Rare Books Cataloguing Manual latest revision

Posted September 18, 2015 9:36 am by Rare Books Blog | Permalink

We have just finished the final changes to the latest version of  the Division’s manual for the descriptive cataloguing of rare book materials. It details, with helpful examples, the Division’s interpretations of  the cataloguing rules as set out in the document Descriptive Cataloguing of Rare Book Materials, commonly referred to as DCRM(B),  published by the Library of Congress.

It is freely available for download on the Rare Books section of the National Library of Scotland’s website.

Rare 18th Century Scots Reels and Dances

Posted September 8, 2015 1:10 pm by Rare Books Blog | Permalink

Last week, I responded to enquiries from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland regarding two rare editions of 18th century Scots reels and country dances in the National Library of Scotland’s collections. Public access has only been through our music card catalogue and so I took the opportunity to create records for them on our online main catalogue.

The first edition is entitled A collection of Scots reels or country dances and minuets with two particular slow tunes with a bass for the violin violincello or harpsichord by John Riddle (F.5.f.33) which was published in Edinburgh roughly between 1756 and 1763. Riddle had a second edition published in Glasgow around 1782 and it has a slightly different title: A collection of Scots reels minuets &c. for the violin, harpsichord, or German flute(Glen. 97).

Riddle 1st edition - 1

Riddle 2nd edition - 1

Little is known of John Riddle (spelled Riddell on the title page of the second edition) although records show that he was born in 1718 in Ayr and died in 1795. In R.H. Cromek’s Reliques of Robert Burns (ABS.3.81.17) Burns refers to Riddle’s tune “Finlayston House” in the following terms: “This most beautiful tune is I think the happiest composition of that bard born genius John Riddel of the family of Glencarnock at Ayr.”

Both editions consist of engraved pieces of music on two staves: melody and unfigured bass. The second edition is described as being “greatly improved” although most of the melodies are reproduced exactly even down to slurs and ornaments and there is only the occasional rewriting of basslines.

The historical importance of the first edition is that it is the earliest collection of Scots dance music bearing the name of the composer on the title page. The first edition is also extremely rare with the only other known copy in public hands being at Harvard University.

Interestingly, it contains two pieces, “The highway to Bourtrichill” and “Mr. David Kenedy of New Warks reell”, that were not included in Riddle’s second edition.

1) “The highway to Bourtrichill”

Highway to Bourtriehill - 1

2 ) “Mr. David Kenedy of New Warks reell”

Mr David Kenedy of New Warks reel - 1

The absence of these pieces is significant because it was from the second edition, not the first, that his melodies were perpetuated down through the centuries in later collections.


Posted August 27, 2015 2:28 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

A volume with 16 rare Scottish chapbooks (AB.1.215.52) has been added to our collections. 15 of them were printed in Kilmarnock and one in Ayr. Among the chapbooks are four unrecorded printings (nos 3, 6, 7 and 12 in the volume). All items in this volume  contain versions of popular ballads and songs of the early 19th century.

ship 1

ship 2

Chapbooks were the poor people’s reading material from the 17th to the 19th centuries. They covered all sorts of subjects, from poems and songs to sermons and news. But chapbooks are also interesting because of the woodcuts used on title pages. They were often generic so that they could be reused for all sorts of different chapbooks. In this volume, the same woodcut of a sailing ship appears on two chapbooks.

Occasionally, a woodcut image is only vaguely if at all related to the story or poem it illustrates. There is a nice example in this copy. The title gives the name of one of the songs as ‘Allan’s love to the farmer daughter’, and the illustration shows a zebra! I assume this was as close a picture to a farm animal the printer had.


Find out more about chapbooks and the Library’s most important collection of chapbooks, the Lauriston Castle Collection.

An unrecorded Scottish novel

Posted August 22, 2015 1:15 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We have recently acquired an exciting Scottish novel: The letters of Zariora and Randale (AB.1.215.58), printed in Edinburgh in 1814, is not recorded anywhere. The author’s name does not appear in the printed text, but there is some information about him. A contemporary handwritten note in this copy states: ‘Written by John Hood of Stoneridge A.D. 1813′, which is a reference to Stainrigg House near Coldstream in the Scottish Borders. John Hood (1795-1878), the Scottish author of the novel, was a local landowner.

