From the Reading Room

On occasion we ask a researcher from the reading room why they are using the material we have supplied for them.

Nessa Malone was in last week working on a volume of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century tracts relating to comets for the Historical Bibliography module of her MA in Library and Information Studies, which she is undertaking at UCL.  I asked her why she was particularly interested in this volume: ‘The pamphlets reflect how there was a shift in thought about comets and astronomy in the seventeenth century.  They are part of the Augustus De Morgan collection; he was a nineteenth century mathematician. 

From ‘Lectures and Collections / Made by Robert Hooke..’ Robert Hooke, London, J Martyn…, C1678

In the sixteenth century comets were interpreted in relation to the Zodiac, the cosmology of Aristotle and as signs from God.  In the seventeenth century this classical and medieval legacy blended with the discoveries of Kepler, Brahe and Galileo, Protestant ideas of providence and the new experimental science of the Royal Society.  Comets were interpreted as natural and political signs.

The seventh pamphlet in the volume ‘The Petitioning Comet’ was written during the Exclusion Crisis and the Popish Plot of the 1680s.  Other pamphlets relate historical events to the sighting of comets.  Robert Hooke’s ‘Cometa’ includes ‘Mr Hally’s Letter and Observation of the Comet of 1677’ which first details how the transit of Venus across the Sun can be used to calculate the distance of the Earth from the Sun. 

‘Mr. Hally’s letter and observation of the same made at St. Hellena’ (detail) from Lectures and Collections… Robert Hooke

Halley’s career was negatively affected by the view that he was overly irreligious.   The last pamphlet in the volume from 1757, ‘On the Calculation and Measurement of the Orbit of the Comets’, has no historical or political content showing how scientific interpretations had subsumed the astrological and/or the political.’

Nessa Malone June 2012 MA student.


Ruth First exhibition

To coincide with the Ruth First Papers project symposium, which took place on the 7th of June, the Library  has put up a small exhibition of material from the Ruth First and related archive collections.

Ruth First was a South African anti-apartheid activist, journalist and scholar who wrote and spoke on South Africa and more widely on Africa, carrying out important work on Namibia, Mozambique and Libya. This is one of a number of archive collections concerning apartheid and Southern Africa held within the Institute of Commonwealth Studies collection.

This exhibition concentrates on the period 1946-1964 when Ruth First was active in South Africa as both journalist and activist and includes material relating to the Bethal farm labour scandal, the Freedom Charter, the Treason Trial, the banning of the Guardian and the subsequent Freedom of the Press Conference of November 1951, Ruth First’s journalism, her banning and arrest and detention under the 90-day law.

The exhibition is on the fourth floor of Senate House, in the Membership Hall of the Senate House Library and admission is free (just say at the membership desk you wish to see the exhibition). The exhibition runs until the 21st of June.

Pre-Raphaelite books and illustration

On Tuesday evening Dr Paul Goldman gave an excellent talk on Pre-Raphaelite books and illustration for the Institute of English Studies/Antiquarian Booksellers Association Book Collecting Seminar Series. Paul illustrated his talk with several items from Historic Collections including our copies of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market  (1862) and The Prince’s Progress (1866) with covers, frontispiece and title page designed by her brother Dante Gabriel. Paul also called upon our copy of the famous edition of Tennyson’s poems published by Moxon in 1857, illustrated by the likes of John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, Rossetti, Clarkson Stanfield, and William Mulready.

Pictured here is the original publisher’s binding and Millais’s depiction of Cleopatra which accompanies the poem ‘A Dream of Fair Women’:

(With that she tore her robe apart, and half
The polish’d argent of her breast to sight
Laid bare. Thereto she pointed with a laugh,
Showing the aspick’s bite)

A portrait of Charles Booth

Portrait of Charles Booth (1902)Historic Collections often receives requests for images from the collections for publication or broadcast; one of the most requested items for reproduction is this 1902 portrait of Charles Booth at his desk (MS797/II/96/2).  The photograph has been reproduced in a range of publications and is featured in the current BBC / Open University series The Secret History of Our Streets, which traces the development of six London streets since Booth produced his survey of Life and Labour in London in the 1880s with its famous colour-coded poverty maps.

The portrait is part of the Booth Family Papers (MS797) and also features, among other family photographs, on the Charles Booth Online Archive, which provides access to material from the Booth Collection at the London School of Economics Archives on the survey into life and labour.

A royal river pageant: Aqua triumphalis

In the euphoria of Diamond Jubilee celebrations, here at Senate House Library we have had a special interest in last Sunday’s river pageant (3 June 2012). News coverage noted the last similar event on such a scale, the river pageant to welcome King Charles II and Queen Catherine of Braganza on 23 August 1662 on the occasion of their marriage. This drew our attention to the playwright John Tatham’s poem commemorating that event, Aqua Triumphalis.

Our copy of this poem, from the Bromhead Library of works about London, turns out to be one of just three in London and four in Great Britain more widely. The BBC borrowed it to show in connection with the Diamond Jubilee flotilla. Bound in a 20th-century calf binding, the book was in good condition and able to take the heat of the spotlight. Our usual loan and filming conditions include limiting the time under the heat of the lights, keeping handling to a minimum and holding it with clean hands carefully but securely. Dr Anna Whitelock was used to handling rare books so we knew it was in safe hands. The clutter of a studio and live filming could have presented problems but everyone was very accommodating. Unfortunately in the end the book did not quite make it to screen – maybe another time …

‘One of the most wonderful times in the history of England’ continued …

Here is more from Charles Booth’s evocative letter describing Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee celebrations in June 1897. Unpredictable weather seems to be a theme of diamond jubilee pageants …

In the evening we all, except Mary & little Charles (who seemed safer in bed) went out to see the illuminations […] every young man had charge of one of the girls, a very necessary precaution as sometimes the crush was great […] We saw a large part of the show at this side & crossed the river & returned by a second bridge. A beautiful sight with the electric search lights playing about & the dome of St Paul’s gleaming through the darkness […] The quantity of illuminated buildings was astonishing. It was not at all only on the line of procession but everywhere in streets & squares people had shown loyalty in this way […]

The naval review made a grand finish to the whole […] We were invited to be on board the ‘Theseus’, one of the cruisers […] very nearly the centre of the fleet, giving us a glorious view. The day was perfect, & the sun & wind so cleared the air that we could see the whole […] Returning we saw nothing being buried under our umbrellas while everything was obscured also by the most tremendous thunder storm & the heaviest rain […] that I ever was out in. The scene just before we left the ship was most striking as the storm was coming up & the lightening flashing […] we all got very wet & had to discard outer garments & walk about to dry ourselves in the railway station till our train started […]

So ends the jubilee week & this long letter […] I hope what I have written may serve to help to give you some idea of one of the most wonderful times in the history of England […]

I am yours affectionately,
Charles Booth