THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

53 posts categorized "Manuscripts"

09 March 2017

Did Jane Austen develop cataracts from arsenic poisoning?

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When Jane Austen died in 1817, aged 41, her portable writing desk was inherited by her sister Cassandra. It was later passed down through her eldest brother’s family. In 1999, Joan Austen-Leigh, Jane Austen’s great-great-great-niece, very generously entrusted it to the care of the British Library. Among the items that had been stored for generations in the desk drawer were three pairs of spectacles. According to family tradition, they all belonged to Jane Austen.

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Spectacles believed to have belonged to Jane Austen (now British Library Add MS 86841/2-4): wire-framed pair (on left), ‘tortoiseshell pair A’ (centre), ‘tortoiseshell pair B’ (on right, with string wound around arm). 6a00d8341c464853ef01bb097e9917970d

The British Library has for the first time had the spectacles tested. Our Conservation department was involved from the start, to ensure that no harm would come to them. The company Birmingham Optical kindly supplied us with a lensmeter to measure their strength, and their specialist staff undertook the tests.

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 Louis Cabena (left) and Deep Singh (right) from Birmingham Optical, with lensmeter and spectacles in the British Library Conservation Centre. 6a00d8341c464853ef01bb097e9917970d

The tests revealed that the three pairs of spectacles are all convex or ‘plus’ lenses, so would have been used by someone longsighted. In other words their owner needed glasses for close-up tasks, such as reading. Interestingly, ‘tortoiseshell pair B’ is much stronger than the others.

Test results

Wire-framed pair:       R. + 1.75 DS  L. +1.75 DS (PD 27.0 53.0 26.0)

Tortoiseshell pair A:   R. + 3.25 DS  L. +3.25 DS (PD 26.0 56.0 30.0)

Tortoiseshell pair B:   R. +5.00/-0.25 x 84 L. +4.75/-0.25 x 49 (PD 28.5 55.0 26.5)

We showed these results to the London-based optometrist Professor Simon Barnard. He believes there are a number of possible reasons for the variation in strength. Jane Austen may always have been longsighted, and initially used the wire-framed pair for reading and distance viewing. She later required a slightly stronger pair (tortoiseshell pair A) for reading, and used the strongest pair (tortoiseshell pair B) for extremely close work, such as fine embroidery, which would have been held closer to the face than a book.

Austen is known to have had problems with her eyes. She complained in several letters about her ‘weak’ eyes. Could it be that she gradually needed stronger and stronger glasses for reading because of a more serious underlying health problem? Professor Barnard believes this is a possibility. He points out that certain systemic health problems can cause changes in the vision of both longsighted and shortsighted people. Diabetes is one such condition, because it can induce cataracts. A gradually developing cataract would mean that an individual would need a stronger and stronger prescription, over time, in order to undertake close-up tasks. However, diabetes was fatal at that time, so someone might not have lived long enough to require several different prescriptions in succession. 

If Austen did develop cataracts, a more likely cause, according to Professor Barnard, is accidental poisoning from a heavy metal such as arsenic. Arsenic poisoning is now known to cause cataracts. Despite its toxicity, arsenic was commonly found in medicines in 19th-century England, as well as in some water supplies. In this situation, Austen would have switched from using the wire-framed pair to tortoiseshell pair A, then pair B, as her cataracts got progressively worse.

Jane Austen’s early death has in the past been attributed to Addison’s disease (an endocrine disorder), cancer and tuberculosis. In 2011, the crime writer Lindsay Ashford suggested that Austen died of arsenic poisoning. She came to this conclusion after reading Austen’s description of the unusual facial pigmentation she suffered at the end of her life – something commonly found with arsenic poisoning. Ashford’s novel The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen strays from theories of accidental poisoning into rather more fantastical murder. The variations in the strength of the British Library’s three pairs of spectacles may indeed give further credence to the theory that Austen suffered from arsenic poisoning, albeit accidental.

We should, however, inject a note of caution at this point: although prescription lenses were in use in Austen’s day, we don’t know whether these glasses were prescribed for her by a physician, or whether she bought them ‘off-the-shelf’. We can’t be completely sure that she wore them at all. However, we are keen to publish these test results in the hope that other eye specialists will share their ideas and opinions with us. 

