Christmas and Lemon

christmas-pudding-detail-w-m-cule-1919

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.

singing-and-dancing-to-the-harp-peter-roberts-the-cambrian-popular-antiquities-1815

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:

the-welsh-at-home-1904-contents

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.

christmas-evans-2

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.

39articles_titlepage.jpg

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.

39articles_inscription

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):

baronetageofengland_vol2_page522_edited

“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.

slash5

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.

exterior

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.

title-page

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.

frontispiece

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.

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.

lilly-books

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.

inscriptions-in-christian-astrology

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.

edmund-jones-signature-1

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

 

nlw-ms-10565b-edmund-jones-signature

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.

nlw-ms-7025a-2-lilys-astrology

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.

glanvill-1

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.

Oh for books sake! Big spiders and Bibliomania

I know what you’re thinking – only my third post and I’m talking book crazy! Well, working in Special Collections it was bound to happen sooner or later, though I’d be lying if I blamed my current state of mind on the awesome collections here; I’ve always been mad about books.

So enthused in fact, that not even the huge spider in our Research Reserve could deter me from one of my rummaging sessions (he was scrunched up dead, but I was still petrified!) which, incidentally,  led to another where the following titles also jumped out at me:

bibliomania-books-crb

Books on Bibliomania in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

Bibliomania describes the ‘passionate enthusiasm for collecting and possessing books’, and was first coined by the physician John Ferriar in 1809. In a poem he dedicated to his friend, The Bibliomania: An Epistle to Richard Heber Esq’, Ferriar describes Heber as ‘the hapless man, who feels the book disease’, whose ‘anxious’ eyes scans the catalogues of book auctions to ‘snatch obscurest names from endless night’. Heber was an English book collector and one of the founding members of the Roxburghe Club, an exclusive bibliophilic and publishing society for like-minded book lovers and collectors. (Note: do not confuse bibliomania with bibliophilia which is not as bad as it sounds, merely the great love of books!).  Incidentally, another founding member, Thomas Frognall Dibdin, published Bibliomania: or Book Madness in 1809, a sumptuously illustrated work set as a series of dialogues on the history of book collecting. It’s interesting that the notion of Bibliomania is seen as some kind of folly or affliction. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the budding culture of reading brought about by the growth of print and literacy was often described as some sort of endemic. Reading-fever, or even reading-lust was one aspect of this, characterised by the compulsive reading of one book after another.

hanes-bywyd-y-diweddar-richard-robert-jones-neu-dic-aberdaron-caernarfon-1844-wg16-71-j

Portrait of Dic Aberdaron from Hanes bywyd y diweddar Richard Robert Jones, neu Dic Aberdaron (Caernarfon, 1844)

This brings to mind the famous Welsh linguist Richard Robert Jones, or Dic Aberdaron, reputed to have mastered fourteen languages through his constant consumption of books. His patron, William Roscoe, describes how ‘His clothing consisted of several coarse and ragged vestments, the spaces between which were filled with books, surrounding him in successive layers so that he was literally a walking library… Absorbed in his studies, he had continually a book in his hand’.

So whilst trying to work out if I am bibliomanic or bibliophilic, I started thinking about other eminent book enthusiasts and, either way, I’m in good company! John Dee, the Elizabethan scientist and astrological advisor to Elizabeth I, we know was an avid accumulator of books, amassing one of the largest private libraries during the 16th century. Sadly, most of his collection was dispersed or stolen during his own lifetime, but Special Collections is fortunate to hold his copy of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa contra gen[t]iles . Naturally, Dee was bereft at the loss, and we get a sense of his deep devotion to books from his dreams. In one, which he recorded in his diary, he ‘dremed that I was deade… and … the Lord Thresoror was com to my howse to burn my bokes’. On August the 6th, 1597, Dee relates how:

‘On this night I had the vision … of many bokes in my dreame, and among the rest was one great volume thik in large quarto, new printed, on the first page whereof as a title in great letters was printed ‘Notus in Judaea Deus’. Many other bokes me-thowght I saw new printed, of very strange arguments’.

He too encountered an eight-legged beast, writing on the 2 of September: ‘the spider at ten of the clock at night suddenly on my desk, … a most rare one in bygnes and length of feet’. You know you’re in trouble when you can see their feet! I truly sympathise Dr Dee, on both counts.

And what about our very own Enoch Salisbury? His hunger for book collecting began with a gift, an 1824 Welsh edition of Robinson Crusoe, and developed over the next sixty years into a compilation of over 13,000 works worthy of a national collection, a genuine prospect at that time.

salisbury-stack

Just some of the books in the Salisbury Library

 

 

In 1886, financial troubles forced Salisbury to sell his collection which was ingeniously acquired by Cardiff University thanks to the foresight of its Registrar Ivor James. In a letter to James, Salisbury outlines his ‘one hope… that the same public feeling which carried it away to Cardiff, may lead to its perfection… for the use of a National Library’.  When the concept for a National Museum and Library for Wales was being considered, Cardiff was a serious contender, offering both the Salisbury Library and the collected works at Cardiff Public Library to be housed in a joint museum and library at Cathays Park.

memorial-map-with-site-for-library-and-museum

Plan of Cathays Park and site for the National Library in Memorial of the Corporation of Cardiff, (Cardiff, 1905)

The Public Library collection was also compiled through several worthy deposits made by keen collectors. David Lewis Wooding (1828 -1891) was one. A shopkeeper and keen book collector, his library contained over 5,000 volumes which he donated. Another collection incorporated was the Tonn library in 1891, which belonged to the Rees family of Llandovery. This consisted of 7,000 printed volumes and 100 manuscripts, and even the Cardiff coal owner John Cory purchased 67 incunabula which he too presented to the Library.

