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James Morison, book illustration and The Poems of Robert Burns (1812).


This article introduces a little-studied edition of the poetical works of Robert Burns that was issued, early in 1812, under the auspices of the Perth publishing firm of the late James Morison. It contextualises the edition in light of the Morison firm's publishing programme promoting a cultural-patriotic canon of Scottish literature, while at the same time embedding it within developments in the production of the illustrated Scottish book at the end of the eighteenth century. Related to the Morisons' earlier examples of illustrated editions (such as the volumes of the poems of Ossian and James Thomson), the two-volume Poetical Works of Robert Burns are shown to have been issued in a competitive environment in which Robert Cromek, Burns's editor, together with painter-book illustrator, Thomas Stothard, also sought to produce an illustrated edition of Burns of their own--an edition which only materialised two years after the publication of the Morisons'.


Featuring an extensive number of critical paratexts, including copper-engraved illustrations, the two-volume edition of the Poems of Robert Burns published by the 'Trustees of the late James Morison' in early 1812 represents an ambitious Scottish venture to rival Robert Cromek's Reliques of Robert Burns (1809) but has, surprisingly, been neglected by both Burns scholars and historians of the Scottish illustrated book. Textual paraphernalia that surround a text commonly classified as primary, paratexts serve to make this text present. According to Gerard Genette, they 'ensure the text's presence in the world, its 'reception' and consumption'. (1) In addition to complementing and reinforcing the meaning(s) of a text through annotation via notes, explanatory glosses, editorial statements or non-verbal media in the form of book illustrations, paratexts mediate readers' access to the text. Framing it, they generate a more complex, multi-layered reading experience than the text on its original publication would have triggered. They can recover historical contexts and amplify these with detail shedding light on authorial, marketing and consumption practices. This essay aims to introduce Morison's edition of Burns's poems, specifically the book illustrations, and relate the work to the publishing activities, including the cultural-patriotic programme, of the well-known Perth-based Morison firm. It will argue for the edition's central, but hitherto overlooked, place in the history of Scottish book illustration and demonstrate the responsiveness of English and Scottish bookseller-publishers to issue, in quick succession, competitive editions of Burns's poems to capitalise on the poet's popular cultural status. Not only did the edition affect the shaping of the canon of Burns's works but it also contributed to the construction of the author and the growing printed visual archive that would be produced throughout the nineteenth century.


On 18 January 1812 the Caledonian Mercury announced the publication of the 'Elegantly printed' two-volume edition of the Poems of Robert Burns, which on its title page claims to have been printed in 1811, (2) The edition included 'an account of his Life, and Miscellaneous Remarks on his Writings, By an Intimate Acquaintance of the Poet', Josiah Walker (1761-1831), whose 'Account' of Burns was also issued separately in 1812. (3) Walker's criticism of Burns's poems, according to Donald A. Low, while still affected by the censorious assessments offered by Sir Walter Scott and Francis Jeffrey and 'too hidebound by conventional ideas to assess Burns's character in a new way', went beyond earlier reviews by examining the productions in 'unusual detail', which highlighted 'Burns's skill in words' and 'his gifts for metaphor'. (4) The two-volume subscription edition differed from earlier editions through its high retail price and was available in two formats, in octavo (priced at 1[pounds sterling] is. in boards) and in quarto, 'printed on Royal Paper, with fine impressions of the Plates, price 1 [pounds sterling] ns. 6d. in boards'. By comparison, Cromek's Reliques and William Davison's Poetical Works of Robert Burns (1808) sold at 1 os. 6d. and 10s. respectively. (5) The advertisement announcing the new edition emphasised that the volumes contained 'many Poems and Letters not printed in Dr [James] Currie's edition'. It also included a glossary. The volumes were printed in Edinburgh by John Moir 'for the Trustees of the late J. Morrison, and sold by Bell and Bradfute, Edinburgh, and Wm. Anderson' and included twenty-four 'beautiful Engravings'.

Widely respected as a writer on religion and a staunch Glasite, a follower of the church movement founded by John Glas (1695-1773) (whose collected works Robert Morison had issued in five volumes in 1782-1783), (6) James Morison belonged to the Morison family of eminent Perth booksellers and printers but he died on 20 February 1809, (7) aged forty-nine, two years before the edition of Burns's works was published. In the mid-1790S, Morison was printer to the University of St. Andrews, issuing, among a range of publications, editions of the classics and agricultural works. He authored Bibliotheca Sacra; or, Dictionary of the Holy Scriptures (1806) and the posthumously published An Introductory Key to the First Four Books of Moses (1810), as well as edited the long-lived Perth and Perthshire Register (which ran from 1805 to 1874). (8) The Bodleian Library copy of Morison's Perth and Perthshire Register, for 1810 is bound up with an originally separately issued five-page advertisement (listing some of the 'New Publications' that David Morison [1792-1855], James's son and heir, had recently received from London, including 'Ferguson's Works, uniform with Currie's Burns') (9) which features David Morison's publishing prospectus for 'Morison's Splendid Edition of Burns'. (10) The advertisement announces the publication of the seventh number of the edition, noting that the instalment retailed at 2 s. ('on superfine wove demy') and at 3s. 6d ('on royal paper') and that the number was 'embellished with two engravings from, 'The Lament, for the Earl of Glencairn,' and 'The Whistle'. (11) The 'Terms of the Publication' are reproduced below:

I. This Edition of the Poetical Works of 'the Bard of Caledonia,' will be embellished by TWENTY-FOUR ENGRAVINGS, by some of the First Artists in London, and which are now far advanced. A new Type from CASLON'S Foundery, and the finest Paper from WHATMAN'S Manufactory, are procured.

