Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, August 8, 2014


The Devil in Scotland:  Being Four Great Scottish Stories of Diablerie edited by Douglas Percy Bliss (1934)

To my knowledge this book has never been reprinted after the original London edition from Alexander Maclehouse.  A shame, because this is a lovely book.

The four stories reprinted here are all familiar and are available online from several sites:

  • "Tam O' Shanter" by Robert Burns
  • "Wandering Willie's Tale" by Sir Walter Scott
  • "Thrawn Janet" by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • "The Tale of Tod Lapraik" by Robert Louis Stevenson 
If you have never read any of these. I'd recommend that you do so -- they're all classics in the field.

So why would I recommend a book in which all the stories are commonly available?  Because the 35-page introduction, "The Devil and His Folk in Scottish Life and Literature" by the editor, is worth the price of admission alone.  Add to that the 39 original woodcuts by the editor an you have a book worth savoring.

The copy I read came from the Wellesley College library.  Someone had cut out a long book review from a British newspaper (sorry, no indication which newspaper) and inserted within the pages.

Here's the last  paragraph of the review:

"It was a happy inspiration to produce the four tales together in one book with, perhaps for the first time, illustrations in a concatenation according, and not the familiar 'tidy grey engraving.' with the tucks of the cutty sark let decently down.  These are, as they almost have to be, in woodcut, thirty-nine of them, by Mr. Douglas Percy Bliss, who has also prefaced the tales with a lively and learned essay on the Devil and his folks in Scots life and letters.  The engravings fit superbly with the text; their temper varies from the roaring joy of Tam at the glorious stage, the yelling leap of the witches through the rain, to the still and terror-stricken candle-light of Hutcheon and Dougal hearing the dead laird's whistle; and their decorative pattern is perfectly matched by the magnificent Plantin type, that on fine parchment paper exactly keeps the tone with the strong black and white of the woodcuts:  it has the force and colour of black-letter and the bold clearness of a Roman inscription.  The delicious jacket* of bogles is impishly worthy, and even the smoke-grey and fire-red of the boards have a shrewd diablerie in the curves of their marbling.  The book, in fact, is a collector's piece, in everything but the surprising price**. No man who prides himself on a palate for port is likely to leave it on the bookseller's counter."

In short, a glorious book.

*Alas, the jacket was not available on the copy I read.
**8s. 6d.  I have no idea what that would translate to in 2014 prices.

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