Friday 30 May 2014

Beautiful book covers

More from the Asheton-Tonge collection today in the form of these most attractive book covers from the 1850s. The artist responsible for The Gold Worshippers is unknown but Pictures of the Town is illustrated by William McConnell (1833-1867), a prolific artist who produced work for Punch and the Illustrated London Magazine. Unhappily, ill health prevented McConnell from continuing to work, and he sadly died of consumption aged only 35.

Museums Showoff

Here's Jen singing 'The Testimony of Patience Kershaw' at Museums Showoff at the People's History Museum last night, in an incredibly powerful performance which made us all very proud. Thanks Jen for spreading the word about our ballad collection and showing us all how moving and relevant they can still be.

Thursday 29 May 2014

Dear Prudence

This beautifully decorated volume is part of the Asheton-Tonge collection and is one of a number of late-Victorian novels held at the Library. Prudence: A Story of Aesthetic London, by Lucy C. Lillie (London: 1882), follows the fortunes of a young American socialite who becomes immersed in the elegant world of the London Aesthetic Movement. Dryly witty, the book is full of delightful characters with names such as Barley Simmonson, Lady Fanny and Honest Dick. 

The finely observed illustrations are by George du Maurier, grandfather of Daphne and most famous for his cartoon 'True Humility', the origin of the expression 'curate's egg'. Du Maurier, who became a novelist himself in his later years, was also the grandfather, through his daughter Sylvia, of the five Davies boys who were the inspiration for Peter Pan.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Fattò comes to the Library

Deliveries are are a routine occurrence at Chetham's, but there was something decidedly unusual about the small lumpy package that arrived in today's mail. Even before we opened it, the scrawled address (our name in brackets! 'Reino Unido'!), the illegible foreign postmark and insistent 'Fragil' on front and back caught our curiosity, so we crowded together into the office to watch Sue cut open the packaging. 

From the moment the small stone painted with Fattò the dog tumbled onto our hands we were captivated. The stone passed from hand to hand. The decorated pink postcard: 'I can print with your IMAGE... but the emptyness never be filled' was read and examined. The DVD unfolding footage of a trip to South America (Rita Offidani Fattò  -  Suvenir Sud America) played. 

We don't know Rita Offidani Ricci, and we are filled with as many questions as answers about her work, but her 'Souvenir' sent a tremor of joy through this damp and chilly Wednesday morning. We will catalogue it this afternoon, so that in years to come, readers will find in a white archival envelope a small souvenir of a day that Art paid a visit to the Library.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Plugging the gaps

Inevitably, there are significant gaps in the Library's collection of early printed books, which is understandable given the limited resources available to the trustees, as well as their very deliberate acquisitions policy. Sometimes the works that were missed, as Matthew Yeo’s study of the Library’s early acquisitions shows, can be as interesting as what we actually bought.

With the local history collections however, gaps become more problematic, particularly as our acquisitions policy has long been revised to specialise in the history of Manchester. Happily, we are occasionally able to plug the gaps as we did recently with the purchase at auction of Thomas Talbot Bury's Coloured Views on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, with Plates of the Coaches, Machines... with Descriptive Particulars, Serving as a Guide to Travellers on the Railway (1831), one of the most beautiful books ever published on the history of the North West. Why this work wasn’t acquired on publication is baffling, as other similarly illustrated works on railways, such as Tait’s Views on the Manchester & Leeds Railway (1845) were bought on publication. It may be a little embarrassing to have waited almost two hundred years to buy the book but we are very glad to add it to the collection.

Thomas Talbot Bury, a pupil of Pugin, produced thirteen views of the railway. The first edition was quickly followed by a second, which was followed by a reissue, French and Spanish editions, and reproductions of the prints for sale in France and Germany. The railway, the world's first passenger line, was built primarily to address the urgent commercial need for faster links between the Liverpool docks and the factories of Manchester, a need that became ever more pressing as time went on, leading sixty years later to the creation of the Manchester Ship Canal.

Thursday 15 May 2014

Private Lives?

A new exhibition of diaries from the collection is now on display at the Library during normal opening hours. The exhibition looks at personal journals, travel diaries, war memoirs and children's diaries, and has been specially curated by two of our volunteers, Patti Collins and Libby Tempest. Do come and have a look at this delightful introduction to the Library's growing collection of diaries and life-writing.

The exhibition will run throughout the summer.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

The Gullinge Sonnets

Today's post is guest-written by Dr Joel Swann, who completed his collaborative doctorate here at Chetham's Library in 2012, working on the Farmer-Chetham manuscript which contains a copy of Sir John Davies' Gullinge Sonnets. Joel is now Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Hang Seng Management College, Hong Kong.

For her ‘Poem of the Week’ in the Guardian last week, Carol Rumens made the excellent choice of one of the satirical Gullinge Sonnets by John Davies, probably written around 1594. What Rumens doesn’t mention is that Chetham’s Library had an important role in the history of those sonnets – a role this blog post aims briefly to account for.

By and large, renaissance English sonnets are known from printed books: scholars record that as many as 40 extensive collections of sonnets survive from the period 1560 to 1634, with most of those appearing around the 1590s,1 the decade in which Davies wrote his. But as far as we know, the Gullinge Sonnets were never printed during their author’s lifetime, and in fact, were virtually unknown to readers of Davies until the 1870s. At that time, they were discovered in a single manuscript at Chetham’s, where it had been kept since the 1820s (it’s now tucked away in the Muniment Room at MS A.4.15). The manuscript that includes the sonnets is most usefully described as a ‘miscellany’, a collection of poems and prose put together informally over some years by amateur compilers, most likely in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Alexander Grosart published a transcription in 1873, and paid homage to its current and previous owner with the affectionate title Dr Farmer-Chetham Manuscript - Farmer being the Cambridge scholar and book collector, Richard Farmer (1735-1797).

If it were not for Chetham’s care for the manuscript over successive generations of librarians, then, we might not know these poems at all. But the survival of the Gullinge Sonnets in this rare and unusual form can tell us more about the way people produced and read poetry in early modern England, four hundred years ago. To begin with, we must remember that print was not the only medium in which people could read new poetry at that time. It was very common for popular poems to be copied by interested readers, by hand, over and over again, thereby reaching a lot of people without going near the printing press. So, even though only one copy of the Gullinge Sonnets is known to survive today there is every possibility that they enjoyed a much wider readership beyond this one book. It’s worth mentioning that the copy of the sonnets at Chetham’s is not in John Davies’ hand – so already, the poems had travelled some distance from their author. Furthermore, MS A.4.15 is likely to have been compiled by people with connections both to London and Norfolk, enabling further copies to be made in either of those locations. Sadly, without any further supporting evidence, we will never be sure how many people were able to enjoy Davies’ sonnets. But they could very well have been read quite widely.

That said, it is rare to find any sonnet sequences with a demonstrably wide readership in this period. Many examples survive – another manuscript at Chetham’s Library includes a series of six sonnets;2 Ralph Stawell copied ten into a manuscript of legal notes;3 King James VI/I himself wrote nine, which are found in two copies (a miscellany and a collection of poems by the monarch).4 Unlike those printed sonnet sequences which included dozens of poems, these short collections would have been relatively straightforward to copy out. With many unique or near-unique examples of this kind existing, perhaps it was common for short sonnet sequences to circulate only amongst limited circles. After all, readers enthusiastic for sonnets did not need to ask their friends and contacts for further examples – if they had the money to do so, the books were available for the buying.

What we know about sonnets in manuscripts is, at the moment, very limited, and it is entirely forgivable that a newspaper article would neglect to mention the history behind the texts it presents. In the same spirit I hope that we can all continue to enjoy the Gullinge Sonnets on their own merits, but this little foray into the topic surely gives us something more to think about the literary culture of a particular time and place. In England in the 1590s, readers had options about how to read their sonnets. They could purchase an extensive printed volume generally available to a book-buying audience; or alternatively, they could seek out or accept copies of smaller sequences in a miscellany collection. As such, writing sonnets was the domain of ‘professionals’ – or at least, people seeking financial remuneration – insofar as they were supported and endorsed by a substantial and heterogeneous layer of amateur enthusiasm, coming from multiple levels of class, ranging from student to lawyer to monarch.
1. For these figures see Thomas P. Roche, Jr, Petrarch and the English Sonnet Sequence (New York: AMS Press, 1989), p. xvii and Michael Spiller, The Development of the Sonnet: An Introduction, pp. 198-199. 

2. MS A.4.16, pp. 6-8. 

3. Cambridge University Library MS Hh 3.8, discussed in Guillaume Coatalen, ‘Unpublished Elizabethan Sonnets in a Legal Manuscript from the Cambridge University Library,’ The Review of English Studies 54.217 (2003), 552-65. 

4. London, British Library MS Add. MS 22601. Their only other witness is an authorial manuscript collection with autograph revisions from the late 1610s. See Maria Reardon, ‘The Manuscript Miscellany in Early Stuart England: A Study of British Library Manuscript Additional 22601 and Related Texts,’ Unpublished PhD thesis, University of London, 2007, in which the poems are discussed (vol.1 pp 186-187) and transcribed (vol. 2, pp. 43-51).

Thursday 8 May 2014

Political cartoons of 1876

Thanks to MMU history undergraduate Rachelle Beckett we have a fantastic new page up on the website about our rare and rather wonderful collection of political cartoons from the 1870s. Many of these feature the radical politician Joseph Bright and campaigner for women's rights Lydia Becker. Have a look here.