University of Glasgow


Part of the Library and University Services

Please note that these pages are from our old (pre-2010) website; the presentation of these pages may now appear outdated and may not always comply with current accessibility guidelines.

Victorian Resources

An Introduction to Nineteenth Century Resources Available in Special Collections

Victorian Home | Art and Design | Social History | Politics and Government | Science and Natural History



The Victorian era is lauded for its literary output, having produced some of the greatest novelists and some of the greatest poets of all time.  The period was marked by significant social and economic change, which was reflected in the literature being produced: Tennyson expressed his personal struggle between religion and science in much of his poetry; Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, and the Bront sisters (amongst others) brought feminine literature to the forefront of Victorian thinking; whilst Dickens and Hardy portrayed vividly the changing face of society in Victorian Britain.  As well as all this, the rise of the British Empire saw foreign travel increase and this, coupled with the continuing exploration of the globe, inspired several generations to write about their experiences of life outside the British Isles.

Special Collections holds literature based material in almost all of its collections; however there are some which are particularly strong in this field, including the Nineteenth Century Novels Collection, the Hepburn Collection, the Ferguson Collection (particularly for occult literature) and the general Sp Coll/RB (rare book) sequences.

Below is a selection of items chosen as examples of the resources that are available from our collections in this subject area, concentrating on the following themes:

Please click on any of the pictures in the following page to see an enlarged version of the image, and click 'back' to return to the main page.

Title Page Illustration

The Poetry of Flowers

Sp Coll Mu53-h.28

This small volume dates from 1845 and contains over 40 poems by an array of authors, from the renowned Robert Herrick through to a variety of anonymous stanzas.  As well as the poetry, each flower has an introduction in which we are told of its horticultural heritage: when and where it grows, alternative names, and even it's literary background.  The introduction to the collection explains this variety of content by stating that 'the chief aim of the work... is to please, enliven and instruct.'



Title Page of the collection

Sibylline Leaves: A Collection of Poems

Sp Coll 997

This collection was first published in 1817 and contains a complete set of Coleridge's poetical works from 1793 onwards, including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Nightingale and Frost At Midnight.  We are told in the preface that the title of the volume relates 'to the fragmentary and widely scattered state in which they [the poems] have been long suffered to remain.'

Portrait of Alfred Lord Tennyson


The Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson

Sp Coll 736

This item was published in 1897, five years after Tennyson's death.  The poems are arranged in chronological order, running from his earliest works, such as The Kraken, through to the period when he was appointed Poet Laureate and published his defining work In Memoriam (1850), right up until his death.  The collection was published in a very plain style, allowing the poetry to speak for itself, the only adornment being an engraving of Tennyson by G. J. Stodart.


'The Maid Of Cadiz', accompaniment to Byron's poem 'The Dark-Eyed Maid of Cadiz'


The Musical Bijou, An Album of Music and Poetry

Sp Coll Cb3-c.49

This work, published in 1833, is part of a great trend of nineteenth century items, known as 'popular annuals' which in essence are a miscellany of poetry, music and pictures.  These items would have been used for general entertainment: one could use their contents to read, perform, sing, play instruments, or even discuss art.  The 1833 edition contains a great number of musical scores (mostly for the pianoforte) and poetry by the likes of Byron, mixed together with a number of anonymous works.  The item is also adorned with paintings and drawings, intended to complement the poetry both in style and essence.


Etching of a Snow-Drop and Crocus


The Romance of Nature

Sp Coll S.M. 1490

Published in 1836, this is a vast collection of poetry relating to flowers and nature.  Arranged in three sections, according to the seasons of Spring, Summer and Autumn, the volume holds 27 engraved plates of flowers and shrubs.  The author gives special thanks to Wordsworth (whose work is of clear influence in the poetry) and quotes both Robert Herrick (1591-1674) and James Shirley (1596-1666) on the title page.


'Christian got up to the Gate', an etching inspired by 'Pilgrim's Progress'

Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap-Book, 1835

Sp Coll Mu55-d.19

This is another example of a 'popular annual' of the nineteenth century.  However, unlike many, it contains very few songs or scores (music was a new feature in this, the fourth edition of the Scrap-Book) preferring instead to concentrate on poetry, some prose, and many complementary illustrations.  At some stage in its life this item was used to press flowers and leaves, and many of these still remain between its pages - how old they are is unknown.

Cover Illustration

The Sentimental Valentine Writer

Sp Coll RB 2499/16

This volume, produced in 1850, contains only 24 pages; it is unbound and comes in the form of a small pamphlet.  The work is then split into two sections: the 'Ladies Valentine Writer', containing poetry from a female standpoint, and the 'Gentleman's Valentine Writer', containing poetry from a male point of view.  No author is cited within the work.  Instead, the front cover contains an etching of a gentleman sending a valentine, whilst also stating the volume's modest price of 'One Penny', a snip for a Victorian valentine present.

