Archive for the Tam O'Shanter Category

Belated Burns Night Post, 1868

Posted in 19thC, Painting, Photograph, Tam O'Shanter on 30 January 2010 by redwitch1
[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]

Nannie’s Dance, 1842

Posted in 19thC, Engraving, SFW, Tam O'Shanter on 2 January 2010 by redwitch1

Here is another depiction of Nannie’s Dance. (Nannie is, of course, the “winsome wench” in Robert Burn’s Tam O’Shanter (1792). She is the central figure—”plump and strapping in [her] teens”—wearing a “cutty sark” (short shirt) while “merrily footing it round” with a group of witches in a ruined church.)

The artwork is by J. M. Wright, it is titled “The Witch’s Dance In, Tam-O’Shanter” and it appeared in the Complete Works of Roberts Burns, Illustrated (London, George Virtue, 1842). The engraver is S. Smith.

Although Nannie’s negligee is described by Burns as “considerably too short to answer all the purpose of that piece of dress” (i.e. to cover her backside) most illustrators have provided her with a “sark” just as long and substantial as those on the “wither’d beldams, auld and droll” that she is dancing with. This is certainly true of the most famous illustrations, those by John Faed (below), which were published in 1855 and frequently reprinted.

Wright’s “The Witch’s Dance” appeared thirteen years before Faed’s. As you can see below Nannie’s “sark” is shorter and thinner than those of her companions, as it should be, and her left arm is free of her sleeve, exposing half of her torso. Both her companions and the viewer are blessed with a sight of Nannie’s left arm, shoulder and breast. How very risqué for 1842!

[Wright’s Nannie]
[Faed’s Nannie]

Faed (below) followed Burn’s description of the group as comprising “Warlocks and witches in a dance.” He depicts ten(?) figures dancing “hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels” in pairs. Most, but not all, of the pairs seem to be one male and one female, but because all of the dancers are not clearly visible, and many are not facing the viewer Nannie is the only female clearly visible. (Of the five other figures who are clearly visible, four are males who are facing the viewer and one is a female who is facing away from the viewer.) The impression given is of Nannie as the sole witch dancing among a group of Warlocks.

[Faed’s dancers]

Wright (below) also has ten figures, five female and five male; the six figures seen at length are also equally divided: three female and three male. The central, and the best illuminated, figure is Nannie. She is the focus of the dance, the others dance around her, and although all the female figures have their heads covered, Nannie is the only one wearing a witch’s hat. The impression given is of Nannie as the most important witch dancing among a mixed group of witches and warlocks.

[Wright’s dancers]

Although the Faed composition is better engraved, and Faed may have been the better artist, I prefer Wright’s composition—certainly as far as Nannie and her fellow warlocks and witches are concerned. When it comes to gothic detail it is a closer contest. Both depict “Auld Nick,” but Faed’s devil is a little easier to see. Faed also includes a sarcophagus and skeleton, whereas Wright only has a spirit appearing from above. Faed’s composition is beautifully and convincingly illuminated by candles (look at the shadows they cast), but it is not at all clear how Wright’s scene is illuminated. So, like I say, all credit goes to Faed as an artist, but Wright’s composition is the winner.

Tam O’Shanter Jug, 1835

Posted in 19thC, SFW, Tam O'Shanter on 1 August 2009 by redwitch1

This cream relief-moulded Tam O’Shanter jug and pewter lid, was manufactured by William Ridgway in Stoke on Trent, England, from 1 October 1835. I have seen examples—usually without their lid—in pale shades of blue, brown, green, yellow, cream and white. I have also seen another jug, a companion piece, of Tam O’Shanter and Souter Johnnie (see pictures here and here).

The jug depicts, in shallow relief, two scenes from Burns’s poem. The first is from the start of the poem, when Tam O’Shanter and Souter Johnnie are drinking; the second is from the end of the poem, where Tam is being chased by a “winsome wench” (Nannie, a young witch) in a “cutty sark” (a short smock, or negligee). Tam races for the bridge (since a witch can’t cross running water): Nannie was “so close at his heels, that [she] actually sprung to seize him: but it was too late; nothing was on her side of the stream but the horse’s tail, which immediately gave way to her infernal grip, as if blasted by a stroke of lightning.” (This is Burns’s prose explanation of 1790; for full details of the poem, see here).

