Author Archive

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.

1013 watercolour small

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!

More Gaelic books digitised

Posted February 11, 2013 10:26 am by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We have reached the first milestone in digitising all our out-of-copyright books in Gaelic: the first 50 are now freely accessible and can be read in full on our website about Early Gaelic Book Collections! The digitised books were published between 1631 and 1900 and cover mostly literary and religious subjects from poetry and songs to translations of John Bunyan’s works, editions of the Psalms and the Bible, catechisms and Gaelic hymns.

That sounds like a lot of religious stuff, and it is! The first Gaelic book that was not concerned with anything religious was only published in 1741. That was a Gaelic-English Dictionary (H.M.109(1)), obviously the first of its kind. You can also access this Galick and English Vocabulary online.

One of the highlights of the first batch of 50 items in Gaelic is the second ever book printed in Gaelic. It is a translation of John Calvin’s Catechism,(F.7.g.5(2)) and ours is the only known surviving copy!

It is a remarkable fact that none of the 50 books now availble online have any illustrations.

Female bookbinders

Posted December 3, 2012 2:24 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We recently acquired a copy of Thomas a Kempis’s famous devotional work De imitatione Christi (Bdg.s.950), which was printed in Mechelen, Germany, in 1885. The book is of particular interest because of its modelled goatskin binding:

Dec 2012 blog 1

The binding is in the style of the Scottish bookbinder Annie MacDonald (d. 1924), who invented the very technique for modelling leather for bookbindings. The design is traced onto the dampened leather and a small tool called a Dresden is used to carefully press the background and mould the relief design. Undressed goatskin mellows with age from white to the rich amber colour you can see in the image.

Annie MacDonald, who got her inspiration from medieval books, began teaching herself and others in the early 1890s. That group became known as the Edinburgh Arts and Crafts Club.

This binding was almost certainly done by an accomplished pupil of Annie MacDonald’s. A possible clue to her identity is given by an inscription on one of the front endpapers: Kathleen from M.D.M. ‘M.D.M.’ may be Mrs. Douglas Maclagan, one of the Edinburgh women binders.

Find out more about Scottish decorative bookbinding on our website. You can also view a selection of Scottish bindings.

A Scot at Gibraltar

Posted 2:04 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

George Augustus Eliott (1717-1790) may not be a very familiar name to many of us, but in the 18th century he was quite a celebrity. Born in Stobs, Roxburghshire, Elliot is best remembered for his leadership of the British garrison of Gibraltar. He arrived there as governor in 1779 and under his leadership the garrison managed to hold firm against the attack by French and Spanish forces until the lifting of the siege in 1783.Dec 2012 blog 2 The celebrated Scottish army officer, Lieutenant General and Governor of Gibraltar George Elliot later became first Baron Heathfield of Gibraltar (1717-1790). 

We recently bought a second edition of a German biography of Elliot. Entitled Elliots Leben (Elliot’slife) (AB.1.212.43), it was written by Johann Nicolaus Carl Buchenroeder. Elliot was still alive when it first appeared. The publication of a German biography of Elliot is a testimony to the role the Hanoverian soldiers played in the epic defence of Britain’s strategic outpost at Gibraltar. The book also has an added historical and geographical description of Gibraltar.

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

A seriously old book

Posted 12:35 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We have recently bought an incunable. Incunabulum is Latin for “things in the cradle”, and the term means an item that was printed before 1501, i.e. during the infancy of printing with movable type.

A book’s title page as we know it, with title, subtitle, author’s name, publisher’s name, and date and place of publication, was only fully developed by 1500. Before that, the author’s name and the title of the book usually appeared in the heading of the first page and then the printer launched straight into the text. This is also the case with our new acquisition: Dec 2012 blog 3

We don’t often buy incunables because there are no Scottish ones: printing in Scotland did not start until 1508. The reason why we purchased this one has to do with its topic. The book is by the Roman historian Tacitus (AD 56-117) and it contains the first printing of his biography of Agricola. Agricola was Tacitus’ father-in-law, and, more importantly, the Roman general and governor of Britain who extended Roman occupation northwards into Scotland. So, in this incunable we find the first substantial historical account of events in what is now Scotland! It also gives the first published account of a battle on Scottish soil: the Battle of Mons Graupius.  There is even a mention of the “objectionable climate with its frequent rains and mists”!

This incunable was printed in Milan in 1487. The text was edited by the famous Italian Renaissance scholar Francesco Dal Pozzo (Franciscus Puteolanus) (d. 1490), a professor of rhetoric and poetry at the University of Bologna.