Nevertheless, Cardiff’s vision for a cultural institution was scuppered by another Victorian bibliomaniac, Sir John Williams. He had been buying whole collections for his own private library since the 1870s, and in 1898 struck literary gold when he acquired the Peniarth Manuscripts, which he donated to the proposed library in 1907, on condition that it be built at Aberystwyth. With nuggets like the Black Book of Carmarthen, the White Book of Rhydderch and the Book of Taliesin, Cardiff was inevitably outdone, for the library at least.

As fate would have it, Cardiff University now houses the Cardiff Rare Books alongside Salisbury’s Library, forming a unique collection of national interest which, over the years, has morphed from one compendium to another, each carrying their own unique story. These collections and subsequently, Special Collections, would not exist if it weren’t for Bibliomania. So the moral of this post is, whether you’re bibliomanic, bibliophilic, even arachnophobic, it matters not; there is always an exquisite method in a madness for books, as seen in Daniel Jubb’s Bookcase.

Guest post: The Rees Family and the Cardiff Eisteddfod

This guest post comes from Vicky Shirley, a third-year PhD student in the School of English, Communication, and Philosophy. Her thesis examines the reception and re-writing of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae in England, Scotland, and Wales. She is currently preparing an article for publication on the reception of Geoffrey of Monmouth by Welsh and English antiquarians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the Salisbury Library in Special Collections has been integral to her research. The Salisbury Library contains a number of classic works of Welsh medievalism, such as the The Cambrian Register and Myrvyrian Archaiology of Wales. Special Collections also holds several microfilms of manuscripts belonging to the eighteenth-century antiquarian Lewis Morris, who thought that the Brut y Tysilio was the original Welsh source of Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britanniae, and the reception of his theory is the subject of her article.


My research for my article has recently led me to Rice Rees’ Essay on the Welsh Saints, or the Primitive Christians, which was published in 1836. Rice Rees (1804-39) was a cleric and scholar, and his essay was the winning entry in one of the essay competitions at the Gwent and Dyfed Royal Eisteddfod, which was held in Cardiff in 1834. Rice Rees’ uncle, William Jenkins Rees (1772-1855), was instrumental in re-introducing the Eisteddfod to Wales in the nineteenth century. The Gwyneddigion Society had tried to revive the annual Eisteddfod in the late eighteenth century, but they only ran between 1789 and 1794 in Bala, St. Asaph, Llanrwst, Denbigh, and Dollgellau respectively. In October 1818, several Welsh clerics antiquarians, including W. J. Rees, met in Montgomeryshire, and proposed to establish provincial societies for the study of Welsh literature in in Dyfed, Gwynedd, Gwent, and Powys. These societies were responsible for hosting eisteddfodau in their provinces, and the first one was held at Carmarthen in 1819. W. J. Rees also helped to re-establish The Honourable Society of the Cymmrodorion, and the second society (1820-43) oversaw the activities of the local Cambrian Societies.

William Jenkins Rees (1772-1855)

William Jenkins Rees (1772-1855)

The Gwent and Dyfed Royal Eisteddfod was held on 20th-22nd August 1834 at Cardiff Castle, by the invitation of John Crichton-Stuart, the 2nd Marquess of Bute. The young Princess Victoria and the Duchess of Kent were invited to the Eisteddfod, and several Welsh literati were also present at the event, including Lady Charlotte Guest and Taliesin Williams, the son of Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg), who won the Bardic Chair that year. In his opening speech, the Marquess remarked that:

[t]he Eisteddfodau shew a character of good-will and harmony and kindness, joining together all persons of Celtic origin, in one bond of social attachment and literary enjoyment. They are meetings in which we are desirous to shew our forefathers; to recall to memory the history of former days; and to shew the regard that we ever cherish to our departed ancestry.[1]

Lady Charlotte Guest includes a short account of the Cardiff Eisteddfod in her journal. She did not the Marquess’ opening speech in very high regard – she preferred the oratory of William Price instead, and he eventually became one of the judges. A transcript of both speeches was included in the report of the Gwent and Royal Eisteddfod, which was printed by The Glamorgan, Monmouth and Brecon Gazette and Merthyr Guardian.

