Academic journal article Folklore

"A Permanent and Even European Reputation": The Lost Work of the Reverend Walter Gregor

Academic journal article Folklore

"A Permanent and Even European Reputation": The Lost Work of the Reverend Walter Gregor

Article excerpt


The Revd Walter Gregor (1825-97) was born and raised in the North East of Scotland where he was to live until his retirement when he moved to Bonnyrigg, near Edinburgh, where his brother lived. Educated at King's College in the University of Aberdeen, he graduated in 1849 and subsequently taught at Macduff Parish School in Gamrie for ten years. Taking Divinity classes during that time, he was eventually licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Turriff in 1857 and was appointed in 1859 as minister to the coastal parish of Pitsligo, where he was to stay until 1891 (Porter 2004).

Gregor first developed an interest in the dialect of the North East, The Dialect of Banffshire appearing in the Transactions of the Philological Society for 1866, pointing to the start of collecting in the 1860s. Gregor's next publication was An Echo of the Olden Time from the North of Scotland (1872), gathering together articles that appeared first in the London Scotsman and later the Peterhead Sentinel. The material on the custom and beliefs of birth, marriage, and death was to be reproduced in Notes on the Folk-Lore of the North-East of Scotland (1881), Gregor's first major folklore publication and the one that established his enduring reputation as a folklorist of the first-rank. Published by the newly-founded Folklore Society, it was essentially an account, with impressive detail, of the folklore of Gregor's own parish. "It is simply a museum of details: but they are details accurately given by a competent collector, and arranged in an apt and orderly sequence," was A. J. Munby's comment in his review in The Academy (Munby 1881, 175, col. c). What was to him a weakness is its strength: field-collected material recounted in clear and precise narrative prose that eschews any comparative or speculative framework of analysis. A reviewer of the later Kilns, Mills, Millers, Meal and Bread (1894) drew a similar conclusion:

   When we see Dr Gregor's name attached to any work, we know what to
   expect, namely, original collections from the mouth of the folk, set
   down in business-like catalogues, and with unrivalled precision of
   detail as to localities and variants, and withal not a word from the
   writer himself, nothing to show what is the special purpose or the
   outcome of the collection (Anonymous 1895, 390).

There can be no better summary of Gregor's methodology for the publication of his collecting than this statement.

Kilns, Mills, Millers, Meal and Bread had first appeared that same year of 1894 in the Transactions of the Buchan Field Club, and it was, in fact, the second of Gregor's articles, such were their length, to be republished in book format, Counting-Out Rhymes of Children (1891) having appeared in the pages of the same journal earlier in 1887. Both were published in London by the well-known figure David Nutt.

Gregor was a prolific writer, his work appearing not only in the journals of the two North East Scottish antiquarian and natural history societies, the Buchan and Banffshire Field Clubs, but also in publications of The Folklore Society where a remarkable run of twenty-six articles appeared in the first six volumes of the Folk-Lore Journal between 1883 and 1889, followed by another six in its successor journal, Folk-Lore between 1891 and 1896. Gregor also came to the attention of the French folklorist Paul Sebillot and, as a result, he published twenty-two contributions, in French, on North East folklore in the Revue des Traditions Populaires, of which Sebillot was both the founder and editor. In fact, eight articles of Gregor's appeared in the Revue des Traditions Populaires in 1898, the year after his death, such were the number that Sebillot had in hand. Sebillot also contributed an obituary to the Revue des Traditions Populaires on the occasion of Gregor's death.

Bibliographies of Gregor have only recently appeared, that of Buchan and Olson (1997) updated by Miller (2000). …

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