Hamish Scott Henderson, 1919-2002. (in Memoriam)

Article excerpt

Folklorists around the world have been saddened by the death of Hamish Henderson in Edinburgh on 8 March 2002. Those who had the privilege of spending time with him will recall encounters at 27 George Square, or in Sandy Bell's down the road, Padstow on a May morning, at a ceilidh, a folk festival, or in the field. He was equally at home in the lecture hall and in the travellers' gelly. Others will remember how good he was at answering queries that came by mail from all parts of the globe. He was a staunch friend to many who will be grateful for his life, his work, and the encouragement that he gave to "The Carrying Stream" of our tradition.

He began to collect in the 1930s, finding folklore enthusiasts and sources while at school, during his Cambridge years, in the context of refugee work for the Society of Friends, and during active wartime service in the Desert and Italian campaigns in the Intelligence Corps. In the late 1940s, work with the Workers' Educational Association took him to Northern Ireland and the travel stipend that accompanied the Somerset Maugham Prize, awarded to his Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica, allowed him a return visit to Italy, which much later bore fruit in the publication of his translations of Antonio Gramsci.

It is no exaggeration to declare that Hamish Henderson's passion for Scotland's cultural traditions was literally a life-long one. From his earliest childhood, he heard songs from his mother and grandmother, in his native Blairgowrie and elsewhere, he was a pupil of "Dancie" Reid, one of Scotland's last itinerant dancing masters, and all this established a "ground bass" for his extraordinary life, a life that impinged on the lives of so many others. All of its themes--language study, soldiering, writing, collecting, teaching, translating and activism in humanistic causes--came together in his long career in the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

The catalyst for the creation of the School of Scottish Studies was Angus McIntosh, appointed in 1948 to the Forbes Chair of English Language and General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh. With colleagues in the university and encouraged by friends such as the folklorists John Lorne Campbell and his wife Margaret Fay Shaw Campbell, he had a vision of language and folklore collection and study, Gaelic and Scots, going hand in hand in systematic programmes that would create living resources on which the nation could draw. Models of good practice, encouragement, and practical help came from several quarters but most notably from Seamus Delargy, head of the Irish Folklore Commission, and Dag Stromback, director of the Swedish Folklore Archives in Uppsala. They were swift to support McIntosh in lobbying decision-makers, providing materials, and offering training opportunities.

The School was handselled with two unique archival gifts. One, from the Irish Folklore Commission, consisted of copies of all the material collected in Scotland by Calum Maclean from Raasay, the School's first full-time collector, while on its staff in the 1940s. The other was twenty-five reels of remarkable recordings, copies of tapes made by the folklorist Alan Lomax, visiting from the United States in 1951 and conducted around Scotland by Hamish Henderson and Calum Maclean at the instigation of Jimmy Miller ("Ewan MacColl"), to collect Scottish material for a Columbia Records LP series. The wealth to be gathered was evident to Maclean and Henderson. …