Friday 27 June 2014

News on the Palm Leaf Manuscript

Thanks to Dr Tilman Frasch, Senior Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and a leading expert on Burmese history, we have been able to discover more about our Burmese palm leaf manuscript.

The manuscript, which dates from April-May 1741, was commissioned by Maung Tha Kyaw and his wife, royal tax collector of Ywa-pulai, and is a commentary on the Buddhist scriptures. Its full title is Vinayavibhanga-Atthakatha (i.e. the Samantapasadika by Buddhaghosa, the main commentary on the Vinaya or rules for monks). Each page has seven lines, and the leaves are contained between two teak blocks. There should be 295 folios but all before folio 123 are missing as well as the final folio. There are three folios with colophons and after each of these leaves, paper slips have been inserted showing in modern handwriting the title of the following section.

Library Closure

Please note the Library will be closed all day on Monday 30th June and will reopen again as usual on Tuesday.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Book of spells

People often remark that the Library reminds them of a scene from Harry Potter, and this week's treasure is straight out of the mysterious world of sixteenth-century magic and wizardry.

The Tractatus de nigromatia is a manuscript book of spells, invocations and exorcisms - exactly the sort of thing that John Dee might have had in his collection when he was warden here at the college, conjuring up the devil in the Audit Room on dark nights.

To find out more, visit the 101 Treasures page.

Friday 20 June 2014

A model for 'Game of Thrones'?

Some of the illustrations in Turris Babel (Amsterdam: 1679) look remarkably like the opening credits to Game of Thrones, but in fact the book was the German Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher’s attempt to create a detailed analysis of the construction of the Tower of Babel.

On the basis that it should reach the beginning of the heavenly realm, which in Aristotelian cosmology was represented by the sphere of the moon’s orbit around the earth, Kircher calculated that the tower would need to be 178,672 miles high. The absurdity of this flawed concept is illustrated by his estimation of all the materials required to build such a tower, and its precise size, which meant that if five million men worked for 426 years it could still never be finished, and would require the entire world’s resources of raw materials such as wood and clay. To reach the top, it would take a horse 800 years, even galloping at 30 miles a day. The great weight of such a tower, unsurprisingly, would unbalance the earth from its place at the centre of the universe.

The book also shows other Babylonian buildings such as the hanging gardens, and other large structures such as the Colossus in Rome, and goes on to a study of linguistics inspired by the concept of the Tower of Babel.

You can read more about Athanasius Kircher and his work on the 101 Treasures pages of the website.

John Dalton: A Cumbrian Philosopher

A new book on John Dalton has just been published by Books Cumbria. Thomas Smith's John Dalton: A Cumbrian Philosopher looks at the 'man generally thought of as being Mancunian but whose heart always belonged to the Land of the Lakes'. The cover shows decorated paper from Dalton's own notebook, held at the Libary, which is described in one of Dalton's letters to a friend:

There is in this town a large library, furnished with the best books in every art, science, and language, which is open to all, gratis...

The book can be obtained from Books Cumbria.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Looking back at Japan

These beautiful hand-coloured photographs of Japan at the turn of the last century are taken from the Leech collection, and were acquired by Sir Bosdin and Lady Edith Leech during their round-the-world cruise in 1901. Many of the images have been made into a Flickr album which you can see here. Read more about the Leech collection here.

Belle Vue: Entertainment Showground of the World

We are very pleased to have been associated with this excellent new book on Belle Vue, published by the Manchester Evening News. Featuring images from our collection, the book takes a look at the history of this remarkable place and its impact on generations of pleasure-seekers from Manchester and beyond.

You can buy the book here.

Friday 13 June 2014

Gin Lane

For World Gin Day tomorrow, here's a terrible warning for us all from Hogarth's famous 'Gin Lane' series. Read more about our collection of Hogarth prints here.

Friday 6 June 2014

A backhanded compliment...

An entry from the diary of John Reed, Jun 6th 1951. At this time Reed was a second year undergraduate at Magdalen College Oxford, reading English under C.S. Lewis. After having arisen at 6am to write his essay in time, he reads it to Lewis at his tutorial.

‘Reading it I am forced to improvise so incoherent in places is the style. At one point I have to pause and inform Lewis that the sentence does not have an ending; “That”, he replies, “is a fault which you share with St Paul.”’

Thursday 5 June 2014

Sad songs say so much

Although it’s fair to say that most Victorian comic songs remain completely baffling and unfunny to modern ears, sad songs from the nineteenth century often retain a strong emotional pull. This wonderful ballad, with a splendid title that does exactly what it says on the tin and explains the entire song, was printed by the Newcastle firm of Margaret Angus and Sons, probably in 1806.

The ballad relates a familiar story of the seduction of a servant girl named Maria Wright, her unfortunate pregnancy and subsequent abandonment by the lover who had promised marriage and a life together. In deep despair and at eight months pregnant, Maria hanged herself on an oak tree on 25 May 1806, killing herself and her unborn child.

Whilst ballads about suicide are far less common than ballads about murder, they are both commonly used as moral propaganda, in the same sort of way that today’s right wing tabloid press publish stories in an attempt to alarm and subliminally control their readership. Many murder ballads were alleged to have been written by the condemned men themselves, usually the night before the execution, and ‘found’ the next morning when the jailer came to bring the condemned criminal to the scaffold. Maria Wright’s ‘confession’ was put down on paper just before her death and then found in her pocket by the person who discovered her body. As with murder ballads, the verses include a warning to other young women not to follow Maria but to stay virtuous: ‘From such temptations the Lord keep you free’.

Of course, this ballad was not written by a Maria Wright who died on 25 May 1806, and it’s possible that Maria Wright didn’t actually exist at all. This tale of seduction and abandonment is a universal one and the wonderful Bodleian ballads collection has over a dozen songs with the title ‘The effects of love’, all songs about servant girls duped into having sex only to be abandoned when they became pregnant. The ballad of Maria Wright is of interest in another respect, that this is no 'Gosford Park' tale of a master seducing his servant: Maria was seduced by her social equal, a fellow servant, proof perhaps of the ‘truth’ still promoted by the tabloids two centuries later, that all men are dangerous and no woman is safe. Or as Maria would have it: 'Women are weak and apt to believe/and men are false they'll you deceive'.

A Thril a minute

We recently picked up this splendid commemorative medallion from Turnstock Collectables, one of our favourite sources of ephemera. Dating from 1894 and toasting success to the Manchester Ship Canal and the Thirlmere Water scheme (misspelt 'Thrilmere'), the medallion, which measures approximately 3.8cm, shows a wonderful sailing ship and steam ship with Manchester buildings behind (the Town Hall?). 

The obverse has the head of Victoria at the centre with extensive details about the canal, including its length, breadth and tonnage. This is one of a large number of objects created for the opening of the Ship Canal, including ballads, buttons, and china, and we are delighted to be able to add this small item to our significant archive on the canal.