Category Archives: Lisa Tallis

Buzzing in the Stacks

Yes I am, but on this occasion there was a definite fuzzy-humming-buzzing sound which caught my ear, and then my eye as I noticed this book on the shelf:

Thomas Hill, A Profitable Instruction of the Perfect Ordering of Bees, (London, 1608)

Thomas Hill, A Profitable Instruction of the Perfect Ordering of Bees (London, 1608).

And this got me thinking about the significance of bees and how these tiny yet vital creatures deserve far more prestige.

Ok, here are some quick facts. There are over 250 different types of bee in the UK. Of these, 25 are bumblebees and only 1 is a honeybee. Not sure of your honey from your bumble? Me neither, so I’ll buzz it down for you:

Bumblebees are generally the fat, sorry, fuller and furry type and live in nests with roughly 50-400 other bees. They live in the wild so may well be a familiar sight in your garden or the countryside, and they only make small amounts of a honey-like substance (i.e. nectar) for their own food.

Bumblebee by Richard Holgersson

Bumblebee, by Richard Holgersson.

The honeybee on the other hand, is one of a kind and smaller and slightly slimmer in appearance, more like a wasp. Honeybees live in hives of up to 60,000 bees and are looked after by beekeepers, though wild colonies do exist. Honeybees store a lot more nectar because of their larger colonies and longer life cycles. It is essentially their food supply for the colder months. This nectar is mixed with a bee enzyme and is later fanned by the bees, making it more concentrated.  Both bees are crucial to pollination and both are, sadly, in serious decline.

Honeybee large by Joshua Tree National Park

Honeybee, by Joshua Tree National Park.

In ancient and early modern times, their abundance and importance were widely recognised, particularly with regards to the honeybee. Beekeeping, or Apiculture, if you want to get all technical on me, is the maintenance of honeybee colonies, usually in man-made hives. The production of honey for domestic use is well documented in ancient Egypt, while in Greece, beekeeping was seen as a highly valued and sophisticated industry. The lives of bees and beekeeping are covered in great detail by Aristotle, while the Roman writers Virgil, Gaius Julius Hyginus, Varro and Columella wrote about the art of beekeeping.

Thomas Hill, Ordering of Bees, (1608) Table of contents

Hill, Ordering of Bees, (1608), table of contents.

Some of their writings formed the basis of Thomas Hill’s A Profitable Instruction of the Perfect Ordering of Bees, the first English manual for beekeepers published in 1568 as an appendage to Hill’s larger work on gardening. His aim was to highlight the benefits of ‘their hony and waxe and how profitable they are for the commonwealth, and how necessary for man’s use’, while his contemporary, Alan Fleming, looked to ‘A Swarme of Bees’ and their behaviour as the perfect example of proper spiritual conduct.

Beekeeping was a common occupation throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Amongst the abundance of popular information contained in contemporary almanacs, advice on aspects of beekeeping is regularly offered. Housekeeping manuals such as such as S. M. Mathew’s Y Tŷ a’r Teulu (The House and Family) (Denbigh, 1891) provided practical instructions on ‘the Care of Bees’ and the best ways to retrieve honey. The most comprehensive treatment of the subject however, is Y Gwenynydd – (The Beekeeper) (or the Apiarist if you still want to be technical about it). Published in 1888, this compact little Welsh book was largely the work of an accomplished beekeeper from Dinas Mawddwy, who was encouraged by his co-author to publish a book on bees for the ‘benefit of our fellow countrymen’, since ‘we did not have one in Welsh’.

Y Gwenynydd, Title page (1888) Salis

Huw Puw Jones & Michael D. Jones, Y Gwenynydd (The Beekeeper), (Bala, 1888).

Could this be the first Welsh-language beekeeping manual that we have in our Salisbury Collection? What a buzz! A unique piece of work it definitely is. In Wales, we are told, there is a saying that ‘the bee is such a skilful creature that it can draw honey from a stone’. While the latter is demystified throughout the book which explains the life-cycle of honeybees and the different species, the types of hives used, how to build them and the best methods to extract honey – the bees’ skill is never underestimated.

