Edward Thomas 100: celebrating a poetic legacy in April 2017

Photos from the archive.

Photos from the archive.
(c) Edward Thomas Estate

One of our most fascinating collections relates to the life and work of a poet – Edward Thomas, who was killed in action during the First World War, exactly one hundred years ago, in April 1917.

Edward Thomas made a living writing travel books and critical reviews. It was a combination of his friendship with the American poet, Robert Frost, and the outbreak of the First World War, which led to him beginning to write poetry in 1914, until his tragic death just a short time later, on the Western Front.

In 2017, Cardiff University, holder of the world’s largest archive of Edward Thomas’ letters, diaries, notebooks, poems, photographs, and personal belongings, will host a major centenary conference and exhibition celebrating his life and work, as well as a series of poetry events, supported by Literature Wales. A creative writing workshop on 8th April will be followed by a unique poetry performance evening on 21st April. We’ll also be taking part in #NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) by providing daily poetry prompts, to encourage as many people as possible to be inspired by his writing, and to write their own poems in response.

Letters to Edward from Robert Frost.

Letters to Edward from Robert Frost.
(c) Edward Thomas Estate

Edward Thomas 100: A Creative Writing Workshop

Saturday 8th April

3-5pm

Venue: Special Collections and Archives, Arts and Social Studies Library, Colum Road, Cardiff, CF10 3EU.

Free entry, but places are limited so please book by emailing Rachel at CarneyR2@cardiff.ac.uk

Edward Thomas' pocket watch

Edward Thomas’ pocket watch.
(c) Edward Thomas Estate

The Edward Thomas archive is an incredible collection of material and objects relating to his life and work, including original manuscripts of some of his poems, as well as letters, notebooks, articles and objects, such as the watch which he was wearing when he died (it is thought that the force of the blast actually stopped the mechanism at the time of his death).

You will have a unique opportunity to view items from the collection and be inspired to write your own work in response. There will also be a chance to read work produced during the workshop at our performance event on 21st April, and we will publish some of the best pieces written by workshop participants on our blog.

Read more about the workshop tutor:

Bryan Marshall is a Cardiff based poet and fiction writer. He has won first prize and publication in The Word Hut and Darker Times. He’s also had work published in Thief magazine, Postcard Poems, Prose Magazine, and The Ghastling. He regularly performs at spoken word events in Cardiff.

This workshop is free to attend, but places are limited so please book by emailing Rachel at CarneyR2@cardiff.ac.uk


Yes. I Remember Adlestrop: Celebrating the Influence of Edward Thomas on Contemporary Poetry

Friday 21st April

7.30pm (doors open from 7pm)

Venue: Little Man Coffee Company, Ivor House, Bridge Street, Cardiff, CF10 2EE.

Free entry

Edward Thomas has influenced the work of numerous writers, from Robert Frost, Thomas Hardy and W.H. Auden, to Philip Larkin, Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes. This event will celebrate the influence of his work on contemporary poetry.

Edward with his son Merfyn, 1900.

Edward with his son Merfyn, 1900.
(c) Edward Thomas Estate

Lucy Newlyn (from Oxford), Jonathan Edwards (from South Wales) and Glyn Edwards (from North Wales), will read their own poems and talk about the influence of Edward Thomas on their work. Local writers will also share poems written specially for the occasion, and there will be an open mic on the same theme.

The event will also include a pop-up exhibition, featuring highlights from the Edward Thomas archive.

More about the poets:

Professor Lucy Newlyn is both an academic and a poet, having lectured at Oxford University since 1984, where she is now an Emeritus Fellow of St Edmund Hall. Her first poetry collection Ginnel was published by Oxford Poets/Carcanet in 2005, and a second collection, Earth’s Almanac, was published by Enitharmon Press in 2015. She has been literary editor of the Oxford Magazine since 2011. She has a longstanding interest in the work of Edward Thomas, and has co-edited Branch-lines: Edward Thomas and Contemporary Poetry and published other work related to his prose and poetry.

Edward and Helen Thomas.

Edward and Helen Thomas.
(c) Edward Thomas Estate

Jonathan Edwards’ first collection, My Family and Other Superheroes (Seren, 2014) received the Costa Poetry Award and the Wales Book of the Year People’s Choice Award. It was shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. He works as a teacher and the poems of Edward Thomas, rich in their treatment of people, nature and time, are among his favourite to teach.

Glyn Edwards has been Writer in Residence at a number of literature festivals including the ‘Poem for October’ project at the Dylan Thomas Boathouse.  He has had work published in the Wales Arts Review, The Lonely Crowd, The Lampeter Review and a variety of other publications. His debut poetry collection, ‘Conversations’, will be published in 2018, and will include poems written in response to Edward Thomas and Robert Frost.

Please share our events on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @CUSpecialColls for regular poetry prompts throughout April.

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Second best, or Second and Best?

In Latin, the word “secundus” can mean both “second” and “favourable.” Today, many book collectors focus on first editions, but our modern fixation with firsts is a relatively recent phenomenon. The entry on “The Chronological Obsession” in John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors states that “the average 19th-century collector was as much interested in the finest looking or best-edited edition as in the first.” Second and subsequent editions often incorporate new information and new insights that make them textually superior to their predecessors. In this week’s blog post, we’ll examine some of the reasons you may want to look favourably on the second edition of Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

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The second edition of Lyrical Ballads (London: T. N. Longman and O. Rees, 1800) from the Cardiff Rare Books Collection.

