Guest post: From rookie researcher to amateur archivist: my year in Special Collections

This guest post is from recent English Literature graduate Anna Sharrard. Anna took part in modules closely aligned with Special Collections throughout her final degree year, and is now volunteering with us over the summer, creating our first Edward Thomas online resource.


My first introduction to working in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives was in the autumn term of my third year studying English Literature.  I studied Dr Julia Thomas’s module, The Illustrated Book, which hosted all of its seminars in Special Collections. Over the course of the module, we were given access to numerous examples of illustrated novels, journals, and newspapers from the archive’s extensive collection, aiding our understanding of the history of the illustrated book from the late eighteenth century to the present. My personal highlights included studying Special Collections’ copy of the Moxon Tennyson (surely every Pre-Raphaelite lover’s dream), handling the unconventional and intriguing artist’s books, and carving our own designs into lino blocks to attempt relief printing for ourselves! (Safe to say, I don’t think we would have made the cut to be professional engravers any time soon…)

Practising linocut with the Illustrated Book class.

Practising linocut with the Illustrated Book class.

I was excited by the prospect of returning to the archive in the spring term while studying Dr Carrie Smith’s module, Poetry in the Making: Modern Literary Manuscripts. In order to give us practical experience of working with literary manuscripts, several weeks of the module were conducted in Special Collections, engaging with the material held in the Edward Thomas (1878-1917) archive. Part of the assessment required us to create a group video presentation exploring an item of interest from the archive. Here’s a clip from one of the student films:

Despite the words ‘group presentation’ usually striking fear into the hearts of most students, the filmed assessment was what had initially attracted me to the module. To have a practical element to an undergraduate English Literature module is unusual, and it stood out as a unique opportunity, allowing students to develop and showcase a different set of skills to future employers.

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

Special Collections’ Edward Thomas archive is expansive, holding the world’s largest collection of his letters, diaries, notebooks, poems, photographs, and personal belongings. Alison Harvey, archivist at Special Collections, selected a wide array of material from the archive for us to explore, and in our groups we assessed which items would form the focal point of our presentations. Being tasked with working with archival material was certainly a new experience, and it proved very interesting but also challenging. Almost all the texts I had encountered during my three years studying English Literature had been published documents, written in standardised print with titles, page numbers, and footnotes. It was therefore challenging studying the manuscript form of Edward Thomas’ poems, diary entries, and correspondence, because the layout of the text on the page did not always follow a chronological pattern. Amendments and notes could have been added at different stages of the document’s history, and we felt like detectives trying to figure out the chronology of the documents. At the beginning we also struggled with some of the seemingly indecipherable handwriting, but both Carrie and Alison were extremely patient with us, and with practice, it became easier to interpret the handwriting and read the material.

Telegram to Helen, notifying her of Edward's death in combat.

Telegram to Helen, notifying her of Edward’s death in combat.

I think the rest of the group would agree how surprisingly evocative they found the experience, especially handling the telegram sent to Helen Thomas relating the news of her husband’s death, and reading the condolence letters sent to her by Edward’s comrades and friends. I think these documents produced a strong emotional reaction among the group, because holding correspondence of such a personal nature felt intrusive to some extent. It was possible to imagine the moment Helen received the telegram, and the devastation this would have caused her and their three children.

The practical experience of working hands-on with the archive material and filming for the presentation made an invigorating change from the usual essay assessments, and the module was an excellent introduction to working in an archive. It also sparked a personal interest in Edward Thomas, drawing in all the elements of his life as a literary critic, a novelist, a poet, a soldier, and also as a husband and a father. I was able to delve further into his life and works by attending the Edward Thomas Centenary Conference that was held at Cardiff University in April 2017, hearing leading researchers of Edward Thomas speak, and meeting fellow fans of his work. On one of the days of the conference, I participated in a student panel hosted by Dr Carrie Smith, answering questions from the attendees about our experience of using the archive, handling the material, and producing a video presentation as an assessment, which was understandably identified as an unusual feature of an undergraduate module.

Edward Thomas 100 exhibition

Edward Thomas 100 exhibition

Special Collections also launched its Edward Thomas 100 exhibition to coincide with the Centenary Conference, and it was fantastic to see the collection showcased to the public in such a visually appealing and accessible way. Much respect to Alison for engineering such a wonderful display whilst also fending off frequent queries about the Edward Thomas archive from our course group as deadlines loomed! The exhibition is on display in Special Collections until October, for any of those who are inspired to come and have a gander.

After being involved in the conference, I approached Alison to see if I could be of any assistance in volunteering my time to Special Collections over the summer. She proposed a project to digitise sections of the Edward Thomas archive. The plan was to focus on the photographs, poems, and letters held in the collection, which were used so heavily as an educational resource every Spring by Dr Carrie Smith’s Poetry in the Making group. Since July, I have been tasked with digitising, editing, uploading and organising images on a freely available online resource (Flickr), where they can be viewed and navigated through easily. The resource allows images to be downloaded for re-use at a variety of resolutions.

The new Edward Thomas online resource

The new Edward Thomas online resource

Once uploaded to Flickr, I attach the full metadata to each image to assist with citations, add tags (so that images can be found by users searching keywords) and a location pin (if applicable). Finally, I group related images into albums for ease of navigation.

I began by tackling the extensive collection of photographs, beginning with those solely of Edward Thomas, and then moving onto the wider family, including ones taken years after Edward’s death. It was necessary for me wear gloves to handle the photographs, (completing the stereotypical image of an archivist in style I might add), as the oils from the skin can easily damage the surface of the prints.

Edward's children (r-l): Bronwen, Myfanwy and Merfyn.

Edward’s children (r-l): Bronwen, Myfanwy and Merfyn.

It has been pleasing to see the Flickr account fill up with photographs of Edward, his wife Helen, and children Merfyn, Bronwen, and Myfanwy. The images really help to flesh out their lives outside of Edward’s publications and literary career. You get a sense of character through photographs that it can be difficult to find from a sheet of paper, no matter how personal someone’s handwriting can feel. It was also enjoyable to see the progression of Edward and Helen’s three children growing up as the number of photos on the resource accumulated.

Early drafts of Edward Thomas' poems

Early drafts of Edward Thomas’ poems

I encountered one of the more challenging aspects of working with archival material when I moved onto digitising Edward’s poems. The manuscript poems held at Special Collections date between 1914-1917, and the pages are noticeably thinner and more delicate than other material in the archive. This is because paper quality severely declined during wartime, and its high acid content makes surviving material extremely friable. The availability of digital surrogates will help conserve these vulnerable originals.

To get a representative sample of the hundreds of letters stored in the archive, I focused my attention next on Edward’s letters from poet Robert Frost and those sent to writer Gordon Bottomley. The letters which I chose to upload from Gordon Bottomley date from 1902-1905, and reveal evidence of Edward’s continuing struggle with depression. Though mostly containing discussion of literature and Edward’s review-writing, there is often a pervasive tone of despair to Edward’s letters. The letters sent to Edward written by Robert Frost date from 1915-16, and are saturated with the outbreak of the war, revealing insecurities arising from the pressure of enlisting and needing to prove one’s worth. On pages 3-4 of a letter from 6 Nov 1916, Frost writes:

Letter from Robert Frost.

