To Manchester and Russia with the Senate House Library treasures volume

Activities in connection with the Senate House Library treasures volume continue. In January, at an event offered by the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group, Dr Karen Attar had given a talk in London about the experience of editing a treasures volume. On Thursday, 18 July, she gave a repeat session at the John Rylands Library in Manchester. A major focus was the reasoning behind the selection of items and contributors. Then came the process, followed by benefits. The introductory history of the University of London came in for a certain amount of analysis: how such histories function, what they achieve, and their limitations.

Promotion of the treasures volume continued in an academic context with a paper delivered by Dr Attar at a conference hosted by the Institute of English Studies on 23-23 July, on Russian/English studies, covering a wide range of literary and linguistic matters in Russian and English. The paper, “Bookish Delights: Selecting English and Russian Treasures”, featured the items in the treasures volume relevant to Russian or English Studies. Two books fall into the former category, the first Italian translation (1550) of Sigmund von Herberstein’s Rerum Moscoviticarum Commentari, and an apparently unique, anonymous booklet printed in Liverpool in the first decade of the nineteenth century, a threadbare story entitled Love and Honour, or, The Adventures of Serinda, a Beautiful Slave. With English literature being a longstanding strength of special collections, it is more prominent in the volume. Items featuring in the conference paper exemplified various reasons for choice: significant manuscripts (such as a Byron holograph manuscript); important provenance (Thomas Carlyle’s annotations on a borrowed copy of E.B. Browning’s  Aurora Leigh); books which tell a story (Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence’s copy of Shakespeare’s second folio); early English print (a 1492 edition of the Canterbury Tales); a format known to be liked by readers (part-publication of the Mayhew brothers’ satirical The Greatest Plague in Life or The Adventures of a Lady in Search of a Good Servant, 1847, now scarce even in volume form).


Disorderly London

A conference on “Literary London” has become an annual summer event. This year the conference theme was London in crisis and disorder. Senate House Library provided a small display to accompany the conference from 17 to 19 July. The best-known book shown was Henry Mayhew’s classic London Labour and the London Poor. Other items focused on crime.

To me, coming to the conference from the viewpoint of book reception, two items particularly stood out. These were The Frauds and Cheats of London Detected by George Barrington (London: J. Lee, 1802) and The New Cheats of London Exposed, by Richard King (London: A. Hogg, [between ca. 1778 and 1805?]). Both booklets were written to warn against vice and being taken in by it, on the basis that “the many shocking crimes committed in and about London, as well as frauds and cheats daily practised on the unwary tradesmen, mechanic and deluded countryman, call aloud for detection and discovery”, and that it is impossible to write too much about it. The text, albeit allegedly by two different authors, is is extremely similar, in some places identical, in the two works; a difference is that the Barrington booklet states specifically that it is aimed at residents of the country who may wish to visit London and risk ruin there, such people being more unsuspecting than London residents.

Wight, Mornings at Bow Street

Wight, Mornings at Bow Street

Also interesting for reception is John Wight’s Mornings at Bow Street,  illustrated by George Cruikshank: enlarged, corrected, and polished versions of “some of the most descriptive and amusing” reports from Bow Street Magistrates’ Court to have appeared between 1821 and 1823 in the Morning Herald. The text was first published in 1824 and ran through numerous editions in the nineteenth century: selected for display was the latest of four editions in the Bromhead Library, a cheap yellowback version. Further evidence of the work’s popularity was the publication of a sequel (also displayed), More Mornings at Bow Street, in 1827 – and perhaps even by the latest item chosen to display, Humours & Oddities of the London Police Courts by “Dogberry” (1894). Like the Bow Street volumes, this book offers “much that is curious and amusing in the more attractive side of London Police-Court life”, presenting true, but “re-dressed”, police cases. Unlike Mornings at Bow Street, it ranges over numerous papers and covers almost a century; and it was published only once.

Annual events

The week 6-14 July 2013 witnessed the fifth International T.S. Eliot summer school at the Institute of English Studies, University of London. As for previous summer schools, Dr Wim van Mierlo of the Institute of English Studies curated a small display of works by Eliot, based on holdings in the special collections of Senate House Library. In addition to books and booklets ranging from essays of criticism to Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the display included two typescript letters from Eliot to his fellow poet Thomas Sturge Moore, 16-28 March 1928, held in the Sturge Moore archive (MS978): one rejecting Sturge Moore’s Psyche in Hades for Faber but asking permission to send it to Leonard Woolf for the Hogarth Press, the second hoping that wanting Sturge Moore might contribute a preface to translations of Valéry by the poet Thomas McGreevy (1893-1967).