II. This Edition will comprise all the Poems of Burns, as far as can be published, without infringing on private Property, containing several valuable Articles, not in DR CURRIE'S EDITION but justly admired by the most celebrated critics.

III. To be completed, as near as can be computed, in 11 or 12 Numbers, containing 64 pages of elegant letter press, Price TWO SHILLINGS each; forming Two handsome 8vo Volumes. Each Number to be embellished with Two BEAUTIFUL ENGRAVINGS, illustrative of some striking passages in the Poems.

IV. A few copies are printed on ROYAL PAPER, with Proof Impressions of the Plates, to be sold to Subscribers at 3s. 6d. each Number. (12)

Subscription payments were received by David Morison, Perth, James Chalmers, Dundee, and Joseph M'Intyre, Kenmore. The prospectus concluded with an address 'To the Public':

   The present Edition of the Poetical Works of 'The Immortal Bard of
   Caledonia,' claims the Patronage of the Public, as being the most
   elegant hitherto published, as containing the greatest number of
   Embellishments; and many valuable Poems not published either by Dr
   Currie or Mr Cromek, in his late volume of Reliques; and as being
   enriched with A Life of the Author and Critical Remarks on his
   Works, wrote on purpose for this Edition. These advantages, the
   Editor trusts, will secure to the present Publication, a very
   General Patronage amongst the Admirers of Genius. (13)

It is not known why the edition was produced under the auspices of the 'Trustees of the late James Morison', but it is possible that David Morison, whom John Minto terms 'a man of great energy and extraordinary versatility', (14) was not of legal age yet to run the business he inherited, as he had not completed his training in the law at the time of his father's death. (15) Morison would abandon his studies of the law and receive training in printing, becoming in due course an expert in the use of lithography.

The part that James Morison played in the publishing of the edition is recounted in the Advertisement that preceded the first volume of printed poems. According to the unnamed editors, Morison, in addition to 'present[ing] to the public, in a more elegant and permanent form, many poems of exquisite merit', had been 'ambitious of illustrating a Poet so universally admired, by a series of Characteristic Engravings'. (16) Far from planning, from a bookseller's point of view, the financial details of the subscription venture only, Morison also undertook editorial tasks such as the arrangement of Burns's poems. In addition to 'rescuing] from oblivion a variety of both Letters and Poems' of 'the lamented Bard', the printed edition also served as a monument to Morison, 'the enterprising bookseller'. The editors of the volumes note that those poems not included in Currie's edition but printed in the 181 z edition 'were pointed out by the late Mr Morison, and his selection has been generally adhered to'. (17) Morison's active role in promoting the works of Burns and in offering as complete a canon of poems as possible to readers invokes the rhetoric of cultural patriotism that had underpinned those ventures involving Scottish poets which the firm had published before the turn of the century.


It is clear that at the time David Morison issued the undated advertisement, plans were well under way to gather subscriptions for the projected edition. As the subscription venture proceeded, some of the details originally stated in the prospectus changed. In the end, the edition did not boast illustrations by 'the First Artists in London'; rather, the publisher commissioned John Burnet (1781/1784?-1868), a Scottish engraver and painter, to design all but one of the illustrations. The remaining illustration was furnished by Andrew Geddes (1783-1844). While Burnet engraved some of his own designs, James Stewart in association with Burnet engraved others, and Thomas Clerk also prepared engraving plates for the edition. This change to the original plan did not reduce the significance of the edition in terms of the history of Scottish illustrated editions of literary texts, since it included the largest number of copper-engraved illustrations that had accompanied any of Burns's texts; above all, in terms of the number of plates included, it was the most visually ambitious edition of a Scottish author to be issued in Scotland at that time. In fact, James Morison's plan to issue an illustrated edition of Burns consolidated the established reputation of the Morison firm for its high-quality illustrated editions--a striking example of which was his 1795 two-volume edition of The Poems of Ossian.

While Morison commissioned two London-based artists, Thomas Stothard and David Allan, to supply the designs for his edition of Ossian's poems, by the time the Morison edition of the Poems of Robert Burns was published, both Scottish designers and engravers were recruited to produce an illustrated Scottish edition. In the event, Morison's plans for his illustrated edition competed with Robert Hartley Cromek's endeavours, in 1807-1808, to commission Stothard to produce an illustrated editions of Burns's works for Cadell and Davies. (18) Cromek's Reliques of Robert Burns was published in London by Cadell and Davies in December 1808, (19) but did not comprise illustrations, probably because of the cost associated with the illustrations, especially since Stothard had charged James Harrison one guinea per full-page engraving he contributed to the Novelist's Magazine in the late 1780s. (20) As part of his research for Reliques of Burns, Cromek continuously sought to identify new materials and, being an engraver and designer, was conscious of the potential ability of book illustrations to construct a particular version of Burns. Both Cromek and Stothard travelled to Scotland in 1809, the one to locate further unpublished letters by Burns, the other to sketch scenery suitable for inclusion in the projected edition. Cromek had visited Edinburgh in mid-1807 to publicise his work on the Reliques of Burns, (21) and it is likely that James Morison's plans to issue an illustrated edition of the poet's works developed that year, when Cromek also corresponded with David Stewart, the Eleventh Earl of Buchan, who had in the late 1780s and 1790s worked closely with Robert Morison to launch the firm's illustrated series of The Scotish Poets. (22) It was not until 1811, however, that Cromek engraved twelve Burns-related designs (measuring 11.2 x 9 centimetres) by Stothard, and these were subsequently included in the 1814 Cadell and Davies edition of the poems of Burns as well as issued separately as Illustrations of the Poems of Robert Burns: engraved from designs by T. Stothard, and a portrait of Dr. Currie from an original picture by H. Hone (1814). (23)


