In June 1878, the novelist Anthony Trollope and a dozen of his friends boarded the yacht “Mastiff” in Scotland for its maiden voyage, a trip to Iceland. They stayed just over a week, but the episode provided Trollope with enough material for a book, How the ‘Mastiffs’ Went to Iceland. It was published barely two months later by Virtue & Co. of London (and is now available online via the Internet Archive).
Among the company were two brothers: John Burns, the owner of the Mastiff and their host, and James Cleland Burns. It was at John Burns’s request, and with his financial support, that Trollope wrote up and published the account of their journey. 1
While the Folger does not have a copy of How the ‘Mastiffs’ Went to Iceland, it does have another book with very strong ties to the Mastiffs. The book below is from our Shakespeare collection.
It’s an Icelandic translation of Macbeth, by the poet and translator Matthías Jochumsson, published in Reykjavík in 1874, and purchased by Henry Folger in 1915 for $76 (the equivalent of about $1700 today).
Inside, it reveals the bookplate of none other than Anthony Trollope.
The bookplate isn’t unique—the Folger collection includes about two dozen books previously owned by Trollope—but it’s still a nice little thrill to see upon opening. However, it gets even more interesting when we turn to the title page verso, which contains an inscription from James Cleland Burns to Trollope.
from James Cleland Burns
5 July 1878 in
memory of the “Mastiffs” expedition to Iceland
Given the date and location of the inscription, it seems likely that Burns purchased this volume as the voyagers were preparing to return to Scotland, and it gets an oblique nod in Trollope’s work, as part of a rather supercilious passage on Icelandic education:
“…The result is to be seen in the general intelligence of the people. ‘Macbeth’ has been translated into Icelandic, and published at Reykjavik, which would not have been done unless there had been someone there to read ‘Macbeth’.”
James Cleland Burns can be seen in one of the book’s illustrations, which depicts a curious incident on the Mastiff’s voyage during which the ladies’ parlor on the yacht was taken over by several men for “the comfortable consumption of tobacco and whisky and water.”
James Burns stands at the left of the image, partially behind his brother John, the man brandishing a “rope-end” at the whisky consumer in the central cabin.
The illustrations of the Mastiff’s voyage were done contemporaneously by a member of the party, Mrs. Hugh Blackburn (Jemima Wedderburn Blackburn), a Scottish painter and illustrator known for her depictions of rural life, particularly her images of birds. This ornithological interest is demonstrated in a volume that can be found in the Folger’s modern stacks, The Crows of Shakespeare, that pairs quotations from Shakespeare with images of birds.
And of course, it includes a quotation from Macbeth: “The Raven himself is hoarse / That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan / Under my battlements.” (1.5.45-47)
- Incidentally, the Internet Archive’s copy appears to have been digitized from Burns’ own copy—if you turn to the front endpapers, the signature “J.A. Burns” is visible inside the front cover, as is “J.C.B.” (likely John Burns’s second son, also named James Cleland Burns, and an enthusiastic yachtsman himself in later life).