MINSTRELSY OF THE SCOTTISH BORDER.
(Edinburgh: Printed by J. Ballantyne and Co., 1810). 241 x 146 mm. (9 1/2 x 5 3/4"). Three volumes. Fourth Edition, Second (Large Paper) Impression.
Pleasing contemporary black straight-grain morocco, covers with gilt floral frame enclosing central panel with blind-stamped thistle cornerpieces, raised bands, spines heavily gilt in compartments with much swirling foliage, gilt turn-ins, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Volume I WITH AN ATTRACTIVE FORE-EDGE PAINTING OF THE MERCAT CROSS IN MELROSE, ROXBURGHSHIRE. Front pastedown of volumes II and III with engraved bookplate of W. J. Denison (see below); volume I with evidence of bookplate removal; copy of an engraving of Boston Church, Lancashire, laid in at rear of volume II. Todd & Bowden 8Ag. ◆Joints and extremities a bit worn, boards with a number of abrasions (well masked with dye), minor foxing here and there in the text, nine gatherings with faint overall browning due to poor quality of paper, but still an excellent set, the leaves clean, the once quite dazzling bindings still sound and very pleasing on the shelf, and the fore-edge painting well preserved.
Apart from the fore-edge painting here, this is an important work in the Scott canon, offered in pretty contemporary bindings that once belonged to a person of great wealth and influence. Scott collected traditional ballads on his trips to the Borders region, and in 1796 began compiling this work, in an effort to preserve folklore of his native land that might otherwise be lost. Our fourth edition contains 27 historical ballads, 52 romantic ballads, and 20 imitations written by Scott and his friends. According to Day, "The whole bent of Scott's later imaginative writings, both in verse and prose, was governed by this ballad spirit. Probably this work was Scott's greatest contribution to poetry." The handsome fore-edge painting depicts in a realistic style the mercat cross marking the central marketplace in Melrose, a town in the Scottish Borders near Scott's home at Abbotsford. A 12th century law required that all goods for sale be presented at a town's mercat (market) cross, a tall column usually topped with a small statue. Such is the cross at the center of our painting, which is rendered in subdued grays and browns. Two streets lined with thatched houses and shops wend away from the central marketplace, and a large gray-green mountain looms in the background. A small Scottish terrier trots across the center of the scene; a couple of merchants chat beside the cross; a woman and small boy head up one of the streets, while an old man with a cane walks up the other. It is a tranquil scene, but enlivened by the townsfolk and the cheerful little Scottie. It is unusual for only one volume in a set to be so decorated; something must have interrupted the artist before he could complete the commission. Perhaps the print laid in volume II was intended to be an inspiration for its fore-edge decoration. Former owner W. J. Denison (1770-1849) was a banker and politician who was one of the richest men in Britain; he left an estate valued at £2.3 million. A staunch Whig member of parliament for 38 years, he was a strong advocate for parliamentary reform and was one of the founders of the Reform Club. He acquired vast estates in Yorkshire and Surrey, but declined a peerage when it was offered in 1820. (ST17640cc)