Honey Extracor, Y Gwenynydd

Image detail of ‘The Rapid Honey Extractor’ from Y Gwenynydd, (1888).

 

 

This may explain why bees were as much an object of ‘superstition’ as admiration.  It was considered lucky if bees made their home in your roof, or if a strange swarm arrived in your garden or tree, but unlucky if a swarm left.  Bees were believed to take an interest in human affairs, hence it was customary to notify bees of a death in the family. The news would be whispered to the hive, and if they were not notified, another death would soon follow. Turning the hive, or tying a black ribbon to it, thus placing it in mourning also had the same effect, and similar customs were observed for happier occasions such as weddings. Writing about these beliefs, the Welsh cleric and antiquarian, Elias Owen, noted that the ‘culture of bees was once more common than it is, and therefore they were much observed’.

Although they may seem strange to us today, such beliefs point to a past awareness of how fundamental bees were to our daily lives and how we should be more attentive to them, more so now that they are under threat. This is why the efforts of organisations such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Pollen8 Cymru, and Professor Baillie and his team at Cardiff University (one of the UK’s first bee-friendly campuses), who are encouraging people to plant more wildflowers to help the bee population and conducting research into the antibacterial properties of honey in the treatment of wounds and the fight against antimicrobial resistance, are so important. Again, this is something that was not lost on our early bee backers. Hill notes the extensive medicinal benefits of honey as a preservative and cleanser, which is good ‘to avail against surfeits’, ‘put away drunkeness’ and to ‘expel humours’, not to mention its ‘profitable’ application to ‘filthy ulcers’; open wounds; ringworm; corns; swellings; ‘dropsie bodies’ (oedema); impostumes (abcesses); earache; dimness of sight and all diseases of the lungs to name just a few. With history and science combined, we can do our bit for the bees and get a very sweet return indeed. And so the moral of this blog post?  Well honey, it’s simple. Read a book, plant a flower, and become a lifeline for British bees.

Saints Maid in Wales

There is a noticeable spring in my step. Whether this is because spring may well be in the air, or a seasonal side-effect of the recent Welsh Santes Dwynwen Day followed by the Roman St Valentine – whichever floats your roses – I am definitely more buoyant. And with another famous Saint’s day looming, my sense of hwyl is blooming along with the daffs.

I’m no match for Wordsworth, clearly, but wandering lonely through the stacks, I gazed and gazed until my thoughts turned to our patron saint. Dewi Sant, as he is known in Welsh, was born at Mynyw, which was named St. David’s after his death on the 1st of March, c. 589.

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Image from Richard Fenton’s, A Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire, (London, 1811).

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St David, S. Baring Gould, The Lives of the Saints: Vol. 3, (Edinburgh, 1914).

For those of us who went to school in Wales, our Welsh costumes may well be our most residing memories of St. David’s Day. These articles of Welsh couture were so vital to this cultural event that they had to be specially ordered and collected from the local couturier, Dame Du-ôr, famous for her millinery and brethyn designs for young and old since the Battle of Fishguard in 1797. J’adore a bespoke bonnet, though I always felt the boys missed out with their simple felt-pinned leeks. Shame the brethyn couldn’t stretch to some short trousers.

Style aside, most of what we learned of our patron saint was gleaned from Buchedd Dewi (Life of David), written by Rhygyfarch, Bishop of St. David’s during the late 11th Century. A renowned teacher and preacher, Dewi naturally commanded his fair share of miracles, the most famous occurred as he was preaching at the Synod of Brefi, when the ground suddenly raised up beneath him so that he could be better heard amongst the crowd, and a white dove descended on his shoulder. Today, the church of Llanddewi-Brefi marks the very spot.

For me, however, the most enduring element of Dewi’s story was the fortitude of his mother, Nonnita, or Saint Non. A local lord, on hearing of her pregnancy and the predictions surrounding the mystical powers of the child, plotted to have him killed at birth. But on the day of her labour, a great storm raged making it impossible for anyone to go outside. Only the  place for child-bearing remained calm, bathed with a serene light. It is said that Non’s pain was so intense that as she grasped the rock on which she rested, her fingers marked the stone as if they were impressed in wax, and the rock, in sympathy with her, split in two, one half leaping above her head and the other at her feet, protecting her at the moment of birth. Not even a Queen Bey can top that! (Yes, Beyoncé, you heard me).

