Newsletter – 20th Oct 2000

Didn’t expect to be doing another newsletter so soon but as there were a couple of pieces of news that quite a few people were waiting for I thought I’d best do a short one and also include a feature that I had some notes on that may be of interest.

Edinburgh Renaissance Band CD

Firstly the news – after a bit of a guddle because of changed phone numbers I’ve finally got hold of copies of the Edinburgh Renaissance Band’s new CD – The Musical Worlds of Niccolo and Lymond. It’s priced at UKP 11.50 and I’ve added it to the Dunnett Bibliography page at the bottom where the cassette used to be. Since it has a code reference (unlike the cassette) it can be ordered through the BookSearch system rather than sending order by email. There is also a link to a track listing for anyone who wants to know what’s on it before deciding if they want to buy it.

Dunnett Companion

The second piece of news will already be known to many of you and in fact is just a confirmation of what we have been hoping/expecting for some time. During her US tour following the Philadelphia Gathering, Dorothy announced that Vintage will be publishing a paperback edition of the Companion, probably around the summer of 2001. It is also hoped that a follow-up volume will be published, perhaps a further year on, which will contain references to the later Niccolos. No details are available yet so I don’t even know if the new paperback will be sold worldwide or just in the US, but as soon as we hear anything I’ll let you all know.

Game of Kings Audiobook

Following some discussion on the lists about this I’ve followed it up and spoken to the company concerned in the UK – W J Howes of Rothley in Leicestershire. They are chiefly involved in producing audiobooks for libraries and don’t normally sell to the book trade as their pricing has no built in margin for allowing discount. Although it’s not really a normal part of their business, they will sell to individuals and normally waive the postage on such transactions – the price is apparently £57.95 +VAT at 17.5% = £68.09 They are also part of the same company which runs the US website which some of you have seen. The US division rent out audiobooks – something which hasn’t been done here in the UK.

The chap I spoke to at Howes was interested in my description of the web site and our little community of Dunnett fans and suggested that if we were able to put together a reasonable number of orders it might be possible to do some sort of deal so that we could supply some of you with it without having to increase the price to cover our costs. It would also give him some useful feedback in order to decide whether to go ahead with the rest of the Lymonds in audiobook format too. It seems that because of the high cost, good sales for an unabridged audiobook are in the order of only 200-300 copies. If we can demonstrate enough demand then there’s got to be a good chance of them going ahead.

If you are definitely in the market for Game of Kings then do contact me and I can see what can be done about putting in an order. And if you can give an indication of whether you’d also be interested in any successive books I’ll pass it on next time I speak to them.

Scottish National Library – Exhibition of early books from their collection.

While this is only partly Dunnett related I thought it would probably be worth including for a group with such a strong interest in both early books and Scottish history.
Subscribers to Whispering Gallery will have seen a photo in the latest issue of Dorothy performing the opening a few months ago (Val got in before me on this one!) – as a trustee of the Library she was an obvious choice to do the honours.

I’d intended to go much earlier in the summer, but of course there were one of two other things going on at the time! About a week after returning from Switzerland my wife Fiona remembered that we hadn’t yet been to see it so since I had worked 6 days the week we got back I took the Monday off and we went up there.
The exhibition space was surprisingly small, but what a feast was packed into the space. These documents are absolutely fascinating for anyone with a love of books. The display was arranged chronologically with the oldest first so I’ll run through some of what was on show in that order.

The first item was a Kelso Charter dated 1159 which was superbly preserved and appeared at first glance as if it should be one of the more recent until you looked more closely and noticed the gold ornamentation.
The Iona Psalter (1180-1220) gave an indication of the importance of that lovely island in the Christian tradition, while next to it stood The Murthly Hours (1280) which is a prayer book which probably came from France and which was apparently a new and somewhat different form of home worship at the time.

Still rather stunned by the age of these pieces we now came to one cabinet we had three of the most important books in Scottish literature.
Barbour’s The Bruce (1489) is one of only two copies to survive, while Blind Harry’s The Wallace (1488), which of course was a crucial piece of propaganda in the time period of Gemini, is the only copy in existence. Alongside them was Walter Bower’s Scotichronicon (1454), which our own Mercat Press have not long finished publishing in a 9 volume translation, and which is historically perhaps the most important of the three, covering a great deal of material which is little mentioned elsewhere. To see these three together was really quite breathtaking.

