Andrew Lang

Andrew Lang.jpg
Born(1844-03-31)31 March 1844
Selkirk, Selkirkshire, Scotland
Died20 July 1912(1912-07-20) (aged 68)
Banchory, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
  • Poet
  • novelist
  • literary critic
  • anthropologist
Alma mater
Period19th century
GenreChildren's literature
(m. 1875)

Andrew Lang FBA (31 March 1844 – 20 July 1912) was a Scottish poet, novelist, literary critic, and contributor to the field of anthropology. He is best known as a collector of folk and fairy tales. The Andrew Lang lectures at the University of St Andrews are named after him.


Lang was born in 1844 in Selkirk, Scottish Borders. He was the eldest of the eight children born to John Lang, the town clerk of Selkirk, and his wife Jane Plenderleath Sellar, who was the daughter of Patrick Sellar, factor to the first Duke of Sutherland. On 17 April 1875, he married Leonora Blanche Alleyne, youngest daughter of C. T. Alleyne of Clifton and Barbados. She was (or should have been) variously credited as author, collaborator, or translator of Lang's Color/Rainbow Fairy Books which he edited.[1]

He was educated at Selkirk Grammar School, Loretto School, and the Edinburgh Academy, as well as the University of St Andrews and Balliol College, Oxford, where he took a first class in the final classical schools in 1868, becoming a fellow and subsequently honorary fellow of Merton College.[2] He soon made a reputation as one of the most able and versatile writers of the day as a journalist, poet, critic, and historian.[3] He was a member of the Order of the White Rose, a Neo-Jacobite society which attracted many writers and artists in the 1890s and 1900s.[4] In 1906, he was elected FBA.[5]

He died of angina pectoris on 20 July 1912 at the Tor-na-Coille Hotel in Banchory, Banchory, survived by his wife. He was buried in the cathedral precincts at St Andrews, where a monument can be visited in the south-east corner of the 19th century section.


Folklore and anthropology

"Rumpelstiltskin", by Henry Justice Ford from Lang's Fairy Tales
"Rumpelstiltskin", by Henry Justice Ford from Lang's Fairy Tales

Lang is now chiefly known for his publications on folklore, mythology, and religion. The interest in folklore was from early life; he read John Ferguson McLennan before coming to Oxford, and then was influenced by E. B. Tylor.[6]

The earliest of his publications is Custom and Myth (1884). In Myth, Ritual and Religion (1887) he explained the "irrational" elements of mythology as survivals from more primitive forms. Lang's Making of Religion was heavily influenced by the 18th century idea of the "noble savage": in it, he maintained the existence of high spiritual ideas among so-called "savage" races, drawing parallels with the contemporary interest in occult phenomena in England.[3] His Blue Fairy Book (1889) was a beautifully produced and illustrated edition of fairy tales that has become a classic. This was followed by many other collections of fairy tales, collectively known as Andrew Lang's Fairy Books despite most of the work for them being done by his wife Leonora Blanche Alleyne and a team of mostly female assistants.[7][8] In the preface of the Lilac Fairy Book he credits his wife with translating and transcribing most of the stories in the collections.[9] Lang examined the origins of totemism in Social Origins (1903).

Psychical research

Lang was one of the founders of "psychical research" and his other writings on anthropology include The Book of Dreams and Ghosts (1897), Magic and Religion (1901) and The Secret of the Totem (1905).[3] He served as President of the Society for Psychical Research in 1911.[10]

Lang extensively cited nineteenth- and twentieth-century European spiritualism to challenge the idea of his teacher, Tylor, that belief in spirits and animism were inherently irrational. Lang used Tylor's work and his own psychical research in an effort to posit an anthropological critique of materialism.[11] Andrew Lang fiercely debated with his Folklore Society colleague Edward Clodd over 'Psycho-folklore' a strand of the discipline which aimed to connect folklore with psychical research.[12]

Classical scholarship

See also: English translations of Homer § Lang

He collaborated with S. H. Butcher in a prose translation (1879) of Homer's Odyssey, and with E. Myers and Walter Leaf in a prose version (1883) of the Iliad, both still noted for their archaic but attractive style. He was a Homeric scholar of conservative views.[3] Other works include Homer and the Study of Greek found in Essays in Little (1891), Homer and the Epic (1893); a prose translation of The Homeric Hymns (1899), with literary and mythological essays in which he draws parallels between Greek myths and other mythologies; Homer and his Age (1906); and "Homer and Anthropology" (1908).[13]


