In our New College Library Hall display for September 2018, we’re celebrating the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the World Council of Churches. Inaugurated in 1948, the World Council of Churches (WCC) is one of the leaders of the modern ecumenical movement, working towards the goal of Christian unity. The WCC brings together churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 500 million Christians. New College Library contains nearly a thousand WCC publications, including many unique or rare pamphlets. In the New College Library Archives, we hold the papers of several individuals and organisations who worked with the WCC, including Rev J.H. Oldham, Rev Robert Mackie and Rev. Tom Allaallenn. Continue reading
Have you seen the new Steps Through Time display at New College Library? Today we’re celebrating the Steps Through Time project, which developed six display panels to be mounted alongside the steps up into New College Library. These panels highlight treasures from New College Library’s rare book and archive collections against a timeline of Scottish and religious history.
Student engagement event
This project kicked off with a student engagement event between Monday 23 to Wednesday 25 April. We held a daily display of New College Special Collections items featuring items from two different centuries each day, and encouraged students to take a few minutes break from their revision to vote on their favourite items from each century. Over the three days we had nearly 120 visitors to our displays, many of whom commented that they had no idea that New College Library held Special Collections items like these. I’m grateful to my two volunteers, Nastassja Alfonso and Jessica Wilkinson, for helping with these events and persuading revising students that they really did want to look at some Special Collections. The item that gathered the most votes was the 1638 National Covenant (bequeathed by Thomas Guthrie), which is one of five National Covenants in the New College Library collections. The National Covenants have recently returned to New College Library after benefiting from conservation work and digital photography at the CRC.
Image selection and text writing
A key task was the selection of the images, which we did with the data gathered from students votes, but also by consulting with student representatives from the School of Divinity. A clear message about representing diversity in our text and image choices was received from the student community and so we aimed to curate diversity into the timeline narrative. Student engagement transformed the project into more than developing some display panels of library treasures. If we had planned just to do that, the panels would have included images of incunabula, Bibles or Luther pamphlets, some of New College’s collection strengths. But that was not the story that the student community wanted to tell.
We hope the project will improve an area of the library entrance which is used by all visitors to the library, and that it will raise the profile of New College Library’s unique Special Collections. We will be gathering feedback both over the summer and in the first few weeks of semester to better understand the impact of the Steps Through Time display.
Christine Love-Rodgers, Academic Support Librarian, Divinity
It was some months ago that among the many sermons and talks given by Rev Tom Allan (1916-1965), one entitled ‘The Myth of Robert Burns’ caught my eye (ref. AA6.2.18). While the Kirk and Burns were not exactly best pals, there has been many an Ayrshire minister who would definitely subscribe to the term ‘Burnsian’. The question was, with a title such as this, on which side was the Ayrshire born Tom Allan going to stand?
The talk (definitely not a sermon) opens by observing that the 25th of January, Burns Night, is also ‘the day set aside in the remembrance of St Paul.’ As Allan writes,
“Indeed, if we were to pursue the speculation on these two notable anniversaries, it would not be difficult to argue that there is much in the character of the Scottish people which has emerged through the conflict of the genius which inspired Paul of Tarsus with the genius which inspired Robert Burns. And it is certain that the life of the Poet himself can only be understood in the light of that conflict.”
He goes on to state,
“It is doubtful if there has been any character in Scottish History – or in any other history for that matter – about whom men have so willingly suspended their critical faculties. For a great multitude of otherwise rational people, the cult of Robert Burns is taken as seriously as it is possible for a cult to be taken. He has become a mythical figure in the manner of the ancient gods, and tonight, all over the world, men and women are meeting in their yearly pilgrimage to the holy place.”
Allan certainly seems to be taking the Kirk’s tone something which is underlined in his comments on ‘two old and dusty volumes in the Library of the University’ he consulted while preparing his talk. He goes on to state that the myth he intends to examine is that of ‘Burns the Saint’ and ‘Burns the Poet’ because
“I sincerely believe that we are doing Burns an injustice which he himself would probably have treated as a colossal joke unless we try to see this man as he really was, and try to estimate his poetry as it really is.”
