New exhibition at NLS – Pen Names

A major exhibition ‘Pen Names’ – which explores why some authors prefer to use an alias – has opened at NLS.
Using material from their extensive literary archives and printed collections, the exhibition covers a range of writers using pseudonyms who were working in the UK from the 1800s to the present day. Writers include George Eliot, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Josephine Tey, Frank Quitely, Dreda Say Mitchell and Ambrose Parry.

On show will be rare first editions, pulp fiction titles, popular novels and unique collection items. The exhibition also includes a family-friendly interactive activity as well as reading areas for visitors to sit and relax with a book written by (or about) featured authors.

Pen Names will run at NLS, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh until 29 April 2023. Entry is free.


Books and Borrowing 1750-1830: Il étoit une fois…: The Advocates Library and the ‘Le Cabinet des Fées’

Original post from: Books and Borrowing 1750-1830: An Analysis of Scottish Borrowers’ Registers

When I began transcribing the borrowing registers of the Advocates Library, I expected to find that law reports, Session Papers, periodicals, and books of law were popular with the erudite lawyers of the Faculty of Advocates. I took stock upon the completion of the transcriptions for two registers covering the period from 1 April 1788 until 24 February 1791 (F.R. 262.a/15 and F. R. 262.a/16). These registers were chosen in accordance with our policy of focussing on particular decades as described here.

It was a surprise to find that the most-borrowed title was not a legal text or a work of history or philosophy. It was Le cabinet des fées, ou collection choisie des contes des fées, et autres contes merveilleux, ornés de figures a work of 41 duodecimo volumes published between 1785 and 1789.

Fifteen advocate borrowers between them borrowed 159 volumes from Le cabinet des fées between April 1788 and February 1791 This is nearly double the circulation of the next most-popular work, the Annual Register, another multi-item work which had a mere 76 loans in the same period.

It was clear that I needed to find out more about this collection of fairy tales and why the advocates were so interested in it.

The Book

There is a kind of Writing, wherein the Poet quite loses sight of Nature, and entertains his Reader’s Imagination with the Characters and Actions of such Persons as have many of them no Existence, but what he bestows on them. Such are Fairies, Witches, Magicians, Demons, and departed Spirits. This Mr. Dryden calls the Fairy way of Writing, which is, indeed, more difficult than any other that depends on the Poet’s Fancy, because he has no pattern to follow it, and must work altogether out of his own Invention. 

— The SpectatorNo. 419 (12 July 1712)

In August 1773, the Curators of the Advocates Library submitted a report to the Dean of Faculty about the results from their survey of the collection. They found several faults, including that the Library was ‘remarkably deficient in the modern classics’ and had ‘commissioned from abroad a very complete Collection of the most approved French and Italian authors’.[1] This marked a change in policy from 1757 when Library Keeper David Hume resigned his position over a conflict about his purchase of French stories and satires.[2]

Engraved portrait of Marie Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, comtesse d'Aulnoy (1650-1705)
Marie Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, comtesse d’Aulnoy (1650-1705).

French literary fairy tales emerged in the salons of Paris and the court of Versailles in the late seventeenth-century. They were inspired by Italian stories that featured ‘fairies, chivalry, and star-crossed lovers’.[3] Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy, a novelist, memorialist, and travel writer was first to publish a French literary fairy tale, ‘L’Île de la félicité’, in her novel L’Histoire d’Hypolite, comte de Duglas in 1690. She went on to be one of the most prolific writers of fairy tales.[4] Between 1690 and 1715 the majority of French fairy tale writers were women.[5] Their stories featured elaborate descriptions and the assurance that the hero – or more frequently heroine – will prevail.[6] The stories could also be subversive and and satirical. D’Aulnoy’s ‘Belle Belle’, for example, has a heroine who disguises herself as a man and tricks a corrupt king into restoring property he has stolen.[7]

Charles Perrault’s Histoires ou contes du temps passé of 1697 included elements of folklore to his stories and increased their appeal for child readers by adding the character of Mother Goose as the supposed story teller.[8] Perrault, along with his niece Marie-Jeanne L’Héritier, an author fairy tales in her own right, championed the French literary fairy tale as superior to the Greek and Roman tales of the ancients.[9]

Table of contents from the Cabintet des Fees showing stories by Madame d'Aulnoy
Table of Contents page from the second volume of Cabinet des fées showing stories by d’Aulnoy, including one of her most famous tales, ‘The Blue Bird’ and her ‘Les Contes des Fées’, which gave the genre its name.
Table of contents page from Cabinet des Fees showing stories by Charles Perrault
Charles Perrault’s stories in the first volume of Cabinet des fées, including such classics as ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Puss-in-Boots’, ‘Cinderella’, and ‘Bluebeard’.

