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St Andrews Cathedral
St Andrews Cathedral

Andrew Lang lived from 31 March 1844 to 20 July 1912. He was a prolific Scottish historian, translator, journalist, poet, writer, teacher, biographer and anthropologist. He is best remembered as a collector of folk and fairy tales: and a series of lectures at St Andrews University is named after him. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

Andrew was born in Selkirk as the oldest of eight children of the town clerk, John Lang, and his wife, Jane Plenderleath Sellar, daughter of Patrick Sellar, the infamous factor of the Sutherland estates responsible for some of the worst excesses of The Clearances. Andrew was educated at Selkirk grammar school, Edinburgh Academy, St Andrews University and Balliol College, Oxford. He later became a fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and rapidly made his name as a highly able and versatile author, poet, critic, historian and journalist.

On 17 April 1875 he married Leonora Blanche Alleyne, with whom he later collaborated in the collection and translation of fairy stories from around the world. His series of books of fairy stories included the first publication in English of a number of classics such as "Little Red Riding Hood", "The Story of Three Bears", "The Ugly Duckling", "The Snow Queen", "Rapunzel", and "The Emperor's New Clothes".

As a classicist, Lang collaborated in the publication of prose translations of Homer's poems "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey". He also wrote a series of books that underpinned the emerging field of "Psychical Research," and he became the President of the Society for Psychical Research in 1911. Other areas of interest were reflected in books as diverse as "The Ballads and Lyrics of Old France" (1872); "The Life and Letters of JG Lockhart" (1897); "Books and Bookmen" (1886); plus novels, short stories, poetry, plays, criticism and more. A sense of the scale of his output can be gained from the fact that he published no fewer that 13 books between 1910 and 1912.

From a purely Scottish perspective, Lang made a major contribution to the understanding of Scottish history. His four volume "A History of Scotland - From the Roman Occupation" which appeared between 1900 and 1907 remains of interest today, as does his one volume "A Short History of Scotland", a distillation of the earlier work, published in 1911. His "The Mystery of Mary Stuart" (1901) was seen as breaking new ground at the time, and other major works included "James VI and the Gowrie Mystery" (1902); "John Knox and the Reformation" (1905); and "Pickle the Spy" (1897), which was an account of the life of Alestair Ruadh MacDonnell, who he said was "Pickle", a government spy in the Jacobite camp after the 1745 uprising.

Andrew Lang died of a heart attack while staying at the Tor-na-Coille Hotel in Banchory on 20 July 1912. He was buried in the precinct of St Andrews Cathedral.

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