The Robert Henryson Society

Newsletter: January 2000

How must Robert Henryson have felt, half a millennium ago, as he sat in Dunfermline, by his fireside, with a warming dram to protect himself further against the cold, and an instructive and entertaining book by his side? As he waited for the 1400's to become the 1500's, did he for one moment realise that, five hundred years hence, his poetry would still be read and appreciated, not only in the auld grey toun, but all over the world - in countries he and his contemporaries had only dreamed of? And five hundred years from now, no doubt, as our own great-great-great grandchildren travel to places we cannot dream of, and communicate in ways we cannot imagine, some of them will still, without a doubt, take time to relax, sit down and laugh over the tale of the two mice, or grieve over the preaching of the swallow.

By the time you read this, the bells will have rung, the balloons will have burst, and perhaps even the last of the seasonal turkey will have been made into sandwiches. The 1900's have been consigned to history, and we are entering, with hope and perhaps a little anxiety, a decade whose very name is still a matter of conjecture (the zeros? The pre-teens? The naughty naughts?). As we tumble into the future, as Henryson well knew, we cannot afford to forget the past. The Robert Henryson Society exists to celebrate the makar's work, and to promote knowledge of his life and times. By learning more about Henryson and his time, we can enter the mind of Scotland's greatest ever poet and see from his perspective a period when Dunfermline was a beacon of enlightenment in a dark and troubled country. We hope that you will continue to support us - and encourage others to join us - as we continue this mission into a new era.

Upcoming Events

The first meeting of the new century is on the 4th of February, when Dr Watkins of the new Museum of Scotland, will be telling us how this magnificent new building can help us understand Scotland's past. This event will take place at Abbey Park House at 7.30 pm. The Annual Cheese and Wine Party has been moved to the 17th March in the hope that better weather will attract a larger turnout. The Annual Conference date has still to be arranged, but it will be reinstated in its usual spring/summer spot. A glittering array of speakers is being lined up, so watch this space for more details.

Other Activities

One of my more urgent New Year's resolutions is to update the Robert Henryson Society Web Site. Veteran RHS member, Bob Smith, has generously given us a set of his modern Scots adaptations of Henryson's Fables, with highly informative and entertaining notes, and we hope to have them 'live' on the World Wide Web within the next few weeks. Those who know Bob's adaptations through the recordings already done for the Society, will know that he brings to the poems his inimitable enthusiasm and wide knowledge, and he has done a sterling job in rendering the 'teuch' language of the Fables more accessible to readers less familiar with Middle Scots. Clearly, as Bob himself insists, these adaptations should never seek to replace the originals, but they can act as a useful bridging text and commentary, just as Henryson himself used bridging texts and commentaries of the Latin books that formed such a vital part of his studies.

The RHS Web Site can be accessed through many public libraries, and of course by those who have home computers linked to the Internet. If you are a novice Web surfer, simply ask any teenager to browse 'Robert Henryson Society' for you - and you should be there within seconds!

Committee Member Sabrina Black is a tireless promoter of Henryson in local schools, and she plans to send free copies of worksheets, kindly donated by Gerry Baird (author of the ASLS Scotnote on Henryson), to the English Department of all local schools. These are tried and tested classroom materials, written by a schoolteacher for secondary pupils at all levels. We also plan in time to make these worksheets available to Web users.


Like all small Societies, the Robert Henryson Society is dependent upon the enthusiasm of its members - particularly the locally-based ones. Do come along to our meetings, and if you want to hear or see speakers on certain topics, do let us know. The Committee is always looking for 'fresche bluid' and if you think you would be interested in getting involved in helping to plan Society activities, do get in touch. We are a friendly bunch!

I hope you all have had a wonderful festive season and that you are looking forward optimistically to the next thousand years. I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible at the talk on February 4th. See you then.

John Corbett


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