Centuries-old Scottish poetry brought to life

Striking 18th-century illustrations of poems by Allan Ramsay, Robert Burns and James Thomson are now on display at the National Library of Scotland.

The exhibition encompasses items from the 1780s onwards when the collapse of the London copyright monopoly made way for the independent tradition of Scottish literary illustration.

Professor Sandro Jung, Senior Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and Rare Books Curator Dr Anette Hagan co-curated Illustrating Scottish Poems.

Anette Hagan said:

“It was an exciting time for Scottish publishers. It allowed them to offer new representations of moments or scenes from the poems, and this industry thrived for the next 40 years.  

“The books were produced in small format editions to allow people to carry them and read at every opportunity, and readers were able to enjoy a fresh interpretation of their literature and landscapes through the works of Scottish artists such as David Allan, Alexander Carse and Walter Weir.

“The illustrations proved to be popular, and were later produced with the use of larger copper plates to provide both monochrome and colour prints that could be framed.”

Works on display at the Library include

  • Allan Ramsay’s Gentle Shepherd
  • Robert Burns’ Tam O’Shanter
  • early editions of James Macpherson’s Ossian cycle
  • James Thomson’s The Seasons

Illustrating Scottish Poems is on display at the Library on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh until 17 June 2018.

More information about the display can be found in the latest edition of the Library’s Discover magazine, in a piece by Sandro Jung.

Contact Information

Barbara Burke

National Library of Scotland

+44131 623 3738

+447904 791002


Notes to editors

The National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland is a major European research library and one of the world’s leading centres for the study of Scotland and the Scots - an information treasure trove for Scotland’s knowledge, history and culture.

The Library’s collections are of world-class importance. Key areas include digital material, rare books, manuscripts, maps, music, moving images, official publications, business information, science and technology, and modern and foreign collections.

The Library holds more than 26 million physical items dating back over 1000 years in addition to a growing library of e-books, e-journals and other digital material. The collection includes more than four million books, eight million manuscripts, two million maps and more than 45,000 films and videos. Every week the Library collects around 3,000 new items. Most of these are received free of charge in terms of Legal Deposit legislation. 

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