Author Archives: darklecat

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.”


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.



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.


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.



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

Fox7 Fox8

A Fairy Bookplate

A delightful bookplate depicting a gathering of fairies listening to a story has been discovered on two items in our collection.  One on a copy of the 1622 edition of the Poly-Olbion by Michael Drayton (a topographical poem describing England and Wales celebrating antiquities, bards and King Arthur; and which contains a half-title: ‘The Faerie-Land’), and one on the 1806 edition of Camden’s Britannia.

The books came from the library of John E. Williams of Llandaff; we have a number of other items containing signatures of (presumably) the same individual, with dates from the 1890s – a variety of plays from the ‘French’s acting edition’ series.  Some of these contain pencil markings and underlinings indicating that they were being used for play rehearsals.  We have little information about who he was, but it is likely he was born in March 1863 in Bedwas, Monmouthshire, attended St Peter’s School Marlborough, and by his late twenties was a solicitor living in Llandaff, Cardiff. (1)

The bookplate contains a number of small armorial shields tucked within the picture; one of these has ‘Marl Coll’ written on it and depicts the arms of Marlborough College, another has a Latin motto “Dominus illuminatio mea” (The Lord is my Light) and is the motto and arms of the University of Oxford; it would perhaps imply that Williams attended Oxford as well.  A third depicts a boar’s head with a Welsh banner “Bydd cyfiawn a phaid ofni” (Be righteous and fear not).



The bookplate itself was designed by H. Thomas Maybank (1869-1929), and is dated 1903.

Hector Thomas Maybank Webb was born in Kent; he injured his hip when thrown from a horse at the age of 8, and as an adult became a surveyor for the Borough of Camden before becoming a full time artist in 1902.(2)

As an artist and illustrator he was known for his depictions of fairies and pixies and magical landscapes which were used on Underground advertising posters, prints, and children’s books.  He contributed to Punch and The Daily Sketch, and was the first artist to illustrate the Uncle Oojah comic strip.

We would welcome any more information on the armorial shields in the design.



The John Ashburner collection

Earlier this year we completed the cataloguing of the Drama Collection; material within it ranges from 1598 to 1927, and out of the 900 items there are about 400 which can be considered Restoration drama.  Within this collection 53 are known to have formerly belonged to John Ashburner, a 19th century physician and spiritualist.

The fifty three items from the Ashburner collection range in date from 1713 to 1784, a range of about seventy years, although about half of the books date from either 1735 (15 items) or 1736 (10 items).  The authors represented in this collection are typical of the period, as reprints of earlier Restoration playwrights, with examples from John Banks (1650-1706), Colley Cibber (1671-1757), George Farquhar (1677-1707), Nathaniel Lee (1653-1692), Thomas Otway (1652-1685), Thomas Shadwell (1642-1692) and John Vanbrugh (1664-1726), amongst others.

Ashburner books 008The Ashburner books are identifiable by his bookplate which is a nineteenth century armorial bookplate; the design harkens back to previous centuries rather than the more plain examples common for this period.  At the top of the design is an Ash tree on a wreath of twisted cloth – this is the Ashburner crest; on the plain shield we find the family coat of arms, which includes 3 crescents and 3 mullets on one side, and a lion rampant with three hands on the other.  Above the shield is a knight’s helmet, and the shield has foliage above it.  Also included on a scroll at the bottom is the family motto: Quicquid crescit, in cinere perit which means Whatever grows, perishes in ashes.

Ashburner books 009Of the 53 volumes containing the bookplate there are only seven items which bear any other provenance information, aside from the later Public Library bookplate.  The signatures on these books include the names Mary Wright (Jan 18 1764), Frances Salmon, Catherine Cotton, Ann Harris, and [?]Roger 175[?].

Ashburner books 014c

It is possible to make the assumption, at least with the two cases that bear dates, or partial dates, that these signatures belong to owners prior to John Ashburner.  Two names appear twice, those of Frances Salmon and Catherine Cotton; it has not been possible to discover any information about any of these individuals named.

The signature of Frances Salmon also appears on two other volumes in the Restoration Drama collection which don’t contain the Ashburner bookplate. However, these volumes match the other items in the Ashburner collection in size and in style of binding – half bound in leather with marbled paper covered boards.  They are both on plays by George Farquhar, The beaux stratagem (1733) and The constant couple (1735), and the leather on the binding matches the colour used for other Farquhar volumes which do bear the Ashburner bookplate.  It is reasonable to assume that there are a number of other volumes in the Drama collection which although not bearing the Ashburner bookplate did belong to his collection.

Ashburner books 024a

John Archibald Ashburner was born in Bombay (Mumbai) in 1793, where his father was a member of the Supreme Court, under the Privy Council of India. He was educated in England, and studied medicine at Dublin, Glasgow and Edinburgh, where he graduated as a doctor of medicine in 1816.

