THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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12 March 2019

Felix Slade and his bindings bequest


Felix Slade (1788-1868) was a lawyer, philanthropist and collector.  Born in Lambeth, he was the youngest of four sons and yet inherited his father’s estate.  He never married, instead devoting himself to the law and to collecting antiquities, fine bindings, glass and prints.  He supported many societies and funds, such as the Nightly Shelter for the Houseless, and lent items from his collection to public exhibitions including the 1857 Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition.  He belonged to the Society of Antiquaries and is widely remembered today for endowing three Slade Professorships of Fine Art at Oxford University, Cambridge University and University College London.  At the British Library, we remember Slade for his bequest of fine bindings to the British Museum (subsequently transferred to the British Library in 1973).

Felix Slade BM 1874 0314.1A drawing of Slade by Margaret Carpenter now in the British Museum 1874,0314.1

The bequest consists of twenty-five fine bindings from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.  It contains examples of work by notable binders and includes various styles with English, French and Italian bindings well represented.  It also contains books bound for royalty, including King Charles I, Emperor Maximilian II and Henry III of France.  Here is a small selection of bindings from the bequest:
 

La Cyropedie

This binding covers a copy of La Cyropedie (Paris, 1547).  It belonged to the royal library of King Edward VI of England (1547-1553), son of Henry VIII.  The leather is 16th-century English calf, tooled in gold and painted, with Edward’s arms on each cover. A similar binding is described here, and attributed to the King Edward and Queen Mary Royal Binder.

Le Monnier

An 18th-century mosaic binding by Jean Charles Henri Le Monnier, from a well-known dynasty of Parisian bookbinders.  He signed his bindings by gold tooling his name in tiny lettering on each cover.
 

Filareto

This is a rare survival from the library of Apollonio Filareto (fl. 1537-1547) Private Secretary to the Farnese family in Renaissance Italy.  The bindings on his books bear an impresa, or personal device, of an eagle soaring above a sea containing shoals of fish.  This also has “APLLONII PHILARETI” tooled in gold on the lower cover.  Filareto’s books all have fine 16th-century Italian medallion bindings.  The only comparable bindings from this period are those bearing an Apollo and Pegasus device made for Giovanni Battista Grimaldi (c.1524-1612), a Genoese banker and book collector who operated in the same social circles as Filareto.

Padeloup le Jeune
An 18th-century gold tooled goatskin binding by Antoine Michel Padeloup le Jeune for Marie Louise Adelaide de Bourbon Penthievre (1753-1821), whose arms are stamped in gold on the inside of the covers.  Padeloup was appointed royal bookbinder to King Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour in 1733.

Maddy Smith
Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
British Museum Library’s Donations Register 1866-1871 pp. 178-9.
To see more bindings bequeathed by Slade go to the Library’s online database of bookbindings and type “Felix Slade” into the Quick Search box.

 

08 March 2019

The Making of ‘Dear John: The Kin Selection Controversy’. Part 2: From Idea to Event

Yesterday I explored some of the background of our upcoming performance ‘Dear John: The Kin Selection Controversy’ (15 March 2019). In this second part I will take you on a trip behind the scenes of developing this event.

This year’s edition of ‘Dear John’ will be part of British Science Week, a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths. Run by the British Science Association, British Science Week features events and activities across the UK, and I’ve previously written blog posts on the Library’s Science blog as part of it.

Following its theme of ‘journeys’, let me take you on a trip behind the scenes of ‘Dear John’ - and join us for our journey into the past and into the archives during the event itself!

Image 4 (Blog 2) - The set  designed by Tanya Stephenson. Copyright (c) Undercurrent Theatre; photographs by Grace HopkinsThe set, designed by Tanya Stephenson. Copyright © Undercurrent Theatre: photographs by Grace Hopkins

As I mentioned yesterday, after deciding we were going to do the event, the first step was choosing which letters to build it around. The originals are all held in the archives of John Maynard Smith, William Hamilton and George Price at the British Library, and the excerpts previously published in the latter two’s biographies were a good starting point. Maynard Smith’s archive is well organised and most of the letters are part of Add MS 86764: ‘Hamilton Price (1960-1980)’. The relevant folder is in fact prefaced by Maynard Smith himself, who inserted a page saying: ‘Correspondence with George Price. Mainly about the “ESS” paper but his letter of 19 Oct –72 also discusses Bill Hamilton’s feelings about me.’

