Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring an enchanted voyage

Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Voyage of Maeldune’ adapts a well-known Irish legend in P.W. Joyce’s Old Celtic Romances (1879). It relates the adventures of a chieftain who seeks to revenge his father’s death, but who is blown off course on a Ulyssean voyage of enchantment and calamity. The journey brings him to magic islands that cast a frenzied spell on his crew, who fall to slaying each other. The spell is broken only on the Isle of a Saint where they encounter a hermit who admonishes forgiveness. Weary of strife and sin, the mariners return home. On seeing his father’s killer, the hero forsakes revenge and leaves him be.

Composed in 1879-80, the text of the manuscript is, besides relatively small variants, identical to the version published in Ballads, and Other Poems (1880). The poem is written in black ink with extensive revisions in Tennyson’s hand on thirteen leaves of ruled laid paper, torn with hurried force from a copybook now held at the Houghton Library (Harvard Notebook 47), which contains other early fragments of the poem. The ragged, dirty pages contain the final stages of creation as Tennyson fair-copied and further revised the poem. They significantly modify the well-known story that Tennyson composed in his head while walking up and down the garden before committing his poem to paper.

That Sir Louis Sterling liked Tennyson is clear from the fact that, in addition to two private press editions of Tennyson’s work presumably acquired for the publisher rather than the author, he owned 31 printed editions of his works, including some in more than one copy, some in trial copies, and The Princess in the first five editions. This is one of three Tennyson holograph manuscripts in the Sterling Library.

MS SL/V/32

Voyage of Maeldune


New video on the Craig Collection

Following the recent cataloguing of the Craig Collection, the library has produced a video in which Dr Richard Espley discusses Alec Craig’s life, Craig’s motivation for collecting works on sexuality and erotic and censored books, and what the Collection can tell us about censorship and changing social taboos.

Ephemera galore

On Saturday, 18 May the Senate House Library Friends held a seminar about ephemera, which the Library supported with a talk by archivist Richard Temple and with a small display. We devoted half of the display to political ephemera held by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies Library: part of a collection which encompasses more than 270 boxes of material from over 60 countries, including current Commonwealth members, ex-members and even ex-colonies of other imperial powers. The collection includes material made by and for an extraordinarily wide variety of different political parties, trade unions and pressure groups, and includes pamphlets, leaflets, posters, badges, rosettes, stickers, and even paper hats and t-shirts. The display included items relating to South Africa’s 1994 election, the first since the end of apartheid; and a selection of items showing the variety of formats in the collection, several from political elections in Namibia, Australia, Barbados and Rhodesia.

The second part of the display demonstrated some of the diversity of ephemera held at Senate House Library, from playbills for performances at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, between 28 September 1825 and 23 June 1826 to a Victorian scrapbook containing 71 specimens of seaweed and to 1920s receipts for lecture hire for Harry Price’s National Laboratory of Psychological Research. These can shed light on collections. The scrapbook of seaweed was a gift, presumably to a member of the Durning-Lawrence family, by the wife of the zoologist John Edward Gray (1800-1875), a curator at the British Museum; Maria Gray arranged the algae in the herbaria at Kew Gardens and at the British Museum. The scrapbook thus is of botanical interest, in addition to showing something about the social circles of the Grays and the Durning-Lawrence family, and showing how even the most focussed library collections – Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence consistently described his collection as “Baconian” – can contain more personal, less focused material. Invoices, mainly book invoices, came with the named printed special collections which had belonged to Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence, Harry Price, and Sir Louis Sterling: these are invaluable for the insights they provide into how much money the collector had to spend, how aggressively and comprehensively he bought, and what his interests were at a particular time; comparison with the books in his library can also show what he once had and then discarded. 

Pamphlets, often bound, are likely to be the most common form of ephemera in any institutional library, and Senate House Library has abounded in them from the time it opened as the University of London Library in Burlington Gardens in 1877. For the display we selected suppressed pacifist pamphlets pertaining to the First World War – a reminder of ephemera’s power to penetrate social consciousness and its potential perceived danger.

Politcal ephemera, Instute of Commonwealth Studies

Political ephemera, Institute of Commonwealth Studies

Invoices from the Harry Price Archive

Invoices from the Harry Price Archive

From the Reading Room – English Goethe Society Archives.

