Tall Trees, Ancient History

Working with Special Collections means I’m never short of inspiration. Frankly, it’s hard to move for the stuff. However, recent encouragement has stemmed from much further afield…

… all the way from Offa’s Dyke to be precise. Having read about Robert McBride’s  project of recording and authenticating the ancient trees along this early earthen boundary, I was struck by two thoughts. Firstly, what an ‘ah-mazing’ job – second only to rummaging through old books (though I should point out that McBride’s efforts are voluntary); secondly, how crucial this work is, today especially.

The history of trees is often overlooked yet they are essential elements of our historical and cultural landscapes. Forests and woodlands were initially seen as forbidding and wild terrain, a symbol of the uncivilized. It is no coincidence that the word ‘savage’ derives from the Latin silva, meaning forest or wood. Since prehistoric times, human advancement hinged on the clearing and consumption of these woods, a recurring process throughout the Roman and Saxon eras, where woodlands were felled to make way for human settlements and pastureland. By the end of the 17th century, with the growing need for industrial fuel and building materials, only around 8% of England and Wales remained covered by forest. Some saw this a sign of progress. For contemporaries a ‘wilderness’ did not refer to a stark wasteland, but rather a dark, untamed wood. See, for example, how definitions of ‘forest’ and ‘wood’ in Edward Phillips’ The New World of Words (London, 1671),  are understood as something ‘wild’ and ungodly!

E. Phillips The New World of Words title pages

Edward Phillips, The New World of Words: or, a General English Dictionary,  (London, 3rd edition, 1671). First published in London in 1658, this was the first folio English dictionary and featured many unusual, foreign and specialist words.

Forest definition E. Phillips The New World of Words (London 1671)

Phillips’ definition of a forest, 1671: ‘…abiding place for Deer, or any sort of beasts, that are wild…’

Wood definition E. Phillips The New World of Words (London 1671)

Explanation of the term wood, 1671: ‘that signifies mad, or furious.’

Sylva or a Discourse of Forest Trees 1664 1

Title page of John Evelyn’s Sylva: or a Discourse of Forest Trees and the Propagation of Timber (London, 1664)

Nevertheless, attitudes were shifting towards a consideration for conservation and planting. Not necessarily a new development in itself, but with the economic demands of building a Royal Navy, and the growth of iron and glass manufacture, organized attempts at planting were becoming more evident. The work of John Evelyn is indicative of this. Sylva, published in London in 1664 is a study of British trees, designed to promote the planting and repair of the country’s forests and saplings for the ‘Glory of His Kingdom’. ‘Him’ being Charles the II who, incidentally, found sanctuary in an English oak during the final battle of the Civil War.

Change was afoot socially too. Whereas wooded territories were primarily cultivated for wild beasts and deer for hunting purposes, these deer parks and Royal forests were increasingly appreciated for their aesthetic and distinctive qualities. The gentry could distinguish themselves physically and socially in a country house set in a landscaped park, whilst fashionable society could parade itself in the open setting of city parks and gardens. The great tree-lined avenue became a familiar aristocratic feature, and trees were increasingly planted purely for their visual charm.

Austen A Treatise of Fruit Trees illustration detail

Engraving by John Goddard from Ralph Austen’s A treatise of fruit trees: shewing the manner of grafting, planting, pruning and ordering of them in all respects, (Oxford, 2nd edition, 1657), showing the ‘enclosed’ garden as well as gardening tools and a planting plan.

Hence by the eighteenth-century, any landlord worth his salt planted trees on his land. The following notebook for example, lists the different trees planted on an estate in North Wales, details of trees given to tenants, where they were planted and their history.

Trees also held a sacred and magical significance. The Yew, for example, generally understood to be the longest living tree in Britain, is found in most churchyards. Wales appears to have the world’s largest collection of ancient yews. The most famous is the Llangernyw Yew in the grounds of St Dygain’s Church, Conway, North Wales, believed to be over 4,000 years old! The old Welsh saying ‘gorwedd dan yr Ywen’, ‘sleeping under the Yew’, when referring to one’s demise, suggests that they were seen as a symbol of immortality and sanctuary for the dead. The existence of a holy well or spring near such trees also suggests their sacred origins. Ffynnon Digain (St. Digain’s Well) lies about a mile outside of Llangernyw, whilst in Carmarthenshire the Ffynnon Gwenlais yew grows above the source of the Gwenlais stream, and was noted by both Edward Lhuyd in the late seventeenth century, and Richard Fenton in 1804. The Welsh custom of tying rags to the branches of trees growing near a holy well, whereby the rag is ‘offered’ to the Saint or to God as a healing ritual also reflects their sacred qualities.

Moreover, their magical traits are evident in the medieval Welsh poem Cad Goddeu – the Battle of the Trees. Preserved in the 14th century manuscript Llyfr Taliesin (The Book of Taliesin), the poem refers to Gwydion’s enchantment of the trees of the forest where they rose up as warriors against the forces of Arawn, king of the underworld. ‘Rush, ye chiefs of the wood’, reads one line, while the rest of the poem describes, amongst others, the ‘Alders, at the head of the line’, the Yew at ‘the fore’, and ‘The Ash… exalted most’.  Does this scene Ring any bells? Ring(s) being the operative word! For whilst this particular story inspired Tori Amos’ song, Battle of the Trees, and John Williams’ composition ‘Duel of the Fates’ for Star Wars: Episode 1, I can’t help wondering if Cad Goddeu was also the source of inspiration for the Battle of Isengard in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings?

