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).


A Virginian visit: crossing an ocean and several centuries

On Thursday 26 September a group of seven students from the James Madison University in Virginia came with their teacher, book historian Mark Rankin, to view sixteenth- and early-seventeenth century books in the Senate House Library collections. The topic of the session was martyrology, and students pored enthusiastically over illustrations in two sixteenth-century editions of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. These included a set of twelve half-page woodcuts and a large folded leaf of plates depicting the gruesome tortures suffered by some of the martyrs, from the extraction of finger nails to the inevitable burning alive. The overtly Protestant nature of the illustrations was pointed out: for example, how in one instance a man’s dog was burned with him because he had held it up in mockery of the mass, and how the Pope was shown in a house window – with a woman. (Also displayed was John Bale’s Actes or Vnchaste Examples of the Englyshe Votaryes, condemning the allegedly intemperate activities of monks.)

Actes and Monuments

John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

Beyond martyrology, students saw examples of early printing. A copy of the encyclopaedia De Proprietatibus Rerum from approximately 1471 served multiple purposes: to show a book printed by William Caxton in Cologne before he commenced printing in England; to demonstrate the hybrid nature of early printing, with initials added in manuscript in red and blue; and to point out different perceptions of learning over time, with medicine here being viewed as belonging to the humanities. Shakespearean sources also featured, with two editions of Holinshed’s Chronicles. Attention focused on Macbeth, for which Holinshed provides the major source, and vocabulary was compared between Holinshed and the First Folio: were the three witches weird, as described by Holinshed, or were they wayward, the adjective used in the First Folio and then abandoned? The highlight for the students was indubitably the sight of Shakespeare’s First Folio. Troilus and Cressida received special mention, the reason being that the text is in the volume but not listed in the table of contents.

Shakespeare, First Folio

Shakespeare, Comedies, Histories and Tragedies (1623)

Early printed books can be exciting and mysterious. The students experienced this; and watching their journey of discovery, the message came across clearly to the facilitating staff too.

From the Reading Room.

Lily Ford, a PhD candidate at Birkbeck has visited the reading room a number of times over the past six months or so.  On each occasion she has been reading Airopaidia (Porteus Library 05 SR) by Thomas Baldwin. Luckily I caught her on her last visit and asked why she had been reading this text and how it was relevant to her wider research.

Thomas Baldwin’s Airopaidia contains the first British representations of a ‘real’ aerial view. The aerial view had long been imagined – there are ascension fantasies in Cicero, Lucian, and Dante among others, and ‘bird’s-eye views’ had been sketched from hills or steeples for centuries – but it was only with the invention of the hot air balloon that it could be experienced. Baldwin hired the entrepreneur Vincent Lunardi’s balloon and ascended over Chester in September 1785.  He found the change in the earth’s appearance when seen from above the clouds fascinating. He had two drawings engraved and reproduced in colour in the book, and he included quite specific instructions about how to look at them, in order to recreate the sensations of wonder and delight that the views had provoked in him.

Porteous Lib 05 SR p58-5773

Baldwin’s instructions for viewing are as follows:

‘A Circular View from the Balloon at its greatest Elevation.  The Spectator is supposed to be in the Car of the Balloon, suspended above the Center of the View: looking down on the Amphitheatre or white Floor of Clouds and seeing the City of Chester, as it appeared throu’ the Opening: which discovers the Landscape below, limited, by surrounding Vapour, to something less than two Miles in Diameter.  The Breadth of the blue Margin defines the apparent Height of the Spectator in the Balloon (viz. 4 Miles) above the Floor of Clouds, as he hangs in the Center, and looks horizontally round into the azure sky.’ (p. IIII)

Baldwin’s sense of wonder is captured well by his purple prose:

‘…what Scenes of Grandeur and Beauty!  A Tear of pure Delight flashed in his Eye! of pure and exquisite Delight and Rapture: to look down on the unexpected Change already wrought in the Works of Art and Nature, contracted to a span by the NEW PERSPECTIVE, diminished almost beyond the bounds of credibility.’ (p.37)

Reading Baldwin’s exhilarated account of his flight, and looking at these images, got me thinking about how the aerial view changes our understanding of the world. My PhD thesis considers the cultural impact of flight and representations of the aerial view. It is focused on the 1920s when aeroplanes and aerial photography, invigorated after the rapid technological development of the First World War, became integrated into a more general ‘airmindedness’. But it all begins with Airopaidia.

Porteous Lib 05 SR p154-5771

Baldwin writes:

‘A Balloon-Prospect from above the Clouds, or Chromatic View of the Country between Chester, Warrington and Rixton-Moss in Lancashire: shewing the whole Extent of the aerial Voyage; with the meandering Track of the Balloon throu’ the Air.’ (p. IIII)

As I understand it, Baldwin paid for the book’s publication and distribution himself, and it does not seem to have made any impact on critics at the time. Senate House’s copy, while not unique (there are 20 copies in UK academic libraries) is inscribed ‘From the author’. It gives me the sense of a more direct link to this fascinating narrative, and I feel very glad to be consulting it 227 years on.