Issuing Stothard's designs separately was a fairly common practice and maximised income from plate designs that had already been printed but not necessarily been bound into editions. Portfolios of proof impressions were frequently issued, as in the case of a number of editions of Thomson's The Seasons, issued in 1798 and 1807. Like Stothard's illustrations, the printed engravings from Morison's edition were reused to illustrate George Gleig's A Critique of the Poems of Robert Burns. Illustrated by Engravings (1812), (24) which implicitly sought to advertise the edition (by referring to Morison's arrangement of the poems and the editor's retaining of this running order) and celebrate its editorial paratexts, specifically the illustrations, for, as the author noted, 'the sole object of the present publication is to enable men of less cultivated minds to instruct themselves, by the aid of engravings, illustrative of the poetry'. (25) In terms of the function commonly attributed to literary book illustration at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries, the focus on 'men of less cultivated minds' is novel, in that the editor aims to use the illustrations as an interpretive-popularising gateway into the poems. The illustrations are thus conceived as media that facilitate access to vernacular subjects; they hold a didactic function themselves akin to illustrated alphabets and, rather than offer complex interpretive cues, facilitate untrained readers' access to the texts in a way that earlier engravings embodying high-cultural iconography would not have done. The illustrations in Morison's edition were media of authentification, providing readers with familiar scenes and subjects in a style that was not characterised by the sentimental and mythopoeic imagery used in illustrations of both English and Scottish editions. Rather, the illustrators set out to highlight the humorous, grotesque and authentically Burnsian textual character. These illustrations made possible a learning experience that had been facilitated, from the eighteenth century, not only through (educational and religious) picture books, including chapbooks, but through illustrated editions of The Seasons for use in schools. Whereas the Morisons' earlier editions of Ossian's poems and Thomson had been patriotic through their prefatory matter but had promoted high-cultural visualisations in engraved form, their third, 1788 edition of Ramsay's The Gentle Shepherd., 'Adorned with Cuts', adopted a particular visual interpretation that emphasised the text's vernacular character and comic mode. As part of the Morisons' The Scotish Poets series (1786-89), Ramsay was the most recent poet who had created a new idiom for Scottish literature, much like Thomson created a new descriptive poetry which, in the 1790s especially, came to be identified with his Scottish roots. The illustrations of Thomson and Ramsay's works by the Morisons differ fundamentally, however, and it is in the illustrations to the 1788 edition of Ramsay's text that a visual character of the Scottish is being identified that will be developed further in the illustrations for the firm's edition of Burns.

The 1812 Poems of Robert Burns was a testament to the Morison firm's unrivalled reputation in Scotland for the high qualitative standard of book illustrations they included in their editions. In contrast to his father, James Morison did not as frequently commission book illustrations for the editions he issued, although his edition of Robert Blair's The Grave and Thomas Gray's 'Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard', issued in 1799, demonstrates that he still invested extensively in the sophisticated illustration of literary works. In 1796 Morison had printed an edition of Samuel Colvil's The Whig Supplication; or, The Scots Hudibras, which included two illustrations. Unlike any illustrations the Morison business had commissioned at that stage, the illustrations included in The Whig Supplication imitated the structural and design make-up of Charles Cooke's London series of the British Poets, 'Illustrated with Superb Embellishments' and 'Containing the complete WORKS of the most esteemed BRITISH BARDS'. (26) Colvil's title was Morison's only attempt to capitalise on the uniform format and stylistic similarity of the designs of Cooke's series, as well as their associations with a single canon of British poetry, and he returned to the individualistic (and often formally inconsistent) style that characterised editions comprising several engraved plates. What is remarkable about Morison's decision to issue an edition of Burns's poems is that, nine to ten years after the publication of Blair's The Grave, he decided to revive the practice of issuing an illustrated edition of a Scottish poet. He may have wished to link this edition with the illustrated editions of Scottish poets James Thomson, James Macpherson and Allan Ramsay that the Morisons had issued and that competed with editions produced by Cameron and Murdoch and Stewart and Meikle in Glasgow in the 1790s.