Cruben yr Ellyll

Image of Cruben yr Ellyll from E. Salisbury’s scrapbook on Meirioneth, c. 19thC

Through all ages then, and worlds, our trees have provided physical emblems of our historic and cultural heritage. Some, like the Pontfadog Oak, where it’s believed the Welsh Prince Owain Gwynedd rallied his army before defeating the English at the Battle of Crogen, or the Cruben yr Ellyll,  The Hollow Demon Oak,  where legend has it the body of Hywel Sele was interred by Owain Glyndwr, have a historic worth, while others have been a source of wonder, like the Crooked Oak of Pembrokeshire which inspired the Welsh poet Waldo Williams to pen ‘Y Dderwen Gam’ – ‘The Crooked Oak’. Some have even survived great battles! And so the moral of this blog post is to never underestimate the importance of our ancient trees. They truly are blooming marvelous – pun intended!

 

The Shakespeare Manuscripts of William Henry Ireland

2016 marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, and Shakespeare-related exhibitions have been popping up across London and beyond. Although Shakespeare’s work is known and loved throughout the English-speaking world, we have surprisingly little material evidence about his life. Only six documents bearing his signature survive. This lack of evidence, combined with his humble origins, has led some people to believe that he could not have written the plays and poems which bear his name. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there have always been those who are only too eager to believe even the most dubious claims of Shakespearean authorship.

shakespeare-william-original-mortgage-deed-egerton-ms-1787-f001r

This mortgage deed, owned by the British Library, is one of only six documents known to bear William Shakespeare’s signature.

In 1623, a group of friends and admirers published a large-format edition of Shakespeare’s collected plays: the First Folio. The book sold well enough to merit a second edition in 1631, and a third in 1663. By that time, the public was mad for all things Shakespeare, and the third edition included seven new plays: Pericles, Prince of Tyre; Locrine; The London Prodigal; The Puritan; Sir John Oldcastle; Thomas Lord Cromwell; and A Yorkshire Tragedy. Of these seven plays, only Pericles is now widely accepted as part of the Shakespearean canon.

Every time a new piece of Shakespeareana surfaces, it attracts plenty of media attention. Most recently, in 2014, two New York booksellers, George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler announced to the world that they had found Shakespeare’s dictionary: a copy of John Baret’s Alvearie with anonymous handwritten notes in which they found parallels to certain lines in Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Unlike the media, however, the scholarly community is often reluctant to accept any but the most definitive proofs of authenticity, and for good reason. The popularity of all things Shakespearean (and our willingness to pay top dollar for them) has led to the “discovery” of several new Shakespeare manuscripts down through the ages. Sometimes, these discoveries are made in good faith by over-enthusiastic or gullible collectors, while others are deliberate forgeries.

Perhaps the most famous of these cases is that of William Henry Ireland, who in 1794 presented his father Samuel Ireland with an antique deed bearing the signature of William Shakespeare. William Henry claimed that it had been found in an old trunk belonging to a wealthy gentleman who wished to be known only as “Mr. H.” Mr. H. purportedly had no interest in old documents, and invited William Henry to take whatever interested him. Samuel Ireland, who was an antiquary and a devoted admirer of Shakespeare’s work, was overjoyed, and other documents soon followed. He proudly displayed the papers for the likes of James Boswell, Henry James Pye, and John Pinkerton, who inspected them and deemed them genuine.

In early 1796, Samuel Ireland published Miscellaneous papers and legal instruments under the hand and seal of William Shakspeare. It contained transcriptions and detailed reproductions of several of the documents, including a letter to the earl of Southampton, a confession of faith, theatrical contracts, a love letter and poem to ‘Anna Hatherrewaye” accompanied by a lock of hair, a letter from Queen Elizabeth, an original manuscript of King Lear, and various other business receipts. Ireland even went so far as to produce a deed which ceded all property in Shakespeare’s papers to a fictional ancestor, also named William Henry Ireland, as a reward for saving the poet from drowning. Another deed of gift mentioned an illegitimate child, hinting that Ireland himself might be a blood relative of the poet.

seals

To create his forgeries, Ireland cut seals from other Elizabethan documents.

The volume sold so well that it went through a second edition that same year. A “lost” play, entitled Vortigern and Rowena, was performed at Drury Lane on 2 April. By then, however, rumors had begun to circulate that the documents were forgeries, and the play failed catastrophically. On 31 March, two days before the performance, Edmond Malone had published An Inquiry into the Authenticity of Certain Miscellaneous Papers, an exhaustive 424-page critique which pointed out anomalies in the language, orthography, and palaeography of the documents.

 

King_Lear

Ireland’s forgeries included an “original manuscript” of the Tragedye of Kynge Leare

Later that year, in an attempt to restore his father’s reputation, William Henry Ireland claimed full responsibility for the forgeries in An Authentic Account of the Shaksperian Manuscripts, &c. In spite of this account, sceptics doubted that William Henry, only 19 years old when he produced his first forgery, could have so successfully imitated Shakespeare’s language and handwriting. His own father insisted that the manuscripts were genuine, on the grounds that his son was too stupid to have fabricated them.