At some point he married Elizabeth Grey-Farquhar and they had a child in 1818; this was the same year that he was appointed as physician to the Small-pox hospital in London.  He held this position until 1824 when he left for duties in India.  When he returned to Britain he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and a physician to Queen Charlotte’s Lying In Hospital, London and a lecturer of Midwifery and the Diseases of Women and Children at St. Thomas’ Hospital.[1]

He died in London in 1878 at the age of 85, and his wife died the following year.

Ashburner was a physician and physicist, but also an author and a spiritualist who was acquainted with Madame Helena Blavatsky and Mrs Hayden.[2] He wrote Notes and studies in the philosophy of animal magnetism and spiritualism (1867) and was the translator of K. L. von Reichenbach’s Physico-physiological researches in the dynamics of magnetism, electricity, heat, light, crystallization and chemism in their relation to vital force (1853). He also contributed to a variety of spiritualist publications such as the Yorkshire Spiritual Telegraph, was a member of the Charing Cross Spirit Power Circle, and was on the committee of the Mesmeric Infirmary.[3]

As an intelligent and educated man, it is not surprising he had such a collection of dramatic works, although they appear not to directly correspond to the interests he was known for.

The Ashburner collection comprises approximately 5% of the Drama Collection, and is somewhat larger than the bookplates give evidence for.  It is an interesting snap-shot of drama from the mid 18th century, although it was acquired about a century after it was published by Ashburner.  All the volumes are bound in a distinctive style to bring a cohesive look in the owner’s library.  The majority are single plays, although there are some multi-work items; and in some cases items which had previously been bound together have been separated and rebound individually (either by Ashburner himself, or a previous owner).

Although there is relatively little information available about John Ashburner, he was a prominent enough figure within medicine and spiritualism in the nineteenth century to be traceable as an individual; through both internet sources and printed books on the spiritualist movement.

To date it has not been possible to trace how his collection came to Cardiff, as this is not a location he is known to have resided in or have connections with; it can only be presumed that his collection was sold at auction after his death and was acquired at this point by Cardiff Public Library who were looking to build a drama collection.

Ashburner books 023

[1] See p. 16:  Harvey, A., Keelan, P., Pierce, K., & Price-Saunders, H. (2010) Cardiff Public Library sale collections: provenance report: A report produced for CyMAL by Cardiff University Library, January 2010. Cardiff: Cardiff University [unpublished].

[2] For Ashburner’s involvement in the Spiritualist movement see for example Owen (1989, 21): “In London, a loose grouping of middle-class intellectuals and professionals became the early propagators of a particular brand of spiritualism. These individuals included Dr. Ashburner, a Royal Physician and advocate of mesmerism…

[3] See post by Demarest (2013)

“A rumm nab” and other cant

AlsatiaWhilst cataloguing Thomas Shadwell’s “The Squire of Alsatia” I was amused to read the “Explanation of the cant” that prefaced the play.  Here the author has kindly provided us with a useful glossary of some of the colloquial terminology that has been used.  Rogue or thieves ‘cant’ was a sort of secret language of the ‘street’; one in which villains and vagabonds could communicate in without the authorities knowing what they were talking about.  Shadwell’s glossary includes terms that mainly encompass gambling, drinking and whoring, and while some of them might sound vaguely familiar (“Rigging” for clothes, and “To equip” to furnish one) others are much more obscure.  I think my favourite is “Rhinocerical” meaning to be full of money; but here are a few other examples:

“Bowsy” = drunk
“Clear” = very drunk
“Smoaky” = jealous
“Porker, Tilter” = a sword
“Megs” = guineas
“Smelts” = half-guineas
“Hog” = a shilling
“Prig, prigster” = pert coxcombs
“Bubble, Caravan” = the cheated
“A rumm nab” = a good beaver


“A rumm nab” or Beaver –
from New Voyages to North-America (1703).

For a complete list, and further information about the area of London known as Alsatia in the 17th century, see the Alsatia blog.

Alfred Russel Wallace: forgotten hero of natural selection

ARW in 1869.Small_2013 marks the centenary of the death of Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), a naturalist and biologist who was born in Llanbadock near Usk, Monmouthshire.  In the last hundred years he has been mainly overshadowed by his contemporary Charles Darwin; but with the anniversary of his death, his work has started to be commemorated recently in TV programmes.  The most recent was broadcast on BBc2 on Sunday 21st April 2013, and featured the comedian Bill Bailey heading to Indonesia to follow in the footsteps of Wallace, who collected thousands of specimens there.

