Tag Archives: literature

Guest Post: The Barbier Family in Victorian Cardiff

Yet another fascinating post on the Barbier family courtesy of Katy Stone, who is discovering much about this exceptional family, and life in Victorian Cardiff, by working her way through their archive as part of a CUROP project to catalogue this unique resource.

In this blog post, I’d like to share my discoveries about life in Cardiff during the Victorian era (1837-1901), as seen through the eyes of the Barbiers. Since I started working with the archive earlier this summer, I have sifted through boxes of letters from 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1903 and 1904, and they have given me a fascinating insight into daily life in the Welsh capital during the late 19th and early 20th century.

Sadly, the letters reveal that poor housing conditions, outbreaks of infectious disease and premature death were not uncommon in Cardiff. Much of the archive in this period is dedicated to correspondence from Euphémie Barbier to her son Paul Barbier Fils. In one of her letters I discovered that a servant of the De Guélis household fell ill with diphtheria due to unsatisfactory sewage arrangements in the house. I have also found repeated reports of influenza, particularly during 1898 and 1899, and in one unfortunate case the family’s milkman died very suddenly, showing how the epidemic could lead rapidly to pneumonia. Euphémie’s letters also highlight poor dental health. The younger Euphémie Barbier (known as Phémie), suffered terribly from neuralgia (intense pain along a nerve, especially in the head or face). One letter from 1898 recounts how her mother had called the doctor as her daughter’s hands and face were “twitching”. I was particularly struck by Euphémie’s explanation of how she tried to bribe the doctor with cups of strong black coffee to encourage her to visit again, underlining the high demand for access to medical care. Her letters also mention a variety of other disorders including brain tumours, lumbago, ringworm and chicken pox. Victorian Cardiff’s poor sanitary conditions are boldly summed up by Georges Barbier’s stark description of the city as a “dirty hole”.

The Barbier letters also reveal stories about the widespread use of curious medicines during this era. In a letter from 1898, Euphémie Barbier advised her son to take “rhubarb pills” or “Epsom salts” to help alleviate the deafness in his ear. Another example from 1898, tells of the application of cocaine to treat an abscess on Isabelle Barbier’s mouth, which surprised me given it’s illegal today! More often than not though, simply taking a bath was recommended to relieve the painful symptoms of various ailments and illnesses. In one letter, Georges Barbier even recommends mixing disinfectant into bathwater in order to kill germs, which sounds a bit extreme to me!

1 Barbier Victorian Cardiff

The poor quality of public health appears to have put a strain on family finances as contemporaries were often forced to take time off school or work to recover. I quickly noticed from the letters that there was a daily struggle to make ends meet. Euphémie’s lists of household spending usually included only basic commodities, highlighting that luxuries were rare. Opportunities to go out or travel were often missed, and Euphémie remarked that it was “unfortunate” to have to live like that on a daily basis. In fact, as the mother of the Barbier Family, her letters are often preoccupied with money worries, describing the pressure to pay taxes as “tormenting”.

The archive also reveals Victorian attitudes to education, with a letter written by Uline Barbier featuring an illustration of a boy wearing a ‘dunce’ hat drawn by Paul Barbier Fils. Pupils who were slow at learning were made to stand in a corner wearing a tall pointed hat decorated with a letter D or sometimes the word ‘dunce’, while the teacher and their peers mocked them. Nowadays this seems harsh, but contemporaries believed that all pupils were capable of learning and that a slow or backward pupil was being deliberately lazy or reluctant to learn. I was stunned by a criticism made by Phémie’s geography teacher, Joan Reynolds; “I know that your mental capacity is not great, in fact we all know that you have not much brain power”.

4 Barbier Victorian Cardiff

Victorian Cardiff is certainly portrayed as a close-knit, vibrant community by the archive, with many letters uncovering a wealth of clues about the social activities of the Barbiers during this era. They often dined with family friends, danced, listened to music and played chess, for example, and generous gifts like brandy, chocolates, sweets and even chickens, were often received. Personally, I think this shows how much the Barbier Family were truly valued and respected by their friends and the wider Cardiff community.

I also noticed references to a number of monuments to civic pride in Cardiff during this period. Phémie writes about an exhibition for the stores of Cardiff to promote their businesses to the public at Park Hall, a theatre and cinema that was situated along Park Place, for example. Dances were also held in places such as Aberdare Hall, a residence for female students established in 1883 by the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, which now stands a Grade II-listed Gothic revival hall of residence belonging to Cardiff University.

