Scholar Gipsies

‘Scholar Gipsies’ (1894); ‘April in the Hills’; ‘Milestones’; ‘May-fly Fishing’; ‘The Men of the Uplands’ (1895); ‘Gentlemen of Leisure’ (1894); ‘Sentimental Travelling’ (1894); ‘Urban Greenery’; ‘Nature and the Art of Words’; ‘Afternoon’; ‘Night on the Heather ‘(1895); ‘On Cademuir Hill’ (1894); ‘An Individualist’; ‘The Drove Road’ (1895); ‘Nuces Relictae’; ‘Ad Astra’
‘Sentimental Travelling’ was first published in Macmillan’s Magazine in 1894 when Buchan was a second-year Glasgow University student. In 1896 it was re-published as part of a collection of essays, entitled Scholar Gypsies, mostly about the upper Tweed Valley, where he had spent many holidays as a child and young man, and which formed the background for future novels, especially Witch Wood. It describes a walk through upper Tweeddale to Moffat in Annandale. The style is at times affected with many archaisms and classical allusions, but already he uses the short flowing sentences and carefully chosen words that characterise his later work.
The upper parts of Tweeddale and Annandale have changed little during the last hundred years except for extensive afforestation around the source of the Tweed. The modern reader who has made the same journey can therefore still enjoy and admire Buchan’s descriptions all the more. Already one notices the acute observation of natural phenomena and one senses that it is based on personal experience. In fact Buchan bicycled from Broughton to Moffat in 1893, and both walked and fished the length of the upper Tweed many times. His power of description he later used to make the landscape play a large part in the plots of his novels, and he made the weather affect the thoughts and actions of his characters, as in ‘Sentimental Travelling’ itself.
Buchan later apologised for the essays: ‘they were all written in youth’. There is no need to apologise for ‘Sentimental Travelling’. There are indeed some signs of precocious authorship, but there are many more signs of the writing that was to delight his readers in the years to come. For the Buchan student it is an impressive read that fascinates in the light of his subsequent literary career.
Michael Haslett, 2001

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