eisteddfod

In his essay, Rees provides an ‘ecclesiastical history of the Britons, from the introduction of Christianity, or more especially from the termination of Roman power in Britain, to the end of the seventh century’.[2] The scope of Rees’ narrative is similar to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae, which describes the history of Britain from its foundation by Brutus of Troy to the death of Cadwalladr, the last king of the Britons in 682. The two narratives correspond with each other as they use similar sources, including a variety of ancient Welsh poems, triads, and genealogies. These texts were being steadily recovered in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as scholars and antiquarians began to publish many works of Welsh literature for the first time.

cardiffeisteddfod

Despite the similarities between his essay and the Historia regum Britanniae, Rees was sceptical of Geoffrey. Like many scholars and historians, Rees thought Geoffrey was a translator, who added his own fabulous inventions to his work. In particular, Rees attacks Geoffrey for his inaccuracy, and in a section on Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, he remarks that:

Geoffrey of Monmouth states that Dewi, archbishop of Caerleon, died in the monastery which he had founded at Menevia, where he was honourably buried by order of Maelgwn Gwynedd. This event is recorded by Geoffrey as if it happened soon after the death of Arthur, who died A.D. 542. According to the computations of Archbishop Usher, St. David died A.D. 544, aged eighty two […] But it must be allowed that the dates quotes by Usher are very uncertain, and depend upon the authority of writers who lived many centuries after the events which they record. The older generations, and the names of contemporaries, rend it necessary to place the birth of David about twenty years later than it is fixed by Usher; and his life may be protracted to any period short of A. D. 566. [3]

The death of Arthur and David is one of the few dates that are mentioned in the Historia regum Britanniae, and so this point of contention is one of the few examples where Rees could directly challenge Geoffrey’s authority and undermine his chronology. Rees’ estimation that Saint David died in 566 is a little unreliable, as it is now generally accepted that he died in 589. Nevertheless, his comparison of sources is typical of the method many historians – medieval and modern – used to try and disprove the events recorded in Geoffrey’s Historia.

My interest in the Rees family began in September 2012, when I was an undergraduate research assistant on a Cardiff Undergraduates Research Opportunities Program project, which involved cataloguing provenance and marginalia in the Cardiff Rare Books collection (1660-1700). During this project, I found a number of books which were owned by different members of the Rees family. The Rees family library once had over 7,000 books, many of which were donated to the Cardiff Public Library, before they were acquired by Special Collections in 2010. My current research has given me a better understanding about how important the Rees family were to medieval scholarship and antiquarian activities in Wales during the nineteenth century. 

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Guest, Lady, Lady Charlotte Guest: Extracts from her Journal, 1833-1852, ed. V. B. Ponsby, Earl of Beesborough (London: Murray, 1950)

Rees, Rice, An Essay on the Welsh Saints, or the Primitive Christians, usually considered to have been the founders of the churches in Wales (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, printed by William Rees, Llandovery, 1836)

‘Gwent and Royal Eisteddfod and Musical Festival’, The Glamorgan, Monmouth, and Brecon Gazette and Merthyr Guardian, Saturday 23rd and 30th August 1834

Secondary Sources

Ellis, Mary, ‘W. J. Rees, 1772-1855: A Portrait, Part I’ Radnorshire Society Transactions 39 (1969): 24-35

___________, ‘W. J. Rees, 1772-1855: A Portrait, Part II’ Radnorshire Society Transactions 40 (1970): 21-8

___________, ‘W. J. Rees, 1772-1855: A Portrait, Part III’ Radnorshire Society Transactions 41 (1971): 76-85

___________, ‘W. J. Rees, 1772-1855: A Portrait, Part IV’ Radnorshire Society Transactions 42 (1972): 55-61

Thomas, J. Lloyd, ‘Eisteddfod Talaith a Chadair Powys (The Powis Provincial Chair Eisteddfod)’, The Montgomeryshire Collections, relating to Montgomeryshire and its borders, 59 1-2 (195-6): 60-81

Online Sources

Lloyd, J. E. ‘Rees, Rice (1804–1839)’, rev. Nilanjana Banerji, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/23287, accessed 2 Sept 2016]

___________, ‘Rees, William Jenkins (1772–1855)’, rev. Beti Jones, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2007 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/23291, accessed 2 Sept 2016]

[1] ‘Gwent and Royal Eisteddfod and Musical Festival’, The Glamorgan, Monmouth, and Brecon Gazette and Merthyr Guardian, Saturday 23rd and 30th August 1834, p. 3.

[2] Rice Rees, ‘Preface’, An Essay on the Welsh Saints, or the Primitive Christians, usually considered to have been the founders of the churches in Wales (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, printed by William Rees, Llandovery, 1836), p. vi.

[3] Rees, An Essay on the Welsh Saints, pp. 200-1

Guest post: Sidney Paget and the Strand Magazine

This guest post comes from Karita Kuusisto, a PhD student at the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University. Her research focuses on the work of the artist and illustrator Sidney Paget and the role of the illustrator in the process of making illustrated periodicals in the late Victorian era. Her research interests include illustration, periodical press and photography in the nineteenth century.

Karita is leading a special session at the 2016 Annual Conference of the British Association of Victorian Studies, where she will showcase the work of the artist and illustrator Sidney Paget (1860-1908), concentrating on his work for the Strand Magazine. The session also gives visitors a chance to examine original copies of the magazine housed in Special Collections and Archives, and explore how the changes in the publication process affected the appearance of the illustrations throughout the years.