Letter from Robert Frost.

“You rather shut me up by enlisting. Talk is almost too cheap when all your friends are facing bullets. I don’t believe I ought to enlist (since I am American) […] When all the world is facing danger, it’s a shame not to be facing danger for any reason, old age, sickness, or any other. Words won’t make the shame less. There’s no use trying to make out that the shame we suffer makes up for the more heroic things we don’t suffer.”

Edward’s own desire to prove his worth is evident in a letter he wrote to his daughter Myfanwy. Dated 29 Dec 1916, whilst Edward was situated in Lydd, Kent, he confesses:

Letter from Edward to his daughter, Myfanwy, aged 6.

Letter from Edward to his daughter, Myfanwy, aged 6.

“I should not be surprised if we were in France at the end of this month. I do hope peace won’t come just yet. I should not know what to do, especially if it came before I had fully been a soldier. I wonder if you want peace, and if you can remember when there was no war.”

Another extensive sequence of Edward Thomas’s correspondences held in Special Collections is between Edward and Helen Thomas (nee Noble). These letters run from 1897 (before their marriage), until Edward’s death in 1917. Of the hundreds of letters, I selected the last letters Edward wrote to Helen, and worked my way backwards. I thought this would provide a useful contrast to the early Bottomley letters, also identifying that the descriptions of Edward’s experiences in the army, and his subsequent posting to France, would be of great interest to researchers of Edward’s life.

The letters Edward writes to Helen during the years he is studying at Lincoln College, Oxford (1898-1900), whilst Helen is at their family home in Kent, are interesting because they disclose the domestic side to Edward’s life. These letters may consist of comparatively mundane subject matter to researchers, as they consist of everyday conversations, mainly including practical matters and financial arrangements between the couple. However, much of the early correspondence resonated with me. One particular letter (25 May 1900, pp. 5-7) contains Edward’s dejection over getting a bad mark in a university module and worrying about disappointing his parents.

Letter from Edward to Helen, while a student at Oxford.

Letter from Edward to Helen, while a student at Oxford.

“I have been wickedly idle this last year (except in the vacation), and father will be angry when he sees the class list in July: for I shall get a 3rd at most.”

Every student at some point has gone through the angst of being convinced they were going to fail a module. It’s reassuring that this was also the case for the last century’s students too.

Another letter from a month later, (8 Jun 1900), consists of Edward expressing his misery at being apart from Helen, but her not being able to visit him because of financial constraints and having nowhere for her to stay. Despite these letters being over 100 years old, it is remarkable just how relevant they still are to students, and to my own experience of being in a long-distance relationship. In our age of instant communication, we can forget how much further distances just within the UK would have felt when you had to wait on a letter to bring news of your loved ones: “I have no time for a letter but I can’t help expecting to hear good news from you. The absence of it is distracting. My health is getting bad and my eyes almost // failed me today. I don’t see how you can come down. You can’t afford it and I don’t know where you could stay.”

In creating this resource, I have become privy to so many more aspects of Edward Thomas’s life that I didn’t have time to appreciate during the seminar hours of Poetry in the Making. My hope is that this resource will allow future students on the module to spend time going through the collection at their own leisure, unrestrained by the archive’s opening hours or the limited number of seminars held in the archive. Having the images freely available to use on Flickr will reduce the number of times the documents will be handled each time a group needs to take a photograph, helping to conserve the originals. This will free up time during the seminars for the groups to discuss the content and argument of their presentations, and also guarantee high quality photographs for every group. For those rushing things last-minute, (as there inevitably will be), they will be able to check a reference number or a date quickly online, rather than having to pull out and go through all the boxes of material in search of one photograph or a letter they forgot to write down the catalogue number for!

Beyond the University, now that a large chunk of the Edward Thomas archive has been digitised, researchers all over the world are able see images of the documents described by the archive catalogue, and can easily browse through the majority of the collection held here in Cardiff. This will be a major help to many, I hope, and aid them in their research.

I’ve enjoyed my time in Special Collections very much over the final year of my degree here at Cardiff University, and I want to say a big thank you to the entire team at Special Collections for making me feel so welcome during this project. It’s been a pleasure to aid future users of the archive, and if you’re unfamiliar with Special Collections, I hope you will go for a visit after reading this!

Guest post: Paul E. E. Barbier and Cardiff University

This guest post comes from Pip Bartlett, undergraduate in French and Italian in the School of Modern Languages at Cardiff University. Pip is currently working on a CUROP project to catalogue the Barbier family archive.


I have been very keen to discover more about Paul E E Barbier, one of the first Professors of French here at Cardiff University. However, because he seemed to do and achieve so much throughout his lifetime, I thought it best to split my posts up; one about his work with Cardiff University, and the other regarding his involvement within the wider Cardiff community.

At first, I found it quite difficult to pinpoint specific details relating to Paul E E Barbier, as much of the archive, particularly those pertaining to the later years, seems dominated by material about his son, Paul E A Barbier (very confusing, I know). Although I am focusing on cataloguing letters, I found the wider archive useful when trying to piece together information about the elder Paul. This includes newspaper cuttings and various other documents which mention his name. The previous owner of the archive has compiled two booklets, one about Paul’s father Georges Barbier and the other about his wife, Euphémie Bornet. Although neither are specifically about Paul E E Barbier, they do contain some interesting information and help to give a contextual background. I have also found useful sources via Welsh Newspapers Online. Simply typing ‘Paul Barbier’ into the search bar reveals hundreds of results. Although some are irrelevant, a number of articles relate to Paul E E Barbier, some of which I have quoted in this post.

Paul and Euphémie

Paul and Euphémie

Paul E E Barbier was born in 1846 in the Doubs Valley region of France, close to the Swiss border. His father, Georges Barbier, was a pastor of the protestant church. In 1862, the family moved to London where Georges became the pastor of the French Protestant Church in Soho Square. Whilst in London, the family took in young Swiss women, training to be governesses – this is how Paul met his future wife, the Swiss-born Euphémie Bornet. I am unsure how old they were when they met, but I did learn from the booklets that they were together for ten years before finally marrying in 1872. After their marriage, Paul became a French master at Felsted Grammar School in Essex and later moved to the famous Manchester Grammar School where he remained for 10 years. Euphémie also worked at a school in the area called Aubonne House School for Ladies. In some of the earlier sections of the archive, I have discovered many letters from Euphémie writing from Aubonne House to her parents and siblings. The couple had eight children who were raised speaking both French and English, evidence of which can be seen throughout their letters and correspondences in the archive.

In 1883, Paul was appointed Lecturer of French at the newly opened University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire in Cardiff (now Cardiff University). The whole family moved to Cardiff and Paul set to work developing his department, later being promoted to Professor of French Language and Literature (I am unsure of the exact date). After moving around Cardiff (evident from changes to address in letters), Paul and Euphémie eventually settled at 21 Corbett Road, where they remained until Paul’s death in 1921.