We know this subject is already of interest to literary scholars. Janine Barchas and Elizabeth Picherit of the University of Texas at Austin have taken a keen interest in the spectacles in the British Library, and have also been investigating Austen’s references to spectacles in her novels. Their theories will shortly be published in the journal Modern Philology. We look forward to further discussions and debate on this topic.  The spectacles themselves have just gone on display in the British Library’s free Treasures Gallery for all to see.

Dr Sandra Tuppen

Lead Curator, Modern Archives & Manuscripts 1601-1850

The British Library

Email: sandra.tuppen@bl.uk

22 November 2016

The business archive of Alan Gradon Thomas

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We’ve met Alan Gradon Thomas before, back in 2013 when my colleague Chantry Westwell came across a festschrift in his honour whilst researching the provenance of a medieval calendar. The recent completion of the cataloguing of Thomas’s extensive business archive seems like a good time to reacquaint ourselves with the esteemed book and manuscript seller of Bournemouth and, latterly, London.

 

Alan Graydon Thomas archive 1

Alan Gradon Thomas archive Noc

 

Thomas was an international dealer in a pre-digital age. He had customers all over the world and all of his business was conducted by letter and telephone, using printed catalogues. It was not uncommon for Thomas to send a catalogue to a customer overseas, receive a letter back some weeks later setting out what the customer wished to buy, only for Thomas to have to write back to say that in the interim he had sold the book or manuscript to another customer.

 

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Three manuscripts purchased from Thomas by the British Library Noc

 

He was a meticulous record keeper and the archive, containing sales ledgers, stock lists, financial records, inventories, papers relating to his superbly researched catalogues, and valuations, spans nearly 50 years. There are hundreds of files of correspondence with his customers, including the major auction houses, important private collectors such as John Wolfson, Sir Karl Popper, Lord Kenyon, Lord Wardington, and Major Abbey, and many of the great collections of the world: the British Library, the British Museum, the Bodleian, the Beinecke, the Folger, the Huntington, and the Royal Library in Brussels, to name just a few. Thomas’s correspondence also contains letters from fellow dealers, and from rare book and manuscript curators, librarians, and experts such as Mirjam Foot, Anthony Hobson, Nicolas Barker, Richard Linenthal, and Christopher de Hamel.

The festschrift alone is evidence of how well Thomas was thought of in the trade. But that high regard is also evident in his being elected President of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association for 1958-1959, during which time he was instrumental in establishing the first London Antiquarian Book Fair. His papers include a large amount of ABA material: committee minutes, annual reports and accounts, newsletters, correspondence, and papers relating to the book fairs.

In turn, Thomas himself had great respect for, and was always very appreciative of, the help of the ‘footsoldiers’ of the trade, the shop assistants and bookroom staff. The archive contains papers relating to collections Thomas ran to mark the retirement of three long serving assistants from Sotheby’s and the British Museum. He assiduously wrote to scores of contacts in the trade to drum up as many financial contributions as possible.

Alan Thomas died in August 1992 “as much an enthusiast - for the arts, literature, the history of ideas and beliefs - at 80 as he was at 20”, as his obituary in The Independent put it.

His archive, given his clientele and the material he dealt with, is an extremely rich resource for those interested in the history and provenance of manuscripts and rare books.

Michael St John-McAlister
Western Manuscripts Cataloguing Manager  Cc-by

Further reading:
Add MS 89159 Archive of Alan Gradon Thomas
Christopher de Hamel and Richard A. Linenthal (eds), Fine books and book collecting: books and manuscripts acquired from Alan G. Thomas and described by his customers on the occasion of his seventieth birthday (Leamington Spa: James Hall, 1981)

 

 

04 November 2016

The case of Margaret Duchell, who “died a confessed witch”

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The early modern period in Scotland is well known for the severe persecution of alleged witches, who were detained, tortured and brought before the court to be tried and sentenced. One volume in British Library collections, Egerton MS 2879, provides an insight into the sort of accusations that could lead to a person’s detainment for the crime of witchcraft. It also documents the process of gathering evidence and presenting a case. Between 1658 and 1659 five women were accused of witchcraft at Alloa, a small town in Clackmannanshire. They were interrogated and cases were prepared against the women. Inside this volume are documents on the case of Margaret Duchell, the first to confess and accuse other women as accomplices.