In 1805, William Henry published one further attempt to set the record straight, entitled The Confessions of William Henry Ireland. In this autobiographical account, he explains how he became familiar with 16th century handwriting and language by examining old documents in the legal office where he worked. From that same source, he cut out blank endleaves from antique books and removed wax seals from authentic documents for use on his fabrications. He experimented with various formulas for “Elizabethan” ink and methods of making it appear darkened with age.

Hathaway_letter

Ireland’s love letter from Shakespeare to “Anna Hatherwaye.”

Following his exposure as a forger, William Henry Ireland gradually fell into poverty, working as a hack writer and producing some ninety literary works in various genres—this time under his own name. In spite of the scandal, he looked back on his forgeries with considerably more pride than contrition, fondly remembering a time when his own writing was (mistakenly) praised as that of the greatest English poet. Throughout his life, Ireland continued to produce “Elizabethan” documents on demand as curiosities, and to authenticate his claim that he alone was responsible for the manuscripts.

Cardiff University holds a copy of the 1795 first edition of Miscellaneous papers and legal instruments under the hand and seal of William Shakspeare (London, 1796). It is an impressive volume measuring nearly 43 cm tall, with wide margins and painstakingly detailed engravings. More than 120 names appear in the list of subscribers, many of them bearing titles of nobility. When originally published, it cost four guineas, approximately two months’ wages for a working man. In the preface, Samuel Ireland states that, “It might have been produced at a lower price; but it was his [i.e. Samuel Ireland’s] earnest desire to give such a variety of fac-similes of the hand writing, as to enable the reader to form a complete judgment of the general character of the manuscript.” Incidentally, a mere seven paragraphs are spent sincerely reassuring the reader as to the authenticity of the manuscripts.

preface_border

What does the fox say? The most delectable history of Reynard the Fox

The volumFox1ae of ‘Reynard the Fox’ which resides in Special Collections is the edition that contains three parts in one volume, and was published by Edward Brewster in 1701.  The first part, “The Most delectable History of Reynard the Fox”, is sometimes mistakenly attributed to John Shirley (1680–1702), because he also published a version in the late seventeenth century.  Shirley’s version however was in rhyming iambic pentameters, with few illustrations, and as it was never reprinted is believed to have not been that popular.

 

It was Caxton who produced the first English edition in 1481, based on a Flemish text; with Wynkyn de Worde illustrating it in 1495 and this is the version which Brewster used.  The other two parts are also attributed to Brewster who expaFox3nded upon the original set of stories, with the final part based on Reynardine, the son of Reynard who had died in a previous tale.

 

The stories of Reynard the Fox originated in the 12th and 13th centuries across Europe, and versions can be found in Latin, German, Dutch, and French.  Popular animal fables that appealed to children, they were also crafty political allegories that became increasingly moralized throughout the 17th century, as we see in this edition. Varty (1999, 23) describes the tales as:

“…a book meant for adults which became a best-seller in the late fifteenth century and remained popular for more than two hundred years, a book characterized by violence, murder, adultery, rape and corruption in high places.”

Fox2

Most people today are largely unaware of the tales of Reynard the Fox, however, as a trickster folk hero, the enduring image of Reynard has continued into the modern age, and even been reflected in the Disney cartoon of Robin Hood – where Robin is the fox.

Fox4

Fox6

The volume is illustrated throughout by charming woodcuts that bear the initials E. B. (for Edward Brewster).  Wynkyn de Worde first illustrated the tales in 1495, and the images proved enduringly popular, with the blocks being used into the 17th century until they became too worn.  Brewster, the last publisher to own de Worde’s blocks, took it upon himself to create new illustrations basing them very closely on de Worde’s originals, although inserting his own initials into the image. [See Varty (1999, 254-255)] He first used these new blocks in his second edition of the text in 1671, and continued to use them in subsequent editions, including the 1701 text held in Special Collections.

 

Our copy contains an armorial bookplate on the front pastedown, complete with an ink inscription: C. Roach Smith – presented by his sister Mrs Holliffe, 1847.

Foxbookplate

Charles Roach Smith (1807-1890) was an antiquarian and archaeologist, and a specialist in Roman coins and Roman London, publishing on both topics.  His works led him to being the recipient of several medals that were struck in his honour.

 

Fox5

Varty, Kenneth (1999) Reynard, Renart, Reinaert: and other foxes in Medieval England: the iconographic evidence. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Fox7 Fox8

Celebrating Professional Librarians

Ducarel portrait

As a young man, Ducarel was blinded one eye, which is why it appears cloudy in this portrait. From A Series of above two hundred Ango-Gallic, or Norman and Aquitain coins… (London, 1757). 

On Wednesday, 14 July, the United States Senate confirmed Dr. Carla Hayden as the new Librarian of Congress. In addition to being the first woman and the first African-American to hold the post, she is also the first professional librarian to head the Library of Congress in more than 60 years. Most of the previous appointees have been scholars or writers who did not necessarily hold professional qualifications as librarians. (In the United States, this means a master’s degree in Library and Information Studies from an ALA-accredited programme). Inspired by this historic appointment, today’s blog post looks at another noteworthy librarian, Andrew Coltee Ducarel, who was the first professional librarian of Lambeth Palace.

Andrew Ducarel was born in Paris on 9 June 1713 to a family of Huguenots from Normandy. Fleeing from persecution in France, his family stayed briefly in Amsterdam before settling in England in 1721. After studying law at Oxford and Cambridge, Ducarel was admitted to the College of Advocates (Doctors’ Commons) in November 1743. It was at Doctors’ Commons that he first tried his hand at library work, serving as its librarian from 1754-1757 in addition to his regular legal work.

