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.
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.
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!
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.
The 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).
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.
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.
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).
John 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).
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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)
We 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)