From what I have learnt from material in the archive, Paul Barbier was a valued and well-respected member of the university by both staff and pupils. One article I found from the Revue Mensuelle Galloise ‘Cymru’, March 1909 describes Professor Barbier as ‘a wonderful personality, uniting in himself gravity and humour to an extraordinary degree […] He can keep his classes laughing throughout his lectures if he thinks fit to do so; and can again, when he pleases, bring them to verge of weeping’. An obituary from French publication ‘Chronique de Londres’ (1st October 1921) says, ‘Barbier était d’une nature enthousiaste et d’une extrême générosité de coeur; aussi jouissait-il d’une popularité peu commune, et ce sont des milliers d’étudiants qui apprendront sa mort avec une réelle tristesse’ (translation: ‘Barbier was a man of enthusiastic nature and extreme generosity; he had an unusual popularity and thousands of students will be met with real sadness after learning of his death’).

Not only did Paul Barbier teach, but he also examined. The same obituary states that Paul Barbier was examiner in chief for every university in Wales, as well as the universities of London, Dublin, Oxford and Cambridge. An article from the Evening Express (5 January 1906) entitled ‘Honour for Professor Paul Barbier’ regards his appointment as examiner in French for the University of Cambridge as ‘a great distinction’.

Despite living in Cardiff for most of his life, Paul E E Barbier retained his French roots and seemed to be in contact with many different people in France. He and his wife regularly made visits to Paris with his students, evidence of which can be found in letters to their children back home written during these trips. In March 1905, it was announced that the University of France would be awarding Paul Barbier with the highest academic distinction, that is, the diploma of Officer of Public Instruction (le diplôme de l’Officier d’instruction publique). An article in the Evening Express dated 14 March 1905 illustrates the award ceremony held at the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire. It describes Professor Barbier being given the award with ‘the accompaniment of enthusiastic cheers from the large company of students’.

Whilst researching Paul E E Barbier, I came across a couple of small anecdotes which I found amusing and wanted to share. The first is about a ‘scandal’ at the University in 1910. According to a letter from the ‘University of Wales’, questions for a French exam were leaked prior to the examination. I found a ‘poison pen’ letter addressed to Professor Barbier (dated 23 June 1910) in which the author, who remains anonymous, is ‘extremely disgraced’ by the rumour that Professor Barbier has been involved in the ‘scandal’. The author describes Paul Barbier as ‘a man so very lacking in dignity, common sense and those virtues so essential in a university professor’, before going on to say, ‘in your early days you could have clowned exceedingly well… the cap and bells and the fool’s bauble would have befitted you admirably, were it not that the traditional fool was essentially a sapient individual, which you are not.’

Anonymous 'poison pen' letter to Barbier, 1910

Anonymous ‘poison pen’ letter to Barbier, 1910

It would seem that regardless of how popular and valued someone is, they are always going to have enemies! I also found a letter from Paul E E Barbier to one of his children (the exact one is unknown) dated 26th September 1895. In French, he tells the recipient to be more careful with their grammar having read a letter to their mother in which there were many mistakes with the subjunctive mood!

It is evident that Paul E E Barbier was an esteemed member of University staff, valued by both his colleagues and students. He was a known name not only in Wales, but throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, with his efforts also being recognised and awarded by institutions in France. It has been fascinating to research more about his work with the University, and I hope that my next blog post will share more light on his involvement within the wider Cardiff community.

Guest post: John Taylor the Water Poet: animating the archive

This guest post comes from Dr Johann Gregory, Teacher of English Literature and Research Associate at Cardiff University.


The rare books in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives have held an important place in the development of my research. As I launch a new pilot project on an early modern travel writer, I’d like to share that story.

As a PhD student I took part in training workshops on handling rare books and curating exhibitions. In 2011, I was given the opportunity to work alongside Special Collections staff to curate a small exhibition on an aspect of my PhD research. I chose the topic, Healthy Reading, 1590-1690. Focusing on this aspect helped me to contextualise the early printing and language of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, the focus of my wider PhD research. I later presented on the exhibition and the play during a conference in Paris on ‘Shakespeare et les arts de la table’. My subsequent book chapter on the subject featured images from the Special Collections. I’m very grateful to the Special Collections’ staff, as their support was crucial for this work.

During my research, I became interested in the work of John Taylor (1578-1653), self-titled ‘the Water Poet’. He was a larger-than-life figure who worked as a Thames waterman for much of his life. However, he also published a great deal and his work – ranging from political pamphlets to travel writing to nonsense verse – often includes interesting prefaces, paratexts and titles.

All the vvorkes of Iohn Taylor the water-poet : Beeing sixty and three in number (1630)

All the vvorkes of Iohn Taylor the water-poet : Beeing sixty and three in number (1630)

I was excited to find that we held his Works (1630) in Special Collections, and was able to include it in my Healthy Reading exhibition, opening the book on the first page of ‘Laugh and be Fat’: this was Taylor’s response to the work of a fellow traveller, Thomas Coryate, who has been discussed in a previous blog post.

It’s always seems to me that Taylor deserves to reach a modern readership, and one broader than scholars in specialist libraries. This year I have developed a new project that seeks to shed light on Taylor’s journey around Wales in the summer of 1652.Map of John Taylor's 1652 journey around WalesI have created a new online modern-spelling edition of Taylor’s journey around Wales, and this has been published on a dedicated John Taylor website alongside other resources, such as a Google map of the route. I have also produced a schools’ pack on Taylor’s account of Mid Wales. Pupils at Penglais School (Aberystwyth) have used this to consider Taylor’s account of their hometown and have produced visualisations of his journey that will feed into the project. I now plan to tweet his journey in real time. He set off, with his horse called Dun, from London on 13 July, travelling up through the Midlands to North Wales and then along the coast down to Tenby and across South Wales via Cardiff, arriving back to London in early September. During the trip he turned 74.

This pilot project is something of an experiment, bringing Taylor to new readers. The aim is that it will also provide proof of concept for future projects on John Taylor and travel writing.

For more information about the project, visit the website.

Follow @DrJ_Gregory for Twitter updates.

The Collingwood Collection: an introduction to the family and the project

It’s been two months now since I joined Special Collections and Archives as the project archivist for the Collingwood Collection. During this time I have been completely immersed in the family’s correspondence and, as a result, feel like I know the family almost as well as my own! The project is generously funded by the National Cataloguing Grants scheme provided by The National Archives. My job is to create a catalogue with detailed descriptions of all the correspondence in the collection in order to make it accessible to researchers and to public scrutiny, interaction and celebration. (With this in mind, we will be running some events to showcase the collection over the coming year.)

