The Edwin Morgan Papers: A Life Academic

For over 60 years Edwin Morgan had an academic connection with the University of Glasgow, first as a student, then as a member of staff, and then later still as a Professorial Research Fellow; our blog today focuses on MS Morgan B, which captures this aspect of Morgan’s academic career.

In 1937 Eddie matriculated at the University of Glasgow, taking classes in English, French, History, Political Economy, and Russian.  Like many of his contemporaries his studies were interrupted by WWII.  After intially registering as a conscientious objector, he went on to serve with the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1940.  He returned to Glasgow in 1946 and graduated from the University the following year with a first class Honours degree in English Language and Literature.


First Class Certificate 1937-38 [MS Morgan A/5]

Edwin Morgan had excelled in his Senior Honours year and came second for the Thomas Logan Prize for the most distinguished graduate in Arts in 1947.  Moreover, he won a scholarship to Oxford, ‘probably the annual Snell Exhibition for high acheiving graduates of Glasgow University to pursue postgraduate studies at Balliol.’ Despite travelling to Oxford, Edwin chose instead to return to Glasgow and take up the post of junior lecturer, teaching English Literature. Morgan shared a room with Jack Rillie, and Marshall Walker later informed James McGonigal that by the 1950s the two young lecturers were perceived by the students of the day as:

the Moderns, the now men, from T. S. Eliot to the Beat generation.  We called them “The Rillie-Morgan Axis”.  They were hip.  Intimate with existentialism and the writings of angry young men.  A whiff of danger on Gilmorehill.  A cell.

Over time Morgan rose through the ranks: appointed Lecturer in 1950; Senior Lecturer in 1955; Reader in 1971; and Titular Professor in 1975.

In 1959 in a short essay entitled ‘The don as poet or the poet as don’, which was republished in Nothing Not Giving Messages, Morgan noted:

In this country the poet in the university is an untypical figure, and on the whole I think he should remain so.  That is not to say that for some poets it will not be the best solution of the problem every writer has to face – the problem, how to live.

The role of the academic gave Morgan a financial security not always enjoyed by poets.  However, academia also had it’s drawbacks not least the potential for extended hours, as Morgan explained in his essay ‘Notes on the poet’s working day’, also republished in Nothing Not Giving Messages:

it is at these moments that you feel like giving up the job.  But the moments pass, and I have found – and I can only speak for myself – that with its various disadvantages the job seems to suit me….  I don’t find the academic life deadening (though I’m sure some people do), partly because I enjoy teaching and partly because I keep a lot of other interests going which are non-academic and even anti-academic.

He retired from his teaching post in 1980, and later became a Professorial Research Fellow in the Department of English Literature.  In his biography of Morgan, Beyond the Last Dragon, James McGonigal stated:

After a month or two of savouring the luxury of not having to teach on a daily basis, EM told me, he began to feel guilty that nothing much was being achieved.  His diary for 1980-1981 suggests that this period of retirement was really closer to two weeks, before activity was cranked up again.

MS Morgan B contains the records created during Edwin Morgan’s academic career as a student and member of staff at the University of Glasgow, and is arranged into 4 sections:

  • MS Morgan B/1 covers the time Edwin Morgan spent as a student, from 1937-1940, and from 1945-1947.  This material includes essays, notebooks and assessed work.
  • MS Morgan B/2 spans the period when Morgan worked as a member of staff in the Department of English at the University of Glasgow.  Although he retired in 1980 he continued to work as an external examiner until 1988, and his files of correspondence and administrative papers that he collectively titled ‘GU’ run to 2003, illustrating that his relationship with the University continued thereafter.
  • MS Morgan B/3 combines Morgan’s original collections that were respectively titled ‘Extra Mural’ and ‘General Talks’.  Arranged chronologically from 1949-2000, this material extends beyond the dates of Morgan’s academic career, and by maintaining Morgan’s original arrangement, these records perhaps suggests that he saw the ‘General Talks’ of the later period as a continuation of his ‘Extra Mural’ work as a University Lecturer.
  • MS Morgan B/4 comprises various folders Edwin Morgan kept regarding visiting lectureships and professorships, etc.  They contain such things as correspondence, lecture notes, course schedules, press cuttings, and colour photographs.


Please note that an appointment is required to request access to MS Morgan, please contact Special Collections at for further information.

Nothing Not Giving Messages: Reflections on Work and Life ed. Hamish Whyte  (Polygon, 1990)

James McGonigal Beyond the Last Dragon: A Life of Edwin Morgan (Sandstone Press Ltd, 2010)

Categories: Special Collections

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