Special collections on their travels

Senate House Library has a strong track record of lending items from its collections to exhibitions in the UK and abroad. Today is a good day to highlight this aspect of our work, when one loaned item returns from Spain while another leaves us for a more local venue.

Our copy of Edward Young’s The Complaint, and the Consolation, or, Night Thoughts (1797), illustrated with intaglio copper-plate engravings by William Blake, returns today from Madrid, where it has been on display at the Fundacion Juan March since October last year in their exhibition ‘Treasure Island: British Art from Holbein to Hockney’.

As we welcome back Young and Blake so we send off our copy of a trial edition of Alfred Tennyson’s Idylls for inclusion in the ‘Medievalist Visions’ exhibition which begins tomorrow in the Weston Room of the Maughan Library at King’s College London, running until 22 May. While visually less impressive than the sumptuously-illustrated, handsomely-bound and large format Complaint, our Tennyson, well under half the size, without illustrations, and in a drab paper binding, is the rarer item. It contains four trial idylls (The Birth of Arthur, The Holy Grail, Sir Pelleas, and The Death of Arthur ) bound in with Strahan’s 1869 reprint of the Idylls of the King to form an edition projected by Tennyson but never published. The variant readings between the trial idylls in our volume and the texts as first published in the 1870 Holy Grail and Other Poems are substantial. Our copy is made more interesting by the presence of corrections in Tennyson’s own hand to both the trial printings and the previously published Idylls; and that binding may be drab but it’s also the original.


Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring Garretson’s Latin textbook

“Among the first printed books were editions of the Latin Grammar which goes under the name of Donatus. These only survive in fragments. Schoolbooks in many editions of almost any size commonly survive in very few, and often unique copies, sometimes imperfect.” This is how Paul Quarrie, of Maggs, began his description of our copy of John Garretson’s English Exercises for School-Boys to Translate into Latin (1704), and it explains why we chose a tatty duodecimo school textbook, cheap at the time and badly printed with sloping type, as a treasure. The copy held at Senate House Library is namely the only known copy of the tenth English edition of this work. Seven English editions have been completely lost, with another nine known in one edition only.  Three Irish editions – the twelfth, twentieth, and twenty-first – are known also in single copies. The text of the book comprises typical sententia and some more distinctive invective. The invective includes a description of dolts who go from school to Oxford or Cambridge and learn nothing there, for “those that are unteachable at school, for the most part continue such” – unlikely to apply to scholars at the ancient Universities in today’s competitive environment.


Senate House Library, University of London: an insight into our treasures volume

shlbookcover400The CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group holds regular training events on various matters pertaining to rare books and special collections. Yesterday Senate House Library hosted a Group event devoted to an element of advocacy – always a popular topic – namely, an account of editing treasures volumes. This was a behind-the-scenes description of editing Senate House Library, University of London: how items were selected and contributors approached, an exposition of the working relationship between author/editor and publisher, the aims and limitations of writing a library’s history for such a purpose … in short, an outline of the whole process. It was a great way to talk about our treasures and our treasures volume, to raise the profile of the book, and hopefully to help others who are considering producing a treasures volume about their collections.

Our H.G. Wells Collection relaunched!

Yesterday evening the Library hosted an event in association with the Friends of Senate House Library and the H.G. Wells Society to relaunch its H.G. Wells Collection, which in 2012 was boosted by the donation of 160 volumes from the Society’s own library. Our H.G. Wells Collection was started in 1962 as a collaborative venture between the Society and Senate House Library and we are delighted that 50 years later both partners were once again able to work together to boost our Wells holdings for the benefit of Wells scholarship present and future. The collection now contains 334 printed items comprising first and subsequent editions of Wells’s works in English and foreign language translations, together with critical and biographical studies. Some of these items were on display last night, including one of our copies of the 1924 first edition of The Dream: a Novel, published by Jonathan Cape, which includes a statement at the end of a list of Wells’s publications reading:  ‘All these are in print and on sale, whatever a lazy bookseller may say to the contrary’! This statement was subsequently removed and does not appear in our second copy …

Spot the lazy bookseller

Spot the lazy bookseller

The highlight of the evening was an excellent talk by Professor Patrick Parrinder on ‘H.G. Wells and the University of London’. Wells had a long-running and fascinating relationship with the University, which had a considerable influence on his career and writings. Wells joined the Normal School (later Royal College) of Science at South Kensington in 1884 on a government scholarship to study biology under T.H. Huxley, but increasingly discontented and rebellious left the University in 1887 without a degree. In 1890, however, he completed his London BSc as a private student, securing first class honours in zoology, and joined the teaching staff of the University Correspondence College. An advocate of reform, he described the University in 1903, rather unflatteringly, as ‘an acephalous invertebrate in the political world’. In 1922 he stood unsuccessfully, as a Labour candidate, for election as MP for the University, and our Wells Collection includes his circular letter soliciting support for his candidacy, University of London Election, which he was forced to withdraw as it contained an advertisement for one of his own works! Awarded an honorary doctorate of literature by the University in 1936, Wells submitted a thesis in 1943, when in his late seventies, for the degree of DSc. The examiners’ report, which survives in the University Archives, described the submission, which was entitled A thesis on the quality of illusion in the continuity of the individual life in the higher metazoa, with particular reference to the species Homo Sapiens, as ‘a slighter work’ in comparison to his earlier output, but the degree was awarded in recognition of Wells’s ‘magnificent contributions … to the cause of social science and education throughout the world’.