Fabienne Schopf of the University of Stuttgart has been in the Reading Room consulting the archives of the English Goethe Society and I asked her why:

I am consulting documents, e.g. letters, annual reports and the Publications of the English Goethe Society (EGS), London. I am especially interested in the period between 1886, when the Society was founded, until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.  A similar society, the Goethe-Gesellschaft was founded in 1885 at Weimar, Germany.  My master’s thesis will compare and analyze the efforts and publications of the societies

Founded in 1886 with the aims ‘to promote and extend the study of Goethe’s work and thought, and to encourage original research upon all subjects connected with Goethe’ (English Goethe Society, First Annual Report presented at a Business Meeting 1 December 1886), the English Goethe Society continues to be active today. 

Many of the Society’s records were lost in the bombing of University College London in 1940, where they were stored at the time.  The core of the papers now available to researchers at Senate House Library was in the possession of Ella Oswald, the daughter of Dr Eugen Oswald, a founder of the Society, and were depositied with The Institute of Germanic Studies in 1955.

The collection now consists of c.1500 items, with the majority of them catalogued online.  Among the the collection’s files of correspondence, administrative records and publications are some more unusual artifacts, including fragments of Goethe’s hair (EGS.5.2.PER (iii)), 18th-century silhouettes (EGS.5.2.SIL) and a bust of Goethe. 

 EGS uncat-4652

EGS 5.2 Sil-4659

Senate House Library treasures: featuring the servant problem

In 1847 Henry Mayhew (1812–1887) and his brother Augustus (1826–1875) brought to the

Part 2, "It's my cousin, Ma'am"

Part 2, “It’s my cousin, Ma’am”

publisher David Bogue an idea for a comic series, to be published in shilling monthly parts. It would purport to be written by the much-harassed mistress of a middle-class household and deal with the problems of recruiting and managing domestic servants, already a favourite subject of the comic weekly magazine Punch (founded in 1841). Bogue accepted their proposal and commissioned George Cruikshank, the outstanding English political and social caricaturist of the first half of the nineteenth century, to supply two etchings for each part, together with a wrapper design and title-page vignette.

Although the resulting work has not survived the nineteenth century, initially it was a great hit, reputedly selling more copies than the monthly parts of  Pickwick Papers had doneCruikshank’s brilliantly comic plates helped greatly in this respect. While part publication was a common mode of publishing in the Victorian era and helped readers to spread the costs of their purchase, it was expected that readers would ultimately have the parts bound, and a title page was typically issued with the final issue of parts for the purpose. Thus unbound parts in institutional libraries are relatively rare. We chose to feature the parts for The Greatest Plague in Life rather than those for Dickens’s more enduring Nicholas Nickleby or Little Dorrit, also in the Sterling Library, for their greater rarity: ours is currently the only set of original parts for the Mayhew work recorded on COPAC. For Senate House another endearing feature of the Mayhew is its local flavour: when the story begins, the narrator is in a boarding house in Guildford Street, Russell Square – bereft of her own establishment, she complains, because of a pack of lazy, ungrateful, good-for-nothing servants.

Part 3, back

Part 3, back

Conservation of a Seventeenth-Century Book

Morley, Thomas, A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (London: Humfrey Lownes, 1608). The book comes from the library of Novello Chairman Alfred Henry Littleton, who collected landmarks of music printing.

First published in 1597, Thomas Morley’s  Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke has been described as a piece of outstanding scholarship,  which has retained its importance as a musical textbook (Oxford DNB). It is written in the form of a dialogue between master and pupil, with many examples of printed music.  The music collection at Senate House Library provides witness to its lasting value, holding an Oxford University Press edition of the entire work from 1937 and Dent editions from 1952 and 1963. These are in addition to several scores selected from it.  The book, in a 17th-century full calf leather binding, was at risk of further damage when it was requested.  

 1 Before spine and left boardMany printed books that are referred for conservation in the library’s conservation studio have weak or broken board attachments. This book, sewn on alum tawed supports, had strong board attachments but the front board had bent up at the joint stressing the covering leather. The leather was broken along this part of the joint and areas were missing at the corners and spine.  The book had other damage including loose sewing and torn text.  The book needed remedial conservation to prevent the damage from getting any worse but it did not need to be heavily repaired, which would affect the evidence of the history of the book and its binding.