This got me thinking of another single lady in popular Welsh legend. Known by her poetic name: the Maid of Cefn Ydfa, Ann Maddocks (neé Thomas, 1704 – 1727), was the daughter of William Thomas of Cefn Ydfa, Llangynwyd, Glamorgan, and his wife Catherine Price, aunt to the Welsh philosopher and preacher, Richard Price (1723-1791). An interesting character in his own right, Richard was a champion of liberal causes at home and abroad, in particular the American war for independence and the equality of women. He was a close friend of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, and Mary Wollstonecraft, who attended his services in Newington Green. It was through Price that Mary came into contact with the radical publisher Joseph Johnson, and her Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) was influenced by Price’s own arguments on equality for women.

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‘Wil Hopcyn singing one of his chosen songs at Cefn Ydfa’, from the novel by Isaac Hughes, Y Ferch o Gefn Ydfa, (Cardiff, 1881).

Oh, but I digress with a smooth-talking Welsh philosopher! I’m sure I’m not the first nor the last, but we shall have to meet again in a future post for I was telling you about his fair cousin, Ann. Following the death of her father, Ann was placed in the wardship of a local lawyer named Anthony Maddocks, and later forced to marry his son, also named Anthony. According to tradition, Ann was in love with a local farm labourer and bard named Wil Hopcyn. When this was discovered they were forbidden to see each other, and Ann was confined to her chamber as the match between her and Anthony was arranged. They continued their courtship by writing secret letters to each other which Ann’s servants would place in the hollow of an old tree near the manor of Cefn Ydfa for Wil to collect and then place his own. This stratagem was soon discovered by Ann’s mother, who confiscated her writing materials. So in love was Ann that it is said she wrote to Wil upon a sycamore leaf, with a pin dipped in her own blood. But alas, it was not meant to be, and Wil left Llangynwyd shortly after Ann’s enforced wedding took place on the 4th of May, 1725.

It was a firmly held belief that one night during his absence, Wil had a dream that Ann’s husband had died, and returned to Llangynwyd the following morning. But on his return, he discovered that it was in fact Ann who was dying, having pined so desperately for her true love that she had fallen gravely ill. Hearing of his return, Ann’s mother and her husband sent for Wil in the hope that he would alleviate Ann’s suffering. Tradition claims that she died in his arms that very day. Wil never married, and died in 1741. Both he and Ann are buried at Llangynwyd Church.

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The house of Cefn Ydfa, T. C. Evans (Cadrawd), History of Llangynwyd Parish, (Llanelli, 1887).

Now don’t be too downhearted people, for this is the way many a Welsh love story of old goes, and it doesn’t end there, for in true Welsh style we have poetry, song, and literature to commemorate the tale.

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William Hopkin, ‘Y Gwenith Gwyn’ (The White Wheat), Welsh ballad from the Salisbury Collection.

The collier and novelist Isaac Hughes (1852-1928) published his novel, Y Ferch o Gefn Ydfa, based on the story in 1881, while traditions surrounding the tale were judiciously recounted by the antiquary T. C. Evans, better known as Cadrawd, in his History of Llangynwyd Parish in 1887. Furthermore, Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn (Watching the White Wheat), is one of Wales’ best known folk songs, attributed to Wil himself, it supposedly captures the tale of their tragic love affair.

The lyrics were collected from oral tradition in the 1830s, and first published in Welsh by the musician and folklorist Maria Jane Williams, herself an accomplished singer, guitarist and harpist, in her prize-winning work   Ancient national airs of Gwent and Morganwg, (Llandovery, 1844). (Let’s just say, if the Eisteddfod handed out Grammys, this lady would have won a few.)