The translation of the Arabian Nights into French by Antione Gallard from 1704 to 1717 provided fairy tale writers with new ‘oriental’ motifs including genies and exotic locations.[10]

Stories from the Arabian Nights inspired the addition of ‘oriental’ character and themes to French fairy tales as well as being included in the Cabinet des fées

The French fairy tale proved to be an almost endlessly adaptable format encompassing a ‘myriad of forms, including oriental, sentimental, philosophical, parodic, satirical, pornographic, and didactic tales’.[11] The genre became more male-dominated as the decades passed. Jean-Jacques Rousseau used ‘La Reine Fantasque’ to promote his thoughts, but, for the most part, the stories came to be seen as more for pleasure than for instruction.[12]

The Cabinet des fées so popular with the advocates of Edinburgh in the late 1780s was the brainchild of its editor Charles-Joseph Mayer. Mayer collected and published what he saw as the best French literary fairy tales of the past century. He preferred moral tales with instructive messages and excluded tales that he identified as lewd or parodic.[13] Readers of the Cabinet des fées would find classic tales by d’Aulnoy, Perrault, and many others packaged in an accessible pocket-sized format with illustrations.[14]

The Borrowers

Ten of the fifteen advocate borrowers of the Cabinet des fées were mostly admitted to the Faculty in the 1780s. They would therefore have been young and starting in their legal careers. Others, such as John Maclaurin, who became Lord Dreghorn in 1788 having been admitted to the Faculty in 1756, were more established. Maclaurin’s interest in the tales may stem from his studies of ‘the language and literature of France’.[15] William Miller of Glenlee, the future Lord Glenlee (admitted 1777), married in 1778 and had nine children so it may be that he shared the tales with his growing family.[16] Half of the borrowers, however, were unmarried at the time of the borrowings so it seems likely that the fairy tales were borrowed for their own enjoyment. Perhaps they borrowed the tales to improve their knowledge of French culture and language just as the Curators of the Advocates Library had envisioned a decade before.

Borrowing record of Alexander Irving for three volumes of the Cabinet des Fees
Mr Alexander Irving – admitted to the Faculty in 1788 and the future Lord Newton – borrows three volumes of the Cabinet des Fées, 13 July 1790. F.R. 262.a/16, f. 171

Scotland, of course, has its own history of fairy belief and fairy writing. There is not the space to explore this here, but it will be interesting to see of another advocate, admitted in 1792, will borrow any volumes of the Advocate Library’s copy of the Cabinet des fées. I mean, of course, none other than Walter Scott who would become no stranger to ‘the fairy way of writing’.

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  • [1] The Minute Book of the Faculty of Advocates, Vol. 3: 1751-1783, ed. Angus Stewart (Edinburgh: Stair Society, 1999), p. 246.
  • [2] For this controversy see Brian Hillyard, ‘The Keepership of David Hume’, in For the Encouragement of Learning: Scotland’s National Library, 1689-1989, ed. Patrick Cadell and Ann Matheson (Edinburgh: HMSO, 1989), pp. 103-109.
  • [3] The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, ed. Jack Zipes (Oxford: OUP, 2000), pp. 174-5.
  • [4] Her tales were frequently translated into English and she influenced British novelists including Clara Reeve and Ann Radcliffe. Christine A. Jones, ‘Madame D’Aulnoy Charms the British’, Romantic Review, Vol. 99, nos. 3-4 (2008), pp. 239-56.
  • [5] Oxford Companion, p. 175.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Christine P. Makward and Madeline Cottenet-Hage, Dictionnaire littéraire des femmes de langue française (Paris: Karthala, 1996), p. 38.
  • [8] Oxford Companion, p. 177.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] Marina Warner, Once Upon a Time: A short history of fairy tale, pbk edn (Oxford: OUP, 2016), pp. 47-49.
  • [11] Oxford Companion, p. 178
  • [12] Ibid, pp. 178, 180. For Rousseau, see Patricia Murphy, ‘Fantasy and Satire in Rousseau’s La Reine Fantasque’French Review, Vol. 47, no. 4 (1974), pp. 757-66.
  • [13] Oxford Companion, p. 181.
  • [14] The National Library of Scotland has digitised the copy of Cabinet of fées in its J. F. Campbell Collection. NB: This is not the copy borrowed by the advocates. <>accessed 26 Feb. 2022. The images that accompany this article are taken from this digital copy.
  • [15] Lionel Alexander Ritchie, ‘MacLaurin, John, Lord Dreghorn (1734–1796), judge and writer’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004). <> accessed 26 Feb. 2022.
  • [16] G. F. R. Barker and Anita McConnell, ‘Miller, Sir William, second baronet, Lord Glenlee (1755–1846), judge’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004). <> accessed 26 Feb. 2022.