In his younger days he spent time in a variety of places around the country, including London and Leicester, before living and working  in Neath as a surveyor with his brother for several years.  Finally in 1848 he set off on his first voyage abroad as a naturalist, travelling to Brazil with the entomologist, Henry Bates.  From 1854 to 1862 he travelled through what was then known as the Malay Archipelago (Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia).  His discoveries there were eventually published in 1869 to great acclaim.

Wallace developed theories on evolution and natural selection independently of Darwin; the two men corresponded and exchanged ideas, stimulating each other’s thought processes, but these days it is Darwin who people tend to remember.

SCOLAR holds a number of Wallace’s books, including The geographical distribution of animals :  with a study of the relations of living and extinct faunas as elucidating the past changes of the earth’s surface (1876), Tropical nature : and other essays (1878) and Darwinism : an exposition of the theory of natural selection, with some of the applications (1889).

Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival

1SwissFrom the 19th to the 24th March the Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival will be taking place in the city, at a variety of locations, and featuring authors and illustrators.  A whole variety of events will be happening, for children, schools, and even adults! You can keep up with their activities by following @CDFKidsLitFest on Twitter.  Cardiff University is contributing to the festival, and hosting some of the events, and in SCOLAR we are putting on an exhibition celebrating the history of children’s literature, from the 17th century up to the 20th century.  We are looking at the chronological development of children’s literature by highlighting several themes.

3GreenawayBooks for children were initially for educational purposes, which then developed into moral instructions too.  Children were taught how to behave, and were given frightening examples of what might happen to them if they didn’t.  The prevailing religiosity of the 18th and 19th centuries gradually waned until by the end of the 19th C. children were being regarded with a more sentimental outlook.  More illustrative works began to emerge, some portraying idealised images of children, whilst others were aiming to capture their attention.  Reading was no longer just for instruction, but for entertainment too, as fairy tales became popular.  With an increase in fiction, the gender divide became markably apparent, as works were specifically aimed at either boys or girls.

Dawntreader1Children’s fiction became more adventurous, and elements of fantasy were increasingly included, much of it owing a debt to British myths and legends that were popular at the time.  In the twentieth century fantasy literature took on a life of its own, and is now one of the most popular genres in children’s fiction.

Charlotte Guest’s English translation of the Mabinogion in 1838 contributed to the fascination with Arthurian myths, as she brought the tales to a new readership.  Translations of works into Welsh or English also provide a interesting look at what we want children to be reading.

We have gathered items from SCOLAR’s collections, including the Children’s Literature Collection which can be seen in part in the glass cases at the entrance to SCOLAR, and from the modern children’s literature collection held in the main part of the library.  Items from the modern collection are also being utilised in a display on level 1 of the library (ASSL), where readers can vote for their favourite children’s novel.

The exhibition is available for viewing March-May 2013, and details of the items displayed are available on our webpages.

Henry B. Wheatley: Pepys, indexing and bookplates

One of the joys of cataloguing rare books is coming across bookplates and signatures of people now deceased, and tracking down who they were.  While working on the Restoration Drama collection I came across the following bookplate in three items; with the words Bibliotheca Pepysiana secunda H B W 1904 underneath the picture of Samuel Pepys.  The image of Pepys comes from the J. Hayls oil painting completed in 1666.


H. B. W. turned out to be Henry Benjamin Wheatley (1838-1917), a prolific writer, editor and indexer.  To some he is known as “The father of British indexing” writing seminal texts on the art of indexing, and today his memory lives on with the annual awarding of the Wheatley medal – given for an outstanding index.


Henry B. Wheatley

Along with his brother, Benjamin Robert Wheatley, he was one of the founders of the Library Association (now known as CILIP – the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) in 1877 and remained on its Council for many years.  He was interested in bibliographies and cataloguing, and wrote an article on cataloguing, published in the Transactions of the Bibliographical Society (1911-13; 12:25-37).

He was involved in numerious other societies over the years including the Early English Text Society, the New Shakespeare Society and the Samuel Pepys Club, which he was president of from 1903-1916.  He had a particular interest in Pepys, and was involved in editing and producing two editions of Pepys’ diary, as well as writing a life of Pepys, plus a host of articles and lectures on him.

WheatleycrestWheatley collected books, especially those with interesting or fine book bindings; thus, unsurprisingly, when he died in 1917  his library was sold off the following year by Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge.  Of the three  items we have containing Wheatley’s Pepys bookplate, one is an armorial binding in calf with a central gilt stamped coat of arms of an anchor with the initials “S P” [i.e. Samuel Pepys] and “H. B. W.” [i.e. Henry Benjamin Wheatley],the other two also have a crest on the upper cover of their bindings that incorporates the dolphin and anchor of Manutius.

