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The Friends of The John Gray Centre enjoyed their annual outing which took place on Monday 15 June and proved to be an inspiring visit to the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh.

We have been offered an expertly talk on the extraordinary  John Gray books collection by Dr Anette Hagan, NLS Rare Books Curator. Around 900 volumes left by Gray in EARLY 18th century to the royal burgh of Haddington was a remarkable gift. The collection was expanded after his death by the Haddington Town Council and when it was deposited at the NLS in 1969 it comprised around 1500 volumes. In 1983 the deposit was converted into a gift and since then the NLS specialists have been looking after this major book collection.Gray Library 002 Gray Library 004







We had an opportunity to explore the progressive Tractatus theologico-politicus by Baruch Spinoza from 1674. The author, who was a controversial Dutch philosopher of Sephardi Portuguese origin, came to be considered one of the most radical of 17th-century philosophy.

We were amazed at Henry VIII’s 1521 book defending the seven sacraments, written in medieval Latin when Henry was 30 years old and still a staunch Catholic. His opponent, Martin Luther, who was known as ‘doctor in Bible’ published a selection of commentaries on the Gospel of Saint Luke in 1526 and the book, which is possibly the first edition, also ended up among John Gray’s treasures.

The beautiful Hebrew Bible from 1613 with the Latin text between the Hebrew lines, bound in vellum on wooden boards came as a surprise – we were encouraged to study it starting from the back, since Hebrew is written from right to left. James Fergusson’s ‘Astronomy Explained’ from 1772 with its astonishing, highly ornamental binding made a huge impression on us even though some of the illustrations are very fragile.

We loved ‘The History of Edinburgh’ based on William Maitland’s examination of the city’s archives – a big, sturdy book from 1753 with exquisite drawings in it. John Donne’s ‘Fifty sermons’ published after his death in 1631 were also great to see. We knew that his works are noted for their strong, sensual style and included sonnets, love poems, songs & satires but we didn’t realize he also left many written sermons, in this case divided into subjects such as marriage and christening sermons.

Our visit at the NLS included also a very enjoyable ‘behind the scenes tour’ of the NLS with Veronica Denholm, Access and Outreach Officer. We learnt about the complex book filing system, strict fire regulations and ingenious spray systems, temporary exhibition programme and ever expanding store space to accommodate the 6,000 items received by legal deposit each week!







We were so inspired Friends of the John Gray Centre are planning to welcome staff of the NLS at the JGC for more enlightening pleasures in due course!




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