Clubbable Edinburgh

Almost all the gentlemen at the centre of Enlightenment Edinburgh belonged to one of its sociable clubs. Some were informal drinking clubs, while others were places for serious debate. One was the Select Society, a debating club founded in 1754 by a group including Allan Ramsay, Adam Smith and David Hume. It became home to some of Edinburgh's most eminent talents in every field, as this part of the membership list shows.

On display in our exhibition beside the list of members is a book of the Society's original rules from May and July 1754. One original rule states than any subject can be debated by the Society except 'revealed Religion' and Jacobitism. I like to think that an additional rule, saying that 'during the time of the debates, no Gentleman shall stand before the fire', is the result of an incident during a debate when an enthusiastic member got too close to the fire and had to be extinguished, but it may simply mean that the venue (the Advocates Library) was a chilly one.

Print has played a central role in recording the rules of societies and allowing them to communicate with one another. Our exhibition contains printed society rules and regulations from The Schools' Camanachd Association, Handbook of Hints on Playing Shinty, etc. (Inverness, 1939) to The Chemists' and Druggists' Year Book and Directory for Scotland, (Glasgow, 1914).

It is interesting to trace the development of women's societies: although women such as Lady Mary Shepherd (her DNB entry) could engage with the ideas of philosophers, she would not have been able to join in debates with the men of the Select Society. One hundred years later, Edinburgh women were beginning to develop such societies for themselves. You can find out more about one such society and its influential magazine by searching for the Ladies' Edinburgh Magazine at Scran.

Elizabeth Melville's Godly Dream

I said earlier that I would talk about the the first book to be printed in Scotland that was written by a woman. Today it was being filmed (I won't say for what, in case the filmmakers decide not to use it) so it seems a good time to make good on my promise. The book in question is Ane Godlie Dreame (Edinburgh, 1603) by Elizabeth Melville, or to give her her full married name, Elizabeth Colville, Lady Colville of Culross.

As was the case with Anna Hume, it was probably Elizabeth Melville's connections which made it possible for her writing to be printed. She was the daughter of a Privy Councillor, and well-known in local religious circles for her devout faith: the minister Alexander Hume described her as "a Ladie chosen of God to bee one of his saincts".

There are two early editions of Ane Godlie Dreame. Her name does not appear anywhere in one of them, where the book is described as Ane godlie dreame, compylit in Scottish Meter by M.M. Gentlewoman in Culros, at the requeist of her freindes. In the other, which is the one we have on display, it is called A godly dreame, compyled by Eliz. Melvil, Lady Culros yonger at the request of a friend.

Because they were supposed to be modest, discreet beings, it was quite common in the early modern period for women not to be named as the authors of their books. However, religious poetry by women, claiming like Ane Godlie Dreame to be directly inspired by God, was increasingly permitted. Was one of these editions intended only for the select few who, like Alexander Hume, knew and admired Elizabeth Melville as a pious author? The other would then have been for readers outside this circle, so that Melville's divine inspiration could find an audience.

If you have access to EEBO with an NLS reader's ticket or through another library, you can read the complete book on display in our exhibition.

From Song to Print

One of the most fascinating subjects that I researched for this exhibition was the way in which printed books have recorded Scotland's rich tradition of songs and ballads over the years. Print tends to fix words and music to a standardized form, partly because it is so much easier technically. And then there are the ideas that the people who collect and publish the songs have about literary and musical taste, and what will be acceptable to their readers.

One of the big questions in recording ballads is what text to record. Do you print one particular version, sung at a particular time, or gather a few versions to produce a composite text?

William Motherwell's Minstrelsy: Ancient and Modern (Glasgow, 1827) records where this version of Child Noryce was obtained:

That the reader may have no room to doubt the genuineness of a ballad for which a very high antiquity is claimed, the editor thinks it right to mention that it is given verbatim as it was taken down from the singing of widow M'Cormick, who, at this date, (January, 1825,) resides in Westbrae Street of Paisley.

This is one of six copies of the book printed on crimson paper, probably for Motherwell to present as gifts. We have an image of this book in the exhibition, because it would fade the brightly coloured paper to have the book itself on display, but there is a table case of other books illustrating the theme of recording oral tradition.

Festivals, then and now

Since the Edinburgh Festival is now in full swing all around us, it seems appropriate to write about two items in our 'Fun and Games' case, representing 'Festivals - then and now'. Separated by 375 years and placed side by side for the first time in the exhibition, they tell as much about the changing function of print as about the changing nature of festivals over that time.