The increasing number of illustrated editions of Scottish authors in the 1790s reflects bookseller-publishers' recognition of the marketable value of illustrations and the ways in which engraved illustrations conveyed meanings related both to the construction of the author and the author's works. Cost-effective but a significant paratext making present the actual author of a work, the frontispiece portrait enjoyed particular popularity. Up to the point when Morison's edition was printed, editions of Burns reused the author vignette, after Alexander Nasmyth, which John Beugo had contributed to Burns's Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Nasmyth's portrait was adapted infrequently before the mid-nineteenth century. However, it was revised for the frontispiece of The Poetical Miscellany; containing Posthumous Poems, Songs, Epitaphs and Epigrams. By Robert Burns (1800). The engraving was a reworking of an author frontispiece for Stewart and Meikle's 1797 edition of Ramsay's poems, which erased Ramsay's likeness from the plate and replaced it with Burns's portrait. (27)

After Burns's death in 1796, bookseller-publishers sought to market the poet's works in more ambitious ways that would result in greater profits. In the last decade of the century, the poems began to drive a cultural industry through which an expanding Burns canon catered to readers' interest in the Scottish poet who, by the time that James Currie published his edition of the poems in 1800, had transformed into symbolic Scottish capital. In the early illustrated editions of Burns, his author portrait had a metonymic function, standing for both the poet and his works, but as further illustrations were added, the complexity of Burns's poems was more concretely, visually recognised and depended less on the mythologising of the poet that had been underscored by printed portraits. In the 1790s, the Burns canon was being defined, amplified, revised and criticised, and part of the metacritical process making sense of both the poet and the poems was the printed visual culture that would increasingly popularise the poet's works among a mass reading public in the nineteenth century. Thus the revision process that Burns's textual and biographical condition underwent included the production and inclusion of sales-enhancing engraved illustrations or other visual and material culture objects.

In Scotland, Thomas Oliver's illustrated 1801 Edinburgh edition of Burns's poems, 'with his life and character', preceded Morison's edition. It included three full-page octagonal plates designed by the Scottish painter Alexander Carse; the designs were engraved by Robert Scott. Carse offered visualisations of 'The Holy Fair', 'The Cotter's Saturday Night' and 'Tam O' Shanter'. Oliver's pocket edition reflected the printer's significant investment in illustrative paratexts in the first decade of the century and before he entered into a partnership with George Boyd; at the same time, it serves as a record of his marketing acumen in that he issued a number of texts (including Thomson's The Seasons) with specially commissioned sets of illustrations, capitalising with the engravings he included on their cultural reputation and distinguishing his volumes from other pocket editions. In terms of the design of figures for Oliver's edition of Burns, Carse's figures are inferior to the ones featured in illustrations for Morison editions, but each of his illustrations conveys the rusticity of Scottish life promoted by Burns's poetry and the grotesque--as in the figures gathered in 'Holy Fair' and Tam's encounter with the supernatural, concretely rendered witches dancing. Carse's illustrations were reused for Stewart's Glasgow edition, which was published in 1802.

Oliver's edition was made possible by the end of the copyright monopoly that William Creech had established after Burns's death. Creech, Burns's bookseller, had tried to extend the copyright term of fourteen years by issuing, in 1800, in association with Cadell and Davies, an augmented edition which included additional, hitherto unpublished poems by Burns. Shortly afterwards, a 'pirated' edition of the poems was published by the Edinburgh printer, J. Robertson, which resulted in a court case in which Creech sought damages for the infringement of his copyright. Robertson's republication of Burns's poems and the inclusion of new material, supported by the Court of Sessions' verdict that Creech did not hold the copyright for the hitherto unpublished poems by Burns which he included in his edition (but had not registered with the Stationer's Company), set a precedent which facilitated the production of new editions and the end of Creech's monopoly. (28) Oliver's edition was distinct from Creech's through its use of illustrations, and Stewart's would further distinguish itself from Creech's edition by 'including a number of original pieces never before published; with his life and character'.

Apart from Oliver's, another illustrated edition had been issued at the time that James Morison was contemplating his own subscription venture. That several bookseller-publishers invested in illustrations for their editions of Burns in the first decade of the nineteenth century is not a coincidence. Rather, it is indicative of a development in the marketing of Burns's works (and in his image-marketing) in which illustrations played a central part. Illustrations helped publishers to underscore the cultural significance of the poet whose works were now found worthy of additional investment. In 1807, the Alnwick-based printer John Catnach joined forces with the chemist-turned-bookseller, William Davison, and issued their two-volume Poetical Works of Robert Burns with his Rife, featuring 'Engravings and tail pieces'. Once their business partnership was dissolved on 18 May 1808, Davison had the text of the edition reset and published new editions, with additional wood-engraved vignettes, in 1808 and 1809. (29) From the Catnach-Davison edition to the third edition of 1809, the number of illustrations had steadily increased. This augmentation of visual material was not unique, however, since Stothard had furnished three different editions, issued by Cadell and Davies, of Samuel Rogers's The Pleasures of Memory with illustrations that were increased in number with each edition. (30) At the time of their publication, (Catnach and) Davison's editions were the most ambitious illustrated editions of Burns's poems. They featured wood engravings produced by Thomas Bewick's workshop. By 1808, Bewick had illustrated such classics of British literature as Shakespeare and Thomson, and his wood engravings, which were produced far more cheaply than the copper-engraved illustrations of most eighteenth-century Scottish editions of literary texts, had become fashionable embellishments that were used for such popular poets as Robert Bloomfield. Davison's editions made innovative use of the medium of the vernacular vignette.