Choosing the letters was one thing, and a relatively straightforward one at that. In terms of how to build an event around them, we had a few options. There was (1) a historical discussion, followed by the reading of letters (or vice versa), or (2) introduce two letters to get the ball rolling, followed by the discussion, and then return to the letters.

I discussed these with Laura Farnworth, artistic director of Undercurrent Theatre and artist in residence at the Library, and we quickly dismissed option 1 as too static and uninspired. Some version of option 2, a cutting back and forth between my historical discussion and the letters, would flow much better. Thinking about television documentaries and their way of moving between source material and explanation, we had found our way of structuring the event.

Image 5 (Blog 2) - Neal Craig performing. British Library  2018. Copyright (c) Undercurrent Theatre; photographs by Grace HopkinsNeal Craig performing. British Library, 2018. Copyright © Undercurrent Theatre: photographs by Grace Hopkins

Writing and editing the script, and piecing together additional source material beyond the letters, was step three. This was followed by entering the brave new world of theatre: read-throughs and rehearsals with an actor under the watchful eye of a director! (We also had a proper set, designed by Tanya Stephenson!)

Thanks to Laura’s comments and directions, we achieved a dynamic performance in front of a full house that, despite the almost obligatory initial stage fright, was immensely fun to do. So much fun, and so wonderfully positively received, that we’re doing it all over again.

So do come along, lean back, and enjoy a journey into the history of science with us!

Helen Piel
Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) PhD student, University of Leeds and the British Library

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07 March 2019

The Making of ‘Dear John: The Kin Selection Controversy’. Part 1: What’s It All About?

William D. Hamilton: the Darwin of the twentieth century. John Maynard Smith: the senior statesman of British evolutionary biology. George R. Price: colleague of both – and intermediary between them.

Their story is one of personal and professional grievances around one of the most influential ideas in evolutionary biology: the genetics of altruism.

Image 1 (Blog 1) - John Maynard Smith. Sussex  1989. Copyright (c) Anita Corbin and John O’Grady. Courtesy of John Maynard Smith's EstateJohn Maynard Smith. Sussex, 1989. Copyright © Anita Corbin and John O’Grady. Courtesy of John Maynard Smith’s Estate

I study the archive of John Maynard Smith (Add MS 86569-86840) as part of a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership project between the British Library and the University of Leeds. The archive is held by the British Library, as are those of Bill Hamilton (uncatalogued) and George Price (Add MS 84115-84126). From Hamilton’s and Price’s biographies, I was aware of the fact that the relationship between Hamilton and Maynard Smith was a strained one. In Nature’s Oracle, Ullica Segerstråle even writes of Hamilton’s ‘life-long “Maynard Smith paranoia”’.

Going back to the letters in the archive for my own project, I found them as rich as the quotes promised. Accusations of harming a fellow researcher’s reputation were hurled at Maynard Smith – hurled in a very academic way: in his letter, Hamilton methodically numbered and listed his ‘main grounds’ for ‘disbelief’ in Maynard Smith’s version of the story. Maynard Smith replied, addressing each and every one of them.

Image 2 (Blog 1) - William D. Hamilton teaching at a seminar. Harvard  1978. Copyright (c) Sarah Blaffer HrdyWilliam D. Hamilton teaching at a seminar. Harvard, 1978. Copyright © Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

But what were they arguing about in the first place? And what was George Price’s role? The priority issue related to a feeling on Hamilton’s side that he hadn’t been given the credit for first proposing the idea and mathematics for the genetics of altruism. While Hamilton called it ‘inclusive fitness’, the idea is more popularly known by Maynard Smith’s term ‘kin selection’.

