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Robert Burns Lives!
Reading Burns in Installments: the Hidden History of Part-Publication by Patrick Scott

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Greater Atlanta, GA, USA

My good friend Patrick Scott, retired professor at the University of South Carolina, has a way of writing articles that show up like gifts under a Christmas tree, but there is one huge difference - his gifts show up more than once a year! Such is the case with this article on the Bard that will bring you joy and tickle your heart. I could write much more on Patrick, his adventures and publications, but all I need do is refer you to the many articles in the Robert Burns Lives! index he has posted over the years. Take your pick of them or read them all and you will be a better person for learning about this amazing husband, father, grandfather, scholar, teacher, professor, author, and noted speaker, the many shoes he has filled over his career. You are a lucky person indeed if he is listed among your friends. Enjoy this article and know there will be others from this gifted and talented writer in the future. (FRS: 7.10.20)

Reading Burns in Installments: the Hidden History of Part-Publication
By Patrick Scott

About a year ago now, an old friend, a very knowledgeable antiquarian bookseller, emailed me about a rare Burns item:

I attach a description of a set of the works of Robert Burns, issued in 17 parts or fascicles. Although I have probably seen more sets of Burns’s works than I have had hot dinners, I have never encountered a set issued in parts. Nor could I find a bound set made up from these parts. Egerer’s bibliography of Burns has remained reasonably reliable over the years, but this also seems to have been a copy or set that he missed.

The dealer had done his due diligence: this particular set (which he identified as the “People’s Edition,” published by Virtue of London, ca. 1910) is indeed unrecorded elsewhere. Because standard library cataloguing relies on title-page information, total page numbers, and size, the major online catalogues do not usually tell you which libraries might have a Burns edition issued in parts rather than as a bound volume. And, with only a few exceptions, J. W. Egerer’s standard Burns bibliography does not usually record if an edition was ever issued in separate parts.

While it is by no means implausible that a dealer at the upper end of the book market had never encountered Burns-in-parts, this publication pattern was quite widely adopted throughout the nineteenth century. The most famous example is the novels of Charles Dickens, beginning with Pickwick Papers (1836-1837). Partly because of other Burns projects, discussed below, I’d recently come across two other sets of Burns-in-parts, and the email made me look for more.

Publication in parts broadened the market, by allowing people with modest disposable income to buy expensive editions installment by installment, spreading the cost over a period of up to two years. Even white-collar workers in the late Victorian period might earn only five or six pounds a month (a hundred shillings, “thirty bob a week”). A book that might cost perhaps thirty shillings, or even two pounds, in complete form, was much more affordable when purchased part by part, month by month, maybe in 8 thick parts at five shillings each, or in fifteen parts at two shillings, or maybe in 25 magazine-like parts for one shilling a month.

The problem for collectors is that, once a purchaser had completed the set, the parts would normally be bound up in book form. Separate parts in paper covers are easily damaged, and libraries either sent the parts for binding, when the covers themselves would usually be discarded, or eventually had to discard the parts themselves. If a set was incomplete, or some issues got damaged, the likelihood of the remaining parts being preserved is very low—individual parts, like old magazines, tend to be kept for a while, and then thrown out. If the odd wrappered part got saved as a curiosity or collectible, you are more likely to find it now in a junk shop or on eBay than in an antiquarian bookstore, and such separate parts are easy to cannibalize, because the illustrations can be framed or sold separately. Very few complete sets of Burns-in-parts seem to survive, or at least very few seem to be recorded in libraries. This brief survey, based on material in the Roy Collection, is intended to give a general overview, but it will inevitably be selective and incomplete. There must, however, be individual parts, or even complete sets, lurking unregarded in the personal collections of some longtime Burnsians and Burns collectors, and if so, I’d be pleased to hear from them.

Publishing in parts did not originate with the Victorians. It was used in the 18th century for expensive illustrated works, like Francis Grose’s Antiquities of Scotland. Bill Dawson pointed out a few years ago that the first publication of Burns’s “Tam o’ Shanter,” in 1791, in Grose’s second volume, had always been misdated. Burns scholars had been using the date when Grose’s completed volume was advertised, in April 1791, citing the poem as first published in March in an Edinburgh newspaper, but the part of the Antiquities with “Tam o’ Shanter” had appeared at least two months earlier, perhaps more (Dawson).

