Tag Archives: Cardiff Rare Books Collection

Guest post: A Welsh Servants’ Library from 1815

This guest post is from Dr Melanie Bigold, Reader in English Literature in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy, Cardiff University.

The Cardiff Rare Books collection holds many texts which provide both provenance details (that is, information about former owners), as well as various types of evidence of historical use (for example, marginal annotations). Indeed, Cardiff’s collection is notable for the marked-up state of many of the books. Our librarian, Lisa Tallis, recently published an article on some examples from the Salisbury Collection in the Welsh History Review, and I have also written about marginalia in the Restoration Drama Collection.

My current research is on female book ownership between 1660-1820, so I have been revisiting the provenance details of hundreds of books in the Cardiff collection. One of the truly interesting tangential discoveries of research on women owners is that it has led me to the libraries of even more marginalised figures in the history of book ownership: servants and labouring-class individuals. For example, at Alnwick Castle, I discovered that a list mislabelled as one of the Duchess of Northumberland’s libraries was actually that of her servants. In the 1750s, Elizabeth Percy, first Duchess of Northumberland (1716-1776), made a list of the 131 books that she made available to her large household. The article about this exciting source is currently available open access here. A list of the 131 titles is also available open access on the Bibliographical Society’s website here.

As a result of the excellent work of rare books cataloguer, Christine Megowan, Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff has recently yielded a similar piece of evidence from 1815. The female owner of the library in question was Frances Ann Grey (née Pryce) (1780-1837), the heiress of Dyffryn House in Glamorgan, Wales. Frances’s father, Thomas Pryce, was a coal merchant who bought the estate in 1759 and christened it Dyffryn, but records for the estate and its various owners go back to the seventh century. Unfortunately, the eighteenth-century house that Frances lived in no longer exists, but the Victorian house and Edwardian gardens still known as Dyffryn House are now managed by the National Trust.

Thomas Pryce had two daughters: Frances, the eldest, born in April 1780, and the younger, Elizabeth, must have been born just over a year later as she is recorded as dying, age 21, in September 1802.[1] Their mother, also named Frances Ann, died in March 1782, age 32, perhaps due to complications in the birth of Elizabeth. Thomas Pryce died in 1789, leaving Frances as his heir. In 1802, Frances married William Booth-Grey (1773-1852) – the second son of George Harry Grey, 5th earl of Stamford, of Dunham Massey, Cheshire. Frances was likely the mechanism for this second son to acquire an estate, as William joined Frances at Dyffryn House and shortly became High Sherriff of Glamorgan. A watercolour portrait of the two is held in the National Trust collections at Dunham Massey and can be viewed here. The couple had no children and the estate passed back to a Pryce kinsman on Frances’s death in 1837.

Inscription: ‘For the use of the Servants At Duffryn 1815’.

Beyond these scraps of information, not much is known about Frances, so it was wonderful to find a trace of her impact on the pages of one of our rare books. Special Collections has a single book that hails from Dyffryn House: a copy of Dr. Goldsmith’s history of Greece: abridged, for the use of Schools (London, 1787). The ink inscription on the front pastedown tells us that the book was ‘Mrs Grey’s’, and that it was ‘For the use of the Servants At Duffryn 1815’. In addition, on the final pastedown is a list of ‘Books in the Housekeeper’s room’, followed by the titles of twenty books, including the Goldsmith tome. In other words, this is a list of the library assembled by Frances for the benefit and entertainment of her servants. The titles include an interesting mix of histories, literature, religion, and reference works.

List of titles.
  1. The Whole Duty of Man [Richard Allestree, first published 1658]
  2. The great importance of a religious life [William Melmoth, first published 1711]
  3. Y Psallwyr [Psalms of David]
  4. Cyngor Gweinidog [William Holmes, The Country Parson’s advice to his parishioners, first published in English in 1742, and translated into Welsh in 1769]
  5. 2 Vol’s of Sermons by Wilson [probably Thomas Wilson, Thirty-three sermons published in Bath in 1791, in 2 volumes]
  6. Answer to all excuses for not attending the Holy Communion [Edward Synge, An answer to all the excuses…, first published 1697]
  7. Select Psalms
  8. On the existence of God [unknown, several possible titles]
  9. One Volume of Blairs Sermons [Hugh Blair, Sermons,first published 1777]
  10. Enfields Speaker [William Enfield, The Speaker, first published 1774]
  11. Salmon’s Gazeeteer [sic] [Thomas Salmon, The Modern Gazetteer,first published 1746]
  12. History of Greece Robertson [William Robertson, The History of Ancient Greece, 1768]
  13. History of Greece Goldsmith [Oliver Goldsmith, The Grecian History, was first published 1774. The abridged version present in the Cardiff collection came out in 1787]
  14. History of England Goldsmith [first published 1764. Perhaps this was the abridgement in 12mo published in 1774]
  15. Barclay’s Dictionary [James Barclay, A Complete and Universal Dictionary, first published 1774]
  16. Guthrie’s Grammar [William Guthrie, A New Geographical, Historical, and Commercial Grammar, first published 1770]
  17. The practice of true devotion [Robert Nelson, first published 1715]
  18. Nicholl’s [sic] Paraphrase [William Nicholls, A paraphrase on the Psalter or Psalms of David, first published 1707]
  19. Thomson’s Seasons [James Thomson, The Seasons, first published together 1730]
  20. 2 Shenstones Works [William Shenstone, The works in verse and prose, first published 1764]

It is impossible to determine the edition date for many of the titles, but apart from the books of Psalms; The Whole Duty of Man (1658), Richard Allestree’s perennially popular book of practical devotion; and Edward Synge’s An Answer (1697), all of the titles first appeared in the eighteenth century, and many in the latter half of the century. While this suggests a relatively current library, the date of the Goldsmith edition – 1787 – tells us that the books were probably second-hand copies. The other factor to note about our Goldsmith book is that it is small – not much larger than a smartphone. Known as duodecimo (12mo) format, it is similar in size to those found in other servant libraries from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. For example, at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk (a National Trust house) there is a servants’ library of twenty-five books in their own miniature, locked bookcase. These books are all duodecimo. This was a common size for chapbooks, the small and cheap little books sold by travelling pedlars or chapmen. Seen as ephemera, most early examples of these popular books have not survived. Margaret Spufford’s wonderful study, Small Books and Pleasant Histories: Popular Fiction and its Readers in Seventeenth-Century England (London, 1981), is still the definitive history on chapbooks. Sadly, our list does not contain any of the famous old chapbook titles.

Instead, in 1815, it is religious titles that dominate the list (11 of the 20 titles), but there is more variety here than other examples of nineteenth-century servants’ libraries. The Felbrigg servants’ library, for example, is entirely religious (all 25 texts were published by the Religious Tract Society). Frances’s selection, on the other hand, has more in common with the servants’ library at Alnwick Castle. Like the duchess, Frances provided her servants with books of a practical nature; that is, works that could help them learn about the world as well as advance their job prospects. For example, there is a book to help the servants learn to read. The long title of William Enfield’s The Speaker (item 10) explains that it contains ‘miscellaneous pieces, selected from the best English writers… with a view to facilitate the improvement of youth in reading and speaking.’ There are also general knowledge dictionaries and grammars. James Barclay’s ‘Dictionary’ (item 15) is not just a dictionary of words and definitions in the modern sense, but also contained a history of ‘the counties, cities, and market towns in England, Wales, and Scotland’, ‘a sketch of the constitution, government, and trade of England’, and ‘an outline of antient and modern history’. Likewise, Guthrie’s ‘Grammar’ (item 16) provided geographical knowledge about the ‘Land and Water, Continents and Islands’, ‘Climate, Air, Soil, vegetable Productions, Metals, Minerals’, among other things. The Modern Gazetteer (item 11) was another work of geographical and historical knowledge, written by a man who circumnavigated the world with George Anson in the 1740s. These works imparted general knowledge about the world beyond Wales, and as such provided both instruction and entertainment.

For those who had mastered their reading, there was also more ambitious fare in the form of James Thomson’s celebrated long poem, The Seasons (item 19), as well as William Shenstone’s collected works (item 20). Thomson’s paeon to the natural world was ubiquitous in eighteenth-century country house libraries; Shenstone, however, appears less frequently. Nevertheless, he wrote in the same vein as Thomson, with a focus on the countryside, rural life, and sensibility, and the appearance of these two authors suggest an interest (either from Frances or among the servants) for poetry with a connection to the land. They also hint at the preference in Welsh homes for poetry over novels. In my study of women’s libraries in Wales, poetry was almost always more prevalent.

There is also a focus on history which is one of the most popular genres in women’s libraries in the period. In addition to the Cardiff copy of Oliver Goldsmith’s abridged history of Greece (item 13), the list also mentions Goldsmith’s history of England (item 14), and another history of Greece from William Robertson (item 12). Goldsmith’s and Robertson’s Grecian histories were adaptations of the French classic Histoire Ancienne (1730-38) by Charles Rollin. This popular source was translated as well as abridged into many different languages over the course of the eighteenth century. Goldsmith, who was always short of funds and in search of publishing opportunities, produced a novelistic version that does not credit its source, while Robertson, Keeper of the Scottish Records, attempted a more traditional historiography that, in its second edition, credited his source as a French abridgement of Rollin.[2] The appearance of these three histories show that eighteenth-century publishers were responding to and creating a popular history market for readers of all ages and abilities.

However, the most unique aspect of this list is that it contains Welsh-language texts. This is the earliest example I have found of Welsh texts in a country house servants’ library. These include, ‘Y Psallwyr’ (item 3), which is the Welsh translation of the Psalms of David, and ‘Cyngor Gweinidog’ (item 4), a translation of William Holmes’ work, The Country Parson’s Advice to his Parishioners. This tells us that there were Welsh speakers among Frances’ servants, and, perhaps more importantly, that she supported them with their own Welsh-language texts. It likewise reveals the expansion of Welsh-language publishing.

In her study of two English provincial booksellers, Jan Fergus notes that, among the working classes, servants often had the most leisure time and that they tended to be more literate.[3] Frances Grey’s list confirms such literacy for both English and Welsh speaking servants. It also shows the extent to which women like Frances supported the members of her household in improving and extending their reading. Now if only I could find the list of her library. 

[1] Archaeologica Cambrensis (1861), p.110.

[2] Giovanna Ceserani, ‘Narrative, Interpretation, and Plagiarism in Mr. Robertson’s 1778 “History of Ancient Greece”’, Journal of the History of Ideas 66, no. 3 (2005): 413–36.

[3] Jan Fergus, ‘Provincial Servants’ Reading in the Late Eighteenth Century’, in The Practice and Representation of Reading in England, ed. James Raven, Helen Small, and Naomi Tadmor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 202–25, 204.

Prifysgol Caerdydd yn Lansio Gwasanaeth Digidol Newydd: Casgliadau Arbennig Digidol 

Mae casgliad arbennig o lyfrau cain – gwaith oes yr artist Shirley Jones – yn ganolbwynt ar gyfer gwasanaeth digidol newydd sbon, wedi’i ddatblygu gan staff Casgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau. 

Mae Casgliadau Arbennig Ar-Lein, sy’n lansio heddiw, yn rhannu casgliadau prin gydag ymchwilwyr, myfyrwyr, ysgolion a’r cyhoedd yn rhad ac am ddim. 

Bydd casgliadau prin ac unigryw i’w gweld ar-lein, rhai am y tro cyntaf erioed

Gyda dros 1,700 o eitemau prin wedi’u cyhoeddi yn barod, mae’r gwasanaeth yn hwyluso mynediad fel erioed o’r blaen, gan ddefnyddio ffotograffau manwl a phrydferth. Mae llawer o’r eitemau sydd i’w canfod ar y gwasaneth yn hynod o brin, ac eraill yn hollol unigryw i’r Brifysgol. 

Meddai’r Archifydd Alison Harvey: “Mae llyfrau Shirley i’w canfod mewn casgliadau preifat – mae’n weithred radical i’w rhannu gyda phawb, ar-lein, am ddim – gwaith oes, sy’n cael ei rannu gyda bendith Shirley.” 

Golwg fanwl ar waith yr artist Shirley Jones, sydd wedi gwneud rhodd o’i gwaith oes i’r Brifysgol

“Mae’n wahanol iawn i sganiau llwyd y dyddiau a fu: dylunwyd y gwasanaeth i gyd-weithio gyda systemau eraill, sy’n cynyddu’r potensial ar gyfer creu deunyddiau dysgu, arddangosfeydd rhithiol, ymchwil a llawer mwy.” 

Bydd Casgliadau Arbennig Ar-Lein yn tyfu wrth i ragor o eitemau gael eu digido, gan greu trysorfa o ddeunydd ymchwil, a chasgliadau nodweddiadol fydd o ddiddordeb i lyfr-bryfaid yng Nghymru a thu hwnt. Ymysg eitemau eraill sydd ar gael am y tro cyntaf ‘mae:  

ffotograffau unigryw o fyfyrwyr Ysgol Dechnegol Caerdydd ym 1898  

dyddiaduron nyrs o Ryfel Cartref Sbaen 

cofnodion lliwgar o fywyd myfyrwyr dros y degawdau 

Myfyrwyr Ysgol Dechnegol Caerdydd ym 1898

Esboniodd Pennaeth Casgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau, Alan Vaughan Hughes: “Rydan ni’n falch iawn i fod yn rhan o gyfundrefn IIIF, y Brifysgol gyntaf yng Nghymru i ymuno. Mae’n safon digido arloesol, fydd yn drawsnewidiol ar gyfer ymchwil a dysgu.” 

“Mae hyn gymaint mwy na rhoi lluniau ar y we: trwy IIIF, rydan ni’n rhan o fframwaith ryngwladol sy’n gwneud ein casgliadau yn fwy hygyrch i ymchwilwyr a’r cyhoedd yn fyd-eang.” 

Gallwch bori Casgliadau Arbennig Ar-Lein fan hyn: Casgliadau Arbennig Ar-Lein 

Cardiff University Launches a New Digital Service: Digital Special Collections

A unique collection of handmade books – the life’s work of artist Shirley Jones – is the centrepiece of a brand-new digital service developed by Special Collections and Archives.   

Cardiff University Digital Special Collections, which launches today, is free to use and shares rarely seen treasures with researchers, students, schools and the public, for free.  

Rare and unique items have been made available online for the first time, including the life’s work of artist Shirley Jones

Over 1,700 rare items are already available, photographed in exquisite detail – enabling access like never before to the University’s collections. Many of the items are extremely rare, while others are completely unique to the University.  

Archivist Alison Harvey said: “Shirley’s books are usually in private collections, and it’s quite radical to make them available to everyone, for free, online – a lifetime of work, which we’re sharing with Shirley’s blessing.”    

A detail from Shirley Jones’ collections, viewed through a deep zoom viewer, which lets users explore rare and unique collections in detail

“It’s a long way from the greyscale scans of the past: Digital Special Collections is designed to work with other platforms, to create teaching materials, online exhibitions and more. The potential for future research and impact is immense.”   

Digital Special Collections will continue to grow as more items are digitised, creating a trove of research material and cultural highlights for book-lovers across Wales and beyond. Other items made available for the first time today include 

  • unique photographs of students learning trades at Cardiff Technical School in 1898  
  • handwritten diaries from an intrepid nurse, written during the Spanish Civil War 
  • retro photographs of student life stretching back to the Victorian period 
Cardiff Technical School Students in 1898

Head of Special Collections and Archives, Alan Vaughan Hughes explains: “We’re really proud to be the first University in Wales to adopt the IIIF standard. This framework allows the kind of functionality that will transform how we use collections for teaching and research.  

“This goes way beyond just putting images on the internet: IIIF means that our collections are now part of an international framework and makes them more accessible globally, to researchers and the public.”   

Digital Special Collections can be accessed here: Digital Special Collections   

In dog-eared pursuit of Isaac Newton’s library

I am very pleased to announce the discovery of another book which we believe to have come from the library of Isaac Newton. Our copy of The Paschal or Lent-Fast apostolical & perpetual by Peter Gunning (London, 1662) is the third volume we’ve found in our stacks (so far) with a connection to the illustrious scientist. As in the case of our first discovery, it all began with a couple of bookplates. 

Shortly after Isaac Newton’s death, his entire library was purchased for £300 by a local prison warden named John Huggins. Not an especially scholarly man himself, he had acquired the books for his son Charles who had recently become rector at Chinnor in Oxfordshire. On the books’ arrival at the rectory, Charles Huggins’ armorial bookplate (which can be seen here) was pasted into each volume.


James Musgrave’s bookplate, with Charles Huggins’ bookplate faintly visible underneath.

When Charles died in 1750, the benefice of Chinnor went to Dr. James Musgrave, who was an acquaintance (and later, son-in-law) of Charles’ older brother William. Along with the patronage, Huggins sold the contents of the library to Musgrave, who placed his own bookplate bearing the motto “Philosophemur” on top of, or occasionally beside the Huggins bookplate.

The books remained in the Musgrave family for several generations, but by the end of the 18th century, their association with Newton appears to have been forgotten. When the family experienced financial difficulties in the 1920s, hundreds of the books were sold at auction and scattered around the world. 

So on Wednesday afternoon when I sat down to catalogue this rather unassuming quarto and saw a bookplate with the motto “Philosophemur” and the shadow of another armorial bookplate underneath, I began to get rather excited. 

title page

The Paschal or Lent-Fast apostolical & perpetual by Peter Gunning (London, 1662), with James Musgrave’s “Philosophemur” bookplate on the pastedown.

There was still plenty of work to be done before I felt comfortable announcing that we’d found another Newton book though. The presence of both the Musgrave and Huggins bookplates is generally accepted as proof that a book previously belonged to Isaac Newton. However, Charles Huggins would also have placed his bookplate in any books he purchased after acquiring Newton’s library, so the bookplates alone are not an absolute guarantee.

Fortunately for us, the 1727 purchase was accompanied by a list of titles included in the sale, commonly called he “Huggins list”. The original manuscript still survives in the collections of the British Library and its contents have been published in The library of Isaac Newton by John Harrison. Short of Newton’s own handwriting, inclusion on the Huggins list is the most definitive form of proof that a book came from his library. Unfortunately for us, The Paschal or Lent-Fast does not appear on that list.

This isn’t quite as damning as it sounds, however. Thanks to a detailed inventory of Newton’s possessions which was conducted shortly after his death, we know that his library held 1,896 printed volumes, along with an unspecified number of pamphlets. The Huggins list includes 969 separate titles comprising 1,442 volumes, but also several vague entries for groups of books, such as “3 Dozen” or “About a hundred & half”. It’s entirely possible that our volume belonged to one of those blanket entries.

ownership inscription

Our volume has inscriptions on the title page, but not in Newton’s hand.

Without a matching entry on the Huggins list, I would need to look for evidence left by Newton himself, such as marginalia in Newton’s own hand. The only ink markings on our volume are an earlier ownership inscription on the title page (“Th: Ch:”) and a price (“pr: 4s 6d”) in what appears to be the same hand, suggesting that Newton bought the book second-hand.

He did have a habit of marking his books in another way though. Several of Newton’s books have dog-eared corners, and not just with small, neat, page-marking folds. He would fold over large portions of pages so that the corner pointed to a particular word or passage on the page. (You can read more about Newton’s dog-ears here.) While all of the leaves in our volume are currently unfolded, I noticed while checking the book’s signature statement that I could just make out the shadow of a crease on several leaves, showing that they had once been dog-eared in a manner very much like what’s described in the link above. Without an entry on the Huggins list or Isaac Newton’s own handwriting in the margins, it’s impossible to be 100% certain of the book’s origins, but between the dog-eared pages and the bookplate evidence, it seems reasonably likely that our copy did, in fact, come from Newton’s library.


The corners of several pages show signs of having been folded in the past.

As I mentioned earlier, The Paschal or Lent-Fast is the third book we’ve found bearing both the Huggins and Musgrave bookplates. Our first discovery came in 2012 when my predecessor Ken Gibb traced the history of our copy of Myographia Nova by John Browne (London, 1698) by means of the two bookplates on the front pastedown of the volume. The second volume to come to light was Meteorologicorum libri sex by Libert Froidmont (Oxford, 1639), also catalogued in 2012. A fourth volume, The works of that learned and judicious divine, Mr. Richard Hooker (London, 1676), has Musgrave’s bookplate but not Huggins’, suggesting that it may have been a later addition to the Musgrave family library. All four volumes come from the Cardiff Rare Books Collection, which Cardiff University purchased from Cardiff City Council in 2010.

When much of the Musgrave family library was auctioned off in 1920, its association with Newton was long forgotten and the books sold at bargain prices, the majority of them in lots cof several books bundled together as “Theology (Old)” or “Books (various)”. In 1927, Richard de Villamil published an article in The Bookman entitled “The tragedy of Sir Isaac Newton’s Library” tracing the connection between the Musgraves and Newton. After the article’s publication, the value of books bearing both the Huggins and Musgrave bookplates skyrocketed. 

booksellers note

A bookseller’s note in Myographia nova reads, “A fine Copy with brilliant impression of the portrait by White.”

Both Myographia nova and Meteorologicorum libri sex have their purchase prices written in pencil on the front pastedowns (£5-10-10 for  and £1-15, respectively) and neither seems astronomically high. For comparison, a 1655 edition of Euclid which sold for five shillings in 1920 was offered for sale at £500 the following year after the scribbles in its margins were identified as Newton’s own hand (see Harrison, p. 51-52). Our copy of Myographia nova has a bookseller’s note describing it as a “fine Copy” but with no mention of Newton anywhere, suggesting that it was sold before the publication of de Villamil’s article in 1927.

In the early 1920s, the Cardiff Public Library was still actively building its rare book collection, so it is not inconceivable that more books from the Musgrave auction may have ended up in their stacks. Given that a significant portion of the Cardiff Rare Books Collection has not yet been fully catalogued, I can’t help but wonder how many more of Newton’s books might be there, waiting to be uncovered.

Roman History, According to a Roman Historian

This guest post comes from Keeley Durnell, an M.Litt student in the school of English, Communication and Philosophy, and who has been cataloguing Early Modern books from the Cardiff Rare Books collection as part of a Project Management module. 


A bust of the supposed Lucius Annaeus Florus

Lucius Annaeus Florus’s Epitome of Roman History from Romulus to Augustus Caesar was written between the years of 74 and 130AD (these being the years given as Florus’s dates of birth and death). Florus was a Roman historian, and therefore it is not surprising that this work focuses on chronicling Roman history from its birth up until forty-nine years before Florus’s birth (if the title had not given it away already). Tracking down the history of the author is somewhat difficult, as the author varies the name by which he calls himself throughout the text. The copy to which I am referring specifically in this post is the 1714 English translation edition published in London by John Nicholson.

Florus Title Page

Title Page of Lucius Annaeus Florus, His Eptiome of Roman History (London: John Nicholson, 1714)

One of the particularly interesting things about this particular edition of the text are the many engravings that can be found within it. There are 23 plates, each with a number of depictions of the Roman emperors on their respective coins, and one large engraving of some kind of Roman monument.

Although the engraver is not named within the edition, the skill of the engravings suggests it was someone of great talent, whom the title page names only as ‘a curious hand’. Regardless of the engraver’s identity, however, the images themselves are wonderful to look at and make a nice addition to the end of the text.

Florus Engravings

Engravings from the text

The copy that I am discussing specifically is to be found in the Rare Books Collection at PA6386.A2 1714. It is in quite bad shape unfortunately, it’s binding and front page are loose and so it must be handled with extreme care, but it is worth a look.

Florus Broken

The loose title page and lack of front board

The binding is beautiful calf leather, with the remnants of a blind decorative border and raised bands on the spine. Inside, the text is accentuated by ornamental woodcut headbands and initials that contrast nicely with the seriousness of the engravings at the back.

Florus Binding

The remaining binding of the text

But one of the main reasons that I find this text so intriguing is its popularity. The Cardiff Rare Books Collection itself owns more than one copy of this text, at least one of them being in the original Latin. Moreover, the English Short Title Catalogue has record of ten different editions of this text, all between the years of 1619 and 1752. At a time when new editions were only made for the most sought-after works, it is clear that Florus was being widely read in the 17th and 18th centuries. Upon digging a little deeper, I have found out that despite its many flaws and inaccuracies, Florus’s Epitome of Roman History was used as a textbook and a central authority on Roman History all the way through the 19th century.

So, if you have the inclination, you might want to pop into Rare Books and have a browse at Roman History from a Roman Historian’s point of view, it may end up being slightly different from the current view on things!

Cataloguing about Corn

This guest post comes from Keeley Durnell, a postgraduate student in the school of English, Communication and Philosophy, and who has been cataloguing Early Modern books from the Cardiff Rare Books collection as part of a Project Management module. 

Well, not just about corn. Corn and religion. These are the sorts of topics that I have come across since I began cataloguing some of the vast array of rare books in Special Collections. The Rare Books section at Cardiff University boasts a fantastically diverse range of material with which to satisfy anyone’s scholarly interests.

One which I had the privilege to work on this week was The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher, bound with A Poem on the Redeemers Work; or Christ all in all, and our complete redemption (1647) and No Salvation without Regeneration (1647). This was a fascinating volume for many reasons.

Marrow Jaunty Title Page

The Title Page of The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher (London: Giles Calvert, 1647)

Firstly, the texts that were bound together were all religious in nature, but they were from at least two separate authors. Completing the records for these texts was therefore difficult, because only the first text had a title page to glean information from, and the other two texts did not even have so much as a named author, let alone imprinting or publication information.

Merged Title Pages

Titles Pages of ‘A Poem on the Redeemers Work’ and ‘A Poem on the New Birth’, both bound with Fisher (London: Giles Clvert, 1647).

There were also several ownership inscriptions from different years accompanied by some interesting upside down pen trials (the technical term for doodles) which could be found on the inside of the back end paper in this particular book.

Marrow Pen Trials

The pen trials found in The Marrow of Modern Divinity.

Getting glimpses into previous centuries and lives so far from my own is one of the things I find the most intriguing about being able to catalogue the rare books.

I have had the opportunity to see leather bound books and hand sewn text blocks with sprinkled or dyed edges and they are sometimes so different to the type of books that are commercially available today. As part of my studies are concerned with print culture, getting to examine texts that went through the original printing presses and seeing engraved plates and woodcut borders is just fascinating. To know that in just a few centuries that books have changed so much in terms of their production and distribution is incredible.

Marrow Binding

The Binding of The Marrow of Modern Divinity

Comparing modern imitations of old styles, such as this version of The Complete Works of Shakespeare that was published in 2004, with original copies from across the centuries is indescribably useful when thinking about modern print culture and how it has changed and is still changing.


The 2004 Edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (New York, Barnes and Noble Inc, 2004)

There is so much that the Rare Books Collection can offer to students of literature, history, religion and numerous other subjects. But, even if there is nothing there which is relevant to your research interests, I would definitely recommend popping down and taking a look at all the beautiful items that make up the Special Collections. It is any book lovers dream.


Tracking the Leviathan

In 1651, Thomas Hobbes published Leviathan, which outlines his theory of moral and political philosophy. The book’s title comes from a metaphor of the state as a giant made up of individuals in the way that an individual is made up of molecules: “For by Art is created that great Leviathan called a Commonwealth, or State, (in latine Civitas) which is but an Artificiall Man; though of greater stature and strength than the Naturall, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which, the Soveraignty is an Artificiall soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body.”


Detail from the engraved title page of Leviathan (London: Andrew Crooke, 1651) showing the sovereign as the head of a Leviathan composed of citizens of the commonwealth.