As far as ‘Burns the Saint’ goes, the talk deals with the reality of his morality, the manner in which ‘the popular Burns orator… attempts to clothe this very human man in the robes of sainthood’, and the excuses others make for his behaviour: whether it is to blame him as a child of his time, society or indeed the Church for it. He concludes,
“There is little of nobility in the life of Robert Burns: there is much that is tragic. It is not ours to judge him. Neither is it ours to worship him for qualities he never possessed.”
When he turns to examine the myth of ‘Burns the Poet’, Tom Allan observes that Burns’ writing is at its best when in his native Ayrshire dialect. Interestingly, he questions how many people could truly say that they understood every word of even the best-loved poems such as ‘Tam o’ Shanter’. He takes a swipe at some other poems such as the ‘Ode to General Washington’s Birthday’ for being ‘woefully artificial’ and ‘bombastic, insincere and trivial.’ However, it is when Allan draws to the conclusion of his talk that his genial side, for which he was renowned, makes itself known. He states that it is Burns’ satiric verse, his narrative poems and songs which are the best of his compositions, the last of these being described as ‘incomparable’.
“Here in the Songs I could almost submit myself to the myth of Robert Burns. Here at last is sincerity and tenderness and a great compassion and a bewitching sadness and an irresistible appeal.”
He might have been a man of the Kirk but this is certainly not the conclusion of a man agin the National Bard.
The papers of Rev Tom Allan (ref. AA6) are available for consultation in New College Library and the catalogue for the collection can be found here: http://archives.collections.ed.ac.uk/repositories/5/resources/86134
Kirsty M. Stewart, New College Collections Curator
Images of The Myth of Robert Burns by Rev Tom Allan (ref. AA6/2/18) [PDF – 1.3MB]
A guest post for Black History Month by Eleanor Rideout, IS Helpdesk Assistant
Noted African-American anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass had embarked on a tour of Ireland and Great Britain, reaching Scotland in 1846. He was speaking against the evils of slavery generally, but a decision made by the Free Church of Scotland became the focus of his work here.
The separation of the Free Church from the Church of Scotland meant that funding needed to be found. One source was fellow Presbyterian Churches, including those in the American South. Money was accepted from slaveholders, which did not go unnoticed by abolitionists.
Douglass’s reputation as a powerful speaker is confirmed by two anonymous letters from a woman living in Dundee, addressed to Free Church leader Thomas Chalmers, which are held at New College Library, Edinburgh.
The writer’s style is impassioned, swerving between criticism of slaveholders, concern for her own soul, and description of events recently witnessed:
“They would not give the churches and few comparatively speaking gave their ears. Because it was said that the strangers witnessed too hard things against your Church. If the Men tell the Truth you should not be angry.”
“Dear Dr C. What are you going to do in the matter of taking money from the slaveholders in the America about which I heard a great deal last week & meetings – two of which I attended – as I used to be very much interested in the Slave question…”
“Part of my ordinary as Rev. T Boston would say, or rather my extraordinary for in thought word and deed I am of late a Backslidder [Backslider], ah for Grace to grow in grace. You see how I wander –It is the Poor Captive slave I wish now to speak for. I would you would be a tongue to such dumb ones. Then soon soon the Lord will look down and deliver. For to them belongeth Power, Dominion, Strength, Mercy. And then will their tongues become glories to praise, to bless to laud the King of Glory – and they too shall not forget you –as we all have too long forgotten them. Neglect is infliction.
O how much I know of my Masters will yet do it not I wish whiles the Lord would set me and take me.”
She also uses rhetorical flourish herself to try and persuade Chalmers:
“It was sins of ignorance I was reading today 4 Lev. I see there the Lord will not let such pass. It was for such the blessed Jesus prayed when on the cross Father forgive them. Now I believe firmly you did not see at the time that taking money from slaveholders was the price of blood – verily your Church hath been guilty. Do not think I am glad to set aught against you because you have far outstript us in the way of voluntary giving. No I was glad and I myself made crape [crêpe] the year of the disruption that I might give what I had for ribbon, to your Free Church, Free Church what have you to do with the House of Bondage. Hath the Truth made you Free – then Freely give.”
