New ODNB note

The entry for illustrator, painter and designer Walter Crane in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has long noted the presence in the Beinecke Library at Yale University and the Houghton Library at Harvard University of 29 shiny black notebooks containing watercolours to accompany stories Crane told his children at bedtime. Alan Crawford, writing in the ODNB, states: ‘There is not much in his work that is finer than the visual wit and tenderness of these books, which were the work, Crane tells us, of the odd half-hours of winter evenings’.

Beatrice's Painting Book

Beatrice’s Painting Book

Since 1956 three such books have also been held at Senate House Library: thirty water-colours in a book entitled ‘Beatrice Crane her Book, April 1880’; thirty-nine, mainly on mythology and geography, in ‘Beatrice’s Painting Book’, Jan. 30, 1881; and thirty-eight pen-and-ink drawings in an undated notebook, ‘Lancelot his Book’ – Beatrice being Crane’s oldest child (b. 1873) and Lancelot (b. 1880) his youngest. We highlighted them last year in library director Christopher Pressler’s collection of favourite items, Director’s Choice (London: Scala, 2012) and in an exhibition based on it. Now the Senate House ‘black books’ have joined those at Yale and Harvard to gain a mention in the ODNB.


Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring St Jerome

Jerome incunableSenate House Library has never been wealthy, and although its purchasing has been intended to include antiquarian books, most of its treasures have been gifts. So in the treasures volume we wanted to include at least one item that the Library had bought, as a testimony to its efforts to help itself. Thirty-seven of the Library’s 134 fifteenth-century books were in fact purchased, all between 1941 and the late 1960s. They include this edition of a monastic rule compiled by Lupo de Olmedo for the Hermits of St Jerome of the Observance. It is the latest of eight incunable editions. The edition is currently recorded in three libraries in the United Kingdom, including Senate House Library, and nineteen further copies in Europe and the United States. Thus in terms of survival it does not count as rare. But the Senate House Library copy is endeared to us by its recent provenance: the incunable collector George Dunn (1865-1912); the Oxonian ecclesiastical historian Cuthbert H. Turner; and Turner’s godson, the bookman John Carter, whose ABC for Book Collectors is held in several editions in Senate House Library.

450 years of book history on show

We were delighted this week to host a visit by students on the Institute of English Studies’ MA in the History of the Book course, in the suitably bookish surroundings of the Durning-Lawrence Library. A mouth-watering buffet of books was laid out on the table, ranging from the 1471 edition of the great compendium of medieval science De Proprietatibus Rerum (‘On the properties of things’) which William Caxton helped to print during his visit to Cologne – complete with elegant hand-coloured initials in blue and red – to 1930s drafts and redrafts of poems by Thomas Sturge Moore, showing the creative process from first trials to the printed page. Under the expert guidance of Professor Simon Eliot the lively discussion took in illustration, piracy and copyright, type, colour printing, the transition of play texts into print, three-decker novels, Dickens monthly parts, and much more besides.

 Students in the Durning-Lawrence Library

Chosen to illustrate the multi-volume novel, provincial and London publishing, and the imaginative presentation of text, our first edition of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (York and London, 1760-1767) was also relevant for Valentine’s Day … When in volume 6 the narrator tells of his Uncle Toby’s love for Widow Wadman the reader is presented with a blank page and invited to draw her beauty according to his own fancy: ‘call for pen and ink – here’s paper ready to your hand – Sit down, Sir, paint her to your own mind – as like your mistress as you can – as unlike your wife as your conscience will let you … Was ever any thing in Nature so sweet! – so exquisite!’

For the students able to examine, compare and make connections between items covering 450 years of book history the session was, in the words of their tutor, ‘invaluable’.

Jane Austen’s men

St John's College

Combe’s Oxford

This intriguing title is the subject of a day event hosted by the Institute of English Studies on Saturday 16 February, with papers on the armed forces, Jane Austen and the male mind, Jane Austen’s clergymen, and the marriage market and changing fortunes of the landed class. Senate House Library agreed/offered to support the event with a small display of books from within its special collections – and very challenging it was. We did not think that we could do much with the Georgian male mind. But male writers featured largely in the mind of this inveterate novel reader, so to compensate we selected the first edition of one of the novels Jane Austen is known to have admired, Samuel Richardson’s History of Sir Charles Grandison. The armed forces were represented by Thomas Rowlandson’s Loyal Volunteers, replete with numerous full-page colour illustrations; clergymen by Rector Thomas Knowles’s Advice to a Young Clergymen (1796), and the landed class by John Aikin’s Description of the Country from Thirty to Forty Miles round Manchester (1795), with a picture of Chatsworth (thought to have inspired Mr Darcy’s home, Pemberley). We also wished to acknowledge the men in Jane Austen’s family. As several of her male relatives were students or dons at Oxford – as indeed were a couple of her characters – we opted for another sumptuously illustrated book, William Combe’s History of the University of Oxford (1814). Unfortunately both it and Aikin were too large and heavy for the allotted display case, so we had to make do with scans from them. Hopefully delegates will be tempted to come back some time to look at the real thing …

