Tales project sheds light on Wilson’s life and personality

Wilson's Tales project coordinator Andrew Ayre beside an original portrait of the Berwick author at a Tales event in the Guildhall earlier this year.

Wilson's Tales project coordinator Andrew Ayre beside an original portrait of the Berwick author at a Tales event in the Guildhall earlier this year.

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The Wilson’s Tales Project has published research which sheds light on the author’s life and character, and highlights the elegance of his writing.

Volunteers researching Wilson’s life have been analysing a series of letters written by the Berwick author in the early 19th century.

Wilson's Tales

Wilson's Tales

Project coordinator Andrew Ayre explains: “One of the reasons we are able to know a little about Wilson and his life and personality is because some of his personal correspondence is still in existence and held by the National Library of Scotland.”

Wilson corresponded with Everett, who also seems to have come from Berwick and became a bookseller in Manchester.

“About a dozen letters are preserved from 1832 through to 1836, which give us some interesting insights. They also give further evidence of Wilson’s own rather elegant writing style,” Mr Ayre said.

“I am sure if the tales had continued with his quality of writing and by a single author, they would have remained in greater focus as part of our literary legacy.”

In the first, dated February 4 1832, Wilson writes to Everett seeking support to go to London to try and get his writing published.

“I trouble you with this under much perplexity and painful feeling,” he wrote. “Cockburn and Bentley have informed me that owing to their present engagements being so numerous, they could not undertake the publication of my work with any hope of doing it justice until next season. This is as useless and profitless of hope to me as preaching repentance to a dead man.”

Wilson got to London, but later returned to Berwick to take up the role as editor to the Berwick Advertiser.

He wrote to Everett: “I must be in Berwick in about a fortnight or less and it will cost me much labour to do that as we shall walk to Newcastle and I will stop in Leeds a day or two and deliver my lectures and then either walk it or coach it”.

On January 1 1834, he wrote from Berwick, wishing New Year greetings and reporting on the success of his first publishing venture ‘The Enthusiast’.

On October 21 1834 he reports on his plans to publish his Tales of the Borders, and encourages Everett to come and visit him and meet at Wooler. “The beauty, the magnificence, the variety, the savage sublimity of the scenery will amply repay the trail,” he promises.

The tales - a collection of stories, history and ballads of the Borders and North Northumberland - were published in weekly instalments by the Berwick Advertiser editor of the time, John Mackay Wilson. They became a minor publishing sensation of their day with the original runs of 2,000 having to be raised to 30,000 within a year.

The Wilson’s Tales Project aims to bring the tales ‘back to life’.

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