'Mercury and Pandora', accompanied by a poem of the same name by Sophocles

Illustrations of Modern Sculpture

Sp Coll BD6-a.26

This volume does not appear at first glance to be a work of literature - in fact it is, first and foremost, a book about sculpture.  Following on from a long preface and introductory essay, the item contains a series of images relating to eighteenth and nineteenth century sculpture.  These images, however, are adorned with selections of prose and poetry, taken from such diverse sources as the classic poets and the bible.  This item is fairly unusual by Victorian standards; instead of the illustrations complementing the literature, the poetry exists to accompany the pictures, which are intended to be the focus of the book.

Etching entitled 'Ripe Apples are our Supper', accompaniment to Eclogue 1

The Eclogues of Virgil, An English Version

Sp Coll RF 399

In this edition of Virgil's most famous work, the poetry is accompanied by a series of illustrations by the author.  The item is one of only 135 copies printed in 1883, and one of only a hundred copies which were sent into circulation.  The text is not a direct translation of Virgil's original work, and the author states that it was not intended to be - in the preface he claims that his work is merely a paraphrase of the original, or even just 'a meditation upon Virgil's air.'  Whilst the title page states that the etchings are of the author's own hand, this is not entirely true.  Samuel Palmer, the author, only completed one of the pictures himself before his death - the rest were completed by his son, and the editor of the work, A. H. Palmer.

Detail from frontispiece of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

The Special Collections department holds a large collection of nineteenth century novels, ranging from an early copy of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (Sp Coll Z8-l.21), through to lesser known items of Scottish fiction, such as Ballantyne's The Island Queen (Sp Coll Z7-a.23).  One of the most exciting parts of the collection is the vast volume of rare and often unique material, such as an anonymous piece entitled Inez; or, The Siege of San Sebastian (Sp Coll Z6-a.29), of which there is no other recorded copy in the world.

A specific Nineteenth Century Novels Website was created in October 2006 with the help of the Chancellor's Fund of Glasgow University.  It has its own catalogue from which you can search the full collection of material, as well as a wealth of information and further resources for those who wish to investigate certain topics further.

As well as this site, novels can be found in many of the other collections.  The Hepburn Collection, for example, contains several hundred nineteenth century novels, many of which are first editions, whilst the Ferguson Collection is particularly good for late Victorian ghost stories and other for occult literature; the general Sp Coll/RB (rare book) sequences hold many examples of interesting first editions that have, over time, been transferred from main library stock, whilst the Stone Collection (now housed in the Library Research Annexe) is also particularly strong in the field of English Literature.

Several novels have also featured as Book of the Month articles:

See the course material pages on Scottish tourism and leisure in the nineteenth century

Title Page from 'Observations on a Short Tour'

Observations on a Short Tour... to the Western Highlands of Scotland

Sp Coll Mu6-g.30

The thoughts and observations of Philip Homer, whilst on a tour of the Western Highlands in the summer of 1803, are recorded in this book. The text, whilst consisting mainly of descriptive narrative, is also interspersed with descriptive and epistolary poetry, expressing the author's innermost thoughts at the scenes he witnesses.  This mixture of poetry and prose was seen as key to the publishers of the book, who felt that such a combination would help the item stand out from the vast crowd of travel literature which was appearing at the beginning of the nineteenth century.


Frontispiece illustration of Douglas

The Little Man Island: Scenes and Specimen Days in the Isle of Man

Sp Coll RQ 1770/385

This small volume was published for the tourist season of 1894 by Hall Caine, a renowned author of books about the Isle of Man.  It contains a mixture of description, pictures and advertising, as well suggesting good days out and events on the island.  The advertising is particularly interesting in this item, ranging from hotels and train journeys, to 'Prichard's Teething Powders' which, so the advert claims, are 'Tasteless and Easily Given; Pleasant and Cooling.'


A view of 'Talla Linns', Page 162



Principal Excursions of the Innerleithen Alpine Club, During the Years 1889-1894

Sp Coll Farmer 87

This is a record of all the excursions made by the Innerleithen Alpine Club from its foundation in 1889 and spanning the subsequent five years of its existence.  Each walk performed is described in detail, with pictures relating to the area and its natural beauty, prefixed by the exact dates of each expedition, the name of the conductor or leader of the walk, and what the principal aim of the excursion was.  According to the first entry in the item, the club was formed in order to 'study the botany, geology, natural history, and archaeology of the district", of which we are told "the material for such studies is abundant.'



Remains of Alloway Kirk, Page29

Views In North Britain, Illustrative of the Works of Robert Burns

Sp Coll Mu49-a.12

This is an illustrated description of a variety of places and buildings connected to the poet Robert Burns, related to his life and works.  Published in 1805, just nine years after his death, it is difficult to tell if this item was intended to be a biography of Burns or a piece of travel literature loosely based around his life.  In essence it incorporates both these strands; one passage on Kirk Alloway includes both a geography and history of the building, points of interest for the average tourist to look out for, and an 18 line excerpt from Burns' most famous poem, Tam O'Shanter.


