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  • Priscilla J. Bawcutt 1931–2021
  • Alasdair A. MacDonald

The world of Older Scots studies has suffered an enormous loss in the death of Professor Priscilla Bawcutt, which has come only a few months before what would have been the start of her ninetieth year. Although she published on a wide range of literary, historical, codicological, philological and editorial matters, her name will principally and permanently be linked with two of the most significant figures in the literature of late-medieval Scotland: William Dunbar and Gavin Douglas. Her great achievement was to establish trustworthy texts of both these poets, to transform understanding of their works and of the cultural context within which these works arose, and in so doing to lay down secure foundations for future scholarship. It was a huge pleasure to Priscilla that she was at least able to receive the first volume of her edition of the Eneados for the Scottish Text Society, though it is ironic and more than sad that she should not live to see the imminent completion of this monumental project, of which she was the prime mover.

The range of literature on which Priscilla worked is impressive. Her interests included English poets (Chaucer, Sidney, Shakespeare, Donne and T. S. Eliot among them), though the poets of Scotland always dominated. In 2001 she was presented with a Festschrift, appropriately entitled William Dunbar, 'The Nobill Poyet'. This volume provides a bibliography of her writings to date, including some listed as then forthcoming; more was yet to come, and through the following two decades Priscilla's scholarly activity continued unabated. William Dunbar was long at the forefront of her attention, and she published several minor selections of his poems. In 1991 her study Dunbar the Makar appeared, and immediately outclassed all previous critical accounts of the poet's life and times. This was followed in 1998 by her complete The Poems of William Dunbar, a two-volume work which has superseded all previous editions, and is everywhere accepted as the definitive text.

However, before Priscilla turned to Dunbar, it was with one of his contemporaries that she was principally concerned, and in 1967 she edited The Shorter [End Page 117] Poems of Gavin Douglas for the Scottish Text Society – reissued in 2003 with a few corrections and some fifty pages of Supplement. This revised volume added to the information earlier presented in a series of articles on the poet, and gathered into her Gavin Douglas: A Critical Study (1976). The relationship between the Aeneid and the Eneados was a topic which never ceased to fascinate her, and it is peculiarly fitting that Priscilla's career should be crowned with her edition of Douglas's magnum opus.

Priscilla June Bawcutt, née Preston, was proud of her Yorkshire origin, though she proceeded as a student to the University of London. In those days the degree programme was solidly philological, comprising not only the study of the tradition of English literature and the various Classical and later European influences thereupon, but also a thorough training in the history of the language, through its West Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, medieval and early modern phases. This integration of literature and language provided an essential bedrock for all her work. Her subsequent long association with the University of Liverpool came through her marriage to Nigel, a specialist in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama; their union was blessed with the birth of a son, himself later also a teacher of English. Priscilla taught only intermittently in the Liverpool English Department, but the University eventually recognised her scholarship by granting her the title of Honorary Professor. Though Priscilla might have wished for a more regularly structured professional appointment, she was able to benefit from her independence, which gave her the time to produce not only the authoritative books already mentioned, but also a steady stream of reviews and articles: haec otia studia fovent – as the motto of the University has it.

As a child of the north of England, Priscilla could be diffident towards what she might see as metropolitan fripperies, and an equivalent attitude of curiosity coupled with reserve informed her approach to matters Scottish. Through half a century, no-one contributed more than...


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