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I See Dead People's Books


Notes on Sir Walter Scott's Library

A Catalogue of any eminent author's Library is likely to be prized by persons familiar with his writings. In the present case, undoubtedly, the nature and extent of the Collection throw light, in a remarkable manner, on the history of its founder. The reader has before him a faithful inventory of the materials with which the National Poet and Novelist had stored his mind before he began his public career; and also very striking indications, both of the zeal with which he watched the progress of literary enterprise down to the close of his life, and of the homage paid to his genius and celebrity by his contemporaries.
Scott's son-in-law and biographer, Lockhart, in the Advertisement of the Cochrane catalogue

Lockhart's comment suggests that there are three kinds of works in the catalogue:

  • books Scott read before he started to write (poetry: Lay of the last minstrel, 1804; novels: Waverley, 1814), especially historical and antiquarian works used as sources for his later fiction
  • novels and poems by contemporaries read for interest or to be reviewed
  • books presented to Scott in later life by their authors - usually marked "with MS letter from author to Sir W.S."

This analysis, broadly supported by what we actually see in the catalogue, encourages the traditional view of Scott as the ultimate batch-process novelist, who spent his first 45 years reading and his last fifteen years writing. This view is supported by the famous stories of novels dictated in the space of a fortnight from his sick bed (The bride of Lammermoor and Ivanhoe both came out of one attack of gallstones).

On the other hand, we should be aware that Scott wasn't just reading in his early years - he was also preparing new editions of old novels, memoirs, and poems, translating Goethe and Schiller, etc., etc. And even allowing for that, there are significant chunks of the catalogue that don't neatly fit into any of these categories. For example, there isn't any obvious explanation for Scott's very comprehensive collection of English plays of the 17th and 18th centuries, other than that he read them for his own pleasure.

A significant date to note in the catalogue, as far as new works are concerned, is 1826, when Scott got into financial difficulties. He avoided having to sell his library, but after that date there would have been little money for buying books.

Headings and shelf-marks

The tags used are derived directly from the shelf-marks in the Cochrane catalogue. Thus, for instance, principal k iii returns all the books on the third shelf of press "K" in the main library. This is interesting not so much in retrieving the books, but in giving you the chance to see which books Scott shelved together.

We have also added tags that correspond to the subject-headings in the catalogue. These should be treated with caution, as the headings in the printed catalogue are based on Cochrane's interpretation of Scott's shelving system, which was not entirely consistent in the first place. He seems to have worked by a vague association of period and context, but doesn't take much trouble to put works by the same author together.

We have had to abbreviate the headings further to make them usable as tags, so that some of the possibilities get lost. Thus, for instance, Cochrane's "French literature, chiefly historical; a few German and Italian books; and some English works on foreign history" has become the slightly misleading French literature etc. If in doubt, check the printed catalogue. [LT now supports longer tags -- the original truncated tags will be updated where possible to make them more meaningful.]

And don't forget that to Scott's generation modern covered everything from the fall of the Roman Empire onwards...

Long titles

Support for long titles was added to LT about halfway through the process of entering Scott's library. Where long titles have been truncated by LT, in most cases we have entered the full title in the Summary field.

Rebound works

A few of the "works" in the catalogue are evidently collections of tracts or books sold separately but rebound (by Scott or an earlier owner) into uniform sets. Where this is clear from the catalogue, the individual parts have been entered separately into LT. Collected works published as such have been entered as single works (Scott edited a number of these himself for Ballantynes). In many cases there is a listing of the contents in the catalogue.


We've included Cochrane's cross-references to Scott's works in the Comment field, though this isn't likely to be of practical use to many. If you are using them, it might be worth double-checking in a paper copy of the catalogue, as the small page numbers aren't always terribly clear in the Google scan we've been using.

Works added after Scott's death

There are a few books in the library that were evidently added by family members after his death, for example Lockhart's Memoir of the life of Sir Walter Scott and one or two editions of Scott's works. These are tagged posthumous.

Tips for contributors


The best results seem to come if you match the library to the place of publication:

  • For books published in Scotland or northern England (Newcastle, Berwick, etc.), try National Library of Scotland first, then Edinburgh and Glasgow universities.
  • For books published in London or southern England, try Oxford University and the British Library. Note that Oxford searches on individual words, so you are likely to get an overflow with titles that don't have any unusual words in them.
  • For books published in America, Library of Congress is the best bet.
  • Gemeinsamer Bibliotheksverbund (GBV) seems to give the best results for German or Scandinavian publications
  • For French publications, start with SUDOC
  • Yale and Cambridge (UK) universities sometimes seem to work for things that you can't find anywhere else.

Osbaldistone adds:

Sir Walter,

In case you were not aware, I thought you should know that the (nearly) complete catalogue listings created by the Advocates Library (Edinburgh) from the actual volumes on your shelves are now accessible via the internet. To get a list of all volumes entered in their database from your collection, go to their search page and search on the keywords 'Abbotsford' and 'Collection'. You can then click on any item in the resulting list and see the complete catalogue entry for that item. I believe this to be a significant addition to the catalogue made of your library back during your 'troubles'.

You can, of course, skip the complete catalogue results by searching on a specific item in your library using the appropriate simple or advanced search at this same link.

Advocates Library catalogue: [1]

Errors in Cochrane

Cochrane (or his printer) is not 100% reliable - there are quite a lot of small and large errors in the text. If you cannot find the work, check for variant spellings of the author's name, or incorrect publication dates. A search in the Advocates Library catalogue can often help to point you in the right direction when search terms derived from Cochrane are finding nothing. There is also the usual problem that many older works were published anonymously - sometimes the attributions in library catalogues don't match those in Cochrane, possibly because he got it wrong himself, possibly because modern scholarship has attributed the work differently from the way it was attributed in Cochrane's day.

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