16th century Gaelic manuscript acquired by NLS

image of a page from a very old book, with handwritten Gaelic text. Much of page is missing but it has been conserved
the Chronicle of Fortingall

16th century manuscript acquired for the nation
We’re delighted to announce that we were successful in securing the manuscript known as the Chronicle of Fortingall (pictured) at auction last month. This is a significant addition to our Scottish Gaelic manuscripts collection, which is the largest in the world.

Scribes compiled the manuscript between 1554 and 1579 at Fortingall in Highland Perthshire and it contains contemporary annals, poetry and other short texts in Latin, Scots and Gaelic. The scribes belonged to the MacGregor family who compiled the slightly earlier Book of the Dean of Lismore, which is the earliest surviving collection of Scottish Gaelic poetry and one of our greatest treasures. Scholarly research and evidence shows the two manuscripts were almost certainly compiled by members of the same family.

This acquisition was made possible with generous support from the Friends of the National Libraries, the Magnus and Janet Soutar Trust, the B H Breslauer Foundation Fund and the Leckie Family Charitable Trust.

– NLS Newsletter, June 2021

Scottish Parliament Oral History Project Book


The Scottish Parliament Oral History Project has compiled a series of interviews with staff, MSPs and journalists regarding their careers and experiences at the Scottish Parliament. These interviews captured a rich array of material, shining new light on the Parliament’s history.

This book accompanying the project compiles extracts from these interviews, shining new light on the Parliament’s history, telling the story of Parliament through those who have helped shape it over the last 20 years.

Information and interviews about the  oral history project including the associated book are available online, and the book is available to purchase at all leading bookshops.

Visit report: The Library of Mistakes

The ELISA visit to the Library of Mistakes was interesting and informative.
The library is situated at 4a Wemyss Place Mews near Queen Street Gardens and the mysterious nature of the place is  enhanced by the entrance through an archway and up an old staircase.

Talk by the librarian Helen Williams.

Library of Mistakes - Founding Donors
Library of Mistakes – Founding Donors and books


ELISA Visit to the Library of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh – photos

The visit to the Botanics Library was very successful – informative and interesting.
Many thanks to Lorna Mitchell, Head of Library Services at RBGE.

Photos of the visit (thanks to Chiara Ciucani)

ELISA visit to National War Museum of Scotland Library

The National War Museum and Library ELISA visit

Report by Judy Wheeler

On Wednesday 10th May, Sarah Dallman and Ross Anderson hosted an ELISA visit to the National War Museum Library, which is part of the National Museums of Scotland. The War Museum is located within the grounds of Edinburgh castle, and explores Scotland’s military history.

The foundations of the museum go back to the First World War and the War Museum itself houses variety of exhibits including uniforms, weapons, medals, photographs, paintings, flags and colours, silverware and even a mascot – Bob the dog. It currently has a Safer Steps exhibition, celebrating the work of the Halo trust on mine clearance.

The library has been part of the museum from the very start. In 1933 it is believed that the library had around 3000 volumes, and was a research library for the museum’s curator.


The library’s collection is now around 11,000 volumes, both monographs and journals, and reflects the museum’s collections. The collection relates to Scottish military history going back to the 17th century – including Army, Navy and RAF material. The library has a lot of material on regimental histories – including overseas regiments – as well as a broad range of war-related subjects such as uniforms, weapons, women in the armed forces and even music and art.