The Collingwood Family: a potted history

The Collingwood Collection is the family archive of an extraordinary family. The Collingwoods have been described as ‘probably the most intellectually and artistically gifted family in the Lake District in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.’ The collection in Cardiff centres around W. G. Collingwood and his descendants. W. G. Collingwood (1854-1932) was an artist, author, professor of fine arts, Norse scholar, and John Ruskin’s friend and secretary. In 1883 he married Edith Mary (Dorrie) Isaac (1857-1928). Often confined to a footnote along the lines of ‘also an artist’, she was, in fact quite remarkable. While she was alive her art was commercially successful – much more so, it seems, than her husband as she was reportedly the main breadwinner in the marriage and exhibited widely both in the Lake District and in London. She was a noted miniaturist and while this is obvious from her artwork in the collection, it is also evident from the many sketches included in her letters to family and friends, such as these two sketches of her daughter Barbara.

They had four children. Their eldest, Dora (1886-1964), was another successful artist and married the notable medical doctor Ernest Altounyan. After the First World War, she moved with her husband to Syria where Ernest’s father ran a pioneering hospital in Aleppo. Ernest worked as a medical doctor in the hospital and they were both heavily involved with helping refugees in Aleppo, particularly in response to the Armenian Genocide (1915-23).  Arthur Ransome, a close friend of the family, based the Walker children in Swallows and Amazons (1930) on Dora and Ernest’s children.

Barbara (1887-1961), the Collingwood’s second child, was a sculptor. Her husband, Oscar Gnosspelius was a civil engineer who specialised in mining and railway construction in South Africa before the war and later prospected on the Coniston Fells with W. G. Collingwood. He was also a pioneering aviation expert and built hydroplanes on Lake Windermere. Their daughter, Janet (1926-2010), was an architect and historian. She was the former owner of the collection before it was deposited at Cardiff University.

The Collingwood’s third child, Robin (1889-1943) is better known as R. G. Collingwood and was an influential philosopher and historian. He was among the leading names in British Idealism and an expert in the archaeology of Roman Britain. The Collingwood and British Idealism Centre is based at Cardiff University and aims to ‘promot[e] and encourag[e] research into the life and philosophy of R. G. Collingwood’.

Their fourth child, Ursula (1891-1964), was both an artist and a trained mid-wife. She worked as a midwife in London’s East End from around 1912 to 1925 before returning to teach art at Blackwell School and later becoming a farmer.

I’ll be writing further blog posts introducing you to some of these fascinating family members over the next few months.

The beginnings of cataloguing

During the first few weeks, I concentrated on the boxes set aside as being of particular research interest. These included correspondence between members of the family and notable people such as John Ruskin, Arthur Ransome, E. M. Forster, and even a letter from Beatrix Potter, and many more gems besides.

One letter particularly which stood out to me at the time was a letter from E. M. Forster to Barbara Collingwood. Writing in 1916, he describes the effect he believes the First World War was having on him artistically and personally. Much is known of Forster’s pacifism but I have been unable to find an insight as personal the one revealed in this letter.

In this letter, Forster writes to his friend:

I don’t know… — as this war drags on to its dreary and arithmetical conclusion if to any conclusion at all, the passion in me for all that old High-life and High-art business of which I used to be rather ashamed, seems to increase and express itself less fearlessly.

Reading and cataloguing the personal correspondence of the Collingwood family is a real privilege and feeling like I am really getting to know them. It is almost like a novel unfolding with stories not yet told. I felt this particularly when I was reading the letters Edith (Dorrie) wrote to her future husband, W. G. Collingwood, when they were courting. It is not often that one gets such a personal insight into the private lives of others, especially not those from 120 years ago. A few letters have been reproduced hear but I look forward to telling the story of their courtship in a later blog post.

There is estimated to be around 4000 letters in total in the collection. I have now created item level descriptions of around 30% these. It’s been exciting uncovering stories about these fascinating people, and I’m looking forward to sharing some of these with you over the coming months.

Guest post: The Barbier family and World War One

This guest post comes from Pip Bartlett, undergraduate in French and Italian in the School of Modern Languages at Cardiff University.


In this blog post, I will be sharing some of my discoveries about the Barbier family and their involvement in the First World War. As mentioned in my previous post, the Barbier archive contains several boxes of letters, organised into date order. Five of the grey boxes (1914, 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918) contain correspondence between the family during the war years. So far, I have catalogued boxes 1914, 1915 and 1918, which have revealed information about the family’s activities, feelings and experiences at the time. I also used two of the booklets created by the previous owner (‘Barbier Voices from the Great War’ Parts 1 & 2) to support any findings I made; they contain very detailed information about each family member’s war experience, as well as including photographs and extracts from diaries.

Edmond, Isabelle, and Paul BarbierAccording to ‘Barbier Voices from the Great War Part 1’, prior to the outbreak of war all four of the Barbier brothers had well-established careers; Paul E A. Barbier had been Professor of French at the University of Leeds since 1903, Edmond was the assistant examiner in oral and written French to the Central Welsh Board, Georges was the manager of coal firm ‘Messrs Instone’ and Jules, a civil engineer in North America. Because of their French Nationality, the brothers had completed military service with the French Army well before the war (Paul completed his in 1889), making them no strangers to a military environment. According to the booklet, in August 1914 all four men, along with their brother-in-law Raoul Vaillant de Guélis (married to their sister Marie) were called up by the French state and sent to France.

Due to their French-English bilingualism, both Paul and Edmond were mobilised as interpreters for the British Expeditionary Forces. I am unsure if they were seconded from the French army – something I would like to ask the previous owner about in our interview.

Jules and Georges BarbierJules and Georges remained ‘poilus’ (ordinary field soldiers for the French army). Much of the archive from the war years is dedicated to correspondence from Paul E. A. Barbier (or Paul Barbier Fils, as in son, as he is known) to his wife Cécile. From what I have grasped after reading his letters, it seems Paul Barbier Fils had a reasonably ‘comfortable’ wartime experience; that is to say, he regularly talks of eating well and playing bridge with his brother Edmond. In numerous letters, he says he is in ‘good health and spirits’ and regularly returns to the UK on leave, which he documents. According to the letters in the archive, Paul Barbier Fils also remained in close contact with his colleagues at the University of Leeds. For example, there are letters from the Vice Chancellor of the university who asks for Paul’s opinion on various university matters. There is even a letter to Paul dated 29th June 1915 from the Vice Chancellor who says he has been in contact with the French Embassy in London attempting to release Paul from the army, unfortunately without success.

I also found letters to Cécile Barbier from wives of other University staff whose husbands were at the front. Cécile served on a committee in Leeds which regularly sent parcels and gifts to University employees in France. Despite his relatively positive account of his wartime experiences in France, some of Paul’s letters to his wife are less cheerful and according to ‘Barbier Voices from the Great War Part 2’, in May 1917 he writes ‘I start writing poetry again […] when I am overcome by sadness’, and in June ‘my intellectual life is a waste land. I long to talk to beings less deadly dull than those around me’. A year later in March 1918 he even says, ‘I am an exile, I am atrociously bored’.  To fight these feelings of boredom, Paul evidently focused on his hobbies and interests. Ever the lexicographer (that is, a person who compiles dictionaries, an occupation that was linked to his academic preoccupations), Paul Barbier Fils became fascinated with the local dialect of the region in which he was stationed. He even compiled a dictionary of the dialect entitled ‘Lexique du Patois d’Erquinghem-Lys’, which was later published posthumously in 1980 by the Musée de Picardie in Amiens, France.