Booksellers also used part-publication at the other end of the market. The earliest part-issue of Burns in the Roy Collection is a little duodecimo printed in Paisley by J. Neilson, in 1801-1802. Ross Roy liked to recount how he bought it in the Gorbals many years ago for thirty shillings (i.e. £1.50: Roy and Scott, 2010). Each of the 36-page sections or gatherings of the book has been put into its own plain paper wrapper, and when the buyer stitched them roughly together in two volumes, he left these temporary wrappers intact. There are no separate title-pages for the parts: each part ends or takes up abruptly wherever the page ends, even in the middle of a poem. Without external evidence, it’s impossible to prove this edition was sold in separate parts, but there seems no other explanation for the separate paper wrappers (cf. Sudduth, p. 43).

This was not a unique example. Egerer notes an edition published in Newcastle in 1818 as being issued in parts, and that four parts, from at least twenty-six, survive in the Mitchell Library collection (Egerer, 209, p. 134, though the part issue is not noted in Fisher, p. 65). The bound volume of this edition in the Roy Collection, like the one Egerer describes in the Carnegie Library, Ayr, had been bound up from the separate parts, with the stab holes still visible in the inner margins (as described further below).

Part-issue not only spread the cost for the buyer, but also spread out the work for the printer, and spread out the investment for the publisher, who could begin to recoup what he had spent on the early numbers of a book before the bills came in on the later sections. From the 1830s on, when new editions of Burns often involved well-known editors, it also spread out the deadlines for the editorial work as well. All three of the major editions from the 1830s came out in parts or series, rather than being published in one fell swoop. Allan Cunningham’s edition was planned as a series of six volumes, one a month from January to June 1834, each of about 300 pages, with two illustrations, at 5 shillings a volume (Egerer, pp. 169-172). In the event, Cunningham had extra material, and needed eight volumes, with vol. VII appearing in October, and vol. VIII in December. The same engravings, by D.O.Hill and others, were also published separately, in three parts, on much larger pages, at 15 shillings for the set, or in a limited special edition of 25 copies only, on India paper at 22s. 6d. (advertisement in The Examiner, April 12, 1835).

D. O. Hill, Landscape Illustrations to Allan Cunningham’s edition (London, in parts, 1834-1835)
Cover for part 1 (left); “The Braes of Ballochmyle,” with the same image from Cunningham, vol. II (right)

James Hogg’s edition had been planned earlier, in 1831-32, but languished till Cunningham’s rival edition was announced, when it was rushed to press. While the volumes were similar in format to Cunningham (both were small octavos), the Hogg edition was first issued in paper-covered parts, each of 144 pages, with an engraved illustration. When it was announced, in January 1834, it was to be edited by Hogg alone, and to consist of twelve parts, at 2 shillings apiece, which would then also be available as five volumes, at 5 shillings each. The first part came out in March (and was reviewed in The Scotsman on March 26), but sharp criticism in the London papers led the publisher, Archibald Fullarton, to bring in William Motherwell as coeditor, and it is now generally cited as “Hogg-Motherwell.” Publication thereafter was irregular, with the final sections, parts 11-13, including Hogg’s Memoir of Burns, not published till 1836 (Egerer, pp. 167-168). By then, both Hogg and Motherwell were dead. There is a set of the original parts in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow, which shows that the critical attack on the first number led to a ‘cancel’ or substitute page before the edition was published in volume form (Fisher, p. 27): in part 1 of the original issue (vol. 1, p. 125), Hogg’s note about the subject of “The Lament occasioned by the Unfortunate issue of a Friend's Amour,” which commented on Alexander Cunningham being jilted by his “darling sweetheart” (“she acted a wise part. H.”) had to be withdrawn, and a new note by Motherwell, linking the poem instead to Jean Armour, was substituted.