Most of the stock is published material, and the Librarian is currently working to try to catalogue all of the holdings. The library is classified using two different schemes – the regimental material is based on a War Office classification, which arranges the regiments chronologically with the older regiments first and newer at the end. Stock is purchased centrally, and catalogued and classified and barcoded by Sarah, the War Museum Librarian.

War Museum JW

Enquiries and workshops

The Library is open on a Tuesday Morning only, and is open to the public – access is reference only. Potential visitors to the library can send an enquiry via email and the librarian will send them an email to allow them free entry into the Castle grounds to get to the library.

Common enquiries received by the library include military history enquiries and people looking to track the regiment that a family member belonged to. This is a tricky enquiry for the War Museum Librarian! However, if a clear photograph including insignia is provided, sometimes, it is possible to identify the regiment.

The library staff also provide workshops for the public on ‘Tracing Your Military Ancestors’ and host visits from groups. Recent visitors include a group who had had family members in Far East Prisoner of War Camps, and the University of the Third Age.

Gems of the collection

Major Mackay Scobie was the first curator at the library, and annotated the volumes of major Scottish regiments, which makes the collection unique, as well as a rich source of information.

The library holds detailed books of illustrated uniforms,  practical guides such as the illustrated ‘How to use your lance’ from 1825, an illustrated record of the battle of Waterloo and an amazing depiction of the funeral procession for the Duke of Wellington’s state funeral – a 7 foot long illustration.

A snapshot of other items in the collections included: books of regimental flags, Mess rule books, regimental histories and Army lists going back to the 1740s.

Another fascinating item was Scottish War artist William Simpson’s book of paintings detailing life in the Crimean war, including the charge of the light brigade. Finally, we were shown a gorgeous set of embroidered silk postcards, which would have been bought by soldiers to send home to loved ones.

War Museum JW 1

Report by Judy Wheeler








Book review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Published: February 2017 by Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 9781408886816

Gaiman uses simple language to tell these stories but they are deeply compelling and evocative nonetheless. Old as these tales are – and well known to me – his simple, elegant words paint new and vivid pictures in my mind. Thor with his red beard and comic stupidity; beautiful, haughty Freya… and Loki – who “makes the world more interesting but less safe”.

There’s a lot of humour and lightheartedness in these myths but the whole mood is somewhat darkened by Gaiman’s prophecy of Ragnarok:

“This will be the age of cruel winds, the age of people who become as wolves, who prey upon each other, who are no better than wild beasts. Twilight will come to the world, and the places where the humans live will fall into ruins, flaming briefly, then crashing down and crumbling into ash and devastation”

I found this passage eerily familiar. Are we now living through the end times? Is Ragnarok almost upon us?…

I devoured this book like a wolf devouring the moon. Neil Gaiman’s reputation as a Bard of Epic Standing is now assured in my opinion. Highly recommended.

Review via: A Very Fine Library

Have you read anything you love (or really hate) lately? Something you’d like to recommend? Write us a review and send it in for publication on this site! 

The Book Beautiful – at NLS


PictureChoice books from private presses inspired by the late 19th century British arts and crafts movement are matched with some of the very earliest printed books in the Library’s collections. By conceiving the book as a unified whole in which format, page design, type, illustration, binding and raw materials all work together harmoniously, private presses were able to create works of art, the ideal of the ‘Book Beautiful.’

Dates: Open to Sunday 13 March 2016


Venue: George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EW

Lost in a good book – exhibition

This is such a lovely idea for an exhibition. Well done Central Library – and very well done Mavis! – via Tales of one city

Lost in a good book

by edinburghcitylibraries

exhibitionWhen Mavis started work as a library assistant in central library a few years back one of the tasks she was given was to check returned books for pencil marks and other damage.

While doing this though she came across all sorts of items readers had used as bookmarks and forgot to remove: photographs, business cards, flyers, children’s drawings, train timetables, postcards, wedding invitations….

Mavis asked what to do with these objects. She was told they should be binned. Which she did. For about a week.

“As the rule made no sense to me I ignored it and started to collect them”, Mavis says .

“I didn’t have any sort of plan but something told me that maybe one day even one person could be reunited with a treasured photograph or perhaps a keepsake they thought was lost forever”.

exhibition 2Today is that day.

Many of the items Mavis held onto are the focal point of an exhibition ‘Lost in a good book’, currently on display in Central Library, until 11th June.

Will you see something that looks familiar?