Lyrical ballads was originally published in 1798. It consisted chiefly of poems by Wordsworth with four contributions by Coleridge, although neither poet’s name appeared anywhere in the volume. A five-page “Advertisement” in the first edition asserted that many of the poems were “to be considered as experiments… written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure.” Going sharply against the contemporary fashion for highly sophisticated verse, Wordsworth and Coleridge eschewed the “gaudy and inane phraseology of many modern writers” in favor of “a natural delineation of human passions, human characters, and human incidents.” 

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The opening of “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey,” in Lyrical Ballads (London: T.N. Longman and O. Rees, 1800)

The collection began with Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancyent Mariner” and ended with “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey,” works which are now hailed as the beginning of a new literary epoch. At the time, however, critical reception of the volume was cool, particularly in response to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Reviewers complained about its use of antiquated spelling, archaic vocabulary, inverted word order, and general inaccessibility. In 1799, Wordsworth wrote that he believed that Coleridge’s poem had been harmful to the Lyrical Ballads, and considered omitting it from the second edition.

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Illustration by Willy Pogány for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (London: George G. Harrap & Co., 1910).

In 1800, Wordsworth and Coleridge began working towards the publication of a second edition. The process turned out to be a long and difficult one, with the volume finally leaving the press in January 1801 (although the title page bears the date 1800). This edition would add a second volume of new poems, including “Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known,” “She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways,” and “Lucy Gray.” This time, the title page bore Wordsworth’s name, although the preface acknowledges the poetical contributions of “a Friend” which have been included “for the sake of variety.” “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was moved near the end of the first volume and heavily edited by Coleridge, who removed some of the elements which had so offended critics in the first edition. He modernised around 40 spellings and terms, deleted 46 lines and added seven new ones.

It was originally planned that Coleridge would contribute a lengthy poem, “Christabel,” as the final piece in the second volume. Wordsworth anticipated that it would serve as a capstone for the collection in much the same way that “Tintern Abbey” had in the first, but an unfortunate combination of writer’s block, dwindling finances, and a newborn son in poor health prevented Coleridge from completing the poem. With the printing of the second edition already running behind schedule, it was decided that “Christabel” would be omitted from the publication. Wordsworth composed “Michael, a Pastoral” in its place, while Coleridge took on a more fiscally rewarding commitment to write a daily column for the Morning Post

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The Preface to Lyrical Ballads appears for the first time in the second edition.

In preparing the second edition for the press, Coleridge proposed to write a preface which would expand on the brief “Advertisement” which appeared in the first edition, but when he failed to deliver the promised preface before the publication deadline, Wordsworth again picked up the slack. Wordsworth’s preface, spanning 42 pages, outlined his and Coleridge’s poetic aims in composing the lyrical ballads, becoming a kind of manifesto for English Romanticism and earning it a place on the reading list of essentially every literature course covering the Romantic period. Wordsworth further revised and expanded the preface in the 1802 third edition of Lyrical Ballads, but for some collectors and many scholars, the preface’s first appearance in 1800 makes the second edition the preferred one.

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!

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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.

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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/

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibition review: Tennyson’s Women

This guest post comes from Lauren Evetts, Literature MA student in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy.


Tennyson, Tennyson…. Where to begin?! I had just finished the taught element of a module about King Arthur in the 19th and 20th centuries and I had been particularly struck with Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, the beautiful retelling of Malory’s complete Arthurian legend in poetry form. My assessment was approaching and I really wanted to write a comparison piece, however I was struggling to find an appropriate text to compare it with. Hence my question – where on earth do I begin? I had this amazing, powerful tome of poetry but no approach, no methodology… I was pretty stuck.

All I can say is: Thank goodness for the people down in Special Collections! I thought I’d look for some inspiration amongst the collections and archives and maybe have a chat with the archivists to see what I could find. So I was incredibly pleased when I opened the double doors and right in front of me was an entire exhibition on the very text I wanted to write about! I was absolutely stunned.

Tennyson's Women exhibition at Special Collections and Archives, Arts and Social Studies Library, on until March 2017.

Tennyson’s Women exhibition at Special Collections and Archives, Arts and Social Studies Library, on until March 2017.

There in the glass cabinets were beautiful illustrations which accompanied Tennyson’s Idylls at the time of each publication. Gorgeous sketches, wood engravings, plates and paintings by Sir Richard Holmes, Gustave Doré, Edmund J. Sullivan, Florence Harrison, Mary Montgomerie Lamb, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rosetti instantly appealed to the artist in me. I had no idea that such renowned illustrators were involved in decorating Tennyson’s work, and each one with a different perspective on the same scenes. The artist who really grabbed my attention, however, was Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, who produced 28 watercolour illustrations to accompany the 1911 edition of the Idylls. Her compassionate and complex portrayal of Tennyson’s women allowed me to gain a completely different stance on the characters and I knew, in that instant, that I had finally found a powerful comparison piece for my essay.

One image which particularly stood out to me was the depiction of Elaine being placed on her death bed.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale.

‘So there two brethren from the chariot took / And on the blank decks laid her in her bed’. Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.

Shunned by Lancelot after her repeated declarations of love, Tennyson’s Elaine chose to die rather than live with her unrequited feelings and asked her brothers, after her death, to deck her out like Lancelot’s beloved Queen Guinevere, put a letter for the knight in her hand, place her in a barge and let her float in it past the castle for all to see. Poor, young, naïve Elaine, who could only gain power over her circumstances in death! However, Fortescue-Brickdale’s illustration told rather a different tale.