Ducarel had a keen interest in history and antiquities, and was admitted to the Society of Antiquaries at the the age of twenty-four. Throughout his life, he published several tracts on English and Norman antiquities, especially coins and medals. He was elected a member of the Society of Antiquaries of Cortona in 1760, a fellow of the Royal Society in 1762, of the Society of Antiquaries of Cassel in 1778, and of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1781.

numismatics illustration

Ducarel’s antiquarian interests included numismatics, the study of coins and medals. Illustration from Ducarel’s A Series of above two hundred Ango-Gallic, or Norman and Aquitain coins… (London, 1757).

In March 1754, Archbishop Thomas Herring asked Ducarel to prepare an account of Croydon Palace and its surroundings. Assisted by his friend, Edward Rowe Mores, Ducarel presented the Archbishop with a manuscript copy of “Some account of the town, church, and archiepiscopal palace of Croydon” in 1755. (It was not published until 1783.) While preparing the research for this account, the two men spent several weeks in Lambeth Library, sorting and labelling nearly 2000 old records.

At least partly thanks to his work with the Lambeth records in 1754-1755, Ducarel was formally appointed to the position of librarian at Lambeth Palace in 1757, for which he received a salary of £30 per annum. Ducarel was the first layperson appointed to the position, and would become its longest-serving librarian, working under five archbishops over twenty-eight years, until his death in 1785.

Ducarel bookplate

Cardiff University holds two books with Ducarel’s armorial bookplate.

Although the post had previously been viewed as a stepping-stone on the path to greater preferment, Ducarel made caring for the library his life-long occupation. He continued the work of organizing and cataloguing its records, but also acquired, accessioned, and arranged for the binding of new books, pamphlets, and manuscripts; he dealt with visitors and enquiries, drew up surveys and reports in support of the building’s maintenance and repair, and researched the history of the palace and library. Ducarel frequently turned to his antiquary friends for assistance in writing the tracts which bear his name, preferring to devote his attention to organising and indexing the holdings of the library.

After his death. Many of Ducarel’s personal books and manuscripts were left to his friends Richard Gough and John Nichols, and were later sold at auction in 1786. Today, the bulk of his library is divided between Lambeth Palace, the British Library, and the Bodleian Library at Oxford, but at least two volumes from Ducarel’s library now reside at Cardiff University. One of these volumes is Dugdale’s Origines juridiciales (London, 1671). The other is a collection of seven tracts by Ducarel, including his first published work, A tour through Normandy, described in a letter to a friend (London, 1754), four Four letters concerning chesnut and other trees, and biographical notes on Browne Willis. Of the seven tracts, two have not previously been recorded in the English Short Title Catalogue

Table of Contents

This volume from Ducarel’s personal library contains seven of his own tracts bound together with a handwritten contents list.

Robert Recorde and his linguistic Witte

As someone who loves nothing more than rummaging through antiquarian books, mathematics is not usually my first go to subject. And so, in my new role as the Assistant Librarian here at Special Collections and Archives, I was tasked, amongst other things, with identifying some ‘treasures’ in the famous Salisbury collection. Brilliant. Over the past few weeks I have been indulging myself in this magnificent collection of almanacs, medical works, bibles, and musical scores to name but a few, with not a  single thought to Pythagoras, permutation, or anything perpendicular! The only algebra running through my mind is the three bs  – old books + more old books = bliss! And it was in this state of bliss I came across the following:

Whettstone of Witte title page

Title page of the Whetstone of Witte (London, 1557)

The whetstone of witte : whiche is the seconde parte of arithmetike ; containyng thextraction of rootes ; the cossike practise, with the rule of equation ; and the woorkes of surde nombers, published in 1557. Oh, my, God!

Why all the excitement? Well, while I freely admit I know nothing of ‘cossike practise’, I do know that this is no ordinary maths book. Its author, Robert Recorde, is best known as the Welsh Tudor mathematician who invented the equals sign, first introduced in English, in this very book. Fantastic, yes, but, there is much more to the man than just maths.

Quote on equals sign

Recorde’s introduction of the equals sign, from the Whetstone of Witte (London, 1557)

Born c. 1510 to a merchant family in Tenby, we know very little of Recorde’s formative years in Wales but should not discount, perhaps, the influences that this thriving mercantile port had on his young mathematical mind. We do know that he obtained his degree from Oxford in 1531, was elected a Fellow of All Souls college and granted a license to study medicine. After gaining his MD from Cambridge in 1545, it appears he moved to London where he reportedly served as Royal Physician to King Edward VI and Queen Mary.

It was not unusual for sixteenth-century physicians to have multifaceted careers as mathematicians, civil servants, diplomats, even spies (the renowned John Dee may well spring to mind here, and it is no coincidence that Dee edited some of Recorde’s works!) Recorde’s scientific and mathematical skills enabled him to work as an iron-founder, accountant and metallurgist for the Crown service. He also wrote on astronomy. The Castle of Knowledge published in 1556, was one of the first to make public reference to the heliocentric model which placed the sun at the centre of the solar system. As if he didn’t have enough to do, he also dabbled in antiquarianism and linguistics!

The Castle of Knowledge title page 1556

Title page of The Castle of Knowledge (London, 1556)

Such a comprehensive skill-set was not un-common amongst our learned contemporaries, but what makes Recorde unique is the linguistic insight displayed in his writings. The Ground of Artes  published in 1543, possibly the first original arithmetic book in English, was written in the form of a dialogue as ‘the easiest way of instruction, when the scholar may ask every doubt orderly, and the master may answer.’

Dialogue detail from the Ground of Artes, 1663

Opening page from The Ground of Artes (London, 1632)

Similarly, The Whetstone of Witte follows the conversation between a master and scholar comparing the rudiments of geometry and arithmetic. If this didn’t grab you, Recorde also created imaginative titles and often used poetry as a way of introducing his subject and injecting a little humour into his works. The Whetstone of Witte, for instance, so called after a whetstone to sharpen the mind:

Here if you lift your wittes to whette,
Much sharpness thereby shall you get’.

Poem detail from The Castle of Knowledge

Poem at the end of the contents page of The Castle of Knowledge (London, 1556)

His use of English as opposed to Latin, and his attempts to modify the language to explain the maths, highlights his aim to communicate his ideas as widely and effectively as possible. At a time when printing in the vernacular was relatively new and literacy was limited, Recorde’s approach was ground breaking.

His only medical work, The Urinal of Physick, is notable for its use of the vernacular as well as the choice of topic. At a time when fortune-telling and prophesying were highly suspect, uroscopy, or the study of urine for symptoms of disease could be seen as divinatory if it was the only medical method used. So to publish a treatise solely on urine, in English, was an original move especially as this type of literature was not typically produced by orthodox physicians.

Detail of urine flask in The Urinal of Physick

Urine flask detail from The Urinal of Physick (London, 1651)

Nor was this style of writing. It is a testament to Recorde’s innovative attitude to learning that he wrote his works the way he did. By introducing us to a general vocabulary of learning he enabled us to engage with ideas in a language that he helped mould as our own. And so, the lesson of this story is to never underestimate the allure of special collections, for old books, even those on maths = bliss, and as Recorde himself states: ‘no two things can be more equal’.

Stephen Duck, Thresher and Poet

portrait2

Portrait of Stephen Duck, from Poems on Several Occasions (London, 1764)

Although now largely overlooked, the “Thresher Poet” Stephen Duck was an 18th-century celebrity. Critics and scholars have been generally dismissive of the quality of his verse, yet he enjoyed the patronage of Queen Caroline from his introduction at court in 1730 until her death in 1737, and was rumored to have been considered for the laureateship.

Duck spent his early years as a poor agricultural labourer, receiving a rudimentary education until the age of 14 when he left school to work in the fields. According to “An account of the author” written by his friend and supporter Joseph Spence, he “had a certain Longing after Knowledge; and when he reflected within himself on his Want of Education, he began to be particularly uneasy.” Duck would work extended hours in the fields to earn extra money which he spent on books. Once he had the books, he finished his work as quickly as possible, “that he might get Half an Hour to read a Spectator, without injuring his Master.” Together with a friend who had lived in London and amassed a small library, Duck would read, re-read, and discuss the few dozen volumes that were available to him. Spence, describing this early period in the poet’s life, records their collection as follows:

“Perhaps you would be willing to know what Books their little Library consisted of. I need not mention those of Arithmetick again, nor his Bible: Milton, the Spectators, and Seneca, were his first Favourites; Telemachus, with another Piece by the same Hand, and Addison’s Defence of Christianity, his next. They had an English Dictionary, and a Sort of English Grammar, an Ovid of long standing with them, and a Bysshe’s Art of Poetry of latter Acquisition: Seneca’s Morals made the Name of l’Estrange dear to them; and, as I imagine, might occasion their getting his Josephus in Folio, which was the largest Purchace in their Collection: They had one Volume of Shakespeare, with Seven of his Plays in it. Beside theses, Stephen had read three or four other Plays; some of Epictetus, Waller, Dryden’s Virgil, Prior, Hudibras, Tom Brown, and the London Spy. You may see I am a faithfull Historian, by giving you the Bad with the Good.”

Duck was particularly drawn to Milton’s Paradise Lost, reading it over “twice or thrice with a Dictionary, before he could understand the Language of it thoroughly… [H]e has got English just as we get Latin. He study’d Paradise Lost, as others study the Classics.” Inspired to try and imitate Milton’s verse, began to compose a few poems, most of which he claims to have thrown onto the fire, considering them to be of little or no literary merit. When rumors began to circulate about a poor thresher who could write couplets, a young gentleman of Oxford requested of him a letter in verse. The result, Duck’s first composition of more than a few disconnected lines, is preserved as “To a Gentleman, who requested a Copy of Verses from the Author.”  

1733_title_page

Cardiff University holds the 1733 edition of Poems on Several Subjects, and the 1753 and 1764 editions of Poems on Several Occasions.

The letter’s favourable reception inspired Duck to continue his efforts, which were published in up to ten pirated editions between 1730 and 1733 under the title, Poems on Several Subjects. These early editions attracted attention on a much wider scale and earned him an audience in the court of Queen Caroline. Duck was well received by the queen, who rewarded him with an annuity of £30 or £50, a house, and, in 1735, a position as keeper of the queen’s library in Merlin’s Cave, a Gothic building in Richmond Gardens. He was introduced to literary giants such as Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, both of whom subscribed to his 1736 volume of poems. Although they had nothing good to say about his poetry, Swift and Pope both spoke highly of Duck as a humble, genial, and virtuous man.

Today, scholars are beginning to revisit Stephen Duck’s literary contributions. In her chapter in A Companion to Literature from Milton to Blake, Bridget Keegan suggests several areas of study where Duck’s work is of value, such as documenting the everyday lives of 18th century working-class people; or the concept of “genius” in the 18th century literary landscape. She argues that Duck’s success may be seen to pave the way for the rise of the Romantic movement and other self-educated poets such as Robert Bloomfield, Robert Burns and John Clare.

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The opening verse of “The Thresher’s Labour,” from the 1733 edition of Poems on Several Subjects.

With its mock-heroic language and inversion of traditional pastoral imagery, Duck’s poem, “The Thresher’s Labour” anticipates the themes of destruction and corrupt greed in Goldsmith’s “Deserted Village.” As the first writer in what would become a class of “peasant-poets,” Duck also inspired many contemporary imitations and responses from other working-class authors, including Robert Tatersal (The Bricklayer’s Miscellany) and John Bancks (The Weaver’s Miscellany). Perhaps the most famous of these responses is The Woman’s Labour by Mary Collier. Offended by Duck’s portrayal of female agricultural workers as lazy chatterboxes, she composed a rebuttal in verse, cataloguing her own struggles as a washer-woman in London. Despite their literary sparring, however, Collier acknowledged her admiration for Duck and composed an Elegy on his death many years later.

Sadly, Stephen Duck’s story does not end well. After Queen Caroline’s death in 1837, he found himself without a patron as his celebrity waned. Rather than continue his literary career, he devoted himself to scholarship and took holy orders in 1746. He served as a military chaplain from 1747 to 1751, then briefly as preacher to Kew chapel. In January 1752 he was appointed to the rectory of Byfleet, Surrey where he proved a hard working and popular parish priest, but between 30 March and 2 April 1756 committed suicide by drowning at Reading.

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The frontispiece of the pirated 1733 edition of Poems on Several Subjects.

 

John Donne’s Biathanatos

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Portrait of John Donne by Unknown English artist, oil on panel, circa 1595. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

This week’s cataloguing efforts have uncovered another noteworthy item in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection: a first edition of Biathanatos (London, 1644) by John Donne.

The full title of the book is Βιαθανατος : a declaration of that paradoxe, or thesis, that selfe-homicide is not so naturally sinne, that it may never be otherwise. Wherein the nature, and the extent of all those lawes, which seeme to be violated by this act, are diligently surveyed. The paradox was a literary genre popular during the English Renaissance in which the author puts forth an argument in support of a thesis which contradicts common sense or questions a commonly-held belief. As a young man, Donne wrote several paradoxes, generally on comparatively trivial subjects such as, “That old Men are more Fantastique then younge,” or “Why have Bastards best fortune.”  In his personal correspondence, Donne claims that his paradoxes were made “rather to deceive time than her daughter truth,” and “are rather alarums to truth to arme her then enemies.” Donne’s use of the genre for a discussion of suicide suggests that it is not intended to be taken at face value, but rather to encourage thoughtful discussion and contradiction.

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Title page of the 1644 first edition of Biathanatos.

Biathanatos was written during a lengthy period of unemployment, during which Donne suffered from low spirits. In 1608, around the time that Biathanatos  was originally composed, Donne wrote to his friend Henry Goodyer, “Every Tuesday I make account that I turn a great hourglass, and consider that a week’s life is run out since I writ. But if I ask myself what I have done in the last watch, or would do in the next, I can say nothing.” Although John Sym’s Lifes Preservative Against Self-Killing (London, 1637) was published earlier, Biathanatos was the first book written in the Western tradition on the subject of suicide.

Donne’s treatise is divided into sections discussing the rational, legal, and theological arguments against suicide. Its controversial thesis proposes that while most motivations for suicide (including despair, self-aggrandizement, fear of suffering, or impatience to reach the afterlife) are selfish and sinful, suicide is justified when, like submission to martyrdom, it is done with charity and for the glory of God. Donne even goes so far as to say that Christ himself, in allowing himself to be killed on the cross, was in fact a suicide. Donne’s case is supported by thousands of citations from more than 170 authors (though Donne admits in the introductory matter that, “In citing these Authors…I have trusted mine owne old notes; which though I have no reason to suspect, yet I confesse here my lazines; and that I did not refresh them with going to the Originall”).

Although the subject matter may be uncomfortable to some, this treatise has an intriguing history. Aware that Biathanatos dealt with “a misinterpretable subject,” Donne carefully controlled its circulation in a small number of manuscript copies which he distributed among his close personal friends.

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From a letter from John Donne “To Sr Robert Carre now Earle of Ankerum, with my Book Biathanatos at my going into Germany,” published in Letters to severall persons of honour (London, 1654).

Donne’s reluctance to publish Biathanatos is not remarkable in itself; many of Donne’s works, including the poems for which he is best known today, were not published during his lifetime. Nevertheless, his attitude toward Biathanatos seems particularly ambivalent. In entrusting the manuscript to to Sir Robert Ker, he writes: 

“I have always gone so near suppressing it, as that it is onely not burnt: no hand hath passed upon it to copy it, nor many eyes to read it: onely to some particular friends in both Universities, then when I writ it, I did communicate it … Keep it, I pray, with the same jealousie; let any that your discretion admits to the sight of it, know the date of it; and that it is a book written by Jack Donne, and not by D. Donne: Reserve it for me, if I live, and if I die, I only forbid it the Presse, and the Fire: publish it not, but yet burn it not; and between those, do what you will with it.” (from Letters to severall persons of honour).

He is eager to distance himself from the work, ascribing it to the his younger self, Jack Donne, rather than the mature Doctor Donne, but he still insists on preserving its existence. Equally fearful that his work would be either lost or misunderstood, Donne never sent it out unaccompanied by letters of introduction like the one quoted above. The transmission of the manuscript copies is a fascinating story in itself, discussed in detail in Peter Beal’s book, In praise of scribes: manuscripts and their makers in seventeenth-century England.

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From the dedicatory epistle of the first printed edition of Biathantos (London, 1644), written by John Donne, Jr. sixteen years after his father’s death.

After Donne’s death, his son published Biathanatos against his father’s wishes, writing in the dedicatory epistle, “Two dangers appeared more eminently to hover over this, being then a Manuscript; a danger of being utterly lost, and a danger of being utterly found.” The first edition appeared in 1644, followed by a re-issue with a new title page in 1648 and a new edition in 1700. Both the 1644 and 1700 editions can be found in the Cardiff Rare Books collection.

Following its publication, a number of outraged rebuttals appeared, most notably John Adams’ An essay concerning self-murther. Wherein is endeavour’d to prove, that it is unlawful according to natural principles. With some considerations upon what is pretended from the said principles, by the author of a treatise, intituled, Biathanatos, and others. (London, 1700). More than 300 years later, scholars still debate whether the argument set forth in Biathanatos was intended to be sincere or satirical. Either way, Donne’s paradoxical essay has succeeded in its goal of stimulating thoughtful conversation on a topic which remains controversial even today.

Gallery

Report on first Annual CRECS Conference, 17 May 2016

This gallery contains 18 photos.

Originally posted on CRECS//:
On Tuesday 17 May 2016, Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR) opened its doors to welcome the attendees of the first annual CRECS student conference. After partaking in a welcome hot beverage—at a safe distance from the special…

William Dampier: Pirate, Navigator, Naturalist, and Explorer

NPG 538; William Dampier by Thomas Murray

Portrait of William Dampier by Thomas Murray, oil on canvas, circa 1697-1698, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

At age 18, William Dampier (1652–1715) was apprenticed to a seaman at Weymouth. He served briefly in the Third Anglo-Dutch War, worked on a Jamaican sugar plantation and aboard merchant ships, before deserting his post to join a buccaneer fleet. After an unsuccessful attack on Panama City, he joined a group of French and English pirates with whom he raided Costa Rica and frequented the buccaneer base at Tortuga before being driven away by Spanish warships. In 1686, Dampier sailed more than 6000 miles across the Pacific from Cape Corrientes, Mexico, to Guam, later carrying on through the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. From there, his ship turned southward and in 1688 became the first English ship to visit New Holland (Australia). His journey continued through India, Sumatra, Vietnam, and the Malay peninsula, until he finally returned to England in 1691, making him the first Englishman to circle the globe since Thomas Cavendish a century before.

A second trading voyage to the West Indies resulted in a mutiny and a change of occupation from trading to piracy. Dampier remained with the ship until the end of his term of employment, but upon returning to London and asked for his back wages, he was instead accused of aiding the mutineers and received no money.

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Dampier published accounts of his voyages in 1697, 1699, and 1703.

From early in his career, he had kept a regular journal where he recorded observations of the winds and tides, geography, plants and animals, and native peoples. In 1697, left with few assets besides these journals, he published his observations under the title, A New Voyage Round the World. Dampier’s account of strange foreign lands was straightforward and practical rather than sensational, and proved extremely popular among merchants, statesmen, and scientists, as well as the general public. Within his lifetime, A New Voyage Round the World went through seven printings in English and translations into Dutch, French, and German.

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“Plants found in New Holland,” from A Voyage to New Holland… (London, 1703).

In 1699, Dampier’s fortunes were on the rise. He published a second volume under the title Voyages and Descriptions and returned to the Pacific, this time as captain of the HMS Roebuck, the first voyage intended specifically for scientific exploration. He sailed around Australia and New Guinea, discovering the island which he named New Britain before the ship’s poor condition forced him to return home, carrying with him specimens of around forty Australian plants (now in the Sherardian Herbarium at Oxford).

Once again, however, Dampier’s return home was not a happy one. He arrived in England to face a court martial for assaulting an officer on board the HMS Roebuck, and was judged to be unfit for command. He returned to the Pacific yet again as commodore of a privateering expedition during which, after a hurried refit on the island of Juan Fernandez, the ship’s master Alexander Selkirk preferred to be marooned there rather than set sail on a vessel he did not believe to be seaworthy. Selkirk would remain on the island for five years before being rescued by another privateer vessel commanded by Captain Woodes Rogers and piloted by none other than William Dampier.

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Views of the Brazilian coastline in A Voyage to New Holland… (London, 1703).

Although Dampier and Selkirk had grated on each other’s nerves during the earlier voyage, it was on Dampier’s recommendation that Rogers appointed Selkirk as mate on board his ship. Selkirk’s abandonment and subsequent rescue, described in Rogers’ journal and in The Englishman magazine, are widely believed to be the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s novel, Robinson Crusoe.

Dampier’s third book, A Voyage to New Holland, in the Year 1699, was published in 1703, and contained the first description of Aboriginal Australians. Although his account unfortunately depicted them as ‘the miserablest People in the world’, his writing nevertheless sparked intense interest in the south Pacific.

Over the course of his career, Dampier would circumnavigate the globe three times, making him the first person to do so.  His books, with their detailed records of weather patterns, safe harbours, disposition of native peoples, sources of food, and advice on maintaining health while at sea, were for a long time considered essential reading for mariners and recommended by the likes of Cook, Howe, and Nelson. Dampier’s writings also inspired literature such as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner“. 

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Voyages and Descriptions includes “A Discourse of Trade-Winds,” which was used in compiling Admiralty Sailing Directions as late as the 1930s.

His was the first English language description of breadfruit, plantain, and bananas, and it was Dampier who first introduced the words “barbecue” and “chopsticks” into the English language. His legacy lives on in the names of Dampier Strait in Papua New Guinea, Dampier Land in Western Australia, and the Dampier Archipelago off the west coast of Australia.

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At the time of Dampier’s expedition, much of Australia remained uncharted.

Cardiff University holds the fifth edition of A new voyage round the world (1703), third edition of Voyages and descriptions (1705), and the first edition of A Voyage to New Holland, in the Year 1699 (1703). Although they belong to different editions, they are bound uniformly as a set and bear the property stamp of “T. Falconer,” possibly the English jurist and explorer Thomas Falconer (1805-1882) who served as judge of Glamorganshire, Brecknockshire and Rhayader from 1851 to 1881.

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Discovering the Edward Thomas archive: a student perspective

This guest post comes from Sarah Murray, a final year English Literature undergraduate. Sarah recently worked on a project in Special Collections as part of the Poetry in the Making module led by Dr Carrie Smith. The students were tasked with exploring the Edward Thomas archive, to find items to inspire short films. These would present arguments about Thomas’ life and work, with reference to primary sources. An extract from one of the films is featured below.

During our first visit to Special Collections, we worked closely with archivist, Alison Harvey, who collected a huge range of material from manuscripts of poems to Thomas’ personal diaries, to flower cuttings, to personal items, such as his clay pipes.

We were able to spend time looking through this material, and quickly realised that the diversity of materials the archive has to offer meant that there was a huge scope for creativity in the upcoming project.

Manuscripts, transcripts, diaries and flower cuttings - a typical scene at our table.

Manuscripts, transcripts, diaries and flower cuttings – a typical scene at our table.

My group was struck by the regular communication between Edward Thomas and fellow poet Robert Frost, and decided to concentrate on the profound impact Frost had on Thomas’ birth as a poet. Armed with more material than it was possible to process, we visited the archive regularly, pouring over the correspondence between Thomas and Frost.

The calming atmosphere of Special Collections made a welcome change from the rest of the Arts and Social Studies Library, and if it was not for the fact that I would be eternally thirsty, I would do all of my writing in the archive! (It’s funny how the moment you know you can’t have something, that’s immediately all you want in the world.)

After much research, constructing our arguments and a lot of video editing, the four groups in our class each created and submitted a ten minute film as part of the module assessment and it was surprising how different each one was. Almost as if we had sat down and allocated different approaches to take.

Uniquely, the work we produced was showcased to the English Literature department. Although slightly embarrassing to watch and listen to ourselves on the big screen (there was a lot of face covering and even a quick exit), the opportunity to share our videos with members of the department who were interested and surprised by the originality of our arguments, made the project seem incredibly worthwhile.

litmodulestudentsFor me, the experience was eye opening as it provided us with the thought processes and concerns that preceded the published versions of Thomas’ eloquent poetry. I hadn’t really considered the apprehension that a poet may experience when writing, perhaps having been consumed by the Romantic idea that inspiration for a complete product is found while sitting peacefully at the top of a hill. The ability to immerse ourselves in the material that led to the publication of Thomas’ poetry enabled us to understand the man and consequently, the poet and his poetry in a deeper sense.

Samantha Palen, third year English Literature and Journalism student, adds: “As an amateur poet myself, I had long ago rejected the Wordsworthian / Romantic idea of writing poetry, if purely for the fact that British weather means that writing anything whilst strolling through the countryside proves nearly impossible. However, I was surprised to learn the range of materials in the archive that fed into the final published poems; classically you imagine that a poem is written, edited through various manuscripts and then published, bish, bash, bosh. What I didn’t take into account was all of the materials that fall outside of this process, the photographs, the diaries, the correspondence with friends and family, which arguably have a greater impact on the creation of a piece of poetry. All of this took some time to get my head around and the sheer amount of information available seemed incredibly daunting, but all of the archive staff were incredibly helpful in making this an incredibly enjoyable experience!”

All in all, this project was definitely more challenging than anything else I have been required to do as part of my degree and was a welcome change to the thousands of words of essay I have written across nearly three years of reading English Literature. I greatly enjoyed the time we spent in Special Collections. Cardiff University is very lucky to have such a rich collection of historical and literary archives and the opportunity to make use of this material enriched my knowledge of a subject I am passionate about. Finally, I am very grateful to Carrie for providing us with this new and exciting academic opportunity and to Alison for her time and commitment to supporting us throughout the project.