It is interesting to be able to read her words along with the published transcripts of the speeches made by Frederick Douglass, also held at New College Library :
“All was going on gloriously – triumphantly; the moral and religious sentiment of the country was becoming concentrated against slavery, slaveholders, and the abetters of slaveholders, when, at this period, the Free Church of Scotland sent a deputation to the United States with a doctrine diametrically opposed to the abolitionists, taking up the ground that, instead of no fellowship, they should fellowship the slaveholders. According to them the slaveholding system is a sin, but not the slaveholder a sinner.”
“The deputation had an excellent opportunity of aiming an effectual blow at slavery, but they turned a deaf ear and refused to listen to the friends of freedom. They turned a deaf ear to the groans of the oppressed slave – they neglected the entreaties of his friends- and they went into the slave states, not for the purpose of imparting knowledge to the slave, but to go and strike hands with the slaveholders, in order to get money to build Free Churches and pay Free Church ministers in Scotland. [Cries of “shame” and applause.]”
“I verily believe, that, had I been at the South, and had I been a slave, as I have been a slave – and I am a slave still by the laws of the United States- had I been there, and that deputation had come into my neighbourhood, and my master had sold me on the auction block, and given the produce of my body and soul to them, they would have pocketed it and brought it to Scotland to build their churches and pay their ministers.”
While the Free Church money was not returned the strong impression made on listeners by Frederick Douglass’s words can be seen clearly in these letters. With the 200th anniversary of his birth in 2018 his great contribution to the abolitionist cause is likely to be celebrated more and more.
With thanks to Alasdair Pettinger whose article ‘The Bloody Gold’ drew attention to this letter: http://www.bulldozia.com/projects/index.php?id=616
Currently on display at New College Library for the British Association for Jewish Studies Conference to Edinburgh at New College is this lovely manuscript item from New College’s historic archive collections, originally coming from the Library of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
This is the first page of an illuminated Hebrew manuscript known as Rashi’s Commentary on Deuteronomy. Rashi was Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105), an acclaimed French medieval scholar, whose explanations of scriptures were valued for their precision and simplicity.
The New College Library archives hold the papers of Old Testament and Hebrew and Semitic Languages scholars such as Prof Oliver S Rankin (1885-1956), which contains many writings in German, teaching notes and notes on Jewish festivals, Prof John Duncan (1796-1870) and Prof Norman W Porteous (1898-2003). These papers are important sources for researching Christian academic engagement with the Jewish people and Jewish-Christian Relations. Continue reading
A guest post from Eleanor Rideout, Helpdesk Assistant – New College Library
One of my favourite things about working with historical collections is the unexpected find, like this letter of Henry Cockburn to William Playfair discovered while shelving.
9 Dec 41
My Dear Playfair
No one can rejoice more cordially than I do; & chiefly on your account. It will do you so much honor, – to say nothing of anything else. It is the best recipe for all your ailments. Get it up while I have eyes to see, – & God bless you.
New College is currently deep under scaffolding for cleaning works so a message to the original architect stood out. Henry Cockburn’s name is also familiar – he was a prominent advocate for conservation in Edinburgh and nearby Cockburn Street is named for him.
I had hoped that Cockburn’s excitement was about New College itself, but swiftly realised that the key date of the 1843 Disruption rather prevented this. Checking Playfair’s entry in the Dictionary of Scottish Architects showed that at this time he was working on Donaldson’s Hospital. Getting final design approval seem to have been a difficult process but on 7 December 1841 his plans were finally accepted.
Cockburn for one was impressed: even before work was completed in 1852 he described the building as ‘of itself sufficient to adorn a city’. He lived to 1854, so did indeed get to see the result with his own eyes.