The first thing I noticed was that Elaine has been positioned quite differently to the way she instructed her brothers to do so in the poem. Her gold covering is drawn right up to her chest, so that we are unable to see if she is dressed in the ‘rich’ clothing she desired, ‘like the Queen’, and her letter to Lancelot is completely hidden – if it is there at all! Furthermore, her face is pale and drawn – typical of a corpse, I suppose, but not smiling as in the text, and definitely not reminiscent of the ‘Fairy Queen’ which the courtly onlookers describe her as when she passes by. So Elaine is not powerful in death, after all. Her letter will go undelivered and she is unable to communicate her final message to the court. She is not sleeping the restful sleep of someone who has completed her final mission, but merely a powerless, young girl who died too young.

In these ways I could see that Fortescue-Brickdale felt that Elaine completely lacked autonomy over both her life and her death. She was dependent on men for her happiness in life and dependent on them to carry out her wishes in death. Although the changes in her illustration are fairly subtle, Fortescue-Brickdale’s depiction invites the viewer to feel Elaine’s helplessness and reliance on a patriarchal system. I found similar motifs in her other artwork and was able to write an argument on the female artist’s sympathy for Arthurian women. Now to wait for the results!

I strongly suggest asking for help from Special Collections and Archives if you’re ever stuck on what to write. In my experience, being able to view the original artwork accompanying Tennyson’s poetry was amazing, and visiting the exhibition really fascinated my inner geek. If you’re not stuck, I suggest going for a visit anyway – there are always incredible exhibitions, the staff are very helpful and know all sorts about all sorts of things. And who doesn’t love a bit of extra help?

Shelvocke’s Voyage and Coleridge’s Albatross

pogany_verseIn late September of 1719, the British privateer ship Speedwell was cruising near Tierra del Fuego at the southernmost tip of South America. The ship faced weeks of foul weather. Thick fog prevented her crew from using the sun to calculate their position, and driving winds threatened to wreck the ship on icebergs or rocky coastlines. The intense cold claimed the life of a crewman named William Camell, who fell into the water and drowned when his hands and fingers became too numb to hold onto the rigging. In gloomy spirits, the crew remarked that it had been more than a week since they had seen any living thing besides themselves, apart from:

“… a disconsolate black Albitross, who accompanied us for several days, hovering about us as if he had lost himself, till Hatley, (my second Captain) observing, in one of his melancholy fits, that this bird was always hovering near us, imagin’d from his colour, that it might be some ill omen. That which, I suppose, induced him the more to encourage his superstition, was the continued series of contrary tempestuous winds, which had oppress’d us ever since we had got into this sea. But be that as it would, he, after some fruitless attempts, at length, shot the Albitross, not doubting (perhaps) that we should have a fair wind after it.”

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Title page of the first edition of Shelvocke’s Voyage (London: J. Senex, 1726)

In 1726, George Shelvocke, captain of the Speedwell, published his account of the Voyage round the world by way of the great South Sea, including this evocative scene. In the autumn of 1797, this passage caught the attention of  William Wordsworth, who pointed it out to his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge who was at that time contemplating a poem incorporating gothic imagery and metaphysical overtones.

The poem required that the central character commit some crime which would bring down upon his head a spectral persecution, and Wordsworth suggested that the killing of an albatross might serve that purpose. The next year, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was published as the first poem in Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poems by Wordsworth and Coleridge that is now hailed as the beginning of the Romantic movement in literature.

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Detail from an illustration by Willy Pogány for “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” (London: George G. Harrap & Co., 1911)

While the shooting of the albatross is now the most famous moment in Shelvocke’s 468-page monograph, it is far from the only noteworthy episode. On 25 May 1720, the Speedwell was wrecked and the crew marooned for five months on an uninhabited island. Some years earlier, Alexander Selkirk had achieved fame for surviving four years in solitude on an island in the south seas, one of the sources of inspiration for Defoe’s The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Shelvocke’s description of the wreck of the Speedwell and the subsequent construction of a new 20 ton boat out of its remains captured the public imagination. The book also contains one of the earliest depictions of the natives of Baja California, and mentions the discovery of gold in California and the abundance and economic potential of guano in Peru more than a hundred years before their rediscovery and exploitation in the 19th century.

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Shelvocke’s Voyage included an early depiction of “Two Californian Women, the one in a Birds Skin, the other in that of a Deer.”

Not included in Shelvocke’s book is the legal battle that followed his return to England in 1722, which portrays him in a less flattering light. The Speedwell was originally intended to accompany a larger ship, the Success, under the command of John Clipperton (who had served under Captain Dampier). Early on in the voyage, the Speedwell became separated from the Success, and instead of travelling to an agreed-upon rendezvous, Shelvocke struck out on his own, attacking a Portuguese ship along the way. On arriving in back in England, Shelvocke was immediately charged by the ship’s owners with piracy and embezzlement for having withheld large quantities of plunder from the privateering expedition. In his preface to the Voyage, Shelvocke acknowledges that “the unavoidable misfortunes I encounter’d with, gave room for some to censure my conduct in my share of the Expedition; from whence several scandalous and unjust aspersions have been thrown upon me,” and that his design in publishing his account of the voyage was partially to clear his own name.

Much of the evidence against Shelvocke came from William Betagh, a member of the crew of the Speedwell who published his own account, entitled Voyage Round the World, in 1728. Betagh depicts Shelvocke as a Machiavellian villain who conspired to defraud the ship’s owners of the bulk of their profit, cause the death or capture of those who opposed him, and lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of his victims. Betagh himself was captured by the Spanish early in the voyage, however, and consequently much of his testimony is hearsay.

