Original Scott Manuscript goes on Display

28th October 2023

Sir Walter Scott’s original manuscript for his narrative poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel is going on display for the first time at Abbotsford.

The fragment of handwritten compositional manuscript will be displayed in a spotlight exhibition at Abbotsford from Wednesday 1st to Sunday 19th November 2023. It is the only surviving part of Sir Walter Scott’s first long narrative poem and reveals some of his working methods as he transitions from ballad collecting to writing poetry. The poem, set in various locations in the Scottish Borders, most famously Melrose Abbey, contains all the hallmarks of Scott’s popular style: history, martial exploits, minstrelsy, and magic.

The manuscript was acquired by Abbotsford as part of the Blavatnik Honresfield Library, a collection containing important British literary manuscripts, work by the Brontes, Jane Austen, Lord Byron, and Robert Burns as well as Sir Walter Scott. In 2021, £15 million was raised by a consortium of libraries, literary organisations and museums, including Abbotsford and spearheaded by Friends of the National Libraries, to acquire the manuscripts for the nation. The success of the Friends of National Libraries campaign meant that the previously private collection will now remain in the public domain.

The homecoming and exhibition of The Lay of the Last Minstrel manuscript at Abbotsford represents a key cultural moment for the Scottish Borders and its literary heritage. This was the poem that established ‘Scott country’ as a tourist destination for the very first time, as thousands of readers flocked to Melrose Abbey, and later to Scott’s home at Abbotsford, which was first opened to the public in 1833, just months after his death. Rosslyn Chapel also saw an explosion of interest as a result of The Lay.

Many of Scott’s author’s manuscripts were sold as due to the financial turmoil in the final years of his life, making this display a rare chance to see an example of a famous work in his own hand and displayed in the house where many of his literary classics were penned.

Kirsty Archer- Thompson, Collections and Interpretation Manager at Abbotsford, said: “The significance of this manuscript fragment cannot be overstated, not just in terms of Scottish literary history, but also in the context of the cultural heritage of the Scottish Borders.
Ultimately, this is the most famous poem ever written about or set in our region and it would go on to transform the life of one of its most famous sons. It has been a joy and a privilege to work with Friends of the National Libraries and the National Library of Scotland to bring it home to Abbotsford so it can be enjoyed and appreciated by our visitors, utilised in community and learning engagement projects, and accessed by researchers.”

Professor Alison Lumsden, Honorary Librarian at Abbotsford and General Editor of the Edinburgh Edition of Walter Scott’s Poetry, said: “This fragment of the manuscript of the Lay of the Last Minstrel is of huge interest to scholarship. It allows us to examine Scott’s creative process at this early and pivotal point in his career and provides insight into his thinking on the connections between history, memory and storytelling. Abbotsford is the ideal home for this manuscript given the poem’s intimate connections to the Borders and to the wonderful collections on folk belief in Scott’s library. The work of the Friends of National Libraries to bring this manuscript and others home is an impressive example of collective endeavour and is greatly appreciated.”

Book Tickets now to see the manuscript, displayed until Sunday 19th November.