Despite the growing popularity of Bewick's wood-engraved vignettes and the lower financial investment to illustrate an edition with these engravings, Morison's edition featured the more traditional medium of the copper engraving. Copper-engraved plates were more expensive to produce and required a rolling press for printing, whereas wood engravings did not, but they were part of a cultural heritage that associated them with elegance, the quality repeatedly invoked in advertisements of illustrated Morison titles in the 1790s. The Morison edition of Burns was remarkable in a number of respects, but especially in terms of the number of illustrations and the associated cost of the designs, their being engraved onto copper plates, and their printing by a specially trained printer (who is unlikely to have been the printer of the typographic text).

Even for a London edition issued in the first decade of the nineteenth century, it would have been unusual to include twenty-four copper-engraved illustrations. However, the marketing power of illustrations as enhancements of otherwise unembellished editions had been recognised in the first half of the eighteenth century and proliferated once the notion of perpetual copyright was abolished in 1774 and the unlicensed reprinting of texts previously governed by copyright monopolies became possible. Whereas the 1790s and the first decade of the following century still saw experiments with large-scale (folio and quarto) formats for literary editions and their illustrations, smaller formats for illustrations, especially the copper-engraved vignette, became increasingly popular in Scotland. (31) At the same time, smaller formats for editions of literary texts--sometimes as part of uniform series--were increasingly being adopted in Britain from the 1770s and the Morisons, with the exception of the firm's 1793 quarto subscription edition of The Seasons and the octavo volumes of the Miscellaneous Works of Oliver Goldsmith, had opted for pocket formats. James Morison's edition of Burns's poetry invoked associations with the 1793 edition of Thomson's text in that this edition established the Morisons' national reputation as producers of high-quality illustrated editions. In terms of typography, the two volumes of Burns's poems were also closer to the quarto edition of The Seasons than they were to the small fonts used in the large number of pocket editions the firm produced in the course of more than thirty years.


Unlike the plates in the Morisons' edition of The Seasons, the illustrations in the Burns volumes (visualising such poems as, among others, 'The Twa Dogs', 'Scotch Drink', 'The Author's Earnest Cry', 'Holy Fair', 'Death and Doctor Hornbook', 'The Vision', 'Halloween', 'Auld Farmer's Salutation', 'Despondency', 'Winter Night', 'Cotter's Saturday Night', 'Epistle to Lapraik', 'Friars-Carse Hermitage', 'Lament of Mary Queen of Scots', 'Grose's Perigrinations' and 'Lament of Mary Queen of Scots') were not full-page plates but, given their placement on the large octavo page, fairly small engraved designs (measuring 6.5 x 8 centimetres and contained in a ruled frame) keyed to multi-line verse captions.

George Gleig's A Critique of the Poems of Robert Burns assigns a function to these illustrations that is fundamentally novel at the time. He reads them as media of instruction not for the 'philosophical critic' but as conveying the meaning of Burns's productions to a larger audience than that associated with the consumption of literary classics. The designs are given a popular-instructive function, even though, in reality, it is unlikely that an uneducated readership would have been able to afford the edition. Gleig's view of the function of book illustrations departs from an elite, sophisticated reading experience catered to by the high-cultural, historical engravings that had adorned earlier Morison editions of literary works. In Morison's edition of Burns, the plates are no longer miniature versions of paintings reduced in size for elite, conspicuous consumption; rather, they focus on the familiar and domestic, as well as the Scottish character of man. In fact, Burnet's designs largely capture the vernacular character of Burns's verse, focusing on the anthropocentric, humorous and the community, an emphasis that is not chosen by Stothard, who highlights the atmospheric in his depictions of Burnsian pastoral and landscape. Burnet illustrated such familiar social scenes as the 'Cotter's Saturday Night', 'Halloween', 'John Anderson My Jo', 'Scotch Drink' and 'Holy Fair'. 'Tam O' Shanter' is central to Burnet's vernacular visual programme for the edition. The conviviality, sense of community, cultural habits and happiness of the groups depicted are emblematic of the tenor that Burnet seeks to establish with his series of illustrations. Only a few illustrations, including 'Death and Doctor Hornbook', 'The Vision' and 'Despondency' invoke the otherworldly, popular superstitions or melancholy, subjects that are absent from the majority of the engraved designs.

The illustration to 'Tam O' Shanter' centralises the two drinkers but also admits the reader visually into a nondescript interior (Figure 1). Rather than orderly, the setting is in disarray, with a broken pipe and horseshoes as well as a pitcher scattered on the floor. The scene highlights Tam's drunkenness and presents an image of him in tune with that his wife, Kate, offers of him:

   She tauld thee [Tam] weel thou was a skellum,
   A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;
   That frae November till October,
   Ae market-day thou wast nae sober. (32)

The caption underneath the image introduces the blacksmith, Tam's drinking partner, but in offering this caption Burnet redacts the actual text of the poem in that he omits two lines in between the statement that Tam 'wast nae sober' and the introduction of the blacksmith. The grotesque representation of the two drinkers visually determines the meaning of 'Tam O' Shanter' and obscures the supernatural gathering of 'Warlocks and witches in a dance' that Tam witnesses on his way home. The gruesome and horrific assemblage of Gothic machinery is not introduced to readers who, at least visually, are given insight into Tam's drinking habits rather than the Scottish folklore from which Burns drew Tam's encounter with the macabre. Burnet's illustration thus rewrites the poet's tale visually and does not focus on the sensational, which the reader will apprehend when reading the tale. Burnet selects a visual mode that helps him to portray Tam as a common man to whose drinking habits and experience readers will be able to relate. Burnet's image is minimalist in the sense that he avoids unnecessary detail. In terms of the accessories he introduces to characterise the setting, few are used to open up opportunities for readers to relate to the physical scene presented. In this respect, while Tam is supposed to be in an inn the 'ingle' of which was 'bleezing finely', neither the setting of the inn, nor the fireplace are depicted, probably with a view of concentrating on Tam and Souter Johnie, 'His ancient, trusty, droughty crony'. Burnet's focus is clearly on the men, rather than on the environment.

