07.04 Stirling Museum Buys Famous Wallace Book
- Stirling Museum buys Wallace Ode.
- The Smith Museum in Stirling has acquired an early copy of Andrew Munro's poem about William Wallace.
His little-known poem about William Wallace was the result of a wager with a drinking buddy in New York and took him 36 years to write. Now a copy of his book, bound in frayed leather and tartan and written out by him in long-hand, has been acquired by the Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Stirling. The price was £500, and would have been a small fortune to Munro when he embarked on the task in 1858, following in the footsteps of John Blair, Blind Harry, and Jane Porter.
There could be no more appropriate resting place for this transatlantic paean to Wallace than Stirling, the setting for his great victory against the English in 1297. The purchase is also timely, since the 700th anniversary of Wallace's death falls on August 23rd, 2005.
Whether Munro was an emigrant Scot or of Scottish descent is not clear, but he certainly harboured fiercely patriotic sentiments. Under a benign, walrus-moustached photograph he describes himself in his book's title page as "Bard, Clan MacDonald, No. 33 O.S.C."
He explains in his foreword how on Christmas Eve, 1858, he and Scottish friends were enjoying "cakes and ale" when one of them challenged him to write a couple of verses on the occasion. "We wrote," he recalls, "and the verdict was given in my favour, which rather piqued my rhyming opponent."
The latter thereupon challenged Munro to a long poem contest, leaving the theme to Munro, who chose "any incident in the life of William Wallace". The resultant poem became "a labour of love" and was finished some 36 years later in 1894.
It bustles along with energy and, while there are touches of bathos, it by no means lacks effective moments. Here it is, for example, describing Scotland under English domination: "And o'er the land red murder strode with giant strides."
Elspeth King, director of the Smith, said yesterday: "It is a very nice production. We jumped at the chance to buy it. The branch of the family who owned it reckoned it should go back to Scotland because there was more interest in it here than in New York. "We got it for £500, which is not a lot for something like this. If it had been a commercial transaction, it would probably have been a lot more. Just when you think there is nothing new about Wallace, something else comes up and takes you by surprise. "There is a whole diaspora out there who are keenly interested in Wallace, and this has been reinforced by Braveheart.
"Wallace's death is not described in detail, but it ends with the curse on Menteith, who betrayed him." Ms King added: "Accounts of his death are from English sources, described in all their gory detail to deter his followers, and to demonstrate that by mutilating him and not burying him in consecrated ground they were denying him, according to the beliefs of the time, entry to the kingdom of heaven. "He was incapable of resurrection, and his remains were nowhere to be found to inspire any cult. "It is something he had in common with Joan of Arc and with Che Guevara, who after being photographed to demonstrate his death, had his hands and head cut off so that his body could not be identified. "If there is no Wallace, there is no Scotland. Edward had done everything he could to destroy Scotland's identity."