Event this evening: Favourite Scottish Books

This evening (Wednesday 17 September) at 7pm NLS hosts the discussion Favourite Scottish Books. Share your favourite Scottish poems, stories, and books at this informal evening event. Bring along something special to read aloud to others, or just relax over a coffee and discover new favourites.

To start you thinking, here are some books from our literature case which could be contenders for favourite Scottish book:

'Not Burns – Dunbar!' - The Scottish Renaissance

Christopher Murray Grieve (1892-1978), who wrote under the pen name of Hugh MacDiarmid, is easily recognisable in the caricature which appears on the dustjacket of the third edition of his masterwork A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle from 1956 (the first edition, from 1926, is also on display). He spearheaded the 20th-century movement known as the 'Scottish Renaissance' with the cry 'not Burns – Dunbar!' Rejecting what he saw as the artificial sentimentality of Burns' later followers, MacDiarmid reclaimed and recreated the Scots language to voice his dazzling play of ideas. In the process he kickstarted a new Scottish literary scene.

Sorley Maclean, Dain do Eimhir.

Sorley Maclean's collection Dain do Eimhir, (Glasgow, 1943), consisting mainly of love poems set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, is seen by many as the greatest Gaelic poetry of the twentieth century. But it originally faced trials getting into print. Fellow-writer Douglas Young describes how he went through 'some vain attempts to find a publisher complete with a setter of Gaelic type and with paper to print upon', owing to paper shortages during the Second World War. This edition, with striking illustrations by William Crosbie, includes English translations by Maclean himself, Young, and others.

Scott and the novel

Walter Scott's novel Waverley was certainly not the first Scottish novel. By the time it was published anonymously in 1814, Scottish men and women had played a part in the thriving trade in novels published in Scotland and London. In terms of its appearance, Waverley looks very much like any other novel of the day, published in three volumes which could be bound to suit any owner's taste. But inside, it is a revolutionary text, inventing the historical novel as we understand it today as it goes along.

Scott's novels were global best-sellers. Later Scottish novelists were happy to publish their books in London, America, or anywhere else that ensured the biggest possible readership – and quintessentially Scottish novels, which found a financial reward. On display beside Waverley is a shelf of some Scottish novels which found a Scottish publisher for the first time in the Canongate Classics series.

On the shelf: John Galt, Ringhan Gilhaize, or The Covenanters, Edinburgh, 1995 [1st ed. 1823]. George Douglas Brown, The House with the Green Shutters, Edinburgh, 1996 [1st ed. 1901]. Catherine Carswell, Open the Door, Edinburgh, 1996 [1st ed. 1920]. Naomi Mitchison, The Corn King and the Spring Queen, Edinburgh, 1990 [1st ed. 1931]. Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Sunset Song, Edinburgh, 1988 [1st ed. 1932]. Nancy Brysson Morrison, The Gowk Storm, Edinburgh, 1988 [1st ed. 1933]. Edward Gaitens, Dance of the Apprentices, Edinburgh, 1990 [1st ed. 1948]. George Friel, A Glasgow Trilogy, Edinburgh, 1999 [1st ed. 1964-72]. Iain Crichton Smith, Consider the Lillies, Edinburgh, 1987 [1st ed. 1968].

You can find out more about many of these authors at the BBC Writing Scotland website and the NLS Digital Library The Write Stuff web feature.

I couldn't put my own favourite Scottish book in the exhibition as there is no Scottish edition of it. I'd vote for Catherine Carswell's The Camomile - and not just because it's set in a library (the Mitchell in Glasgow).

Gaelic in print

Yesterday evening I went to a fascinating talk at NLS by Mark Wringe about Gaelic in print. Mark is a lecturer at Sabhal Mor Ostaig, sits on the Board of Directors of the Gaelic Books Council and is hugely interested in Gaelic printing. His talk was entitled 'Striking the pages', a pun on the Gaelic word for printing, which is clo-bhualadh, literally 'striking the cloth' (from which paper was made).

In less than an hour, Mark managed to give a fascinating insight into five centuries of printing in Gaelic. The first Gaelic book was published in 1567: a translation of sorts of Knox's Liturgy. That much I was aware of - but I had no idea that it was the first book ever printed in Gaelic in any country (including Ireland). Also, it had not crossed my mind that it was translated into classical Gaelic, which was still understood by Scots and Irish Gaels, in order to serve the Protestant mission of both Scotland and Ireland!

