A Previously Loved Book

Here’s a book we bought not so much because of what’s in it, but because of who owned it. It’s an English translation of a theological treatise by a French noblewoman, Louise Francoise de la Baume le Blanc, Duchesse de la Valliere (1644-1710), called The penitent lady (NLS shelfmark  AB.1.211.014).  The book itself does not look terribly exciting –

Lady t.p.

but its author is certainly an interesting figure! Louise Francoise de la Baume le Blanc made her debut at court in 1661 and soon attracted the attention of  King Louis XIV. She became his mistress and bore him four children. However, by 1670 she had lost her place as Louis’ principal mistress, and, after recovering from a serious illness and suffering a crisis of conscience, she decided to renounce her former sinful existence. One of the results of her change of heart was her turning towards writing. In 1671 she published her Reflexions sur la misericorde de Dieu (Reflections on the mercy of God), of which we have now bought a rare English translation.  In 1674 she entered a Carmelite convent in Paris, where she remained for the rest of her life.

This particular copy has an inscription by a former owner, Maurice Paterson (1836-1917), who was the rector of Moray House in Edinburgh, then a Free Church teacher training college. It reads:


“This book belonged to and was much prized by Mrs. Scott, mother of Sir Walter Scott.

Presented by Isabella Paterson step cousin who resided with Aunt Esther who was companion of Mrs. Scott.

Esther Paterson was my father’s half sister.

M. P.”

So, this book once belonged to Anne Scott, Sir Walter Scott’s mother, and had passed into Maurice Paterson’s hands via a step-cousin!

Esther Paterson had nursed Walter Scott’s older brother John through his final illness and then became his mother’s companion for the final years of her life. Anne Scott died in 1819, and Esther Paterson presumably received this book as a token of gratitude for her work.


Walter Scott was certainly grateful to Esther, describing her as a person of ‘uncommon good sense and civility’, who was of ‘inestimable comfort’ to his dear mother.

Further reading:

Sir Walter Scott in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections)

H.J.C. Grierson (ed.). The letters of Sir Walter Scott, London, 1932-37. (NLS shelfmark Lit.S.25) Volumes 6 and 7 are particularly interesting here.