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William Motherwell's Cultural Politics

William Motherwell's Cultural Politics

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    William Motherwell's Cultural Politics
    Book Description:

    William Motherwell (1797-1835), journalist, poet, man-of-letters, wit, civil servant, and outspoken conservative, published his anthology of ballads,Minstrelsy: Ancient and Modern, in 1827. His views on authenticity, editorial practice, the nature of oral transmission, and the importance of sung performance--acquired through field collecting--anticipate much later scholarly discourse.

    Published after the death of Burns and the publication of Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, ballads such as those Motherwell collected were one focus of a loose-knit movement that might be designated, cultural nationalism. This interest in preserving relics that suggested a distinctly Scottish culture and nation was one response to the union of the Scottish and English Parliaments in 1707. Mary Ellen Brown's study provides a model for historical ethnography, focusing on an individual and illustrating the multiple ways he was richly embedded in his time and place.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5769-6
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-ix)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. x-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Toward a Biographical Social History
    (pp. 1-9)

    I MET WILLIAM MOTHERWELL, or at least his name, many years ago when I first became interested in ballads. I found hisMinstrelsy: Ancient and Modern, published in 1827, amazingly perspicacious, especially the lengthy introduction describing the ballad’s characteristics and outlining the history of the appearance of Scottish ballad texts in published collections. I have continued to consider that essay an ideal summary statement about the ballad, as a way to begin thinking about theories such as oral formulaic composition for Motherwell’savant la lettreposition on that and other questions. When I was asked to write a chapter some...

  6. 1 Gulielmus Motherwell, Willyan Moderwell, William Motherwell
    (pp. 10-33)

    WILLIAM MOTHERWELL’S OWN LIFE interestingly reflects some of the radical changes and shifts taking place in early nineteenth century Scotland. He came from a propertied agricultural/artisanal background of the sort that all but disappeared during his lifetime: he made his name and place as a member of the rising middle class, as a city dweller. In fact, his life and involvements provide a grass-roots avenue into the social history of Scotland during the first third of the nineteenth century. His experiences open up a number of arenas—political, cultural, social, literary, and regional: his lived environment was the West of...

  7. 2 Politics
    (pp. 34-56)

    THIS OBITUARY STATEMENT APPEARED in the pages of theLoyal Reformer’s Gazetteand more or less concluded a long series of references to Motherwell and to theGlasgow Courier, which he edited between 1830 and his death in 1835. The references to Motherwell and theCourierbegan shortly after Motherwell took over his editorial duties and focus particularly on the issue of the Reform Bill of 1832 and the Irish question. At first Motherwell was not named but referenced: “[H]e is a strange sort of fellow this sameCourier;—does he imagine that the sensible part ofthepopulation view...

  8. 3 The Poet
    (pp. 57-77)

    POETRY WRITING WAS A LIFELONG ACTIVITY for Motherwell and others of his generation: if not as natural as breathing air, clearly writing poems and songs was a culturally accepted and validated means of creativity. Motherwell availed himself of this resource while he made his living in less creatively satisfying endeavors. He may well have begun his most beloved poem, “Jeanie Morrison,” when he was only fourteen; he was still writing at the time of his death, perhaps using poetry as a means of externalizing, in stereotypical ways, both universal and individual concerns: love, age/youth, death, envy, friendship, loss.The Dictionary...

  9. 4 The Ballad Errantry
    (pp. 78-102)

    DURING THE EIGHTEENTH AND NINETEENTH CENTURIES, considerable interest in traditional balladry and song was exhibited throughout western Europe. In Scotland, as elsewhere, this interest was both antiquarian and nationalistic; it was certainly influenced by the unions of the Scottish crown and parliament with those of England and the subsequent sense of national loss felt by some. And certainly a healthy percentage of people probably felt no loss and had no opinion on the matter. But for those who did, and for those who were concerned about Scotland’s loss of nationhood, loss of individuality, and loss of identity, ballads and songs,...

  10. 5 The Death of Literature
    (pp. 103-121)

    THE NINETEENTH CENTURY SAW the expansion of the periodical press and journalism, stimulated by a multiple factors: increasing literacy, the French and Industrial Revolutions, the rise of the middle class and leisure time, and the availability of cheap paper made from wood pulp. It is likely that periodicals and newspapers were more important than books and “reached a broader cross section of society and had a richer diversity than monographs” (North,Waterloo Directory,9). The writer of these words further clarifies: “Just as periodicals and newspapers are greater in volume than printed books, they are arguably more influential in the...

  11. 6 Les Bons Mots
    (pp. 122-131)

    MOTHERWELL MADE A SERIOUS STUDY of ballads because a project was dumped in his lap: taking his responsibility seriously, he then went out of his way to become an expert. And he was multiply rewarded for his efforts—with positive press accounts and with election to corresponding membership of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries. His interest in ballads and folksongs must have arisen originally from his lived environment, where he heard them performed and read them in books. His interest was further piqued because he sensed that they were of the past, that the changes that were taking place in...

  12. 7 Play
    (pp. 132-144)

    THIS PUBLISHED SUGGESTION of Motherwell’s participation in literary play—that is, in the creation of fabrications and forgeries—offers an apt beginning for a discussion of his literary activities in general: they were in the broadest sense play, activities undertaken in leisure time for his own pleasure. The writing of literature, whether poetry, sketch, or essay, was perhaps Motherwell’s greatest delight; it gave meaning to his existence and was his vocation, his calling. Thus it was something about which he was deadly serious. But it was also pleasure; it involved sociability, collaboration with like-minded persons, and it was, quite often,...

  13. 8 But Who Was William Motherwell?
    (pp. 145-162)

    BIOGRAPHICAL FACTS and public, published records aside, who was Motherwell? What mattered to him? Where did he live and how? What were his thoughts? Recognizing the impossibility of ever answering these questions in any specificity and with any assurance of the answers’ verity (there are, after all, many “lacks” in the written, historical record), I would like to suggest something more about the man, and to begin to place him more completely in the tangle of ideas that were floating about Scotland in the first third of the nineteenth century.

    There are plenty of studies that talk of specifics of...

  14. Appendix 1: Informants and Items
    (pp. 163-170)
  15. Appendix 2: Drafts on Variation
    (pp. 171-173)
  16. Appendix 3: Memoirs of a Paisley Baillie
    (pp. 174-227)
  17. Appendix 4: Motherwell’s Affiliations and Associates
    (pp. 228-234)
  18. Appendix 5: Annotations Relating to Motherwell’s Associates
    (pp. 235-242)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 243-244)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-256)
  21. Index
    (pp. 257-266)