In 1757, George Shelvocke’s son released a second edition of the Voyage round the world by way of the great South Sea. He made extensive corrections to the text in an attempt to vindicate his father from the charges of embezzlement and piracy, and this editions is now considered by some to be textually superior to the first. Cardiff University holds copies of both editions: the 1726 first edition in the Salisbury Collection, and the 1757 second edition in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection.

Multiple Versions Found

On this blog, we spend a lot of time talking about editions—first editions, modern fine press editions—but what do we really mean by an edition, and why is it important? Bibliographically speaking, an edition is all the copies of a book printed from substantially the same setting of type. It reflects a financial decision on the part of the publisher, influenced by social factors, and manifested in typographical differences between editions.

By using these typographical differences to sort books into editions, we can make educated guesses about the social and economic factors that led to their production. For example, if a book was printed in a large format with wide margins and plenty of illustrations, it was probably an upmarket edition, whereas the same text printed in pocket size would have been aimed at less wealthy customers. If a book went through multiple editions, it must have been popular enough to justify investing in another print run. We can trace minor editorial changes in the text over time, signalling the influence of the author, the censor, or the tastes of the reading public (or possibly all three).  If an edition survives in hundreds of copies, we might guess that its publishers were confident enough in its success to produce a very large print run, whereas a niche publication may only survive in a single exemplar or as a reference in another text.

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Cardiff University’s LibrarySearch collapses multiple editions into a single search result, so it’s worth clicking through to see everything we hold.

Many researchers who come to special collections do so because they are looking for a specific edition of a text. Most of the time, the difference between editions is obvious, like a different date or the phrase “A new edition” on the title page. Other times, it can be almost impossible to distinguish between two editions without comparing them side by side.

One of ways that rare book cataloguers tease apart similar editions is by consulting published bibliographies, and citing a unique identifier for the edition in our catalogue records. At Cardiff University, we’ve been concentrating on cataloguing our early British books, so the resource that we use most often is the English Short Title Catalogue, or as it’s commonly called, the ESTC.

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These two editions are nearly, but not quite identical. Can you spot the differences between our copy on the left and the microfilmed copy from EEBO on the right? (Hint: the answer is in the catalogue record.)

If you’re not already familiar with it, the ESTC is a database which seeks to record every book, pamphlet, serial, and broadside printed before 1801, either in the British Isles, Colonial America, United States of America, Canada, or territories governed by England or Britain before 1801; or wholly or partly in English or other British vernaculars; or with false imprints claiming publication in Britain or its territories. Each record includes a list of libraries that own a physical copy of the item, as well as links to digitised copies in Google Books, Early English Books Online (EEBO), and Eigtheenth Century Collections Online (ECCO).

It currently has records for more than 480,000 separate editions held by more than 2000 libraries worldwide, but it’s still far from complete. Many works have been lost through the centuries, possibly because they are relevant only for a limited period of time (like almanacs and news bulletins), because they were used and re-used until they fell apart (like textbooks), or because they were produced in such small print runs that none of them have survived (that we know of). As libraries continue the never-ending struggle to catalogue their backlogs, however, “new” editions resurface. In 2016, Cardiff University cataloguers submitted 27 new records to the ESTC—not bad, considering that these books have avoided detection for at least two centuries!

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re rediscovering long-lost plays by Shakespeare or scientific treatises by Isaac Newton. For the most part, we’re filling in gaps in the publication history of known works. Many of the records that we contribute to the ESTC are for books that we were reasonably sure must have existed, but hadn’t ever been catalogued before. For example, if the ESTC has records for the first, fifth, and seventh edition of a particular work, it’s relatively safe to assume that the second, third, fourth, and sixth editions must exist somewhere. Sometimes, what we discover is a slight variation of another edition. (That said, new first editions of well-known works do sometimes crop up).

Here are just a couple of the new editions that we’ve reported to the ESTC this year:

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Our 1664 edition of Homeri Ilias (left) and another version published by Joannes Field the same year (ESTC R27415).

The ESTC had previously recorded a 1664 edition of Ομηρου Ιλιαδοσ: Homeri Ilias published in Cambridge by Joannes Field, calling itself “editio postrema” (latest edition).  Our copy, however, omits the Greek version of the title and calls itself “editio novissima” (newest edition). Once you look past the title page, however, the two editions are awfully similar. In fact, they’re identical. Both versions have dozens of pages numbered incorrectly in exactly the same way, suggesting that Mr. Field simply sold the same printed sheets with two different title pages.

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Our copy says it was sold by J. Robinson, but other versions of this edition have Richard Wilkin and J. Wyat’s names on their title pages.

Three slightly different versions of this edition of A discourse concerning the authority, stile, and perfection of the books of the Old and New Testament were published simultaneously in 1693. Two versions, bearing the names of Richard Wilkin and J. Wyat, were already recorded in the ESTC, but our version, with “J. Robinson” in the imprint had never been documented before.Each of these variants has a different name in the imprint, showing the business relationship between three different booksellers around London. Two versions, bearing the names of Richard Wilkin and J. Wyat, were already recorded in the ESTC, but our version, with “J. Robinson”, adds another name to the partnership. Even though J. Robinson’s name appears on the title page, the last page of the book advertises “books sold by Richard Wilkin”.

Whenever we find an edition that hasn’t yet been documented, we share our catalogue records with the ESTC and Worldcat so that researchers and cataloguers around the world can find it. Regardless of what the book is, it’s always exciting to be able to add another piece to the jigsaw puzzle of book history.

Christmas and Lemon

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As I sit here opposite our softly lit Christmas tree and roaring fire (*disclaimer: of course, we have no fire, I’ve just written that for atmospheric purposes), it has occurred to me that despite the plethora of materials that we have here in Special Collections, I have been unable to locate any (on) mulled-wine. This has rather stifled the jingle in my book-bells, for what can I bring to the blog besides a turkey at this time of year?

I could follow tradition. Of peace, and earth, we have many a volume, and no doubt you will find something on the nature of good-will and all manner of ‘recipes’ – medical, cosmetic, culinary, even vegetable dyes, though none so far as I can see, on how to make your own Irish-cream. The bilingual guide for making temperance drinks failed to impress! Something more… festive is needed.

My thoughts turn to the Plygain, the traditional Welsh Christmas service where ‘carolau plygain’ are sung, traditionally by men, in church in the very early hours of Christmas morning. In rural areas, this custom involved gathering in a local farmhouse to make a ‘Cyflaith’ – a treacle toffee, while decorating the house with mistletoe and holly, accompanied by singing and dancing to the harp until dawn.

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Singing and dancing to the harp, Peter Roberts, The Cambrian popular antiquities, (London, 1815).

But isn’t it nice to break with tradition sometimes? No sooner had this thought crossed my mind, down the chimney comes Helen, our multi-skilled Welsh Librarian and Cataloguer, with some ‘gifts’ for our collection. I notice a thick volume entitled ‘The Welsh at Home’. But all is not what it seems. As I open the book it’s as if the ghost of Christmas past is blowing the pages so that I may take a different view. This caught my eye:

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William Johnstone, The Welsh at Home, (Cardiff, 1904).

Behold my festive muse! Christmas Evans was one of Wales’s most charismatic preachers, his early life however, is just as remarkable. Born on Christmas day, 1766, His father, Samuel Evans, was a shoe-maker and his mother, Joanna, was related the respectable Lewis family who were freeholders in the parish of Llandysul, Cardiganshire. The Evans’s were poor, nonetheless, a situation exacerbated by the death of Christmas’s father when he was a young child. His uncle, James Lewis, took Christmas to live with him on his farm, but was a drunk, and cruel man. Christmas would say of him years later, ‘it would be difficult to find a more unconscionable man… in the whole course of a wicked world’.

Consequently, he had very little education and by seventeen was unable to read. Around this time, in the throes of religious awakening generally, Christmas started attending the local Presbyterian meetings where he learnt to read the Bible in Welsh. Some of his Lewis relatives also lent him ‘many good books’ which introduced him to the works of English authors. He also studied Latin under the Rev. David Davies, but it was largely through his own drive that Christmas became a proficient reader in several languages, including a little Greek and Hebrew.

His youth was also extremely hazardous and it is a miracle that he survived it at all. ‘When I was around nine years old’ he recalls, ‘I climbed up a rather tall tree, with a knife in my hand’. The bough gave way under him, and he fell to the ground, knife in hand. ‘There I lay unconscious until some people happened to see me later in the afternoon’. He almost drowned after a banking gave way besides a flooded pool, and on another occasion a horse he mounted galloped off ‘until the earth was trembling underneath’. The horse turned into its stables ‘but instead of knocking my brains out on the lintel, fate intervened on my part’, he says.

And not for the first time, for Christmas was also stabbed in the chest by another farm labourer, and his most telling injury occurred some years later, as he was contemplating giving up his spiritual calling. He was set upon by five or six men who beat him so badly, one with a stick, that he lost his eye instantly. As he lay dying, Christmas describes a dream he had of the final judgement, and how when he awoke, he became determined to follow his spiritual calling. Soon after, he was baptised and began his illustrious preaching ministry.

On a cold and snowy Christmas day in 1792, he and his wife Catherine set off for Anglesey on his faithful white mare, Lemon, to take charge of the Anglesey Baptists at Llangefni. It was the first of many journeys that Christmas and Lemon would make from North to South Wales to raise money for his chapels. He would preach every day, three times on a Sunday, and always mindful of his chapel debts, paid no heed to his thread-bare clothes. However, on one occasion Catherine, noticing the shabby condition of his hat, managed to get him a new one. When Christmas returned home from another long and arduous journey on his trusty mare, Catherine was mortified to see his new hat in a worse condition than the old! It just so happened that on the way home the old mare was thirsty, and on approaching a stream where there was no trough or house, or inn, Christmas filled his hat so that Lemon could drink! A mark of his sincerity that served all his ministries, for he left Anglesey in 1826 and served at Caerphilly from 1826-28, and then Cardiff from 1828-32, raising hundreds of pounds for his chapels in the course of his travels on the sturdy back of the lovely Lemon.

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Portrait of Christmas Evans, G. W. Morgan, Cofiant neu Hanes Bywyd y diweddar Barch. Christmas Evans, (Wrexham, 1883).

Christmas Evans was one of the greatest preachers that Wales has ever produced, and the volume of sermons and allegories that he has left behind reflect his intelligence and imagination. Yet it is the feats of his younger self, as well as his topical name, which inspired me to break with Christmas tradition and pay attention to this impressive figure.  And so the moral of this blog post is, even if you’ve got just one eye for books, you’re vision will be infinite.  Let’s hope for some interesting paperbacks stuffed in our stockings this year. Merry Christmas Evans and Lemon from all of us here at Special Collections and Archives, and a Happy New Year to you!

Edition fever: Charles Knight’s illustrated Shakespeare

Reading Andrew Prescott’s excellent blog post on 19th century Shakespeare editions, ‘Why every copy of a book is different’, inspired me to find out more about our extra-illustrated set of Charles Knight’s Pictorial edition of the works of Shakspere (1839-43).

