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.

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