 David Walker, ‘The Donaldson’s Hospital Competition and the Palace of Westminster’, Architectural History, Vol. 27 (1984)
 Henry Cockburn, A letter to the Lord Provost on the best ways of spoiling the beauty of Edinburgh (1849)
A guest post from MSc Book History and Material Culture student Holly Sanderson
As part of the Master’s degree in Book History and Material Culture at the University of Edinburgh, each student is required to undertake a ten-week work placement at a cultural heritage institution. I have long focused my academic interest upon aspects of divinity, especially liturgical and devotional texts, and as such, it was a pleasure to learn that my placement would be at New College Library. Now, with just one workday left until the placement’s end, I am taking the opportunity to reflect upon my time here – the treasures found, tasks undertaken, and skills learnt.
The projects I’ve been working on fall into roughly three areas: collections assessment, collections care, and exhibitions. I’ve handled several different collections, including the Chinese collection donated to New College Library in 1921 by the Rev. James W. Inglis, the Portraits collection from the New College archives, and the Norman Walker Porteous Papers. I’ve also been working with a sequence of very dusty unaccessioned material and a sequence of uncatalogued pre-1800 books. I was on the lookout for any items with copy-specific features and/or interesting provenance that could heighten potential research value. Collections care is another important factor in library management, and when handling each item I would assess its condition, making a note of particularly bad damage and tying any fragile items with cotton conservation tape. One particularly interesting item I came across was a photo album collected by Bishop Whipple from Minnesota. After spending most of the day sifting through albums of British ministers and notable men, it was a surprise to encounter portraits of nineteenth-century North American Indians!
Anyone who has visited the library will be able to understand why my romantic sentiments were only encouraged by the stunning neo-gothic building that is New College. However, as the placement progressed, I came to realise the problem with my original perspective: not only was it impractical, it was selfish. My bibliophilic daydream made room for me only, hoarding rare books like a dragon with its gold, when the true importance of cultural heritage lies in it being openly accessible to all. Enabling public access to special collections can generate significant environmental, economic and social benefits: it boosts the economy, aids social inclusion and cohesion, advances understanding and education, and can even contribute to wider agendas such as health outcomes, the environment, and urban planning.
The importance of cultural heritage to humanity is perhaps recognised most clearly through its destruction. Consider ISIL’s treatment of Palmyra and Mosul, or the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in 2001 – both attempts to destroy a community’s sense of shared history and identity. However, heritage is mostly lost not by wilful destruction but by simple neglect, demonstrating the constant need for good collections care and management. Any loss of heritage highlights not only its importance but also its irreplaceability. This, I have come to realise, is one of the clearest arguments for the importance of collections care and management as a profession: preserving our history to pass on to future generations.
I would like to thank Christine Love-Rodgers, and all of the staff at New College Library, for allowing me to see behind the scenes and get to grips with the everyday tasks that ensure these collections can be accessed, enjoyed, and preserved. Gone are my fantasies of green leather-topped desks, lamplight, and spending every day surrounded by mountains of fifteenth-century manuscripts, but I have found the reality that has replaced these daydreams to be just as exciting.
During my initial survey of the New College Collections, it was immediately evident, although not surprising, that the majority of the archives stemmed from the work of men or their institutions. What it did mean, though, was that those collections which belonged to women stood out all the more.
Leaving aside the archives of the Centre for the Study of World Christianity in which women missionaries play a significant role, there are three collections with a female provenance which immediately spring to mind.
The first of these are the papers of Betty Darling Gibson (1889-1973), who worked on the International Review of Missions with Joe Oldham (ref. GD5: http://archives.collections.ed.ac.uk/repositories/5/resources/85273). The second would be the papers of Margaret Duncan Campbell (ref. GD 37: (http://archives.collections.ed.ac.uk/repositories/5/resources/86251) while the third would be the papers of Rachel Kay or Wilson (c.1750-1815) (ref. MS WIL 3).
With this last collection, what struck me was that the author of the manuscripts was only referred to as “Mrs James Wilson, wife of James Wilson, ship’s captain, Leith”. As with Betty Gibson, whose biographical details were hard to find in the shadow of her friend and colleague Joe Oldham, I was keen to give Mrs Wilson her given name and dates for the record. Her contribution to history is a curious set of journals recording her religious experiences, including her attendance at church, interlaced with family history, notable events in her own family life and what she saw as evidence of God’s influence on her own life and the life of her family past and present.