Special Collections' extra-illustrated set of Charles Knight's Pictorial Shakspere, enlarged from 7 to 15 volumes with the addition of almost 1,500 engravings.

Special Collections’ extra-illustrated set of Charles Knight’s Pictorial Shakspere, enlarged from 8 to 15 volumes with the addition of almost 1,500 engravings.

Knight’s edition was originally issued in 56 monthly parts between 1838-43, and simultaneously, as material became available, released in 8 bound volumes between 1839-43, (7 volumes of plays, with a biographical volume authored by Knight). This ambitious illustrated edition was a product of the Victorian cult of Shakespeare, prevalent among all social classes, as well as emerging technologies which made the mass-production of affordable, wood-engraved books possible for the first time.

Knight was acutely aware of the power of illustrated works to attract and educate new readers. His previous projects, the Penny Magazine (1832-45), and the 27-volume Penny Cyclopaedia (1833-44) contained hundreds of cheap woodcuts. He went on to produce ‘pictorial editions’ of the Bible, a history of England, and a Book of Common Prayer.

He rejected the approach made by Nicholas Rowe, in the first illustrated Shakespeare edition, Rowe’s works of Mr. William Shakespear (1709), in which copper engravings depict key scenes within their theatrical setting, complete with stage sets and contemporary costume.

Illustration from Nicholas Rowe's 1709 edition, showing a scene from Hamlet in its theatrical context (typically featuring a draped curtain, and actors in contemporary eighteenth century dress).

Illustration from Nicholas Rowe’s 1709 edition, showing a scene from Hamlet in its theatrical context (typically featuring a draped curtain, and actors in contemporary eighteenth century dress).

Instead, he desired to depict with historical accuracy:

‘the Realities upon which the imagination of the poet must have rested…the localities of the various scenes, whether English or foreign; the portraits of the real personages of the historical plays; the objects of natural history, so constantly occurring; accurate costume in all its rich variety,’ (Knight, 2:284).

Considering his background in encyclopedias and miscellanies, it is perhaps not surprising that he sought to surround the literary works with images of real locations, and real persons, ‘which imparted a character of truthfulness to many scenes, which upon the stage had in general been merely fanciful creations’.

Extract from Knight's 'introductory notices' to Romeo and Juliet, which places the play in its historic context.

Extract from Knight’s ‘introductory notices’ to Romeo and Juliet, which places the play in its historic context.

Compared to earlier editions by Nicholas Rowe and John Boydell, which featured expensive and laboriously-produced copper engravings, Knight capitalised on the economy of wood engraving, a quick and affordable technique perfected by Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), which allowed text and image to be printed simultaneously.

Knight’s printer, William Clowes and Sons, operated the largest printing works in the world at that time, and in 1843, owned 24 steam-driven printing presses, reducing mass-printing costs even further (Weedon, p. 158).

Steamprinting machine used by The Illustrated London News, 2 Dec 1843.

Steam-printing machine used by The Illustrated London News, 2 Dec 1843.

Boydell’s 1802 edition cost £42, compared to just £7 7s. for Knight’s some 40 years later. Knight’s edition was cheaper, but not yet within the reach of the working-class mass market. He continued to make edits and alterations, which saw a proliferation of new Shakespeare editions hit the market:

• Library edition (1842-4) in 12 volumes at £6
• Cabinet edition (1843-4) in 11 duodecimo volumes at £1 7s. 6d.
• A single volume edition of 1,084 pages (1845) at £1 1s.
• Standard edition (1846) in 7 volumes at £4
• National edition (1851-2) in 8 volumes at £3

These were followed by a Students’ edition (1857), and finally, dispensing with Knight’s extensive notes and essays, a single volume People’s edition (1864) for 2 shillings, or if bought as a serial, just:

‘two plays for one penny! … Sixty-four well-printed double-column pages containing Hamlet and Othello complete, for one penny, is really a wonder, even in this cheap-printing age… our greatest poet [is] thus brought within the reach of all, in a style fit for any home and illustrated with two woodcuts, but unencumbered with the ‘readings’ and ‘notes’, which only puzzle readers and too often interfere with the full enjoyment of Shakespeare’s immortal works’. (Birmingham Daily Post, 18 April 1864, p. 5).

A bibliographic tangle it may be, but the proliferation of editions is testament to the enduring popularity of the work, and the breadth of the potential market for illustrated Shakespeare.

Title page of Charles Knight's Pictorial edition of the works of Shakspere.

Title page of Charles Knight’s Pictorial edition of the works of Shakspere.

Special Collections and Archives’ set of Knight’s Pictorial edition of the works of Shakspere has every appearance of being a first edition, though this is difficult to verify conclusively without comparison with others. New digital databases such as the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive have vast potential to aid researchers in comparing editions and tracing source texts. Our copy is undated, re-bound, and most remarkably, has been extended to almost twice its original length by the inclusion of 1,495 additional engraved plates, and 26 original drawings by William Harvey (1796-1866).

Nicholas Harvey's original sketch for the Comedy of Errors frontispiece, bound in opposite the final engraving.

Nicholas Harvey’s original sketch for the Comedy of Errors frontispiece, bound in opposite the final engraving.

A pupil of Thomas Bewick, Harvey was employed to create a series of frontispieces, ‘which, embodying the realities of costume and other accessaries [sic], would have enough of an imaginative character to render them pleasing,’ (Knight, 2:284). His original drawings in pencil and ink, with a brown wash to indicate desired areas of shading, have been bound into the work alongside his engraved frontispieces.

One of the 1,495 extra illustrations added to our Knight edition. The same Hamlet scene as depicted Rowe's edition, this rendering features the same Regency dress and set design that Knight rejected in favour of historical accuracy.

One of the 1,495 extra illustrations added to our Knight edition. The same Hamlet scene as depicted Rowe’s edition, this rendering features the same Regency dress and set design that Knight rejected in favour of historical accuracy.

The work now stretches to 15 volumes rather than the original 8, and to what would surely be Knight’s dismay, contains many of the ‘artistic’ theatrical scenes from 18th and early 19th century editions, of which he disapproved so strongly, as well as illustrations from rival mid-19th century wood-engraved Shakespeare editions.

In the first volume, a bookseller’s catalogue listing is pasted onto the front free endpaper, with the price given as £35.label

An inscription records, ‘I give this book to my dear son Trevor / 22 April 1889, John C. Bigham’.

Inscription from John Charles Bigham (1840-1929) to his son Trevor (1876-1954).

Inscription from John Charles Bigham (1840-1929) to his son Trevor (1876-1954).

The son of a merchant, John Charles Bigham (1840-1929) trained as a barrister and rose quickly through the ranks to join the Queen’s Bench. In 1912, he was appointed commissioner to inquire into the sinking of the RMS Titanic, and was created the first Viscount Mersey in 1916. His third son, Trevor, to whom the book is inscribed, became Deputy Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (the second-in-command of London’s Metropolitan Police Service) in 1931.

Bookplate of John Charles Bigham (1840-1929)

Bookplate of John Charles Bigham (1840-1929)

Each Knight volume contains a bookplate belonging to John Charles Bigham, dated 1897. The pasted bookseller’s record suggests that neither Trevor Bigham nor his father were responsible for constructing this densely extra-illustrated work, and we may never know who was. Prescott writes ‘each copy of a book bears the imprint in different ways of its previous owners and can act as an archive of the owners’ interests, enthusiasms and preoccupations as much as their personal papers’. There could be few better examples of this than this handsome work, more scrapbook than book, and all the more fascinating for researchers as a result.

Further reading:

  • Knight, Charles, Passages of a working life during half a century, with a prelude of early reminiscences. London: Bradbury & Evans, 1864.
  • Weedon, Alexis, Victorian publishing: the economics of book production for a mass market, 1836-1916. Aldershot: Ashgate, c2003: 158.
  • Young, Alan R., ‘Charles Knight and the nineteenth-century market for Shakespeare’, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 103, no. 1 (March 2009), pp. 19-41.

Cracking the Code

One of the hurdles cataloguers encounter in deciphering inscriptions in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection is the combination of languages which might appear, both in the actual text of inscriptions and in the names of people and places. Throw some occasionally idiosyncratic handwriting into the equation, and remember that spelling was far from being fixed before the end of the eighteenth century, and the result can sometimes be a challenge.

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This unassuming volume bears a most perplexing inscription.

One such inscription came to light recently, and caused some bewilderment. It appeared on the front endpaper of A Defence of the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England (London, 1700). The edition is not particularly rare or otherwise remarkable; there are three copies in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection alone.

The handwriting is unusually neat, with the letters carefully written separately rather than joined up, but the words seemed to make no sense at first glance: “Ryvmnorgu Pbyg ure obbæ ; Ebiynaq Cneel ; Naar Pbyg”.

The Cardiff books originally came from a wide variety of sources, and, as one might expect, many of the inscriptions are in English. Rather fewer are in Latin, and there are also some in Welsh or in a combination of two or more of these languages. An inscription might, for instance, be in English or Latin but include a Welsh place name such as the name of a farm or house.

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This inscription on the front endpaper confounded English and Welsh speakers alike.

With this in mind, at first it was thought that this might be Welsh: in particular, there is the ending of the first word, -gu, which is a familiar Welsh suffix, and there are several occurrences of “y”, a commonly used vowel in Welsh. Welsh speakers in the department however were fairly sure that this was no Welsh they had ever come across, and the third person to have a look thought it was more likely to be in code – but how to work it out?

Hastily adding the ability to solve anagrams and crossword puzzles and play Scrabble and the like to the cataloguers’ skillset, I made a note of the inscription and took it home to see if inspiration would strike.

Substitution ciphers, in which letters are substituted for other letters, have a long history. This variety is known as a Caesar cipher, because Julius Caesar is said (by Suetonius) to have used one in his private correspondence, although he did not invent it. In his version letters were shifted three places (so A = D, etc.). There are many variations, and if you are dealing with a piece of English prose there are some clues to help: the letter E, for instance, is the letter which occurs most frequently in English, and there are certain sequences of letters and commonly recurring words which you would or would not expect to find in English. In this case we did not know whether English was the language, and of course an inscription in a book is not the same as a prose passage.  Thinking along those lines was however the key to spotting the pattern here, as one phrase which does often appear in lower case book inscriptions is “his book” following a proper name, which fitted the number of letters at the end of the first line. I experimented with “his book”, which didn’t quite work, but looked promising enough, and so I thought I would be a bit more radical and try “her book” instead.

ure obbæ = her book

This produced enough to be able to see what the first name might be and to work out the code =

Ryvmnorgu = E—-be-h  = Elizabeth

The code is a simple Caesar cipher, which today would be what is known as ROT13, in which the alphabet is rotated 13 places so that the top half of the alphabet is interchangeable with the bottom half:

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

On seeing the two halves of the alphabet lined up this way, it became apparent that we had all mis-read the letter “x” as “æ”. Using this code to decipher the inscription, we have:

Elizabeth Colt her book

Rowland Parry

Anne Colt

These three names are mentioned in “The Baronetage of England” (page 522, Volume 2, 1771):

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“Anne Dutton Colt … died unmarried; and [her sister] Elizabeth, married to the rev. Mr. Rowland Parry, of Letton in Herefordshire”.