Overall, the Barbier Archive offers colourful insights into many aspects of life in Cardiff during Queen Victoria’s reign. It has been particularly fascinating to discover a series of health epidemics, and the pessimistic outlook people held towards potential learning difficulties. I look forward to sharing further discoveries that emerge from the extraordinary range of materials I have encountered whilst working on this magnificent archive, which holds great potential for future researchers.

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Guest Post: Barbier Archive Launch

This guest post is courtesy of Katy Stone, an undergaduate with the School of Modern Languages who is currently working through the fascinating Barbier family archive as part of a CUROP project to catalogue this unique resource.


Following a year of study abroad at l’Université Savoie Mont Blanc, France, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to participate in an 8-week placement with the Cardiff University Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP). My responsibility during the eight weeks is to pursue the efforts made by Pip Bartlett, last year’s CUROP student, in scoping the Barbier archive under the supervision of Professor Hanna Diamond, a 20th century French historian, and Alan Hughes, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff University. So far this has involved organising, archiving and describing materials from the archive, using my language skills to translate and interpret the sources. I have been cataloguing the information into a spreadsheet for future researchers. Thus far, I have completed boxes 1898, 1903 and 1904, which have revealed fascinating details about this period.

Soon after commencing my placement, I participated in the official launch of the archive and unveiling of a special commemorative plaque in honour of Jacques Vaillant de Guélis, a Barbier family member, on Wednesday 6th June, the 74th anniversary of the D-Day landings. I thought it would be fitting to offer an account of the event for my first blog post.

Katy2

The afternoon of celebration took place at the Temple of Peace in Cathays Park. The Special Collections team had put together a small exhibition about the history of the Barbier family, Jacques Vaillant de Guélis and the archive. The display showcased some treasures of the rich and extensive archive, including a framed letter from Prime Minister David Lloyd George discussing Belgian refugees in Cardiff.

Guests included members of the Franco-Welsh Barbier family, some of whom had come specially from France to attend the events. It was clear to me that for many of them, some of whom had not met for many years, the event was an opportunity for a family reunion. Owing to the family’s bicultural identity, in some cases, I witnessed first-time meetings between those based in France and relatives who hailed from Paris and elsewhere in France, with others coming from UK destinations such as Devon and Marlborough, Wiltshire.

I found the introductory presentations by Hanna Diamond and Alan Hughes extremely illuminating. They highlighted the extraordinary range of materials in the archive including an abundance of diaries, letters, newspaper cuttings and photographs. I was particularly struck by the significant extent to which the 19th century Frenchman influenced Cardiff’s society through his involvement with local cultural societies like ‘La Société Franco-Britannique de Cardiff’, and his personal commitment to preserving the Welsh language. As a consequence, it is clear that the archive boasts an important array of sources on social history. I would be curious to mobilise the archive to discover more about what life was like for people in Victorian Cardiff during the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Mrs. Delphine Isaaman, granddaughter of Paul Barbier who donated the archive to the University along with her cousin Paul Barbier, also spoke about how her interest in her family’s story grew after finding family documents. This led to her spending around a decade researching in order to fill in the gaps, and resulted in the development of the archive. Delphine had actually stored and catalogued much of the archive before it arrived in Cardiff University Special Collections. In her talk, she shared tales from the archive, such as tips from other family members on bringing up babies, much to the amusement of the audience. This particular story demonstrated Hanna Diamond’s earlier statement that “the archive holds vast research potential for people working on the role of women in World War One”.

06.06.18 mh Barbier Jacques Guelis Archive Launch 29

To celebrate the life of Paul Barbier’s nephew, Jacques Vaillant de Guélis, the talks were followed by a swift relocation to his birthplace at 3 Museum Place, at the heart of the University campus. During the Second World War, de Guélis played a crucial role as a spy in the secretive Special Operations Executive due to his Franco-British background. A Blue Plaque to honour his remarkable achievements was unveiled by Professor Colin Riordan, President and Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University, together with Claudine Ripert Landler, the Cultural Counsellor of the French Embassy in the United Kingdom. As a historian and a linguist, it was thrilling to see the war hero’s efforts formally recognised, and the pure elation upon the faces of those who came to witness it. Thanks to the former spy’s bilingualism, he was able to go unnoticed behind enemy lines, fighting with the French Resistance on the ground and contributing to the liberation of Nazi-occupied France. For me the event therefore highlighted the value and importance of learning foreign languages. One monolingual member of the Barbier family who I talked to teased that he was envious of his sibling’s bilingualism. I am optimistic that the plaque will promote Jacque’s story, and I hope that it might inspire others to engage in learning a language.

After the emotions of the plaque unveiling, the afternoon closed with a drinks reception in the foyer of the School of Modern Languages, at 66 Park Place. This was a final chance to exchange with the family and other interested parties. It was a valuable opportunity to get to know the family, and I even managed to practise my French with some relatives from Paris! I very much look forward to conducting oral interviews with Hanna Diamond to capture the life stories of Paul and Mary Barbier in July. Flowers were also laid on Jacques grave in Cathays Cemetery by his cousin and the Friends of Cathays Cemetery, a touching tribute to the brave man and a moving end to such a special day.

Barbier relative at Cathays

Overall, it was a humbling experience, and a pleasure to finally put some faces to names. I look forward to immersing myself in the project, with the ambition to help unlock the incredible story of this French Cardiff family and especially their role in Cardiff during the Victorian era.

Guest post: Exploring historical gender inequality in prize and gift books

This guest post comes from Lauren O’Hagan, PhD candidate in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy, who is researching early 20th century book inscriptions and reading practices in Great Britain.


The World’s Your Oyster… Unless You’re a Girl:
Exploring Historical Gender Inequality in Prize and Gift Books

From the #metoo campaign to the gender pay gap, in recent months, the topic of gender inequality has seldom been out of the headlines. Since the early twentieth century, bolstered by the founding of the Women’s Social and Political Union, women in Britain have been fighting for equal rights and opportunities. While images of imprisoned suffragettes on hunger strike or members of the Women’s Liberation Movement burning bras are ingrained in our minds as early examples of the struggle against gender inequality, there is one form of historical discrimination that remains largely forgotten, despite the fact that it is still prevalent in our society today: the giving of books as gifts and prizes. The full extent of this highly gendered practice only became apparent to me through a delve into the Janet Powney Collection at Special Collections and Archives.

The Janet Powney Collection is made up of some eight-hundred children’s books, largely dating from the late-Victorian and Edwardian era. These books were predominantly given as gifts or awarded as prizes to children and, as such, most bear an inscription on their front endpaper.

The years 1880 to 1915 are generally considered to mark a key period in the development of a distinctive girls’ and boys’ culture in Britain. Nothing illustrated this distinction more obviously than books. As book production grew and new designs and modes of distribution developed, publishers began to recognise the commercial potential of identifying specialist readerships, particularly girls and boys. Taking advantage of the emerging ‘vanity trade’ in which buyers were strongly influenced by a book’s outer appearance over its internal content, publishers produced books whose images, typography and colours were heavily influenced by gender.

More than one hundred years later, these same marketing strategies can be observed in children’s books today, as seen in the photo below from Waterstones taken by the #LetToysBeToys campaign group.

Books are, of course, not the only objects to have become genderised. From a young age, advertisements (and indeed many parents) are still largely responsible for teaching children that dolls are for girls and cars are for boys. The breadth of this issue and the various debates it provokes have most recently been demonstrated by John Lewis’s decision to introduce gender neutral clothing lines for children. While many people praised the progressive move of John Lewis, arguing that “you don’t look at food and say it’s going to be eaten by a man or a woman, so why should it be any different for clothes?” others criticised the retailer for “bowing down to political correctness.” The mixed responses that this topic has generated indicates that, now more than ever, it is necessary to return to the past in a bid to improve the future.

Books as Gifts

What it meant to be a girl and a boy in Victorian and Edwardian Britain can be clearly seen through the inscriptions made in gift books within the Janet Powney Collection.

For girls, religious fiction was most frequently gifted, primarily by their mothers, grandparents and friends. Religious fiction emphasised traditional female qualities of sacrifice and obedience and encouraged girls to uphold the conventional role that had been pre-established for them in society: that of being a wife and a mother. In contrast, boys were chiefly given adventure fiction by their mothers, grandparents and friends. Adventure fiction promoted cultural expectations of masculinity, and focused heavily on the notions of imperialism, heroism and comradeship. For both boys and girls, it was the mother who inscribed the book; the father’s name was conspicuously absent. The Victorian scholar, Kate Flint, claims that the mother was generally considered the most appropriate person to choose a book for her children – a belief that still prevails today (please click through to request access to the article from the author).

The fact that the same split into religious fiction for girls and adventure fiction for boys can also be observed when friends gave each other books as presents indicates that the purchaser of the gift was typically an adult, i.e. the child’s parent, and so, it was their views on gender appropriacy that were given overriding priority. The book historian, Jonathan Rose, claims that girls’ books only sold well because they were chosen as presents by adults, and, in fact, many Victorian and Edwardian girls preferred adventure fiction and often read their brothers’ copies surreptitiously. Adventure fiction was discouraged for girls, as it was deemed harmful to their ‘fragile’ minds and risked diminishing their value as females.

Despite these gender stereotypes that were largely influenced by the giver’s concept of what was suitable for the receiver, the collection has one notable exception: in all examples of Aunts giving books to Nieces, the books belong to the adventure fiction genre. While this suggests that the modern-day concept of the ‘cool aunt’, in fact, has its origins in the late-nineteenth century, this theory falls apart slightly when noting that nephews continued to receive adventure fiction, with no examples of religious fiction given. This gives weight to the widely asserted claim by the scholar, Barry Thorne, that it is more acceptable for girls to associate with masculinity than boys with the lesser valued and ‘contaminating’ femininity.

Many of the above points are still relevant in today’s society. While religious fiction has largely disappeared from bookshops with the increase in secularisation, it has come to be replaced by the romance genre – perhaps a reflection of the growing acceptance of girls’ sexuality, yet still stereotypical in its own way. Boys’ fiction, on the other hand, continues to be dominated by adventure and fantasy novels. Despite the fact that a recent survey demonstrates that comedy is now the favourite genre of most boys and girls in the UK, with David Walliams and Jeff Kinney being cited as the favourite authors of both genders, when it comes to gift-giving, many family members and friends still resort to stereotypical genres and authors. Equally, while it is now widely acceptable for girls to receive Harry Potter or Hunger Games books as gifts, for example, very few boys are the recipients of books by Jacqueline Wilson or Jill Murphy. Although the Representation Project is attempting to challenge and overcome gender stereotypes by encouraging parents to buy books for children based on their individual personalities and interests instead of defaulting to gender-specific gift options, these findings show that there is still clearly a long way to go.

Books as Prizes

Throughout the Victorian and Edwardian era, awarding books as prizes was standard practice for most schools, Sunday schools and other institutions across Britain and its Empire. While these books were typically awarded in recognition of an outstanding achievement or contribution, they also served a secondary function of moral education and they were often used by educational and religious institutions as tools to disseminate approved fiction. Writing in 1888 in favour of prize books, the literary critic, Edward Salmon, argued:

“The young mind is a virgin soil, and whether weeds or rare flowers and beautiful trees are to spring up in it will, of course, depend upon the character of the seeds sown. You cannot scatter literary tares and reap mental corn. A good book is the consecrated essence of a holy genius, bringing new light to the brain and cultivating the heart for the inception of noble motives.”

The prize books in the Janet Powney collection generally reflect similar trends to the gift books, although there is some variation according to awarding institution. For example, within Sunday schools and faith schools, both boys and girls were most likely to receive religious fiction. As the prize book movement was largely aimed at bringing respectability to working-class children, religious fiction was considered the most suitable type of book to provide appropriate models of behaviour to boys and girls. More importantly, however, educators saw religious fiction as a ‘safe’ and ‘reliable’ book genre that advocated conventional masculine and feminine roles. These gender differences are explicitly reflected in the titles of prize books: ‘sacrifice’, ‘obedience’ and ‘barriers’ most frequently occur in girls’ titles, while ‘winning’, ‘voyage’ and ‘victory’ feature most regularly in boys’ titles. These words demonstrate that girls were expected to live a contained life with limited opportunities and within local boundaries, but boys had the freedom to explore the global picture and the choice to do as they wish.

Despite supposedly having no religious affiliation, board schools also favoured religious fiction as prizes for girls; in contrast, boys were awarded adventure fiction. In some cases, boys were also given history and biography books, which tended to emphasise the view that to be British was to be a conqueror, an imperialist and a civilising force. This fits with the argument of historian, Stephen Heathorn, that the Victorian and Edwardian elementary classroom served as a workshop of reformulated English nationalism.

Although most prize books awarded by clubs were directly liked to their ethos (i.e. Bible classes distributed Bibles, Choirs presented music books etc.), many clubs still showed gender bias in their choices. For example, both religious and secular clubs awarded books to boys that focused on temperance and the criticism of other vices, such smoking, gambling and pleasure-seeking. These books also placed great attention on the importance of chastity and the concept of chivalry as a means of self-control. These issues were highlighted, as educators feared a supposedly causal link between boys’ crimes and reading matter that influenced them. Boys’ books also focused on the importance of saving money and owning a house, which fit with the traditional view of ‘man as economic provider’.

The girls’ book given by both religious and secular clubs, on the other hand, focused heavily on the notion that moving out of one’s social station was against God’s will and often warned girls of the dangers of switching religious allegiances. As the ‘weaker’ sex, girls were considered more likely to become ‘corrupted’, particularly by Catholicism, which was believed to be strongly linked to the forces of social and political reaction, moral decadence and foreign treachery at this time.

While such stark gender inequalities may not be as apparent today in prize-giving practices, they still prevail in some institutions, albeit covertly. Sunday schools throughout Britain still promote the awarding of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ books. Seemingly innocent titles, such as ’10 Boys Who Changed the World’ or ’10 Girls Who Changed the World’, in fact, reveal that the boys are all involved in dynamic actions as sailors, smugglers or gangsters, while the girls are confined to lowly positions as slumdogs and orphans, or have physical and mental impairments.

Even within non-religious institutions, such as state schools, prize books remain gendered with neutral stories, such as ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, creeping into volumes labelled as Favourite Fairy Tales for Girls and Favourite Stories for Boys respectively. Although book titles no longer appear to use stereotypical adjectives to define boys and girls, just like in Victorian and Edwardian Britain, they remain ladened with gendered words: witches, fairies and unicorns dominate girls’ books, while dinosaurs, castles and football are exclusive to boys’ books. Recently, the National Union of Teachers carried out a Breaking the Mould Project to encourage nursery and primary classrooms to challenge traditional gender stereotypes through books. They recommended awarding books, such as Anne Fine’s Bill’s New Frock or Robert Munsch’s Paper Bag Princess to engage with the range of ways in which children can be stereotyped. Given the complexity of this topic, it is unsurprising that many schools have now opted to award book tokens instead of books to avoid the difficult act of choosing.

A child’s home and educative experience has a direct effect on his or her short-term and long-term achievements and is responsible for shaping his or her pathway in life. For this reason, it is important to engage with historical artefacts, such as the books in the Janet Powney collection, to learn from negative representations of gender. By using the gift and prize books to map particular attitudes to and constructions of gender, we can correct any potentially harmful behaviours that still remain in our society and strive towards living in a country with gender equality for all.

Guest post: From rookie researcher to amateur archivist: my year in Special Collections

This guest post is from recent English Literature graduate Anna Sharrard. Anna took part in modules closely aligned with Special Collections throughout her final degree year, and is now volunteering with us over the summer, creating our first Edward Thomas online resource.


My first introduction to working in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives was in the autumn term of my third year studying English Literature.  I studied Dr Julia Thomas’s module, The Illustrated Book, which hosted all of its seminars in Special Collections. Over the course of the module, we were given access to numerous examples of illustrated novels, journals, and newspapers from the archive’s extensive collection, aiding our understanding of the history of the illustrated book from the late eighteenth century to the present. My personal highlights included studying Special Collections’ copy of the Moxon Tennyson (surely every Pre-Raphaelite lover’s dream), handling the unconventional and intriguing artist’s books, and carving our own designs into lino blocks to attempt relief printing for ourselves! (Safe to say, I don’t think we would have made the cut to be professional engravers any time soon…)

Practising linocut with the Illustrated Book class.

Practising linocut with the Illustrated Book class.

I was excited by the prospect of returning to the archive in the spring term while studying Dr Carrie Smith’s module, Poetry in the Making: Modern Literary Manuscripts. In order to give us practical experience of working with literary manuscripts, several weeks of the module were conducted in Special Collections, engaging with the material held in the Edward Thomas (1878-1917) archive. Part of the assessment required us to create a group video presentation exploring an item of interest from the archive. Here’s a clip from one of the student films:

Despite the words ‘group presentation’ usually striking fear into the hearts of most students, the filmed assessment was what had initially attracted me to the module. To have a practical element to an undergraduate English Literature module is unusual, and it stood out as a unique opportunity, allowing students to develop and showcase a different set of skills to future employers.

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

Special Collections’ Edward Thomas archive is expansive, holding the world’s largest collection of his letters, diaries, notebooks, poems, photographs, and personal belongings. Alison Harvey, archivist at Special Collections, selected a wide array of material from the archive for us to explore, and in our groups we assessed which items would form the focal point of our presentations. Being tasked with working with archival material was certainly a new experience, and it proved very interesting but also challenging. Almost all the texts I had encountered during my three years studying English Literature had been published documents, written in standardised print with titles, page numbers, and footnotes. It was therefore challenging studying the manuscript form of Edward Thomas’ poems, diary entries, and correspondence, because the layout of the text on the page did not always follow a chronological pattern. Amendments and notes could have been added at different stages of the document’s history, and we felt like detectives trying to figure out the chronology of the documents. At the beginning we also struggled with some of the seemingly indecipherable handwriting, but both Carrie and Alison were extremely patient with us, and with practice, it became easier to interpret the handwriting and read the material.

Telegram to Helen, notifying her of Edward's death in combat.

Telegram to Helen, notifying her of Edward’s death in combat.

I think the rest of the group would agree how surprisingly evocative they found the experience, especially handling the telegram sent to Helen Thomas relating the news of her husband’s death, and reading the condolence letters sent to her by Edward’s comrades and friends. I think these documents produced a strong emotional reaction among the group, because holding correspondence of such a personal nature felt intrusive to some extent. It was possible to imagine the moment Helen received the telegram, and the devastation this would have caused her and their three children.

The practical experience of working hands-on with the archive material and filming for the presentation made an invigorating change from the usual essay assessments, and the module was an excellent introduction to working in an archive. It also sparked a personal interest in Edward Thomas, drawing in all the elements of his life as a literary critic, a novelist, a poet, a soldier, and also as a husband and a father. I was able to delve further into his life and works by attending the Edward Thomas Centenary Conference that was held at Cardiff University in April 2017, hearing leading researchers of Edward Thomas speak, and meeting fellow fans of his work. On one of the days of the conference, I participated in a student panel hosted by Dr Carrie Smith, answering questions from the attendees about our experience of using the archive, handling the material, and producing a video presentation as an assessment, which was understandably identified as an unusual feature of an undergraduate module.

Edward Thomas 100 exhibition

Edward Thomas 100 exhibition

Special Collections also launched its Edward Thomas 100 exhibition to coincide with the Centenary Conference, and it was fantastic to see the collection showcased to the public in such a visually appealing and accessible way. Much respect to Alison for engineering such a wonderful display whilst also fending off frequent queries about the Edward Thomas archive from our course group as deadlines loomed! The exhibition is on display in Special Collections until October, for any of those who are inspired to come and have a gander.

After being involved in the conference, I approached Alison to see if I could be of any assistance in volunteering my time to Special Collections over the summer. She proposed a project to digitise sections of the Edward Thomas archive. The plan was to focus on the photographs, poems, and letters held in the collection, which were used so heavily as an educational resource every Spring by Dr Carrie Smith’s Poetry in the Making group. Since July, I have been tasked with digitising, editing, uploading and organising images on a freely available online resource (Flickr), where they can be viewed and navigated through easily. The resource allows images to be downloaded for re-use at a variety of resolutions.

The new Edward Thomas online resource

The new Edward Thomas online resource

Once uploaded to Flickr, I attach the full metadata to each image to assist with citations, add tags (so that images can be found by users searching keywords) and a location pin (if applicable). Finally, I group related images into albums for ease of navigation.

I began by tackling the extensive collection of photographs, beginning with those solely of Edward Thomas, and then moving onto the wider family, including ones taken years after Edward’s death. It was necessary for me wear gloves to handle the photographs, (completing the stereotypical image of an archivist in style I might add), as the oils from the skin can easily damage the surface of the prints.

Edward's children (r-l): Bronwen, Myfanwy and Merfyn.

Edward’s children (r-l): Bronwen, Myfanwy and Merfyn.

It has been pleasing to see the Flickr account fill up with photographs of Edward, his wife Helen, and children Merfyn, Bronwen, and Myfanwy. The images really help to flesh out their lives outside of Edward’s publications and literary career. You get a sense of character through photographs that it can be difficult to find from a sheet of paper, no matter how personal someone’s handwriting can feel. It was also enjoyable to see the progression of Edward and Helen’s three children growing up as the number of photos on the resource accumulated.

Early drafts of Edward Thomas' poems

Early drafts of Edward Thomas’ poems

I encountered one of the more challenging aspects of working with archival material when I moved onto digitising Edward’s poems. The manuscript poems held at Special Collections date between 1914-1917, and the pages are noticeably thinner and more delicate than other material in the archive. This is because paper quality severely declined during wartime, and its high acid content makes surviving material extremely friable. The availability of digital surrogates will help conserve these vulnerable originals.

To get a representative sample of the hundreds of letters stored in the archive, I focused my attention next on Edward’s letters from poet Robert Frost and those sent to writer Gordon Bottomley. The letters which I chose to upload from Gordon Bottomley date from 1902-1905, and reveal evidence of Edward’s continuing struggle with depression. Though mostly containing discussion of literature and Edward’s review-writing, there is often a pervasive tone of despair to Edward’s letters. The letters sent to Edward written by Robert Frost date from 1915-16, and are saturated with the outbreak of the war, revealing insecurities arising from the pressure of enlisting and needing to prove one’s worth. On pages 3-4 of a letter from 6 Nov 1916, Frost writes:

Letter from Robert Frost.

Letter from Robert Frost.

“You rather shut me up by enlisting. Talk is almost too cheap when all your friends are facing bullets. I don’t believe I ought to enlist (since I am American) […] When all the world is facing danger, it’s a shame not to be facing danger for any reason, old age, sickness, or any other. Words won’t make the shame less. There’s no use trying to make out that the shame we suffer makes up for the more heroic things we don’t suffer.”

Edward’s own desire to prove his worth is evident in a letter he wrote to his daughter Myfanwy. Dated 29 Dec 1916, whilst Edward was situated in Lydd, Kent, he confesses:

Letter from Edward to his daughter, Myfanwy, aged 6.

Letter from Edward to his daughter, Myfanwy, aged 6.

“I should not be surprised if we were in France at the end of this month. I do hope peace won’t come just yet. I should not know what to do, especially if it came before I had fully been a soldier. I wonder if you want peace, and if you can remember when there was no war.”

Another extensive sequence of Edward Thomas’s correspondences held in Special Collections is between Edward and Helen Thomas (nee Noble). These letters run from 1897 (before their marriage), until Edward’s death in 1917. Of the hundreds of letters, I selected the last letters Edward wrote to Helen, and worked my way backwards. I thought this would provide a useful contrast to the early Bottomley letters, also identifying that the descriptions of Edward’s experiences in the army, and his subsequent posting to France, would be of great interest to researchers of Edward’s life.

The letters Edward writes to Helen during the years he is studying at Lincoln College, Oxford (1898-1900), whilst Helen is at their family home in Kent, are interesting because they disclose the domestic side to Edward’s life. These letters may consist of comparatively mundane subject matter to researchers, as they consist of everyday conversations, mainly including practical matters and financial arrangements between the couple. However, much of the early correspondence resonated with me. One particular letter (25 May 1900, pp. 5-7) contains Edward’s dejection over getting a bad mark in a university module and worrying about disappointing his parents.

Letter from Edward to Helen, while a student at Oxford.

Letter from Edward to Helen, while a student at Oxford.

“I have been wickedly idle this last year (except in the vacation), and father will be angry when he sees the class list in July: for I shall get a 3rd at most.”

Every student at some point has gone through the angst of being convinced they were going to fail a module. It’s reassuring that this was also the case for the last century’s students too.

Another letter from a month later, (8 Jun 1900), consists of Edward expressing his misery at being apart from Helen, but her not being able to visit him because of financial constraints and having nowhere for her to stay. Despite these letters being over 100 years old, it is remarkable just how relevant they still are to students, and to my own experience of being in a long-distance relationship. In our age of instant communication, we can forget how much further distances just within the UK would have felt when you had to wait on a letter to bring news of your loved ones: “I have no time for a letter but I can’t help expecting to hear good news from you. The absence of it is distracting. My health is getting bad and my eyes almost // failed me today. I don’t see how you can come down. You can’t afford it and I don’t know where you could stay.”

In creating this resource, I have become privy to so many more aspects of Edward Thomas’s life that I didn’t have time to appreciate during the seminar hours of Poetry in the Making. My hope is that this resource will allow future students on the module to spend time going through the collection at their own leisure, unrestrained by the archive’s opening hours or the limited number of seminars held in the archive. Having the images freely available to use on Flickr will reduce the number of times the documents will be handled each time a group needs to take a photograph, helping to conserve the originals. This will free up time during the seminars for the groups to discuss the content and argument of their presentations, and also guarantee high quality photographs for every group. For those rushing things last-minute, (as there inevitably will be), they will be able to check a reference number or a date quickly online, rather than having to pull out and go through all the boxes of material in search of one photograph or a letter they forgot to write down the catalogue number for!

Beyond the University, now that a large chunk of the Edward Thomas archive has been digitised, researchers all over the world are able see images of the documents described by the archive catalogue, and can easily browse through the majority of the collection held here in Cardiff. This will be a major help to many, I hope, and aid them in their research.

I’ve enjoyed my time in Special Collections very much over the final year of my degree here at Cardiff University, and I want to say a big thank you to the entire team at Special Collections for making me feel so welcome during this project. It’s been a pleasure to aid future users of the archive, and if you’re unfamiliar with Special Collections, I hope you will go for a visit after reading this!

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.

Shakespeare_book

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.

 

Guest post: Observations on Edward Thomas’ manuscript poems

This guest post comes from Rachel Carney, writer and blogger at http://www.createdtoread.com.


What I love about archives is the fact that they provide an opportunity to discover things you’d never see for yourself in the printed copies of a writers’ work. As we celebrate the centenary of the poet Edward Thomas, who lived and fought during the First World War, it is an incredible privilege to be able to see his personal handwritten letters and notebooks – to read the poems written in his own hand, and to see the very pages on which he wrote.

You can see some of these in a new online exhibition, featuring highlights from the world’s largest collection of Edward Thomas papers. Special Collections and Archives will also host an onsite exhibition, launching tomorrow on 19th April, the first day of the Edward Thomas 100 conference.

The following manuscripts of Thomas’ poems were all written in 1916, the last year of his life.

The Trumpet, by Edward Thomas.

The Trumpet, by Edward Thomas. Original manuscript draft in pencil, sent to Eleanor Farjeon.

On first glance, ‘The Trumpet’, written by Thomas in September 1916, seems to be a rousing call to arms, but on closer examination, there is much more to this simple poem than you might think. To begin with, as his biographer Matthew Hollis explains, “he did his best to conceal that it was a poem at all”. It was written whilst Thomas was based at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Trowbridge, and he was afraid, it seems, to let on to his fellow soldiers that he was actually a poet.

We wouldn’t necessarily know this unless we had the original manuscript, which he sent in a letter addressed to his friend Eleanor Farjeon, in which he admitted what he’d done: “You see I have written it with only capitals to mark the lines” because “people are all around me and I don’t want them to know”.

The poem itself is full of ambiguity and irony. Hollis describes it thus: “the form, strident, galloping, heroic… but the content suggesting other tones – the dark stars that failed to illuminate the earth below, the hounding of dreams…” Edward Thomas had always been against the war and the fervent nationalism that it inspired, and it had taken him a long time to make the momentous decision to enlist, and fight for his country. Of all his poems, just a handful refer directly to the war itself, and they are different in style to those of his contemporaries, such as Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Rupert Brooke.

Earlier that same month Edward Thomas wrote ‘Gone, gone again’, later titled ‘Blenheim Oranges‘. This is a bleak, depressing verse which focuses on the relentless march of time, as apples continue to “fall grubby from the trees” and the war continues to “turn young men to dung”.

Blenheim Oranges by Edward Thomas. Original manuscript draft in ink.

Blenheim Oranges by Edward Thomas. Original manuscript draft in ink.

 

We also hold the original manuscript of ‘As the team’s head brass’, a poem written earlier in 1916, which refers obliquely to the war. In Hollis’s biography, he describes how the poem was deeply significant for Thomas, mirroring his own decision to seek a commission on the Western Front. It pivots around the central phrase: ‘…Everything / Would have been different. For it would have been / Another world.’ These lines, and the fallen elm tree on which the speaker sits, highlight the fact that war changes everything, however remotely removed one might feel from the situation.

As the teams head brass by Edward Thomas.

As the teams head brass by Edward Thomas. Original manuscript draft in ink, sent to Eleanor Farjeon.

It is fascinating to compare these manuscripts, and see that Thomas’s handwriting varied widely. We can also see his corrections, and observe the editing process in action.

If you visit the exhibition you’ll be able to see some of them for yourself, or come along to our poetry performance event on Friday, where items from the archive will be on display.

 

Edward Thomas 100: Exhibition launch

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

A frustrated writer, suffocated by family life, and crippled by depression and self-doubt, Edward Thomas (1878-1917) found his personal and literary salvation as a soldier in the First World War.

​In 2017, Cardiff University, holder of the world’s largest archive of Edward Thomas’ letters, diaries, notebooks, poems, photographs, and personal belongings, will host a major centenary conference and exhibition celebrating his life and work.

Our online exhibition is now live. An onsite, public exhibition, based in Special Collections and Archives, will launch on 19th April, the first day of the Edward Thomas 100 conference, and will be in place over the summer.

The exhibition features many highlights from the archives: intimate letters to Helen Thomas and Gordon Bottomley, poetry drafts, nature diaries, family photographs, as well as previously unheard archive recordings of family and friends, interviewed by Cardiff University’s Professor R. George Thomas in 1967. Find out more about both the archive and the exhibition in this Wales Arts Review podcast with Prof. Katie Gramich and archivist Alison Harvey.

Other Edward Thomas events taking place in Cardiff this month include a creative writing workshop and open mic poetry night. This year’s Frome Festival will feature Edward Thomas themed talks, walks, and even a cricket match! BBC Radio 4 will be broadcasting In Pursuit of Edward Thomas, a programme by biographer Mathew Hollis, and a radio adaptation of Nick Dear’s play, The Dark Earth and the Light Sky.

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.

lyrical_ballads_2vols

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.” 

tintern_abbey

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.

ancient_mariner_pogany

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

preface

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.

Exhibition review: Tennyson’s Women

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edition fever: Charles Knight’s illustrated Shakespeare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, he desired to depict with historical accuracy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bookplate of John Charles Bigham (1840-1929)

Bookplate of John Charles Bigham (1840-1929)

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

Further reading:

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