The journals run to six notebooks, each of around 50 pages of manuscript, starting around 1771 and finishing in 1812, three years before she died. There are also a couple of loose sheets, which do not appear to belong to any of the extant notebooks.
Accompanying the documents are two letters giving a bit of background to the manuscripts. The first is from April 1947 from Mr J Ritchie, ‘Nethercraigs’, Tighnabruaich, to his cousin Agnes Moncrieff Leys née Sandys. This letter gives a lot of information such as some of the experiences of James Wilson as a ship-captain: including being captured by Americans during the American War of Independence and then being detained in France for 18 months after which he was ‘persuaded to remain at home and join his father-in-law’s business’.
“My husband came safely home in the month June in 1780 when being detained Eighteen month. My father proposed to him to drop this line of life in giving over all thoughts in proceeding again to sea and to become Maltster and brewer also from my fathers inability from his years of carring on his business by himself…” (ref. MS WIL 3 notebook no1, page 43 – image below)
The letter also states that Rachel had about 13 children, ‘of whom she expressly states 9 died in infancy or early youth. This sad mortality was due not to any constitutional weakness, but to small-pox, scarlet fever and measles, which could not then be treated as they can now.’ Ritchie goes on to say that the Wilsons belonged to the Antiburgher section of the Secession Church and were fond of listening to the preacher Rev Adam Gib (1714-1788), and that of the surviving children, David Wilson (1782-), later became minister of the United Secession church in Kilmarnock. Making the personal connection, Ritchie states, ‘I remember being very hospitably entertained by his widow when I was a small boy.’
The manuscripts were eventually passed to New College Library in 1952 by a Miss G Woodward, librarian, who received them from Mrs Hilda Brochet Abercromby, sister of Agnes Leys who by then had passed away. It is clear from annotations made in the manuscripts that family members had read them with a good deal of interest.
At the end of the first notebook, Rachel writes
“By this time I was with Child of twains and although subject to many threatning complaints yet my Shepherd who carries the lambs in his armes and Gently leads thos that are with young suffered no evil to befall he brought me in safety forward to the full time when in the 15 of March 1783 I was safely delivered of two living sons.” [William Wilson and John Frazer Wilson] (ref. MS WIL 3 notebook no 1, page 48 – see image below)
Perhaps Mrs Wilson’s manuscripts are not the most valuable or beautiful of those which we hold but they do give a clear and striking voice to a woman of both the 18th and 19th centuries.
Kirsty M Stewart
New College Collections Curator
A post from guest curator Amy Plender, PhD student, School of Divinity
The theme of this month’s student led display at New College Library is diary writing, particularly diarists writing about their experience of missions overseas. The display features items from the New College Library collections relating to Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843) who was appointed by the Church of Scotland to be part of a deputation to visit Jewish communities in Europe and the Middle East, with a view to future mission activity. Further details of his papers are available on the University’s Archives Online catalogue.
This diary was used for daily entries on McCheyne’s travels, with small sketches as well as notes on personal devotional techniques headed ‘Personal Reformation’. It also has a biographical section on the ‘Story of Robert Laing’ (perhaps a friend or fellow missionary), and an appendix on another missionary’s account of the trip. Continue reading
A guest post by Chloe Elder, New College Library Special Collections Digitisation intern
From the depths of New College Library’s archives, a selection of class photographs from 1857 to 1930 has been digitised and uploaded to the Open Books website, accessible at openbooks.is.ed.ac.uk. The photographs show the students and staff of New College’s past, each of whom make up a part of the School’s long history. You may recognise, for example, Principal Robert Rainy, who lends his name to the College’s Rainy Hall, sat front and centre of every photo during his time as principal from 1874 to 1900. And behind Rainy and succeeding principals stand rows of students, ascending the same courtyard steps that today welcome over 400 undergraduate and postgraduate students to the School of Divinity.