The idea was to eventually revolutionise the field of evolutionary biology by explaining why animals behave altruistically. Hamilton published his ideas in July 1964. But Maynard Smith had published a similar idea in March 1964 – and Maynard Smith had been the reviewer for Hamilton’s paper. And Price? Price was the one first informing Maynard Smith of Hamilton’s feelings.

Image 3 (Blog 1)- George Price  London 1974. Copyright (c) Estate of George PriceGeorge Price, London 1974. Copyright © Estate of George Price

Price’s life has been the subject of a very successful theatre production, ‘Calculating Kindness’ (2016 at the Camden People’s Theatre), based on Price’s papers in the Library. The show was developed by Undercurrent Theatre, who subsequently became the British Library’s first Associate Theatre Company. That is how I met their artistic director, Laura Farnworth – we were both based in the Politics and Public Life department. Together with curator Jonathan Pledge we decided the letters and the story they represented were the perfect basis for a theatrical event based on them.

Come back tomorrow to read more about how we developed ‘Dear John: The Kin Selection Controversy’! You can join us for the performance, which is part of British Science Week, on Friday, 15 March 2019.

Helen Piel
Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) PhD student, University of Leeds and the British Library

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05 March 2019

Indian Seamen and the Steamship 'Rauenfels' during World War One

The India Office Records contains many interesting files on the subject of Indian seamen, or lascars, during the First World War.  One example is a file on the lascar crews of German ships interned at various Neutral, Allied and British Ports.  The file contains correspondence, memoranda and statements concerning Indian seamen who had been serving on German ships prior to the outbreak of war in 1914, and had either been stranded at whatever port their ship was interned or had managed to return to India but with a loss of wages.  The file includes statements often listing the names of the seamen, the port of discharge, the name of the ship, and the amount of any wages owed.

LE7-858 file 76  Rauenfels crew petitionIOR/L/E/7/858 File 76 Noc

Among the papers in the file is a petition from the Indian crew of the German ship Rauenfels describing their case.  The Rauenfels was a steamship of the Hansa Line Steamer Company of Germany, which embarked from the port of Calcutta on 5 January 1914 with a crew of 40 contracted for a one-year voyage to various ports in Asia and Europe, including Hamburg, Antwerp, Karachi, Bombay, and also New York.  With the outbreak of war in August 1914, the ship took shelter in Bahia in Brazil.  The Indian seamen were kept aboard ship for 5 months in order to complete their agreed term of employment, after which they were forced to go ashore, and left under the care of the British Consul there.  They stayed at Bahia for a month, and were supplied by the Consul with food and lodgings, before being sent back to Calcutta via Marseilles and Rangoon.  The British Consul in Brazil had told the seamen that they would receive the pay still due to them when they reached Calcutta, but six weeks after returning to India, they had still not received it.  They therefore sent a petition to the Bengal Chamber of Commerce in Calcutta, which forwarded it to the Government of India for consideration.  The decision reached by Government was that Local Indian Governments could make such payments to seamen, and then if possible recover the amount plus any repatriation costs from the ships owners or agents.

LE7-858 file 76  Rauenfels crew namesIOR/L/E/7/858 File 76 Noc

With the petition was sent a fascinating list of the 40 crew members giving their names, father’s name, address in India, their capacity (or role) on the ship, term of service, rate of pay, the payment received, and the balance due.  Some of the extraordinary sounding names of the roles listed are intriguing, for instance Donkeyman.  This was someone who was in charge of a steam engine, known as a donkey-engine, which was usually used for subsidiary operations on board ship.

