Author Archive

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)

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).