A Day at the Races

Sportand leisure pursuits feature in the 'Fun and games' section of the exhibition. Not many printed references to sport survive from the 18th century and earlier. It seems that it was only after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-46 that frequent accounts of the sporting activities of 'ordinary folk' are found. We are fortunate that the Library holds a number of early broadsides about horse races at Leith and Kelso.

Horse racing on Leith sands first took place in 1504. This broadside dates from the early 18th century, when Leith races were the most important in Scotland. Crowds of over 20,000 were attending at the end of the century. Note the early starting time for the 'big race' - 9.45 am!

But by 1815 the races had been relocated to nearby Musselburgh, as Leith had developed a reputation for rowdiness, drunkenness and animal cruelty.

Other broadsides from the National Library's collections can be view on the Word on the Street website.

Delight in learning

One of the books shown in the case containing books used to educate Scottish children is a much-thumbed copy ofA guide for the child and youth. This was printed by John Moncur in 1711. First published in London in 1667, there were in fact three editions produced in Edinburgh in 1711. John Reid and James Watson printed the other two. Seemingly it was a very popular book, or could it be that the printers were just copying each other, because they recognised a bestseller?

What is unusual for a schoolbook of this period is the number of woodcut illustrations. Admittedly they are rather crude, but they would have provided as the text says 'delight in learning' which 'soon doth bring a child to learn the hardest thing'. But, for those who didn't learn, punishment awaited...the text under F (for Fool) here reads 'The idle fool is whipt [at] school'.

A book that started Civil War

Can you imagine that a single book would be responsible for a civil war? Exactly that was the case when the English Archbishop William Laud tried to impose his Book of common prayer on the Church of Scotland.

On a Sunday in April 1637 the Dean of St Giles Kirk tried to use this prayer book during the service. But the Presbyterian congregation did not want to have "Laud's Liturgy", as it was called, forced on them. They violently resented its introduction, and tradition has it that Jenny Geddes hurled her stool at the Dean and gave him a piece of her mind as to what she thought of the English prayer book.

Not only was Charles I's attempt to bring Scotland into line with England in this way abortive, it actually backfired: riots broke out in Edinburgh and beyond the capital, and the following year the National Covenant was signed by thousands of Scots committing themselves to preserving the purity of the Kirk.

Copies of the National Covenant calling for the withdrawal of "Laud's Liturgy" were distributed throughout Scotland for noblemen, clergy, gentry and burghers to sign. This signalled the start of the Covenanters' war.

Where did Jenny Geddes get the stool? She brought it with her to the service so she would not have to stand! Because, even if there were pews, women were not allowed to sit on them in those days!

You can see a first edition copy of the 1637 Book of common prayer and a digital reproduction of the National Covenant in the Religion case.

This is the first page of the National Covenant of 1638

Robert Henryson's fables

This week, I have been attending the 12th Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature Conference. This triennial event allows scholars from all over the world to share their research into the many aspects of Scottish literature and history in this period. It has been a fantastic week, with many of the speakers offering wonderful insights into books and manuscripts held in NLS collections. Delegates came to the Library on Monday for the launch of the Scottish Text Society DVD of the Chepman and Myllar Prints which I mentioned in an earlier post, and took the opportunity to visit the exhibition.

In honour of their visit, here is an image of the only surviving copy of an edition of a work by an author who has been much discussed at the conference: Robert Henryson, the 15th-century Scots poet or makar. Henryson is probably best known for his influential version of Aesop's Fables. This is the only surviving copy of an edition of Aesop printed by Thomas Bassandyne in Edinburgh in 1571. While the moral postscripts are in roman type, Bassandyne printed the actual fables using a special French civilité type, the first printer in Scotland and England to do so. Based on contemporary handwriting, civilité type was widely used in France for popular books, but never caught on in Scotland and England, perhaps as it is difficult to read. Bassandyne does not appear to have used the type again.

Children behaving badly

One of the items on display in the case which looks at the changes in children's books over the centuries in Scotland is Catherine Sinclair's Holiday House. First published in Edinburgh in 1839, it portrayed children as 'noisy, frolicsome and mischievous' and not just as miniature moral beings. The copy shown is interleaved with Sinclair's watercolour drawings, showing kids having FUN - setting things on fire, rolling down Arthur's Seat or upsetting the dinner table.

Sinclair (1800-1864) was the daughter of Sir John Sinclair and worked as his secretary from the age of 14. As well as children's books, she also wrote novels, tracts and devotional works. She was well regarded in Edinburgh for her philantrophy. After her death a memorial was erected by public subscription, which still stands on the corner of Albyn Place and North Charlotte Street.

Print in everyday life: Shanks' Catalogue, 1893

In our exhibition, we are trying to show not just the great books and seminal moments in the history of Scottish publishing, but also the part print has played in every aspect of people's lives. In one of the cases, devoted to print in everyday life, diaries, timetables, almanacs and other items illustrate this point.

Imagine, for instance, a world without advertisements - represented in this case by trade catalogues. The development of colour printing and illustrations meant that by the late Victorian period, trade catalogues had become a standard way for firms to advertise their products. Some were small books which could easily be taken around by travelling salesmen, others were substantial tomes designed to impress clients with the solid worth of the firm.

One of the trade catalogues on display is a splendid Victorian production by the Barrhead firm of Shanks.

The first dated Scottish printed books

The cornerstone of the exhibition - and of the National Library's printed collections - is the small volume containing the only known copies of nine books printed by Walter Chepman and Androw Myllar in 1508.

Chepman and Myllar were granted a license to print - and a monopoly on Scottish printing - by James IV in September 1507. By 1508, their press was operating in the 'South Gait' (Cowgate) of Edinburgh. The earliest book, John Lydgate's poem 'The Complaint of the Black Knight', titled The Maying or Disport of Chaucer, is dated 4 April 1508.

Androw Myllar was a bookseller who worked in the printing trade in France in the early 16th century. He probably played a key role in bringing over a printing press, and the men to operate it, from France. Myllar's device or logo is a pun on his surname, showing a miller climbing the steps of a windmill. Walter Chepman was a wealthy merchant who may have financed the operation of the printing press. There is no evidence that their printing press continued after the printing of the Aberdeen Breviary was completed in 1510. Chepman lived until 1528, but is never mentioned again in connection with printing, and Myllar is never heard of again at all.

You can read the Chepman and Myllar Prints in full on the NLS website. The Scottish Text Society are producing a new edition on DVD to mark the 500th anniversary.

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