Sidney Paget may not be a name that many people recognise, even if they recognise the literary character who he helped to create visually: Sherlock Holmes.

While there is much debate over which illustrator contributed most to the famous detective’s appearance, there can be no doubt that one of the most influential of them all was the rendition that Sidney Paget created for the pages of the Strand Magazine.

Created by George Newnes in 1891, the Strand Magazine is well known for having been a highly entertaining and lavishly illustrated monthly publication. Assigning Paget as the illustrator of the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories seems to have happened by (a lucky) mistake. According to Paget’s daughter Winifred Paget, the Strand Magazine’s Art Editor, W. H. J. Boot, had actually intended to hire Sidney Paget’s brother, Walter Paget, for the job. Boot, however, had forgotten Walter Paget’s first name and addressed his letter to “Mr. Paget”, and the letter was subsequently opened by Sidney.

Illustration by Sidney Paget for Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Boscombe Valley Mystery’, published in the Strand Magazine in 1891.

Illustration by Sidney Paget for Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Boscombe Valley Mystery’, published in the Strand Magazine in 1891.

Sidney Paget illustrated the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories from their first publication in the Strand Magazine in 1891 until the publication of ‘Final Problem’ in 1893, and resumed as the illustrator of the stories in 1901 for ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ and 1903 for ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes’.

During the time when ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories were not published, Paget went on to illustrate many other stories by Arthur Conan Doyle (and others) for the Strand. These included ‘Rodney Stone’, which was first published as a serialized novel in 1896 and later published as an illustrated novel, using Paget’s illustrations.

Illustration by Sidney Paget for Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Rodney Stone’, published in the Strand Magazine in 1896.

Illustration by Sidney Paget for Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Rodney Stone’, published in the Strand Magazine in 1896.

What do we know about Sidney Paget? According to an article published in the Strand Magazine in July 1895, Sidney Paget was ‘born on October 4th 1860, in London, fifth son of the late Robert Paget, vestry clerk of Clerkenwell’, and studied painting in Heatherley’s School of Art. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy at eighteen years of age, ‘and constantly since that time’. In his studio, Paget painted portraits and small pictures, while also illustrating books and illustrated papers, consisting of ‘chiefly war subjects of Egypt and the Soudan.’ According to the Royal Academy records, Paget became a student of the Academy on December 6 1881, at the age of 20, as a painter. At the time, training lasted for six years.

Illustration by Sidney Paget for Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Final Problem’, published in the Strand Magazine in 1893.

Illustration by Sidney Paget for Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Final Problem’, published in the Strand Magazine in 1893.

Paget, being a portrait painter, often included “portraits” of characters from the stories as illustrations. His skill as an illustrator lay in his ability to make the different characters easily recognizable for the reader, something too often lacking in Victorian era illustration.

Paget’s original black-and-white drawings are painterly in their style and use of shading, which does not always translate to the finished illustrations on the Strand Magazine’s pages. This is simply due to the printing process of the illustrations: after Paget had finished the original drawing, both engraver and printer would work on the image as well, leaving their mark on the work. The printing process also affected the amount of detail that could be included in the finished illustration, which Paget would have needed to take into account when producing the drawings.

There is a clear change in the style and the overall look of the finished ‘Sherlock Holmes’ illustrations in the Strand Magazine in the year 1892. According to Alex Werner, this change happened when Paul Naumann became the engraver of the ‘Holmes’ illustrations. It is possible that the Strand Magazine was not satisfied with the quality of the previous illustrations, and wished therefore to change engravers. As the Strand Magazine’s records have been lost, it is quite impossible to know exactly why the change happened. After the changing engravers, the compositions and topics of the illustrations also became more varied, resulting in a more enjoyable reading experience.

Illustration by Sidney Paget for Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Abbey Grange’, published in the Strand Magazine in 1904.

Illustration by Sidney Paget for Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Abbey Grange’, published in the Strand Magazine in 1904.

 

Publications consulted:

Newnes, George ‘Artists of the Strand Magazine’ in Strand Magazine 1895.2.

Paget, Winifred ‘The Artist Who Made Holmes Real’ in A Sherlock Holmes Compendium, ed. Peter Haining (London: W.H. Allen, 1980), pp. 41-45

Werner, Alex, ‘Sherlock Holmes, Sidney Paget and the Strand Magazine’ in Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die, ed. Alex Werner (London: Ebury, 2014)

Exhibition: Tennyson’s Women

Special Collections and Archives‘ latest exhibition, Tennyson’s Women, compares changing artistic approaches to illustrating the works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892).

It examines the visual depiction of female characters in the context of the Victorian medieval revival. Forgotten female illustrators, such as Eleanor Brickdale, Florence Harrison and Katherine Cameron, feature alongside more famous works by Gustave Doré, J. E. Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.


Mae arddangosfa ddiweddaraf Casgliadau Arbennig ac ArchifauMerched Tennyson, yn cymharu dulliau artistig newidiol i ddarlunio gwaith yr Arglwydd Tennyson (1809-1892).

