Wednesday 30 November 2011

Rocque of ages ago

John Rocque's exquisite 1746 map of London is quite simply a national treasure. Chetham's Library copy has obviously seen plenty of use but remains a thing of enormous beauty which holds many secrets to eighteenth-century London, from its grand squares and elegant avenues to its orchards, wharves and vinegar yards . This week on the 101 Treasures page we take a closer look at this cartographical masterpiece.

Monday 28 November 2011

Woe to the fattest

In Friday's post we looked at Edward Carpenter's political tract England's Ideal, part of a bound collection of thirty miscellaneous pamphlets we recently acquired from Modern First Editions of Ilkley.

Sadly, few of the other authors represented in this volume are anything like as perceptive or relevant as Carpenter. Most of the works consist of the usual anti-Roman Catholic polemics ("Protestantism v Popery: a catechism"), interminable pieces attacking other churchmen ("What is it all about?, or an inquiry into the statements of the Rev. C.H. Spurgeon") and almost certainly some of the worst poetry ever written, of which J.F. Sparke's 1865 offering is a prime example. His seasonal verse entitled 'A Merry Christmas' somehow fails quite spectacularly to get you in the Christmas mood:

"Woe to the fattest and the best,
Struck by the annual "rinderpest." [Cattle Plague]
And great and wide-spread thus you see
The quadruped mortality.
The poultry too, are sure to die,
They are too ponderous to fly,
And after eating corn - some pecks,
The knife is pushed right through their necks.
So let it be, may every sinner,
On Christmas-day enjoy his dinner."

Friday 25 November 2011

Rotten to the core

You might rightly assume that a library with a list of past users including Karl Marx, Daniel Defoe and John Wesley would not be short on works of penetrating social analysis, but for incisive commentary on the evils of the 1% you could do worse than consult the works of Edward Carpenter, whose pamphlet England's Ideal: A Tract (1885) has recently been acquired by the Library.

Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) was a gay activist, poet and radical socialist who pioneered an alternative lifestyle before the concept had even been thought of. In a world of aspidistra and antimacassars, Carpenter gathered around himself a band of sexually liberated free-thinkers and set up a commune near Sheffield where they wore sandals, ate vegetarian food and enjoyed plenty of fresh air. He was passionately in favour of women's rights and equality for all, and in this passage from England's Ideal he offers his thoughts on the class system with a characteristic frankness:

The feeling seems to be spreading that England stands to-day on the verge of a dangerous precipice. And so I believe she does; at any moment the door may open for her on a crisis more serious than any in her whole history. Rotten to the core, penetrated with falsehood from head to foot, her aristocracy emasculated of all manly life, her capitalist classes wrapped in selfishness, luxury and self-satisfied philanthropy, her Government offices – army, navy and the rest – utterly effete, plethoric, gorged (in snake-like coma) with red tape, her Church sleeping profoundly-snoring aloud, her trading classes steeped in deception and money greed, her labourers stupefied with overwork and beer, her poorest stupefied with despair, there is not a pain which will bear examination, not a wheel in the whole machine which will not give way under pressure.

But the disease from which the nation is suffering is dishonesty; the more you look into it the clearer you will perceive: that this is the source of all England’s present weakness corruption and misery; and honesty and honesty alone will save, her, or give her a chance of salvation. Let us confess it. What we have all been trying to do is to live at the expense people’s labour, without giving an equivalent of our labour in return. Some succeed, others only try; but it comes to much the same thing...

If for every man who consumes more than he creates there must of necessity be another man who has to consume less than he creates, what must be the state of affairs in that nation where a vast class – and ever vaster becoming – is living in the height of unproductive wastefulness? Obviously another vast class – and ever vaster becoming – must be sinking down into the abyss of toil, penury and degradation. Look at Brighton and Scarborough and Hastings and the huge West End of London, and the polite villa residences which like unwholesome toadstools dot and disfigure the whole of this great land ...

