Belated Burns Night Post, 1868

[Detail of Nannie, Plate 6]

Once again I forgot to prepare a Burns Night Post. Unbelievable! I really need to prepare a perpetual sexy-witchy calendar, which includes Burns Night, Easter Witches, Halloween, La Befana the Christmas Witch etc.

What is Burn’s Night? As Wikipedia explains

A Burns supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of the poet Robert Burns, author of many Scots poems. The suppers are normally held on or near the poet’s birthday, 25 January, sometimes also known as Robert Burns Day or Burns Night (Burns Nicht), although they may in principle be held at any time of the year.

I like that last bit: “in principle” I can declare this to be my Burn’s Night. So, what have I got for you on my Burn’s Night? A very strange and interesting book which I am going to cover at length (for reasons I explain below): Tam O’ Shanter. By Robert Burns. With illustrations by E. H. Miller. Photographed by Gardner. [motto] (New York: W. J. Widdleton, Publisher, 1868).

[Plate 1: Portrait of Robert Burns]

The book contains twenty leaves, including eight leaves of plates: basically, a title-leaf, a List of Illustrations, an eight-page Introduction and a leaf of text facing each of the eight plates. The original (publisher’s) cloth binding is an ornate gilt confection of gold on green, designed by John Feely (1819–78) according to D. T. Pendleton Fine & Antiquarian Books (who have a nice copy for sale for only USD175 here).

[Plate 2: Whare sits our sulky sullen dame]

As the title-page to this book explains, the illustrations are original mounted albumen photos by Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner glued down onto otherwise blank pages. Given the age of the photos (1868), and the fame of the photographer (Wikipedia entry here), the book is important enough to appear in the American History of Photography microfilm series (Reel 25, no. 265) held by the Smithsonian in the American Art Portrait Gallery.

[Plate 4: Nae man can tether time or tide]

According to D. Mark Katz, Witness To An Era: The Life and Photographs of Alexander Gardner (1999), 261:

Tam o’ Shanter

The year 1868 marked the 110th anniversary of the publication of ‘Tam o’ Shanter,’ by the Scottish poet Robert Burns, presenting Gardner with another publishing project. He conceived the idea of republishing the landmark poem with illustrations by Washington artist E. Hutchinson Miller. Gardner photographically reproduces seven of Miller’s illustrations for a leather-bound limited edition that was published in New York by W. J. Widdleton. No more than ten copies of the book are known to exist today.

[Plate 5: Tam skelpit on thro’ dub and mire]

Well, as I said above, it was issued in cloth too, and I suspect that there are a few more than ten copies. Still, reading this I almost wish I had kept mine … (dramatic pause). Yes, I kept my copy only long enough to scan it at 1200dpi. The reason I gave it to a friendly book-binder was because the copy I bought was missing one plate (Plate 3: “The landlady and Tam grew gracious”) and had obviously lived for much of its life inside a petrol tin, or on a pile of kerosene-soaked rags, or some such. It stank so bad that I gaged when I opened the envelope it arrived in. I only removed it from that envelope long enough to scan it and then I wiped down the scanner and gave the envelope to a binder in the hope that he could wash and resize the paper (sizing as in paper treatment, not A4 vs Foolscap etc; see here) and then re-bind the book. I am not sure whether he has done this yet, but I hope so.

[Plate 6: But Maggie stood right sair astonish’d]

As for the artist, E. Hutchinson Miller (1831-1921), he was born in Shepherdstown, WV. According to the Jefferson County Historical Landmarks Commission (here), Miller’s watercolor, entitled “Moonrise and Twilight,” is apparently in the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, DC. There is an article on Miller (Jessie Trotter, “E. Hutchinson Miller, The Artist.” Magazine of the Jefferson County Historical Society 5 (1939): 38-40), and a few brief biographical sketches in Millard Kessler Bushong, The History of Jefferson County, West Virginia 1719-1940 (2008) and A. D. Kenamond Prominent Men of Shepherdstown During its First 200 Years (1963). Not having any of these at hand, I cannot tell you any more than this.

[Plate 7: As Tammie glowr’d, amaz’d and curious]

Looking at Miller’s paintings, our heroine is not the sexiest Nannie we have seen, in fact she looks a little ferocious in this dancing scene (and even more so in the chase), but she is in the right state of déshabillé, is facing the viewer for a change, and Old Nick is brilliant! (See below.)

[Plate 8: Ae spring brought off her master hale]

Nannie also has a lot more company in this version than in the last two I compared a few weeks back (here), so the jigs and reels do look more authentic.

Unfortunately, the 1868 photographs of Miller’s paintings are a lot less pleasing to the eye than either S. Smith’s engraving of J. M. Wright’s artwork (1842) or Lumb Stocks’ engraving of John Faed’s artwork (1855). (About a century later colour photographs started replacing the artwork on pulps and paperbacks, with the same disappointing results.) Still, since the book is rare, important and practically nothing about it appears online, I thought it worth covering in detail. I hope you agree.

[Detail of Plate 7: Old Nick]
[Detail of Plate 7: Nannie’s company]
[Detail of Plate 7: Nannie]

3 Responses to “Belated Burns Night Post, 1868”

  1. Excellent post as usual for Burns Day. Did you enjoy your Haggis?

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