Robert Burns in America

Posted November 29, 2012 12:51 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

The Library has acquired a collection of individual issues of the PennsylvaniaBurns portrait Packet and Daily Advertiser newspaper from 1787 through to 1788, which probably contain the first examples of Robert Burns’s work in print in the USA! Each issue prints a poem or song by Burns to give American readers a taster of his poetry. This happenend before the first American edition Burns’s Poems chiefly in the Scottish dialect was published in July 1788.
The appearance of Burns’s work in an American newspaper, just over a year after his poems were first published in Kilmarnock shows how rapidly Burns’s fame spread in the English-speaking world. It’s also a good indicator of how close the trade and cultural ties between Scotland and the USA in the late 1780s were.

The Philadelphia story

The American edition of Burns’s Poems was the brainchild of two ex-pat Scots based in Philadelphia: Peter Stewart, a printer and bookseller, and George Hyde, a bookbinder. Copies of the Kilmarnock, or, more likely, the 1787 Edinburgh edition of Poems chiefly in the Scottish dialect must have crossed the Atlantic soon after publication. As there were no copyright laws restricting the publication of the works of British authors in the new republic, it was a relatively simple matter to print an American edition without having to worry about prosecution or payment of royalties to the author. Rather than issue a prospectus for their work, Stewart and Hyde chose the tried and tested 18th-century method of having individual poems printed in a newspaper before publishing a full edition.
Philadelphia PacketThe Philadelphia-printed Pennsylvania Packet was America’s first successful daily newspaper. At the time Philadephia was the financial and cultural centre of the USA, and therefore an obvious choice to showcase the poems. 25 poems were published at regular intervals in the newspaper from 24 July 1787 to 14 June 1788. The poems selected for publication which are best known today are probably “The cotter’s Saturday night” and “To a louse”.
Stewart and Hyde’s aim was to portray Burns as a sentimental, God-fearing ploughman, at one with nature and sympathetic to the American colonists who had recently freed themselves from British control. They could also count on Scottish settlers’ feelings of nostalgia for their homeland. To further promote the forthcoming edition, the newspaper also printed Henry Mackenzie’s positive review of Burns’s work, which first appeared in The Lounger in Edinburgh in December 1786 and then in The London Chronicle, which did much to publicise Burns to a wider readership in Britain.
The 1788 Philadelphia edition of Burns’s poems was followed by a New York edition printed in December of the same year. It was also published by ex-pat Scots, J. and A. Maclean, formerly of Glasgow.

The collection in the National Library

The collection of Pennsylvania Packet issues acquired by the Library contains all of the poems by Burns to have been printed in that newspaper except for one: “Scotch Drink”. It also includes two issues (7 July and 16 July 1788) containing the original publisher’s advertisement for the first American edition, and an issue ( 28 August 1787) advertising “A select collection of the most favourite Scots tunes, with variations for the piano forte or harpsichord [sic]“, composed by Alexander Reinagle.
The newspaper issues were offered to the Library by Frank Amari Jnr., a collector and dealer of early American printing and manuscripts. Mr Amari has his own particular connection to Scotland, since his mother was born and raised in Edinburgh. Two of the issues have been donated by his mother in memory of her parents, the rest were purchased from Mr Amari.

You can read more about Robert Burns in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections), and in our webpage about Burns.

National Poetry Day

Posted October 4, 2012 9:50 am by Anette Hagan | Permalink

Today is National Poetry Day! I’d like to celebrate this event by showcasing how a poem can act as a link between nations, in this case between Scotland and Germany.

In 1802, Walter Scott published his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (Bk.5/1.3-4), a collection of “historical and romantic ballads, collected in the southern counties of Scotland”, as the subtitle said. One of these poems, ‘O gin my love were yon red rose’, was translated by Wilhelm Grimm, one half of the brothers of fairy tale fame, into German. He published this poem both in the Scots original and on the facing page in German translation along with two other Scottish ballads in a small booklet entitled Drei altschottische Lieder (5.637(13)),  i.e. Three Old Scots songsA copy of this small book is on show in the Grimms Treasure display.

Here is a transcript of the poem ‘O gin my love were yon red rose’, which, according to the Lay of the last minstrel, comes from Mr Herd’s manuscript:
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O gin my love were yon red rose,           �
That grows upon the castle wa’,       �
And I mysell a drap of dew,                                       �
Down on that red rose I would fa’.        �
O my love’s bonny, bonny, bonny;                         �
My love’s bonny and fair to see:
Whene’er I look on her weel far’d face,      �
She looks and smiles again to me.

O gin my love were a pickle of wheat,
And growing upon yon lily lee,
And I mysell a bonny wee bird,
Awa wi’ that pickle o’ wheat I wad flee.
O my love’s bonny, &c.

O gin my love were a coffer o’gowd,
And I the keeper o’ the key,
I wad open the kist whene’er I list,
And in that coffer I wad be.
O my love’s bonny, &c.

You can read more about Walter Scott in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections).
Have a look at Edinburgh University’s Walter Scott Digital Archive for more information on the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.