Born: July 14, 1940;

Died: June 28, 2020.

DOUGLAS Gifford, who has died peacefully at the age of 79, was one of Glasgow University’s most distinguished Professors, a teacher of Scottish Literature who was an inspiration for generations of students over almost half a century, and a figure of crucial significance in modern Scotland.

He was a path-breaking literary critic, editor and historian whose lasting influence continues to yield ever-widening benefits and whose memory is held in great affection by innumerable friends, colleagues and former students.

He changed the world of modern Scottish literature, redrawing the maps and restructuring the boundaries. As editor, his edition of James Hogg’s The Three Perils of Man (1972) complemented the revival of Hogg’s reputation after André Gide’s recognition of the Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

Douglas understood the value of that extraordinary psycho-religious tragedy but emphasised Hogg’s quality as a storyteller in the folk tradition. He presented the compendium of tales in The Three Perils of Man as revitalising ways of reading early 19th-century Scottish literature in the context of the overlap and cross-fertilization of both oral and literary traditions. He developed this in his sole-authored books, James Hogg (1976), and Neil Gunn and Lewis Grassic Gibbon (1983).

He also edited or co-edited three major works, including Scottish Literature: Nineteenth Century (1988), volume three of Cairns Craig’s four-volume History of Scottish Literature, itself a breakthrough publication.

He was co-editor with Dorothy McMillan of A History of Scottish Women’s Writing (1997), the first major survey of this entire body of neglected work: 716 pages, 43 chapters from the 16th century on, including Gaelic writing and drama, which has had lasting effect. Study of the subject was enlarged by it. And with Sarah Dunnigan and Alan McGillivray, he was the driving force co-ordinating the vade mecum of the 1,269-page Scottish Literature in English and Scots (2002).

Douglas Gifford was educated at Hillhead High School then Glasgow University. He had the opportunity to go to Balliol College, Oxford, but after visiting the place and experiencing what he described as a dispiriting degree of snobbery, returned with renewed dedication to Scotland, completing a PhD on James Hogg supervised by Alexander Scott at Glasgow.

His first academic post was at Strathclyde University in the late 1960s, developing with his colleague Ken Simpson a major curriculum of Scottish literature provision.

In 1913, the University of Glasgow established the unique Chair of Scottish History and Literature; in 1971 the first Department of Scottish Literature was established. Douglas joined the University in 1987. In 1995, it was decided to separate the professorial provenances and establish a Chair of Scottish Literature in its own right, which remains distinctive in the universities of the world. He held that position until his retirement as Emeritus Professor in 2005.

With typical flair and commitment he participated in Edinburgh summer schools, extra-mural classes, international conferences, professional development courses for school-teachers, in the Association for Scottish Literary Studies symposia, and in various activities with the Saltire Society.

He was also a long-distance runner whose physical stamina and appetite was highly respected. He was Secretary and Captain of the Hares and Hounds and Scottish Universities cross-country champion. Stamina and appetite transferred to his dedication to Scottish literature but even in the workplace he maintained his athleticism.

As a young man he had climbed the Cuillins of Skye in solitary dedication. At work, at times he would go running around the west end of Glasgow between lectures, and on one occasion, returning to the Scottish Literature Department, he decided to have a quick shower in a bathroom near his office. The building that housed the Department was in University Avenue, formerly a terraced row of privately-owned homes. He was about to turn on the taps when he glanced down at the plughole to discover it was clear, the piping having been decommissioned though the water was still connected. Below, through the plughole, the then Dean of the Faculty of Arts was attending to business at his desk. A narrow escape.

Douglas’s appetite for curries was famous, and he and Anne were frequently generous hosts at elaborate and extensive meals, charging convivial company with endlessly entertaining literary anecdote, never tiresome, always moving nimbly, with never a boast or a see-here. I recollect his promise of a meal to come: ‘We’ll have a right stammygaster!’

His verbal wit sometimes reached pyrotechnic exuberance, fuelled by an irrepressible sense of mischief and peppered by his penchant for truly terrible puns. These predilections were leavened by his curiosity and appetite for European film, crime fiction and folk song. He was a talented singer and guitar-player. Hogmanay was never solemn.

He co-edited with Carl MacDougall Into a Room: Selected Poems of William Soutar (2000), repositioning Soutar’s achievement in the Scottish Literary Renaissance. With me, he co-edited Scotlands: Poets & the Nation (2004), a major anthology of poems which take Scotland as their subject and central concern – a surprisingly prevalent theme. And with Linden Bicket, he co-edited The Fiction of Robin Jenkins: Some Kind of Grace (2007), once again emphatically re-establishing the quality and authority of a relatively neglected but major modern author.

His contribution to Scotland’s literary culture was immense. He wrote extensively in a series of reviews for the periodical Books in Scotland, in-depth appraisals of newly-published work, cumulatively revealing an expanding, rich survey and masterly revaluation. He was a frequent contributor to literary and cultural programmes on television, radio, in newspaper articles, in scholarly journals and public engagement. He was on The Saltire Society Book Awards Panel (1982-2011), was the Faculty of Advocates Honorary Librarian for Walter Scott’s Library at Abbotsford (1993-2015), and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

As a lecturer, he was infectiously enthusiastic, covering swathes of material in one-hour, non-stop roller-coaster presentations, moving at speed, but drawing on depths of understanding, quantities of detail, and delivering with command and provocation, in the exercise of curiosity. He could turn with breath-taking expertise from precision to generality, delivering the virtues of vagueness in flavour and colour, and the value of accuracy in close observation.

He prioritised revaluation, of such neglected or superficially understood authors as James Young Geddes, J.M. Barrie, and S.R. Crockett. He led colleagues and international students on memorable excursions to the Burn, near Edzell, in Aberdeenshire, giving on-site readings of Lewis Grassic Gibbon, or to Tibbie Shiel’s Inn, by St Mary’s Loch in the Borders, holding forth about James Hogg in the very location where Hogg had held court two centuries before.

As a colleague, he was supportive, guiding, occasionally imposing, but always in the service of the priority of the subject. For Douglas, what you profess gave you the responsibility of a cultural ambassador internationally, but he maintained a strict sense that there must be a priority of university education for schoolteachers, and for schoolteachers of English to be in full possession of knowledge about the literature of Scotland, a virtuous circle that has had to be fought for.

When I first came to work in the Department of Scottish Literature at Glasgow, on 1 January 2001, Douglas was my immediate boss. One of our mutual colleagues at another university spoke to me on the phone before I went into work, and said: ‘That man has a heart of gold.’ It was true.

His one brother, Hugo, died in 1981. He is survived by his sister Elizabeth. From his first marriage to Gina, there is his daughter Alison (Ali). From his second marriage to Anne, there are two daughters, Joanna (JoJo) and Rosslyn (Rossi).

Alan Riach