The letters of Zariora and Randale is an epistolary novel, which means the plot unfolds in a series of letters. It looks as if the novel was a youthful literary experiment by the 18-year-old Hood. He presumably had to pay for the printing himself.

Set in contemporary Spain, the novel is a a moral tale about the dangers of excessive passion, in this case a Scotsman’s doomed love for a young woman called Maria. The Scot, referred to as ‘Chevalier Charles Randale’, lives in Spain and writes to his friend Mr. Zariora of his love for Maria, the daughter of the Baron Lariana. When she suddenly dies he is overcome with grief and Zariora visits him in Spain, reporting his adventures to another friend called Kalthander. The novel closes with Zariora writing to Kalthander that his friend Randale refuses to leave the home of his dead lover to return to Scotland.

Interestingly, this copy appears to have been censored: some lines have been ruled out to the point of illegibility on the title page, and a number of words throughout the text have been carefully removed by scraping away the surface of the paper. Pages 29-30 are also missing from this copy.

An unrecorded Glasgow printing

Posted August 17, 2015 12:49 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We have been fortunate to purchase an unrecorded Glasgow printing from 1688 (AP.1.215.14). The work consists of only 24 pages stitched together without a protective cover. The printers of this Glasgow edition, James and Matthew Robertson, were two of the principal chapbook printers in Scotland from 1782 onwards. They also published children’s books.

The first recorded printing of the work was in Edinburgh in 1663. This was followed by four more editions printed in Newcastle and Edinburgh in the second half of the 18th century. Later still, Sir Walter Scott recorded hearing the verses in his youth in Edinburgh. He said they were sung by an old person wandering through the streets.

The work itself is a Scottish verse romance called Roswal and Lillian. The tale appears to be medieval in origin, and concerns Roswal, a prince of Naples who is forced into exile by his father, but who eventually finds love in his new home and marries the king’s daughter Lillian.

To find out more about printing in Scotland, have a look at The Spread of Scottish Prining and at the Scottish Book Trade Index.

Highland setting for a Gothic novel

Posted August 11, 2015 11:20 am by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We have recently bought a very rare Gothic novel, Die eiserne Maske or ‘The iron mask’ (AB.1.215.67). The reason why we acquired it is signalled in the subtitle Eine schottische Geschichte, ‘A Scottish tale‘. Ours is a copy the first (and only contemporary) edition. It was published in Leipzig in 1792.

maske tp

The author of this tale was a Berlin schoolmaster, Friedrich Rambach (1767–1826). Writing under the pseudonym of Ottakar Sturm, Rambach was “a prolific writer of medieval adventures and horror stories and plays” according to the Oxford Companion to German Literature.

Among his pupils was the 18 year old Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853), who later found fame as a poet and translator, and as one of the founders of the Romantic movement in German literature. Tieck contributed at two Ossianic poems and more than a chapter of text to the novel.

maske frontispiece

The novel itself is inspired by Friedrich Schiller’s drama The Robbers, which was first published in 1781. Rambach transplants the action to the medieval Scottish Highlands. The characters are all given Ossianic names such as Dunkan, Malwina, Carno, Toskar, Linuf and Dunchomar, and the author revels in bleak and chilling imagery and depictions of the barren landscape of the Highlands.

The frontispiece engraving on the left gives you a very vivid impression of the ferocious action of the novel!

Although Die eiserne Maske proved enormously popular and was reprinted as recently as in 1984, it has never appeared in English translation.

A spirited correspondence

Posted August 5, 2015 10:58 am by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We have added a rather unimpressive looking pamphlet to our collections. The distillery of Scotland a national benefit (AB.2.215.06) was published in Aberdeen in 1755 and is in the form of two letters to a friend. The anonymous author discusses whisky production of in Scotland in relation to its annual use of 50,000 bolls of barley. He also looks at the production of other alcoholic spirits in England, Europe and the colonies, analysing the costs of the ingredients and profit margins of exports and imports.