They also formed the basis of the opera written by one of Wales’s most famous composers, Joseph Parry. Parry was offered a chair at Cardiff University in 1888, and The Maid of Cefn Ydfa was performed at the Grand Theatre in Cardiff in 1902.  His composition Blodwen, was the first Welsh-language opera, yet he is best known for his work Myfanwy, yet another song supposedly based on a tale of young love! It is a favourite piece of many a male voice choir, and I can confirm that this is indeed the best way to hear this beautiful melody.

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Maria Jane Williams, Ancient National Airs of Gwent and Morganwg, (Llandovery, 1844).

Saints and choirs were always a given for St. David’s Day, yet behind all of these accomplishments lies the feats and fortitudes of some remarkable women. So as Queen Bey herself would say, put your hands up for Non, Mary, Ann, Maria and of course Dame Du-ôr, and never, ever underestimate the statement a song, a saint, or a well fitted bonnet can make. Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus pawb.

And don’t forget, if you’d like to hear more about the history of women in our collections, join us on March the 8th to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Potent Ink and Political Satire

Today, I want to talk about cartoons. Come again? Is this librarian a complete Looney Tune? That may well be a matter of opinion, but the subject of this post has certainly got me animated, so by the Power of Greyskull, let’s turn our attention to the renowned cartoonist:

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J. M. Staniforth’s signature, Cartoons: originally published in the “Western Mail”, (Cardiff,Western Mail, 1908)

Joseph Morewood Staniforth was an editorial cartoonist best known for his work in the Western Mail (Cardiff’s daily paper), the Evening Express (Cardiff’s evening paper), and the News of the World (the Sunday paper).

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Portrait of J. M. Staniforth, Cartoons: originally published in the “Western Mail”, (Cardiff, Western Mail, 1908).

I initially became aware of him through the work of Professor Chris Williams, who has been diligently documenting and digitising the wartime newspaper cartoons of this unique artist. It seems we have here in Special Collections and Archives possibly the only copy of Football Cartoons & Rhymes compiled by Staniforth and a writer named Idris, and when Chris asked to see it, judging from the title, I presumed he was researching some traditional banter ready for the impending Rugby Six Nations!

let-em-all-come-football-cartoons-and-rhymes-c-1903-salisbury

Rugby cartoon detail from J. M. Staniforth, Football cartoons & rhymes, (Cardiff, Western Mail, c. 1903)

However, I was soon to discover just how exceptional Staniforth’s work was, and indeed still is to anyone interested in the social, political, and cultural history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The fourth son of a saw repairer, Staniforth was born in Gloucester on the 16 of May 1863, and later grew up in Cardiff. At 15, he left school to train as a lithographic printer for the daily newspaper the Western Mail, whilst studying art in the evenings at the Cardiff School of Art which was initially established in rooms above the Royal Arcade in Cardiff city centre. Built in 1858, it is the oldest arcade in Cardiff, and, interestingly, the birthplace of our distant relative, Cardiff’s Free Library, set up through voluntary subscriptions above the St. Mary Street entrance to the arcade. But I digress! So back to the school of art, where another soon to be famous artist, the sculptor William Goscombe John was also learning his craft. Originally working with paint, Staniforth soon developed his technique in inks whereby with a fine pen and ink, he would compile his cartoon on paper which was then photographed onto a metal bloc used in the printing process. The Western Mail claimed to be the first regional newspaper to adopt this technique. He began drawing cartoons bearing his tell-tale monogram for the Evening Express and on occasions, for the Western Mail, where his skills as an illustrator were quickly spotted by the Mail’s editor, Henry Lascelles Carr, who swiftly transferred him to the editorial team. Following Carr’s takeover and restyling of the Sunday News of the World in 1893, Staniforth’s cartoons were given prime-place on the front page of every issue. By 1900, his cartoons were a regular feature in the Western Mail.

