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Category: Arts & Humanities, National Library of Scotland

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Phoebe Anna Traquair's exquisite illustrated manuscript of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ is one of the National Library of Scotland's treasures.

Made in Edinburgh between 1892 and 1897, it is among the finest examples of the work of Scotland's leading artist of the Arts and Crafts movement.

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303 reads

Edinburgh-born John Thomson (1837-1921) was one of the great names of early photography. His photographic legacy is one of astonishing quality and depth.

Thomson's images of China and South-East Asia brought the land, culture, and people of the Far East alive for the 'armchair travellers' of Victorian Britain.

He was one of the pioneers of photojournalism, using his camera to record life on London's streets in the 1870s. As a society photographer he also captured the rich and famous in the years before the First World War.

These pages present a brief introduction to Thomson's work, with examples drawn from the National Library of Scotland's collections.

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246 reads

The Kirk Papers is a collection of photographs and papers belonging to East Africa pioneer Sir John Kirk. It was acquired for the National Library of Scotland in 1998/1999 with the help of a grant of £55,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Though not as well-known as his friend and fellow-explorer David Livingstone, Kirk was a trail-blazer of empire in East Africa and a man of eminence in his day. Born in Barry, Angus, in 1832, Kirk qualified in medicine at Edinburgh University and then volunteered for medical service in the Crimea. An accomplished botanist, zoologist and diplomat, he was also a talented photographer. This is evident from the collection of over 250 photographs, many of them stunning.

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243 reads

The National Library of Scotland has the pre-eminent collection of decorative bookbindings produced in Scotland during the last five centuries. Some were transferred to the new National Library in 1925 as part of the collections of the Advocates Library, but many have been purchased since in an attempt to document the development of binding styles in Scotland. Below are displayed a representative sample of bindings from the 18th century, together with a number of decorative endpapers from these books.

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246 reads

Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh’s New Town in 1850. He died 44 years later on a small Samoan island in the Pacific.

During his short life he travelled the world, defied convention, and made himself one of the most famous writers of the 19th century.

Here we tell Stevenson's story, illustrated with material held in the National Library of Scotland's collections.

You can also see the entire first English edition of Kidnapped – one of his most famous tales – published in 1886.

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213 reads

This site features a selection of leading Scottish writers, photographed in a 30-year period by Edinburgh publisher and photographer Gordon Wright. It is based on an exhibition held at the National Library of Scotland in 2001.

Gordon Wright's photographs featured in 'The Write Stuff' are in copyright. For permission to use them, and to order print or digital copies, please email Gordon Wright.

Texts by Jennie Renton, editor of 'The Scottish Book Collector'.

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273 reads

Muriel Spark was identified as a promising and creative writer when her name was still Muriel Camberg and she was still at school. Some of her poems had already been published by the time she won her first poetry prize, at the age of 12.

Dame Muriel – poet, writer of fiction and literary criticism, and biographer – went on to win most of the literary awards going, was never out of print, and was at the top of her profession, internationally, for more than half a century.

Best-known as the author of 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie', Muriel decided in the 1940s to keep a record of her professional and personal activities, beginning a personal archive that is now one of the largest and most comprehensive held by the National Library of Scotland.

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214 reads

Welcome to the website where you can find out what was happening in Edinburgh's Theatre Royal at the start of the 19th century.

The Theatre Royal was extremely important in the revival of Scottish culture during this period, and is often associated with popular stage adaptations of novels by Sir Walter Scott. We have digitised a selection of over 240 playbills, which were used to advertise performances and events, using originals in the collection of the National Library of Scotland.

Search or browse the playbills to see who performed in a particular play or which musical events were scheduled for the same night. We provide a list of further reading and links to living theatres in Scotland today.

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226 reads

Robert Burns was born into a farming family at Alloway in Ayrshire in 1759. He died in Dumfries at the early age of 37. Yet in that short time he had taken the Scottish literary world by storm, and had secured a place for himself in history and in legend.

This site is based on material by or relating to 'Scotland's Bard' which is held by the National Library of Scotland (except where otherwise stated).

Special features are pages giving highlights of the Library's significant resources – whether original letters or poems (see Manuscripts page) or important books (see Books page).

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273 reads

The only known copies of nine of the earliest books printed in Scotland are the most precious items held by the National Library of Scotland in its role as custodian of the nation’s printed heritage.

Known as ‘The Chepman & Myllar Prints’, they were produced in or about 1508 on Scotland’s first printing press, established in Edinburgh (in what is now the Cowgate) by Walter Chepman and Androw Myllar. Chepman, an Edinburgh merchant, provided the money. Myllar, an Edinburgh bookseller who had previously been involved with printing in France, brought with him experience in the book trade.

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198 reads

In 1693 the first ever pictorial survey of Scotland was published by military engineer John Slezer.

'Theatrum Scotiae' is his volume of detailed engravings that shows us what important Scottish towns and buildings looked like over 300 years ago.
Search and browse images

More than 70 of Slezer's original engravings from the National Library of Scotland's collections have been digitised. You can search for them here by place name, and browse by place and subject.

There is text from Slezer's book with most of our zoom-and-pan images, and we give links to relevant online maps.

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277 reads

We can trace Scottish printing back to 4 April 1508.

On that date the earliest surviving dated book in Scotland was printed in Edinburgh.

Here you can read full texts of items printed on 33 of the first 38 printing presses set up in Scotland between 1508 and 1900. These have been digitised from the National Library of Scotland's collections.

They include that first dated printed book – see The Complaint of the Black Knight, printed by Chepman and Myllar.

You can also trace the geographical spread of printing in Scotland, from the first printing towns to the 'printing revolution' in the 19th century.

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337 reads

12 key Scottish plays

Over the last 40 years we have seen many notable Scottish plays on stage.

Scottish theatre has reflected the times and the nation. Scottish playwrights have included activists, thinkers, show-offs, entertainers, and a genius or two.
Major plays and playwrights

This website introduces 12 of the major plays and major playwrights of Scotland – but there are many more worth exploring.

Here we take a tour through the political days of the 1970s and 1980s and the outward-looking years of the 1990s. We come up to date with the new millennium that has brought us – at last – a national company and a world hit.

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203 reads

These two albums of the Edinburgh Calotype Club, the first photographic club in the world, are among the earliest photograph albums in the world ever assembled. They contain over 300 images by a group of pioneering Scottish photographers working in Edinburgh and St. Andrews.

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228 reads

The Murthly Hours is one of Scotland's great medieval treasures. Written and illuminated in Paris in the 1280s, it also contains full-page miniatures by English artists of the same period, and was one of the most richly decorated manuscripts in medieval Scotland. Medieval additions include probably the second oldest example of Gaelic written in Scotland.

The entire manuscript has been reproduced here. In the Folios section, you can browse page by page or select a folio from the complete list of titles.

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361 reads

Auchinleck has held a prominent place in discussions of the history and development of Middle English. Its texts provide important information about English dialects at an early stage (the 1330s) and dialect profiles are included in the Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English for all five Auchinleck scribes who copy literary texts (it is not possible to analyse the dialect of Scribe 4 as he copied only the Battle Abbey Roll, a list of names). These profiles locate the written language of Scribe 1 in Middlesex, Scribe 3 in London, Scribe 5 in Essex and Scribes 2 and 6 in areas close together on the Gloucestershire / Worcestershire border. Scribes 1 and 3 have received particular attention as they form a basis for M. L.

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377 reads