When bound, the Cunningham and Hogg-Motherwell editions look very similar, and they were competing for the same elegant, middle-class market, but buying the Hogg-Motherwell edition required much less disposable income. A full set of Cunningham would have cost forty shillings or two pounds, and to keep up with the new volumes required the ability to spend five shillings each month for six months, but a full set of Hogg-Motherwell could be had for two thirds of the price, and the part issue meant that purchasers need only fork over two shillings at a time—manageable for many more people. For comparison, the four volumes of the Currie edition (1800) had cost thirty-one shillings and sixpence, and the three-volume Pickering (Aldine) edition (1839), with just the poems, not the letters, cost fifteen shillings.

Most discussion of part publication stresses the importance for readers of simultaneity, where publication of each part was a communal news event, and a whole cohort of readers were all reading the same stage of a serial publication at the same time, rather like people all watching the same first-run television series. It was this simultaneity that gave Dickens’s novels their enormous impact in early Victorian culture; everyone had read the same stage of the story the same month, and no one knew quite what would happen next. The part publication of Burns could involve something of this (as for instance when a publisher advertised that a new discovery would feature in the next number or when critics responded to specific numbers of a work during publication), but because most of the material in any Burns edition was already well known, the sense of each installment as a special event or revelation played much less of a role than in the serial publication of a novel. In fact, another publishing development, stereotyping or the making of reusable casts or plates of the typesetting, meant that both the Cunningham and Hogg-Motherwell editions went on being reprinted again and again, without revision, for many years after the original publication sequence was over. While the Cunningham edition was soon also reformatted to make a one-volume edition, and also soon pirated by other publishers (with each resetting and pirating introducing some additions and revisions), the Hogg-Motherwell edition was reprinted multiple times in its original small quarto format from the same stereotype plates: Egerer records reprints in 1835, 1836-41, 1838, 1840, 1848, and 1852. At least twice, the edition was also reissued in parts: the Roy Collection has part-issues, dated by the advertisements on the back covers, from the 1850s and amazingly the 1880s. Though they lacked the illustrations, these reissues were even cheaper than the original: you could get the reprinted part-issue in fifteen 120-page parts (each of 120 pages), at a shilling a part, or in 30 60-page parts at sixpence a part.

The later sixpenny and one shilling variant reprints in the original format:
The Ettrick Shepherd and William Motherwell, The Works of Burns (Glasgow, in parts, 1834-1836)

The third of the major Burns editions from the 1830s was also published in several segments, if not formally in part issue. This was Robert Chambers’s first version of what became, through two later reworkings, the great Chambers-Wallace edition. As Chambers and his brother William first published it, however, it consisted of three works: Poetical Works, 1838; Life, 1838—an expansion of Currie; and Prose Works, 1839—incorporating a lot of Cromek. The parts were advertised as each being “complete in itself,” but they were part of a series that W. and R. Chambers were publishing, first called “The Standard Library,” but soon retitled “The People’s Edition.” The Chambers brothers touted it as “The Cheapest Series of Publications Ever Issued from the Press,” tall pamphlets on cheap paper, with double-columns of cheap print. Other authors included Walter Scott (out of copyright poetry only), Allan Ramsay, Francis Bacon, and William Paley, and prices ranged from six pence up to two shillings, depending on the length of the specific volume. The three parts could be bought for 2 shillings, 1 s. 2 d., and 1 s. 10d, respectively, which meant the complete Chambers Burns was only 5 shillings, an eighth the price of Cunningham (advertisement in Caledonian Mercury, January 1, 1839).

