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William Edmonstoune Aytoun (1813–1865) was a Scottish lawyer, professor, and poet, distinguished primarily for his satirical and narrative verses. His work is an example of 19th-century Scottish literature, particularly within the realms of humor and parody, where his influence was more pronounced.

Literary Background and Early Influences

Aytoun was born in Edinburgh and was educated at the University of Edinburgh, where he later became a professor of rhetoric and belles-lettres. His father, Roger Aytoun, was a well-known writer himself, which likely influenced William's early development. Aytoun’s early influences included the works of Sir Walter Scott, whose blend of Scottish history and romance can be seen in Aytoun's later narrative poems.

Poetic Schools or Movements

While Aytoun is not typically associated with any major poetic schools, his work is in line with the broader Romantic movement, though it often takes a distinctly Scottish perspective. He was part of the literary scene in Edinburgh and was closely associated with Blackwood's Magazine, a publication famous for its conservative views and satirical wit. He is best remembered for his humorous and patriotic verse and for his collaboration with Theodore Martin in the creation of parodic poems.

Poetic Oeuvre: Phases and Themes

Aytoun's poetry covered a variety of themes and styles, but he is perhaps best remembered for "Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers" (1849), a collection of narrative poems celebrating the exploits of historic Scottish heroes in the wars of the 17th and 18th centuries. His patriotic and martial themes resonated with the Victorian public and were part of a larger cultural interest in the national past.

Another significant work of Aytoun was "Firmilian," a spoof of the "spasmodic" school of poetry that was popular in the mid-19th century. It was published under the pseudonym T. Percy Jones and is considered one of his most successful satirical works.

Influence and Honors

Aytoun's work was popular in his day, and his influence extended to the sphere of Scottish cultural nationalism and beyond. His romanticizing of Scottish history played a part in the shaping of Scottish national identity in the Victorian era.

While not the recipient of major international awards, Aytoun's influence was recognized through his professorship and his place in the Edinburgh literary society. His works were widely read, and he was a well-known public figure in his lifetime.


William Edmonstoune Aytoun's place in the annals of poetry may not be at the forefront of the 19th-century literary canon, but his contributions to Scottish literature and to the Victorian love of romantic nationalism are significant. He carved out a niche with his patriotic verse and satirical wit, influencing the Scottish literary scene of his time. His work, with its unique blend of humor, history, and romance, offers a window into the tastes and concerns of his era, and his "Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers" remains a notable example of 19th-century Scottish narrative poetry. Through his writing, Aytoun helped articulate a sense of Scottish identity that was distinct yet integral to the broader British literary tradition.

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