Georges BarbierGeorges Barbier, on the other hand, seemed to have had the most difficult war experience out of the family members who went to the Front. In 1916 he returned to London from the front due to illness to work for the Coal Board. In letters to his brothers and mother, he talks of suffering from night-blindness and having very little food, if any. His wife Nan died a few years later, leaving him a widower with two children. Fortunately, the three other brothers who remained in France survived, and in 1919 were demobilised from the army, returning to their peacetime lives in Cardiff. Their brother-in-law, Raoul Vaillant de Guélis was not so fortunate and died of pneumonia in 1916. His wife Marie never remarried and raised her two children along with those of her brother George after his death in 1921. One of her children, Jacques Vaillant de Guélis became a Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent, an undercover spy who carried out missions in France during the Second World War. I do not know much about his life yet, but I am excited to discover more over the upcoming weeks.

Isabelle BarbierFinally, while the brothers were at the Front, their younger sister, Isabelle Barbier, spent time in France as a nurse during WW1. Unlike her brothers, there is little correspondence from Isabelle during the war years throughout the archive, but ‘Barbier Voices from the Great War Part 1’ gives detailed accounts about her time as an assistant to Dame Maud McCarthy, Matron in Chief to the British Expeditionary Forces. On page 7 of the booklet, there is a lovely picture of Isabelle with her brothers Edmond and Paul, as well as a picture of her in uniform wearing the Royal Red Cross – presumably she was awarded this, but I am unsure when. It is something I would like to find more about when I speak to the previous owner of the archive. All in all, the archive offers insights into the wartime experiences of this remarkable family and it has been particularly fascinating to discover how Paul Barbier Fils continued his interests and worked remotely with the University of Leeds. I hope the former owner is able to answer some of the questions which I have raised, as I feel there are some interesting pointers for future research.

Guest post: The Barbier family: an introduction

This guest post comes from Pip Bartlett, undergraduate in French and Italian in the School of Modern Languages at Cardiff University.


Having just completed my third year abroad at l’Université de Genève, Switzerland, and l’Università degli Studi di Parma, Italy, I was thrilled to be nominated to take part in an 8-week placement with the Cardiff University Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP). My task over the eight weeks is to scope the newly acquired Barbier archive, under the supervision of Professor Hanna Diamond, a 20th century French historian, and Alan Hughes, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff University.

Pip working on the Barbier archive.

Pip working on the Barbier archive.

The archive was donated to the university by a living relative of the Barbier family. She believed that the archive would be valuable to researchers, as Paul E. E. Barbier was the first lecturer in French appointed to the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, the institution that later became Cardiff University. After visiting the former owner’s home to see the archive, Hanna and Alan were keen to acquire it. The owner has spent time carefully organising and dating the extensive archive. It comprises several large boxes full of memorabilia relating to the family and the Victorian era, including photographs, newspaper cuttings and old exercise books.

There are also 36 archive boxes, each dated by year from 1860 to 1924, containing hundreds of letters, postcards and other correspondence between members of the Barbier family, as well as their relatives, colleagues and friends. The previous owner has also provided us with a very useful family tree, along with four booklets which she has written detailing the family’s involvement in the First World War. Others outline the lives of Georges Barbier (1819-1892), one of the original members of the family who came to London from the Doubs Valley in France, and Euphémie Barbier (née Bornet), the Swiss-born governess who settled in Cardiff after marrying his son Paul E. E. Barbier.

Selection of letters from the archive.

Selection of letters from the archive.

My responsibility is to go through the archive with a view to uncovering and recording its contents. I am also collating information about the family to enable the University to promote the archive both to future researchers and interested members of the public.

Once settled in Cardiff, the family continued to sustain their French links, often communicating in French with each other, and working closely with various French societies in Britain (the Société Franco-Britannique de Cardiff, for example). The family’s Franco-British identity is very apparent in the archive, as most of the letters from the 36 boxes are in French. I have needed my language skills to read, decipher and translate the letters, which I have then been cataloguing into a spreadsheet so that future researchers have an understanding of what each box contains.

Each box of letters takes a while to go through, particularly as there are so many letters, and the handwriting is sometimes difficult to read! In a few weeks’ time, I will be conducting an oral history interview with the former owner of the archive, who I hope will be able to provide more detail and context to the family’s involvement in the First World War, and the different lives of each family member. In order to share my discoveries and give a taste of what the archive has to offer, I will be sharing updates via further blog posts and social media.

On the bilingual wagon.

Well, I don’t know about you but this recent spell of tropical Welsh-weather (three words I’ve never had to string together before) has left me quite parched, and for once I cannot blame the rare books dust. And as is sometimes the case in sunny climes, thoughts may  turn to a cool beer or cider, so whilst I have been sunning my soul amongst the books I’ll confess, boozy thoughts have also been sloshing around my mind, and not just because of the weather…

For I have been sourcing works for a current venture by the Recipes Project, a digital humanities blog arranged by a group of international scholars dedicated to the study of recipes in all their forms – culinary, domestic, medicinal, veterinary and magical. Currently, the project is holding its first Virtual Conversation where, through a series of online events participants can share images, texts, and collections on various social media platforms and join in the conversation about ‘What is a Recipe?’

Of course, we were keen to get involved and I was already aware of recipe related materials in our stacks, such as W. Edmond’s New and easy way of making wines from herbs, fruits and flowers (London, 1767); William Hughes’ The compleat vineyard (London, 1665); William Turner’s (not the artist) Book of wines (1568), interestingly, the first book on wine written in English, and A. Shore’s Practical treatise on brewing (1804).

The Complete Vineyard

Extract from William Hughes’, The compleat vineyard: or, A most excellent way of planting vines, (London, 1665).

Now, I wouldn’t want you to get the impression that our collection is a bit of a lush, for  the collections yielded a very interesting range of recipe-related materials which included: Rembert Dodoens, A new herbal, or Historie of plants, (London, 1619); Kenelm Digby’s Choice and experimented receipts in physick and chirurgery: as also cordial and distilled waters and spirits, perfumes and other curiosities, (London, 1688); John Eliot, The medical pocket-book, (London, 1784); and John Howells’ The whole art of farriery laid open: containing cures for every disorder… including several excellent original recipes for horned cattle and sheep, (Cowbridge, c. 1820).

These materials touched upon such a variety of themes, from cooking  to farming and veterinary care; gardening, medicine, chemistry and science, which in turn begged the question for me too – what exactly is a recipe?