Even in the early Victorian period, part-publication was still being used to market more expensive large-format illustrated books. Full page engravings or lithographs could not be printed in the same operation as typeset material, and in some Victorian illustrated editions, the illustrations take priority over the text. Sometimes, as the Cunningham edition indicates, purchasers even wanted the illustrations by themselves separate from the text. A good example of illustrations taking priority is the two-volume collection, The Land of Burns, which also had engravings by David Octavius Hill, along with text credited to Prof. John Wilson (“Christopher North” of Blackwood’s Magazine), who wrote the introductory essay, and by the ubiquitous Robert Chambers, moonlighting for a publishing rival, Blackie and Son of Glasgow, who provided descriptions of the landscape scenes and portraits. Wilson dragged his feet, and Chambers’s text, and the illustrations, were nearly finished and ready for publication before Wilson was shamed into starting (Blackie, p. 39). The work was published both in a large-paper version (40 cms in height), and in a still-impressive regular issue (27 cms.). Though the title page, and so most library catalogues, record the publication date as 1840, it was actually published over a three year period between November 1837 and November 1840, in 23 parts, at 2 shillings a part (Blackie, pp. 35, 114; cf. Egerer, p. 185). The Roy Collection does not have any of the wrappered parts, but one of the bound sets contains the giveaway sign previously mentioned that it has been bound up from the part-issue: about a quarter-inch in from the spine on each page is a line of several small pin-holes, indicating that before the sections were stitched through the spine to form the book, they had been “stabbed,” or stitched, through the pages, for part-publication (cf. Dawson, p. 109). The old thread had been removed in the rebinding, but the stab-holes remained. The same publisher recycled many of the Hill illustrations again for a new edition of Burns’s Works, again prefaced by Wilson’s essay (Egerer 450, p. 191). This too was first issued in two shilling parts (this time 21 parts, 1842: Blackie, p. 115), before being issued in two volumes (1843, 1844). For this edition alone Egerer lists eighteen reprintings. Blackie notes that it was reissued in 1853 as 25 one-shilling parts, plus 8 additional parts with the illustrations (Blackie, p. 117).

It should, by now, be no surprise to find that Robert Chambers’s next Burns project, expanding and rearranging his edition of 1838-39 as a four-volume edition, The Life and Works of Robert Burns (1851-1852), was also first issued as separate parts, in blue printed paper wrappers, at 2s. 6d. each (cf. Egerer 540, p. 205). This was a price, and included in a series (“Chambers’ Instructive and Entertaining Library. A Series of Books for the People”), that would have justified simply reusing earlier content, but Chambers had added quite a lot of further material, both poems and letters. Chambers himself would revise it one more time, as “the Library Edition,” again in four volumes, at 5 shillings each (1856-1857: Gibson, p. 69; Egerer 594, pp. 216-217), adding a little new material; this is the edition usually being cited as “Chambers” by Victorian Burnsians before William Wallace overhauled it yet again for the 1896 centenary.

But the editions described so far all pale in comparison with the two great part-issues of Burns from the 1860s and 1870s. Both edited by clergyman, the Rev. Dr. Peter Hately Waddell of Glasgow and the Rev. Dr. George Gilfillan of Dundee, these were great big books that in volume form had colorful heavily-gilt-stamped cloth bindings much like Victorian family bibles. The involvement of ministers, even eccentric ministers, and the respectable appearance of the series is significant in a period when the unco guid were still often suspicious of Burns and the Burns movement (cf. Whatley, pp. 87-92). Waddell’s edition even used the same technology for illustrations, chromolithography and steel engraving, that was often used for illustrated bibles, and in turn publishers like Cassells were issuing family bibles in parts, so as to expand the market by increasing their affordability. Waddell’s edition is always dated from the title-page as 1867 (cf. Egerer 701, pp. 234-235), but in fact it was issued in large-format (magazine style) parts, in vivid orange paper covers, over a period of 25 months (April 1867-April 1869).

Cover of Part III of Waddell’s Life and Works, Canadian issue (Montreal, [?1867])

Each 32-page part cost one shilling (more for part 25, which was double the normal length), and each had a full-page illustration, initially chromolithographs but later less garish steel engravings. The parts did not consist of consecutive pages, but each month offered groups of pages from different parts of the work. It is also clear that, while the text itself was very carefully prepared, Waddell improvised and added to his original plan, in the 110 page appendix, as correspondents wrote in with new biographical material and anecdotes (cf. Scott, “The mysterious W.R.”). Robert Betteridge and I have recently been disentangling this complicated story, which is too complex to discuss fully here (but see Scott and Betteridge, forthcoming). Waddell’s edition was widely advertised and enormously successful, with a reported print-run of 20,000 copies a month. Moreover, almost as soon as the part-issue was completed, the publisher not only started selling the work in volume format, but started a second two-year cycle of part-publication (1870-1872), this time with 26 parts and with the pages in straightforward sequence. Earlier this year, I chanced on a single issue from a hitherto-unrecorded Canadian part-issue of the Waddell edition. Yet, as far as we can tell, of what must have been hundreds of thousands of individual Waddell parts, only one set is now recorded as surviving in original condition, in the National Library of Scotland. The Roy Collection set, for instance, has been rebound, but with the wrappers preserved, bound in at the back of the volume. Both the NLS and Roy Collection copies also have a number of inserts or advertising flyers drawing attention to special discoveries in that month’s number.

