Rosebery Collection

By Dr. Brian Hillyard, Emeritus Rare Books Collection Manager, National Library of Scotland

In addition to the deposited Crawford ballads, the National Library of Scotland holds some ballads of its own of which the largest collection is that in Ry.III.a.10. This is a bound volume of ballads that was included in the selection of Scottish books from Barnbougle Castle presented to the newly established National Library of Scotland (1925) in 1927 by the 5th Earl of Rosebery. Lord Rosebery (1847–1929), more widely known perhaps for his political career beginning with William Gladstone’s Midlothian Campaign and culminating in his holding office as Prime Minister 1894–1895, was also ‘one of the most prolific collectors of his age’ (Leo McKinstry, Rosebery: Statesman in Turmoil [London, 2005], p. 181). He collected historical artifacts, paintings and books, which were distributed around his various homes: Dalmeny House near Edinburgh and the nearby Barnbougle Castle (restored from ruins to hold his Scottish collections), Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire (the house of his wife Hannah de Rothschild, who died tragically young in 1890), The Durdans near Epsom in Surrey, and 38 Berkeley Square in London. Rosebery began buying rare books while he was a schoolboy at Eton and continued throughout his life; the sales of the late 1870s and the 1880s (e.g. Beckford, Hamilton Palace, Laing, Maidment, Wodhull, Cheney, Gibson Craig) were particularly productive for him. In general, see Brian Hillyard, ‘Rosebery as Book Collector’, The Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society, 7 (2012), pp. 71-114.

Rosebery Ballads as Scottish
The volume Ry.III.a.10 is described in the Catalogue of the Early & Rare Books of Scottish Interest in the Library at Barnbougle Castle [compiled by George P. Johnston] (Edinburgh: Printed for private use, 1923), p. 24:

Old Scotch Ballads, Broadsides, etc., 1678–1730. A Collection (so lettered) of 133 pieces. Fo. Inserted is an elaborate and beautifully written list of contents by the late Mr William Macmath, for long recognised as the best authority on Scottish Ballad Literature. The Scottish pieces are entered separately in the Catalogue. The collection is referred to in Professor Child’s English and Scottish Ballads. 1882–98. Vol. iv. Bound in olive green morocco extra.

William Macmath (1844–1922) was an important correspondent of F.J. Child and provided him with transcripts of ballads in Scottish collections, including Rosebery’s.

Rosebery Binding
The binding (the binder’s ticket is that of J. Mackenzie, a Glasgow binder) is typical of those that Rosebery commissioned for his rare books and so may date from after his acquisition of this volume. Unusually no details are given on the front paste-down of the source of this volume (his standard practice was to paste in the seller’s catalogue entry) and it is possible that it was Rosebery who first bound these ballads into a volume. Whatever the case, the ballads in this volume are said to have been originally gathered together by the Edinburgh antiquary David Laing: see Mary Ellen Brown, ‘Child’s Ballads and the Broadside Conundrum’, in Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500–1800, ed. Patricia Fumerton & Anita Guerrini (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), p. 67.

Other Rosebery Ballad and Broadside Collections
Rosebery collected in large quantities just about anything Scottish or relating to Scotland, regardless of format or genre. This makes it difficult to comment on the extent of his interest in ballads, but suffice it to say that the 1923 Barnbougle Catalogue documents several other volumes containing ballads: ‘Broadsides (Scottish Poetical), 1660–1785’, ‘Broadsides (Scottish), 1685–1740’, ‘Last Speeches, etc., 1688–1730’, ‘Broadside Ballads, etc., 18th and 19th Century. A Collection of 52 broadside Ballads, etc., mounted in a folio volume’, and ‘Ballads, Songs, etc. A Collection of over one Thousand Broadsides, leaflets, cuttings from periodicals, etc. of the 18th and early part of the 19th Centuries. in 5 vols. Fo’, not to mention 19th-century editions such as Child’s.