A recipe can be defined as a set of instructions for preparing a particular dish or meal, including a list of the ingredients. It can also refer to something that is likely to lead to a particular outcome, so for example, all these books on wine making could be a recipe (no pun intended!) for disaster at our next office Christmas party. A recipe is also a medical prescription. Historically, the term was first used as an instruction, derived from the Latin recipere, meaning to accept or take. This is why you may notice the symbol Rx on any prescriptions, since doctors usually begin theirs with this abbreviation, and why culinary recipes often begin their instructions with ‘take…’, a style first evinced in De re Coquinaria, a collection of 4th or 5th century Roman recipes where each one begins with the Latin command ‘recipe’.

One of the oldest English works on recipes is The Forme of Cury, cury from the Middle French cuire, cook, (just in case you were thinking about a curry too). Written on a vellum scroll around 1390, it is signed by ‘the chief master cooks of King Richard II’. However, it wasn’t until the advent of printing that books on household management and the preparation of food became increasingly popular, no more so than during the 19th century with the Victorian emphasis on domesticity and respectability.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that we have several examples of household instructors and recipe books within our collections, in English and Welsh.

Cook books

Thomas Thomas, Llyfr coginio a chadw ty (A cooking and housekeeping manual), (Wrexham, 1880); S. Mathews, Y Ty, a’r Teulu (The House, and Family), (Denbigh, 1891).

 

IMG_4008

Biscuit recipes from I. Roberts’ The Young Cook’s Guide; with Practical Observations, (London, 1836).

What did strike me as interesting though, was the linguistic element to some of these works. John Pryse’s Welsh Interpreter, for example, is at first glance a basic Welsh dictionary; on second glance a Welsh phrasebook or guidebook of sorts for those travelling to Wales, yet on closer inspection also serves as a recipe book!

IMG_4009

Recipe section of John Pryse’s, Welsh Interpreter: containing an easy introduction to the Welsh language, (Llanidloes, 185?).

Sandwiched between the ‘useful phrases’ and ‘familiar parables’ is a selection of ‘Useful Receipts – Cyfarwyddiadau Buddiol’, with wines at the top of the list no less, as well as ‘Instructions to make bread’.  What’s going on? Is travel writing the new ingredient in recipe literature? What’s even more intriguing is that this section was ‘extracted’ from what Pryse calls a ‘useful Duoglott Receipt Book’, which incidentally we also have in our collection.

Written by the Independent minister, Evan Evans Nant-y-Glo, the book is actually called A Duoglott Guide for Making Temperance Drinks, Barm &c &c, so not quite as intoxicating as some of our earlier recipe books, but there’s enough there to sozzle our interest nonetheless. Drunkeness was seen as a growing problem during the 19th century, especially in the rapidly expanding industrial areas where factors like industrialisation, Nonconformity and social improvement led to a growing resistance against the consumption of alcohol.

Initially an anti-spirits movement, The British and Foreign Temperance Society was founded in London in 1831, and the first temperance society in Wales was established at Holywell in 1832. Others soon followed, and by 1835, the movement had taken a total abstinence or teetotal stance. With the impetus of Nonconformity and religious revivalism, teetotalism made significant progress in Wales during the 1830s, a fact reflected in our collections. Moreover, Evan’s Guide was published in 1838, bilingually so as to broaden its appeal amongst the increasing numbers of non-Welsh industrial workers and the temperance movement generally.

It includes interesting techniques for making ginger beer, pop, lemonade, raspberry vinegar, artificial and spruce ale, as well as jellies and wines and cordials to name but a few. There is a segment on yeast and bread, plus a more curative inspired section for ‘The Weak and the Sick – I’r Gwan a’r Claf’. Here, recipes are noted for their medicinal and comforting properties, such as Flour Caudle which requires simply ‘one desert spoon of fine flour’ mixed with water, milk and sugar to be boiled over the fire. It is, apparently, a ‘very nourishing and gentle astringent food. Excellent for babies that have weak bowels’. But before you check your flour stock, other recipes include China Orange Juice, a very ‘useful thing to mix with water in fevers’, French milk porridge, ‘much ordered with toast, for breakfast, to weak persons’, and a simple ‘very agreeable drink’.

IMG_4010

Curative recipes in English and Welsh from Evan Evans’ A Duoglott Guide for Making Temperance Drinks, Barm &c, (Pontfaen, 1838).

Not such a dry read after all! Indeed, Evan’s temperance recipes serve to highlight just how intricate the study of recipes can be, spreading across subjects and relative themes like history, science, medicine, religion, travel,  even the study of literacy and linguistics.  The debate about recipes is timely indeed, and to quote the Recipes Project, whether you’re a recipes scholar or enthusiast, or indeed a wine or ginger beer lover, there is a place for you in this conversation. And so the moral of this blog post is: off the literary wagon or on it, there’s a recipe that fits. Iechyd da (cheers) everyone!

Guest post: A coalition satire: an address of thanks to the broad-bottoms (1745)

This guest post comes from Dr Mark Truesdale, who completed his PhD in English Literature at Cardiff University in 2016. His thesis provides the first detailed, critical study of the fifteenth-century King and Commoner tradition, and traces its post-medieval influence in ballads and drama from the sixteenth-century to the eighteenth-century. Mark is currently volunteering with Special Collections, assisting with cataloguing early modern books and reporting findings to the English Short Title Catalogue.


An Address of Thanks to the Broad-Bottoms, for the Good Things they have done, and the Evil Things they have not done, Since their Elevation’ (1745) is a curious eighteenth-century satirical pamphlet in Cardiff University’s Rare Book Collection that is about politics rather than bottoms (alas). But it feels surprisingly modern and pertinent in its message, full of biting comments against untrustworthy and greedy politicians who immediately abandon their principles and pledges for a seat in a coalition government.

Title page

Amid the televised scenes of the 2017 general election and its result of a hung parliament was the sight of a highly despondent Nick Clegg. Clegg, the former deputy Prime Minister, had lost his Sheffield seat to a first-time Labour candidate (who was reportedly so surprised by his victory that he had to rush to a supermarket in the middle of the night to purchase a new suit). As Liberal Democrat leader in 2010, Clegg had entered into a coalition government with the Conservatives, only to be accused by many of selling his principles and abandoning his electoral promises in exchange for power. His subsequent dramatic fall from public opinion starkly shows the potential dangers of entering such political coalitions and pacts, especially as a ‘junior partner’ with little real sway.

This coalition trade-off of principles for power is also the focus of ‘An Address of Thanks to the Broad Bottoms’, an anonymous fifty-two page pamphlet which shows that public anger over untrustworthy politicians and a lack of respect for those in authority is certainly nothing new. The work opens with a wonderfully lurid engraving by William Hogarth that shows Tory politicians, with exceptionally large and flabby bottoms, defecating onto several donkeys lurking anxiously below. The donkeys are symbolically burdened with labelled loads, ranging from ‘Land Tax’, the infamous ‘Black Act’, and ‘Lottery annuities’ (an anxious topic since the South Sea Bubble caused economic collapse in the 1720s), or goods such as ‘Malt’, ‘Salt’, ‘Wine’, ‘Candles’, and of course ‘Tea’. The main thrust of the work is an angry critique of the Tory ministers who had joined Henry Pelham’s 1744 ‘broad-bottomed’ coalition government and allegedly abandoned their own opposition principles in exchange for wealth and honours.