Mae’n archwilio darluniad gweledol cymeriadau benywaidd yng nghyd-destun yr adfywiad canoloesol Fictoraidd. Mae darlunwyr benywaidd angof, gan gynnwys Eleanor Brickdale, Florence Harrison, Katherine Cameron a Violet Fane yn cael eu portreadu ochr yn ochr â gwaith mwy enwog gan Gustave Doré, J. E. Millais a Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Lady of Shalott / Y Feinir o Sialót

The Lady of Shalott inspired numerous artists, who were drawn to the story of a woman who commits a specifically visual crime by looking directly through a window. The illuminated manuscript represents the Lady of Shalott happily at work on her tapestry as she weaves the objects seen in the mirror’s reflections.


Bu’r Feinir o Sialót yn ysbrydoliaeth i nifer o ddarlunwyr a gafodd eu denu gan hanes menyw sy’n cyflawni trosedd weledol amlwg wrth edrych drwy ffenestr. Mae’r llawysgrif wedi’i oleuo yn cynrychioli Boneddiges Shalott yn fodlon ei byd yn gweithio ar dapestri wrth iddi blethu’r nwyddau sydd i’w gweld yn y drych.

She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Lady of Shalott, illuminated by Gilbert Pownall (c. 1910).

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Lady of Shalott, illuminated by Gilbert Pownall (c. 1910).

Most illustrations, however, focus on the moment of the curse when the Lady of Shalott leaves the loom and looks through the window at Lancelot.


Mae’r rhan fwyaf o ddarluniau, fodd bynnag, yn canolbwyntio ar olygfa’r felltith pan fo’r Feinir o Sialót yn gadael yr ystafell gan edrych drwy’r ffenestr ar Lawnslot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-flower bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume:
She look’d down to Camelot.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Tennyson’s Dream of fair women and other poems, illustrated by Florence Harrison.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Tennyson’s Dream of fair women and other poems, illustrated by Florence Harrison. London: Blackie, c. 1923. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the Florence Susan Harrison Estate.

This moment is represented with dramatic force in William Holman Hunt’s illustration where the Lady of Shalott is tangled in the threads of the tapestry, her hair flying wildly across the picture. Tennyson objected to Hunt’s addition of these features, because they were not present in the text.


Dangosir yr olygfa hon gyda chryn rymuster yn narlun William Holman Hunt o’r Feinir o Sialót yn sownd yng nghlymau’r tapestri, a’i gwallt yn chwifio’n wyllt ar draws y llun. Nid oedd Tennyson yn cymeradwyo’r ychwanegiadau hyn gan nad oeddent yn y testun gwreiddiol.

Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
‘The curse is come upon me,’ cried
The Lady of Shalott.’

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Some poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson, illustrated by W. Holman Hunt et al.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Some poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson, illustrated by W. Holman Hunt et al. London: Freemantle & Co., 1901.

Florence Harrison and Dante Gabriel Rossetti show the dead Lady of Shalott floating into Camelot, with Rossetti’s Lancelot bending down in the cramped few inches of the wood engraving to stare at her ‘lovely face’.


Darlunia Florence Harrison a Dante Gabriel Rossetti’r olygfa pan fo Boneddiges Shalott yn arnofio i Gamelot, gyda Lawnslot yn narlun Rosetti’n
plygu ar ddarn tila o bren i weld ‘ei hwyneb prydferth’.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden wall and gallery,
A pale, pale corpse she floated by,
Deadcold, between the houses high,
Dead into tower’d Camelot.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere and other poems, illustrated by Florence Harrison.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere and other poems, illustrated by Florence Harrison. London: Blackie, 1912. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the Florence Susan Harrison Estate.

Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
To the planked wharfage came:
Below the stern they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poems, illustrated by Rossetti etc.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poems, illustrated by Rossetti etc. London: E. Moxon, 1860.

Elaine

Elaine, the ‘lily maid of Astolat’, became an iconic figure for artists. Tennyson’s poem inscribes Elaine as a specifically Victorian heroine, who wilts away when her love for Lancelot is unrequited.


Daeth Elaine, y ‘forwyn lili o Astolat’, yn ffigwr eiconig ar gyfer arlunwyr. Mae cerdd Tennyson yn cyflwyno Elaine fel arwres Fictoraidd yn benodol, sy’n cilio i’r cysgodion pan ddywed Lawnslot nad yw’n ei charu.

 So in her tower alone the maiden sat […]
Death, like a friend’s voice from a distant field
Approaching thro’ the darkness, call’d; the owls
Wailing had power upon her, and she mixt
Her fancies with the sallow-rifted glooms
Of evening, and the moanings of the wind.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Selections from Tennyson's Idylls of the King, [illuminated by Sir Richard R. Holmes?].

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Selections from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, [illuminated by Sir Richard R. Holmes, London, 1862?]

Elaine’s position in a tower, embroidering a ‘case of silk’ for Lancelot’s shield (which is pictured here by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale), and her final journey down the river towards Camelot, links her thematically and iconographically with Tennyson’s other medieval heroine, the Lady of Shalott.


