Robert W Service Collection

A collection of manuscripts, correspondence and photographs by and about the writer Robert William Service.

About Robert W. Service

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Robert W. Service, c. 1905

Robert William Service (1874-1958), famous for his ballads of life in the gold rush years of the Yukon, was born in Preston, Lancashire. As a child he was sent to live with his paternal grandparents in Kilwinning in Ayrshire.

Eventually his parents settled in the west end of Glasgow and Robert attended Church Street Primary School and Hillhead High School. He began to write poetry and was published in the Glasgow Daily Mail, Glasgow Herald, Quiz and Scottish Field.

He was well read and “he spent his Saturdays in the Mitchell Library on North Street where he sat in thrall to the book. He discovered the works of Browning and Tennyson, Verlaine and Zola, but more popular verse caught his attention.” (from Robert Service, a bibliography by Peter Mitham, Oak Knoll Press, 2000).

In his biography “Ploughman of the Moon”, (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1945, p. 52) Service writes: “Ah those Saturdays in the Public Library and my joy as I trudged three miles of streets to my city of books…never was I more happy and this because I felt so blissfully alone”.

Service married Germaine Bourgoin in 1913 and eventually settled in France. He died in Lancieux, Brittany in 1958.

Read a full biography at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

About the collection

The collection consists of manuscripts, photographs and correspondence. It was donated in 1973 by Arthur Hay Stewart (1899-1974).

Arthur Stewart was born in Glasgow and was the principal of Skerry’s College in the city. He was an admirer of the writing of Robert W. Service and enjoyed several years friendship with the poet from the 1940s until the poet’s death in 1958. He welcomed Robert Service when he visited Glasgow in 1947 and compiled a glossary of words used in Service’s writings. This labour of love was never commercially published and is in typescript form in the collection.

Stewart corresponded frequently with Service and after the poet’s death his widow Germaine Service sent him three notebooks containing a vast quantity of unpublished verse attributed to the poet’s last years. During the 1970s, Arthur Stewart continued working on the writings of the poet. After becoming seriously ill he donated the collection to the Mitchell Library in December 1973.

Finding aid

Robert W. Service Collection listing (PDF, 110KB)

Further reading

A selection of books from the library catalogue:

Ploughman of the moon: an adventure into memory by Robert Service (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1945)

Songs of a sourdough by Robert Service (London: Benn, 1952)

Ballads of a cheechacko by Robert Service (Toronto: William Briggs, 1911)

Biographical information and full text links to Robert Service's poetry can be found on the Electric Scotland website.

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