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).

A Scottish penny wedding

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

broadside small

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.

Britts small

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).