A Scottish penny wedding

Posted March 10, 2015 4:44 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

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We have bought a Belfast-printed broadside (AP.el.214.02) entitled ‘A Scottish penny wedding’ dating from the 1840s. It contains a large wood engraving printed from nine individual blocks. The illustration shows a lively wedding scene in a barn with the bride and groom dancing to fiddle music and guests eating and drinking merrily.

There were three sorts of wedding in Scotland in the early half of the 19th-century: the free wedding, where only a few select friends were invited and the guests were not to be the cause of any expense; the dinner wedding, where a dinner was provided by the marriage party; and the penny wedding, also known as the penny bridal, where each guest contributed financially or by way of food towards the dinner and then paid for their own drinks. Since a penny wedding could go on for several days, by the end of the festivities it could actually bring in a tidy profit for the newly-weds! Penny weddings were particularly common across rural Scotland, despite the disapproval of the Kirk.

Beneath the wood engraving is athree-column poem called ‘Twas on the morn of sweet May-day’. Also known as ‘Jockey to the fair’, this wedding-themed song often appears in 18th- and 19th-century chapbooks.

Famous Britons in the French Revolutionary War

Posted March 5, 2015 3:36 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We have recently bought a collection of biographical sketches and anecdotes relating to famous Britons who had distinguished themselves during the French Revolutionary War (1793-1802). Among the 24 men described in ‘Neuer brittischer Plutarch’ (AB.2.214.37) are the Scots Adam Duncan, Viscount Duncan;  Henry Dundas, first Viscount Melville; Thomas Erskine, fisrt Baron Erskine; and Sir John Sinclair.

The German Lutheran minister (Ernst) Friedrich Wilhelm Gillet (1762-1829), who preached in Berlin, wrote the sketches. His description of the eminent Britons is relatively neutral. As a Prussian, he would have been aware that King Friedrich Wilhelm III was  pursuing a policy of neutrality in the Napoleonic Wars. However, there is clearly an underlying admiration for the British in refusing to bow to France.

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The book is illustrated with portraits of the men it describes. It includes an engraving of the wooden carving ‘Tipu’s tiger‘, mentioned at the end of the book in a series of anecdotes relating to Britain’s war against Tipu Sahib, sultan of Mysore in South India.

Gillet intended his work as a continuation of Thomas Mortimer’s popular ‘British Plutarch; or, biographical entertainer’, which was first published in London in 1762. In turn, it had taken as its inspiration the biographies of the ancient Greek author Plutarch of eminent Greek and Roman statesmen and generals.

Find out more about Adam Duncan, Henry Dundas, Thomas Erskine and Sir John Sinclair in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections).

Peru, Jesuits and a Scottish translator

Posted February 28, 2015 2:59 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

Peru smallJohn Hay (1547-1607) was a Scottish Jesuit who lived as an exile on the Continent. Hay entered the Society of Jesus in 1566 and became noted for his polemical treatises. In his later years he was based in the Low Countries where he translated Jesuit mission reports into Latin. We have been fortunate to acquire his translation of ‘De rebus Peruanis’ (RB.s.2900) of 1604.

This work is an account of the Jesuit Father Diego de Torres Bollo’s missionary activities in Peru. After joining the Jesuit order, Torres Bollo (1550-1638) had hoped to be chosen for the China missions; instead, his superiors sent him to the fledgling mission of Peru in South America. There he eventually became the Provincial of Peru and sent out missionaries throughout the continent.
The title page vignette of the 1604 edition translated by John Hay shows the printer’s device: a stork feeding a snake to its mate. The Latin motto encircling the image reads “Virtus pietas homini tutissima”, or ‘Piety is the most secure virtue for men’. The printer was Martinus Nutius of Antwerp.

Find out more about John Hay in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections).

Images of Ossian

Posted February 24, 2015 1:37 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

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We recently had an opportunity to buy a rare copy in original wrappers of a portfolio of six lithographs and a leaf of descriptive text by the German artist Carl Harnisch (1800-1882). The illustrations are inspired by the poems of Ossian, the legendary Celtic bard. The work is entitled ‘Bildliche Darstellungen in Arabeskenform zu Ossians Gedichten’ (RB.el.30).

James MacPherson (1736-1796) first published his  Fragments of Ancient Poetry Collected in the Highlands of Scotland‘ in 1770. This collection was followed in 1762 by Fingal and a year later by Temora. These Ossianic poems at first had an enthusiastic reception, though questions about their authenticity were soon asked. Nevertheless, they became enormously popular on the Contintent too, and were soon translated into other languages. Napoleon had a French copy in his library at Fountainbleu (Bdg.s.792), and the first German translation appeared in 1768 (NG.1168.g.21). It continued to be popular in the early 19th century.

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In his introduction Carl Harnisch states that, “the following leaves, a series of drawings in the arabesque form, arose out of reading ‘Ossian’. The intention of their creator, as can been seen from the chosen form of representation, has been to portray an overall view of the ancient Nordic bard’s individual sensibilities and poetry, rather than each drawing represent a particular passage in the poet’s work.”

The artist has done the lithographs in the arabesque form, which uses a decorative motif comprising surface decorations based on rhythmic linear patterns of scrolling and interlacing foliage and tendrils.

Find out more about MacPherson and the Ossian controversy in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections).

The earliest book about St Kilda

Posted February 16, 2015 12:52 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

Martin Martin (d. 1718), the Scottish traveller and celebrated author of ‘Description of the Western Islands of Scotland’ (1703), was also the first to publish an account of the remote Scottish island group of St. Kilda (RB.s.2901). The book was based on his experiences during a trip to the islands made in 1697, and it deals not only with the natural and topographical history of the island, but it also gives an account of the customs and religion of its inhabitants, and of its fauna. And it contains one of the earliest maps of St Kilda!

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The book was published in London in 1698. Although we already have a copy of it, our existing copy is imperfect, whereas this one is complete. It also has a noteworthy provenance. It contains the late 18th-century armorial bookplate of James Whatman, Vinters, Kent, and an inscription on the title page “J. Whatman 1800″, which indicates the book was in the library of the famous paper-making family the Whatmans. It must have been collected either by James Whatman II (1741-1798) or by his son James Whatman III (1777-1843).

Find out more about Martin Martin and James Whatman I and II in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections).

Our copy of Martin’s ‘Description of the Western Islands of Scotland’ (H.32.a.31) is believed to have been taken by James Boswell on his journey with Samuel Johnson to the Highlands and Inner Hebrides in 1773.

Stevenson family affairs

Posted February 12, 2015 12:30 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

The famous Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson was plagued by chronic lung problems and spent the winters of 1880-1 and 1881-2 with his family in Davos-Platz in Switzerland on medical advice. Stevenson, his stepson (Samuel) Lloyd Osbourne (1868-1947) and Lloyd’s mother Fanny, since 1880 Stevenson’s wife, passed some of their time in the Alps with printing ventures. We have been very fortunate in acquiring a collection of five small items printed by Lloyd on a little printing press which he took with him to Davos-Platz. Surviving copies of items printed on Lloyd Osbourne’s press are very rare.

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At some point in 1880, before his 12th birthday in April, Lloyd was given a little portable printing press. In the winter of 1881-1882, he carried out small pieces of jobbing printing such as lottery tickets, admission tickets and concert programmes, and three issues of a newspaper ‘The Davos News’. The following winter, Stevenson himself become involved in the activities of Lloyd’s printing ‘firm’: he supplied not only text to print, but he also carved woodblocks with a penknife to make woodcuts to illustrate the pamphlets.

The items we have acquired are: two collections of poems by Stevenson (RB.s.2894 and RB.s.2895), both titled ‘Moral emblems’ with woodcut illustrations by Stevenson; two single leaf advertisements for the above works (RB.s.2897(1) and RB.s.2897(2)), and ‘To M. I. Stevenson’ (RB.s.2896), a 4-page pamphlet which has a woodcut and a single line quotation attributed to Stevenson’s father, Thomas.

Find out more about Stevenson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections)

A satire about a Prime Minister

Posted February 10, 2015 10:49 am by Anette Hagan | Permalink

hieroglyphs 001 smallWe have bought an very unusual satirical broadside (AP.6.213.06): it attacks the unpopular Prime Minister John Stuart, third Earl of Bute (1713-1792). It’s written in the form of a letter from Beelzebub, or the Devil, to the Earl of Bute. At the top is a portrait of Lord Bute, which, unusually, is not a caricature but is a faithful representation of Allan Ramsay’s portrait of Bute, and there is an illustration of the Devil with a fork for a foot.

The letter suggests that, following Bute’s ‘diabolic’ conclusion of the peace with France in 1762 and the ‘master stroke’ of the cider tax, Bute should introduce taxes on other food and drink. Sarcastically, the writer asks, “for why should the Vulgar (who are no more than Brutes in your Opinion) have anything to Eat above Grass without paying Tribute to their Superiors?”

The cider tax had actually been proposed by Bute’s Chancellor of the Exchequer as a means of paying off the government’s debts that it had accrued whilst waging the Seven Years War. It was passed on 1 April 1763 and became a huge bone of contention because it gave excise men the right to search private dwellings. Riots broke out in the West Country and in the streets of London, where Lord Bute’s windows were smashed.

This broadside, dated “Pandemonium 1st April 1763“, was part of the protest against Bute and his government. His opponents did not have long to wait to see Bute’s downfall. Only 8 days after the bill was passed Bute had resigned from office. The cider tax was eventually repealed in 1765, but Bute remained the target of satirists throughout the 1760s, being suspected of influencing the government from behind the scenes.

Find out more about the Earl of Bute in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections)

Celebrating Vesalius the anatomist – 500 years on

Posted September 17, 2014 9:59 am by Rare Books Blog | Permalink

My name is Catherine Booth and I’m the International Collections Science Curator, doing a guest blog here because it partly relates to a book in the Rare Book Collections.

2014 is the 500th anniversary of the birth of Andreas Vesalius, recognised as the founder of modern anatomy.  His reputation was earned because of his astonishing work  De humanis corporis fabrica, published in 1543.  The Library has just purchased a modern edition of this work, usually referred to as the Fabrica – a magnificent 2-volume annotated translation (HB9.213.7).  It is a unique scholarly work, where the English translation from the original Latin text, alongside various finding aids and explanatory notes, make it easily accessible to modern readers.  The 16th-century woodcut illustrations were rescanned using digital technology, enhancing the finished results.

You can find more information on this publication from the Fabrica website.

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Even more exciting than our acquisition of this modern publication is that the Library also holds a copy of the original 1543 edition (Am.1.23)!  I have just been privileged to look at it for the first time – and I was completely bowled over by it.   What struck me first was the quality of the thick and creamy white laid paper on which it is printed.  The 270-odd woodcut illustrations are particularly notable.  Vesalius believed in using real dissections to inform his anatomical study.  He wanted to portray the images almost as living bodies, and placed many of them in active poses with a landscape background.





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 Often he depicted parts of the body from different angles, peeling back layers to reveal underlying anatomical structures. They are now said to be roughly 97% accurate – a notable achievement for its time.  Along with the illustrations are well over 600 pages of Latin text, where initial letters of sections are illustrated with appropriate dissection-related images which some may find gruesome!





Vesalius was a well-educated classical scholar, who came from a family of physicians and apothecaries.  He first studied medicine in Montpellier and Paris, then Padua.  Medical teaching was still dominated by the work of the Greek physician, Galen (c. 130 AD-c. 210 AD).  On the whole, Vesalius adopted Galen’s ideas – but he also pointed out errors in Galen’s work.  The authors of the modern work, best placed to assess the Latin text, say that it is in rather a flamboyant style.  We can imagine that the 28 year old Vesalius may have been showing off his knowledge of Latin as well as anatomy!  He certainly embraced the relatively new technology of printing, choosing a reputable publisher in Basel, who would be well-placed to send copies of the finished work to physicians and libraries overseas.  One interesting coincidence is that the Fabrica was published in the same year as Copernicus’s great work on the orbits of the planets: De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, though the latter was published in Nuremberg when the author was 70 years old. 

In 1934, the original woodblocks for the Fabrica, still in existence, were transported to New York, and used in a new edition, Icones anatomicae published by the New York Academy of Medicine.  Unfortunately we do not hold a copy of this work in the Library.  It is heartbreaking to learn that these woodblocks, having been safely returned to their home in Munich, were then destroyed by bombing in 1943.

