interior of the Huhnhäuser home, 1930s.

Of the remaining albums, two struck me with greater force than the others. One early album from 1915 is full to bursting with photos of Heidi as a baby. Perhaps it’s because I’m soon to become a father myself, but I found something entrancing in the love and intimacy of these photos and in Dr. Huhnhäuser’s delighted awkwardness.

I admire the doctor’s style, though it is, perhaps, ill-judged for his present purposes.

The other is unique amongst the albums by virtue of itself being carefully housed in a smaller cardboard container marked “Slettestrand”. Slettestrand, if you don’t know it (and few English speakers would have occasion to do so) is a small village and something of a tourist spot on the northwest coast of den Nørrejyske Ø, the island which makes up the farthest northern portion of Denmark. Separated from the mainland by a massive storm in 1825 which brought the sea thundering across the Agger Tange, its coast is an empty space of dunes and sky. Nothing but ocean lies between it and Aberdeenshire.


The album dates from 1941, by which time Germany had already occupied Denmark and Melms, the doctor’s wife, was working there as a translator. Both husband and wife seem to have had many friends in Denmark, but the photos of this wartime beach holiday are ghostly with absence. Instead, a vast welter of gathering clouds oppresses each photograph and dwarfs the few wanderers amongst the beach huts at Slettestrand.

It is difficult not to read some degree of artistic or intellectual intention into these photographs, so different from the holiday snaps of the thirties. More likely, though, I am reading meaning into what is simply the bricolage of four lives, lived, mostly happily, in a time both tantalisingly close and unimaginable distant from my own.

© 2019 Kelsey Jackson Williams.

A Mysterious Box, Part III

Last week I was reading Jo Catling’s translation of the late W. G. Sebald’s A Place in the Country.  In it Sebald writes that:

I have slowly learned to grasp how everything is connected across space and time . . . the echo of a pistol shot across the Wannsee with the view from a window of the Herisau asylum . . . dates of birth with dates of death, happiness with misfortune, natural history and the history of our industries, that of Heimat with that of exile.

I am a Humean in my approach to coincidence, naturally inclined to shy away from webs like those which Sebald so seamlessly weaves across borders and centuries.  Yet there are moments in which seemingly fragmented parts of experience can align and slide together with startling precision. 

My search for the inhabitants of Rizzastraße 7 had led me to other years of the Koblenz city directories, in none of which did I meet with the Arzt (medical doctor) I had expected.  Dr. Scherer the lawyer and Dr. Göcking the school inspector were joined by an ever-increasing cast of the Koblenz bourgeoisie: Philipp Hambach, the owner of a wood-working factory, Herr Witte the governmental buildings officer, Dr. Riffart, the district court judge, and more.  If my doctor – as I was beginning to think of him – had ever lived at Rizzastraße 7, he was either absent from these directories or had pursued a different profession than I had first supposed.

The doctor enjoying a beach holiday in 1930.

It was, I thought, more likely to be the latter and so I prepared to work my way through a list of the building’s inhabitants, seeing if I could find any who had links to Davos, daughters named Heidi or Inge, or any other points of similarity to the mysterious family into whose life I had had such a strange and tantalising glimpse.  The first name on my list was the resident, in 1930, of flat 3: Dr. Alfred Huhnhäuser, a school inspector.  I was, at first, surprised to find a small Wikipedia entry then transfixed as I read that he “hatte die Tochter Heidi (* 1914) und Inge (* 1917)”.  This was surely my man!

Inge and Heidi looking very prim and proper on a visit to their grandmother’s house.

Moments later I discovered that in 2000 a thesis had been written on Dr. Huhnhäuser: Memoir and Memory: The Papers of a Pre-War German – Alfred Huhnhäuser, 1885-1950 by Caroline Martin.  It made extensive use of the doctor’s papers which I realised were now in the archives of . . . my own institution, the University of Stirling!  Heidi, it proved, had married a Scot and her husband’s nephew – who, in a further freak of coincidence, I had met socially some years before – had lectured at Stirling, donating the papers of his aunt’s family to the university in the 1990s.  The photographs, it would seem, had become separated, detached from their context, and anonymous, until – by chance – they came to me.  A phone call later and their future is, I hope, now secured as a new accession to Stirling’s existing Huhnhäuser archive.

Dr. Huhnhäuser, nattily dressed in frock coat and Stresemann.

And so, over the course of a morning I had gone from the mysterious world of the doctor, his wife, and his daughters, to a richly populated family saga in which Dr. Huhnhäuser, his wife Melms, Heidi, and Inge, picked their way through the dangerous shoals of the twentieth century.  The doctor emerged as a complex figure, a highly literate and literary man, a scholar, an opera critic and amateur musician, and a Nazi administrator who played a key role in occupied Norway.  But reading his autobiography, as edited and discussed in Martin’s 2000 thesis, it was impossible to cast him in the role of Nazi comic-book villain.  Instead, his repeated claim to be apolitical and out of step with his time, balanced against his cautious but determined attempts to improve the plight of Norwegians under German rule, and his altogether ambivalent attitude towards 1930s Germany’s Aryan dream make him one of those grey and difficult figures who populate the annals of that generation: neither wholly good nor wholly bad, caught up in a tide of events, and somewhat bemusedly participating in a greater horror.

Photograph of a portrait of Dr. Huhnhäuser. The whereabouts of the original are unknown.

I also learned that I had not been entirely wrong in seeing some prolonged connection with a sanatorium on the family’s part.  It was not, however, through the doctor’s work – which lay solidly in the realms of literature and education – but in the melancholy fate of Inge, who died just short of her nineteenth birthday in 1936, having suffered from tuberculosis for some years.  The family’s time in Davos was because of her and, as Heidi’s husband recalled in an interview towards the end of his life, her sister had even gone to a school in Davos for several years so that she might be near Inge. 

After the war, Dr. Huhnhäuser was washed to and fro, from Norway, to England, and back to Germany, where he died in 1950.  “Melms”, Else (Schulze) Huhnhäuser, lived into the sixties, and Heidi died as recently as 1992, a resident of her adopted Scotland for over fifty years.  There is something poignant and sad about so suddenly learning the fates of all four, as if one had skipped to the end of the novel and learned, too soon, the conclusion to a story long in the telling. Soon, I’ll pass the Huhnhäusers’ photos on to the archive here at Stirling, where they can rejoin the doctor’s papers, but for a moment – and now with my eyes open – I’ll continue to record what I see.  I’ve only just scratched the surface of the no-longer-so-mysterious box and, I confess, I find myself wanting to learn still more of the details of these lives, rescued so fortuitously and so serendipitously linked to my own.

© 2019 Kelsey Jackson Williams.