Mark then moved on to the second Gaelic book (published 1631), of which we hold the only known copy, and which you can see in the religion case:

Mark had lots to say about Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair, or Alexander MacDonald, a schoolteacher and fierce Jacobite poet who published the first original and creative Gaelic book, Ais-eiridh na sean chanoin Albannaich, a collection of his own poems, in 1751. We have a copy of this book in the exhibition too! Ten years earlier, in 1741, MacMhaighstir Alasdair had compiled the first non-religious book published in Gaelic:

You can see a copy of this first Gaelic-English dictionary in the Education case.

When Mark got to the 19th century, the talk moved across the Atlantic to Canada, esp. to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, where Gaelic printing thrived enormously. He ended with one of the latest Gaelic novels, Dacha mo ghaoil, a story of breeding ostriches in Uist.

I was delighted that Mark took every opportunity to point out that books he was talking about are actually in the Imprentit exhibition, and that the Front of House staff kept the exhibition open after normal hours so that people could actually see some of the items Mark had mentioned.

Scots dictionaries on display

This year is not only the 500th anniversary of printing in Scotland, but also the 200th anniversary of the publication of John Jamieson's Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish language. Generally called Scots or Lowland Scots today, this language is still thriving, even though it was already said to be dying in the days of Robert Burns.

To commemorate the anniversary, we have put up a display of Scots dictionaries past and present, of modern Scots books and of the work of Scottish Language Dictionaries.

On show are (among others) a copy of the first edition of Jamieson's groundbreaking Etymological dictionary, a huge volume filled with tipped-in manuscript notes about Scots words in Jamieson's own hand, which he compiled for a supplement to his dictionary, and a 16th century Scots glossary. Don't miss the modern books by Tom Leonard, Christine De Luca, Edwin Morgan and other contemporary Scots writers!

You find the display in the so-called Treasures are, the room you automatically go through to the main Imprentit exhibition.

Psalters and Bindings

This week we welcome to Edinburgh our colleagues in the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group for the Group's Annual Conference. Most of the events are held at the Royal College of Surgeons Library, but we at NLS have been hosting a workshop on Scottish bindings.

Because we were focusing in our exhibition mostly on the effects of the printed word, not on the book as a physical object, we haven't really showcased the unique traditions of Scottish bindings, but we did include one example of a book with its decorative binding, The Whole Booke of Psalmes, in Prose and Meeter, (Edinburgh, 1617). Like most early printed books, this would likely have been sold not as a fully bound volume as books are sold today, but as a set of the loose sheets of the book, which the new owner could have bound in any style that they chose. In our collections, we have books bound in silver, in embroidered bindings, and in many different styles of decorated leather. Books like the Bible and the Psalms, in convenient pocket-size formats so that they could be easily transported between home and kirk, were often given ornate bindings such as the one we have on display, to show their owners' taste and status.

You can find out more about Scottish bookbindings on our introductory webpage and see many examples of the distinctive Scottish wheel and herringbone styles on our Digital Library webfeature Scottish Decorative Bookbinding.

Events at NLS next week: Scots and Gaelic in print

Two events at NLS's George IV Bridge building next week celebrate the languages of Scotland in print. Discovering the story of how these languages have been captured in print over the centuries was one of the most exciting parts of our research for this exhibition, and these events offer an opportunity to explore the subject further.

On Tuesday 9 September at 7pm, we have the performance Scots: The Mither Tongue. Writer and Broadcaster Billy Kay is joined by one of Scotland's greatest traditional singers, Rod Paterson, to celebrate over 500 years of history, literature, story and song in the national treasure that is the Scots language. Billy and Rod performed brilliantly at our exhibition opening - I'm sure that Tuesday will be another wonderful evening.

On Thursday 11 September at 7pm, Mark Wringe, presenter of Radio nan Gaidheal programme Leugh an Leabhar, will give the talk Striking Pages: The History of Gaelic in Print. In this talk, he will trace five centuries of Gaelic in print, looking at some of the individuals and issues that helped and hindered a Gaelic press on both sides of the Atlantic.

Advance notice of another event for anyone interested in the languages of Scotland: on Tuesday 23 September at 7pm, there will be a Panel Debate on The Scots Language Today at our Causewayside Building. This event, in association with the Scots Language Centre, will be attended by Linda Fabiani, Minister for Europe, External Affairs & Culture. More details to follow nearer the event.

All NLS events are free but booking is advised: phone 0131 623 4675 or email events@nls.uk. For more information, see the Events page on our website.

A magazine of Magazines

The new issue of Discover NLS inspires me to present some of the periodicals which are displayed in our exhibition. Produced to be read immediately and then discarded, magazines and newspapers can easily be lost to posterity, but their influence can often be stronger than that of books designed to be more permanent.

