Author Archive

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.

Skye-inspired verse

Posted August 13, 2014 10:55 am by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We recently bought a privately printed book with lithographed illustrations of some wildlife and albumen prints of landscapes and sheep on the Isle of Skye set in beautifully ornamented borders.  The author, illustrator and printer all in one was the rural improver and gardener Sir Charles Isham (1819-1903). He probably produced the book at his family estate of Lamport, Northanptonshire.

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Inspired by a trip to the Isle of Skye, Isham wrote a poem about an eagle terrorising the sheep population of Skye. The poem is of a decidely poor quality, similar to the entertaining doggerel verse he wrote to accompany his display of garden gnomes.

The poem, dating from the 1860s, exists in various pamphlet versions with different ornamental borders and illustrations. Our new acquisition is a ‘deluxe’ edition, bound in morocco, with the text on thick card with gilt edges. Unlike the pamphlet version this copy consists only of the text of the poem. 

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

A picturesque marriage proposal

Posted August 5, 2014 3:27 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

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A picturesque scene from Lady Anne Barnard’s 1772 ballad “Auld Robin Gray” is depicted in this hand-coloured mezzotint print (AP.5.213.13). Robin, an older Scotsman, is asking for a young girl’s hand. The girl, Jenny, is sitting at a spinning-wheel and Robin, wearing a kilt and tartan hose, and her mother are standing close-by outside a cottage. While Robin and Jenny’s mother are looking at her expectantly, Jenny is absorbed in a world of her own. As the ballad tells us, she was in love with a young man, Jamie, who has gone away to sea to earn money. But because of the destitute state of her parents, Jenny is forced to abandon Jamie and their love. When Jamie returns, he finds his sweetheart married to Auld Robin. Both Jenny and Jamie are heartbroken, but Robin turns out to be good husband to Jenny.

A verse from the ballad is engraved at the foot of the mezzotint:

   Auld Robin argued fair, tho my Mither didna speak
   She looked in my face till my heart was like to break
   So they gied him my HAND tho my HEART was at Sea
   But Auld Robin Grey proves a gude man to me.

The mezzotint was published 1 October 1786. The setting is rather melo-dramatic mix of Highland and Lowland imagery, with Robin in a uni-coloured kilt and shirt, Jenny in a rather sumptuous frock at her spinning wheel, blue grapes growing on the cottage wall, and the verse in below written in Lowland Scots.

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

An early French chronicle with Scottish connections

Posted 2:02 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

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We  have recently received a fabulous donation from the collection of the late John Buchanan-Brown, an author and translator of French books. The book is the 1560 edition of Les annales et croniques de France by Nicole Gilles, (RB.l.282).  A vernacular history of France, this edition was printed in Paris for the female bookseller and publisher, Barbe Regnault. The title page vignette has an elephant in the centre.

blog 1013 011 signatureThe donation also includes a typescript article by John Buchan-Brown. It explains the history of the ownership of the book, also called its provenance.  The first owner of the book was John Somer (1527?-1585), an English diplomat who probably purchased the book when he was in Paris in 1559 to 1562. Somer was then serving Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, the English ambassador to the French court. Somer put his signature on the title page. 

 He also wrote down his motto “Iuste. Sobrie.pie”. This Latin phrase means “Soberly, righteously and godly”:

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Somer became a highly-regarded diplomat, being involved in negotiations with the French court during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. He was renowned for his skills in deciphering letters written in code. Ill-health prevented Somer from taking up the post of ambassador to the Scottish court in 1583, and his final post was acting as one the minders of the captive Mary Queen of Scots. No doubt his skills as a code-breaker acted as a deterrent to Mary’s supporters trying to send messages to her!

The book also has a rather illustrious Scottish provenance: the contemporary calf binding has a gilt stamp with the name “Franciscus Stevartvs”. We assume this is Francis Stewart, 1st Earl of Bothwell (1562-1612). Francis was a son of John Stewart, Lord Darnley, Prior of Coldingham, who was an illegitimate child of James V of Scotland by his mistress Elizabeth Carmichael.

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

A Scott binding

Posted October 21, 2013 3:04 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

In the 18th century, decorative arts underwent significant developments. Two outstanding Scottish bookbinders, James Scott and his son William, were at the forefront of such design changes. James Scott of Edinburgh is generally acknowledged as the finest bookbinder in Scotland in the 18th-century and indeed one of the finest in Britain at this time.