Mae sefyllfa Elaine yn y tŵr wrth iddi addurno ‘câs o sidan’ ar gyfer tarian Lawnslot (sydd yn y llun hwn gan Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale), ynghyd â’i thaith olaf i lawr yr afon tua Chamelot, yn ei cysylltu’n thematig ac yn eiconig ag arwres ganoloesol arall Tennyson, sef y Feinir o Sialót.

Then fearing rust or soilure fashioned for it
A case of silk, and braided thereupon
All the devices blazoned on the shield
In their own tinct, and added, of her wit,
A border fantasy of branch and flower.

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

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.

Illustrators of the period focused on the haunting image of Elaine on her death bed/boat as she carries a lily in her right hand and a love letter to Lancelot in her left (this scene is the frontispiece for Doré’s illustrated edition).


Canolbwyntiodd darlunwyr y cyfnod ar y ddelwedd arswydus o Elaine ar ei gwely angau a hithau’n gafael mewn lili yn ei llaw dde a llythyr cariad i Lawnslot yn ei llaw chwith (y ddelwedd hon sydd ar glawr fersiwn darluniadol Doré).

So those two brethren from the chariot took
And on the black decks laid her in her bed.

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

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.

So those two brethren. . .
. . . kissed her quiet brows, and saying to her
“Sister, farewell for ever,” and again
“Farewell, sweet sister,” parted all in tears.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Elaine, illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Elaine, illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: Edward Moxon, 1867.

Oared by the dumb, went upward with the flood–
In her right hand the lily, in her left
The letter… for she did not seem as dead,
But fast asleep, and lay as though she smiled.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Elaine, illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Elaine, illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: Edward Moxon, 1867.

Enid

Unlike the iconic episodes that tend to be favoured in artistic representations of Elaine and the Lady of Shalott, illustrations of Enid are more diverse and represent different narrative moments, from the newly-wed Geraint’s admiration of his wife (seen in the first of Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale’s illustrations here), to her wearing her shabbiest dress and accompanying Geraint on a quest to prove his prowess, convinced as he is of Enid’s infidelity (a moment that is also represented by Brickdale).


Yn wahanol i’r golygfeydd eiconig a gaiff eu dylunio gan amlaf o Elaine a’r Feinir o Sialót, mae darluniau o Enid yn tueddu i fod yn fwy amrywiol wrth iddynt gynrychioli gwahanol naratifau, o edmygedd ei gŵr newydd, Geraint, at ei wraig (y cyntaf o ddarluniau Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale yma) i’r darlun ohoni wedi’i gwisgo’n flêr yng nghwmni Geraint wrth iddo geisio dangos ei gryfder yn wyneb anffyddlondeb ei wraig (a gaiff hefyd ei ddarlunio gan Brickdale).

And as the light of Heaven varies, now
At sunrise, now at sunset, now by night
With moon and trembling stars, so loved Geraint
To make her beauty vary day by day,
In crimsons and in purples and in gems.

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

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.

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

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911

Brickdale’s images provide a stunning example of Victorian medievalism and suggest her debt to Pre-Raphaelite illustrations. Brickdale seems to delight in the possibilities of this form, her interest in colour carrying through to designs she made after the First World War for stained-glass windows in York Minster.


Mae darluniau Brickdale yn enghraifft arbennig o ganoloesedd Oes Fictoria ac maent yn dangos mor fawr yw ei dyled i ddarluniau Cyn-Raffaëlaidd. Ymddengys i Brickdale fod wrth ei bodd â’r arddull hwn, gyda’i diddordeb mewn lliwiau’n gyson drwy gydol ei chreadigaethau ar ôl y Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf ar gyfer ffenestri gwydr lliw Cadeirlan Efrog.

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

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.

Colour book illustrations of this quality were still relatively rare in the period and are a counterpoint to the earlier black and white illustrations of Gustave Doré.


Roedd darluniau lliw o’r fath safon yn dal yn gymharol brin yn y cyfnod hwn, ac maent yn wrthbwynt i ddarluniau du a gwyn blaenorol Gustave Doré.

This heard Geraint, and grasping at his sword,
(It lay beside him in the hollow shield),
Made but a single bound, and with a sweep of it
The russet-bearded head rolled on the floor.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Enid, illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: Edward Moxon, 1867

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Enid, illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: Edward Moxon, 1867

Guinevere / Gwenfair

Guinevere, the wife of King Arthur, who commits adultery with Lancelot, is recast in these illustrations as the ‘fallen woman’ familiar from literature and painting of the period. The images revel in the illicit love affair, with Edmund J. Sullivan’s relatively chaste illustration of the ‘boyhood of the year’ giving way to the passion displayed in the images designed by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale and Florence Harrison.


Caiff Gwenfair, gwraig y Brenin Arthur sy’n godinebu â Lawnslot, ei hail-bortreadu yn y darluniau fel ‘y ddynes odinebus’ sy’n gyfarwydd mewn llenyddiaeth a darluniau o’r cyfnod. Mae’r darluniau’n gorfoleddu ym mhechod y gyfathrach, ac mae darluniau cymharol bur Edmund J. Sullivan o ‘fachgendod y flwyddyn’ yn llai amlwg na chreadigaethau Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale a Florence Harrison.

Then, in the boyhood of the year,
Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere
Rode thro’ the coverts of the deer,
With blissful treble ringing clear.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, A dream of fair women & other poems, illustrated by Edmund J. Sullivan.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, A dream of fair women & other poems, illustrated by Edmund J. Sullivan. London: Grant Richards, 1900.

The similar poses in these two images suggest that Harrison might have been influenced by Brickdale’s image, although the motif of the embracing couple is common in mid-nineteenth-century book illustration.


Mae’r tebygrwydd yn y ddau ddarlun yn awgrymu i Harrison gael ei dylanwadu gan ddarlun Brickdale, er i’r motiff o gofleidio rhwng cariadon fod yn gyffredin mewn darluniau llyfrau yn y bedwaredd ganrif ar bymtheg.

It was their last hour,
A madness of farewells.

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

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere and other poems, illustrated by Florence Harrison.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere and other poems, illustrated by Florence Harrison. London: Blackie, 1912. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the Florence Susan Harrison Estate.

The illustrations of the penitent Guinevere are equally striking, with Harrison’s heroine wringing her hands in despair.


Mae darluniau o edifeirwch Gwenfair yr un mor drawiadol, gydag arwres Harrison yn griddfan â’i dwylo mewn anobaith.

We needs must love the highest when we see it.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere and other poems, illustrated by Florence Harrison.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere and other poems, illustrated by Florence Harrison. London: Blackie, 1923. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the Florence Susan Harrison Estate.

Gustave Doré’s Guinevere is literally fallen, lying prostrate at Arthur’s feet like the adulterous wife in Augustus Leopold Egg’s painting ‘Past and Present’ (1858; Tate Gallery, London).


Mae Gwenfair wedi syrthio’n llythrennol fel y ddynes odinebus yn narlun Gustave Doré, ac mae’n gorwedd yn swrth wrth draed Arthur fel y gwna’r wraig odinebus yn narlun Augustus Leopold Egg, Past and Present (1858; Galeri Tate, Llundain).

He paus’s, and in the pause she crept an inch
Nearer, and laid her hands about his feet.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere, illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere, illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: Edward Moxon, 1867.

Vivien

The ‘wily Vivien’, who seduces Merlin into telling her a charm that enables her to imprison him in an oak tree, provides rich opportunities for book illustrators.


Mae’r ‘Vivien gyfrwys’, sy’n hudo Myrddin i roi gwybod iddi am swyn y mae hi’n ei ddefnyddio i’w garcharu mewn derwen, yn cynnig cyfleoedd euraidd i ddarlunwyr llyfrau.

‘It is not worth the keeping: let it go:
But shall it? answer, darling, answer, no.
And trust me not at all or all in all.
O Master, do ye love my tender rhyme?’

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Selections from Tennyson's Idylls of the King, [illuminated by Sir Richard R. Holmes?]

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Selections from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, [illuminated by Sir Richard R. Holmes, London, 1862?]

Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale’s seductress plays with Merlin’s beard as he places his hand upon his brow, aware of the doom that is about to befall him.


Mae Vivien fel y’i darlunir gan Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale yn anwesu barf Myrddin wrth iddo gyffwrdd ei ael, yn llwyr ymwybodol o’r anffawd sydd ar fin ei daro.

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

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.

Brickdale depicts another, less obvious, scene in her illustration of a Queen who has been ‘charmed’ by her husband so that no other man can see her (apart from a male viewer of this illustration, of course). It is this magic charm that is passed on to Merlin and, by him, to Vivien.


Mae Brickdale yn darlunio golygfa arall, llai amlwg, yn ei darlun o Frenhines sydd wedi’i ‘swyno‘ gan ei gŵr fel na all unrhyw ddyn arall ei gweld (heblaw dyn sy’n edrych ar y darlun, wrth reswm). Y swyn hon a gaiff ei phasio i Fyrddin, a chanddo ef i Vivien.

And so by force they dragged him to the King.
And then he taught the King to charm the Queen
In such-wise, that no man could see her more,
Nor saw she save the King, who wrought the charm.

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

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.

Gustave Doré’s atmospheric black and white plates point to the climax of the story as Vivien follows Merlin into the wild wood and seduces him under an oak tree, the snake-like roots of which creep around the couple.


Mae’r platiau du a gwyn, llawn awyrgylch gan Gustave Doré yn cyfeirio at uchafbwynt yr hanes wrth i Vivien ddilyn Myrddin i’r goedwig wyllt a’i hudo o dan dderwen, â’i wreiddiau megis nadroedd yn llercian o amgylch y ddau.

And then she followed Merlin all the way,
Even to the wild woods of Broceliande.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Vivien, illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Vivien, illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: Edward Moxon, 1867.

Before an oak, so hollow, huge and old
It looked a tower of ivied masonwork,
At Merlin’s feet the wily Vivien lay.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Vivien, illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Vivien, illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: Edward Moxon, 1867.