The T.S. Eliot summer school followed immediately upon the London Rare Books School, to which Senate House Library provided books from the special collections to seven separate courses, ranging from “The Mediaeval Book” to “Modern First Editions” via bibliography and bookbindings among others. Students pored over items as diverse as a twelfth-century manuscript of Bede, the 1674 catalogue of the Bodleian Library, a 1779 edition of Boccaccio illustrated by Gravelot, and the Kelmscott Chaucer. Of primary interest was the book as artefact. Some quite ordinary books gained significance for their presence in different kinds of libraries, for their bindings, or for the demonstrable engagement of a reader with the text, as shown by the Baconian R.M. Theobald’s annotations on his copy of Edwin Reed’s Bacon vs Shakspere (1899; classmark B.S. 822).

This year library staff participated in teaching, with Dr Karen Attar convening a new course on the history of libraries from the Middle Ages to the present.

LRBS class, July 2013

LRBS class, July 2013

Food in History

Senate House Library has just marked a first by supporting the 82nd Anglo-American conference of the Institute of Historical Research, which in 2013 takes as its theme “Food in History”. Books, pamphlets and the manuscript selected for display ranged from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries and showed different aspects of food. Manufacturing it comes from a Jamaican book advising on how to improve the manufacture of the related luxuries of muscovado sugar and rum, both derived from surgarcane. For trade there is a manuscript of English excise revenue from 1785, listing duties levied on hops, malt, coffee, tea and chocolate alongside non-comestibles throughout most of the eighteenth century. For the convivial aspect of food we selected John Timbs’s Clubs and Club Life in London, a standard nineteenth-century monograph with anecdotes of places where food was consumed communally.

            A monograph by an American journalist about German food shortages during the First World War and pamphlets about rationing in Great Britain during the Second World War deal with food in times of major upheaval. The picture is not entirely gloomy, as the pamphlet printed in French, Le Rationnement en Angleterre, points out: “rationing of foodstuffs has had at least one excellent result: the English have finally decided to follow the continental example and have become lovers of green vegetables.” But the English obviously had a lot of ground to cover in order to catch up with continentals in making food appetising, as shown by the two cookery books displayed. Gervase Markham’s English House-wife demonstrates that seventeenth-century cookery could be delicious, as for this recipe for apple pie (with typical pre-industrial lack of specificity about times and quantities):

“Take the fairest and best pippins, and pare them, and make a hole in the top of them; then prick in each hole a cloves or two, and put them into the coffin, then break in whole sticks of cinnamon, add slices of orange-pills, and dates, and on the top of every pippin, a little piece of sweetbutter; then fill the coffin, and cover the pippins over with sugar: then close up the pye, and bake it, as you bake pyes of the like nature, … and then strew sugar upon it a good thickness, and set into the oven again for a little space, as while the meat is in dishing up, and then serve it.”

In Marguerite Fedden’s How to Cook a Simple Meal (3rd edn, 1912), emphasis was very much on the simple: for example, boiled fish (sole ingredients haddock, warm water to cover, salt and vinegar); roast beef; fried potatoes; stewed mushrooms; rice pudding; macaroni cheese; boiled and scrambled egg; porridge. The booklet ends with instructions on how to make coffee and tea.

Housing London

New Buildings to be Erected by the Association at Battersea Park

To coincide with the IHR Centre for Metropolitan History conference Mobilising London’s Housing Histories: the Provision of Homes in London from 1850, a small display of books from the Library’s Special Collections can be found on the first floor of Senate House near the Jessel Room.  The display focuses on the problem of and proposed solutions for housing the poor and working classes in London in the late nineteenth century.  Collections featured include the Family Welfare Association (formerly the Charity Organisation Society) Library, which includes rare pamphlets, leaflets and publications of charitable organisations and philanthropic enterprises; and the Library of Liberal politician and trade union leader John Burns.  Burns had a particular interest in the housing of the working classes having been closely involved in the construction of the London County Council Latchmere Estate as a member of the council and MP for Battersea.

