The G. Ross Roy Collection of Burnsiana & Scottish Literature
The University of South Carolina libraries have been acquiring works by Scottish authors since the early nineteenth century. With the addition of the extensive G. Ross Roy Collection in 1989, South Carolina now has major research holdings across a wide range of Scottish writing. Indeed, in the words of one recent visitor, it is "the best Burns collection in North America."
The G. Ross Roy Collection goes back to 1892 when Roy's grandmother, Charlotte Spriggings, inscribed an edition of the works of Robert Burns to her friend W. Ormiston Roy. The collection was inherited by the grandson in 1958 and has since grown fivefold.
Burns & Burnsiana
By far the most specialized portion of the collection consists of editions of the works of Burns and items of Burnsiana. In this area are included not only separate editions of the poet's works, but also editions with distinctive bindings and variants in layout made from the same plates. Books to 1825 containing selections from the poet were added. Notable among these were chapbooks, both 18th and 19th century, several apparently unrecorded. A concerted effort was also made in building the collection to obtain translations of Burns's works. The Burnsiana in the collection includes almost every book-length study of the poet, as well as numerous pamphlets. Books which contain substantial sections about Burns have also been added.
Among the Burns highlights are a first edition of The Merry Muses of Caledonia (1799), one of only two known copies, and the only one with a complete title page. Of the so-called 1827 reprint of this work, the collection contains sixteen of the twenty-one known variants. There is a splendid Kilmarnock edition of Burns (1786), and copies of both states of the 1787 Edinburgh edition, the 1787 London edition, James Currie's edition of 1800 and R. H. Cromek's Reliques (1808), all but the first edition in original boards, uncut. Also included is one volume of John Moore's novel Zeluco annotated by Burns, and a copy of The World with over sixty ascriptions and comments in Burns's hand. Many of the editions of Burns and Burnsiana are association copies, several of them annotated.
The collection is rich in anthologies of Scottish poetry. These begin with the earliest Scottish miscellany, John Scot's Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum (1637). Eighteenth-century anthologies include James Watson's Choice Collection of Comic and Serious Scots Poems (1706, 1709, 1711, 2nd edition of the first part, 1713), and the rare Edinburgh Miscellany (1720). Eighteenth-century editions of earlier poetry are to be found in David Herd's Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs (1776) and John Pinkerton's Ancient Scottish Poems (1786), and Laing'sVarious Pieces of Fugitive Scottish Poetry [1600-1707],(1825-53).
Scottish Literary History
The history of earlier Scottish poetry can be studied in George Mackenzie's Lives and Characters of the Most Eminent Writers of the Scots Nation (1708-22) and in the library's copy of Alexander Campbell's Introduction to the History of Poetry in Scotland (1798) and Songs of the Lowlands of Scotland(1799), formerly Joseph Ritson's copy with extensive MS notes.
Individual volumes of early Scottish authors include a fine copy of Gavin Douglas's Eneados (1553), and several early works of the Latinist George Buchanan.
Eighteenth-century poets in addition to Burns are represented by significant holdings. These include Allan Ramsay (over seventy eighteenth-century editions), James Thomson, James Beattie, Robert Blair, Robert Fergusson and James "Ossian" Macpherson. There are complete or almost complete holdings of major, and many minor poets of the nineteenth century, including James Hogg and such best-sellers as Aytoun's Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers and Robert Pollock's The Course of Time.
Modern Scottish Writers
The Roy Collection also has major strengths in twentieth-century poetry. There are important holdings of the works of Hugh MacDiarmid, including association copies, and other poets of the Scottish Renaissance. Among these are Maurice Lindsay, Alexander and Tom Scott, George Bruce and Sydney Goodsir Smith.
Dr. G. Ross Roy began teaching at the University of South Carolina in 1965. One of the world's foremost authorities on the works and life of Robert Burns, Roy founded the scholarly journal, Studies in Scottish Literature, and built one of the world's most comprehensive and impressive collections on Burns and Scottish literature. He donated the collection to USC in 1989 and has continued to work with USC to secure significant additions to further strengthen the collection. In the 1990s, he organized two international conferences, one on Scottish literature and the other for the Robert Burns bicentennial. In June 2002, the University of Edinburgh awarded him an honorary doctor of literature degree in recognition of his scholarly contributions to the study of Burns and Scottish literature.
In an interview in August 2004, shortly before his 80th birthday celebration, Roy shared his thoughts on his passion for Burns, Burns's relevance today and USC's Burns collection.
Q: What first attracted you to Burns?
"My grandfather...I stayed with him while he was going to the university. He was a Burns enthusiast. When my grandfather died, he left me all of his books, and the books included a collection of Burns' books."
Q: Where do you find your most interesting collection items?
"I find most items through auctions and dealers, but I recently bought a copy of a Boston paper published in 1790 on E-bay. In 1896, 100 years after Burns' death, there was an exhibition in Glasgow, and on display was Burns' porridge bowl. My grandfather purchased that in the 1930s, and that bowl will be on display in the USC exhibition. For many, many years there was only one known copy of The Merry Muses of Caledonia, which was published in 1799. Through a series of fortunate events, a second copy came up, and I was able to get a hold of that."
Q: What is Burns legacy and what is the relevancy of his work today?
"Burns wrote, what I would say is, the best known non-political song in the world: ‘Auld Lang Syne.' There was something about Burns that he could empathize with little people -- he never forgot that he was a farmer. He wrote one of the great ghost story poems of the world, and he gave us the poem ‘My Love is Like A Red, Red Rose.' He just captured peoples' imaginations."
Q: What do you want South Carolinians to know about Burns?
"That the best Burns collection outside of London or Scotland is at USC. I want people to come and see the best printed collection of Burns and Burnsiana in North America. Three first-edition copies of the Kilmarnock, Burns' best known book, will be on display Saturday morning. This is the first time, anywhere, they will be on display together."