'Icelandic Dresses', Pages 126-127

Iceland: or the Journal of a Residence in that Island

Sp Coll T.C.L. 1519-1520

This two volume work was written by Ebenezer Henderson and was taken directly form his own experiences during the years 1814 and 1815.  Published three years later, it is dedicated to Christian Frederic, the Prince of Denmark, whom, the author states, has a 'deep interest... in the inhabitants and literature of Iceland.'  It is important to note that this is not just a travel log of tourist attractions in Iceland; as Henderson was actually resident there for two years, it provides much more information about the people and their general way of life.  The item is adorned with a fold out map of Iceland (which was drawn and engraved under the strict direction of the author), and a number of illustrations, ranging from a picture of the geysers to a family in their national dress.

St. Giles Church, County Hall and Lawnmarket, Page 22

Edinburgh and its Neighbourhood in the Days of Our Grandfathers

Sp Coll Mu25-y.34

This book was published in 1886 but relates, according to the title page, to the period around 1830.  It contains a total of eighty engraved illustrations created from original drawing by Thomas H. Shepherd, a renowned topographical draughtsman of the mid-nineteenth century.  The work contains extensive notes about many of the areas and notable buildings in or around the town centre, from the Castle to the less well known Ainslie Place.  It also contains a great deal of factual information for the budding tourist; under the 'Bank of Scotland' section, we are told that the building was designed in 1806 and was built at a cost of 75,000, 'chiefly from unclaimed money in the possession of the Bank.'


Convent of Molk on the Danube, Page 361

The Rural and Domestic Life of Germany

Sp Coll Mu11-b.22

This volume, published in 1842, was penned by William Howitt, an author notable for his travel literature - his previous works included The Rural Life of England and Visits to Remarkable Places.  The book contains over 20 chapters embellished with more than 50 sketches, each focusing on a different topic of everyday life, ranging from religion and education, to sledging and festive processions.  It is not wholly concerned with the life of rural Germany; in fact, a substantial part of the book relates to a tour of German cities made by the author, and his impressions of these places.


View of Melrose Abbey, Vol. 3 (Maps) - Part 5

A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland

Sp Coll Mu8-y.18-20

Two volumes of this three volume work comprise an intimate description of Scotland, ranging from a physical topography of the islands, to historical notes on even the smallest of villages.  The third volume contains a series of detailed maps, covering many areas of Scotland, but not all.  Published in 1846, what is perhaps the most interesting feature of this work is the different side to Scotland that it presents; the maps show very few roads compared with the modern country, and places that we recognise today as being towns and cities, are merely a conglomeration of distinct villages.


Frontispiece entitled 'Robinson's Arch'

The Recovery of Jerusalem: A Narrative of Exploration and Discovery in the City and the Holy Land

Sp Coll Bg52-e.9

Published in 1871, this work was funded by the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF), a society founded in 1865 by a group of British biblical archaeologists and clergymen.  It contains extensive notes on travel throughout the country, and on a series of excavations which took place there.  It is well illustrated, with images ranging from architectural plans of entire buildings, to etchings of individual object such as jars and columns.  The volume is a wonderful example of Victorian travel literature, as it highlights the main theme of the genre in the nineteenth century, i.e. that such works should serve to educate as well as entertain.


'Female elephant pursued with javelins, protecting her young', Plate 39

Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa

Sp Coll RB 1738

This book recalls David Livingstone's journeys through South Africa between 1849 and 1856 and provides a detailed examination of African life in the mid-Victorian era, taking into account not only the people and their customs, but also the country itself, its flora and fauna and its general climate.  The work is dedicated to Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, then President of the Royal Geographical Society, and this particular copy has been autographed by Livingstone, dated 30th August 1864.  The volume contains nearly 50 illustrations, ranging from detailed sketches of the proboscis of a tsetse fly, to a loose map detailing Livingstone's route and a general map of Southern Africa.


Castle of the Sultan of Aden at Lahadj, Plate 7

A Voyage in Abyssinia and Travels into the Interior of that Country

Sp Coll T.C.L. f243

This volume charts the travels of Henry Salt who was sent to Abyssinia in 1809-10 by the British Government to supply an account of the country and its people.  Salt states in his dedication that he hopes his work will highlight 'the present forlorn and distracted state of Abyssinia', and that Britain will 'promote the welfare of that country, by the introduction of useful arts together with a judicious advancement of the true tenets of the Christian Religion among its inhabitants.'  The book contains a number of illustration, charts and maps, detailing the country and its culture.


1st Communication, Plate 12

Narrative of a Second Voyage in Search of a North West Passage

Sp Coll Hunterian Bq.2.6

This work recounts the tale of Scottish explorer Sir John Ross on his five year expedition in search of the North West Passage to the Arctic.

For more information on this item, and further images, please visit our Book of the Month Archive.



Victorian Home | Art and Design | Social History | Politics and Government | Science and Natural History

Return to Special Collections Course Material Page

This page was created by Toby Hanning: March 2007.