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
‘The Early Modern Book in England’ has been one of the LRBS courses this week. Seventeenth-century ownership has been one of the topics discussed. Senate House Library provided examples of books with well and less-well-known former owners. In the former category came a copy of Francis Mathew’s A Mediterranean Passage by Water from London to Bristol (1670) with the inscription of the antiquary and biographer John Aubrey (1627-1696). Having enjoyed its possession, Aubrey then passed it on: ‘for my worthy good friend Mr John Collins R.S.S.’. This was the mathematician and scientific administrator John Collins, who was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1667. Not noted in the class because extending beyond the period set for discussion, but of interest to Senate House Library, is the additional inscription of Isaac Reed from 1772; Reed (1742-1807) was a literary editor and book collector whose friends included the Shakespearean scholars Richard Farmer and George Steevens.
Wednesday, 27 June: The Library provided about forty books for one of the London Rare Books School classes on bindings. Only one of the bindings in question could be described as fine, and some, chosen specifically to demonstrate sewing structure, were definitely the worse for wear – but it was interesting to hear under Nicholas Pickwoad’s expert tutelage just how valuable ordinary books are for showing binding techniques of different periods in different countries. Among other books taken out was an almanac from 1768, Rider’s British Merlin, sporting a cottage style binding: interesting because this is a Restoration-style binding which, outmoded generally, remained on almanacs one hundred years later. Especially piquant was a copy of Abbot Benedict’s De Vita & Gestis Henrici II, published in Oxford in 1735, bound in what is now rather scuffed calf in Oxford, in a style known as the Cambridge panel. Our copy stands out for its inclusion of the binder’s invoice for two shillings.
A copy of the Art Libraries Journal, 37(3) arrived, including an article by Karen Attar, ‘Illustration, Book History and Research Facilitation: Some Observations’. The timing was excellent, as much of the article discusses library support for the London Rare Books School, which is running at present. The article highlights the importance of physical books in an age of increasing digitisation, and dwells on the value of library staff being well acquainted with their collections in order to help researchers as effectively as possible. While Senate House Library is well equipped with early printed books, the article is encouraging in pointing out that vast numbers are not in fact necessary to support quite a lot of teaching.
London Rare Books School students were using Historic Collections materials today, for a bibliography course in the morning and a manuscripts class in the afternoon. Among other items they enjoyed seeing two late-fourteenth-century manuscripts of Piers Plowman, a roll from 1557 showing the funeral of Anne of Cleves, and a book of hours produced in the second half of the fifteenth century for urban owners – a mid-range manuscript rather than a de luxe one, but nonetheless exquisite with illustrations and decoration. It is exciting for staff, too, both to realise afresh what we have, and to see users appreciating it.
The first week of the London Rare Books School for 2012 began. It is hard to realise that LRBS is in its fifth year already. Students enjoyed the introductory lecture about Senate House Library and its collections of manuscripts and printed books, and seeing the accompanying exhibition. It was startling for us to realise that Shakespeare’s First Folio was by far the least rare book on display, if the most iconic. Exhibits this year included a late-fifteenth century Italian manuscript acquired by Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence from the Phillipps Collection, and a copy of Pietro Paolo Vergerio’s educational treatise ‘De Ingenuis Moribus ac Liberalibus Adolescentiae Studiis Liber’.