Imprentit events at the National Library next week!

The events and education team at the Library has come up with a great programme of events, talks, discussions, workshops and family activities to go with our exhibition this summer. Here's what's happening in our George IV Bridge building next week:

On Tuesday 29th July at 7pm, Chris Atton, a leading UK expert in alternative media, will be talking on Fanzines: Popular Culture and Creativity, exploring the rich history of the fanzine from its beginnings in science fiction to today's diverse subjects, focusing on popular music fanzines. This is the background from which Rebel Inc., blogged here previously, came; also on display in the exhibition are fanzines from Motherwell football supporters and Dundee Star Trek enthusiasts.

Scottish music of a different kind is the subject of Wednesday's event: Dr. Fred Freeman will be talking about the 18th-century Paisley songwriter Robert Tannahill, with musical examples from his recently released CD of Tannahill's music.

For people of all ages who would like to make some books of their own, two workshops are taking place.

On Sunday 27th, 11am-2pm, a Family Workshop on 'Family Albums' takes place: families can work together to create a beautiful hand-made album in which to treasure special memories, stories, and images. Refreshments provided.

On Thursday 31st, an Artists' Books workshop takes place at 6:30. This workshop, for adults only, offers you the chance to celebrate 500 years of printing by creating your own limited edition book. Artist Isabelle Ting will guide you through a range of simple folded book making and printmaking techniques in this inspiring workshop. No previous experience necessary (and no refreshments at this one!).

Both these workshops are in collaboration with the Owl and Lion Gallery, Edinburgh.

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

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.

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.

Open to view

Imprentit was officially opened last night by Linda Fabiani, Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture. This is always the moment of truth, when after we have spent so long putting an exhibition together, we finally get to find out what other people think - and yes, so far all the comments have been nice ones.

I want to thank our events team for putting on such a great opening event. The highlight was definitely a performance by Billy Kay and Rod Patterson, a taster for the 9th September, when they will be celebrating the Scots language in the event 'The Mither Tongue' at NLS. In particular I really appreciated that they began with a poem by William Dunbar, whose poems were printed by Chepman and Myllar. At some point I will have to post about Dunbar's contribution to the introduction of print to Scotland - a fascinating subject for speculation.

Speaking of Scots brings me to the word Imprentit itself. What to call an exhibition is always the subject of long discussion. In this case, we settled on 'Imprentit' - which, grammar fans, is the past participle of the old Scots word 'imprent'. Chepman and Myllar use the phrase 'imprentit in the South Gait of Edinburgh' in the colophon to the first dated book printed in Scotland.

So now the exhibition is open - enjoy...

The Big Picture

Today the exhibition is Scotland's Big Picture on the BBC News Scotland webpage.

I feel I should say that we were pointing at an exhibition graphic and not actually at the book itself: the Chepman and Myllar Prints are the size of an average book and not bigger than the average person...

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