Dr. Ralph McLean - John Porteous in The Heart of Midlothian: the intersection of history and fiction

On Thursday 9th November 2017 we had a talk by Dr. Ralph McLean. He was introduced by our Chairman, Prof. Peter Garside. (powerpoint link and video below)

It’s a pleasure to see so many of you here this evening, for this the last in the sequence of Club talks for the year 2017. Those of you’ve arrived ahead of the start might also have noticed a change in the procedures in setting up the event. Normally this is carried out by our Events Convenor, Lee Simpson, who unfortunately can’t be here on this one occasion, on account of having taken another booking. In his absence various Club members have stepped up to fill in the breach, notably Ian and Louise Gardiner, who have set up and in part provided the video projection equipment, and Martin Philip who is looking after audio and other arrangements. Our thanks go out to them then, and let’s hope that we manage to recreate something of the skilful yet unobtrusive management which is normally provided by Lee, to whom the Club has been indebted over so many years.

Our speaker this evening, Dr Ralph McLean, is Curator of Manuscripts for the Long Eighteenth Century at the National Library of Scotland, where among his duties he has responsibility for the vast collection of manuscripts relating to Sir Walter Scott. Ralph formerly worked (until 2014) as a research associate at the University of Glasgow on the AHRC-funded project Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century. He has written a number of articles on the Scottish Enlightenment, and has produced an edition of John Home’s tragedy Douglas which includes, for the first time, the pamphlet material surrounding its controversial history. Along with Dr Ronnie Young at the University of Glasgow he has recently edited a collection of essays entitled The Scottish Enlightenment and Literary Culture (2017), which examines the impact of Enlightenment thought on imaginative literature in Scotland during the Enlightenment and beyond. Among his more recent talks, at the National Library of Scotland, has been one on Alexander Howland Smith aka ‘Antique Smith’, famous (or infamous rather) for his forgeries of Scott autograph manuscripts.

His topic today is especially timely, since it was in November 1817, exactly two hundred years ago, that Scott first contracted for his novel The Heart of Mid-Lothian, whose title was then first mentioned by him. Dr McLean’s talk will focus on the differences between the historical reality of the Porteous Riots of 1736 and the version presented in Scott’s novel. He will also address the history of Captain John Porteous and his relationship with the city of Edinburgh as well as examining the aftermath of the Riots and what this meant for Edinburgh itself.

(view the powerpoint