As for the ship, it was seized by the Brazilian Government in 1917 and renamed the Lages.  In September 1942, it was part of convoy of merchant ships which were attacked by a German U-boat off the coast of Brazil.  The Lages was struck by a torpedo and sank with the loss of three lives.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Lascar Crews of German Ships interned at various Neutral, Allied and British Ports, 1915-1917 [Reference IOR/L/E/7/858 File 76]
Tyne Built Ships, A history of Tyne shipbuilders and the ships that they built
Lages

 

28 February 2019

‘Smutty stuff’ for ‘debauched readers’: The Merryland books in the Private Case

The Private Case is an historic collection of erotica that was segregated from the main British (Museum) Library collection on grounds of obscenity from the 1850s onwards in a moral climate of suppression and censorship.  Newly acquired erotica was restricted and ‘obscene’ books already in the Library’s collections were transferred into the Private Case.  These included a small but distinct sub-genre of Georgian erotica known as the Merryland books, in which the female body is described as a country to be explored, tilled and ploughed by men.  One particular tract volume (P.C.20.b.7) has copies of the key works in this sub-genre: A New Description of Merryland (1741), The Potent Ally or Succours from Merryland (1741) and Merryland Displayed: or, Plagiarism, Ignorance and Impudence, Detected (1741).

Merryland 1A New Description of Merryland P.C.20.b.7.(1), title page

These works are full of sexual double-entendres and terrible puns intended to be as humorous that make you want to put your head in your hands.  A New Description of Merryland originally belonged to Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753); it was part of the Library’s main collection for a century before the Victorians deemed it obscene enough for transfer into the Private Case. 

 
Merryland- 2A New Description of Merryland P.C.20.b.7.(1), frontispiece


The inspiration behind Merryland was an earlier work entitled Erotopolis: The Present State of Betty-land (1684) by Charles Cotton, an English poet and writer. It satirised the New World promotional tracts flying around in the 17th century, transforming their messages about land ownership into sexualised puns.  The female body became fallow land subject to ‘manuring’ and ‘tilling’ with a phallic ‘plow’.  There are two copies of Betty-Land in the Private Case (P.C.30.b.41 and P.C.27.b.37).  In both, particularly suggestive passages have been underlined, including ‘the more will the soyl cleave and gape for moisture’, ‘rank and very hot’ and ‘the whole country of Betty-land shews you a very fair prospect, which is yet the more delightful the more naked it lies’.  Saucy, indeed.

The bookseller and publisher behind Merryland was Edmund Curll (c.1675-1747).  He was notorious for selling pirated editions, inaccurate celebrity biographies, pornography and patent medicine (he sold mercury as a cure for syphilis).  Curll made his living from selling this cheaply printed material that was affordable for the masses.  He was evidently successful;  the Merryland books, all with a false ‘Paris’ or ‘Bath’ imprint, went through several editions.  The introduction to Merryland Displayed gives us further insight into their popularity.  They were apparently ‘a master-piece of wit and humour’ and in such high demand that ‘in about three months [they] went thro’ seven editions, besides some thousands of pirated copies that were sold in town and country’.  It even encouraged other booksellers to dredge up similar ‘smutty stuff’ from their stocks to ‘scratch the callous appetites of their debauched readers’. 

The Merryland books demonstrate how attitudes towards sexuality, censorship and obscenity have changed over time, and how books have moved in and out of the Private Case as a result.  All of this, and more, can be explored by researchers in our Rare Books & Music Reading Room or online.  We have digitised the 2,500 volumes that comprise the Private Case, and they are being made available online by publisher Gale as part of their Archives of Sexuality and Gender academic research resource.  The resource is available by subscription to libraries and higher education institutions, and is available for free via the British Library’s reading rooms in London and Yorkshire.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

26 February 2019

Trying to grow Syrian tobacco in Bombay

In 1841 seeds from Syrian tobacco plants were acquired by the Bombay Presidency.  Seeds were distributed to twelve collectorates or botanic gardens throughout Bombay Presidency with instructions to undertake experiments to see if the correct soil and climate conditions for growing the plants could be found.

Tobacco plantTobacco plant from p.37 of The Making of Virginia and the Middle Colonies. 1578-1701. 9605.c.18. BL flickr Noc

On 10 July 1843 the Bombay Revenue Department submitted a letter reporting on the results of these experiments to the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London. The experiments had very mixed results.

In the collectorates of Ahmedabad, Khandesh, Ratnagiri, Surat and Thane the experiments failed completely as the plants either did not vegetate or died shortly after they appeared above the ground.