The pamphlet is divided into three distinct parts. The first is a pointed musing on the evils of ‘ingratitude’, criticising those who ‘do not return the Benefits they have reciev’d, if it ’tis in their power to do so’ (p. 3) – alluding to the ‘Broad-Bottom’ Tory ministers who had failed to fulfil their election pledges and aid their supporters after gaining coalition positions of power. The writer uses fables by Pliny and Aulus Gellius to claim that even animals display gratitude, thereby concluding that politicians who display a lack of gratitude for their supporters are ‘worse than Brutes’, while those who go further by ‘returning Evil for Good […] out-do their Brute Fellow-Creatures in Acts the most shocking and repugnant to Nature’ (p. 5). The writer proceeds to accuse the Tory ministers of putting their ‘private Self-interest’ over ‘Public Self-interest’ by allowing themselves to be used as puppets by those they had previously opposed:

for a Place or Pension that supplies his Luxury, he shall be a Puppet, to move up and down just as he is order’d by him who directs the Show from behind the Curtain […] The Live Puppet may move sometimes to please the gaping Spectators, but he sha’n’t open his Mouth. (pp. 7-8)

Detail from p. 7 of 'An Address of Thanks to the Broad-Bottoms'

The author builds on this image of a mute puppet to muse on the dire consequences of the opposition effectively silencing itself. He claims that such hypocritical ministers have betrayed ‘their Country’ and thrown ‘the People into despair, by depriving them of the Means of a legal and Seasonable Opposition’ (p. 8). In short, the Tories have undermined the democratic process, selling off their voice to allow the rule of an unchecked and unchallenged power.

The pamphlet’s second part is an eighteen page ‘John Bull’ allegory. John Bull is a national personification of England, or Britain more generally, who became a patriotic emblem during the Napoleonic Wars. But he was originally created in 1712 as a bumbling figure of ridicule by the Scottish satirist John Arbuthnot in pamphlets scornfully mocking England’s European conflicts, presenting the War of the Spanish Succession as a ludicrous ‘law suit’ between John Bull (England), Lewis Baboon (Louis XIV), and Lord Strutt (Philip of Anjou).

John Bull taking a luncheon, by James Gillray

John Bull taking a luncheon: – or – British cooks, cramming old grumble-gizzard, with bonne-chére, by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey, 24 October 1798. NPG D12661. © National Portrait Gallery, London

‘An Address to the Broad-Bottoms’ directly refers to Arbuthnot’s allegories and presents its tale as a continuation. Here, John Bull’s ‘manor’ stands in for England and its ‘tenants’ for the country’s people, while the politicians are given ludicrous pseudonyms: e.g. Robert Walpole becomes ‘Bob Bronze’ while Henry Pelham is called ‘Hall Stiff’. The Tories who joined Pelham’s coalition are unflatteringly referred to as the ‘Broad-Bottoms’ throughout. Continuing in much the same vein as the first part, the author tells of the rise of the Broad-Bottoms, who ‘set out, seemingly at least, on excellent Principles, which endeared them to most of the Tenants’ (pp. 17-18). However, after Bob Bronze’s fall:

Several […] of the Broad-Bottoms forced themselves into John Bull’s Service; where they were no sooner warm, than they forgot their Party, the Tenants, the Manor, their Professions, their Honour, every thing but pleasing their Employer, and filling their own Pockets. (p. 19)

The rest of the tale proceeds to give a condensed history of the Broad-Bottoms, with mocking allusions to the actions of various Tory ministers.

The final part of the pamphlet consists of a sardonic thank-you note addressed to those Tories. The author first sets down a lengthy list of the policies the Tories have reneged on, before demonstrating his own ‘gratitude’ by sarcastically thanking them for the many things they have not done:

And if you have done little for us, ’tis not impossible but you might have averted much Evil from us. ’Tis possible you might have prevented a Tax upon big Bellies, and Excise upon Urine […] And it is currently talk’d that you secretly oppos’d a Scheme […] for laying a Tax upon Honesty. I don’t wonder you should obstruct a Tax that would affect yourselves more than any People in the Kingdom. (pp. 41-42)

The author bitterly ends the pamphlet by emphasising that the Tory ministers’ perceived gains are woefully short-term in comparison with the long-term damage they have committed against their own cause:

Gentlemen, […] you have lost the People, without gaining the Court […] If you have as yet any Bowels for your Country, you can’t but reflect […] what an irreparable Injury you have done her by your late conduct […] All our future woes then, of Right, are to be plac’d at your Account; and therefore, such Thanks as you deserve, you have from me, who represent the Millions you have deceived. (pp. 51-52)

‘An Address of Thanks to the Broad-Bottoms’ seems remarkably pertinent as we enter a further period of uncertainty and coalitions, with a sceptical public and plummeting trust in perceivably self-interested politicians, who are besieged by unflattering media portrayals. It is often said that a day is a long time in politics. But sometimes, it seems that little really changes at all.

Iron gall ink in the Edward Thomas manuscripts and its conservation at Glamorgan Archives

The following post is courtesy of Pamela Murray, an MSc Conservation Practice Student at Cardiff University and conservation volunteer at Glamorgan Archives. She has been working on the Edward Thomas Conservation project as a student conservator thanks to the generous support of the National Manuscript Conservation Trust


Dating back to the 1st century AD and used all the way until the 19th century, iron gall ink was a common writing ink throughout Europe. It is made from iron sulphates, gum,   tannins  extracted from galls (generally oak tree galls), and water. There are different recipes and methods found throughout history to make iron gall ink, and some even include using wine.

Iron Gall Ink recipe ET blog

This is a recipe from the Dutch website dedicated to Iron Gall Ink: https://irongallink.org/igi_index78f9.html

So, one of the problems with this historic ink is that the degradation process of it can be detrimental to the paper or work of art it has been used for.

Excess iron sulphates Fe(II) accelerate the oxidation process in the paper or parchment due to their reaction with atmospheric oxygen. There are three signs of degradation:

  1. Halo-ing: when there is a faint spreading of the ink.
  2. Burnthrough: when the ink becomes increasingly visible on the reverse of the page.
  3. Lacing:  where the inked area is so weak and friable that it causes the paper to cracks and eventually fall out. this is possibly the most detrimental.

Luckily, none of the manuscripts from the Edward Thomas archive had lacing. They did, however, have  a slight haloing. In order to test the paper for iron gall ink, we dipped an indicator paper impregnated with bathophenanthroleine is dipped in deionised water and spot tested on an appropriate area. The bathophenanthroleine reacts with ferrous ions to form a pink complex.

