Despite MacDiarmid’s high praise for her as a Scottish poet, Muriel Stuart Irwin was born and raised in South London. Her Father was a successful lawyer of Scottish decent, but it seems she may never have visited Scotland herself. She appears here amongst our biographies however, because Hugh MacDiarmid, in writing of her as a Scottish poet- perhaps on no surer-footing than her Jacobian name, though, among his writings, MacDiarmid does refer to her as ‘a Scottish poet friend of mine’- has made something of a name for her. Others followed him, also placing her poems in anthologies that became central to what is known as The Scottish Renaissance, thus some of her poems have proven quite influential on, and assumed to be, Scottish poetry.
Stuart’s early verse takes a visionary, spiritual path in beautifully measured lines, with intricate rhyme schemes and moral complexities.
Wild Geese across the moon : As some hand that unrolls And scratches black names upon blood red scrolls ; So seem their shadows, dipping, dying, Black shapes on the red moon, screaming, flying, Til the fog blots out, or late, or soon : Man these are your souls! -from Wild Geese Across the Moon, 1916
These complexities are also worked into poems of human relations, which are often written in repost to the mores of the day, such as the ideals of a woman’s chastity, sometimes in a wounded or exhausted voice.
Though MacDiarmid had written so effusively about Stuart in his Contemporary Scottish Studies, when quizzed about her in the 1970’s, all that he could remember was that she had worked for the publisher Heinemann in London. This was at least true; she had also working for the publishers Herbert Jenkins, who had published her first collection, and it seems she was well-connected in the literary world.
In 1921, Stuart was a founding member of what would become PEN International, the organisation of writers and press freedom, though she had little further input due to the travails of child care. Stuart had married twice through the early 1920's, and had a son and daughter with her second husband, a publisher by the name of Alfred William Board. Her books were reviewed widely and critically well received, one of them being published in America. Thomas Hardy wrote that her poetry was 'superlatively good', and Stuart wasn't too modest to resist quoting him on it while dedicating her Selected Works to him in 1927. It was around this time, however, that Stuart seems to have quit poetry altogether- no further publications were to be issued, though she wrote two successful books on gardening during the 30's, the latter of which was recently republished. For the Millennium, Scottish poet James Robertson and the late literary scholar, Dr. Margery Palmer McCulloch contacted Stuart's daughter, Elizabeth Stapleforth, to organise a pamphlet publication called In The Orchard, a selection of her poems, which is still available through Ketillonia.