Author Archive

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!

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:

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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).