The Carlton Shorthand Collection is one of the larger named special collections in Senate House Library, and is internationally one of the most significant, as one of the world’s most comprehensive shorthand collections. It is also one of the least used, shorthand being something of a niche subject – the Library’s most frequent use of items from it is as examples of lithography or of manuscript being used in printed texts (two solutions to the problems of printing shorthand symbols in letterpress). So it was gratifying today to be visited by Prof. Boris Neubauer and Monika Disser of the Forschungs- und Ausbildungsstätte für Kurzschrift und Textverarbeitung in Bayreuth, who were alive to the importance of the collection in a way that only experts can be. The Neubauers‘ interest focused on items it would be difficult to find anywhere else. These ranged from examples of shorthand and secondary material to a number of reports of international shorthand congresses from the late nineteenth century and first quarter of the twentieth century. An added bonus was finding that one book had been the personal copy of Giuseppe Aliprandi, who, like Carlton, was a bibliographer of shorthand.
Every now and again we like to find out why a reader has decided to consult the material they have selected and how this will relate to their wider research interests. This week I was particularly struck by the title of a book from the Durning – Lawrence Library chosen by a drama PhD student – Histrio – Mastix, The Players Scourge… by William Prynne
The title is worth quoting in full:
‘Histrio-mastix : the players scourge, or, actors tragaedie, divided into two parts, wherein it is largely evidenced, by divers arguments, by the concurring authorities and resolutions of sundry texts of Scripture … That popular stage-playes … are sinfull, heathenish, lewde, ungodly spectacles, and most pernicious corruptions; condemned in all ages, as intolerable mischiefes to churches, to republickes, to the manners, mindes, and soules of men. And that the profession of play-poets, of stage-players; together with the penning, acting, and frequenting of stage-playes, are unlawfull, infamous and misbeseeming Christians. All pretences to the contrary are here likewise fully answered; and the unlawfulnes of acting, of beholding academicall enterludes, briefly discussed; besides sundry other particulars concerning dancing, dicing, health-drinking, &c. of which the table will informe you / By William Prynne, an vtter-barrester of Lincolnes Inne.’
Our researcher writes;
‘William Prynne’s Histrio-mastix, published in 1632,is a thousand-page, prolix, repetitive, and impassioned tract denouncing theatre, theatre people, theatre spectators, and many other forms of pretending or enjoying, as ungodly. The tract is a fascinating document of what Jonas Barish has called ‘the Anti-theatrical prejudice’ in Western thought. It also has an intriguing history. Prynne was writing at a moment when Charles I’s court was producing lavish court masques in which both the King and Queen Henrietta Maria would perform. Prynne’s Puritanism was unwelcome to the ecclesiastical authorities and furthermore his denunciation of theatre in Histrio-mastix was taken as a species of attack on the royals. Consequently, Prynne’s ears were trimmed by the hangman, he was pilloried, branded and imprisoned at Caernarvon Castle. He became a martyr figure for some English Puritans, so that this book, in its small way, is symptomatic of the tensions that would subsequently erupt in the English Civil War.’
I then asked how this book was being used in the wider context of our reader’s research;
‘I am working with Histrio mastix as part of research towards a new performance that will explore anti-theatricality and iconoclasm in the English Civil War. Prynne may feature as a character.’
Since at least the 1950s Senate House Library has described its Shakespeare holdings as a particular strength. Last Friday Karin Brown, librarian of the Shakespeare Institute in Birmingham, came to see them. On a visit hosted by Dr Richard Espley (Academic Liaison Librarian, British, Irish and Post Colonial Literatures and Languages) and Dr Karen Attar (Rare Books Librarian), exhibits included editions of Shakespearean works, Shakespearean sources, evidence of Shakespeare in performance (early-nineteenth-century playbills and a theatrical journal containing a review of an early-twentieth-century production), Shakespeare in Catalan, and a pamphlet, Shakespeare: A Marxist Interpretation, translated from the Russian of A.A. Smirnov. The quirkiest item was The Fifth of November, or, The Gunpowder Plot (1830), described on the title page as ‘an historical play, supposed to be written by William Shakespeare’ and inscribed: ‘From the Author’. Two books on display especially appreciated were the first edition of Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), a text used for Macbeth, and The Raigne of King Edward the Third (1599), one of only five recorded copies in the United Kingdom of a play misattributed to Shakespeare.
We hope for further liaison with Birmingham.
Congratulations to †John Morris, Philip Oldfield, the Bibliographical Society and the University of Toronto on its publication of the British Armorial Bindings Database. This catalogue reproduces over 3,300 stamps used between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries on about 12,000 books, associated with nearly two thousand individual owners. Senate House Library is proud to have contributed to the database. Its contributions are found by searching on ‘University of London Library’.
It’s always gratifying to see a correlation between cataloguing and use. That happened today when Professor Anna Gruetzner Robins of the University of Reading came to use the Thomas Sturge Moore Papers, recatalogued onto our electronic archival catalogue a couple of years ago. Professor Robins is currently writing a book entitled Paper Thin, about different kinds of print-making and reprographic processes in the 1890s. Scrapbooks among the Thomas Sturge Moore Papers (MS978/3/6) are a treasure trove for this project because it is hard to find late-nineteenth-century photographs of paintings. Not only do the Sturge Moore scrapbooks preserve these, but they are fascinating because they include images of varying quality, not merely high-quality ones. It is possible to find several images of a single painting, made in different ways to different standards. The next task is to examine the Sturge Moore correspondence for what it reveals about contemporary artists.
MS285, the Grosvenor Miscellany from 1637, has been in Senate House Library since 1931 as part of the Durning-Lawrence Library. It came into its own for research today, used by Dr Angus Vine. Dr Vine, Lecturer in English Studies at the University of Stirling, is one of the editors on the Francis Bacon Project hosted by the Institute of English Studies. The manuscript is important for having one of the complete witnesses to the text of Bacon’s Jurisdiction of the Council of the Marches (1608). This text was part of the long-running controversy over the jurisdiction of the four English counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, and Worcestershire: what early modern historians call the four shires controversy. The issue at stake was the extent of the royal prerogative. Bacon in his text spoke on behalf of the Crown and defended the royal prerogative and the Council of the Marches. Bacon’s text circulated widely in the seventeenth century, although it was not printed until the middle of the eighteenth. There are manuscripts in the British Library, the Bodleian, the Beinecke, and Philadelphia. But this one is of interest because it is one of the few that transmit all Bacon’s arguments and the entirety of his text.
All the excitement in the Olympic pool puts us in mind of a nice item in the University Archives: a programme for the third annual swimming championships of the University of London Athletic Union held at Holborn Baths 75 years ago in 1937. The programme included 20 events, comprising individual and team races, diving and water polo. There were also special exhibitions by Miss Olive Bartle, southern counties 220 yards free style champion, and Mostyn Ffrench-Williams, who competed for Great Britain at the 1932 and 1936 Olympic Games. And what did the competitors take to give them their competitive edge? Bovril. The salty meat extract was supplied to all competitors, and each page of the programme is adorned with a catchy slogan for the product: ‘After a swim – Bovril’; ‘Bovril promotes good health’; ‘Bovril gives strength to win’; ‘Bovril prevents that sinking feeling’. One wonders what the swimming stars of London 2012 would make of being presented with a hot mug on emerging from the pool …