Many of the Edward Thomas notebooks tested positive for iron gall ink, meaning that none of the papers can be treated with water because the ferrous ions could spread, causing further degradation. Luckily for us, in a paper written in 1995, Neeval suggested a calcium phytate aquaeous treatment, where the phytate chellates the iron (II) ions. It  does not break down Iron (III) because it is a stable molecule, so that means the ink doesn’t fade. However, this treatment strategy has been met with some challenges because it is highly interventive, and there have been many international projects looking into the treatment of iron gall ink with calcium phytate. (Kolar et al. 2005, Kolbe 2004, Tse et al., 2005, Zappala and De Stefani 2005, Botti et al. 2005, Hofmann et al. 2004, Jembrih-Simbürger et al. 2004, Reissland and de Groot 1999.)

Testing ET Notebook

Testing one of Edward Thomas’ notebooks. The pink complex indicates ferrous ions present in the ink.

Looking at the altenatives, this is the most effective aqueous method of prolonging iron gall ink’s life time with minimal side effects. So, it was agreed that treating the notebooks in question with a calcium phytate bath was the best step forward to prevent further damage due to iron gall ink.

It is with thanks to the National Manuscript Conservation Trust and the Glamorgan Archives that the Edward Thomas manuscripts housed at Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives could be treated and conserved accordingly. In the same breath, it has served as an important learning tool for myself as a conservation student.

Mixing Calcium

Mixing up the calcium carbonate and phytate acid to make calcium phytate.

The BBC has a great clip about iron gall ink: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p033dbrb  in BBC Four’s documentary Oak Tree: Nature’s Greatest Survivor. The full programme can be purchased from the BBC Store.

References:

Neevel, J. (2009). Application Issues of the Bathophenanthroline Test for Iron(II) Ions. Restaurator 30, pp.3–15.

http://www.kennisvoorcollecties.nl/en/projects/collection-risk-management/paper-heritage-metamorfoze/ink-corrosion/

http://www.averybazemore.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Bazemore_Avery_MA_thesis_16092016.pdf

https://irongallink.org/igi_index888e.html

 

Dancing in the Stacks

What can I say? Sometimes, when I’m totally alone in the stacks I do a little jig for the sheer joy of being amongst the best company ever, and said books never judge my moves, at least that’s what I thought…

Until I discovered a copy of Anatomical and mechanical lectures upon dancing: wherein rules and institutions for that art are laid down and demonstrated. (London, 1721). Ok, so maybe I should think twice before I twerk.

John Weaver Title Page

John Weaver, Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures Upon Dancing, (London, 1721), title page.

This book, I’ll have you know, was written by John Weaver (21 July 1673 – 24 September 1760), an English dancer and choreographer often regarded as the father of English pantomime.

Weaver was born in Shrewsbury where he worked as a dance teacher, like his father, who suggested he go to London and become a ballet master. Working mainly at the Drury Lane Theatre, Weaver soon became a specialist in comic roles and created the first English pantomime ballet, the burlesque Tavern Bilkers (1702). This was his first choreographic work where he incorporated commedia dell’arte characters such as Harlequin and Scaramouche. Scaramouche? As in  ‘Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango’? The very Bohemian one (thank you Freddie), generally a stock clown character of the commedia dell’arte, a particular Italian theatrical form that flourished throughout Europe from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

Scaramouche, Etienne Mahler.

Scaramouche, Etienne Mahler.

The role of Scaramouche combined characteristics of the zanni (servant) and the Capitano (masked henchman). Usually attired in black Spanish dress and burlesquing a don, he was often beaten for his boasting and cowardice by Harlequin – another key commedia dell’arte character, known by his chequered costume and his role as the light-hearted and astute servant constantly trying to outwit his master and pursue his own love interest.

Weaver included these two characters in his ballet at a time when dance was generally seen as a form of amusement but for Weaver, the art of dance was something far more substantial and artistic.

Harlequin, Masques et Bouffons Comedie Italienne (1862)

Harlequin, Masques et Bouffons: Comedie Italienne (1862).

In his celebrated work, The Loves of Mars and Venus (1717), he combined themes from classical literature with the dramatic elements that characterised Italian pantomime and English dance, so the story was conveyed through gesture and movement rather than any spoken or sung explanation. Weaver was one of the first choreographers to develop dance so that it performed a dramatic and expressive role rather than a simple comic and decorative one, and because of his attempts to use emotion and plot as opposed to complicated technical and speech methods, he is seen as a huge influence on later choreographers such as Gasparo Angiolini, and in particular the French dancer and ballet master Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810). Like Weaver, Noverre would later react against the ornamental function of ballet, believing that dance movement should also reflect its action.

Weaver’s writings on dance are also hugely significant. Published in 1706, Orchesography was the first English translation of the French choreographer Raoul-Auger Feuilllet’s Chorégraphie, and included the most common dance notation system of the time, thereby enabling the introduction of a consistent standard of dance throughout England (something akin to the ‘Macarena’ of the 90s I wonder)? In An Essay Towards the History of Dancing (1712), he documented the history of dance whilst arguing for its recognition as a means of expression and a sign of social accomplishment.

Weaver was also the first dance teacher to insist that dance instructors should have a thorough knowledge of anatomy in order to best use the body as a tool of expression. Hence his Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures upon Dancing were aimed at ‘introducing the Art of dancing among the liberal arts and sciences’, at a time when ‘the Art of Dancing is arrived at so great an Excellence’. A knowledge of anatomy he argues, may ‘not be well relish’d by the Masters in Dancing at first view’, but on further consideration they will come to recognise its great use towards the following discourse on the ‘Proportion and Symmetry of Parts’, and the ‘Mechanical Parts’ of the body, all of which he maintains are the ‘fundamentals of our profession, so they deserve, nay, require, our utmost observation’.

Preface extract, Weaver, Anatomical lectures on dancing

Extract from the preface of John Weaver’s, Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures upon Dancing, (London, 1721).

To Weaver, dancing ‘is an elegant, and regular movement, harmonically composed of beautiful Attitudes, and contrasted graceful Postures of the Body, and Parts thereof’.  And if you’re in the mood for a groove then just so you know: ‘motion consists of various Steps, produc’d by the Sinking, Rising, Turning, and Springing of the Body and Limbs’. Make of that what you will the next time you tackle the moonwalk or your Gangnam Style, and if these moves may fail you fear not, for there is plenty of inspiration to be had, as I very pleasantly discovered as I Harlem-shuffled my way over to our Historical Music Collection:

Dance details, 10 favorite cotillions, 8 country dances and two minuets, (London, 1784)

Dance details from 10 favorite cotillions, 8 country dances and two minuets, with their proper figures as perform’d at the Prince of Wales’s Willis’s Rooms, (London, 1784).

 

Dancing instructions for The Balloon, 10 favorite cotillions, 8 country dances and two minuets... (London, 1784)

Dancing instructions for The Balloon, 10 favorite cotillions, 8 country dances and two minuets… (London, 1784).

 

With International Dance Day upon us tomorrow (as well as Jean-George Noverre’s birthday), remember what Weaver says as you throw out your best moves, whether it’s the Charleston, the Twist, or the Chicken Dance: ‘Attitude is a posture, or graceful disposition of the body’. And so the moral of this blog-post is, sometimes even the old books can make you lose yourself to dance. Happy dancing people!