Andrew Lang at work
Andrew Lang at work

Lang's writings on Scottish history are characterised by a scholarly care for detail, a piquant literary style, and a gift for disentangling complicated questions. The Mystery of Mary Stuart (1901) was a consideration of the fresh light thrown on Mary, Queen of Scots, by the Lennox manuscripts in the University Library, Cambridge, approving of her and criticising her accusers.[3]

He also wrote monographs on The Portraits and Jewels of Mary Stuart (1906) and James VI and the Gowrie Mystery (1902). The somewhat unfavourable view of John Knox presented in his book John Knox and the Reformation (1905) aroused considerable controversy. He gave new information about the continental career of the Young Pretender in Pickle the Spy (1897), an account of Alestair Ruadh MacDonnell, whom he identified with Pickle, a notorious Hanoverian spy. This was followed by The Companions of Pickle (1898) and a monograph on Prince Charles Edward (1900). In 1900 he began a History of Scotland from the Roman Occupation (1900). The Valet's Tragedy (1903), which takes its title from an essay on Dumas's Man in the Iron Mask, collects twelve papers on historical mysteries, and A Monk of Fife (1896) is a fictitious narrative purporting to be written by a young Scot in France in 1429–1431.[3]

Other writings

Lang's earliest publication was a volume of metrical experiments, The Ballads and Lyrics of Old France (1872), and this was followed at intervals by other volumes of dainty verse, Ballades in Blue China (1880, enlarged edition, 1888), Ballads and Verses Vain (1884), selected by Mr Austin Dobson; Rhymes à la Mode (1884), Grass of Parnassus (1888), Ban and Arrière Ban (1894), New Collected Rhymes (1905).[3] His 1890 collection, Old Friends: Essays in Epistolary Parody, contains letters combining characters from different sources, in what is now known as a crossover, including one based on Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre – an early example of a published derivative work based on Austen.[14]

Lang was active as a journalist in various ways, ranging from sparkling "leaders" for the Daily News to miscellaneous articles for the Morning Post, and for many years he was literary editor of Longman's Magazine; no critic was in more request, whether for occasional articles and introductions to new editions or as editor of dainty reprints.[3]

He edited The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns (1896), and was responsible for the Life and Letters (1897) of JG Lockhart, and The Life, Letters and Diaries (1890) of Sir Stafford Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh. Lang discussed literary subjects with the same humour and acidity that marked his criticism of fellow folklorists, in Books and Bookmen (1886), Letters to Dead Authors (1886), Letters on Literature (1889), etc.[3]


To 1884

Blue plaque, 1 Marloes Road, Kensington, London
Blue plaque, 1 Marloes Road, Kensington, London
The prince thanking the Water Fairy, image from The Princess Nobody (1884), illustrated by Richard Doyle, engraved and coloured by Edmund Evans
The prince thanking the Water Fairy, image from The Princess Nobody (1884), illustrated by Richard Doyle, engraved and coloured by Edmund Evans



The Arabian Nights Entertainments, Longman Green & co., London 1898
The Arabian Nights Entertainments, Longman Green & co., London 1898




Andrew Lang's Fairy Books

Lang selected and edited 25 collections of stories that were published annually, beginning with The Blue Fairy Book in 1889 and ending with The Strange Story Book in 1913. They are sometimes called Andrew Lang's Fairy Books although the Blue Fairy Book and other Coloured Fairy Books are only 12 in the series. In this chronological list the Coloured Fairy Books alone are numbered.


