From the Reading Room.

‘Cherries nice, cherries nice, come choose,
Fresh and fair ones, who’ll refuse?’

This week Zahava Dalin came to the Reading Room to consult Rebecca and Rowena by William Thackeray, written under the pseudonym M.A. Titmarsh.  The edition she chose is from the Sterling Library and features 8 hand-coloured illustrations by Richard Doyle. The work was originally published in Fraser’s Magazine.  I asked Zahava why she was interested in this volume and how it related to her wider study.

‘As a student of the M.A. Romantic Studies program at Birkbeck College, I am fascinated by how the Romantics turned to medieval themes and topics as a source of inspiration for their own ideals. I took a course in the sibling program, M.A. Victorian Studies and we were asked to compile a critical bibliography on a novel from the 19th-century Farrer Collection.

Ivanhoe (in disguise), Athelstane, Rowena, Cedric and Wamba the jester.

I chose Sir Walter Scott’s work of medieval historical fiction, Ivanhoe, a Romance.  In the course of my research, I was surprised to discover this spoof of Thackeray’s in the Senate House Library’s Special Collections. It is a humorous continuation to Ivanhoe, in large part based on Thackeray and his contemporaries’ dissatisfaction with the fate of the female protagonists in that novel’s conclusion. His “Icy, faultless, prim, niminy-piminy Rowena” (p. 5) henpecks Ivanhoe, who flees England and his wife for the latest crusade. Eventually Rowena dies, Rebecca avows her Christianity and she and Ivanhoe wed. The novel not only proves that readers in the nineteenth century found Ivanhoe lacking, and in what way, but also provides evidence for Victorian criticism of Romantic ideals.

The King and Sir Wilfrid play chess as the messenger arrives.

Thackeray focuses on what he perceives as Scott’s overly unrealistic idealization of chivalry. On an entirely separate note, Thackeray’s treatment of Rebecca, whom he admires, is entirely antithetical to Ivanhoe’s original conclusion. Though both Scott and Thackeray esteem the Jewish figure, Scott also respects the role of Rebecca’s religious faith in giving her character strength. Thackeray’s solution to the Jewish protagonist, typical of his time, is to convert her.  I highly recommend this text for anyone interested in Victorian reactions to Romanticism, those researching 19th-century satirical texts, or anyone looking at 19th-century literary reactions to English Jewry.’


Matriculation milestone

A milestone has been reached in the project to transcribe names from the examination registers in the University’s own archive (reference UoL/D/1-). 

There are sixty-six large volumes in total covering the period 1838-1889.  They are all handwritten and comprise details of students, who took a variety of University of London examinations.  Some of this information may well be unique, such as the details of addresses of students in non-census years.  Information like this is gold-dust for genealogists but the registers are of potential interest to a wide variety of researchers. 

Examination register

A nineteenth-century examinations register (reference D3).
Can you spot the world famous figure?

The details of over 7,500 matriculation examination students, covering the years 1867-1875, are now online,

These comprise only a fraction of the total number of students in the volumes but amongst their number were luminaries such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Alexander Graham Bell.   We are very grateful to Laura Wood, Isobel Royce, and Ben Rowlands, who have worked with such skill and dedication on this project.

The University of London at war: Nazi black book et al. on display

The Nazi black book at Senate House Library is a photostatic reproduction of American

Ministry of Information pamphlets

Ministry of Information pamphlets

army microfilm. It is a wartime German list of 3,000 wanted people in Great Britain – Winston Churchill, Noel Coward, Lord Baden-Powell and others whom the German National Socialists intended to arrest when it had conquered Great Britain. Also listed are lists of major British firms, with brief details of their organisational structure and major officers, German firms partly or wholly in British hands, and towns, with their well-known institutions and firms that might be of use to occupiers. This chilling document, given to Senate House Library by the Ministry of Information after the war, was one of several displayed yesterday to accompany a talk given by Dr Karen Attar about the University of London Library during the Second World War, as Senate House Library’s third “Insight” session. Participants leafed through the book with interest after the talk, looking for and finding Vera Brittain among others.

The display also included two bomb-damaged books, their covers shattered and parts of their pages shredded, the oldest book acquired during the war, a 1482 edition of Thomas Aquinas’s Catena Aurea with a beautiful penwork initial, and the most unusual book purchased during the war, a Hebrew translation from 1924 of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. From the University Archive came the diary kept from 1939 to 1943 to record regular activity in the Library (UoL/UL/3/3). The Ministry of Information, which was housed in Senate House during the war and used the Library extensively, gave the Library its publications, and some of its pamphlets on aspects of daily life and on the forces were exhibited.