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‘Martyrs of the Arena’, Cartoons: originally published in the Western Mail: Vol II, (Cardiff, Western Mail, c. 1910)

The News of the World and the Western Mail were amongst the first newspapers to use cartoons as a means of political and social commentary rather than purely comic distractions. Sir Francis Carruthers Gould is generally regarded as the first cartoonist on a British daily newspaper, drawing as he did for the Pall Mall Gazette from 1888 followed by the Westminster Gazette, and some examples of his work can be seen here in Special Collections. Staniforth, nevertheless, came to the fore just five years later, and by the early 20th century, the News of the World was selling over one million copies every week! Its circulation almost tripled by the time of Staniforth’s death in 1921 and was considered to be the largest in the world. The Western Mail too was a leading regional newspaper, its scope however was far from provincial in its aim, as the self-styled national newspaper of Wales, to report on the key national and international events of the day. Despite its conservative leanings, its readability and tempered journalism attracted a broad readership including Liberals, Nonconformists and Trade-Unionists. Thus, the potential reach of Staniforth’s continuous crop of cartoons was infinite.

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J. M. Staniforth, Cartoons: originally published in the “Western Mail”: Vol II, (Cardiff, Western Mail, c.1910)

It is estimated that Staniforth drew over fifteen thousand cartoons over the course of his career, which coincided with one of the most tempestuous eras in modern history. 1898 – 1921 was not only a defining time in the history of the South-Wales coalfield and Labour relations, but in imperial and international affairs generally. Major domestic and international events such as the ‘Great Strike’ of 1898, the Boer War, The Great War, and the growing industrial unrest in the coal-fields, were keenly observed on the regular platform provided by Staniforth’s pen.

Viewed in this context,  the scope of his cartoons is even more substantial. Some were published as single volumes, samples of which we are fortunate to hold as part of the Salisbury Library, such as Cartoons of the Boer War (Cardiff, 1902), Cartoons of the Welsh coal strike, April 1st to Sept. 1st, 1898 (Cardiff, 1898), and Cartoons of the Welsh revolt (Cardiff, 1905).

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J. M. Staniforth, Cartoons of the Boer War: Vol. II, (Cardiff, Western Mail, 1902)

And that’s not all folks! Staniforth compiled a collection of nursery rhymes, and drew numerous picture postcards, funny and factual. These too are being digitised by Chris Williams on the sister site – Cartooning the Road to War.

staniforths-nursery-rhymes-salisbury

J. M. Staniforth, Staniforth’s Nursery Rhymes, (Cardiff, Western Mail, 1902)

Let’s not forget that Staniforth was a trained artist. As a loyal member of the South Wales Art Society since its foundation in 1888, he regularly exhibited work at their annual exhibition, securing his own 3 week showing at a Cardiff gallery in 1916. He designed the costumes for the National Pageant of Wales held in 1909, including the famous dragon-encrusted dress worn by the Marchioness of Bute as ‘Dame Wales’. Staniforth was also commissioned to paint eleven panels depicting various themes from Shakespeare’s plays (the largest of which is 2m high, 1.2m wide) for Howells School for Girls, in Cardiff. These are currently being restored by specialist conservation architects and painters, and will be reinstated at the school in April this year.

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Staniforth’s Romeo and Juliet at Howells School for Girls, Cardiff, courtesy of Michael Davies of Davies Sutton Architects.

 

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Restoration work being carried out on Staniforth’s Romeo and Juliet at the workshop of specialist painting conservator, Rachel Howells (courtesy of Michael Davies).

Staniforth’s last cartoon appeared in the News of the World on the 11 of December, 1921. He passed away six days later due to ill-health. Tributes to the man and his work swamped the papers during the following weeks, casting him with the likes of Hogarth, Gillray, Leech and Tenniel. The then Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, observed the tremendous loss of ‘one of the most distinguished cartoonists of his generation’. Certainly, there is some weight behind Peter Lord’s assertion that Staniforth was ‘the most important visual commentator on Welsh affairs’. His unique portrayals offer an immediate and acute observation on some of the most historic and radical political and social events of the industrial and pre-war era. While historians may value the printed text over the sketch, visual sources can provide direct access to historical moments, capturing the initial pulsations of key events in our history. As Staniforth himself explained: ‘a good cartoon should be very acceptable… small though it be, it is a power of far reaching effect’. And so the moral of this blog-post is: never underestimate the potential of cartoons. They may be mere fun on the surface, but beneath their inky contours lies something far more meaningful. That’s all folks!