Tam, Souter Johnnie and Nannie were depicted many times (in paintings, illustrations to books, pot-lids, postcards etc), and I have done quite a few posts on this blog concerning the various ways in which Nannie has been depicted—including this shallow relief ivorex panel from 1910—but this is the earliest by about two decades.

Nannie in Ivorex, 1910

Posted in 10s, SFW, Tam O'Shanter on 25 July 2008 by redwitch1

I have done three posts already on Robby Burns’ ‘Tam O’Shanter’ (see here, here and here) and I am bound to do more because so many different objects have been decorated with scenes from this poem. Despite the fact that the poem is 224 lines long, with a variety of action, all of the postcards, paintings, plates, jugs, toothpaste containers etc only ever rework the same few scenes: the six same scenes painted by John Faed (and engraved by Lumb Stocks and James Stephenson) in 1855.

Of these six scenes, only three feature our sexy witch “Nannie”, in her famous “cutty sark” (short shirt): Nannie dancing, Nannie leaping out the window, and Nannie with the tail of the Tam’s horse clutched in her hand on the crest of the bridge (the tail gives way “as if blasted by a stroke of lightning”). This last scene seems to be one of the favourites with illustrators; personally I prefer the dancing.

The caption to this Ivorex plaque is “So Maggie runs the Witches Follow wi’ monie an eldritch skriech and hollow” (Maggie is the name of the horse). It should have been “The carlin claught her by the rump, And left poor Maggie scarce a stump”, but I guess the earlier lines sound better.

As you will discover if you look here: Ivorex plaques were made in England between 1899 and 1965: the originals were sculpted by Arthur Osborne; plaster duplicates of this original were made via gelatine moulds; the plaques were hand finished and painted by local women using water colours (under the direction of Walter Davis); then the plaques were dipped in hot paraffin wax to give them their Ivory-like finish.

This plaque is 220 x 135mm (9½” x 6½”) and is signed and dated on the back.

As you can see from the two pictures below, Osborne’s molding is quite impressive, and the colouring is good. The delightful Nannie is the “souple jad … a strang” (supple wench, and strong) as Burn’s describes her, although—once again—her “cutty sark” is not “In longtitude … sorely scanty” (i.e. very short) as Burns describes it. The search continues for a more accurate depiction of Nannie and her scanty sark. In the meantime, enjoy!

Tam O’Shanter Prattware Pot Lid, 1850

Posted in 19thC, Engraving, SFW, Tam O'Shanter on 21 December 2006 by redwitch1

The multicoloured scene on the pot lid below is from Burns’ famous poem, Tam O’Shanter (which I have discussed in the following posts: Burns’ Tam O’Shanter and Coloured Tam O’Shanter postcards). Tam is fleeing from the Witch’s sabbat; a pretty young witch, ‘Nannie’, has taken hold of the tail of Tam’s horse, but the tail promptly gives way ‘as if blasted by a stroke of lightning’. Considering that the image is only four inches wide, the detail is amazing.

The lid was produced around 1850 by the firm of F. & R. Pratt of Fenton. For a period of about 40 years (from 1843) the artist Jesse Austin (1806-79) produced a substantial and widely varying selection of pot lids for Felix Pratt (1813-94). The pots were used for foods and cosmetics but featured unrelated coloured images of celebrated people, scenes, artworks and literary figures. (See here for more information).

The vivid colours in this image are produced by using four different engraved copper plates (one each for blue, red, yellow and black; the last being an outline or key plate). Each copper plate was warmed and applied with an oil-based ink. A print was taken on a strong tissue paper that had been soaked in a solution of soap. The printed papers were then applied to the pot, which was then fired in a kiln. If the alignment of the printed papers was perfect, a full-colour image would emerge, as below.