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 Margaret Duchell's confession, written down by J. Craigingelt, Egerton MS 2879, f.15 Noc


This, alongside a document at the National Records of Scotland, records the accusations against Margaret, demonstrating some of the widespread witchcraft beliefs at the time. She was detained for over a month before she “died a confessed witch” (f.15) in her confinement. During this time she was interrogated and likely tortured into denouncing other women and confessing to her own crimes.

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 Details of the witchcraft case against the five women, Egerton MS 2879, f.1 Noc


In order to receive the power to perform malevolent acts upon other people, Margaret claimed to have entered a pact with the Devil. Sources tell us that the Devil tempted Margaret with money, and the two sealed the deal with both a meal, and through sexual intercourse. Once they entered the pact, Margaret was free to commit “many murders and other mischiefs” (f.1), along with other women who had supposedly also entered the Devil’s service.

Disputes with members of the Alloa community seem to have given Margaret rise for causing them harm. She admitted to striking Janet Houston on the back, which resulted in her death, over a quarrel about money. We also hear about a disagreement with a twelve year old girl, who called Margaret a witch in public, whereby Margaret apparently tugged upon her arm, resulting in her bleeding to death. These accusations were later denied by Margaret at a kirk session in May and even the presiding minister doubted whether they were physically possible.

Margaret was also accused of possessing shape-shifting abilities, to metamorphose into the form of a dog. The Devil himself was sometimes depicted in the form of a dog. During an attack on one William Morrison with a group of other witches, Margaret transformed into a dog to follow him. The later confession of Barbara Erskine reveals that Margaret and a group of women also destroyed a boat, during which they “wer in the lyknes of corbies” (f.4).

 

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The Devil as a dog from the title page from ‘The Witch of Edmonton’, a play based on a witchcraft case 644.c.17 Images Online Noc


So why did Margaret originally confess to these crimes? Just being accused of witchcraft at the time was dangerous. To deny involvement could lead to torture, while to confess would result in a death sentence. Interrogators were keen on obtaining confessions to secure a conviction. Torture, particular sleep deprivation, and leading questions were often used to confuse suspects and extract ‘evidence’. It seems unlikely that Margaret’s confession was freely given, as she later denied all charges, but she died before her trial. Both Egerton MS 2879 and the Presbytery minutes bring us closer to what it might have been like to be accused of witchcraft in early modern Scotland.


Claire Wotherspoon
Manuscripts Reference Specialist Cc-by


Further reading:
An abundance of witches: the great Scottish witch-hunt / P.G. Maxwell-Stuart (YC.2007.a.7576)
Marks of an absolute witch: evidentiary dilemmas in early modern England / Orna Alyagon Darr (ELD digital store)
Witches of the North: Scotland and Finnmark / Liv Helene Willumsen (YD.2013.a.1825)

 

04 October 2016

Poldark, put your shirt on! An 18th Century description of a Cornish mine.

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In the British Library there is a fascinating manuscript, compiled in 1779, recording a journey across southern England.  An anonymous gentleman set out from London “on the 1st day of July 1779”, and went all the way to Cornwall “with a single horse chaise”.

Upon reaching Cornwall, the traveller decided “to gratify a curiosity of visiting one of the tin & copper mines which lay scattered on the roadsides”.  This caught my attention because one of my guilty pleasures is the TV series Poldark.  Aidan Turner (the actor who plays Ross Poldark) frequently removes his shirt while toiling in the rugged, rocky interior of his mine.  Not surprisingly, the 1779 account of a Cornish mine is completely different.

To begin with, the anonymous traveller of 1779 had to wear copious amounts of clothing before he was allowed down the mine.  In preparation for the descent, he... “immediately went to the room of one of the Captains (that is a person of rather greater confidence than others) where [he] furnished myself with a dress consisting of worsted stockings, pair of trousers, flannel shirt, waistcoat sleeved, flannel night cap & hat.  Having procured some candles & taken a small quantity of gin to prevent injury from my new habit, set forth for the shaft” .

