Lang was the son of the Sheriff-Clerk of Selkirkshire, and was born in Selkirk on March 31, 1844. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy and the Universities of St Andrews and Glasgow, and won a Snell Exhibition to Balliol College, Oxford. He graduated in 1868 and became a Fellow of Merton College, researching in anthropology there until 1874. At Oxford he was associated with the Rondelier group of poets.
He went to London in 1875 and lived there for most of his life, spending his winters in St Andrews in later years. He married Leonore Blanche Alleyne on April 17, 1875. He spent much of his writing life in London,. However, his considerable knowledge of Scotland and deep understanding of the Scottish character remained pervasive in his work. Lang died July 20, 1912.
Although Lang’s work may not be as well known as that of his contemporaries, he was a significant literary figure. He became one of the best-known journalists of his day, writing leaders for the Daily News and a column called "At the Sign of the Ship" for Longman's Magazine. His column did much to form literary opinion in the late nineteenth century. His contemporaries included Robert Louis Stevenson, whom he often encouraged and almost collaborated with, and George Douglas Brown whom he brought to public notice. Lang's interests were diverse and his expertise considerable.
He quickly became famous for his critical articles in The Daily News and other papers. He displayed talent as a poet in Ballads and Lyrics of Old France, a translation (1872), four subsequent poetry collections, and as a novelist with The Mark of Cain (1886) and The Disentanglers (1902). He earned special praise for his 12-volume collection of fairy tales, the first volume of which was The Blue Fairy Book (1889) and the last The Lilac Fairy Book (1910). His own fairy tales, The Gold of Fairnilee (1888), Prince Prigio (1889), and Prince Ricardo of Pantouflia (1893) became children's classics.
Lang created pioneering anthropological work in such volumes as Custom and Myth (1884) and Myth, Ritual and Religion (1887). Later, Lang turned to history and historical mysteries, notably Pickle the Spy (1897), A History of Scotland from the Roman Occupation, 4 vol. (1900-07), Historical Mysteries (1904), and The Maid of France (1908).
Lang was also an eminent classical scholar. He had a lifelong devotion to Homer. His prose translations of the ancient Greek epic poems, The Odyssey, in 1879, with S. H. Butcher and The Iliad, in 1882, with E. J. Myers and Walter Leaf, are among the best ever made and are still read today.
Lang’s intellect and his wit can perhaps be best appreciated in his poetry. Of his poems “Waitin' for the Glasgow Train” and “The Fairy Minister” are the best known. Lang chose to liken his poetry to the grass of Parnassus- wild flowers at the foot of the mountain. His poetical work is at times wild and natural yet also elegant and timeless.
May you delight in discovering the poetry of Andrew Lang.
You, above all others, were and remain without a rival in your many-sided excellence, and praise of you strikes at none of those who have survived your day. The increase of time only mellows your renown, and each year that passes and brings you no successor does but sharpen the keenness of our sense of loss. In what other novelist, since Scott was worn down by the burden of a forlorn endeavour, and died for honour's sake, has the world found so many of the fairest gifts combined? If we may not call you a poet (for the first of English writers of light verse did not seek that crown), who that was less than a poet ever saw life with a glance so keen as yours, so steady, and so sane? Your pathos was never cheap, your laughter never forced; your sigh was never the pulpit trick of the preacher. Your funny peopleÑyour Costigans and FokersÑwere not mere characters of trick and catch-word, were not empty comic masks. Behind each the human heart was beating; and ever and again we were allowed to see the features of the man.