Our letter writer argues that cheap imports of foreign spirits are harming the production of locally-produced whisky, which is suffering from high levels of taxation. Tax on spirits had been raised in particular after the Act of Union of 1707, and the imposition of an English malt tax in 1725.

I have no doubt that the author’s concerns stem from the fact that in Scotland there were very few licensed distilleries prepared to pay the taxes, but hundreds of illicit stills supplying the domestic market.

Find out more about the Union of Parliaments on our Rare Books Collections pages.

A Scottish female novelist in English translation

Posted July 30, 2015 10:27 am by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We have just purchased a the rare German-language translation of Elizabeth Helme’s novel St. Clair of the Isles; or, The outlaws of Barra (AB.1.215.69-70). The only other surviving copy of the German edition is recorded in the USA! This adventure story was first published in English in 1803, and the German version appeared in 1811.

Little is known of the Elizabeth Helme’s life. She was born in the North East of England, but we don’t actually know when. Later she moved to the London area where she married and raised a family and also worked as a schoolmistress at a school at Brentford. To supplement her income, she started writing novels, and she also translated works from French and German. With her background as a schoolteacher, she even published didactic works for the young.

St. Clair of the Isles is set in medieval Scotland. It concerns the young outlaw St. Clair Monteith, a Robin Hood-like figure who lives on a fortress on the isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. The novel was turned into a play in 1838 by the equally obscure dramatist Elizabeth Polack.

Elizabeth Helme’s first novel, Louise, or The cottage on the moor, was published in 1787. Another eleven were to follow, but her last novel, Modern times, was published after her death. She probably died in 1814.

A Scottish philosopher in Italian

Posted July 23, 2015 9:51 am by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We are always thrilled to find items we can add to our already quite comprehensive collection of works by the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume.

This two-volume set, Saggie filosofici sull’umano intelletto de David Hume (RB.s.2913-2914) contains the first Italian translations of three of his works: of his Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (first published in 1748), of his  brief autobiography (first published posthumously in 1777 as The Life of David Hume, Esq.), and of his ‘Dissertation on the Passions’ from the Four Dissertations.

Hume small

This copy is in the original publisher’s paper wrappers and includes a frontispiece portrait of Hume in the first volume. It was engraved by Luigi Rados (1773-1840) and looks quite different from the portraits of Hume that were popular in Britain.

Find out more about David Hume in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections). And don’t miss out on the Scottish Enlightenment!

Burns in the States

Posted July 14, 2015 12:25 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We have just bought the first collected American edition (AB.1.215.40-43) of Robert Burns’ poems. The four-volume set was published in Philadelphia in 1801. Philadelphia has lots of early associations with the poet: it’s the place where some of Burns’ poems first appeared in print in the USA, namely in the Pennsylvania Packet newspaper between 1787 and 1788. And two editions of his famous Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect were also printed in the city in 1788 and 1798. All this is evidence of the interest in Burns among the American public, and of the influence of ex-pat Scots in what was then the USA’s printing and cultural centre.

burns smallThe American edition contains an engraved frontispiece portrait of Burns in the first volume. It was done by the Philadelphia engraver Alexander Lawson based on the famous portrait of Burns by Alexander Nasmyth of 1787.The engraving also shows the typical Burns attributes: farm implements – a scythe and a rake along with a flourishing plant – on the left, and a set of pipes with a scroll, presumably with music, on the right.

The Philadelphia 1801 edition is almost a page for page reprint of the Liverpool edition of 1800.  A native of Kirkpatrick Fleming in Dumfriesshire, Dr James Currie, had edited what was the first collected edition of Burns’ works while working as a physician in Liverpool. He had met Burns once in person. Currie’s work as an editor has long been criticised for its omissions and inaccuracies and also for his lengthy biography of Burns, in which his heavy drinking is mentioned. The idea of publishing Burns’ collected works was conceived by the friends of the dead poet as a ‘memorial to his genius’, and to raise funds for his widow and children.

Find out more about Robert Burns, James Currie and Alexander Nasmyth in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections).