Introduction: The Prose works of Sir Walter Scott

In 1833 and 1834 Turner made a series of forty watercolours for the Edinburgh publisher Robert Cadell, to serve as frontispieces and title-page vignettes for a twenty-eight volume series of Scott’s Miscellaneous prose. This was designed to be complete and be uniform with, the 12mo popular edition of Scott’s complete works that Cadell had begun publishing in 1828 with the novels. These had frontispieces and engraved title-pages by a variety of popular artists of the day, but none by Turner. The novels were followed in 1833-4 by ‘The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott’ in 12 volumes, exclusively illustrated with twenty-four subjects by Turner’. Cadell commissioned the illustrations for the ‘Prose Works’ whilst the poetry was still in production, and the first volume immediately followed the last of the poetry in 1834 and continued with monthly volumes until 1836.

The principal account of the commission and Turner’s work is Gerald Finley’s 1980 book ‘Landscapes of Memory’. Finley worked from a major trove of primary documentation in the Cadell archive at the National Library of Scotland, and gleaned an almost unrivalled account of Turner’s professional activities at the height of his success. Finley particularly concentrates on the tour that Turner made for the ‘Poetical Works’, but has useful material on the Prose commission. We learn that Cadell paid Turner twenty-five guineas for each of the watercolours, and also paid contributions to Turner’s expenses on a trip to France in the summer of 1834 and to Scotland in the Autumn.

Finley presents a thorough discussion for the  of the illustrations Scott’s ‘Life of Napoleon’, and the same group has also been treated at length by Jan Piggott in ‘Turner’s Vignettes’ (Tate 1993). The remainder of the Scott ‘Prose’ illustrations, however, have received more sporadic commentary.

Rawlinson vol.2, 1912 gives a complete list of subjects (nos.519 to 556) and the publication specifications. The plates were issued as sets separate to the published volumes, in various formats appealing to print collectors. The largest were India proofs on Colombier 4to (17 x 11 7/8 ins) without titles, then came India proofs on Imperial 4to (15 3/8 x 10 ¼ ins), with slightly different lettering and a script title, then Royal 4to proof prints (13 5/8 x 10) with the same lettering, then an octavo edition of prints at 10 x 6 1./2 ins. Finally the plates were given an added series title and new publication line and bound into the 12mo edition with a page size of 6 ¾ x 4 ¼ ins. Some bound sets are smaller where the page edges have been shaved to give an even finish, or to be gilt edged or mottled. The published page size nonetheless does fully accommodate all the detail, and was plainly intended as the final product. The separate sets add no significant engraved material, but do give the artwork space on the page in a manner designed to enhance the viewing experience.

The Yale Center for British Art at New Haven USA has cover pages for the largest Colombier quarto edition. This was issued in three parts priced £1.15.0.


Part one appeared in 1835, published by Hodgson, Boys and Graves, 6 Pall Mall, and Robert Cadell, Edinburgh and consisted of the twelve Turner plates issued up to the first volumes of the ‘Life of Napoleon’.


Boys had left the partnership by the time part two appeared in 1836 publishing twelve more plates from the remainder of the ‘Life of Napoleon’.


Part three was published in 1837 under the same proprietorship and included the remaining sixteen plates issued in the volumes of ‘Periodical Criticism’ and ‘Tales of a Grandfather’. It was the established practice to print the largest impressions first with minimal lettering to ensure maximum detail. This was essential with soft copper plates, but by the 1830s engraving on much harder-wearing steel plates as here had taken over. There is, therefore, little obvious wear detectable between the proof impressions and those in book form. In this case the book form appeared first, and the large paper collectors’ impressions must have been stored away until sufficient had been collected to form a volume. We do not know how many of each state were printed, but Cadell sold thousands of copies of each volume priced at 5/- per issue.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s