A doomed romance – a possible murder - and the lascivious letters which scandalised the Victorian public watching it all unfold are part of a new exhibition at the Mitchell Library this summer.

The trial of Madeleine Smith, the 19th century Glasgow socialite accused of poisoning her lover, ended with a not proven verdict and it continues to intrigue people to this day.

The letters she wrote to apprentice nurseryman Pierre Emile L’Angelier were a huge part of the case against her. Not often on display, they will be available to view in Writing: Making Your Mark, an exhibition at the Mitchell all about the origins, means and future of writing.

It’s running in tandem with similar displays at the British Library and 20 more partner libraries around the UK.

Librarian Ellen Sykes explains: “Madeleine Smith’s letters are fascinating – the handwriting is very unusual, criss-crossing the page, and the content is extremely risqué in places, which is what shocked people at the time.”

Madeleine wrote: “My nightdress was on when you saw me. Would to God you had been in the same attire. We would be happy.” The frank expressions of desire were considered shocking for a woman of her class in 1857.

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Writing: Making Your Mark will also take Glaswegians on a trip back in time to their schooldays.

A selection of 20th century inkwells, pen nibs, writing slates, handwriting cards and jotters from Glasgow schools, all from Glasgow Museums collection, is also on display.

“The white ceramic inkwell is from Lambhill Public School in Kinning Park, and the box of pen nibs came from St Mary’s RC Primary School,” adds Ellen.

The Mitchell exhibition also includes early examples of Glasgow printing from the 1600s, manuscripts from the likes of Tom Leonard, Alasdair Gray and Edwin Morgan and a lovely collection of children’s books.

Ellen explains: “The manuscripts of contemporary writers give an interesting insight into the ways writing has changed – from handwritten to typewriters to computers.

“We have a manuscript, for example, of James Kelman’s The Bus Conductor Hines, complete with coffee cup stain!”

She adds: “We are really proud of our Edwin Morgan Collection, a huge gathering of manuscripts, books, artwork, slides and more from the famous Glasgow poet.

“We see the process and progress of his writing, from scrapbook, where he pulls together cuttings and pictures and ideas, to handwritten notebook, to manuscript, to published book.

“The collection also includes a lovely handwritten version of Alasdair Gray’s Old Men in Love, which he had sent to Morgan with a wee note on the front – ‘This ain’t quite finished, bits are missing from the middle…’”

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One of the most moving exhibits is a letter from famous explorer David Livingstone to his young son. “I am very sorry, I shall not see you again,” he writes, as he prepares to travel to Africa in 1852. “You know I loved you very much.”

There are also examples of ancient Persian figural calligraphy by Jilla Peacock, miniature books, and a copy of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language.

Ellen says: “Peacock’s works are beautiful, translating classical poems into calligraphy in the shape of animals – this is, literally, writing as art.”

The exhibition includes a child-friendly trail and a fantastic collection of books from the library’s impressive Children’s Collection.

“The exhibition isn’t just about writing in the traditional sense of books and poetry, it also looks at everyday writing and marginalia, those little notes written in the margins of the page, or on the front of postcards,” says Ellen.

“For example, we have a catalogue from a Charles Rennie Mackintosh auction, which is covered in interesting little notes, probably made by the auctioneer, all about who bought what.”

The library has two copies of the 1786 Kilmarnock edition of Robert Burns’ famous “Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect” which had a print run of 612. Burns had obtained subscriptions for around 400 copies and the rest sold out quickly, mostly to local people. One of the copies in the Mitchell was owned by a fellow Ayrshire farmer called Robert Aird.

“Burns talks about lots of people, presumably many local people who would be well known to readers of the poems, but had left the names out, simply representing them with asterisks,” says Ellen, adding with a laugh: “Mr Aird has gone through his copy and filled them all in!”

Writing: Making Your Mark runs until August 27.