‘Underglaze Multicolour Prints’ on Staffordshire pot lids are highly collectible. Abraham Ball has written a number of books on the subject: The Price Guide to Pot-Lids and Other Underglaze Colour Prints on Pottery (1972; 2nd ed. 1980, 1991), Collecting pot-lids: Coloured, Black & White with Current Price Trends (1977) and Collecting Pottery: Underglaze Printed Ware with Price Guide (1978).

Click here for a full-screen (825×1400 pixel) wallpaper version of this image.

Coloured Tam O’Shanter postcards

Posted in 10s, Engraving, Postcard, SFW, Tam O'Shanter on 2 November 2006 by redwitch1

In my previous post on Robert Burns’ ‘Tam O’Shanter’ I mentioned that the engravings published in 1855 were probably the most frequently reprinted illustrations to that poem. I showed only three of John Faed’s six illustrations; the three that freature the winsome witch, Nannie, in her “cutty sark” (mini-skirt). Here is the full set, coloured, as they appear on a series of postcards called ‘Scenes from Tam O’Shanter’. These polychrome postcards were issued in the Valentine Series about 1910; the cards were reprinted in monochrome a number of times up to 1960 (these will be the subject of a another post).

[UPDATE 20 September 2008: I have now embedded links to larger versions of the above images]

Burns’ Tam O’Shanter, 1792 (1855 illustrations)

Posted in 19thC, Book, Engraving, Pre-1800, SFW, Tam O'Shanter on 15 September 2006 by redwitch1

“Tam O’Shanter” is a ghost story written in verse by the great Scottish poet Robert Burns. Burns persuaded his friend Francis Grose to include a drawing of Alloway Kirk, in his Antiquities of Scotland (1791), which Grose promised to do if Burns would supply him with a ghost story to go with it. Burns wrote a brief version of the story in prose before starting his 224 line poem. Both versions have been quoted in the following account (see here for the prose and here for the poem).

The poem concerns a farmer, Tam. After a night of drinking and story-telling, Tam must ride home to Carrick through a heavy storm. As Tam passes Alloway kirk-yard it is “the wizard hour, between night and morning”. He sees a bright light streaming from the ruined church and, on investigating, he is “surprised and entertained, thorough the ribs and arches of an old gothic window … to see a dance of witches merrily footing it round”. As the dance grows “fast and furious” the women cast aside their cloths and dance in their “sark” (undershirt). Alone among the many “wither’d beldams, auld and droll” (withered grandmothers, old and comical) Tam notices a “winsome wench” in a “cutty sark” (short shirt). After some time observing the young witch dancing, Tam unwisely cries out “Weel done, Cutty-sark!”; at which, the music stops, the lights go out and all the witches give chase. Tam makes for the bridge (since a witch can’t cross running water): “the pursuing, vengeful hags were so close at his heels, that one of them actually sprung to seize him: but it was too late; nothing was on her side of the stream but the horse’s tail, which immediately gave way to her infernal grip, as if blasted by a stroke of lightning.”

The poem was immediately, and immensely, popular: it has been illustrated many times. Artists have shown particular relish in depicting Nannie (the young witch) dancing, chasing Tam, and grasping the tail of Tam’s horse, Meg (or Maggie). The three illustrations below are by John Faed (and engraved by Lumb Stocks and James Stephenson for the 1855 edition). These are some of the best and most frequently reprinted or copied illustrations to Burns’ poem. I have accompanied each illustration (or detail) with a passage from the poem.

A final comment on the subject of Nannie’s negligee: compare the pictures below to Burns’ two descriptions of Nannie’s “sark”: in his prose account of 1790 he writes: “one of [the witches] happening unluckily to have a smock which was considerably too short to answer all the purpose of that piece of dress, our farmer was so tickled that he involuntarily burst out, with a loud laugh.” In his poem of 1791 Burns writes (concerning the attire of the “wither’d beldams”):

… had thae been queans,
A’ plump and strapping in their teens!
Their sarks, instead o’ creeshie flannen,
Been snaw-white seventeen hunder linen!-
Thir breeks o’ mine, my only pair,
That ance were plush, o’ guid blue hair,
I wad hae gi’en them off my hurdies
For ae blink o’ the bonie burdies!

