New find in Sir Walter Scott’s library

Published: 24 May 2011

Literature experts identify poem - long thought to be lost

A major literary discovery has been made in Sir Walter Scott's library at Abbotsford House.

The Grotesquiad was recently uncovered by the Faculty of Advocates during efforts to catalogue Sir Walter's collection.

Dr Gerard Carruthers and Dr Rhona Brown of the University's College of Arts have identified the author as James Beattie (1735-1803), who is known to have written a poem of this title, long thought to be lost.

Dr Brown is currently preparing the poem for publication in collaboration with the Faculty of Advocates and the Abbotsford Trust.

“The discovery of The Grotesquiad in Sir Walter's collection at Abbotsford is significant for many reasons,” said Dr Brown. “The world is able, for the first time, to see one of the most substantial of Beattie’s productions and to recognise a new facet of his literary personality.”

Beattie is a major figure in eighteenth-century Scottish culture, famous as an opponent of David Hume’s scepticism and of the evils of slavery.

In his philosophical writings he made an important contribution to the Scottish Enlightenment, while his most celebrated poem, The Minstrel (1771 & 1774), was a key influence on later Romantic writers, including William Wordsworth.

The whereabouts of The Grotesquiad has been a mystery among Beattie scholars for centuries. Beattie himself reported the disappearance of the poem in 1762, while later editors have found no trace of the manuscript.

Now, 249 years later, academics report that The Grotesquiad is, in fact, Beattie’s second-longest poem, following The Minstrel at around 9,500 words.

Written under the pseudonym of ‘Goliah Gentle, Esquire’, The Grotesquiad is a tour-de-force satire. Following the fate of the eponymous Grotesquo, a brave but drunken ‘warrior’ who models himself on the great Don Quixote, the poem is a rollicking, mock heroic tale which is both entertaining and full of literary allusion.

Dr Brown said that it showed the "wealth and worth" of Sir Walter's library and that he clearly appreciated Beattie’s humour.

The Grotesquiad is the latest in a long line of unique items found in Scott’s priceless collection.

It also comes at an important time for the University and its place in the study of Scotland worldwide. Earlier this year, Dr Carruthers and colleagues secured funding of £1million from the Arts Humanities Research Council to edit the Complete Works of Robert Burns.

In 2014 Glasgow will host the World Congress of Scottish Literature.

For more media information please contact Eleanor Cowie, Media Relations Officer, on 0141 330 3683 or

First published: 24 May 2011

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