‘The Cowell Manuscript, or, The First Baconian’: New Publication about Senate House Library

MS294, ‘the Cowell Manuscript’, entered Senate House Library in 1931 as part of the Durning-Lawrence Library. It gained prominence in 1932 when Allardyce Nicholl

Shakespeare Survey

highlighted it in an article in the Times Literary Supplement, identifying it as the earliest piece of writing attributing Shakespeare’s plays to Sir Francis Bacon. In 2010 Prof. James Shapiro of the University of Columbia exposed the manuscript, allegedly written in 1805, as a later forgery. The time seemed ripe to present a transcript of the manuscript. Dr Karen Attar, who had already published several articles about Durning-Lawrence and his library, undertook the task. Her transcript, with an editorial introduction, has now appeared in Shakespeare Survey, 65 (2012), 323-36 – just a week before publication of the treasures volume Senate House Library, University of London, to which Prof. Shapiro has contributed a piece about the manuscript.

French Studies Library Group visit

Last Thursday Senate House Library hosted a visit by about twenty librarians from the French Studies Library Group. The programme included a display of French items within Special Collections. Although Senate House Library has only one collection with a consciously French focus, the Foskett Uzanne Collection, several collections with a comprehensive subject focus include French books. Thus among other books we were able to show a rare and fine French astronomical work from 1528, a popular French book on conjuring from 1792, and a book illustrative of western perceptions of Russia from 1525 to 1917, John Grand-Carteret’s Les caricatures sur l’alliance franco-russe (1893). The oldest item shown and the one most admired was an exquisite small book of hours printed on vellum in Paris in about 1516, with beautiful coloured illustrations, which features in our 2012 book of sixty treasures from Senate House Library. The most recently acquired was Au guet! (1997), a translation of Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! Where we have French translations of English fiction – common publications in terms of print runs, but rarely to be found in British academic libraries – it is in collections based around particular literary authors. The collection of Pratchett’s works, aiming for all editions, translations, and audio and video manifestations of Pratchett’s output, is the most comprehensive of these.





Pratchett, Au guet


New edition unearthed

We are currently cataloguing the Craig Collection, a collection of mainly twentieth-century books bequeathed by the widow of Alec Craig (author of The Banned Books of England). Taking in hand A Modest Defence of Publick Stews, or, An Essay upon Whoring, as it is now Practis’d in these Kingdoms (London: A. Bussy, 1725), nothing suggested that it might be exceptional. There appeared to be eight copies on ESTC, a respectable survival rate for a small, pamphlet-like book of eighty octavo pages. But other copies all recorded the pagination as: x, [4], 65, [1] pages. The Senate House Library copy clearly had x, [4], 66 pages. Was this just a question of a page number being added? Comparison with the electronic copy showed not. Instead, the Senate House Library has a different tailpiece on page 57, and all the pages after page 58 have been completely reset, with some content added. It’s exciting to think we hold a unique item – or do we.

Modest defence

title page

Modest defence

Modest defence, p. 66

Book from a forger’s library

A recent visitor to our reading room examined the Library’s copies of two different issues of Robert Southey’s Poems printed in 1797 by Nathaniel Biggs for the booksellers Joseph Cottle of Bristol and G.G. and J. Robinson of London. The first of these, held within the Sterling Library, is the only copy recorded on the English Short Title Catalogue in the British Isles. The second was revealed to have an interesting provenance. A note at the front of the volume reads: ‘Purchased at Hampton Lodge Brighton at the sale of the effects of Henry Fauntleroy who was executed for a series of the most extensive and astonishing forgeries in the year 1824. Presented to the Honble Mrs Thomas by her most respectful and sincere friend E.C., Seaford, March 3rd 1825.’ While the identity of ‘Mrs Thomas’ and her Seaford-based benefactor ‘E.C.’ are unknown, Henry Fauntleroy (1784-1824) was a notorious banker and forger.

Fauntleroy joined the London banking house of Marsh, Sibbald & Co. in 1800, becoming a partner and living a fast life pursuing expensive mistresses and properties. When his bank faced collapse following large advances to speculative builders, Fauntleroy appropriated trust moneys and securities deposited by customers, forging powers of attorney. Living ‘in terrible suspense, daily expecting his crimes to be discovered’ (ODNB) he was arrested in September 1824 and tried at the Old Bailey. Convicted and sentenced to death, he was hanged on 30 November outside Newgate prison before a crowd estimated at 100,000.

Several printed contemporary accounts of Fauntleroy’s trial can be found in the Library, including that by Pierce Egan, and the Archives contain papers relating to his banking house (MS676). Massive frauds such as Fauntleroy’s influenced the reforms imposed by the 1826 Banking Act, and he was subsequently fictionalised in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Disowned and G.W.M. Reynolds’s Mystery of the Court of London.

While our Southey was acquired at an earlier sale of Fauntleroy’s effects, the bulk of his ‘very valuable library’ containing ‘a brilliant assemblage of illustrated works in English history, books of prints, &c.’ was sold by Sotheby in London in April 1825.