The first, The Entertainment of the High and Mighty Monarch Charles ... into his Auncient and Royall City of Edinburgh, the Fifteenth of June, 1633 (Edinburgh, 1633), is from the time when print, as the only form of mass media, provided a way of recording important ceremonies and public events. This one describes the civic entertainments for Charles I's visit to Edinburgh in 1633, when arches were erected around the city, and elaborately-dressed allegorical figures made ornamental speeches in praise of the King. For instance, one important character at an arch near the NLS George IV building was 'a woman with an olive-coloured maske, long black Locks waving over her backe, her attire was of divers coloured feathers, which shew her to be an American, and to represent New Scotland'.

The format of this book is something between a playscript and a report, containing details about what actually happened as well as the ideal text of what should have happened. It would be possible to recontruct the whole ceremony from this text. You can find out much more about these kinds of records at the British Library's Renaissance Festival Books website.

Our second book, with its bright orange cover bearing the words 'It's just noise', could not be more different - the 2006 programme from Scotland's Triptych festival.

From 2001 to 2008, Triptych festival brought artists as diverse as Aphex Twin and Aberfeldy to Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Festival programmes today are ephemeral items, designed to be used and discarded, with other media from the official website to mobile phone camera footage existing beside them to preserve the memory of the event and its music. Would a video have given us a completely different impression of the King's entry into Edinburgh in 1633? Will Triptych programmes still be valuable memorabilia in 375 years' time?

The end and a new beginning:
The Scottish Parliament

When Linda Fabiani MSP opened our Imprentit Exhibition, she made reference to a number of the exhibits. Not surprisingly, since she is an MSP, she mentioned a couple of items in the Politics case which she found fascinating to be displayed together:

A single sheet, black and white proclamation from 1707, and two colourful booklets from 1999. The first is the proclamation dissolving the Scottish Parliament:

After months of negotiations, debate and violent protest in Scotland, the Treaty of Union uniting the Scottish and English Parliaments was passed in January 1707. As a result of the Union of Parliaments, the Scottish Parliament met for the last time on 25 March 1707 and was adjourned. What was regarded as short-term political fix in 1707 actually lasted 292 years!

The other two items date from 1999: they are two leaflets encouraging voters to participate in the first election for the (new) Scottish Parliament. They have the snatchy English title Have Your Say in May, but one is printed in Gaelic and one in Urdu!

The immaculate Horace

In the case showing books used in education we have included a copy of one of the many editions of Greek and Latin authors printed in the 18th century by the Foulis Brothers, Printers to the University of Glasgow. The one we've chosen is a book of Latin poems by Horace, printed in 1744. There is a special story about this book. In his A View of the Various Editions of the Greek and Roman Classics, published in 1775, Edward Harwood wrote "This is an immaculate Edition: the sheets, as they were printed, were hung up in the college of Glasgow, and a reward was offered to those who should discover an inaccuracy" and it is now known as the "immaculate Horace". As you might expect, people have tried to show that it isn't immaculate, and six errors have been found. One of these is the upsidedown "a" in the word "natus" at the end of line 29.

I've chosen to highlight this error because in preparing the exhibition I looked at the National Library's two copies of this 1744 Horace, and in the other copy "natus" is printed correctly, as it is also in two copies I have seen in other libraries. I would like to find out how many copies survive with the upsidedown "a" – please let me know if you see one! (For bibliographers: there were both octavo and duodecimo issues of this book. Our copy with the upsidedown "a" is an octavo.)

One day I would like to find out more about the story of the reward and exactly what was Harwood's source for it. Last year I was researching another famous Foulis classical text, their Homer edition of 1756-1758, and I came across a letter of 1818 written by Thomas Jefferson (the American President, also a great bibliophile) in which he says that "the perfection of accuracy is to be found in the folio edition of Homer by the Foulis of Glasgow. I have understood they offered 1000 guineas for the discovery of any error in it, even of an accent, and that the reward was never claimed" (T. Jefferson, Writings (1984), pp.1413-1414). I have no idea where Jefferson got this story from. 1000 guineas is an unbelievably vast sum: when they were published, you could buy the four large volumes of the Homer edition on the best paper for 3 guineas.

The earliest known Scottish printed receipt

We subtitled our exhibition '500 Years of the Scottish Printed Word', rather than 'of printing' or 'of printed books' because we wanted it to show not just some fine examples of printed books but the effect that the printed word has had on people's lives in the most everyday and surprising ways.

One example is this receipt, which acknowledges that on 23rd October 1646, Mr James Hervie, Minister of New Machar in Aberdeenshire, loaned 600 marks for the use of the army. It is the oldest known example of a Scottish printed receipt. In the exhibition, rather than place the original in a case where it is hard to make out, we have created a shelf where a copy can be seen properly along with other such ephemera.