 WheatleybookplateAccording to Lee (2002, 86) Wheatley’s bookplate, designed by John Philipps Emslie in 1899, showed the man himself sitting in his library in Bedford Square.  Fifteen years later it appears he had a new bookplate, depicting Pepys.  Was he attempting to replicate or rival Pepys’ library? Or just to pay homage to the man he had so much respect and admiration for?

Lee, J. D. (2002) The father of British indexing: Henry Benjamin Wheatley.  The Indexer 23.2: 86-91.

On the morning of Christ’s Nativity

MiltonChrist'sNativity6Miltonchrist'sNativityOn the morning of Christ’s nativity” was composed by John Milton in 1629 when he was just 21 years old.  According to Thomas Corns (2003, 216), the poem has “…generally been recognized as Milton’s first manifestation of poetic genius…” which is an impressive accolade for one so young.  As a celebration of Christ’s birth it is also part of a trilogy commemorating important Christian events which assured his popularity as a poet in the 17th century even before he wrote Paradise Lost.

MiltonChrist'sNativity5This edition, produced in a print run of only 100 copies, was published in 1930 by the Pear Tree Press, which was founded by the poet and printmaker James Guthrie in 1899 at Ingrave, Essex.   This volume is one of the Black Letter Series;  the covers of this series are black and silver decorative paper covered boards, with a paper label for the title. 

MiltonChrist'sNativity3Inside this volume are black and gold illustrations which were drawn by Sheila M. Thompson, she was also the one who hand printed the volume for the press.  Thompson illustrated many of the Pear Tree Press books, whilst learning the printing trade from Guthrie, and was known as a close friend of his.

[Corns, Thomas. “‘On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity’, ‘Upon the Circumcision’ and ‘The Passion'” in A Companion to Milton. Ed. Thomas Corns. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.]

Private presses printer’s devices

Eragny Press

At the end of the summer we completed cataloguing the Private Presses within the Cardiff Rare Books collection.  With a wide range of presses represented we also had a delightful array of (modern) printer’s devices.  Printer’s devices are symbols or vignettes that identify the printer or press, acting as their trademark.  Fust and Schöffer were the first to use such a device in 1462 and by the end of the 15th century the idea was firmly established.  Ranging from simple designs based around initials, to much more elaborate engravings, devices were useful and popular for several hundred years.  Originally conceived to help prevent against the pirating of books, the opportunity to produce ornamental designs was soon grasped.  Placed in the colophon or on the title-page the devices advertised who was responsible for the book.  In the modern period the printer’s device has mainly been replaced by publisher’s logos, and even by the end of the 19th century they were not utilised to a great extent.

Bronze Snail Press

Boars Head Press

The exception to this was with the private presses that emerged as part of the Arts and Crafts movement, and were attempting to create books that were objects of beauty.  The presses embraced the concept of printer’s devices and devised many artful creations, reflecting their names, intials, locations and concepts.

Swan Press

Ashendene Press

Dolmen Press

Astolat Press

Caradoc Press

Mediaeval gardens

If you have ever wondered about the style and arrangement of mediaeval gardens then you should take a look at the exhaustive two volume work by Sir Frank Crisp (1843-1919) that was published in 1924 by the Bodley Head, and is one of the Limited Editions in our Cardiff Rare Books Collection.  Crisp was a lawyer, and gained a baronetcy in 1913 for legal services that he provided for the Liberal Party.  He was also a member of the Royal Microscopical Society, as well as being a keen horticulturalist.  He owned Friar Park, in Henley on Thames, and used the extensive grounds to practice his interest in horticulture and designed many features that were based on mediaeval designs.  Although Crisp died before his book, Mediaeval gardens : ‘flowery medes’ and other arrangements of herbs, flowers, and shrubs grown in the Middle Ages, with some account of Tudor, Elizabethan, and Stuart gardens, came to fruition, his daughter Catherine Childs Paterson edited his notes and compiled the illustrations which Crisp had collected from a multitude of orginal sources. 

Volume 1 contains some relatively brief notes on types of gardens, and features that were utilised; for example, Knots and parterres, labyrinths and mazes, topiary work, and turf mounds. What is most useful about this work however, is the vast collection of illustrations that have been included from manuscripts and books that Crisp was able to access in Britain.  Loosely gathered together in groupings that reflect the subject headings of the notes in volume 1, there is a vast range of illustrations featuring all kinds of gardens.  Some pictures have been cropped where the rest of the image has nothing to do with the garden; demonstrating that Crisp has exploited his source material to the full, and identified even the smallest aspect of gardens from some pictures.  In others it is obvious that the main theme wasn’t intended to be the garden, such as the one shown here representing Queen Elizabeth in the Tower of London, but a useful depiction has still been added.  For a student of mediaeval gardens this book will provide plenty of source material.