Dr Craig Lamont | Editing Scottish Texts: from Ramsay to Haynes

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On the 18th of October, the Centre was delighted to host our very own Dr Craig Lamont, the new Lecturer in Scottish Studies at the University of Glasgow, who delivered a hybrid webinar entitled ‘Editing Scottish Texts: from Ramsay to Haynes’. Graduate of the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde, Lamont has a background in Creative Writing, and Scottish and English Literatures, and has since gone on to work across a wealth of textual editing ventures in his postdoctoral career. This has included two major editing projects, ‘Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century’ (PI: Gerard Carruthers) and ‘The Collected Works of Allan Ramsay’ (PI: Murray Pittock), discussion of which, alongside that of the edited collections of John Galt (Edinburgh University Press edition), and Dorothy K. Haynes (Association for Scottish Literature), formed part of the evening’s seminar. An outline of his previous and current work in the field of Scottish Studies was given by Dr Corey Gibson, Lecturer in Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow, during his introduction to proceedings.

Throughout the presentation, Lamont talked about his experience of editing texts from the four aforementioned Scottish writers, beginning by suggesting that it may seem strange that he decided to link together three literary figures – Burns, Ramsay and Galt – who, from our contemporary standpoint at least, are well known in the field of Scottish Literature, alongside one relatively unknown figure – Haynes. However, as Lamont went on elucidate, his decision to combine these specific authors in the one presentation brings forth questions regarding whose work is chosen for edited collections, why, and in which ways.

Before getting into analysis of the seminar’s titular writers, Lamont helpfully gave an overview of the differences between manuscripts, typescripts, and printed editions of texts, and explained why, if possible, it is imperative that each is considered during the process of textual editing: identifying the earliest versions of a text and then its subsequent forms, allows for its evolution to be clearly mapped, as this process provides an understanding of additions, amendments, and redactions which the text received over time. With this in mind, Lamont referred to Jerome McGann’s theory of a ‘social text’ to highlight the importance of understanding a text’s bibliographical history and the wider socio-historical contexts which impact upon its evolution. It must be understood that there is no such thing as a “pure” text.

However, comically using the words of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin – ‘Don’t trust anybody’ – Lamont went on to stress the fact that editorial choices complicate the record of a text, even when made with the best intentions. Thus, you cannot wholly trust the editor. Lamont illustrated his argument by referring to Robert Burns’ Letters Addressed to Clarinda (1802), a printed record of Burns’ correspondence with Mrs Agnes M’Lehose, by showing that this collection includes letters simply because the editor felt they were a nice fit, rather than because their addition was accurate. This happened often in printed collections of Burns’ correspondence, meaning that they do not present a full and accurate narrative. Similarly, James Currie, an editor of Burns, often redacted from his letters to protect the identities of those involved, which resulted in letters being, as said by Lamont, ‘Frankenstein-ed’ together. Therefore, contemporary textual editors are faced with what is often a lengthy, complex process when compiling new collections, as there is a vast number of previous texts with varying degrees of accuracy through which they must sift, in order to piece together the ‘truth’.

Moving on to Allan Ramsay, Lamont uses Ramsay’s work to show how it depicts his good working relationship with his editor, Ruddiman. Ramsay often formatted his manuscripts in the ways in which he wanted his work to appear in printed editions, and then these conventions were adhered to by Ruddiman, in print. Lamont showed images of Ramsay’s manuscripts in which his writing was centred on the page, with the breaks between poems clearly shown by a hand drawn line, and images of copy texts and finalised, printed versions, which were formatted in the same manner. Access to texts in various degrees of finality, from their original manuscripts to finalised prints, is useful for the textual editor, as it allows them to track variants, or lack thereof, across the printing and publishing process.

The ways in which texts are reproduced over time also has a baring on cultural memory, and Lamont’s vast experience with the intersection of textual editing and cultural memory is very evident in, and an interesting addition to, this seminar. With regards to Ramsay, his work is much better known today than it was during his lifetime, when he was overshadowed by his painter son, with whom he shared his name. Ramsay’s recognition now is largely thanks to the work of textual editors collecting and collating his writing for contemporary audiences. Furthermore, the reception of a figure differs with geographical location, as well as throughout time, and this is clearly seen in the figure of John Galt. Lamont notes that there remain today less manuscripts of Galt’s to work with than even Ramsay, and that in Scotland he is not widely known, even though he is by any standard quite a prolific nineteenth century novelist; his fifty-three distinct works serve to challenge even the wealth of literature written by Walter Scott, who has always been notably much better known in Scotland. However, Galt is well commemorated in Canada, where he is known and celebrated for being a man of Empire, through statues and festivals dedicated to his memory.

Lamont’s discussion of Galt and his work extended to a demonstration of how past editions of texts make it easier for current editors to get to grips with producing new editions, even if the previous iterations contained mistakes. He uses Ian A. Gordon’s 1973 version of The Last of the Lairds, in which Gordon removed amendments made to an earlier version of the text by previous editor, David Macbeth Moir. Gordon’s decision to return the text to its original content means that he tampered with textual history as he eradicated the trace of earlier editing, which Lamont argues against. Instead, he calls for editors to do their best to track the evolution of a text across all editions, noting how and when edits were made, as well as showing how texts looked in their original form, to preserve textual history in any new editions.

The presentation concluded with discussion of the most contemporary of his four writers, Dorothy K. Haynes, whose autobiography Lamont is embarking upon editing. He states that she has fallen out of the Scottish canon almost entirely, but that by editing her work to make her more accessible to today’s audiences, readers can be reminded about what – writers and texts – Scottish literary culture has, and what it has come close to losing. His choice to produce an edited collection of Hayne’s work also demonstrates the bias of the editor, an idea which permeated throughout his presentation, as, simply, his fondness for her writing, and belief that others should read it too, is enough of a motivation to work on such a project.

The evening ended with discussion of afterlives in the Q&A, during which Lamont made clear his opinion that an editor should never assume that their word is final. If anything, the work of going through previous editions of a text should make it obvious that there will continue to be subsequent versions, too. The best that an editor can do is be transparent and guide the reader through the changes which editions of texts have seen throughout history, and provide a new edition which is readable and informative.

Laura MacDonald

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