We are moving!

Thanks to all of you who have followed us on this site. We are moving but please come with us! Henceforth this blog will continue on Senate House Library’s website at http://www.senatehouselibrary.ac.uk/category/historic-collections/. We hope you’ll continue to follow us there.


Senate House Library Treasures Volume: Looking Back

Prize Coll-Halt_p76


Commissioning articles for a treasures volume is an uneven experience. Some people accept an invitation immediately, while other books are hawked around for up to five times or so before a scholar agrees to write about them. A few people responded to the invitation with the query: “Why don’t you write this piece yourself?”, and sometimes, as emails flew to and fro and I wielded the editorial red pencil, I did wonder whether it would have been simpler to have been a single author than an editor. But the quality of the finished product would have suffered. As it was, a stellar team of contributors demonstrated the fact of institutional goodwill, as sixty busy people, not all of whom were connected with the University, took time to research and write 400-word entries. Not only that, but contributors came with new angles and with expertise in their areas. Myths which had lasted half a century or longer were debunked and new discoveries made. Some were disappointing: a unique incunable is more prestigious than one of two copies (item no. 5; but at least Senate House Library continues to have the only known complete copy in the world. The second copy, long in the Sorbonne, had initially been incorrectly identified). Others were exciting, adding nuggets of research to a coffee-table volume: for example, Brian Alderson, editor and translator of many children’s books, identified the anonymous illustrator of a scarce Victorian children’s book, Halt!
Producing the treasures volume was exhilarating and worthwhile. Editress Karen Attar has now published a short article in SCONUL Focus, 58 about the benefits of producing such a volume, “Making Treasures Pay? Benefits of the Library Treasures Volume Considered”, accessible here.

From the Reading Room: Byrom Research



Tim Underhill from Cambridge writes of his use of the Carlton Shorthand Collection:

I first visited the Reading Room longer ago than I care to admit when I started research for a PhD dissertation, which focused on the ‘Universal English Short-hand’ invented by John Byrom (1692-1763) diarist, poet, local political activist, linguist and FRS – all in all, something of a polymath. Now that I’m preparing an edition and biography of Byrom, as well as continuing my research into eighteenth-century shorthand more generally, I’ve returned to explore more of Carlton’s great collection. I’m really enjoying doing so : it’s a neglected but very rich mine with much to interest current and future researchers in a gamut of fields connected with the history of communications, education and palaeography. Byrom’s was a leading and influential early eighteenth-century shorthand, which he spent so much of his life teaching (for a princely five guinea sum) while also raising subscription support for a printed manual, published posthumously in 1767. Carlton’s collection contains extremely rare, at points unique, evidence relating to Byrom’s subscription project. As is clear from correspondence that Carlton preserved, Byrom’s manual came to be highly prized by shorthand collectors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. So Carlton must have been all the more delighted with his own acquisition of what is a splendid association copy (CSC Byrom [1767] Box 3): this had been presented to Ralph Leycester, Squire of Toft (1699-1776), a leading proponent of Byrom’s system and a close friend for over four decades, whose own shorthand diaries I have been transcribing.

Another Byrom-related treasure in the collection is a letter written by him to Fisher Littleton (MS Carlton 35/12(i)), a Fellow Commoner of Emmanuel College Cambridge, fascinating as an instance of eighteenth-century ‘teaching-by-post’ and for showing that Byrom’s shorthand continued to be promulgated at Cambridge well after Byrom started teaching it in person there.

Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring the young George Grote



For the University of London, the classical historian George Grote was an exceedingly important figure: not merely as an authority on Greece but as an administrator and innovator, a member of the University of London Senate from 1850 onwards and Vice-Chancellor 1862-1871. He further bequeathed to the Library its second significant collection of books: about five thousand volumes on Classics, history, economics, philosophy and other matters.
Thus Grote’s representation in the treasures volume was partly a celebration of corporate identity. Representation emerges here in a very personal way, in a letter about him by his fiancée, Harriet Lewin, to her sister. It is an atypical letter among the Lewin Papers (MS811), an archive which focuses on Harriet’s nephew Thomas Herbert Lewin (1839-1916), an administrator in India.
Grote’s courtship and marriage to Harriet were problematical. The relationship began with a misunderstanding when a rival led Grote to believe that Harriet was already engaged to somebody else (see here), and continued under a cloud of parental disapproval which meant that sole contact was by correspondence. The letter is dated 25 August 1818, shortly after her engagement, and indicates something of the relief of the written word and the general lack of sympathy towards the young bride to be: “You know him, and have the capability of appreciating those qualities which ‘pass outward shew’, whilst the rest of my family judge entirely of him by exterior qualities”.
Ultimately the couple married clandestinely in 1820. They were very happy, despite Harriet’s poor health and the disappointment of remaining childless. Although Harriet was unable to ensure Grote’s posterity through offspring, she compensated by becoming his first biographer (1873).