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Other notable illustrations in the original work include the title-page, where Vesalius is shown carrying out his own  dissection in a very public arena.  Symbols in this image include the coat of arms of the Vesalius family depicting three weasels, since the family originated from the town of Wesel, now in Germany.





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A portrait of Vesalius is on another page, said to be by the artist Jan Stephan van Calcar (1499-c.1546), who studied under Titian and his school.  Vesalius must have approved of this illustration, as he used it again in later works.


The Fabrica was both instructive and influential, was exported abroad, and became the most important anatomical work over the next 300 years.  The Library’s copy of the modern edition can be requested and consulted in the General Reading Room.

Ex libris David Hume

Posted September 16, 2014 11:44 am by Anette Hagan | Permalink

Recently we had an opportunity to acquire a volume with five works by the French writer, historian and philosopher Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) (1694-1778). They were printed between 1766 and 1769.

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But the really exciting thing about the volume (RB.s.2875(1-5)) is not its contents, but its provenance: it was formerly in the library of the eminent Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776)! We know this because it contains Hume’s armorial bookplate on the front pastedown, and a handwritten listing of the contents on the front free endpaper in Hume’s own hand.

The five works of Voltaire are: “La guerre civile de Geneve”, “Le philosophe ignorant”, “Le diner du Comte de Boulainvilliers”, “Lettres a son altesse monseigneur le prince de ****” and “La defense de mon oncle”.


The presence of works by the Frenchman in Hume’s library is hardly surprising. Both men were key figures of the Enlightenment in Europe, and their works were hugely influential. Although Voltaire entertained the likes of James Boswell, Adam Smith and Edward Gibbon in his home in Ferney near the Swiss Border, he never met Hume.

No precise listing of the volumes originally in Hume’s book collection exists. However, some idea of its contents can be ascertained from a catalogue produced by the Edinburgh bookseller Thomas Stevenson in 1840. There are over 200 French-language works in the Stevenson catalogue, including other works by Voltaire. If you are interested in his book collection, check out “David Hume’s Library” (GNE.1998.1.1).

Find out more about David Hume in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections).

Walter Scott’s ‘Waverley’: Voices from the archives

Posted September 12, 2014 12:50 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

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We’re celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publication of Walter Scott’s first novel, Waverley, with a free treasures display: Open now!

Waverley is the only novel in the world which has a train station and a paddle steamer named after it,  and the Scott Monument in Princes Street is the tallest monument in the world erected in memory of an author.

The display has as its centrepiece and highlight the original manuscript of the novel. It was last shown in public in 1999, so use this opportunity to come and see it now!  That’s what it looks like:

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Waverley is named after its hero Edward Waverley, a young Englishman who arrives in Scotland just before the 1745 Jacobite Rising.



We hold one of the best collections of Scott material in the world: many of Scott’s own manuscripts and letters, his publishers’ archives, and all kinds of editions and translations of his books. This display draws on that collection to tell the story of how this ground-breaking novel came into being. Scott himself, his friends, publishers, critics and readers, speak to us from the archives to tell us what lay behind the novel, how it was published, what people thought of it, why Scott wanted to keep his authorship secret, and whether in fact his secret was kept.

The first editon was a rather drab looking affair for modern eyes, without any illustrations and in plain publisher’s boards. But it became an instant bestseller, with 1000 copies sold within two days. This was two centuries ago! Waverley became a phenomenal success and established Scott as an international literary giant. It was soon published in the States (often in pirate editions) and translated into numerous languages. Later editions came with  illustrations.

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When Walter Scott published Waverley in 1814, he had already written some of the best-selling poetry in English of the nineteenth century. Waverley was to be the first of a series of historical novels from his pen which swept the world and revolutionized fiction.

Of course, novels set in the past had been written before. Scott’s achievement was to bring the past to life by depicting historical figures along with fictional characters in realistic period settings. He did a lot of research about the 1745 Jacobite Rising and the history and customs of the Highland clans before he wrote Waverley. Scott also praised some female novelists as sources of inspiration.

Come and see the display for yourself! It’s up until 16 November 2014 and, of course, free.

You can find out more about what’s on display from our Waverley web feature.

For more information on the female novelists Scott mentions as his sources of inspiration, go to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections) and look for Elizabeth Hamilton, Maria Edgeworth, Anne Grant of Laggan, Jane Porter and Sydney Owenson.