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

Thomas Flowers and the class of 1933

Amongst the University of London students who graduated in 1933 was Thomas Harold Flowers. Flowers is remembered today for playing a crucial role in code-breaking efforts during the Second World War. He was the architect of Colossus, the giant electronic computer which used 2,400 valves and was brought into service at Bletchley Park in June 1944. Colossus immediately proved its worth. Eisenhower and his staff had a crucial meeting on 5 June 1944 during which a courier handed Eisenhower a decrypted German message. This confirmed that Hitler had ordered no additional troops to Normandy. Eisenhower handed back the decrypt and told his staff “we go tomorrow”.


Colossus, circa 1943

Colossus had already made a significant impact by this point. A decoded report from Field Marshall Rommel on the western defences revealed that one of the sites chosen as the drop site for an US parachute division was in fact the base for a German tank division. Nor surprisingly, the site was changed.

Thomas Flowers was born in the East End of London in 1905. His connection with the University of London began when he registered at Woolwich Polytechnic in September 1922. He passed the intermediate exam in engineering as an external student in 1925 and left Woolwich after the academic session 1925-6. Flowers registered at Northampton Polytechnic Institute in September 1928 and went on to gain a first class honours degree in engineering as an internal student.

Students at Presentation Day, 1930 (reference UoL/FG/5/2)

Students at Presentation Day, 1930 (reference UoL/FG/5/2)

The list of University of London graduates of 1933 has just been added to the University of London students webpage, which now includes lists of students 1836-1933.

Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring Greek flora

When John Sibthorp, Professor of Botany at Oxford, went to Greece in 1786 (and again 1794-5) his object was twofold: to study the flora of Greece, and to try to identify definitely all the seven hundred plants described in Dioscorides’s first-century Materia Medica, the primary work on herbal medicine from the ancient world. Only twenty-five copies of the first edition of Sibthorp’s posthumous Flora Graeca were ever printed; and so expensive was the sumptuous ten-volume folio work with its 966 coloured plates, one opposite each page of text, that even John Lindley, Assistant Secretary of Horticultural Society and the book’s final editor, could not afford a copy, but had to make do with the letterpress of those parts of the text with which he had been involved. The book cemented the reputation of its Austrian botanical illustrator Ferdinand Bauer, with Joseph Hooker calling Flora Graeca “the greatest botanical work that has ever appeared” (On the Flora of Australia, London, 1859).

Flora Graeca, vol. 1HFlora Graeca, vol. 1, p. 28

How the London Institution acquired its copy of Flora Graeca we do not know, as the work postdates the Institution’s printed catalogue of 1835. What we do know is that the University of London Library thought when it acquired the book that it was getting one of these twenty-five copies, a reasonable assumption on the basis of the title pages. In fact, the bookseller Henry G. Bohn purchased the copperplates and unsold sheets in 1845 and produced a reprint of forty copies, differing somewhat in the colouring of the plates (commercially prepared pigments having become available), but only reliably distinguished from the original by the watermarks. It is the reprint which is held at Senate House.


Flora Graeca, vol. 5

Flora Graeca, vol. 5

Pacifist archives

The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 caused euphoric crowds to gather in the capitals of several combatant nations.  Notoriously, Hitler was photographed in the midst of a huge, jubilant crowd in Vienna. 

Second World War leaflet (MS1190/2/144)

Second World War leaflet (MS1190/2/144)

But there was also notable opposition to the war.  Keir Hardie addressed large crowds of protestors in London as war loomed.  Hardie was the first leader of the Labour Party.  His successor but three, Ramsay MacDonald, who also opposed the war, stepped down from the leadership once hostilities had begun.  In Britain, several pacifist organisations continued the campaign.  The introduction of military conscription in 1916 boosted the appeal of the No Conscription Fellowship (NCF), which had been founded by Fenner Brockway in November 1914. 

Brockway, like many pacifists of this era, was imprisoned for his beliefs.  Pacifism was a significant political force in the inter-war period although the increasingly obvious menace of Nazi Germany in 1930s convinced the Labour Party, for instance, to abandon its quasi-pacifist position and support re-armament.  Nevertheless, the build-up to the outbreak of the Second World War was accompanied by a significant amount of pacifist activity.  Anti-war campaigners included Christian groups and members of far left and extreme right-wing organisations.  Campaigns against the war continued after the declaration of war on Germany by Britain on 3 September 1939.

Undated Second World War leaflet (MS1190/2/163)

Undated Second World War leaflet (MS1190/2/163)

Senate House Library’s archives include some rich sources on pacifism.  Amongst these are newly catalogued archives on First World War era pacifism and anti-war movements in the run up to the Second World War.

Anti-conscription leaflet, c 1915

Anti-conscription leaflet, c 1915

  These collections and other pacifist archives at Senate House Library are described in more detail in a new archive subject page on pacifism and anti-war movements.