Scotland as a Literary Multiverse: Bards, Minstrels, Troubadours and the Modern Reading Public
The comparatist must be bedazzled by Scotland. Whenever important trends make themselves felt in post-medieval Europe, Scotland is bound to provide a telling example: it played a special role in whatever it was we are talking about. The culture of an early Enlightenment, Protestant-inspired, and drawing on work-ethic universities: Scotland (alongside Holland and Switzerland) ticks the box. The taste of the Sublime in landscape aesthetics and artistic inspiration: Ossian ticks the box. The historicist rediscovery of ancient vernacular culture and balladry: Ossian again, and Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. The Romantic adoption of traditional rural culture in genteel urban life: Scottish dances, music and dress styles tick the box. The role of light verse and song in creating convivial “embodied communities”: Burns, alongside Belman and Béranger. The romantic-Byronic cult of the noble outlaw: Rob Roy. The conjoint rise, in the twentieth century, of the action thriller and war propaganda: Buchan ticks the box. The gritty, distressed postmodernity of delinquent street life: Trainspotting. No other non-sovereign nation has so long and in so many different respects punched above its weight in making its presence felt in the great transformations of European cultural history. In taking one sight-line among many I will trace a line of impact of Ossian: the emerging notion of the “bard” as the prototypical Romantic poet. We can trace this from Macpherson by way of Italy to the Balkans and spreads from there to the rest of romantic Europe.