In Kaira [Kheda] the seeds sprang up well but most were washed away in heavy rain.  Those that survived produced a very small yield of an inferior quality to the local tobacco grown and were therefore considered a failure.

In Pune two of the three experiments failed, and the third although successful was not harvested in time and became a victim of the strong winds in that region.  As some seeds from the successful experiment had been preserved, it was decided that future experiments should be conducted by the Botanic Gardens there.

In Ahmednagar and Solapur one or two plants grew successfully and produced leaves of a good quality; seeds from these plants were preserved to be sown again the following year.

Dharwar was considered to be the most successful province as the first attempt sprung up and was growing well, but was a victim of the strong winds that follow the monsoon.  A second attempt was made to plant the seeds much earlier, however none of these vegetated so on the third attempt they were again planted later in the year.  This attempt was successful with good healthy plants and good quality leaves, but the plants received considerable injury from insects.  The seeds from these plants were preserved with the intention of trying again the following season and of sending them to other collectorates such as Thane to see if they would be successful there too.

The Botanic Gardens at Dapurie attempted the experiments on a much larger scale and they were successful in obtaining a good quantity tobacco from their plants.  They even sent samples of the product to London for the Court of Directors to test and give their opinions.

IMG_1699Extract from report by Dr Gibson of the Botanic Gardens at Dapurie on the experiments on the Syrian tobacco seeds IOR/F/4/2808/91724 Noc

The report concluded however that Syrian tobacco had not generally adapted to the soil and climate of Bombay Presidency.  There had however been requests for fresh seeds to do more experiments and that request had been sent to the Company’s agent in Egypt.  They hoped that some of the collectorates that had seen some success would be able to replicate it on a larger scale in the future.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/F/4/2808/91724 experiments introduced in the several collectorates of the Bombay Presidency with a view of proving the adaptation of the soil and climate to the production of Syrian tobacco

 

21 February 2019

Interviews with Indian Soldiers of World War One and World War Two

The India Office Records recently acquired a fascinating collection of transcripts of interviews with Indian veterans of the First and Second World Wars.  The interviews were carried out by the American historian DeWitt Ellinwood (1923-2012) and his team of researchers between 1969 and 1986 as part of a historical survey of Indian soldiers, both officers and sepoys, who served in the Indian Army during some part of the period 1914-1939.

Mss Eur F729-1-30 Questions for Indian SoldiersMss Eur F729

The contribution of people from South Asia to the First and Second World Wars was crucial to Britain’s war effort.  India raised the world’s largest volunteer armies for both conflicts.  For each phase of the interviewing project, questionnaires were used as a way of drawing out the veterans’ memories and opinions.  There were questions about background (where the veteran came from, his home village and family), joining the army, training, army career (regiments served with, battles experienced), experiences of British officers, service conditions (food, medical facilities, recreation, and ability to carry out religious duties), contacts with other people (British soldiers, other Indian soldiers of different castes or religions, people of other countries), personal views (did the army change their views or ideas, their political views, their views of the British), and life after leaving the army.

Mss Eur F729-2-1 Questionnaire for World War One soldiersMss Eur F729

The transcripts of the answers given by the veterans give a fascinating glimpse into a period of their lives which saw great turmoil and change across the world, and an insight into what they felt and thought of that period.  The issue of British rule and the struggle for independence loomed large.  For many the experience of army life and the opportunities to meet people from other parts of the world, strengthened their belief that India should be free from British rule.  For others, the lower pay of Indian soldiers and the lack of respect from British officers led them to support the Independence movement.  Looking back, many of the men interviewed saw their army career as being a positive experience, giving them confidence in their abilities and a sense of purpose to their life.

15th Sikhs photo_24_076British and Indian officers, 15th Sikhs, standing in a French farmyard 24 July 1915 Images Online

The catalogue for the collection can be found online in Explore Archives and Manuscripts .

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Transcripts of interviews with former Indian soldiers who served in World War One and World War Two, 1967-1986 [Reference Mss Eur F729].

Harriet Sherwood writing for The Guardian, “Indians in the trenches: voices of forgotten army are finally to be heard”, 27 October 2018.