  1. ^ Lang, Leonora Blanche Alleyne (1894). Andrew Lang (ed.). The Yellow Fairy Book. Longmans, Green & Co. p. 1. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  2. ^ Levens, R.G.C., ed. (1964). Merton College Register 1900–1964. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. p. 6.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lang, Andrew". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 16 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 171.
  4. ^ Pittock, Murray G. H. (17 July 2014). The Invention of Scotland: The Stuart Myth and the Scottish Identity, 1638 to the Present. Taylor & Francis. pp. 116–117. ISBN 978-1-317-60525-6.
  5. ^ "LANG, Andrew". Who's Who. 59: 1016. 1907.
  6. ^ John Wyon Burrow, Evolution and Society: a study in Victorian social theory (1966), p. 237; Google Books.
  7. ^ Day, Andrea (19 September 2017). ""Almost wholly the work of Mrs. Lang": Nora Lang, Literary Labour, and the Fairy Books". Women's Writing. 26 (4): 400–420. doi:10.1080/09699082.2017.1371938. S2CID 164414996.
  8. ^ Lathey, Gillian (13 September 2010). The Role of Translators in Children's Literature: Invisible Storytellers. Routledge. ISBN 9781136925740.
  9. ^ The Lilac Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. 9 February 2009. Retrieved 16 January 2014 – via Project Gutenberg.
  10. ^ Grattan-Guinness, Ivor. (1982). Psychical Research: A Guide to Its History, Principles and Practices: In Celebration of 100 Years of the Society for Psychical Research. Aquarian Press. p. 123. ISBN 0-85030-316-8
  11. ^ Josephson-Storm, Jason (2017). The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-226-40336-6.
  12. ^ Bihet, Francesca (2019) Late-Victorian Folklore Studies and Fairy-Lore. In: Betwixt and Between, 18–19 May 2019, Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle.
  13. ^ Andrew Lang, "Homer and Anthropology," in Homer and the Classics: Six Lectures Delivered before the University of Oxford by Arthur J. Evans, Andrew Lang, Gilbert Murray, F.B. Jevons, J.L. Myres, and W. Warde Fowler, ed. R.R. Marett, 44-65 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1908).
  14. ^ Sarah Glosson (2020). Performing Jane: A Cultural History of Jane Austen Fandom. Louisiana State University Press. pp. 49–51. ISBN 9780807173350. Project Muse 76001
  15. ^ Waters, Grant M.. Dictionary of British Artists, Working 1900–1950, (Eastbourne Fine Art, Eastbourne, 1975), p. 59
  16. ^ Buckingham, James Silk; Sterling, John; Maurice, Frederick Denison; Stebbing, Henry; Dilke, Charles Wentworth; Hervey, Thomas Kibble; Dixon, William Hepworth; MacColl, Norman; Rendall, Vernon Horace; Murry, John Middleton (21 April 1900). "Review of vol. I of A History of Scotland from the Roman Occupation by Andrew Lang". The Athenæum (3782): 487–488.
  17. ^ "Review of Social Origins by Andrew Lang—Primal Law by J. J. Atkinson". The Athenaeum (3947): 775–776. 20 June 1903.
  18. ^ The Story of Joan of Arc — The Maid of Orleans. By Andrew Lang. Pictures by John Jellicoe. McLoughlin Brothers, New York, 1906. — 97 p. Online: 1, Project Gutenberg; 2, Internet Archive

Relevant literature[edit]

  • de Cocq, Antonius P. L. (1968) Andrew Lang: A nineteenth century anthropologist (Diss. Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht, The Netherlands). Tilburg: Zwijsen.
  • Demoor, Marysa. (1983) Andrew Lang (1844-1912) : late victorian humanist and journalistic critic with a descriptive checklist of the Lang letters. Vols. 1–2. RUG. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte.
  • Demoor, Marysa (1987). Andrew Lang’s Letters to Edmund Gosse: The Record of a Fruitful Collaboration as Poets, Critics, and Biographers. The Review of English Studies, 38(152), 492–509.
  • Lang, Andrew.(1989) “Friends over the Ocean: Andrew Lang’s American Correspondents, 1881-1921.” Edited by Marysa Demoor. Werken / Uitgegeven Door de Faculteit van de Letteren En Wijsbegegeerte, Rijksuniversiteit. Gent: Universa.
  • Lang, Andrew. (1990)Dear Stevenson: Letters from Andrew Lang to Robert Louis Stevenson with Five Letters from Stevenson to Lang. Edited by Marysa Demoor. Leuven: Peeters.
  • Green, Roger Lancelyn. (1946) Andrew Lang: A critical biography with a short-title bibliography. Leicester: Ward.
  • Lang, Andrew. 2015. The Edinburgh Critical Edition of the Selected Writings of Andrew Lang, Volume I. Edited by Andrew Teverson, Alexandra Warwick, and Leigh Wilson. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 456 pages. ISBN 9781474400213 (hard cover).
  • Lang, Andrew. 2015. The Edinburgh Critical Edition of the Selected Writings of Andrew Lang, Volume II. Edited by Andrew Teverson, Alexandra Warwick, and Leigh Wilson. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 416 pages. ISBN 9781474400237 (hard cover).
Non-profit organization positions Preceded byHenry Arthur Smith President of the Society for Psychical Research 1911 Succeeded byWilliam Boyd Carpenter