Books and Borrowing 1750-1830

Books and Borrowing’s Big Day Out

On Monday 26th June, Matt, Maxine, Kit, Gerry, Isla, Jill Dye, and I all met up for a Books and Borrowing Summer Social day out in Edinburgh (the rest of the team members were either abroad, unwell, or otherwise engaged, so do stay tuned for a full-team day out update later this year!).

The idea behind this was really to have a chance to catch up with each other over lunch; the last time that most of us were together in the same place was our ‘Libraries, Lives, and Legacies’ conference, held in Stirling in April of this year (click here to read the conference report).

We were, however, also very pleased to be able to align our day out with the ‘Raeburn’s Edinburgh’ exhibition currently on display at the Georgian House, a National Trust for Scotland (NTS) site located in Edinburgh’s resplendent Charlotte Square.

Inside the Georgian House (image source: Cleo O’Callaghan Yeoman)

The exhibition, which opened in June and will run until 26 November 2023, marks the 200th anniversary of the death of the Scottish artist Henry Raeburn. Born in Edinburgh in 1756, Raeburn quickly became one of the most popular portrait painters of his generation. Today, he is remembered as one of the best-known Scottish artists to date; this famous portrait of Walter Scott (pictured below), for example, was painted by Raeburn in 1822. In 2016, it was selected to appear on the Bank of Scotland’s new £5 note.

Sir Walter Scott by Sir Henry Raeburn. This portrait in oils is not part of the Georgian House exhibition, but an engraving of it is.

Raeburn’s subjects ranged from and included members of Georgian Edinburgh’s fashionable circles, local professors (including Dugald Stewart and Hugh Blair), Scottish authors (including, alongside Scott, Elizabeth Hamilton and Henry Mackenzie), and King George IV himself, for whom Raeburn served as Portrait Painter in Scotland.

The exhibition tells the story of Raeburn’s life and career as an artist, and features works gathered from a range of NTS properties. We were very lucky to be given a guided tour of the exhibition, and also the rest of the Georgian House, by our very own Kit, who volunteers there.

Many of the paintings and engravings on display in the exhibition depict borrowers who can be found in the forthcoming Books and Borrowing database, and so it was particularly interesting to learn more about these individuals and their lives. Borrowers included, amongst others, Margaret Stewart Hamilton Bruce (you can see her borrowings from the University of Edinburgh Library in 1797 here), John Robison (Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh), Stewart, and Scott.

Portrait of Margaret Stewart Hamilton Bruce (image source: Cleo O’Callaghan Yeoman)

After the exhibition, we walked (happily between rain showers) to lunch at The Outsider in Edinburgh’s Old Town, which provided a nice chance to catch up on news and toast the project and our absent team members.

After lunch, we were delighted to be given a tour of the National Museum of Scotland’s (NMS) Special Collections and Archives by our friend and colleague, Jill Dye (Library Services Manager at the NMS). This was a wonderful opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes insight into the NMS and its history.

The collections are wide-ranging and include the archives and manuscripts of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (as readers who attended Jill’s paper at our conference in April will know!). We also had a tour of one of the reading rooms, the Research Library, which is open to the public.

Members of the team exploring the NMS archives (image source: Jill Dye)

Naturally, all the team greatly enjoyed digging around in the archives (see above), looking for buried treasures and potential leads for future research projects. Particular highlights included a second edition of Thomas Mathison’s ‘The Goff: an heroi-comical poem in three cantos’, printed for Thomas Reid (Edinburgh, 1763), a beautifully-bound edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, printed by Robert and Andrew Foulis (Glasgow, 1770; sadly not pictured), and a copy of George Edwards’ illustrated Gleanings of Natural History (London, 1758-64).

Mathison’s ‘The Goff’ for post-lunch light entertainment (image source: Cleo O’Callaghan Yeoman)

Overall, a wonderful day out, and special thanks are due again to Kit and Jill for two excellent and entertaining tours!