Advertising insert from Waddell’s Life and Works, Part XXIII (February 1869)

The Gilfillan edition, the National Burns, used a very similar format and marketing model to Waddell, but a much more straightforward arrangement, and no signs of last-minute improvisation. The publisher, William Mackenzie of Glasgow, had already issued one edition of The Complete Works of Burns in 1870-1871, in 17 parts, each of 32 pages with two engravings, at one shilling a part; for that edition, the size and format was almost exactly the format that Dickens had made famous for publishing his novels. Surprisingly, Mackenzie’s 1870-71 edition does not seem to be listed by Gibson or Egerer (but cf. Sudduth, p. 126). To retain subscribers during the year and a half of publication, Mackenzie had developed a shrewd marketing gimmick, promising that the last seven parts would each have a small ticket printed on the back cover, and that subscribers who mailed in the seven tickets would “receive for framing a Copy of the Magnificent Portrait of Burns, after … Nasmyth,” which would be mailed “carefully packed on a roller,” for which they had to pay another sixpence. At least some purchasers took the bait, for the set in the Roy Collection has these tickets duly snipped out.


The editor, too, had been involved with a earlier Burns project. The Rev. Dr. George Gilfillan (1813-1878), a Free Kirk minister and well-known literary critic, had edited Burns in 1856 for a different publisher. For this new project, he completed a new full-scale life, though he died before the edition began to appear.  The Gilfillan/Mackenzie National Burns gets only the briefest of entries in Egerer, and Gibson in 1881 actually provided fuller information (Egerer, 799, p. 255; Gibson, p. 97).  In book form, the title-pages of the two volumes were dated 1879 and 1880, but it was issued first in fifteen parts, at two shillings a part, and also in quarterly divisions at ten shillings and sixpence. It was fully illustrated, with portraits of Burns and Jean Armour (and Gilfillan himself), engravings of Burns’s homes, illustrations to the poems (mostly engravings in the text, rather than printed separately), music or at least the airs to the songs, a facsimile of Burns’s handwriting, and a picture of the Burns Monument at Alloway. 

Wrappered parts from George Gilfillan’s The National Burns (1879-1880)

Given the number of competing editions then available, the challenge for Mackenzie was not just to publish, but to market and sell, his new collected Burns. Once again, subscribers who stayed the course were entitled to a “Life-Size Portrait of BURNS,” this time after the drawing by Skirving. The Roy Collection has a related item that casts light on his marketing efforts. This was a specimen or “salesman’s dummy” that contained samples of a part-issue cover, and sample pages, together with a sample of the gilt-stamped cover for the edition in volume form. Such samples, much lighter to carry than the books themselves, were often used by publishers’ sales representatives when visiting bookshops in other towns or cities, but they were also convenient for agents going door-to-door trying to sign up subscribers.

Salesman’s dummy for Gilfillan’s National Burns, showing wrappers for the part issue and gilt-stamped cloth for the volume binding.

A few years ago, Bill Dawson gave the Roy Collection a rather similar salesman’s dummy for the Henley-Henderson Centenary Burns. However, this was put together only after the edition had been completed. It includes extracts from reviews as well as sample contents and binding, but it does not offer the option of subscribing to a part-issue.