George Morton-Jack, The Indian Empire at War: From Jihad to Victory, The Untold Story of the Indian Army in the First World War (London: Little, Brown, 2018).

 

19 February 2019

The Dawes Bequest of erotica: so sensitive, it had to be smuggled in at dawn

The Private Case is the British Library’s historic collection of erotica.  Comprising ‘obscene’ books that were historically set aside from the main collection, its contents tell us much about past attitudes towards sex and sexuality.  This is the main reason why the British Library has just completed a project to digitise the entire collection.  Within the Private Case we can see the hands of several private collectors at work, among them Charles Reginald Dawes.  But who was Mr Dawes?

Dawes bookplate&Label PC13a24C. R. Dawes’s own bookplate and the Dawes Bequest label added by the British Museum (shelfmark: P.C.13.a.24)

Bibliographers of erotica have struggled to establish the facts about Mr Dawes.  The son of an iron broker born in Worcestershire in 1879, Dawes spent most of his adult life living initially in central London and later in the Gloucestershire village of Gotherington.  The Dawes family were independently wealthy, but in the 1911 census Charles lists himself as ‘author’.  This is curious as his name is associated with just two publications.  Patrick J. Kearney raises the possibility that he may in fact have made a living from writing erotic stories under a nom de plume.

Dawes had a reputation as a discerning book collector.  At his death in 1964, his library of erotica was left to the British Museum library (now the British Library).  Peter Fryer tells us that the bequest was collected overnight and ‘carried reverently’ into the museum at six o’clock one summer morning’.  246 of these works can today be found in the Private Case.  This was not the entirety of his erotica: Dawes also left 100 ‘books of his choice’ to his personal secretary, Antony John Gordon-Hill, who sold some privately and others at Sotheby’s on 12 April 1965.  Further manuscript volumes are now lost.

The Dawes volumes in the Private Case are all in either English or French.  Many are illustrated with erotic plates, some of which have been added post-publication (as with the Livre d’Amour des Anciens, 1912). Highlights include:
• four editions of John Cleland’s mid-18th century work Fanny Hill, considered the first pornographic novel in English;
• the first edition of the Memoirs of Dolly Morton (1899), recounting the erotic adventures of a fictional Quaker woman in the American South;
• five editions of works by the Marquis de Sade (unsurprising given that the Marquis was the subject of Dawes’s own publication of 1927);
• and a 1906 edition of Teleny, one of the earliest published works of gay erotic fiction, often attributed to Oscar Wilde.

PC.13.g.32 Teleny 1906 titlepageTitlepage of Dawes’s 1906 edition of Teleny, one of the earliest published works of gay erotic fiction (shelfmark: P.C.13.g.32)

For many bibliographers, the most significant item is Dawes’s copy of My Secret Life.  This purports to record the sexual exploits of a Victorian gentleman called ‘Walter’, and is widely thought to be by another erotic bibliographer, Henry Spencer Ashbee (1834–1900). This eleven-volume first edition, probably issued 1889–95, is thought to be just one of 25 copies produced.

Private Case items are listed in the library’s online catalogue Explore the British Library.  The Dawes Bequest is shelfmarked P.C.13.a.1 to P.C.13.h.19, and volumes can be consulted in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room.  The collaboration with Gale Cengage means that they can also be viewed online via the newly-released Archives of Sexuality and Gender: Part III.  This subscription resource is available at many larger research libraries and can be accessed for free in the reading rooms of the British Library.

Adrian Edwards
Head of Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
Paul J. Cross, ‘The Private Case: a History’, in P.R. Harris (ed.), The Library of the British Museum: Retrospective Essays (London: British Library, 1991), pp.201-40.
Peter Fryer, Private Case – Public Scandal (London: Secker & Warburg, 1966).
Patrick J. Kearney, The Erotic Library of Charles Reginald  Dawes (Santa Rosa, Calif.: Scissors & Paste Bibliographies, 2016).
Patrick J. Kearney, The Private Case: an Annotated Bibliography of the Private Case Erotica Collection in the British (Museum) Library (London: Jay Landesman, 1981).