March 2005

page from Beowulf
A page from Beowulf

This is an engraved page from 'Tale of Beowulf sometime king of the folk of the Weder Geats', published by William Morris in 1895. With the purchase of this item the Library has completed its collection of books which were available for public sale from the Kelmscott Press. In 1893 Morris began his own translation of the epic poem Beowulf, using a paraphrase by the scholar Alfred John Wyatt. The work was issued in February 1895 with 300 copies printed on paper and eight on vellum. It lives up to Morris' dictum that his books are 'beautiful by force of mere typography'.

Binding detail

This is a copy of Allan Ramsay's 'The gentle shepherd', published in Glasgow in 1788. The binding is particularly interesting. The chequerboard design has alternating panels of tree and sprinkled calf, and the central panel has a gilt-bordered oval containing a stencilled star-burst within which is a gilt design of musical instruments and player's mask. The binding is probably Scottish. The sense of structured design, and the use of the musical instruments within the oval, suggest the influence of the style of James Scott of Edinburgh.

The book contains aquatint plates by the Scottish artist and engraver David Allan. It also has two extra plates by S Shelley after C G Playter and G Morland.

Mary's execution
At Mary's

This is one of seven engraved plates depicting in highly melodramatic fashion scenes from the last day of Mary Queen of Scots. It comes from Jahn Francis Rigaud's 'Execution de Marie Stuart, Reine d' Ecosse' of 1791. This very rare publication covers Mary's preparation for her death, her execution in Fotheringhay Castle on 2 February 1587, and her her burial. The plates were taken from paintings by John Francis Rigaud (1742-1810) and engraved by William Nelson Gardiner (1766-1814).

The topic was especially relevant at the time of publication in view of the fate of the French King Louis XVI, who had been captured in 1791 by the French government after attempting to escape from France, and who would be executed in 1793

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