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In the 1770s and 1780s Scott broke away from the traditional Scottish wheel and herringbone designs, and replaced them with first rococo and then neo-classical styles. We recently bought an outstanding example of his distinctive work: 


1013 binding 2 smallThis binding of a York printing of the 17th-century English scholar John Evelyn’s “Silva” is a magnificent example of Scott’s craftsmanship. The binding is brown tree calf with gilt column style tools and musical trophy on the boards and Minerva ornament on the spines.

The book also has a distinguished provenance: an inscription “Lauderdale” on the title page of vol. 1 indicates it once belonged to James Maitland, 7th Earl of Lauderdale (1718-1789). It was presumably bound for him.

Bindings by James Scott and his son William are much sought after by collectors, and the Library has the most extensive collection in existence.

Find out more about Scottish book binding on our website.

Effects of light and the weather

Posted October 17, 2013 3:42 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We recently bought a rare first edition of a book illustrating the effects of light and the weather on the landscape. It reproduces landscape sketches by William Gilpin (1724-1804), an English writer on art, school teacher and clergyman. His picturesque books became very popular especially among amateur artists , though his didactic and pedantic tone grated with some professional artists.

One of the reasons for acquiring a copy of his A practical illustration of Gilpin’s day (AB.10.213.02) is the fact that this 1811 edition includes an introduction and descriptive text for each plate by the Scottish painter and aquatint engraver John Heaviside Clark (1771-1863). He even hand-coloured the plates, thus adding spectacular dashes of colour and dramatic effects such as rainbows and flashes of lightning, which were a great improvement on the rather muted monochromatic aquatints of the earlier edition.

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Clark cites two excerpts from the famous poem “The Seasons” by the Scottish poet James Thomson (1700-1748) and describes “the deep toned clouds skirted by the glowing tinges of electrified vapours” and the use of colours such as prussian-blue, gamboge  and vandyck brown, but fails to make any mention of the figure suspended from what looks like a gallows tree.

Find out more about William Gilpin and James Thomson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections).

An early book for bird breeders

Posted June 5, 2013 5:01 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

Blog June 2013 003 small Despite its title, The bird-fancier’s companion (RB.s.2851) isn’t a guide for bird watchers, but a manual on how to breed canaries. Published in Edinburgh in 1763, the book introduces different breeds of canary and offers some advice about how to choose from the birds imported by German traders.

The book goes on to cover breeding of canaries, health tips and how to make canaries sing. It closes with a section on native wild birds which were often kept in cages: skylarks, goldfinches and linnets.

Caged birds were probably imported into Scotland through Leith, which was the main entry point in Scotland for foreign goods in the 18th century. This would also explain why the book was printed for a Leith-based bookseller, William Coke.

The bird-fancier’s companion is very rare; only two other copies are known. The text comes from A new way of breeding canary birds, a work first printed in London in 1742.

The Battle of Lora: Ossian in Russian

Posted 11:56 am by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We recently acquired a Russian version of “The Battle of Lora”, one of James MacPherson’s Ossianic poems. It was published exactly 200 years ago, in 1813, at the Navy Press in St Petersburg.

MacPherson published his Fingal, and ancient poem in 1762 (Oss.4). The Battle of Lora is one of the epic poems in this collection. A first translation of Fingal into Russian, based mainly on the 1765 French translation by Letourneur, appeared in 1792. It stimulated a huge interest in folk poetry in Russia, and even Pushkin wrote a verse translation of it. In 1813, the editor and translator Valerian Nikolaevich Olin (1788-c. 1840) published this free translation into Russian verse, and followed this in 1823 and 1824 with another two verse adaptations. Olin defended the authenticity of Ossian: he believed that Ossianic poetry was the northern European equivalent of Classical Greek and Roman poetry.

The book was formerly in the Russian Imperial Library at Tsarskoye Selo, a country estate to the south of St Petersburg which was owned by the Russian royal family. It served as a summer residence of the tsars and a place for official receptions. After the October Revolution of 1917, the contens of the Imperial Library were dispersed.

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

Edinburgh Book fair 2013

Posted March 1, 2013 3:50 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

This year’s Edinburgh Book Fair is taking place at the Radisson Blu hotel on Edinburgh’s High Street on 8 and 9 March. The Fair is jointly organised by the two professional bodies for the UK antiquarian book trade, the Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA) and the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association (PBFA).

This is the biggest book fair in Scotland, attracting a wide range of book dealers from throughout the UK. So if you are in the vicinity and want to see (and buy!) lots of interesting rare books, this is the place for you! Entry is free to everyone. Hope to see you there!