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.


Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring the Ten Commandments

Leaf 36r

Leaf 36r

Printed editions of a substantial French work called La fleur des commandemens de dieu are recorded from the 1490s until at least the 1540s. Wynkyn de Worde first printed an English translation on 14 September 1510. The Senate House Library copy is of the second edition, completed on 8 October 1521. This is the first edition to identify the translator, one Andrew Chertsey, who lived in the London parish of St Clement Dane and produced four other translations of French devotional works for de Worde’s press: Ordynarye of Crystyanyte or of Crysten Men (1502 and 1506); The Crafte to Lyue Well and to Dye Well (1505); The Passyon of our Lorde (1521) and a shorter work (“lytell treatyse”), the Elucidarius (1507 and ?1523).

            The work is in two parts, the first listing and analyzing the Ten Commandments, the second offering short exempla about the results of following or neglecting them. For example, a monk who, fond of sleep, was sleeping in the choir at lauds dreamed that he saw a terrible devil who offered him a spoonful of molten pitch; withdrawing his head suddenly, he banged and hurt it (fol. clviii). A woman was condemned to torture after death which included suffering a toad on her breast which spewed fire in her face, because in life she had exposed her neck and breasts and had worn make-up (fol. clxxxxvii). Rather less unpleasant than reading the text is looking at the woodcut initials, an intriguing mixture of styles: some are like the plainest of initials used in manuscripts, while others are surrounded by flowers in shaded borders, and others, such as the “I” of the commonly used phrase “It is wryten”, have a bird perched on the bottom horizontal stroke of the letter, twisting its head in the direction of the text. The initials provide a closer clue than the text to the reason for acquiring the volume: at the time of acquisition in 1951, the Library held no works by any of the triumvirate of early English printers – William Caxton, Richard Pynson, and Wynkyn de Worde – and was eager to acquire one.

Walter de la Mare in the spotlight

JOLISA copy of Walter de la Mare’s poetry book for children Peacock Pie, marked up for a new edition and accompanied by Claude Lovat Fraser’s illustrations, featured in the recent treasures volume Senate House Library, University of London. Entries for that volume were about four hundred words each. Now an article more than ten times as long about the collection to which Peacock Pie belongs is available in the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 45 (2013), 168-76.

The piece by Karen Attar, “Modern Special Collections Cataloguing: A University of London Case Study”, is basically about describing books in an author collection for which differences between reprints matter: price increases; new advertisements on the wrappers; different sizes of the binding. Such features, while rarely relevant for library descriptions (how many libraries would have thirty-one copies of Peacock Pie, all different from each other but not all distinct editions?), contribute to bibliographical study. But it is impossible to discuss the description of books without saying something about the books themselves. Endearing in the collection are the inscriptions which show the bond between various De la Mare family members, most of which are noted rather than transcribed in catalogue records. The article gives some of these in full. Most evident in the collection is the close relationship between Walter de la Mare and his oldest son and publisher, Richard. But his younger son Colin edited an anthology of ghost stories, to which Walter de la Mare contributed an introduction. The book’s inscription from Colin is fulsome: “To dearest Daddy with all love from Colin. Thanking you with all my heart, for not only the present help you gave me, but also for keeping me at it! April 1931.”  So we hope that people without the remotest interest in describing books in modern special collections, at the University of London or elsewhere, might still find something to interest them.

Price and Dingwall meet in print

Christopher Josiffe, a librarian on the staff of Senate House Library, has just published “Dr Dingwall’s Casebook: A Sceptical Enquirer” — part one of a two-part article about the anthropologist, librarian and psychical researcher Eric John Dingwall (1891?-1986) — in the Fortean Times (April 2013, pp. 45-9). As David Sutton writes in his editorial (p. 2): “Christopher Josiffe has enjoyed access to the Dingwall papers at Senate House Library and shines a long overdue light onto the life and career of a man who, in his own way, was as intriguing and interesting an investigator as Harry Price himself”.

The psychical researcher and publicist Harry Price (1871-1948) and Eric Dingwall were well acquainted with each other and were both friends and rivals. They disputed over the nature (genuine or fake?) of two Austrian mediums, Willi and Rudi Schneider. Other topics for disagreement included Harry Price’s library, over which Dingwall presided at the Society for Psychical Research: Dingwall queried its level of interest to the Society, and Price the quality of Dingwall’s custodianship of it.

Senate House Library is privileged to hold both the library and archive of Harry Price and the Dingwall archive, and one of the fascinating elements of Josiffe’s research has been to bring together two sides of a sometimes wistful, sometimes waspish, correspondence to shed light on both men.

Dingwll box

Dingwall box

New ODNB note

The entry for illustrator, painter and designer Walter Crane in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has long noted the presence in the Beinecke Library at Yale University and the Houghton Library at Harvard University of 29 shiny black notebooks containing watercolours to accompany stories Crane told his children at bedtime. Alan Crawford, writing in the ODNB, states: ‘There is not much in his work that is finer than the visual wit and tenderness of these books, which were the work, Crane tells us, of the odd half-hours of winter evenings’.

Beatrice's Painting Book

Beatrice’s Painting Book

Since 1956 three such books have also been held at Senate House Library: thirty water-colours in a book entitled ‘Beatrice Crane her Book, April 1880’; thirty-nine, mainly on mythology and geography, in ‘Beatrice’s Painting Book’, Jan. 30, 1881; and thirty-eight pen-and-ink drawings in an undated notebook, ‘Lancelot his Book’ – Beatrice being Crane’s oldest child (b. 1873) and Lancelot (b. 1880) his youngest. We highlighted them last year in library director Christopher Pressler’s collection of favourite items, Director’s Choice (London: Scala, 2012) and in an exhibition based on it. Now the Senate House ‘black books’ have joined those at Yale and Harvard to gain a mention in the ODNB.

‘The Cowell Manuscript, or, The First Baconian’: New Publication about Senate House Library

MS294, ‘the Cowell Manuscript’, entered Senate House Library in 1931 as part of the Durning-Lawrence Library. It gained prominence in 1932 when Allardyce Nicholl

Shakespeare Survey

highlighted it in an article in the Times Literary Supplement, identifying it as the earliest piece of writing attributing Shakespeare’s plays to Sir Francis Bacon. In 2010 Prof. James Shapiro of the University of Columbia exposed the manuscript, allegedly written in 1805, as a later forgery. The time seemed ripe to present a transcript of the manuscript. Dr Karen Attar, who had already published several articles about Durning-Lawrence and his library, undertook the task. Her transcript, with an editorial introduction, has now appeared in Shakespeare Survey, 65 (2012), 323-36 – just a week before publication of the treasures volume Senate House Library, University of London, to which Prof. Shapiro has contributed a piece about the manuscript.

Jane Austen and her Readers: Senate House Library contributes

We were delighted to see a new book, Jane Austen and her Readers, 1786-1945 (Anthem, 2012), by Dr Katie Halsey, formerly of the Institute of English Studies, and now Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Literature at the University of Stirling.  Dr Halsey used the first editions of Jane Austen in the Sterling library, as well as a number of our other volumes, such as the Clarendon complete works of 1933 and the 1896 Sense and Sensibility, introduced by Austin Dobson and illustrated by Hugh Thomson.  As part of her research, Dr Halsey needed to consult as many different editions of Austen’s work as possible in order to establish the form in which Austen’s readers encountered her work over a long historical period. Senate House Library is happy to have been able to support such research.