Author Archive

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)

A beautiful binding

Posted 2:51 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

The Library has the largest collection of bindings by the brothers James and William Scott, renowned Scottish bookbinders who were active in the second half of the 18th century. We are always looking to add to our collections of bindings, and here’s one we bought recently.

Scott binding

This particular volume is bound in a red morocco binding which is representative of James Scott’s earlier work. Here is a bit of technical information: It combines the characteristics of the rococo style with elements of chinoiserie, a style that preceded his shift into a more neo-classical decorative influence. Both boards are bordered by a Greek-key roll, panels with an elaborate rococo decoration framing a radiating pyramid, with use of swan and nesting bird tools; the spine is gilt in compartments, repeating a tool with two birds. The binding appears datable to c.1777. 

Three books are bound together in this one volume: a Book of Common Prayer, a Companion to the altar, and the New version of the Psalms of David. They were all printed by Adrian Watkins in Edinburgh between 1761 and 1762, but they obviously had to wait some 15 years before they were bound together by James Scott.

History of the Bible in English – Treasures display

Posted November 7, 2011 3:45 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

2011 is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. To mark this achievement, we have put on a Treasures Display which charts the story of the Bible in English. It runs from 4 November 2011 until 8 January 2012.

The display starts with two Wycliffite manuscripts dating from the late 14th and early 15th century, and finishes with a first edition copy of the King James Bible of 1611.

It didn’t get off to a great start: it was not an immediate bestseller, and because it relied heavily on Tyndale’s translation from the 1530s its language was already a bit archaic when it was published. It was not licensed by James VI / I because it was only regarded as a revision; and it was not authorised until 1824. Nevertheless, the King James Bible has become the most famous and popular bible in English, and is still used in churches today, at least on some occasions: the poetry of its language has been unsurpassed, even if modern translations are linguistically more accurate.KJV-t.p

You can also see copies of the first complete authorised Bible in English (1537), the Great Bible of 1539 which measures 34cm x  24 cm (closed!), the Geneva Bible produced by Protestant exiles in 1560, the first Catholic Bible in English (1582), a copy of the beautiful Bishops’ Bible of 1568, and portraits of John Wyclif, William Tyndale and King James VI / I.

A previously loved book

Posted August 4, 2011 1:47 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

Here’s a book we bought not so much because of what’s in it, but because of who owned it. It’s an English translation of a theological treatise by a French noblewoman, Louise Francoise de la Baume le Blanc, Duchesse de la Valliere (1644-1710), called The penitent lady (NLS shelfmark  AB.1.211.014).  The book itself does not look terribly exciting –

Lady t.p.

but its author is certainly an interesting figure! Louise Francoise de la Baume le Blanc made her debut at court in 1661 and soon attracted the attention of  King Louis XIV. She became his mistress and bore him four children. However, by 1670 she had lost her place as Louis’ principal mistress, and, after recovering from a serious illness and suffering a crisis of conscience, she decided to renounce her former sinful existence. One of the results of her change of heart was her turning towards writing. In 1671 she published her Reflexions sur la misericorde de Dieu (Reflections on the mercy of God), of which we have now bought a rare English translation.  In 1674 she entered a Carmelite convent in Paris, where she remained for the rest of her life.

This particular copy has an inscription by a former owner, Maurice Paterson (1836-1917), who was the rector of Moray House in Edinburgh, then a Free Church teacher training college. It reads:


“This book belonged to and was much prized by Mrs. Scott, mother of Sir Walter Scott.

Presented by Isabella Paterson step cousin who resided with Aunt Esther who was companion of Mrs. Scott.

Esther Paterson was my father’s half sister.

M. P.”

So, this book once belonged to Anne Scott, Sir Walter Scott’s mother, and had passed into Maurice Paterson’s hands via a step-cousin!

Esther Paterson had nursed Walter Scott’s older brother John through his final illness and then became his mother’s companion for the final years of her life. Anne Scott died in 1819, and Esther Paterson presumably received this book as a token of gratitude for her work.


Walter Scott was certainly grateful to Esther, describing her as a person of ‘uncommon good sense and civility’, who was of ‘inestimable comfort’ to his dear mother.

Further reading:

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

H.J.C. Grierson (ed.). The letters of Sir Walter Scott, London, 1932-37. (NLS shelfmark Lit.S.25) Volumes 6 and 7 are particularly interesting here.

Temperance is the only solution!

Posted August 3, 2011 3:22 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We’ve been fortunate recently to buy a copy of a book which appears to be the only known copy! It’s called Whiskiana, or the drunkard’s progress.  A poem. In Scottish verse (NLS shelfmark AP.1.211.06), and it was printed in Glasgow in 1812:

August PAs

Whiskiana deals with the “evil of habitual intoxication”.  The author acknowledges the popular Scots poet Hector Macneill as an inspiration but remains anonymous, simply calling himself Anti-Whiskianus.

All we know about him is what he reveals about himself in the preface: he was originally from the village of Ceres in Fife. 

 The poem follows a drunkard all the way from inebriation to redemption in order to “counteract the excessive praises lavished on whisky by Burns”. I’m not sure how much Robert Burns can be blamed for excessive whisky consumption, but for Anti-Whiskianus temperance was the only solution to the problem. No half measures then!

A man of many talents in the Scottish Enlightenment

Posted June 29, 2011 1:52 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We recently bought a collection of Scottish poems (shelfmark: RB.s.2811(1-13)) written in the late 18th century. What makes this small book so interesting is that most of the poems were either written or edited by a physician:  Andrew Duncan the elder (1744-1828).

Duncan was a key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, a period which came to an end at the close of the 18th century. But he is still well known today, as the founder of two Edinburgh institutions: a dispensary for the sick poor, and a lunatic asylum where patients were treated humanely.  

Not only did Andrew Duncan write poetry, but he composed much of it in Scots! Here is the title page of the collection:

Duncan small

I am fascinated by the Scottish Enlightenment figures. Like David Hume, who you can read about in the previous blog, Andrew Duncan had multiple talents, and this is true for most other eminent representatives of that period. Adam Ferguson was an army chaplain and sociologist, the economist Adam Smith wrote his first book on moral sentiments, the painter Allan Ramsay of Kinkell published a book on government, the poet James MacPherson wrote a history of Great Britain, and Thomas Telford published poetry before he became famous as a civil engineer. And there are more examples like this!

Like the other Enlightenment figures, Andrew Duncan was a convivial man with great energy, and founded many clubs and societies, such as the Aesculapian Club, the Harvein, Gymnastic and Royal Caledonian Horticultural societies. His poetry, admittedly of indifferent quality, was often read out or sung at meetings of these clubs. The atmosphere in the taverns where they met must have been amazing!

You can get a great insight into the figures and achievements of the Scottish Enlightenment from our Learning Zone feature “Northern Lights“. It is particularly designed as a resource for secondary schools, but there is something in it for everybody: town planning, Ossian, Scotticisms, clubs and societies like those founded by Andrew Duncan, and the Statistical Account of Scotland.

Further reading:

Andrew Duncan the elder in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections)

David Hume in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections)

Adam Ferguson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections)

Adam Smith in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections)

Allan Ramsay in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections)

James MacPherson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections)

Thomas Telford in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections)