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CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections conference, day 3

The third and final day of the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections group conference looked at Sale and Disposal: the unfortunate reality that libraries and collectors must sometimes part with their treasured collections, and how to make the best of an unpleasant situation.

Anastasia Tennant, a policy advisor for Collections and Cultural Property with Arts Council England, started the day with a presentation on Export controls on, and tax incentives available for the acquisition of, manuscripts, archives, and books. Since the 1910s, the United Kingdom has allowed the heirs of wealthy estates to offset a portion of their inheritance taxes by transferring cultural assets of significant value into public ownership. This tax exemption was originally intended for buildings and paintings, but from the 1950s onward, it could also be applied to literary archives, books, and manuscripts. In the 1960s, the regulations were revised to allow cultural assets to be allocated to regional museums, leading to a gradual increase in the proportion of archives that have been donated in recent years. More recently, the Cultural Gifts Scheme has allowed significant donations to offset other types of taxes as well. Because many libraries, archives, and museums rely heavily on donations to build their collections, tax incentives like these can encourage potential donors to give to local institutions instead of selling items of cultural value to raise capital to pay taxes.

By alleviating the financial burden of passing on valuable works of art, the exemption has prevented the loss of significant pieces of cultural heritage to overseas buyers. Since WWII, the United Kingdom has also had export controls designed to prevent capital from leaving the country. These procedures state that the directors of national institutions have the right to refuse an export license for works of art over a certain monetary value. In cases where an export license is refused, the owner must be presented with an offer to buy the item at a fair market price. If no institution is able to raise the funds to make an offer, it is possible that the item may still end up being sold overseas, but the hope is that a larger percentage of significant cultural artifacts will remain within the UK’s borders.

The second presentation by Alixe Bovey of the Courtauld Institute was a harrowing tale of the Law Society’s decision in 2012 to sell off the Mendham Collection. The Mendham Collection was formed in the early 19th century by Joseph Mendham, a clergyman who spent the later years of his life as a prolific controversialist and polemicist. In response to the Catholic Emancipation acts of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, he used his personal fortune to assemble a library (which he annotated heavily) of manuscripts, incunabula, and printed books in support of his anti-Catholic  arguments. Ironically, in the process he built up a library that was particularly rich in both Protestant and Catholic history and theology.

In 1869, Sophia Mendham gave the bulk of her father-in-law’s collection to the Law Society, expressing a wish that the books be kept together as the “Mendham Collection”. A century later, the collection was placed on deposit with Canterbury Cathedral library where it was much used by students and faculty across two local universities. In the 1990s, the British Library awarded a grant to have the collection catalogued on the condition that no material would be dispersed at a later date. Although it was Canterbury Cathedral who assented to the terms of the grant, the Law Society seemed very proud of the achievement, and a print catalogue of the collection was published in 1994.

In April 2012, however, the library became aware that the Law Society planned to withdraw certain items with the longer-term goal of selling them. After unsuccessful attempts to communicate directly with the Law Society to prevent the sale, a campaign was launched and a task force assembled to preserve the collection. They gathered letters of support, set up an online petition, attracted media coverage, sought legal advice, and even offered to buy the collection from the Law Society, but in June 2013, the collection was split into 142 different lots and sold at auction by Sotheby’s. Another sale of 338 lots took place at Bloomsbury’s the following year.

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Alixe Bovey points to a timeline of the Law Society’s decision to break up and sell the Mendham Collection.

Bovey speculated that the Law Society’s eagerness to sell may have been motivated by a significant downturn in the society’s finances in 2011. The society’s Annual Report for that year show a net deficit of £65.7m, compared with a £56.9m surplus the previous year. In the end, the actual revenue generated by the sale was approximately £1.6m.

Although still pained by the breaking up of the collection despite the best efforts of the library and its supporters, Bovey reflected on the bibliophile community’s willingness to come together in support of the collection, and the effectiveness of social media and other forms of publicity in preventing other bibliographic disasters like the proposed sale of Shakespeare folios from the Senate House Library in London. She also stressed the importance of cataloguing, noting that the 1994 print catalogue is now the sole surviving monument of the collection as a whole.

The final speaker of the conference was Margaret Lane Ford, speaking both as a representative of Christie’s auction house and as a member of the Bibliographical Society to offer a bookseller’s perspective on the dispersal of library collections. The Bibliographical Society recognises that weeding and disposal are necessary and appropriate parts of a responsible collection management policy, but that the decision to dispose of a collection should be made in an open and transparent manner, following careful thought and consultation.

To that end, the Bibliographical Society has a Libraries at Risk policy and subcommittee to help libraries who are faced with the prospect of selling a collection. The subcommittee can offer advice on whether it is possible or desirable to save the collection, raise the profile of the collection at risk, campaign to save the collection, or, failing that, help to find a new home for it.

Dispersal

Margaret Lane Ford presents some practical advice on dispersal from the book trade.

Collections may be sold in various ways, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. En bloc sales keep collections intact, but often make it difficult to find a buyer. Individual items may be offered for private sale, which can be discreet and move quickly, but can be perceived as secretive or underhanded, resulting in damage to the institution’s reputation. Collections may be sold at auction where there is the potential for items to sell above the estimated price, but also the risk that they will sell for less.

Booksellers can offer advice on how to achieve the best possible outcome from the sale and on handling publicity, an area in which few librarians have experience or expertise. Following the painful history of the Mendham Collection, Ford was eager to remind  conference delegates that booksellers are the mechanism, not the catalyst for dispersal, and that they only become involved after the decision to sell has already been made. If a collection must be sold, library staff should not be afraid to make use of the knowledge and experience of members of the antiquarian book trade.

Following Ford’s presentation, there were a few announcements, a round of thanks to the speakers and the conference organisers, and then all that remained was to say goodbye to my colleagues and make the journey back home to Cardiff. Although this year’s conference presentations were filled with as many cautionary tales as success stories, I came away with lots of ideas for how to improve preservation and security for the collections in my care.

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CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections conference, day 2

Picking up from last week’s post, here’s what happened on day 2 of the CILIP RBSCG Annual Study Conference.

The theme for day 2 of the conference was Theft and Vandalism. The first presentation of the day by Barbara McCormack, Special Collections Librarian at Maynooth University, described the process of relocating the Otway-Maurice Collection from its original home in St Canice’s cathedral in Kilkenny to Maynooth University library in Dublin.

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St Canice’s Cathedral, where the Otway-Maurice collection was housed prior to 2011.

The collection was founded in 1683 with a bequest from Bishop Thomas Otway, and significantly expanded in the 18th century with another bequest from Bishop Edward Maurice. The collection consists of more than 3000 volumes, including 4 incunabula and 300 pre-1600 titles. Since its inception, the collection had been housed in the 14th century cathedral in Kilkenny, on open shelves in a room which was frequently used for parish events. An initial assessment of the collection revealed that the relative humidity in the room reached as high as 75%, encouraging mould growth and an infestation of silverfish.

In 2001, the Representative Body of the Church of Ireland approached Maynooth University in Dublin about taking over custodianship of the collection due to growing concerns over the physical deterioration and security risks to the collection. In exchange for a long-term loan of the books, Maynooth university agreed to pay for the transportation, conservation, cataloguing, and general custodianship of the books, while the cathedral would retain legal ownership.

Before the books could be moved, they were fully inventoried, frozen (to kill the silverfish), cleaned, and in some cases, repaired. The collection was then catalogued to a basic level, with more detailed cataloguing taking place as resources become available. The collection’s new storage area is maintained at 17 degrees and 45% relative humidity, and there are security systems in place. Although this was a very expensive process, the university felt that it was a worthwhile investment in order to gain ready access to the collection for its students and faculty. Since moving to its new home, the collection has been heavily used for teaching, research, and exhibitions.

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Dr Anke Timmerman speaks about how booksellers and libraries can work together to prevent theft.

The second presentation by Anke Timmerman, Library Liaison from the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ABA). Dr Timmermann’s addressed the issue of theft more directly by describing the the ways that antiquarian booksellers can work with libraries to prevent or respond to theft and vandalism.

Researching provenance (or ownership history) is an important part of the antiquarian book trade. The ability to trace a particular copy of a book to a particular owner has the potential to greatly enhance its value, but it can also reveal that an item may not have been obtained legally. For this reason, the ABA has created guidelines which are designed to make theft (especially from libraries) and the sale of stolen books more difficult.

According to these guidelines, ABA members are expected to do due diligence in researching the provenance of high-value items, confirming that the seller acquired the item legally, and that it was imported or exported legally. If material is suspected to have been stolen, booksellers must conduct research into the book’s provenance, contact the book’s legitimate owner, and cooperate fully with law enforcement to return the stolen material and apprehend those responsible.

Conversely, libraries are expected to do their part to protect their collections against theft and vandalism by establishing and following procedures which minimise opportunities for theft by staff and users, ensuring that rare materials are used under supervision, cataloguing and recording unique identifying features, applying unique and indelible marks of ownership to collections materials, and indelibly cancelling those markings if an item is deaccessioned. Libraries are expected to keep a record of all disposals, and to retain sufficient information to enable subsequent identification of their particular copy of the book.

In the event that a book is stolen, it is important to report the theft as soon as possible. Historically, cultural institutions have been reluctant to admit when items have been stolen for fear that it would damage their reputations and drive away prospective donors, but many cultural heritage professionals now recognise that remaining silent about theft only makes it easier to sell the stolen property. The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) maintains a register of stolen books, and the Art Loss Register includes books, manuscripts, and fragments thereof valued at £300 or more.

The third speaker, Adrian Edwards, Head of Printed Heritage Collections at the British Library, picked up where Dr. Timmerman’s presentation left off, describing some of the security measures in place at the British Library and describing how three particular book thieves were caught and convicted. Conference delegates were asked not to share the details of these investigations on social media, but all three examples held chilling similiarities. In every case, the thief was a frequent visitor to the library, well known to library staff and trusted by them. None of the thieves had any prior criminal convictions, and yet all of them did irreparable damage to unique historical artifacts.

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A few of the British Library’s procedures to detect loss, damage, and theft.

As a government body, the British Library views investigating and prosecuting theft as part of its obligation to use public funds responsibly. They always prosecute where the evidence allows, and they always pursue staff disciplinary action where applicable. Collection security appears in their Strategic Risk Register, and there are a number of policies in place both to minimise the risk of theft or loss by members of the public and their own staff.

Although some of the British Library’s security measures are beyond the reach of smaller institutions due to insufficient equipment or staffing, there are certain principles that can be applied by libraries of any size: taking a pro-active approach to security by performing regular collection audits, tracking the movement of items, and identifying high-risk items enables libraries to identify and investigate missing items quickly. Consistent and uniform application of security procedures for staff and readers alike reduces the opportunities for theft, and clear ownership markings ensure that stolen items can be easily identified and returned to their rightful owners.

The final speaker of the day, Giles Mandelbrote, Librarian and Archivist at Lambeth Palace Library, told the story of a major theft of around 1400 early printed items in 1974, nearly all of which were returned in 2011. The story involved an unusual stipulation in the thief’s will, some particularly inspired detective work involving an old, long-since superseded print catalogue of the library’s collection, and the discovery of a locked trapdoor into a hidden loft. The story is welldocumented elsewhere, but the take-away lessons for conference delegates focused on the importance of retaining print catalogues as historical snapshots of the collection, and the need to work with the media to ensure that coverage focused on the restoration of the books rather than poor security and the subsequent cover-up of the loss.

One point which particularly struck me was the fact that the actions of one opportunistic thief were able to change our perception of the historical record. The thief had targeted items which he believed to have the highest resale value. Given the interests of book collectors today, these were primarily on secular topics. In removing those items, the thief drastically changed the overall character of the collection by obscuring the personal interests of the previous archbishops who had bequeathed their personal collections to the library. The idea that a single opportunistic thief could have such a significant impact on our understanding of the past was a sobering thought.

Following a break for lunch, conference delegates split into groups for visits to three different libraries around Brighton. I visited the Keep, a facility shared by the East Sussex Record Office, the Royal Pavilion & Museums Local History Collections, and the University of Sussex Special Collections. Built between 2011 and 2013, this facility is divided into a Repository Block which provides more than six miles of shelving in purpose-built, climate-controlled storage. The Repository Block occupies three floors, and each floor’s temperature and humidity is adjusted to the optimal conditions for the type of materials stored there.

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The conservation lab at the Keep, with UV-filtered windows overlooking an area of green roof.

The People Block is organised so that all of the public areas are on the ground floor and wheelchair accessible. These areas include a small exhibition space, reading rooms with computer terminal access, microform readers, and a selection of print reference books, meeting rooms, a group research area, an oral history room with recording facilities, and three multifunction rooms which can be used for school classes, student groups, workshops, receptions, and other events. The upper floor of the People Block houses the staff offices, conservation lab, conservation studio, and additional space for volunteers, students, and community groups to assist with the Keep’s preservation work. As the icing on the cake, the entire facility is designed to be as sustainable as possible, with green roofs, rainwater catchments, low-energy light fittings, thick walls, super-insulation, and passive solar design for thermal efficiency, and a biomass plant in a nearby (but not adjoining) building to reduce fire risk.

At the end of our tour, we were treated to a display of materials from the different collections housed at the Keep, including the Mass Observation Archive and the personal papers of Lord Richard Attenborough, Rudyard Kipling, and Leonard Woolf.

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The Royal Pavilion, built for George IV as a seaside pleasure palace.

After our site visits, the last outing for the day was a tour and drinks reception at the Royal Pavilion, built as a seaside getaway for King George IV. A delightfully odd mashup of English, Indian, and Chinese architectural styles, the exterior of the building is covered with spires and onion domes reminiscent of the Taj Mahal, and the interior was designed in imitation of a Chinese palace. Of course, none of the architects, interior decorators, or tradesmen who worked on the pavilion had ever actually been to India or China, so the rooms are filled with oddities like murals of flowering bamboo with vine-like curving stalks, or decorative columns topped by ornately carved dragons with the wings and head of a Welsh dragon, and the curling, serpent-like body of a Chinese dragon.

After the reception, it was back to the University of Sussex for dinner and a bit more socialising before the third and final day of the conference.

CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections conference, day 1

Last week, I attended the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) RBSCG (Rare Books and Special Collections Group) Annual Study Conference hosted by the University of Sussex. The theme of this year’s conference was “Collections at Risk,” with each day of the conference focusing on Preservation and Conservation, Theft and Vandalism, or Sale and Disposal. I enjoy conferences in general since they give me the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with colleagues from across the country, but this year’s conference was especially practical. There was so much useful information, in fact, that I’ve had to divide my conference notes between three blog posts. For this post, I’m going to focus on day 1: Preservation and Conservation.

The first speaker was Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan, Consultant Archivist on the UNESCO Memory of the World programme. Her presentation, entitled Using the UNESCO brand to protect collections, gave a brief overview of UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme, which seeks to facilitate preservation, access, and awareness of documentary heritage. This programme centres around the belief that documentary heritage is key to our national (or international) identity; that documentary heritage belongs to all, and should therefore be accessible to all. A key element of the programme is the Register for items or collections of outstanding national or international significance.

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Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan offers some tips on getting managers and donors to engage with preservation strategy.

She spoke briefly about the application procedure and criteria for selection, and in more detail about the benefits of having collection items recognised on the UNESCO Register. Acceptance onto the register does not carry any monetary reward, but it does offer an external validation of the significance of an institution’s collections. Thanks to UNESCO’s name recognition with the general public (including managers, accountants, donors, and other non-librarians), it can lend support to funding applications and bring added footfall to exhibitions and events.

Even for those institutions whose collections might not meet the criteria for “outstanding significance,” the Memory of the World project also issues recommendations and guidelines for preserving documentary heritage. Building these guidelines into project plans can also strengthen funding applications.

The second and fourth speakers, Stacey Anderson, Media Archivist at Plymouth City Council, and Will Prentice, Head of Technical Services for Sound & Vision at the British Library, both discussed ongoing projects to preserve and digitise audiovisual media in their collections, and to encourage other institutions and private individuals to do the same. Stacey Anderson described the unique challenges of preserving audiovisual media: not only do the materials themselves deteriorate rapidly, the technology (analogue or digital) to play them rapidly becomes obsolete and therefore difficult to find and maintain. Each different format has slightly different storage requirements in terms of optimal temperature and relative humidity, so it is important for curators to understand and identify each of the formats in their collections.

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Ten regional hubs will provide training on digitisation and preservation.

Will Prentice described the British Library’s Save Our Sounds project, which originated from a survey of cultural heritage professionals which revealed that while roughly 50% of us have audiovisual media in our collections, more than 70% of us responded that we had no formal training on audiovisual materials, and did not feel confident in our capacity to care for audio collections. To remedy this situation, the Save Our Sounds project aims to set up ten regional hubs which will offer training to cultural heritage professionals and the general public on digitisation and preservation. Each of these hubs will contribute digital copies of 5,000 sound recordings for posting on the British Library’s website. By making these recordings freely available to the public, the project hopes to demonstrate both the value and the fragility of sound archives.

The third speaker of the day was Emma Dodson, the Divisional Manager at Harwell Document Restoration Services. Rather than listen passively to her presentatioin, conference delegates were asked to imagine that a water leak (the most common type of disaster in UK libraries) had been found in their department, and to discuss the order in which they would perform a set of tasks including isolating the electrical supply, consulting the library’s disaster plan, evacuating reading room areas, setting up a salvage area for drying books, and removing or otherwise protecting books in areas adjacent to the leak. We were given tools for calculating the volume of damage materials we could salvage on our own, and for deciding when to call in professional help. We all hoped that we would never need to make use of this knowledge, but exercises like this one are designed to reduce the amount of time that it takes us to go from panicked flailing to useful, directed action.

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Environmental monitoring and control is vital to preserving documents.

The final speaker was Sarah Bashir, Preservation Manager at Lambeth Palace Library. Sarah’s presentation, aptly titled Preventive Conservation: what to do when you have no money, gave an excellent overview of the chief causes of damage to library collections (temperature, relative humidity, light, pests, dust and pollutants, and poor handling), with suggestions for easy, low-cost ways of monitoring conditions and mitigating threats.

By the end of the day, I was filled with new ideas for extending the useful lifespan of our collections. After a pleasant dinner catching up with colleagues whom I hadn’t seen since last year’s conference, I was ready to get some sleep and do it all again tomorrow.

Artist’s Book conference: discount booking ends Friday

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Many thanks to those who have already registered for the conference Livres d’Artistes: the Artist’s Book in Theory and Practice. For those who have yet to do so, the last day for booking at the discounted rate is FRIDAY 13 NOVEMBER. Conference registration will cost £60 (£25 student/unwaged) until Friday, and £75 (£40 student/unwaged) after that date. A booking form can be downloaded from the website.

Full details of the conference programme and our plenary speakers can also be found on the conference website. Hurry – places are filling up fast!

Exhibition: Scandal and Sociability: New perspectives on the Burney family

Frances Burney (1752-1840) was one of the most successful and influential writers of the eighteenth century, publishing four novels (Evelina: or, the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World (1778); Cecilia: or, Memoirs of an Heiress (1782); Camilla: or, A Picture of Youth (1796); and The Wanderer: or, Female Difficulties (1814), which were immensely popular and influenced other writers including Jane Austen (1775-1817). In recent years, scholarly interest in Burney has widened to encompass the influence and activities of the rest of her remarkable family, which included musicians, sailors, classicists, artists and two other successful novelists. Between them, the Burneys knew most British luminaries of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries working in the fields of literature, art, music, politics, botany, exploration, and court and Church circles.

A symposium held at Cardiff University on 1 September 2015 considered the Burney family as a composite whole, asking how their sociable network and often tumultuous internal dynamics influenced the remarkable spate of cultural and sociable activity carried out by its polymathic members. This exhibition of rare print and visual material relating to the Burney family and circle was designed and curated by Dr. Sophie Coulombeau (School of English, Communication and Philosophy) and Alison Harvey (Special Collections and Archives) to complement the symposium.

 

Portraits, Lives and Letters

Many members of the Burney family and their social circle achieved fame or notoriety in their own day, as writers, artists, or musicians… or socialites with scandalous love lives.  This section explores visual and textual depictions of Frances Burney, her father Dr. Charles Burney (1726-1814), and the family friend – and later enemy – Hester Piozzi (1741-1821). Some were composed by the subjects themselves or with their permission; others devised by those closest to them after their deaths; and still others produced by perfect strangers exploiting their celebrity for commercial gain.

 

Portrait [of Frances Burney?]

Portrait

Dr. John Butterworth, an independent scholar, has kindly lent us an anonymous, undated portrait of a young woman identified on the frame as Frances Burney. An art historian and conservator have suggested that the portrait dates from the last quarter of the eighteenth century, and the hairstyle of the sitter (the so-called ‘pouf’, which was fashionable only in the second half of the 1770s) suggests a date from 1775-1780. If the sitter was Burney, it would therefore have been painted just before, or just after, she wrote and published Evelina.

Some attendees at the symposium felt that Dr. Butterworth made a persuasive case for the identity of the sitter as Burney. Others were more sceptical, and pointed out that there is no reference to the portrait in her journals and letters: conversely, when she had her portrait taken later in life, she complained about the process bitterly. It was also pointed out that the inscription on the portrait almost certainly dates fro the twentieth century. However, it should be noted that Burney’s journals and letters were twice heavily censored; and also that a modern inscription may well have replaced an earlier one.

 

Frances Burney, Diary and Letters of Madame D’Arblay, as edited by her niece Charlotte Barrett, 7 vols. (London: Henry Colburn, first edition, 1842-47).

Diary

This was the first published edition of Frances Burney’s Diary and Letters, which today stretches to over twenty volumes. This edition (severely edited by both Frances Burney and by her niece Charlotte Barrett to exclude any verdict on acquaintances that might be seen as offensive, and to excise any mention of incidents that might reflect badly on the Burney family) was a more modest seven volumes. Even after this censorship, the diaries provide a fascinating insight into life in Georgian England and France. The edition was influential in setting the direction of Burney’s critical reputation: for most of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, she was seen as a talented diarist rather than an important novelist.

These volumes belonged to Arthur Henriques: an inscription suggests they were a gift from his mother in 1878. The edition is notable for an interesting selection of frontispiece portraits used to illustrate the seven volumes: sitters include Burney herself, Hester Thrale, Queen Charlotte, Mary Delaney, General D’Arblay, Dr. Charles Burney and Germaine de Stael. From this selection of Burney’s acquaintance, we can glean an idea of the figures that Barrett’s publisher thought most likely to interest the readership.

 

Hester Lynch Piozzi, Love Letters of Mrs. Piozzi, written when she was eighty, to William Augustus Conway (London: John Russell Smith, first edition, 1843.)

Love Letters

Hester Lynch Thrale was Frances Burney’s dearest friend in the early 1780s. The two fell out in 1785 over Burney’s disapproval of Thrale’s second marriage (soon after the death of her husband) to the Italian Catholic music master Gabriel Piozzi. The marriage scandalised polite society, and Hester Lynch Piozzi achieved a reputation as a woman unable to control her passions, or to put her duties as a widow and mother above her ‘unfeminine’ lust. She steadily built up an impressive career as a poet, biographer and travel writer. But the whiff of scandal never deserted her; during old age, she conducted a close and ambiguous friendship with the young actor William Augustus Conway, who was fifty years her junior. This edition of some of her letters to him – styled ‘Love Letters’ – was published after her death by an anonymous editor. Like Barrett’s Diary and Letters of Burney, this edition is illustrated with thirteen portraits, with the following subjects: ‘Mrs. Thrale’, ‘A. Murphy’, ‘Dr. Johnson’, ‘Madame d’Arblay’, ‘Urn to Dr. Johnson’, ‘Mrs. Thrale’, ‘Mrs. Kemble’, ‘Cowper’, ‘Bath (view of)’, ‘Rousseau’, ‘Duke of Kent’, ‘Duchess of Kent’, ‘Mrs. Piozzi’.

 

Frances Burney, Memoirs of Dr. Burney (London: Edward Moxon, first edition, 1832).

Memoirs

Frances Burney’s father, the historian of music Dr. Charles Burney, died in 1814. She would live on for another twenty-nine years, most of which time she spent writing her beloved father’s Memoirs. The result, published in 1832, was the most critically reviled of all Burney’s works. John Wilson Croker (1780-1857), writing in the Quarterly Review, accused her of distorting her father’s memory in order to draw attention to her own achievements. Some modern scholars feel that he had a point: Dr. Cassie Ulph (York), speaking about the Memoirs at our symposium, said: ‘The real narrative of Memoirs of Doctor Burney is that of [Frances] Burney’s own literary career, and genius.’ In writing her father’s life, Burney was really writing her own.

 

Streatham and Cantab Literature

The Burney family were extraordinarily talented networkers. Throughout their lives, their literary, musical and artistic gifts helped them to assimilate into the social circles of people more wealthy and powerful than themselves, and to meet fellow men and women of letters. The most important of these groups, in the 1770s and the 1780s, was the Streatham Circle of the rich brewer Henry Thrale and his wife Hester, where Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was the star attraction. A more minor connection – but an important one for Frances Burney – was the ‘Cantab’ circle of the Cambridge family at Twickenham. This section of the exhibition showcases some early editions of writings by members of these two groups, showing how deeply the Burney family embedded themselves, throughout the 1770s and 1780s, within the metropolitan literary elite.

 

Hester Lynch Piozzi, Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson LL.D during the last twenty years of his life (London: T. Cadell, second edition, 1786).

Anecdotes

In the wake of her scandalous second marriage, Hester Piozzi embarked on a project: to publish a book of Anecdotes of the recently deceased literary lion Dr. Samuel Johnson, who had been her close friend before they fell out over her marriage to Piozzi. The Anecdotes were published by the reputable publisher Thomas Cadell, and sold like wildfire. They were strongly criticised by friends of Johnson (such as James Boswell (1740-1795)) who thought that Piozzi had painted Johnson in an unflattering light.

The inscription suggests that this copy was owned by William Ingham. A handwritten note at the back of the volume marks passages of particular interest to the owner.

 

Hester Lynch Piozzi, British Synonymy; or, an attempt at regulating the choice of words in familiar conversation, 2 vols (London: G.G. and J. Robinson, first edition, 1794). 

Synonymy def

In 1794, Hester Lynch Piozzi published a two-volume work of synonymy, a relatively new field; her innovative publication was preceded only by the Rev. John Trusler’s The Difference Between Words Esteemed Synonymous (1766). The book was popular and immediately ran into a further two editions. The editors of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Synonymys (1984) note that Piozzi ‘frequently takes issue with Dr. Johnson or, in a sprightly manner, casts doubt on his judgments’: perhaps we might see this work of lexicography as Piozzi’s attempt to throw off the shadow of Johnson’s influence. If so, then she was unsuccessful, at least for the owner of this copy: the title-page of vol. 1 is annotated in a pencil hand: ‘Hester Lynch Piozzi’ is changed to ‘Mrs. Thrale – vide Johnson’. (Mrs. Thrale – see Johnson’).

 

Richard Owen Cambridge, An Account of the War in India (London: T. Jefferys, second edition, 1762) 

War

During the 1780s, Frances Burney became friendly with the Cambridge family of Twickenham. Richard Cambridge (1717-1802), a man of letters who published this volume in 1762, was the first to welcome her into their home. Eventually, however, his son George (1756-1841) became far more important to Burney: her manuscript letters reveal that she had strong romantic feelings for him, and believed them to be returned. But George Cambridge never proposed marriage. One of our speakers at the symposium, Professor Stewart Cooke (Dawson College), gave a fascinating insight into Burney’s misery and suspense over the mid-1780s as she realised that George Cambridge was a lost cause and tried to extract herself from a hopeless situation.

 

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, and on the proceedings in certain societies in London, (London: J. Dodsley, fourth edition, 1790).

Reflections

The philosopher and politician Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was one of the most regular visitors at Streatham, and a close friend of Charles Burney. Moreover, he provided literary mentorship to Frances Burney after the publication of Cecilia in 1782, sending her a warm letter full of compliments and thanking her ‘for providing instruction’.

Perhaps Burke’s most important work was his Reflections on the Revolution in France, a pamphlet published in 1790 reviling the action of French revolutionaries and British sympathisers, and arguing for the preservation of ancient traditions. He sent Charles Burney a copy of the first edition: Burney wrote of his ‘infinit eagerness and delight’ upon reading it, and promised: ‘this copy I shall deposit among my most precious literary possessions’. This volume of the fourth edition appears to have belonged to Isabella Metford, and is inscribed ‘May 1866’.

 

Charles Burney, A General History of Music, from the earliest of ages to the present period, 4 vols. (Vol. 1 London: Printed for the author, second edition, 1789; vols 2-4 London: J. Robson and G.G. Robinson, first edition, 1782-1789).