We are extremely grateful to the Wells Society, and to Professor Parrinder, for their generosity and assistance in revitalising our Wells Collection.

Bell’s Shakespeare at Senate House

Skimming bibliographical journals as they appear is one of the delightful duties of a Rare Books Librarian. The winter 2012 issue of The Book Collector is especially relevant for Senate House Library, containing an article by John Wolfson (honorary curator of rare books at Shakespeare’s Globe) entitled ‘Bell’s Edition of Shakespeare’s Plays: A Bibliographic Nightmare’. The major late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century publisher John Bell first published Shakespeare’s plays in two issues in 1774, in a version described by Wolfson as ‘the most corrupt edition ever published’ – the reason being that Bell printed the plays as they were presented on the stage, namely with textual liberties. The edition was financially successful and further editions followed, with various confusions outlined by Wolfson. Senate House Library hold both Bell’s second edition of 1774 and his 1788 duodecimo edition. These were catalogued last year in an ongoing drive to catalogue the Library’s strong pre-1801 Shakespeare holdings: most sets of his works are now online, with individual editions of plays still to come.

Bells Shakespeare

Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring the Black Prince manuscript

The publication of Senate House Library, University of London, featuring sixty treasures from the Library’s holdings, was a high point for the Library in 2012. In 2013 we hope to feature individual items from the volume in weekly blog entries. Of course we hope that it will encourage people to buy the book … but there’s also the motivation that was the motivation for producing the book, of celebrating and sharing some of the books and manuscripts that are precious to us.

The book begins with MS1, a manuscript from about 1385. The manuscript was composed by Sir John Chandos (d. 1370; the ‘Chandos Herald’), the domestic herald of the soldier, administrator and follower of Edward, the Black Prince (1330-1376). It provides an eyewitness account in over 4,000 lines of French verse couplets of the exploits of Edward, during the Hundred Years War. The item came to the University of London from another Prince Edward: the University of London purchased it to present to the Prince of Wales (subsequently Edward VIII) when conferring the honorary degrees upon him on 5 May 1921, and Edward placed it on permanent loan in the University Library. The manuscript is special for various reasons. Its text is significant: to quote Reginald Arthur Rye’s description of it in Catalogue of the Manuscripts and Autograph Letters in the University Library at the Central Building of the University of London … with a Description of the Manuscript Life of Edward, Prince of Wales, the Black Prince by Chandos the Herald (London, 1921), “The poem is one of the most valuable authorities on certain episodes in the Hundred Years War, and is in all probability the source of almost all our information respecting the years 1366 and 1367” (p. 6). Then it has stunning provenance, having belonged to the well-known author, translator and scribe John Shirley (?1366-1456). Finally, it is beautiful, opening with a stunning illuminated full-page miniature depicting the Holy Trinity and the Black Prince.

            The manuscript was an obvious candidate for the treasures volume. It is the first item to be featured there because the volume is arranged in chronological order of production. Its placing is fortuitous, for it deserves pride of place as what might well be described as the greatest of Senate House Library’s treasures.


Going Underground with the Institute of Historical Research: Marking 150 Years of the Tube

The Institute of Historical Research is about to hold a conference (17-18 January) “Going Underground: Travel Beneath the Metropolis, 1863-1913” to mark the 150th anniversary of the London Underground. Senate House Library was pleased to offer a small display in the Jessel Room, on the first floor of Senate House, to support the event. Since 1908, when the University purchased manuscripts and pamphlets about railways which had belonged to the railway engineer John Urpeth Rastrick, the Library has had strong holdings on railways within its Goldsmiths Library of Economic Literature, and over the years several accruals have concerned the tube, from booklets about individual lines to maps and monographs. The books in the display show enduring general interest in the London Underground. The main exhibit is a large map at a scale of 1:15,840 and measuring 111.8 by 102.8 centimetres. Produced by Robert. J. Cook & Hammond in 1903, this shows lines running, lines under construction and lines proposed. Its limits are Highgate, Wimbledon, Wormwood Scrubs and the Isle of Dogs. The map was too large to fit in the display case in its entirety, but we ensured local relevance by including Russell Square in the portion shown.