The title-page of a rare 1553 translation into Scots English of Virgil’s Aeneid by Gavin Douglas, Bishop of Dunkeld. Sold for £50,000 at Sotheby’s.

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Sold for a high-estimate £70,000, the Haddington top lot at Sotheby’s (25/20/13.9% buyer’s premium) was a 1776 first in a fine contemporary binding of Adam Smith’s economic classic, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.

However, the real surprise came in the form of one of the first great classics of Scottish literature.

Sold at £50,000 – 10 times the high estimate – was a copy (in a 17th century binding) of a 1553 translation from Latin verses into Scots English of Virgil’s Aeneid. The work of Gavin Douglas, Bishop of Dunkeld, it was the first in any vernacular British tongue and pre-dated the first English version by some years.

Douglas’ Eneados… was a pioneering work, the “earlier vulgar Vergilian versions such as Chaucer’s Legends of Dido and Caxton’s Eneydos”, said the cataloguer, “were more like free adaptations of Virgil’s text”.

A man who professed humanist values and a certain antipathy to scholasticism, Douglas, in his wish to bring knowledge of the Aeneid to his countrymen, sought also to enrich his native Scottish tongue with something of the ‘fouth’, or copiousness, of Latin, according to his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography.

The sale took place on December 3-10.