Susan Deacon in Conversation at NLS: Politics and Everyday Life

On Wednesday 27 August at 7pm, Susan Deacon, former Minister for Health and Community Care in Scotland and now Professor for Social Change at Queen Margaret University, will be in conversation with Glenn Campbell, BBC Political Correspondent at NLS.

Professor Deacon will be talking about her experience of the impact of print media on politics, our everyday lives, and the possibility of social change.

Tracing the ways in which print has changed people's everyday lives over the past 500 years has been one of the most fascinating aspects of putting our exhibition together. One early example of a printed text telling people how to act is the book A collection of such orders and conditions, as are to be observed be the Undertakers, upon the distribution and plantation of the escheated lands of Ulster (Edinburgh, 1609). Would the history of the Plantation of Ulster have been different without this book guiding the planters?

All events at NLS are free but booking is advised. You can find out more information on our Events webpage.

500 years of medical printing

Last week I went to the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh to attend the official launch of the "Scotland and medicine in print" website. This coincided with the opening of the exhibition "Written on the Body", which can be seen at the Surgeons' Hall Museum in Edinburgh. I have to admit that a few (not many!) of the exhibits are a bit gory for my taste, but then I am particularly squeamish ...

The "Scotland and medicine in print" website brings together a vast range of images with explanations of medical items printed in Scotland. The original items are held at a variety of partner organisations of the Scotland and Medicine project. One of the highlights of the website is a digital image of the earliest known book about medicine printed in Scotland:

This "brief description of the plague" was written by the Aberdeen doctor Gilbert Skeyne (c. 1522-1599), who later became physician to James VI. The book was printed in 1568 and describes the plague that broke out in Edinburgh that year. It is written neither in Latin nor in English, but in Scots! That is because the work is a serious attempt to give advice to the population about how to avoid infection and, if it's too late for that, on the treatment of the plague. Although Skeyne regarded good hygiene as important, he stated that "the principal preservative cure of the pest is, to returne to God":

The original copy of the book forms part of our Imprentit exhibition. You can see it in the Science & Technology case.

Guided Tour of the Exhibition, Friday 22nd August

This Friday, 22 August there will be a guided tour of the exhibition by one of its curators, Graham Hogg, starting at 2pm.

Graham says, 'This will be a chance for visitors to find out more about individual exhibits and why they were specifically selected for the exhibition, and to learn about the process of how the exhibition came together.'

If you can't make the 22 August, he will also be doing tours of the exhibition on Doors Open Day on 27 September.

Like all events at NLS, the tour is free but places are limited so do book in advance, by calling 0131 623 4675 or emailing

For more details of events at NLS, see our Events webpage.

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.

Next week at NLS: Alastair Mann on Censorship and Scottish Print

On Wednesday 6 August at 7pm, Alastair Mann, author of the prizewinning book The Scottish Book Trade, 1500 to 1720: Print Commerce and Print Control in Early Modern Scotland (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 2000), will give a talk entitled 'To be Burned by the Hangman' at our George IV Bridge building.

In this talk, Dr. Mann will review the myths and realities of print censorship in the first three centuries of the Scottish press. From John Knox to the Jacobites, Scotland has something of a dark reputation as a nation of political and religious extremists - but is this a misconception? What are the realities of early Scottish print censorship?

All NLS events are free, but booking is advised. For more information, including a location map, see the events page on our website.

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.

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