Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect. Kilmarnock: John Wilson, 1786. First edition, 8vo, 204 x 117mm., late nineteenth century green morocco gilt by F. Bedford, spine gilt, gilt edges
Note: The single most famous volume in Scotland's impressive literary heritage is without question the first edition of Robert Burns's Poems chiefly in the Scottish dialect. It almost never saw the light of day. Burns's farming activities at Mossgiel farm were not profitable and although he wished to marry Jean Armour, who was pregnant by him, the marriage was opposed by her father, so Burns made plans to emigrate. It was only the suggestion by a local lawyer, Gavin Hamilton, that he could finance his voyage to Jamaica by publishing some of his poems, that led to him approaching a nearby printer, John Wilson, in Kilmarnock.
On 31 July 1786 John Wilson, published the volume of poetry by Burns under the unassuming title Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish dialect. It sold for three shillings and the entire print-run of 612 copies sold out within a month, justifying Burns's belief in his abilities and in the merit of his poems. The volume contained much of his best writing, including The Twa Dogs; Address to the Deil; Halloween; The Cotter's Saturday Night; To a Mouse; Epitaph for James Smith and To a Mountain Daisy, many of which had been written at Mossgiel farm. The success of the work was immediate.
Hugely rare, this slim volume has now become a high spot in the world of books, listed in the The Grolier Club's "One hundred books famous in English literature". An informal census by Allan Young of Florida lists 74 surviving copies of which 32 are in universities, 22 in libraries, 8 in museums and a mere 12 in private hands. Egerer 1
Provenance: Roderick Terry, noted American bibliophile, armorial bookplate.
Sold for £40,250 (buyer's premium included)