Burney portrait

In the 1770s Charles Burney was a music teacher and talented musician, but he harboured ambitions of being recognised as a bona fide man of letters like his heroes Dr. Johnson and Edmund Burke. The symposium’s keynote speaker, Professor Peter Sabor (McGill University) remarked: ‘With the publication of his General History of Music, Burney could transition from Johnson’s fan to his peer.’ Peter also gave us an overview of the creative exchanges between the two men: While Johnson was reading proofs of Burney’s General History of Music, Burney was reading the manuscript and proofs of Johnson’s last work: Lives of the Poets. By the time of Johnson’s death, Charles Burney was high in his estimation, a testament to the inimitable Burney networking skills.

An anonymous reader has annotated the volumes with the dates of his/her reading, and with notes drawing attention to passages of particular interest.

 

Exploration and Botany

Frances Burney’s elder brother James (1750-1821) had a colourful naval career: he travelled with Captain James Cook (1728-1779) on his last two voyages, and acted as interpreter for the famous Tahitian Mai (c. 1751-1780) when he conducted a tour of England in the 1770s. Several of our papers drew attention to the Burney family’s links, through James and his shipmate Molesworth Phillips (1755-1832), with South Sea culture and with the taxonomic work of the botanical explorers Joseph Banks (1743-1820) and Daniel Solander (1733-1782) (who accompanied Cook on his earlier voyages).

 

Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, Illustrations of Australian Plants collected in 1770 during Captain Cook’s Voyage round the World in H.M.S Endeavour, by the Right Hon. Sir Joseph Banks, Bart. K.B., P.R.S, and Dr. Daniel Solander, F.R.S., 3 vols (London: Longman & Co. and the British Museum, 1900-1905).

Solander

Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander were botanists who sailed to Brazil, Tahiti and Australia with Captain Cook on the HMS Endeavour in 1768-1761. They brought back hundreds of specimens of plants then unknown in Britain, which they catalogued and had illustrated for publication. Probably due to Solander’s sudden death in 1782 and Banks’s subsequent loss of interest in the project, their findings were not published for over a hundred years. These folio volumes, published by the British Museum in 1900, contain Solander’s descriptions and beautiful illustrations of the plants, many carried out by artists on board the Endeavour.

 

James Lee, Introduction to Botany, (London: S. Crowder et al, fifth edition, 1794).

Botany

Botanical study was a fashionable hobby in Georgian London, where new discoveries such as those of Banks and Solander attracted intense public interest. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) had recently developed a new method for classifying and identifying species that was simple to use, and was explained in many popular adaptations such as James Lee’s Introduction to Botany. At the symposium, Sophie Coulombeau (Cardiff University) argued that that botanical handbooks like James Lee’s, and the personal tutelage of Daniel Solander before his death, heavily influence Frances Burney’s theory of ‘character’ in her second novel, Cecilia.

 

John Hawkesworth, Account of the Voyages (London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, first edition, 1773).

Hawkesworth

In 1773 the writer John Hawkesworth (1715-1773) was commissioned by the Admiralty to publish an authorised account of Captain James Cook’s voyages in the Southern Hemisphere. These beautifully illustrated volumes, which were hugely influential in crafting the public impression in Britain of little-known territories such as Tahiti, were the result. The inscription reads: ‘From the Library of T. Booker Esq, Velindra, near Cardiff, Purchased 1901’.

 

James Cook, A Voyage Towards the South Pole, and round the world 2 vols. (London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, third edition, 1779).

Cook

A sort of sequel to Hawkesworth’s work, though this time written by Cook himself, this publication gave an account of Cook’s second major voyage (1772-1775), the first known expedition to cross the Antarctic circle. By the time these volumes appeared, Cook had embarked on his second voyage in the HMS Resolution, which was eventually to end in his gruesome death in Hawaii in 1779.

Call for Papers: The Art of the Book, Cardiff University, December 4-6 2015

IMG_1888

 

In 2014 Cardiff University received a considerable donation of Artists’ Books from Ron King of the Circle Press, one of the most influential practitioners of the Book Arts. In December of this year, the University’s Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR) will be hosting a major international conference to celebrate this bequest. Speakers will include Ron King (Circle Press), Sarah Bodman (University of the West of England), and Chris McCabe (Poetry Library).

Proposals are now invited from practitioners and scholars for presentations of 20 minutes on any aspect of the Book Arts. A brief biographical note, along with an abstract of 200-300 words, should be sent NO LATER THAN October 1, 2015, to scolar@cardiff.ac.uk. Practitioners in attendance are encouraged to bring examples of their work for display at the conference.