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  • Professor John (Jack) MacQueen1929–2019
  • Ian Brown

Professor John MacQueen, who died on 15 September 2019, was a pre-eminent scholar and outstanding teacher of great personal charm. With his death, we lose a giant of Scottish literary and cultural study. His foundational work will remain significant.

Jack MacQueen was born on 13 February 1929 in Springboig, just outwith Glasgow's then eastern boundary. Christened Jack (not John, a later usage, subverting customary familiarity and formality trajectories) after an uncle who died in 1919, having been gassed in the trenches, he was son of William Lochhead Mcqueen (MacQueen developed his own spelling), a medical technician, from a Glaswegian family, and Grace Palmer Galloway, daughter of fisherfolk of Port Logan, south of Stranraer. He attended Budhill Primary, Hutchesons Grammar School and Glasgow University. He graduated in 1950, winning the Bradley Medal, then graduated BA (1952) and MA (1954) from Christ's College, Cambridge, having married Winifred Wallace McWalter, a classical scholar, on 22 June 1953.

As his National Service (1954–56) as a Flying Officer ended, the couple's first son, Hector, was born in RAF Ely Hospital. Moving to the USA, MacQueen became assistant professor of English at Washington University, St Louis (1956–59), their second son, Angus, arriving in 1958. Their last son, Donald, was born in 1963, after MacQueen returned to Scotland to lecture at Edinburgh University. He spent the rest of his academic career there, becoming Masson Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1963), Professor of Scottish Literature and Oral Tradition (1971) and endowment fellow (1988–1992). He directed the School of Scottish Studies (1969–1988), editing Scottish Studies (1969–1983).

The School's emphasis since its 1951 foundation had been on fieldwork and recording: despite offering a postgraduate Diploma in Scottish Studies, it stood somehow outside university structures. MacQueen encouraged undergraduate course development – engaging the School's unique research resources and staff expertise – initially included in other departments' degrees. He soon supported MLitt and PhD provision, applications for research council funding for School [End Page 143] projects and, in the 1980s, a full honours Scottish Ethnology degree programme. His ethnological interests – narrative traditions represented by the Lives of Scottish Saints and Onomastics, illustrated by Scotland's southwestern family- and placenames – fitted the School's and he supported the archive-based Scottish Tradition recording series and publication Tocher.

MacQueen's career combined meticulous research with commitment to his personal cultural background. His first major publication, St. Nynia (1961) – including his wife Winifred's translation of Miracula Nynie Episcopi, a late eighth-century composition at Whithorn – studied written records of the Galloway saint. Two later editions appeared, most recently in 2005. This was the first joint publication of a powerful scholarly duo with particular expertise in Latin-language Scottish literature. Their collaboration is crucial to our understanding of that often-neglected aspect of our national literatures.

MacQueen's second collaboration was with Tom Scott: the landmark 1966 Oxford Book of Scottish Verse. His first solo monograph, though, celebrated one of his great loves: Oxford University Press published Robert Henryson (1967), an insightful analysis of the makar's work. A fellow Edinburgh student of mine reported meeting him in the Hume Tower lifts, cradling his newly-published volume. The gesture marked for her – and me – not just anyone's joy at a project's longawaited completion. It also symbolised the ways Jack nurtured his subject, through careful investigation and caring pedagogy. My own experience of his lectures on early-modern Scottish literature and modern classics like Ulysses and seminars on medieval influences on Shakespeare (a specially fascinating final-year course) was of a scholar-teacher who truly was a professor. That is, one who, with deep knowledge and articulate eloquence, professes their subject.

His distinguished editing continued with Ballattis of Luve (Edinburgh University Press, 1970) and, working with Winifred, A Choice of Scottish Verse, 1470–1570 (Faber, 1972). That partnership came to high fruition with their Aberdeen University Press edition of 'The Scotichronicon' in Latin and English [Books 3–4 (1989), Books 1–2 (1993) and Book 5 (1995)]. While working on this substantial project, MacQueen edited, this time solo, Humanism in Renaissance Scotland (EUP, 1990). In 2009...


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