A Comic Poem Inspired by the Books and Borrowing Project

This week, we are delighted to introduce the last of our Highly Commended entries to the Books and Borrowing Creative Writing Competition: Cara Morsello’s poem ‘Chambers’ Library – A Dangerous Place’ © Cara Morsello. Please do not publish or reproduce this poem without the author’s permission.

Cara Morsello

Cara Morsello Royal is a recovering lawyer. Since her three children flew the doocot, she aspires to be Makar in Residence at one of Scotland’s Historic libraries. She lives in her native New York with her husband, John, in their hoose full of Scots ephemera.

Cara’s poem was inspired by the Books and Borrowing Chambers Library Map and borrowing registers.




Lady Grace Jane Don Lady Wallace [1]
To whom James Smith did turn for solace [2]
She a widow, procurator he
Both patrons of Chambers Library

Her husband’s habits left her debt
Which left her funds for books unmet
Gambled and whored all the while
Left his wife an impoverished bibliophile

To court her, Smith devised a plan
To bring her books from his own hand
Every week would bring a walk
Deliver books and have a talk
In the parlor of Lady Wallace
Whose company gave him such great solace

To reach the home of his damsel fair
Smith passed the house of Hunter Blair [3]
A stately home from which was heard
Battles to turn the blood to curd

One day, Sir Wilfred Hunter Blair
Became the cause of Smith’s despair
His neighbor of whom he’d often read
Took tea with his wife and dropped down dead
And further to his consternation
Smith must lead the investigation

James Smith, procurator fiscal
Had an outlook most dismal
When called to prosecute the wife
The penalty would be her life
Imagine what an awful labor
To be called to prosecute your neighbor

Mrs. Simpson did attest [4]
That after tea, there was unrest
The Master’s plight was manifest
Hallucinations and distress

Flailing, wailing, like a crow
The maid and butler’s angst did grow
But none such grief his wife did show

Twas minutes ‘til he did succumb
The deadly deed, at last, was done
He heaved a sigh, and struck down dumb

Chambers’ Library was inculpated
When several books were incinerated
One that gave the recipe
For a very special tea
A lovely plant called Nightshade
From which a poisonous brew was made

Chambers’ Borrowers’ Register
Notes several loans to Lady Blair
A volume concerning flowers and trees
Another about apothecaries
And her favorite, Old Mortality
All three were scorched beyond repair
In the bedchamber of Lady Blair

The Lady said about the tea
“I, too, imbibed and so you see
The brew could not have harmed a flea”

And of the charred tomes on the stair
The very clever Lady Blair
Claimed innocence of all misdeeds

“As I alighted to my bedstead
A step where certain volumes rested
My candle grazed my furbelow
The spark dropped to the floor below
And set my library books ablaze
The room was quickly filled with haze”

When Smith appeared on the next day
Lady Wallace was heard to say
“Poor Lady Blair, unjustly accused
How could such a kind woman be so ill-used?”

Smith replied to his besotted
“Death by poison was surely plotted
And furthermore, did she conspire
To spoil the evidence on a pyre”

This sparked Lady Wallace’s ire
“Good day, Mr. Smith, we shall meet no more
Your persecution I do abhor”

As Smith left his Lady Wallace
Who would no longer give him solace
He thought and thought of Lady Blair
Her explanations did now seem fair
If Lady Blair was exculpated
His beloved’s rage would be sated
And their meetings, reinstated

Next day, Smith’s investigation
Resulted in emancipation
Smith, procurator, was to find
Lady Blair did commit no crime

Thinking Lady Wallace’s rejection
Would now, no doubt, become affection
Smith rushed to the home of Lady Wallace
Expecting she would give him solace
Instead ‘twas Lady Blair she was kissing
As passionately as he’d been wishing

All the Burgh came to sneer
His prosecution made it clear
A fool he was and would always be
James Smith, procurator, a fool, indeed

And so dear reader, please take heed
Of the dangers of the Chambers’ Library

n.b. I beg pardon of Smith, Wallace and Blair progeny
For acts of extreme literary liberty
For all untruths I have written
Owing to names with which I was smitten

Chambers Library Borrowers’ Map


References from https://borrowing.stir.ac.uk/chambers-library-map/ using addresses from John Ainslie’s ‘Old and New Town of Edinburgh and Leith with proposed docks (1804).

[1] Lady Grace Jane Don Lady Wallace, 7 Heriot Row, Edinburgh. Author. Subscription type: Old Books I Month; New Books I Month, 7 July 1828-18 April 1830. Number of borrowings: 73. [Her record is sometimes obscured by that of Mrs. Thomas Hutchins, also of 7 Heriot Row].

[2] James Smith, 17 London Street, Edinburgh. Occupation: Law -Writer/Procurator. Subscription Type: New Books, II Month, 19 May 1829-18 July 1829. Number of borrowings: 26.

[3] Lady Hunter Blair, owned property between Heriot Row and Queen Street as noted on Ainslie Map.

[4] Mrs. Simpson, Queen Street, Edinburgh. Occupation unknown. Subscription type: Old Books I Half Year, 23 July 1828-25 February 1829. Number of borrowings: 37 [Her record appears to be on Lady Hunter Blair’s property].

Thanks to National Library of Scotland for Books and Borrowing online event and creative writing workshop; Linda Cracknell for facilitating the creative writing workshop; Books and Borrowing Project for their excellent research and resources; and Dr Elaine Thomson for her online NLS event, A Short Guide to Poison (for writers, of course).