As far as the palaces of the rich stretch through Mayfair and Belgravia and South Kensington, so far (and farther) must the hovels of the poor inevitably stretch in the opposite direction. There is no escape. It is useless to talk about better housing of these unfortunates unless you strike at the root of their poverty; arid if you want to see the origin and explanation of an East London rookery, you must open the door and walk in upon some fashionable dinner party at the West End; where elegance, wealth, ease, good grammar, politeness, and literary and sentimental conversation only serve to cover up and conceal a heartless mockery – the lie that it is a fine thing to live upon the labour of others. You may abolish the rookery, but if you do not abolish the other thing, the poor will only find some other place to die in; and one room, in a sanitary and respectable neighbourhood will serve a family for that purpose, as well as a whole house in a dirtier locality.

For further reading, we can do no better than recommend Sheila Rowbotham's biography Edward Carpenter: A life of liberty and love.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Another view of the Library

Paul Capewell visited the Library last week with colleagues from CILIP North West and wrote about his experiences on his blog. Do go over and have a read...

Roll up, roll up

There's a real treat for lovers of all things medieval over on the 101 Treasures pages this week. This beautiful paper volvelle forms part of Astrologica, a work of astrology and astronomy dating from the mid-fifteenth century. To find out more, and to follow links to the digitised version of the work, visit the website.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Mancuniensis in the Evening News

The Manchester Evening News have run a piece today on our recent digitisation of Richard Hollingworth's Mancuniensis, the earliest history of the city: have a look at the article here.

Hello Boys!

This alluring threesome may be found on the pages of Theodor de Bry's Emblemata nobilitati et vulgo scitu digna which is showcased this week on our 101 Treasures page. The wonderfully detailed and hand-coloured miniature marvel is currently on show in our 'Curios and Curiosities' exhibition here at the Library, although it should be pointed out that the image above is almost certainly the raciest page in the work, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

Monday 14 November 2011

Philip's bird

Those of you who enjoyed meeting Philip the Monster may be interested to make the acquaintance of this magnificent creature known as Avis Philippensis - or Philip's bird. She makes an appearance on a previous plate in James Petiver's Catalogus classicus & topicus of 1711, for more details of which see last Friday's post.

Friday 11 November 2011

Introducing Philip the Monster

This splendid fellow goes by the name of Monstrum Philip, and is to be found surrounded by some of his favourite things in James Petiver's Catalogus classicus & topicus of 1711:

James Petiver (1663/4-1718) was an apothecary, botanist and entomologist and Fellow of the Royal Society who owned an extensive herbarium estimated to contain between 5000 and 6000 specimens. He published many works detailing his collection as well as a popular periodical, the Monthly Miscellany.

Petiver was frequently sent objects and specimens from his many friends and colleagues who travelled the world although he himself does not appear to have ventured further than the Midlands to visit his married sister. In 1709 he was appointed demonstrator to the Society of Apothecaries, but was alleged to have exploited his position by removing specimens from their Chelsea Physic Garden 'to enrich his personal herbarium' (DNB).

On his death in 1718 his collection was purchased by Sir Hans Sloane, physician and collector, who also acted as pallbearer at his funeral.

Text describing Monstrum Philip

Wednesday 9 November 2011

A sudden and terrible raine

The infamous Manchester weather has been a preoccupation for local residents for well over three hundred and fifty years, according to the earliest surviving history of the town.

Richard Hollingworth's Mancuniensis, or an History of the Towne of Manchester, contains several references to the region's tendency to rain heavily and repeatedly on both the just and the unjust. In July 1648, for example, 'there was a sudden & terrible raine on the Lords day wch in twoo houres space filled the sellers in the market place hanging ditch & three channels ran downe the stretes like great rivers'. Perhaps next time an unexpected downpour catches us without an umbrella we should bite our tongues and be thankful for modern drainage.

The manuscript of Mancuniensis has recently been digitised in its entirety and is now available to view online as a pdf. Other manuscripts and printed works are due to follow, thanks to a generous grant from the Manchester Statistical Society.

This week's 101 Treasures post takes a closer look at Hollingworth's manuscript. Click here to find out more.

Friday 4 November 2011

Glass slide collection

The Library has a large and varied collection of glass slides, mostly collected by the antiquarian J.J. Phelps in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Read more about them on our 101 Treasures page this week...