Author Archive

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:

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.

The brothers Grimm

Posted October 3, 2012 1:29 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

Our new Treasures display centres on the fairy tales collected by the brothers Grimm.

FC_Vogel_Wilhelm_Jacob_Grimm (2) copy

2012 sees the 200th anniversary of the first publication of the tales. They were called Kinder- und Hausmaerchen, that is, Children’s and Household Tales. 

Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859) had started collecting fairy tales in 1807. They did not go out into the fields, find a peasant or his wife, ask them to tell them a tale and write it down, however. They started by copying fairy tales out of old books in libraries, but then discovered some rich oral sources: their sister Lotte was friendly with a family with six girls across the road, and they told each other tales! Over the next few years, two more such families, or more precisely their daughters, contributed to the fairy tale collection. They even wrote a lot of their tales down themselves and sent them to the brothers. Wilhelm also visited their families and transcribed more material. In the end, when the last edition was edited by the brothers, there were 200 fairy tales and 10 children’s legends! You can surely guess the following ones:

Snowwhite copy




The fairy tales first appeared in English translation in 1823 under the title Popular German Stories. Today they have been translated into over 160 languages! One of them is Igbo, which is spoken in South Eastern Nigeria. A copy of the Igbo translation is on display.

You can also see more academic works by the brothers, such as their German dictionary. They started to work on this in 1838 and published the first volume in 1854. They got to the letter F, and after their deaths the work was continued until the 32nd volume appeared in 1965, 127 years after work had started.

And there are lots of editions, translations and adaptations of the fairy tales too!

The display is open from 19 September to 18 November; entry is free.

More Scott for Russians

Posted June 1, 2012 3:52 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We recently acquired two very rare translations into Russian of Walter Scott’s epic poems The Lay of the Last Minstrel and Rokeby. Scott was probably the most popular foreign author in Russia in the 19th century. 


The Lay of the Last Minstrel was first published in 1805. The Russian translation (RB.s.2828), in prose rather than verse, appeared in 1823. The translator was Mikhail Kachenovsky (1775-1842), a professor at Moscow University and editor of the journal Vestnik Evropy (Herald of Europe). We only know of two other copies of this translation. One is held in Helsinki by the National Library of Finland, and one in St Petersburg at the National Library of Russia.

The first English edition of Rokeby appeared in 1813 and was soon translated for readers on the Continent.  The Russian translation (RB.s.2826-2827), by an unidentified translator, appeared in 1823. The Russian version of the poem is in prose, just like that of The Lay of the Last Minstrel. The National Library of Russia in St Petersburg holds a copy, but we have traced no other copies in western European libraries.

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

The Walter Scott Digital Archive maintained by Edinburgh University Library is a treasure trove of information. Have a a look at the pages about The Lay of the Last Minstrel and Rokeby.

Early colour printing

Posted March 5, 2012 3:49 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

A small book with coloured plates published in 1858 was recently added to the Library’s collections. It was published by the firm of Thomas Nelson, which became one of the most successful publishing houses in the world during the 19th century. Its origins lay in bookselling in Edinburgh, and from there the firm expanded into publishing and printing.

This book has particularly attractive colour plates. They were produced using an early chromolithograph technique based on G. J. Cox’s invention of transferring steel and copperplate engraving onto lithographic stone, but using a combination of light blue, chocolate brown, and beige. Here is an example:

Sailing ship

“Overland route to India and China” is an example of Nelson’s success in printing good quality, affordable, small format books. Despite its title, this anonymous work describes a sea journey to China, stopping in Gibraltar, Malta, Egypt and India, Ceylon, Hong Kong and Singapore, before ending up in Shanghai. The only real overlandpart of the journey was travelling from Alexandria to Suez (the Suez canal was yet to be built)! This journey involved “incessant galloping and jolting over the parched desert” as the railway line through the desert was still in construction. Travelling was certainly an adventure in those days!

Scott for young Russians

Posted 3:28 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We recently acquired an adaption of Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Kenilworth“, an adventure story set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) with a bit of a tragic ending. What makes this acquisition so interesting is not that it is aimed at younger readers, but that it’s a Russian adaptation! It was printed in Moscow and St Petersburg in 1873, that is 52 years after the original edition.

 Russian Scott

Translations of Scott into Russian began to appear in the 1820s. Scott reached probably the widest audience of any foreign author in Russia in the 19th century. Not only that, he also had a considerable influence on the development of the Russian historical novel. It even became fashionable in 19th-century Russia to wear tartan and so-called ‘Walter Scott’ cloaks, and to dress up as characters from his novels.

You’ll find lots of information about Walter Scott’s life and works in the Walter Scott Digital Archive maintained by Edinburgh University Library. Have a look in particuar at the page about the novel “Kenilworth“.

More Information about Sir Walter Scott is available from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections)