Off the Page

Stirling has no shortage of literary connections. William Dunbar amused the Court of James IV with his ‘Ballad of the Friar of Tungland’, ribaldly recounting John Damian’s attempt to fly from Stirling Castle’s ramparts on man-made wings, and Sir David Lindsay celebrated the beauty of the Burgh in verse, accompanying James V on his many visits. Robert Burns etching his ‘Lines on Stirling’ on a bedroom window at the Wingate Inn (now the Golden Lion Hotel), in April 1787. Sir Walter Scott was inspired by Callander tales of Rob Roy MacGregor, and a cave near Darn Road, Bridge of Allan, is said to have inspired frequent visitor Robert Louis Stevenson’s description of Ben Gunn’s cave in ‘Treasure Island’.

Some less celebrated local scribes are also worthy of mention.

Sir William Alexander of Menstrie

Sir William Alexander of Menstrie, James VI & I’s ‘Philosophical Poet’ came to prominence at Stirling Castle, as tutor to his heir, Henry. His affection for his charge is clear from the Elegy, written on the Prince’s death in 1612:

If grief would give me leave to let the world have part
Of that which it (though surfeiting) engrosses in my heart
Then I would sow some tears, that so they more might breed,
Not such as eyes use to distil, but which the heart doth bleed.

Dugald Graham

A poor hunchback, born in the Raploch around 1700, Dugald Graham taught himself to read and write, earning his living as a travelling Chapman, selling printed pamphlets, or ‘Chap-Books’, collecting his own jokes and comic verses. Following Charles Edward Stuart’s forces in 1745, he detailed the triumphs and tragedies of Bonnie Charlie’s ill-fated rebellion in ‘A Rhyming Chronicle of the Last Jacobite Insurrection’. Though disapproving of his bawdy wit, Sir Walter Scott considered Dugald’s verses ‘a valuable record of popular sentiment during [that] turbulent age’.

William Cameron

Disfigured in a childhood accident, crook-nosed William Cameron from Plean, became known as Hawkie the Gangrel (beggar), singing and reciting sentimental verses at the fairs held each weekend in what is now the Valley Cemetery. Recognition came too late to this colourful character. His verses celebrated, his autobiography due for publication, and his effigy included in the Glasgow Wax-Works, he died in the Workhouse in 1851:

And never ‘till Nature has ended her Strife,
Will any be free from the Troubles of Life!

Still a comparatively small town by the Victorian era, Stirling’s population had a passion for the printed word, supporting three twice-weekly newspapers, and as many publishers: Eneas MacKay and James Shearer who specialised in gazetteers and works of local history, and the prodigious Drummond Tract Depot, who produced a multitude of evangelical novels, verses and instructional pamphlets from the early 19th-century until the mid-1950s.

Today the written word is celebrated annually through the Off The Page literary festival and the crime-writing convention, Bloody Scotland, and there is has been a resurgence of small-press books concerning local history and culture, with titles such as ‘Auld Stirling Punishments’ and ‘A History of Stirling in 100 Objects’ filling our bookshelves.

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