This document contributes to our knowledge of the struggles between Royalists and Covenanters in Aberdeenshire during the Civil War era, when the two were fighting real battles in the countryside around New Machar. We know that Hervie had represented anti-Covenanting ministers locally some years earlier; here he gives the Royalist side hard cash to support them. But it also connects to a chain of transactions recorded on printed receipts which can still be found in every home today.

Scots Reviewers, English Bards, British Politics

In an exhibition like ours, looking to convey the whole picture of the printed word in Scotland over 500 years, single items have frequently to represent much larger movements or cultural phenomena.

One such is the single volume of the Edinburgh Review on display, representative of a moment in time when Scottish journals dominated literary and political culture throughout the British Isles.

It is open at one of the most famous literary reviews of all time: the devastating 1808 critique of Lord Byron's first poetry collection Hours of Idleness (No. XXII, Jan. 1808). Today, one dominant memory of the great Edinburgh review journals is of such virulent attacks on the Romantic poets – 'Who killed John Keats?/ I, said the Quarterly', as Byron later wrote.

But in its day, the Edinburgh Review was more famous for its liberal politics. Its editors favoured universal education and the abolition of slavery. An article later in 1808 attacking the aristocratic government of the day and advocating 'reforms' and 'radical improvements' resulted in outraged readers cancelling subscriptions; Walter Scott founded the Tory Quarterly Review in response. By the 1820s these two journals had been joined by Blackwood's Magazine, completing the trio of reviews which transmitted Scottish Enlightenment values across the English-speaking world.

At The Word on the Street, part of the NLS Digital Library, you can read a contemporary popular ballad in praise of Francis Jeffrey, editor of the Edinburgh Review.

You can find out more about the Quarterly Review at the Quarterly Review Archive. Today the Edinburgh Review has resumed publication after a hiatus in the mid-twentieth century. David Finkelstein has a webpage about Blackwood's Magazine, and some issues are available at the Internet Library of Early Journals.

The Triumphs of Anna Hume

One book on display in the literature case is the first secular work written by a woman to be printed in Scotland: Anna Hume's The Triumphs of Love: Chastitie: Death, Translated out of Petrarch, printed at Edinburgh in 1644. Petrarch was, of course, one of the most celebrated writers of the Renaissance, and Anna Hume was not the only woman to translate his poetry: Mary Sidney had translated the Triumphs a few decades earlier.

Anna Hume was the daughter of the poet and historian David Hume of Godscroft. After his death, she was instrumental in getting an edition of his History of the Houses of Douglas and Angus into print in 1644. This was with the Edinburgh printer Evan Tyler, who also published The Triumphs. It must have been the publishing of her father's book which made Hume think of having her own poetry printed, and enabled her to form the connection with a printer, at a time when ladies of good family were not expected to think of professional authorship as a career.

Hume's poetry reflects the growing use of English rather than Scottish as the language of print in seventeenth-century Scotland. Here is an excerpt from 'The Triumph of Death':

In sum, her countenance you still might know
The same it was, not pale, but white as snow,
Which on the tops of hills in gentle flakes
Falls in a calm, or as a man that takes
Desir'ed rest, as if her lovely sight
Were closed with sweetest sleep, after the sprite
Was gone. If this be that fools call to die,
Death seem'd in her exceeding fair to be.

More of Anna Hume's poetry can be read online at Project Gutenberg. If you have access to EEBO (available with an NLS Reader's Ticket or from most universities), you can read the 1644 edition online.

The exhibition also has on display the first book written by a woman to be printed in Scotland - which will be blogged about at a later date.

Rebels of Today, Classics of Tomorrow

One aspect of the printed word showcased in the exhibition is how it can be part of the underground, used to express the subversive, the radical and the shocking. Sometimes the people involved, and the publications themselves, can shift to new ways of sharing their ideas; sometimes they become fully integrated into the mainstream.

Scottish literary culture offers plenty of examples of this, with small presses and literary magazines offering many people their first chance of getting into print. We chose one of the most striking to display.

Rebel Inc. was founded by self-proclaimed 'media terrorist' Kevin Williamson in 1992 as a magazine that brought the style and attitude of punk fanzines to Scottish literature. Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting began life as a series of short stories in the pages of this and other local literary magazines. In true punk style, Williamson folded the magazine once Trainspotting became a mainstream success, turning Rebel Inc. into a shortlived but successful publishing imprint in association with Canongate.

You can find out more about Rebel Inc. on this BBC webpage. Readers remember it in this Guardian article and this blog. Irvine Welsh's website tells the story of how Trainspotting got into print. And last but not least, Rebel Inc. took off just before the rise of the internet, but today Kevin Williamson is blogging.

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