In Leviathan, Hobbes hypothesized that in their natural state, without government or societal bonds, people are motivated predominantly by self-interest, especially self-preservation. In such a state, every individual would be in competition with every other, and life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Human reason, which pursues our long-term self-interest rather than immediate desires, suggests that peace is desirable for our self-preservation, but is impossible while every individual is the sole arbiter of his or her own behaviour. Therefore, it is in our collective best interest to join together to form a commonwealth in which individuals hand over certain natural rights to a sovereign in exchange for protection from violence. The sovereign wields absolute power for the purpose of maintaining peace, but the sovereign’s right to rule extends only as far as his ability to  protect his people. 

This theory rejects the divine right of kings, and replaces it with the idea that sovereignty comes from a social contract between a ruler and his subjects. Published at the end of the Civil War in England, these arguments made Hobbes many enemies on both sides of the political conflict, as well as in the church. Parliamentarians took offense at his support of absolute monarchy, while royalists rejected Hobbes’ claim that because the king could not protect his people in England, their self-preservation was best served by accepting the authority of the new regime. Meanwhile, the church was outraged at his assertion that because supreme authority derives from the consent of the governed and not from God, the authority of the church must be subordinate to that of the state.


Pamphlets like this one criticizing Hobbes’ philosophy appeared soon after Leviathan‘s publication.

Almost immediately after the publication of Leviathan, critics began to publish scathing attacks on Hobbes’ arguments. The Catholic Church placed Leviathan on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, and Oxford dismissed faculty who were sympathetic to Hobbes’ arguments. In spite of, or perhaps because of this notoriety, Leviathan enjoyed tremendous popularity—a fact which is can be seen in its early publication history.

After the appearance of the first edition in 1651, any further printing of Leviathan in the vernacular was prohibited. Nevertheless, the book remained in high demand. Consequently, 17th century publishers were reluctant to put their own name to the publication, but were even more reluctant to miss out on an opportunity for profit.

According to Hugh Macdonald and Mary Hargreaves’ bibliography of the works of Thomas Hobbes, “there are three editions of Leviathan each bearing the imprint ‘Printed for Andrew Crooke at the Green Dragon in St. Paul’s Church-yard’ and the date 1651,” but only one of these imprints is true. The three editions are commonly referred to by the woodcut ornaments on the printed title page: a head with scrolls and tassels, a bear with foliage, and five rows of fleuron ornaments. The Cardiff Rare Books collection includes two copies of Leviathan, both from the “head” edition.


Three editions exist with the same imprint, but different ornaments on their title pages. The “head” edition shown here comes from the Cardiff Rare Books collection; the other two are from Early English Books Online.

Using evidence taken from the errataengraved title page, typefaces, and watermarks in the paper, it is possible to determine roughly where and when the three editions were produced. In the “head” edition, all of the mistakes identified in the errata are still present in the text, and the plate from which the engraved title page was printed appears to have been in good condition at the time. The evidence suggests that this is the true first edition published by Andrew Crooke in 1651.

In the “bear” edition, the errata list is identical to that of the “head” edition, but some of the mistakes have been corrected in the text, and the engraved title page shows signs of wear to the plate. The Italic typeface used in the “bear” edition is unlikely to have been used in England before the end of the 17th century. Macdonald and Hargreaves traced the use of the bear ornament in other publications, revealing that it was used only in books printed in Holland between 1617 and 1670, suggesting that this edition was most likely printed in Holland not long after 1651.

In the “ornaments” edition, there is a new misprint in the errata list itself, and more of the mistakes have been corrected than in the “bear” edition. The engraved title page shows signs that the plate has been retouched; much of the detail on the tiny figures within the leviathan has been lost. The typeface and paper can be identified as having been in use much later than 1651. More specifically, Anthony Wood’s Athenae Oxonienses mentions an edition of Leviathan “Reprinted there again with its old date, an. 1680.” This statement would place the “ornaments” edition the year after Hobbes’ death, a time when Hobbes’ writings are known to have been much discussed in the coffee-houses around London.

The existence of these two concealed editions provides an intriguing glimpse of a time when the public’s appetite for philosophical writing was great enough to motivate publishers to defy church and government censorship. It’s also a good reminder for cataloguers and researchers alike that books are not always what they claim to be!


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.


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.” 


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.


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


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.

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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.