Wolverhampton BTW

Margaret Oswald

Oswald, Margaret, ?—?

Sketch of the Most Remarkable Scenery was published anonymously in 1800 and serialized (and abridged) in two numbers of The Scots Magazine in 1801 under the pseudonym, ‘Viator’. Seven editions in all were published between 1800 and 1820 with new material added occasionally, particularly to the fifth edition (1811), which interleaves quotations from Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake (1810). A further version was incorporated into The History of Stirling […] To Which Is Added a Sketch of a Tour (1812) under the imprint of C[harles] Randall, also the publisher of Sketch (his widow, Mary Randall, published the sixth edition of Sketch in 1815).

Of the Margaret Oswalds alive in Scotland during the period in question, no one stands out at present as a likely candidate for the authorship of Sketch. The name first appears associated with the text in Halkett and Laing’s Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English Literature in entries for the 1808 and 1811 (fourth and fifth) editions of Sketch. Most likely, the British Library attribution of the text to Oswald derives from this source.

Nevertheless, Tom Furniss has argued that the text derives from and for all intents and purposes can be attributed to the Reverend James Robertson (d. 1812), deriving in particular from his 1791 report on the ‘Parish of Callandar’, published as part of Sir John Sinclair’s Statistical Account of Scotland (1794). There is no doubt that much (although not all) of the material in Sketches is based on Robertson’s report, including paraphrase and some quotation, but the question remains whether the compiler of Sketches and Robertson were one and the same, or whether a further editor or contributor such as Oswald might have been responsible for the form in which the material from the report appears in the guidebook.

There is ample precedent for nineteenth-century guidebooks, especially anonymous ones, recycling unacknowledged material from previous sources, often other guidebooks, but also encyclopaedia articles, travel narratives, statistical surveys, and the like. The pitfalls for doing this without the cover of anonymity are illustrated by the case of Jane Gardiner, whose borrowings in Excursion from London to Dover (1806) provoked John Evans to publicly charge her with plagiarism.

Furniss’s claim that Robertson was ‘the writer of the first guidebook dedicated to the region’ of the Trossachs (32), then, may be true in terms of the ownership of ideas and the material basis for Sketches, but until it can be shown more definitively that Robertson himself rewrote his report into the guidebook published by the Randalls, and had a hand in the revisions, we must not discount the possibility that a Margaret Oswald, as claimed by Halkett and Laing, may have been its editor or compiler (Charles Randall or the anonymous editor of History of Stirling covered their borrowings with the title-page phrase, ‘compiled from the best authorities’).

Sources:

Furniss, Tom. ‘“A place much celebrated in England’: Lock Katrine and the Trossachs before The Lady of the Lake’. Literary Tourism, the Trossachs, and Walter Scott. Ed. Ian Brown. Glasgow: Scottish Literature International, 2012. 29-44.

Halkett, Samuel, and John Laing. Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English Literature. New and enl. ed. Ed. James Kennedy, W. A. Smith, and A. F. Johnson. Vol. 5. London and Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1929. 283, 284.

The History of Stirling, from the Earliest Accounts to the Present Time. Compiled from the Best and Latest Authorities. To Which Is Added a Sketch of a Tour to Callander and the Trosachs […]. Stirling: C. Randall, 1812.

The Scots Magazine 63 (June 1801): 413-15; (July 1801): 481-83.

Sinclair, John, Sir, ed. The Statistical Account of Scotland Drawn up from the Communications of the Ministers of the Different Parishes. Vol. 11. Edinburgh: William Creech, 1794. 574-627

Texts

Title Published
A Sketch of the Most Remarkable Scenery, near Callander 1800

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