While the supernatural lore of Scotland was not captured visually in Burnet's design for 'Tam O' Shanter', it is central to the design for 'Halloween', even though a sanitised version of the subject is offered in which cultural practices, rather than the fairies invoked (with what the head-note to the poem terms 'the principal charms and spells of that night, so big with prophecy to the peasantry in the west of Scotland'), are visualised (Figure 2). The caption to the illustration specifies the particular cultural practice of divining whether an individual is going to marry or not. While both 'Tam O' Shanter' and 'Halloween' engage with the popular superstitions of Scotland, the illustrations do not explicitly reference these traditions and adopt domestic settings to promote an imagological character of the Scottish people. Stothard, who had been working on illustrations for Burns's poem at least from 1806, would have known Burnet's visual rendering of 'Tam O' Shanter' and offered his own visualisation of the poem in the 1814 edition (Figure 3). The plate depicts the astonished Tam on horseback and witnessing the supernatural proceedings of the witches which Burnet did not represent. Stothard's design for 'Halloween' illustrates the roasting of nuts rather than any of the popular superstitions that Burnet's image, including the caption, inferred. Stothard's typical feminising style casts Tam into a fundamentally different way from Burnet's drinker and the image for 'Halloween' is tamed by means of the child and sleeping dog, visual accessories that are frequently added to illustrations, even though they do not feature in the text illustrated.

Geddes's illustration for 'John Anderson My Jo' focuses on a domestic scene and emphasises the happiness of the aged couple (Figure 4). Rather than establishing a contrast between youth and age, as the poem does, the engraving only implicitly addresses the passing of time in the form of the couple and the young girl (who does not feature in Burns's poem) looking on and witnessing their fondness for each other. The 'frosty pow' of the caption and the couple's touching of hands are expressive of both their advanced years but also of the duration of their affectionate commitment to one another. While the illustration promotes a view of the happiness of married life, the engraving illustrating 'Lammas Night' visualises a significantly younger couple of lovers. In the illustration the speaker meets his lover, Annie, 'Amang the rigs o' barley' and experiences a sense of happiness not exceeded even by the companionship of his friends and 'merry drinkin'. The sexual undertones of the speaker's statement that kissing her 'owre and owre again' and 'lock[ing] her in ... fond embrace', followed by the addition, 'Her heart was beating rarely', are neutralised by the illustration which does not depict the two lovers kissing but holding each other. The clandestine element of the lovers' meeting is counteracted by the design affording the reader a full view of the couple.

In a number of ways, Burnet's designs visualise those subjects that Sir Walter Scott (in his review of Cromek's Reliques) deplored. He was 'convinced that he [Burns] will never be rightly estimated as a poet, till that vulgar wonder be entirely repressed which was raised on his having been a ploughman.' (33) He regarded the 'vulgar', rustic and vernacular character of Burns's poetic practice as one of the poet's greatest flaws and regretted that Burns had not sought to elevate his poetry by being more delicate in the choice of his subject matter: 'instead of suing for a smile, or melting in a tear, his muse deals in nothing but locked embraces and midnight rencontres', (34) and it is the embrace of lovers which is indeed represented by Burnet. Scott disapproves of Burns's 'admiration of thoughtlessness, oddity, and vehement sensibility', (35) but these are the subjects that repeatedly find visual representation in illustrated editions of his poems, even though Stothard--avoiding any similarity with the illustrations in Morison's edition --is intent on retaining the delicacy for which his illustrations are known. Scott's Anglocentric critique of Burns is visually counteracted by Burnet who highlights the Scottish character of the poet's productions. According to Scott, Burns's 'forte was in humour and in pathos', and it is these qualities that are conceived of as quintessentially Scottish in the wide-ranging illustrations that accompanied the Morison edition. (36) Whereas Stothard largely eliminated the humorous from his illustrations, it is central to Burnet's series of designs.

The illustrations to Morison's edition of Burns are metacritical engagements with the ways in which critics such as Sir Walter Scott conceived of the Scottish imagological character that Burns engendered in his poems. They are home-grown products, produced by Scottish artists, engravers and printers for a presumably Scottish audience. The engraved designs visualised subjects in ways that would be avoided by artists from the south, and they were clearly linked with a cultural programme of instruction, familiarising (at least, ideally) a larger reading public than ever before with Burns's works. Not only did the illustrators defy the strictures of critics regarding subject matter, but they also largely left behind the heroic, painterly models fashionable in England at the time. Occasionally, elements of Dutch genre painting are introduced, but compared even to the Morisons' earlier illustrated works the illustrations to Burns are strikingly distinct and novel in their modes of representation.