The first step was to strengthen the board attachment to prevent the leather tearing further along the joint.  

2 Leather repair at joint after

A new strip of leather was inserted across the joint underneath the original leather. It was pasted down one side, on to the board and under the board leather. On the spine side it was only pasted to the underside of the leather to prevent the spine leather becoming too rigid and risk it breaking.  The missing spine panel of leather which exposes the headband threads was not replaced because it was not an area that was vulnerable to further damage with careful use and storage.

.Tail and broken endband

The tail band threads were loose.

4 Tie down threads pasted 2 copy

A piece of toned, thin, flexible Japanese paper was pasted to the spine to give a smooth base to paste the tie down threads onto.   

5 left board curled at joint copy

The book is sewn onto alum tawed skin sewing supports which are then attached to the board. The bent edge of the front board may be due to shrinkage of the sewing supports combined with the stiff parchment endleaf guard and the heavy photographic paper of the facsimile title page catching the board as it closes. This title page was removed to try to soften the joint and will be kept with the book.

6 Left Bent board afterThe board was softened with water  mixed with a little paste before drying it under pressure. The paste was to help the board stay flat. This was not totally successful because the board creased up again slightly as soon as the book was closed.

No further attempts were made to avoid further stress to the alum tawed supports. There is less strain on the joint now because the leather has been repaired so with careful handling it should not get any worse.


The text paper is thin with some worn, torn edges and with several knife cuts to the text leaves. The edge tears were repaired if they were likely to catch and extend during use. 8 A Before repairsThe clean,sharp cuts are probably a result of the removal of the missing endleaves and the first few pages.   Paper was expensive and it is not unusual for endleaves to be removed for re-use.

7 First text page after

These clean, sharp edged cuts running through the text meant that a series of small ‘splint’ paper repairs on both sides of the sheets were needed to prevent the repair paper obstructing the text.                 

The paper either side of the cut on the introductory page has distorted and the type, as you can see, does not match up precisely.

9  A after repair

The repairs had to be stiff enough to stop the repaired page ‘peaking’ at the sharp join but discreet enough not to interfere with the text.     


The sewing was loose near the tail of the book. 10 Tail band looseInitially this was to be repaired with new stitches but on closer examination it was found that the book was sewn two-on.  In this technique one length of thread picks up two sections in one stitch across the spine. This was common from the beginning of the seventeenth century in England to speed up the sewing. It meant every other section would need to have a new hole pierce the paper but this would disturb the historical evidence 11 Tail edge after sections flattenedof the binding structure. 

Therefore, the loose sections were eased back into position in the book and, where possible, strengthened by pasting them into position on the spine.

12 whole book after

These minimal repairs do not intrude on the original binding and with considerate handling and a benign storage environment the book will be functional for future generations.

Beautiful Things – The Chinese Drawings.

‘The Chinese Drawings’ (SLIV 63 Sterling Library) are atypical of the kind of material that Sir Louis Sterling collected but on seeing these exquisite drawings it is easy to understand why he wanted them.  The printed catalogue of Sterling’s collection, published in 1954, describes them simply as ‘A set of twelve coloured drawings on paper, mounted and bound in dark red morocco, gilt, dark red watered silk linings’.  We know something of the provenance of the drawings from a note tucked into their album, which reads thus:

Second only in importance to what are called the Mandarin Series (which are larger designs), sets such as this are scarce on account of the subjects being Chinese national types; i.e., pictures of the common people as compared with celebrity mandarins.  This set was captured at the Taku Forts in 1842, and their captor stated that they were at least twenty years old, and possibly much more, at that time.

The circumstances were these  

Captain Henry Eden, R.N. was senior Lieutenant of the Dido during the closing operations of the Chinese War, 1841-1842.  The day after the taking of Woosung, June 17, 1842, Lieutenant Eden landed in command of the boats’ crews belonging to the squadron, which included the marines of the Dido and destroyed the enemy’s forts, magazines, etc.  In one of those forts this set of Chinese drawings was found by Lieutenant Eden and he carried them off as a prize, retaining them in his family until his death, when they came into the possession of his sons, from one of whom they were purchased in 1919.

Beautiful Things – text and photographs by Charles Harrowell.

We would love to hear from anyone who can add to our knowledge of these beautiful drawings.

SLV 63 -4379

SLV 63 -4380

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