The final scene here shows the broken oak tree, which has been struck by lightning, and the equally broken Merlin, who has ‘told her all the
charm’.


Mae’r olygfa olaf hon yn dangos y dderwen wedi torri, wedi’i tharo gan fellten, a Myrddin yntau wedi torri wedi iddo ‘ddweud y swyn wrthi’.

For Merlin, overtalked and overworn,
Had yielded, told her all the charm, and slept.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Vivien, illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Vivien, illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: Edward Moxon, 1867.

Mariana

There are two Marianas represented here: the first is from a poem published by Tennyson in 1830, which takes as its source the figure of Mariana from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, who waits for her lover to return. The second, ‘Mariana in the South’, published in 1832, tells of a female living in a state of extreme loneliness. The illustrations suggest the extent to which Mariana is inevitably bound up in the cultural moment in which she is pictured.

John Everett Millais’ heroine buries her face in her hands in a pose that Millais used in other illustrations.


Caiff dwy Fariana eu darlunio: y gyntaf wedi’i seilio ar ddelwedd mewn cerdd a gyfansoddodd Tennyson ym 1830, sy’n delweddu Mariana fel y’i disgrifir yn nrama Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, yn disgwyl i’w chariad ddychwelyd. Yr ail yw ‘Mariana yn y De’, a gyhoeddwyd ym 1832, sy’n adrodd hanes menyw’n byw mewn unigedd dirfawr. Mae’r darluniau’n cyfleu’r modd y mae Mariana’n anorfod yn gaeth i’r diwylliant y gwelwn hi ynddo.

Mae arwres John Everett Millais yn claddu ei hwyneb yn ei dwylo mewn modd y defnyddiodd Millais yn ei ddarluniau eraill.

“My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!”

Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘Mariana’, in Poems, illustrated by J. E. Millais.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘Mariana’, in Poems, illustrated by J. E. Millais. London: E. Moxon, 1857.

Lamb’s Mariana looks like a quintessential Victorian heroine as she meekly holds back a curtain and peers out of the window.


Mae Mariana fel y’i darlunir gan Lamb yn edrych fel arwres Fictoraidd bwysig wrth iddi dynnu’r llen ac edrych drwy’r ffenestr.

With blackest moss the flower-plots
Were thickly crusted, one and all:
The rusted nails fell from the knots
That held the pear to the gable-wall.
The broken sheds look’d sad and strange:
Unlifted was the clinking latch.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Mariana, with etchings by Mary Montgomerie Lamb (Violet Fane).

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Mariana, with etchings by Mary Montgomerie Lamb (Violet Fane). Worthing: O. Breads, 1863.

Sullivan’s Mariana, however, is an altogether more powerful and frustrated figure, who languishes in her fashionable fin de siècle dress.


Mariana fel y’i darlunir gan Sullivan, fodd bynnag, yn ymddangos fel dynes sy’n fwy pwerus ond rhwystredig ar y cyfan wrth iddi ymfalchïo’n ei ffrog fin de siècle.

“My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!”

Alfred Lord Tennyson, A dream of fair women & other poems, illustrated by Edmund J. Sullivan.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, A dream of fair women & other poems, illustrated by Edmund J. Sullivan. London: Grant Richards, 1900.

The explicitly religious overtones of ‘Mariana in the South’ in which Mariana prays to the Virgin Mary, is represented in the fervor of Rossetti’s heroine, who passionately kisses Christ’s feet, and Sullivan’s Mariana, who prays so ardently that we can see the throbbing veins in her hand.


Mae’r dylanwadau crefyddol amlwg ar ‘Mariana yn y De’, â Mariana’n gweddïo i’r Forwyn Fair, i’w gweld yn drawiadol yn arwres Rossetti, wrth iddi gusanu traed Crist, ac yn yr un modd Mariana fel y’i darlunir gan Sullivan, wrth iddi weddïo mor galed hyd nes y gwelwn y gwythiennau yn curo yn ei dwylo.

And on the liquid mirror glow’d
The clear perfection of her face.
‘Is this the form,’ she made her moan,
‘That won his praises night and morn?’
And ‘Ah,’ she said, ‘but I wake alone,
I sleep forgotten, I wake forlorn.’

Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘Mariana in the South’ in Poems, illustrated by D. G. Rossetti.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘Mariana in the South’ in Poems, illustrated by D. G. Rossetti. London : E. Moxon, 1859.

Till all the crimson changed, and past
Into deep orange o’er the sea,
Low on her knees herself she cast,
Before Our Lady murmur’d she:
Complaining, ‘Mother, give me grace
To help me of my weary load.’

Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘Mariana in the South’, in A dream of fair women & other poems, illustrated by Edmund J. Sullivan.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘Mariana in the South’, in A dream of fair women & other poems, illustrated by Edmund J. Sullivan. London: Grant Richards, 1900.

The exhibition is open to all, and will run until December 2016.


Mae’r arddangosfa yn agored i bawb, a bydd yn para tan fis Rhagfyr 2016.

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!