That Morison's edition, its publishing contexts and its illustrations are central to understanding the construction of Burns's works as of national importance and as engendering a new representational mode for Scottish book illustration cannot be doubted. It is equally clear that the history of editions of the poet's productions issued in the first decade of the nineteenth century contributes to a better sense of how discussions regarding the subjects and ideologies of Burns's poetry were shaped. The edition involved an investment that would entail significant financial risk, and it is regrettable that no list of subscribers was appended to the edition, as this would have provided valuable information on the supporters of the venture. Despite the scanty evidence regarding the actual subscription venture and the publication of the different instalments, the edition represents the effort on the part of an enterprising bookseller with literary ambitions to enshrine one of the great national poets in the form of a high-prestige illustrated edition, emulating his family's efforts, in the 1780s and 1790s, to promote a canon of the Scottish poets.

Thomas Bonnell notes that 'the efforts of the Morisons [to establish a formal canon of Scottish literature] were forgotten by the 1820' because 'continuous reproduction is essential to keep any canon current'. (37) The frequent reprinting of works certainly contributes to an affective cultural presence of literary texts, but the reprinting of texts alone does not determine the formation of a literary canon. Rather, such a canon is being shaped by the pervasive textual presence of an author in collective cultural memory. Media of visual and print culture deriving from authors' texts popularised their reputations and, in late eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century Scotland, where historians of Scottish culture were intent on constructing a history of the literature of the country, the Morisons' editions were, in fact, not forgotten. In the Morisons' case, the illustrations included in many of their editions not only functioned as brand-defining devices of the bookselling firm but reinforced the presence in the visual culture of Scotland of texts that would be elevated to canonic status. The paratextual function of the illustrations included in Morison editions, coupled with other paratexts such as dissertations, annotations and lists of subscribers, resulted in a high cultural status of the firm's publications for which the Morisons would be remembered. They facilitated access to historically important texts such as their 'edition of [William] Wallace, with Notes and Elucidations by the Antiquarian Society of Perth, and J. Pinkerton'. (38) The title of the publication assigned cultural prestige to the volume; at the same time, through capitalising on the additional paratexts of 'Notes and Elucidations', it elevated their edition above others. The Morisons' statement in the advertisement for their subscription edition of William Wallace that the plates were engraved 'in the very best style' reflected their awareness of the need for excellence in the execution of the engravings. These plates testify to the pervasive force of visual paratexts which, in many ways, were mediated more straightforwardly than those of an entirely verbal nature.

James Morison's decision to issue an illustrated edition of Burns which, in terms of the number of illustrations included, went beyond any of the Morisons' own editions, sought to capitalise on the booksellers' high reputation as both publishers of high-quality illustrated editions of literature and promoters, as stated in the 'Dedication' to the 1793 edition of The Seasons, of cultural progress: 'For, we avow an honest ambition to contribute, as far as traders in our department of business can, to the advancement of Literature, and the progress of the Sister Fine Arts in our native Country.' Morison's edition of Burns's poems was ideologically connected with the patriotic series of The Scotish Poets but its illustrations distinguished it strikingly from the Morisons' earlier illustrated titles and later illustrated editions following Cadell and Davies's would not adopt the mode of illustration advanced by Morison's volumes. With the publication of Burns's poems, the firm had augmented their series of Scottish texts one final time to incorporate the most recent classic poet in a canon of Scottish poetry. Their patriotic project involving book illustrations had been completed.


(1) Gerard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 1.

(2) The Edinburgh Evening Courant announced the publication of the edition on the same day, whereas the Aberdeen journal advertised the volumes as 'This day is published' on 19 February 1812.

(3) The publication is dated 1811 on its title page but was, in fact, also published early in 1812.

(4) Donald A. Low ed., Robert Burns: The Critical Heritage (London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974), p. 3 5.

(5) The Scots Magazine, 1 March 1809; Nigel Tattersfield, Thomas Bewick: The Complete Illustrative Work, 3 vols. (London: The British Library and The Bibliographical Society, 2011), II, p. 548.

(6) John Glas was, from 1719 to 1730, a minister in the Church of Scotland. His professing views repudiating Presbyterianism, most prominently in his treatise, The Testimony of the King of Martyrs (1729), led to his being deposed in 1730. He held that the church should be governed by the order of the New Testament, rather than by ecclesiastical councils and synods. The Morisons' edition of Glas's Works was the second edition of this publication, the first having been printed (in four volumes) in Edinburgh in 1761 for Alexander Donaldson.

(7) The Edinburgh Annual Register, 2:2 (1811), p. 32;. The Eancaster Gazette featured a death notice on 4 March 1809, terming James Morison 'an eminent stationer, bookseller, author, and publisher, of Perth'. The Gentleman's Magazine, 79:1 (1809), pp. 379-81, featured an 'Account of the Life and Writings of Mr James Morison', but this account does not mention the significance of his publishing programme in belles lettres.

(8) The Eiterary Panorama for November 1806 (pp. 39-40; contained in The Eiterary Panorama, vol. 1 [London: C. Taylor, 1807]), included a list of Morison's catalogue for 1807.

(9) Bodleian Library call number: Dir. Scotl. f. 3.

(10) It is surprising that searches of the Perth and Perthshire Register and the Edinburgh Evening Courant for the years 1809 to 181 ihave not resulted in the identification of further subscription notices of the edition.

(11) 'Prospectus', p. 3.