First, we have on display the July-September 1915 issues of Blackwood's Magazine, which contain the first publication of John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps, published under the name 'H. de V.'. Blackwood's, which ran from 1817 to 1980 (when the firm merged with the Edinburgh printers Pillans & Wilson), had an important role in promoting authors: for example, it serialised George Eliot's first fictional work Scenes of Clerical Life (1857). I blogged about Blackwood's and some other great Edinburgh periodicals earlier.

Another popular Scottish periodical was Chambers's Journal, which always had a slightly more scientific bent than the more literary Blackwoods'. On display in our Science case is Chambers's Journal, 7th series, vol. XIII, Nov. 1923. In the spring of that year, the Scot John Logie Baird started work on producing a viable television system. The brief account on display - sandwiched in between articles on door latches and a machine for slicing beans - is the first published account of his newly-patented prototype television apparatus. By 1926 Baird's experiments were sufficiently advanced for him to advertise his 'televisor' in a promotional leaflet as a 'splendid reality' and an 'epochmaking achievement': his pamphlet The Baird "Televisor": Seeing by Wireless is also on display.

A very different publication from the early twentieth century was The Girls' Guildry Gazette, of which the first issue, from 1909, is on display. The Girls' Guildry was founded in Scotland in 1900 as an organisation for girls, intended 'to help girls to be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. To promote in girls discipline, selfrespect and reverence'. This official magazine contains news and other contributions from girls in branches around Britain, along with photographs, improving articles, and advice about needlework, physical exercise and other Guildry activities. In 1960 the Guildry merged with the Girls' Brigade, which is still active today.

Young women may have graduated from reading the Gazette to The Scottish Women's Temperance News, published by the British Women's Temperance Association and the Scottish Christian Union between 1899 and 1984. This monthly journal was a mouthpiece for women by women concerned about the excesses of drink they witnessed around them. However, on display is an issue from 1941, featuring a contribution by a captain in the Scottish army who is flying the flag of total abstinence from alcohol at an RAF station in England in the middle of World War II. You can find out more about the BWTA/SCU by searching Scran.

Another temperance periodical was the Edinburgh Monthly Democrat, and Total Abstinence Advocate , a Chartist newspaper. The Chartist political movement was named after the People's Charter of May 1838 which was demanding, amongst other things, that all males over the age of 21 should get the vote and that voting should be done by secret ballot. The Edinburgh Monthly Democrat was the first Chartist newspaper in Scotland. Issue 3 of this newspaper from September 1838 printed the Charter in full and gave illustrations of a 'balloting place' and ballot boxes for a readership unfamiliar with the concepts.

Finally, no display of Scottish print would be complete without featuring something from the press of D C Thomson, who have been producing comics and annuals for children for over 80 years. Now with offices in Dundee, Glasgow, Manchester and London the firm produces over 200 million comics, magazines and newspapers. Some of their most enduring and popular titles include Dandy, Beano, Oor Wullie and Hotspur. For our exhibition, we chose The Beezer Book from 1957, the first annual of the Beezer comic which was published from 1956 to 1993, when it merged with the Beano.

Discover NLS

The latest issue of the National Library of Scotland's magazine, Discover NLS, is now available, featuring cover star Sean Connery, who was guest of honour at the Imprentit exhibition preview event for donors. Inside, you can read curator Graham Hogg's take on the exhibition, along with an extract from Antony Kamm's book Scottish Printed Books 1508-2008, and other news stories and features.

You can find Discover NLS on the NLS website as a pdf file, or email discover@nls.uk to receive a paper copy. For more information, to see the latest edition, or browse back numbers, see the Discover webpage.

Events at NLS next week

Next week sees some eagerly awaited Imprentit events at NLS.

First, on Monday 1 September at 7pm, leading piobaireachd authority Roderick Cannon will give the talk 'Calling the Tune', telling how Scottish pipers managed the transition from an oral to a printed tradition, illustrated with manuscripts and books from the Library's collections.

On Wednesday 3 September, also at 7pm, Linda Fleming of the Scottish Archive of Print and Publishing History Records will give the talk 'Better than a Gin and Tonic'. In this talk she will give an introduction to Scottish Readers Remember, an oral history research project at Napier University, exploring how Scots born before 1945, from Lerwick to Larbert, have made the practice of reading a part of their everyday lives.

You can listen to Scots talking about their experiences of reading, recorded as part of this project, in our exhibition.

Finally, Sunday 7 December from 11am to 12:30pm sees the event Books at Brunch. This is a family event where you can have a bite to eat, and share your favourite Scottish poems, stories and books at this relaxing brunch-time event. Bring along something to read aloud to others, or just feel free to listen and discover new favourites - all ages welcome.

All NLS events are free but booking is advised: phone 0131 623 4675 or email events@nls.uk. For more information, see the Events page on our website.

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.

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