[… had they been girls,
All plump and strapping in their teens!
Their shirts, instead of greasy flannel,
Been snow-white seventeen hundred linen!-
These trousers of mine, my only pair,
That once were plush, of good blue hair,
I would have given them off my buttocks
For one look on the lovely maidens!]

Tam then notices Nannie, whose “sark” is described:

Her cutty sark, o’ Paisley harn,
That while a lassie she had worn,
In longtitude tho’ sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie.
Ah! little kend thy reverend grannie
That sark she coft for her wee Nannie
Wi’ twa pund Scots (‘twas a’ her riches)
Wad ever graced a dance of witches!

[Her short shift, of Paisley cloth,
That while a girl she had worn,
In length though very short,
It was her best, and she was vain.
Ah! little knew your reverend grannie,
That shift she bought for her little Nannie,
With two pound Scots (it was all her riches),
Would ever have graced a dance of witches!]

From these descriptions it is clear that Nannie’s shirt is “considerably too short” to cover her backside, and that Nannie herself is just such a girl (All plump and strapping in her teens) that Tam/Burns would give his best pants to see. A sexy witch indeed, and possibly the first.

And, wow! Tam saw an unco sight!
Warlocks and witches in a dance:
Nae cotillion, brent new frae France,
But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle in their heels.
A winnock-bunker in the east,
There sat Auld Nick, in shape o’ beast;
A tousie tyke, black, grim, and large,
To gie them music was his charge:
He screw’d the pipes and gart them skirl,
Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl.
Coffins stood round, like open presses,
That shaw’d the dead in their last dresses;
And, by some devilish cantraip sleight,
Each in its cauld hand held a light:

[And, wow! Tam saw a strange sight!
Wizards and witches in a dance:
No cotillion, brand new from France,
But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle in their heels.
A window seat in the east,
There sat the Old Devil, in shape of beast;
A shaggy dog, black, grim, and large,
To give them music was his charge:
He screwed the bagpipes and made them squeal,
Till roof and rafters all did ring.
Coffins stood around, like open cupboards,
That showed the dead in their last dresses;
And, by some devilish magic device,
Each in its cold hand held a light]

Detail of previous: Tam looking through the window.

As Tammie glower’d, amaz’d, and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious…
And how Tam stood like ane bewitch’d,
And thought his very een enrich’d”

[As Tammie glowered, amazed, and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious…
And how Tam stood like one bewitched,
And thought his very eyes enriched]

Another detail of the first illustration: Nannie dancing.

But here my Muse her wing maun cour,
Sic flights as far beyond her power:
To sing how Nannie lap and flung
(A souple jad she was a strang)…
Till first ae caper, syne anither,
Tam tint his reason a’ thegither

[But here my Muse her winging must stop,
Such flights as far beyond her power:
To sing how Nannie leaped and kicked
(A supple jade she was and strong)…
Till first one caper, then another,
Tam lost his reason all together]

And in an instant all was dark;
And scarcely had he Maggie rallied,
When out the hellish legion sallied.
As bees bizz out wi’ angry fyke,
When plundering herds assail their byke…
So Maggie runs, the witches follow,
Wi’ monie an eldritch skriech and hollo.

[And in an instant all was dark;
And scarcely had he Maggie rallied,
When out the hellish legion sallied.
As bees buzz out with angry fret,
When plundering hoards assail their hive…
So Maggie runs, the witches follow,
With many an unearthly screech and cry.]

But ere the key-stane she could make,
The fient a tail she had to shake;
For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie’s mettle!
Ae spring brought off her master hale,
But left behind her ain grey tail:
The carlin claught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

[But before the key-stone she could reach,
The attack [on her] tail she had to shake;
For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie pressed,
And flew at Tam with furious aim;
But little knew she Maggie’s spirit!
One spring brought off her master whole,
But left behind her own grey tail:
The witch clutched her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.]


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