I spent the last half hour of my time today xeroxing the March 1771 issues of the Caledonian Mercury. I also understood at last the thriftiness of Scots printers, since this tri-weekly seems to reproduce its stories verbatim from the Edinburgh Evening Courant and the Weekly Magazine (surprise!). This will finish up my week at the NLS, but I expect to be working through these materials for the remainder of the summer.
My big question remains a representational one, something that’s bothered me for some time: what’s the best way to depict different events taking place simultaneously in a complex physical environment? (I’ve stolen the term, though not necessarily the methodology, from Gumbrecht’s In 1926)
This question is obviously about the best method of representingt the social complexity of cities, but it also includes the problem of how to write literary history in a way that allows distinct but proximate genres to unfold independently of one another.
Right now, as I think about the early 1770s in Edinburgh, I’m aware of the sophisticated, anglophile world of Mackenzie and sentiment, with all its connections to commercial London but also to the scholarly world of Hume, Smith, Millar, and the Britannica. Fergusson and his printer Walter Ruddiman take us into the rediscovery of post-Ramsay, vernacular Scots traditions for literary innovations leading to Burns. And I think it’s still important to figure in the kind of literary antiquarianism that sustained not just Chatterton, Collins, Gray, and Ossian, but also James Beattie’s Minstrel and ultimately Walter Scott.
So how do these different stories fit together, without turning them into causes and effects of one another?