Among the items featured are a print of plans for worker’s dwellings at Battersea Park (featured above) constructed by one of the many private philanthropic building companies of the late nineteenth century.  Other items explore social campaigns for better housing by exposing the living conditions of the poorest residents of the capital: No Room to Live: the Plaint of Overcrowded London (1899) by journalist George Haw reveals conditions at the end of the century that had to some extent been exacerbated by slum clearances and the construction of model estates which were often financially inaccessible to the those most in need of improved housing.  Many of the problems Haw describes also have a contemporary resonance: homelessness, competition for housing, chronic overcrowding in dilapidated properties, urban isolation and the problems of block housing and rising rents versus income.

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

One of literature’s most famous detectives, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, is being honoured by a conference hosted by the Institute of English Studies on 21-22 June 2013, ‘Sherlock Holmes, Past and Present’. To provide a display of library materials to support the conference was a matter of course. Certain items were obvious candidates for display: for example, an issue of the Strand Magazine, the original publisher of 56 Holmes stories, and the first edition in book form of some Holmes stories, with Sidney Paget’s illustrations from the Strand Magazine – we chose the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

            Alongside these items, which have been in Senate House Library for more than half a century, we were able to show a recent acquisition. This was a sixteen-page, one-act play about Sherlock Holmes entitled Christmas Eve: An Unrecorded Adventure of Sherlock Holmes. It was written by Sir Sydney Castle Roberts (1887–1966), Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, and president of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, and privately printed at Cambridge University Press. We further decided to approach Sherlock Holmes from the angle of Baker Street, using a special collection featuring books on London. Dickens’s Dictionary of London, 1896-1897 (Eighteenth Year): An Unconventional Handbook includes an entry for Baker-Street Bazaar, noticeable for Chinese and Japanese goods of which Sherlock Holmes sometimes made use. We also displayed the issues for 1891 and 1910 of the popular annual guidebook London: Illustrated by Twenty Bird’s-Eye Views of the Principal Streets. Whereas the map of the Marylebone Road area in the 1891 issue, which pre-dates the creation of Sherlock Holmes that July, does not show Baker Street, the map in the 1910 issue does – an indication of Sherlock Holmes’s popularity?

Writers and their Libraries at Senate House

Conference logo

Conference logo

Collections at Senate House Library were well represented at the recent Institute of English Studies conference “Writers and their Libraries”. Anne Welsh, who is currently writing a doctoral dissertation about Walter de la Mare (1873-1956), began by discussing the books which constitute De la Mare’s working library. Looking especially at the poetry, she noted the proportion of his books which were poetry, and pointed out that about half of these were annotated, mostly with lists of page numbers at the back. The paper fitted in excellently with a theme of the conference, demonstrating how a writer’s demonstrable reading fed into his writing.

Walter de la Mare is one of two contemporary literary writers with a working library held at Senate House, and it was ideal to have both represented at the conference. The working library of the writer and designer Thomas Sturge Moore (1870-1944)  was the subject of conference co-organiser Wim Van Merlo’s paper, “Revision in the Margins: T. Sturge Moore and the Social Theory of Reading”. This showed how many books in Sturge Moore’s library contain his reworking of published poems, such that ultimately, the working library and Sturge Moore’s marginal practices can be understood as a network encapsulating past tradition and present creativity.

The mathematician and mathematical historian Augustus De Morgan (1806-1871), a writer of a very different ilk whose books constitute the founding collection of Senate House Library, was well known for annotating his books. His library, much larger than the collections of De la Mare and Sturge Moore at Senate House, was the subject of Karen Attar’s conference paper. This had a very different emphasis from the other two: after describing briefly the nature of the library and of De Morgan’s annotations, the paper moved on to the library within its institutional context, looking at how it has been described and curated, and what modern catalogue records tell us about De Morgan’s treatment of his books.

The cluster of papers about named special collections at Senate House Library must be a first. As many of the publications about special collections at Senate House Library are descriptions of collections told from the perspective of library history, it was exciting to hear papers from a new angle about how the collections are used for current literary research, exploring the relationship between writers’ books and their creativity. Because the conference was on home territory, we were able to complement the talks with books exhibited from all three collections.