(12) 'Prospectus', p. 4.

(13) 'Prospectus', p. 5.

(14) John Minto, 'A Notable Publishing House: The Morisons of Perth', The Library, new series, 1 (1899), p. 259. For some further detail on the publishing activities of the Morisons in the first decade of the nineteenth century, see R. H. Carnie, Publishing in Perth before 1807 (Perth: Abertay Historical Society Publication No. 6, 1960).

(15) For information on David Morison, see The Scottish Book Trade Index: Accessed on 11 August 2014. R. H. Carnie notes that 'David Morison was admitted freeman 31 December, 1813. His entry was by hereditary right'. See R. H. Carnie, 'Perth Booksellers and Bookbinders in the Records of the Wright Calling, 1538--1864', The Bibliotheck, 1:4 (1958), 34.

(16) Advertisement, Poems by Robert Burns, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: printed for the trustees of the late James Morison, 1811), I, p. i.

(17) Advertisement, Poems of Burns, I, p. iii.

(18) Dennis M. Read, R. H. Cromek, Engraver, Editor, and Entrepreneur (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011), p. 1 21.

(19) The publication was announced in the Morning Chronicle on 29 December 1808.

(20) See Sandro Jung, 'Thomas Stothard, Milton, and the Illustrative Vignette: The Houghton Library Designs for The Royal Engagement Pocket Atlas', Harvard Library Bulletin, forthcoming.

(21) Read, Cromek, p. 124. Given Cromek's correspondence with Cadell and Davies (NLS MSS 1654 and 165;) regarding his projected illustrated edition, it is possible that Cromek communicated his intention to produce a profusely illustrated edition of Burns's poem to correspondents in Scotland. Equally, it is possible that he issued a publishing prospectus in response to which James Morison formulated his.

(22) See Sandro Jung, '"A Scotch poetical library": James Thomson's The Seasons, the Morisons' "Select Scotish Poets" Series and the Construction of a Scottish Poetic Canon', journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society, 9 (2014), pp. 9-39. Also, Thomas F. Bonnell, The Most Disreputable Trade: Publishing the Classics of English Poetry, 176;-1810 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 330-332.

(23) These engravings were co-published by Cadell and Davies in London and by W. Creech in Edinburgh.

(24) (Edinburgh: printed by John Brown, for Bell & Bradfute, Edinburgh, W. Anderson, Stirling, and Thomas Hamilton, London, 1812). See also A. C. Coxhead, Thomas Stothard, R.A.: An Illustrated Monograph (London: A. H. Bullen, 1906), pp. 114-15.

(25) George Gleig, A Critique, p. iv.

(26) Hampshire Chronicle, 14 January 1797.

(27) Stewart and Meikle published The Poetical Miscellany in seven parts priced at 2d. each. For a brief discussion of these chapbook versions of Burns's poems, see G. Ross Roy, 'Robert Burns', Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland: Enlightenment and Expansion, 1707-1800, ed. Stephen Brown and Warren McDougall (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011), p. 581.

(28) This copyright case was widely publicised, see the Gentleman's Magazine, 82 (1812), p. 283, for an account of the proceedings.

(29) Tattersfield, II, p. 547.

(30) Unlike the illustrations of Burns that were published by Catnach and Davison, Stothard first furnished designs for copper-engraved plates, and it was only for the second edition for which Luke Clennell furnished the wood-engravings, that the new engraving medium was used.

(31) Select Scotish songs carefully compared with the original editions and embellished with characteristic designs composed and engraved by the late David Allan (Edinburgh: printed and sold by Andrew Foulis, 1799) included a range of vignettes designed by Allan. The frontispiece vignette was designed by William Weir who also designed numerous illustrations for literary editions issued by the Morisons in the 1790s.

(32) Robert Burns, Complete Poems and Songs, ed. by James Kinsley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971). All quotations are taken from this edition.

(33) Sir Walter Scott, 'Review of Cromek's Reliques', Edinburgh Review, 13 (1809), p. 249.

(34) Scott, pp. 252-53.

(35) Scott, p. 253.

(36) Scott, p. 255.

(37) Bonnell, p. 332.

(38) Caledonian Mercury, 21 June 1790.

(39) James Thomson, The Seasons. A New Edition. Adorned with a set of engravings (Perth: printed for R. Morison and Son, 1793), p. 6.

University of Ghent

Caption: FIG. 1. J. Burnet, 'Tam O'Shanter', engraved by T. Clerk, Poems by Robert Burns, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: printed for the trustees of the late James Morison, 1811), vol. II. Reproduced from a copy in the author's possession.

Caption: FIG. 2. J. Burnet, 'Halloween', Poems by Robert Burns, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: printed for the trustees of the late James Morison, 1811), vol. II. Reproduced from a copy in the author's possession.

Caption: FIG. 3. T. Stothard, 'Illustration of Tam O'Shanter', engraved by R. Cromek, The Works of Robert Burns, 2 vols. (London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1820), vol. II. Reproduced from a copy in the author's possession.

Caption: Fig. 4. A. Geddes, 'John Anderson My Jo', engraved by T. Clerk, Poems by Kobert Burns, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: printed for the trustees of the late James Morison, 1811), vol. II. Reproduced from a copy in the author's possession.


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Author:Jung, Sandro
Publication:Scottish Literary Review
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2014
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