To see more of Staniforth’s work, visit:

http://www.cartoonww1.org/

http://www.roadtowarcartoons.org/

http://www.postwarworldcartoons.org/

 

 

 

 

 

The stars align to reveal an Old Prophet in the stacks!

It was a dark and stormy afternoon in Special Collections & Archives. I was sitting in my office, cataloguing a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, when Lisa, our Assistant Librarian, tapped at my office door. ‘I think maybe there’s an error in the catalogue,’ she said.

When the Cardiff Rare Books collection came to Cardiff University in 2010, we’d drawn up a bare-bones inventory, knowing that it would be several years before the collection could be fully catalogued. Lisa had been looking through the collection inventory to look for uncatalogued books that might be useful for a resource guide on Witchcraft. ‘The inventory says this book was published in 1681, but the catalogue record says 1685,’ she observed as she showed me the two conflicting records.

Being a cataloguer and somewhat inclined to obsessive-compulsive behaviour, I couldn’t allow such an egregious error to remain in our records, so I went to the stacks to investigate. Stretching to reach the top-most shelf, I spotted the title in question: William Lilly’s Merlini Anglici ephemeris: or, Astrological judgments for the year 1685… with the 1681 issue, uncatalogued, sitting next to it on the shelf—both records had been correct, but incomplete! Alongside these almanacs I noticed several other volumes of William Lilly’s astrological writings. Thinking they might be useful for the resource guide, I brought the lot of them back to my office for cataloguing.

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A selection of astrological books by William Lilly, from the Cardiff Rare Books Collection.

A contemporary of John Dee and Nicholas Culpeper, William Lilly began his life as the son of a yeoman farmer in Leicestershire. He worked for seven years as a servant in London before marrying his former master’s widow when he was just 25 years old. Now a man of leisure, he spent his time studying astrology. From 1647 to 1682, he published a series of astrological almanacs which brought him both popularity and scandal. By 1649, sales of his almanacs had reached nearly 30,000 copies and by the 1650s, they were being translated into Dutch, German, Swedish, and Danish. At he same time, however, he made many enemies by predicting on astrological grounds the downfall of the Stuart monarchy, while also criticizing both parliament and the Presbyterians.

Among the volumes I’d picked up for cataloguing was a first edition of Christian astrology modestly treated of in three books (London, 1647), Lilly’s most comprehensive work. An amalgamation of 228 earlier texts, Christian astrology contains 832 pages of instruction on reading the stars and planets and their influence on everything from the physical characteristics and likely fortunes of unborn children, to international politics. The work is significant because it was the first astrological instruction book to be published in English rather than Latin, making it accessible to a middle-class audience.

After carefully transcribing the book’s bibliographical details, I began to describe the unique attributes our particular copy: binding and marginalia. I spotted inscriptions in at least four different hands, ranging across three centuries. I deciphered and recorded them in the catalogue record as best I could, and then brought the volume over to Lisa, thinking she might find them interesting.

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Inscriptions, dating between the 17th and 19th centuries, on the front endpaper of William Lilly’s Christian astrology (London, 1647)

*     *     *

‘Is that the “Old Prophet’s” signature?’ I exclaimed, at which point, the lights in the office flickered. I had a sixth-sense (those of us who work with special collections often get this!) that this was the signature of the Welsh Independent Minister and author, Edmund Jones (1702-1793).

An intriguing figure in eighteenth-century Wales, he was a passionate Calvinist connected with the vicinity of Pontypool and Monmouthshire, where he regularly preached during the 1730s. Sympathetic to the growing Methodist movement, characterized by a more heartfelt, experiential form of religion, it was Jones who encouraged Howell Harris to preach in Monmouthshire for the first time in 1738.

Certainly, his diaries record a dedicated schedule where he travelled and preached extensively, delivering 104 sermons in the year 1731. Almost fifty years later, in 1778, he took a ‘tour through Monmouth [and] Wales … to Caerphilly’. Although not traditionally educated, his autobiography reveals how he was a ‘great lover of books, buying and borrowing as much as he could’. One such book it seemed, appeared to be our copy of Lilly’s Christian astrology.

