Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Huddleston Bicentenary

Last Saturday marked the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Robert Huddleston, with a modest event held to honour the poet at the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church in his birthplace of Moneyreagh. Huddleston published only two collections during his lifetime, in 1844 and 1846, respectively, but he continued to write for more ephemeral publications, as well as for his family and himself, right up until his death in 1887.  And it is only fitting that his bicentenary be marked with a new selection from the Huddleston manuscripts now held by the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

This is important for three reasons. First, Huddleston's copious writing varies quite dramatically in its quality; he is better in Scots than in English, and the overall impression of his worth would be greatly improved by a discerning editor. When he is good, he is very good.

Secondly, Huddleston's long life covered a crucial period in the development of Presbyterian political thought. Like many of his generation, he started as a Nationalist and ended as a Unionist. That is extremely interesting for historians, and not just of the literary variety.

Thirdly, one part of Huddleston's unpublished work never saw the light of day because of its bawdiness. In these more liberal times, there is no longer any reason for us not to enjoy it.

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