The last major new Burns edition to be issued in parts seems to have been William Wallace’s full-scale revision of the earlier Chambers edition, which was published in book form in four volumes in 1896, with several subsequent reprintings. I was in fact surprised to find that Chambers-Wallace, unlike its chief late Victorian rivals, the Scott Douglas and Henley-Henderson editions, was available in 22 blue-wrappered parts, each of 96 pages, published at two weekly intervals, at a cost of one shilling a part. This differs from earlier examples of part-issue, in that the parts were not released in advance of publication in book form; they are a straight printing from the same sterotype plates as the volumes, though with narrower page margins. Because the editing and typesetting was all complete before part 1 hit the bookstalls, not still a work-in-progress, it could be issued with a part every two weeks, rather than monthly or at irregular intervals. It is worth noting that the title-page for the first volume occurs at the beginning of part 1, rather than the title-pages and prelims coming at the end of the final number, just in time for rebinding, as was more usual for part publication. Moreover, while the book form was available in a special limited large-paper version, the part-issue was clearly a much more humdrum production, so much so that it goes unmentioned in Egerer (cf. Egerer 893, p. 271 ff.). It did, however, include the same illustrations as the more formal version.

The Chambers-Wallace Life and Works of Robert Burns (1896), in parts

The Chambers-Wallace part-issue also, however, highlights the way serial publication might increase the pleasure of reading a new Burns edition, by its format, not just through commentary or illustrations. By the 1890s, the sheer amount of material by and about Burns that was available to editors had grown inexorably. Sitting down to read one’s way through the four fat volumes of Chambers-Wallace, with the six volumes of Scott Douglas already looming on the shelves, and a dim consciousness that Henley and Henderson’s small-print textual notes if studied closely contained much new information, would seem burdensome. The big late Victorian editions are imposing on the shelf, eloquent symbols both of a commitment to the Bard, and of one’s own income and respectability, but more Burnsians, then and now, will have bought them, maybe dipped into them and set them aside, or looked something up, than ever read them cover to cover to cover. By contrast, with its convenient 5 x 8 ¼ inch magazine-like format, one can imagine commuters snapping up each new slim installment from the station bookstall on publication day to read on their journey home, with the promise of more, but not too much more, to read over the weekend. At least in format, Chambers-Wallace in parts was competing, not with the illustrated family bibles of the 1860s, but with the latest Conan Doyle in the Strand magazine.

Part-publication, then, represents an important aspect of the nineteenth-century Burnsian experience. It is not surprising that an antiquarian bookdealer would not have encountered them. The set my longtime friend described in his email, a late example published just before the First World War, represents the staying power of this publishing mode well after its heyday. Though few libraries now preserve even sample parts, publication in that format was in fact widespread. I’d be happy to hear from any collectors fortunate enough to own further examples.

W. G. Blackie, Sketch of the Origin and Progress of the Firm of Blackie & Son, Publishers, Glasgow, from its Foundation in 1809 to the Decease of its Founder in 1874 ([Glasgow]: printed for private circulation, [1897]).
Bill Dawson, “The First Publication of Burns’s ‘Tam o’ Shanter’,” Studies in Scottish Literature, 40 (2014): 105-115: and in Burns Chronicle for 2016, 125 (November 2015), 15-25.
J. W. Egerer, A Bibliography of Robert Burns (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1964)
Joe Fisher et al., Catalogue of the Robert Burns Collection, The Mitchell Library, Glasgow (Glasgow: Glasgow City Libraries and Archives, 1996).
[J. Gibson], The Bibliography of Burns (Kilmarnock: James M’Kie, 1881).
G. Ross Roy, and Patrick Scott, “A Conversation with G. Ross Roy,” Burns Chronicle Homecoming 2009, ed. Peter J. Westwood (Dumfries: Burns Federation, 2010), 414-424.
Patrick Scott, “The Mysterious ‘W.R.’ in the First Commonplace Book,” Burns Chronicle for 2016, 125 (November 2015), 8-14.
__________ and Robert L. Betteridge, “The Part Issue of Hately Waddell’s Life and Works of Robert Burns,” forthcoming.
Elizabeth Sudduth, The G. Ross Roy Collection of Robert Burns, An Illustrated Catalogue (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2009).
Christopher Whatley, Immortal Memory: Burns and the Scottish People. (Edinburgh: John Donald, 2016).

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