The Edwin Morgan Papers: Commemorating Burns Night

Ms Morgan_C_13_p2663_stamps

To commemorate Burns Night we thought we’d share with you a few items from the Papers of Edwin Morgan, in particular a couple of Robert Burns commemorative stamps which were sent to EM by an unidentified friend in the USSR.

Edwin was clearly quite taken with the stamps as he pasted almost the whole of the front of the envelope into one of his Scrapbooks – Scraplook No. 13 (Ms Morgan/C/13/p2663).  The envelope shows that the letter was sent to EM’s home address from Moscow in 1956.  Above this EM has pasted a small press cutting from The Times titled ‘A Burns Stamp Issued by Russia: From our Philatelic Correspondent’, which EM has annotated by noting both the publication and the date ‘6-9-1956’.

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Ms Morgan_C_13_p2663_inside cover

The USSR was the first country to commemorate the Scottish bard on a postal stamp, marking the 160th anniversary of his death.  Robert Burns has always been very popular in Russia. In Imperial Russia he was translated into Russian and became a source of inspiration for the peasants. In Soviet Russia, he was elevated as the archetypal poet of the people. As a great admirer of the egalitarian ethos behind the American and French Revolutions who expressed his own egalitarianism in poems such as his “Birthday Ode for George Washington” or his “Is There for Honest Poverty” (commonly known as “A Man’s a Man for a’ that”), Burns was well placed for endorsement by the Communist regime as a “progressive” artist.  A new translation of Burns, begun in 1924 by Samuil Marshak, proved enormously popular, selling over 600,000 copies.

Edwin Morgan’s interest in the USSR was no doubt heightened by his visit to the country the previous year.  EM was invited by the Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (VOKS) to join a delegation from Scotland in 1955 for a month’s study tour of Russia.  VOKS was an organization created by the USSR in 1925 and officially tasked with cultural exchanges with other countries.

Ms Morgan_H_1_1_red square Ms Morgan_H_1_1_undergroundHere EM is pictured in his kilt in Red Square, Moscow, with the Kremlin and Historical Museum in the background; and on the Moscow Underground (MS Morgan/H/1/1).  When he returned from the tour EM wrote a couple of newspaper articles for the local press and gave lectures to local groups, like the Rotary Club of Rutherglen.  All these items, along with further records of EM’s visit to the USSR can be viewed as part of the Scots Makar’s Archive, MS Morgan, in Special Collections.

To view a virtual exhibition of EM’s Scrapbooks please click here



Categories: Special Collections

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