Anne and Elizabeth were the daughters of the former MP for Leominster, John Dutton Colt of Dutton House, Leominster (1643-1722), whose career at a troubled time in English politics included a spell of imprisonment. Elizabeth died in 1736 according to a memorial plaque in the church at Letton, and her husband the Rev. Rowland Parry died in 1761. It seems fitting that A Defence of the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England should have belonged to a minister’s wife, and the names are unusual enough in combination to feel that we can tentatively identify them with these three.

It seems likely that our coded inscription was a light-hearted piece of fun, and it was entertaining to be able to decode the message at a distance of three hundred years. Clearly this kind of cipher is not a very secure way in which to communicate!

We’ve solved one of this book’s enigmas, but another remains shrouded in mystery: someone has stabbed through the entire text block of the book, leaving a 10-15mm slash through both covers and every single page! We are left to wonder who might have vented their anger on this poor volume and why.

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This unfortunate book has been stabbed through from cover to cover.

Robinson Crusoe in 36 Pages

Daniel Defoe was an extremely prolific author, producing more than 500 books, pamphlets, and journals during his lifetime. Perhaps the best-known of his works is Robinson Crusoe, whose title character is shipwrecked on a remote tropical island for thirty years, and must feed, shelter, clothe, and defend himself.  The first edition appeared in 1719, and ran to more than 360 pages.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened this slim little volume—just 36 pages—and saw the rather impressive title: The surprising life, voyages and adventures of Robinson Crusoe, a seaman of York: who, after suffering many hardships by Sea and land, was shipwrecked on the coast of America, and cast ashore on an uninhabited island, where he lived twenty-eight years, without any one to assist him, or converse with, but an American savage, whose life he saved. With his wonderful discovery and deliverance, by an English captain.

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A chapbook edition of Robinson Crusoe, published by Dean & Munday sometime between 1808 and 1816.

Intrigued by this rather aggressive abridgment, I soon learned that Robinson Crusoe has a long history of truncation. The earliest abridgments appeared the very same year as the first edition, shortening the text by more than 100 pages. During the remainder of the 18th century, the original text of Robinson Crusoe was republished in an impressive 57 editions, but the number of abridged editions outnumbered Defoe’s original text more than three-to-one. Not only did the shorter versions sell for a fraction of the price of the original, many contemporary readers actually viewed these abridgments as an improvement, retaining all of the best bits while trimming away excess verbiage. In “Eighteenth-Century Abridgements of Robinson Crusoe”, Jordan Howell argues that Robinson Crusoe achieved its place in the literary canon as much due to the popularity of the story as told through abridgments, as to Defoe’s literary style. 

Most of these abridgments, however, retained much of the action and character of the original, sitting comfortably at 200+ pages. The little copy I had found belonged to a different genre entirely: the chapbook.

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At 68 words, the title is longer than some of the pivotal scenes in this 36-page abridgment.

Intended for sale by itinerant merchants among the poorer (but increasingly literate) classes, chapbooks are generally printed on a single sheet of paper, folded to 24 pages (although they sometimes reached as high as 36 pages) and illustrated with woodcuts. Chapbooks covered a staggering array of subjects, including folk tales, nursery rhymes, almanacs, histories, and religious instruction. Contemporary novels were not often squeezed into chapbook format, but works by Defoe, Bunyan, and Swift were noteworthy exceptions. According to Andrew O’Malley’s “Poaching on Crusoe’s Island: Popular Reading and Chapbook Editions of Robinson Crusoe“, during the 18th century, the novel went through no less than 151 chapbook editions.

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The frontispiece, the book’s only illustration, depicts a scene which is barely mentioned in the text.

Different chapbook editions emphasized different aspects of the story, moulding them to conform to the generic conventions that were familiar to working-class readers. O’Malley writes that, “By rejecting certain key elements of Defoe’s work while amplifying others to the point of distortion, these chapbooks shed light on how the laboring classes interacted with the dominant cultural and ideological formations of the period.” For example, some versions linger over Crusoe’s capture by mutineers and enslavement by Moors, in keeping with lower-class readers’ expectations for a seafaring tale. Others might skip over the details of Crusoe’s means of survival on the island or his religious awakening. These omissions cast Crusoe in the role of a traditional folk hero like Jack the Giant Killer, whose good fortune is the product of luck rather than hard work and spiritual devotion—a narrative which might resonate with a working-class audience with few opportunities for social or economic advancement. 

Our chapbook edition is a relative latecomer to the scene. The title page is undated, but it was most likely published between 1808 and 1816 (based on the years that the publishers, Dean & Munday, based their business at the address given on the title page). The paper is cheap, flecked all over with dark brown fibres, and the type has been very unevenly inked, evidence of its downmarket price point. The narrative does not linger over any one episode, but describes all the most noteworthy events with equal (and impressive) economy. Gone, however, are any meditations of a spiritual nature. At 36 pages, it is voluminous for a chapbook, but unlike most 18th century chapbooks, it contains only one illustration. If you fancy a more substantial read, however, we also hold three 19th century editions of Robinson Crusoe in Welsh (84, 90, and 118 pages), one in French (3 volumes) published 1720, and an illustrated edition in English(363 pages), published in 1847.