THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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13 posts categorized "American Revolution"

10 November 2011

'the most elegant Thing I ever saw': royal libraries and republicans

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In the autumn of 1783, following the signing of the definitive treaty of peace with Britain, John Adams and his son, Quincy, visited London. After spending several years apart from his wife, Abigail, he resolved to tempt her over to Europe.  In November 1783, he wrote,

'Come to Europe with Nabby [Abigail, Adam's firsborn daughter] as soon as possible, and Satisfy your Curiosity, and improve your Taste, by viewing these magnificent Sceenes. Go to the Play -- see the Paintings and Buildings -- visit the Manufactures for a few Months -- and then, if Congress pleases return to America with me to reflect upon them.'

These scenes, the letter reveals, included a visit arranged by the painter Benjamin West to Buckingham House, which contained an 'inestimable Collection of Paintings'.  But, he continued, even considering the collections of Rubens, Van Dykes, Wests, etc.,  'The Library is the most elegant Thing I ever saw.'  And here, Adams was best pleased — and in this he probably shared the tastes of George III â€” by the 'Collection of Plans', which is now largely housed in the British Library and can be seen on the Online Gallery.

Perhaps it worked: Abigail (to whom he signed the letter, 'with Tenderness unutterable') and Nabby joined him in 1784.

Many of Adam's papers are currently available via the University of Virginia 'Founders Early Access Programme', but the November letter itself is held, along with a wealth of other materials, by the Massachusetts Historical Society.  It is available online as part of their Adams Electronic Archive.

You can read more about the contents and history of the George III collection here.  As well, of course, as enjoying the sight of the King's Library Tower in the heart of the Library's St Pancras building.

And, from tomorrow you can 'Satisfy your Curiosity' about earlier royal libraries, when the exhibition, 'Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination', opens.

[Matthew Shaw]

06 June 2011

Ring Any Bells? Paul Revere and printmaking

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Bostonmassacre101kb 
Paul Revere is, it seems, an echo of a memory of something that happened.  But as well as taking that pesky (from the British point of view) ride on the night of 18-19 April 1775, when he rode to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington that the British were marching towards them from Boston, sparking a chain of events that would lead the naming of a bunch of restaurants, the great American patriot was also a silversmith and copperplate engraver.  He put these skills to good use in the service of the Revolution, engraving and printing currency for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and in a series of striking prints.  Perhaps his most famous image can be seen above, a dramatic reconstruction of the Boston Massacre: read all about it on our online feature.

There are a number of other Revere prints in the collections.  They can be located by a search of [Paul Revere] in the English Short Title Catalogue, and then by limiting the results to the British Library.  There are a number of bibliographies, studies and biographies.  I can do no better than refer the interested reader in the listing produced by the American Antiquarian Society.

And there's more about the Old North Church and its lanterns here.

[MJS]

21 September 2010

Americans in Britain: Mather Brown

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It was a busy weekend in London; those not watching Papamobiles or Pinarellos could also take advantage of Open House, and queue up to peek inside many of the city's architectural gems.  As a result, the curator of North American History found himself inside St Mary le Strand, a baroque stunner.

Although sadly showing some of the signs of ageing from its precarious position, stranded in the midst of a busy road, it is being bravely kept up by the efforts of the churchwardens (a plaque to their illustrious predecessors who spent most of the Blitz in the muniments room keeping an eye out for firebombs and then sweeping them off the roof can be seen on one of the walls).   Two of the beneficiaries of this care are brightly-restored paintings in the side walls of the chancel, by Mather Brown, a pupil of the more famous American painter, Benjamin West, and whose influence can strongly be seen in their style.  They were installed in 1785, a year before Brown, who had left America during the Revolution, painted the first portrait of Thomas Jefferson, during a visit to London as Ambassador to France.  The painting, which was owned by John Adams thanks to an exchange of portraits between the two friends, can now be seen in the Smithsonian.  

Brown's career, which peaked not long after before a sad decline into penury (he died in 1831 at Barbara Hofland's boarding house,  with just Mrs. Hofland 'to weep over him, & moisten his parched lips with an orange'), is detailed in Dorinda Evans, Mather Brown, early American artist in England (Middletown, Conn. : Wesleyan University Press, 1982) [LB.31.b.7011]

Brown's autobiographical notes and list of engraved works can also be found in Thomas Dodd's 'Memoirs of English Engravers, 1550-1800', held by the BL's Department of Manuscripts (Add. MS. 33,397); there are also letters to Lord Liverpool at Add. MS. 33,587, f. 53 and Add. MS. 38,580, f. 18.  The bulk of the unpublished correspondence is held at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

 

[M.S.]

13 April 2010

Thomas Jefferson's Birthday [updated]

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If you follow the Gregorian Calendar then today marks the 267th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson's birthday (13 April 1743).  The Library is fortunate enough to hold a contemporary copy of his Notes on the State of Virginia, which Jefferson inscribed to Col. Smith (most likely John Adam's inept son-in-law), and I was perhaps even more fortunate to have a visit to Montalto, overlooking Jefferson's beloved Monticello just before Easter.  Not only does the visitor witness a panorama of the Blue Mountains in the distance, but also enjoys a bird's-eye view of the house and gardens, planted not only with Jefferson's favourite vegetable, peas, but also more exotic produce like wormwood.  The vines now also produce grapes for wine, something that Jefferson aspired to, but never achieved.  Here's a photo:

View of Monticello, VA
And the plants:

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Elsewhere on the web, the NYPL has tweeted a link to its digitized Jeffersonian material. And Jefferson's papers are being put online at UVA's Rotunda project.  The manuscript of Notes on the State of Virginia is online at the Massachusetts Historical Society's brilliant website.

[M.S.]

18 February 2010

Revolt against the English

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Yesterday, I did a short 'show and tell' for a visitor from Rhode Island.  This included some early Providence printing, Thomas Jefferson's inscribed copy of Notes on Virginia (which was also owned by Henry Stevens, the nineteenth century book dealer and gunpowder merchant, who bought for both the British Museum and John Carter Brown), and a collection of colonial female printers to tie in with a recent acquisition of a letterpress facsimile of the Declaration of Independence.

We also looked at some of the large collection of pamphlets dating from the American Revolution, many of which were printed in several editions - in New York, Pennsylvania, Boston, but also by sympathetic printers in Britain, such as J. Almon in London, and also in Edinburgh.

One of these particularly caught our eye.  To some extent, it may be counted as an official publication - Abstract of the Resolutions of the General Congress Assembled at Philadelphia (New York, reprinted Edinburgh 1775) [8176.a.38]. It begins thus

THE CONGRESS RESOLVES to acknowledge the King,

But not to obey him in any one thing...

We sometimes wish all government documents were as iambic and rhyming.  This, however, originated in the New York Gazette, and is a tory account of the Continental Congress in verse - or 'Dogrel Metre, for the help of weak memories' (p. 1). 


[M.S.]