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Edmund Jones’ signature on the front endpaper of Christian astrology (London,  1647).

 

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Edmund Jones’ signature on A geographical, historical, and religious account of the parish of Aberystruth (Trevecka, 1779), held by the National Library of Wales.

In order to confirm my suspicions, we needed to compare this signature with some known examples of Jones’s handwriting. Fortunately, the National Library of Wales holds Jones’s diaries, saved from the final destination of being used as wrapping paper in a Pontypool shop. Thanks to the help of their Manuscript Librarian, these journals not only reveal a script eerily similar to our sample, they also include a list of books that Jones acquired …

And yes! No need to consult the stars on this one, for Lily’s Astrology is clearly recorded at the bottom of the page.

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A page from Edmund Jones’ diary for the year 1768, listing the books that Jones acquired that year. Held by the National Library of Wales (NLW MS 7025A).

So not only does Special Collections hold Edmund Jones’s personal, annotated copy of Lilly’s Astrology, but this discovery reveals Jones’s more mystical side.

Known as the ‘Old Prophet’ due to his apparent gift of prophecy and ability to foretell future events, he was also a firm believer in witchcraft and the supernatural. His interest in books was not confined to collecting, for he published a number of works, including A Relation of Apparitions of Spirits which comprised a collection of supernatural experiences and spiritual encounters designed to ‘prevent a kind of infidelity … the denial of the being of Spirits and Apparitions, which hath a tendency to irreligion’.

As the seventeenth century drew to a close, a slight change of attitude towards the beliefs in apparitions and witchcraft, is evident. Atheism now posed a greater threat than popery (Roman Catholicism), and works composed around this time were directed at countering this new danger.

Joseph Glanvill’s Sadducisimus Triumphatus, for example, provides ‘full and plain evidence concerning witches and apparitions’. To deny the existence of the spirit, he argues, ‘is quite to destroy the credit of all human testimony’. Bovet’s Pandaemonium, or the devil’s cloyster, is aimed at ‘proving the existence of witches and spirits’, for ‘there can be no apprehensions … from the attacks of the … Sadducees’. For Richard Baxter, a belief in spirits was a means to salvation since through faith in the world of spirits, the ‘saving’ knowledge of God could be obtained.

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Illustration detail from Glanvill’s Saducismus Triumphatus (London, 1700)

It is in this context that Jones collected Relations of Apparitions which include fairy encounters and apparitions such as corpse candles and phantom funerals. For example, a ‘Mr. E. W.’ confirmed in a letter to Jones that saw the fairies as a company of dancers in the middle of the field, while an innkeeper from Llangynwyd Fawr saw them with speckled clothes of white and red, as they tried to entice him a while he lay in bed. Another gentleman also told Jones how ‘the resemblance of a young child … and also of a big man’ appeared to him. As he looked on, ‘the child seemed to vanish into nothing’. Not long after the encounter, Jones notes, the child of the man who witnessed the apparition sickened and died, as did he not long after his daughter was buried.

The phantom funeral or Toili, could manifest itself as a mournful sound, the cyhyraeth. Noises associated with the funeral procession or service, or the dismal cries of the Cŵn Annwn (Hell Hounds), inevitably signalled death. Thomas Phillips heard the cries of these spiritual dogs prior to the death of a woman in his parish of Trelech. In Ystradgynlais, two women heard someone singing psalms. The voice was that of John Williams, who sang the psalms at a later Dissenting meeting and was indeed ‘buried’ a few days after. Faced with such great sums of truth, Jones challenges, ‘who … can deny the reality of Apparitions of Spirits?’

Indeed, and here at Special Collections we are well aware of the ghosts of owners past that we sometimes encounter amongst the aged pages of our rare books. Like Jones’s unique accounts of the supernatural experiences of ordinary Welsh men and women, these rare books occasionally reveal the spectre of a bygone reader and their occult interests. So the moral of this post is to beware! For you can never predict what you’ll find between the pages of a rare book, even one on predictions.

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!

 

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’.