Rowlandson, Loyal Volunteers

Rowlandson, Loyal Volunteers

Literary Witchcraft

Yesterday a class of undergraduate English students from Royal Holloway came to see some books from the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature. The class was studying various works of English literature featuring witches for a course ‘Witchcraft and Drama 1576-1642’. – for example, Macbeth; Marlowe’s Dr Faustus; Middleton’s The Witch; Jonson’s The Masque of Queenes. Books on witchcraft from the Harry Price Library put the plays into context: for example, Reginald Scot’s famous Discoverie of Witchcraft, bravely denying the existence of witches and known by Shakespeare; Sprenger and Institutoris’s chilling Malleus Maleficarum, urging their prosecution; and more ephemeral items about specific cases, such as that of Temperance Lloyd, Mary Edwards, and Susanna Trembles, three impecunious elderly women from Bideford.

Enthusiasm about our books is always pleasurable to witness. It was also salutory to realise afresh the connection between sociology and literature. In bequeathing his books to the University of London, Harry Price wanted to give his collection academic respectability, and yesterday’s visit proves that he succeeded.

Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring hieroglyphs

Emilie Berrin’s bilingual French and German Secretair der Liebe first came to our attention as a rare and exquisite item during a project in 2001/2 to catalogue the Durning-Lawrence library, to which it belongs. Its beauty attracted the cataloguer, and its rarity was apparent Berrin_1808_pl-20when searching other library catalogues for cataloguing purposes: this turned out to be the only copy in Britain, with just one other copy of this edition recorded in Europe, in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. He researched it further. A decade later, a feature in Senate House Library, University of London is a distillation of some of what he learned. The beauty of the book is in its thirty-six hand-coloured plates in which musical notes, animals, flowers and other pictures make up hieroglyphs with ambiguous meanings. In one combination, the symbols can be deciphered as a potentially scandalous letter between young lovers, or as an epistle from a Reverend Father to the young girl’s aunt. A reason for the rarity is that the symbols were intended to be cut out and used. An emblem book of sorts, the book is a far cry from the seventeenth-century emblem books more common in the Durning-Lawrence Library, which were intended, in Durning-Lawrence’s view, to indicate to the initiated Sir Francis Bacon’s authorship of Shakespeare’s plays.

Pride, Prejudice and Continuing Popularity: our Book of the Month for February

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
London: T. Egerton, 1813
[S.L.] I [Austen – 1813]

Celebrating its two-hundredth anniversary this year, Pride and Prejudice is arguably the best-known, best-loved novel in the English language. From the middle of the nineteenth century a new British or American edition has appeared on average at least once every two years; it has given rise to numerous prequels, sequels and dramatisations, as well to abridgements ranging from standard books to comic strips; and international popularity can be ascertained by the wide range of languages into which it has been translated, ranging far beyond the major European ones to Persian, Japanese, Thai and Tamil among others. It must be one of few novels to unite popular affection with critical acclaim. Sir Walter Scott wrote in his diary on 14 March 1826: “Also read again and for the third time at least Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with.” Other authors who praised Jane Austen for such features as cleverness, accurate observations, and avoidance of sentimental and Gothic clichés, included Richard Brinsley Sheridan, William Gifford, Mary Russell Mitford, Henry Crabb Robinson and, later, Robert Southey. Thus, while the first edition is not rare – David Gilson located fifty-five copies for his 1982 bibliography of Jane Austen – it is certainly iconic.

The Senate House Library copy is part of the Sterling Library of first and fine editions of English literature; Sir Louis Sterling owned first editions of all six of Austen’s major novels, which fit naturally into a collection which celebrates the high spots of English literature. His copy of Pride and Prejudice was bound uniformly with the other titles by Sawyer in red morocco with gilt tooling and marbled endpapers. Less desirable now than the drab boards in which booksellers issued the work, a fine binding is one sign of the esteem in which a previous owner regarded the work. Within Sterling’s collection, the novel gains a context from being alongside first editions of novels by authors Austen read, admired, and sometimes satirised, such as Fanny Burney, Oliver Goldsmith, Ann Radcliffe, and Samuel Richardson.