In the next cabinet was Robert Carver’s choir book of 1513 and 1520 – the only known source of his work. It was a surprise to see how clear and modern looking the musical notation was, and it I could hardly resist wondering if any of Dorothy’s characters, real or imaginary, might have looked at those pages.

These were all handwritten of course, but we now moved on to some printed material. Printing reached Scotland from France and the earliest dated Scottish book is 1508.
Monarchists and Feminists would probably be aghast at the display which included John Knox’ famous little book – First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558), but after Margaret Wilkes’ excellent talk at E2000 it was a delight to see the first surviving printed map of Scotland from 1570. It was of Venetian origin possibly by Paolo Forlani.

Skeynes first medical book (1568) was of great interest to Fiona, though I couldn’t help but remember the dismay I felt at hearing the late historian Ian Grimble describe in a TV programme some years ago how the entire library of the Beaton family, who were the hereditary physicians of Gaeldom, had been completely lost. What a treasure of knowledge to have gone forever.

The National Covenant (1639) was a vital historical document which deserved study but the eye was immediately drawn past it to the massive King James Bible of 1611. Lecterns must have been strongly built in those days! By contrast the little book of Napier’s logarithms (1614) probably had as large an impact in the scientific community, and looked horribly familiar to one brought up on their use at school.
The Psalms of David in Gaelic (1659) was only the 3rd Gaelic book ever printed and was the first opportunity for the Gaels to read the bible in their own language.

Anyone of MacDonald descent would find it hard to look at the Order for the Massacre of Glencoe (1692) without feelings of anger or sorrow. Thankfully a hundred years later the scene was very different as we started to move into the period of the Enlightenment.
Robert Adam’s Book of Neo-classical designs (1786) would be familiar to any architect, while the book that launched a thousand salesmen – The Encyclopedia Britannica (1771) – was another important example of the way knowledge was suddenly being made available to a wider community. Boswell & Johnson naturally put in an appearance but were somewhat overshadowed by Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature, a milestone in philosophy and still studied today, as is Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, which is celebrated by economists as a model for their theories.

Literature now started to put in an appearance again and The Kilmarnock Burns (1786) could hardly be bettered for literary importance unless perhaps by Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814), which of course set the pattern for historical fiction in a way that comes directly down to Dorothy’s writing.

Robert Louis Stevenson was another great Scottish writer but it was his equally famous engineering family’s construction drawings of the Bell Rock Lighthouse which appeared in the next cabinet. That such a structure could be completed on a wind and wave lashed island without the benefit of modern power tools give you a great respect for the builders of the day.

By this time we’re getting well away from “our” period but a quick mention of some of the other items will give a flavour of the rest of the exhibition. The First Statistical Account 1791-99, Robert Owen’s Plan for Relieving Public Distress, Robert Burns’ Glennriddell Manuscript which contains Holy Willie’s Prayer in Burns’ own hand. David Livingstone’s map of Lake Malawi (1863), and a rare example of a Gaelic Emigration poster (1822). Stevenson got his mention in a copy of Young Folks magazine containing the serialised Treasure Island (1883), while one that I would have loved to study in detail was Hill and Adamson’s original photographic album – one of the most important contributions to the early years of the new art form.
Altogether a wonderful little exhibition of quite priceless items.

New Page on the Site

Finally to return to directly related matters, I’ve started a new page on the website for Dunnett related places in Europe. This is a follow on to the page that covers Scottish sites of interest, but as I haven’t been to many European Dunnett sites myself I’d like to invite those of you who have made visits to contribute any descriptions, stories, hints or photographs to share with the others. To start the page off I’ve put up three photographs of Bruge which were very kindly provided by Ann MacMillan. (Thanks again Anne) There is also a link to my first attempt at a map of Europe with some of the main sites of interest marked. This one has the modern political boundaries but I may try and put together one with the Renaissance boundaries if there is sufficient interest. Do let me know if you think this would be worthwhile pursuing.

very best wishes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.