The gentleman traveller estimated that the mine was 430 feet deep, and he described it as a murky, unforgiving, water-filled place, strewn with mud and clay.  A steam operated pump that the traveller called a “fire engine” was used to draw water out of the mine at a rate of a hundred gallons per stroke.

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Fire engine used to pump water out of a Cornish tin and copper mine in 1779. BL-Mss Eur Mack Private 91, p.447.

 

The descent into the mine happened at a terrifying proximity to the fire engine mechanism, which perpetually pumped water out of the mine, and inevitably spilled water while it operated.  There was “a large quantity of water flowing over so as to compleatly wet every part of the dress through & endanger the candles going out... the engine sometimes working so close as to make it necessary to keep the cloathing as close to the body as possible; when [we] had descended half way the water from above flowd so fast that our candles were once or twice extinguished to one, though the number[of candles] was about eight”.

At the bottom of the mine “[t]he ground [we] had to walk along where the vein of ore formerly lay consisted of mud or clay considerably over my shoes, & roof so low as to make it necessary to stoop the whole distance...”  It seems that Cornish mines were places where men had to dig about in the mud, and not rock-walled caverns where swarthy men struck hammers against chunks of stone.  At the end of his visit, the traveller “came to a flight of ladders placed so as to form an angle, & it was with some degree of pleasure I revisited daylight after an absence of two hours”.

 

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Ladders leading out of the mine. BL-Mss Eur Mack Private 91, p.451.

 

The traveller continued his journey to Redruth, and stayed at an inn called the King's Head, where he ate a “Cornish pye formed of meat parsley onions apples cream &c” for his evening meal. Unlike the miners he left behind, life was good for this gentleman. I wonder if he looked a little bit like Aidan Turner?

 

King's Head Redruth

Photograph of The King’s Head, Redruth, 1900s (now closed).  Image courtesy of cornishmemory.com

 

Jennifer Howes
Art Historian specialising in South Asia


Further reading:

“A Description of a Cornish mine” was taken from pages 442 to 455 in an account of a journey across the south of England by an anonymous traveller, 1779. British Library, Mss Eur Mack Private 91.

Foster, Patrick. “Poldark star Aidan Turner swaps topless scything for semi-clad mining in new series.”  The Telegraph, 22 August 2016.

 

12 August 2016

Robert Clive – ‘Rio Janeiro was my choice’

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As the eyes of the world focus on the Olympic Games in Brazil, I thought I’d share a story about Robert Clive’s stay in Rio de Janeiro in 1764. It was not a happy experience! 

Here is Clive telling us what happened - can you hear a tone of haughty disdain echoing down the years? 

Letter from Robert Clive to the Viceroy of Rio de Janeiro, dated St Christovo 5 November 1764 -

‘Distress of weather, and a tedious passage to my Government in the East Indies, obliged me to put into some port, for refreshment.  Rio Janeiro was my choice... Considering the very great and recent services rendered by the British nation to that of Portugal, it was reasonable to suppose that a man of my station and dignity, would be entitled to every mark of distinction from the Viceroy of this place.  As an Englishman, however, I at least expected security for myself and for my family in a Portugueze settlement.  How far these expectations…have been answered, cannot, I think, be determined by a few superficial marks of shew and ceremony; because civilities of the most obvious nature have been, as it should seem, purposely omitted.  Over this, however, I am content to draw a veil, having a much stronger ground for complaint. 

Among my domestic servants, there were four musicians, whom I hired in England, at a great expence, for the amusement of the Government of Calcutta.  These I brought on shore, merely to entertain this town; and being informed that the inhabitants were admirers of music, I permitted my band to go to any private families who might be desirous of hearing them perform… They were found to excell all those of their profession in the settlement and priests and others were, hereupon, instructed to seduce them.  I had indeed been frequently informed, that such an attempt would be made, nay I received several intimations of Your Excellency’s intention to facilitate and encourage the execution of the design, that they might be inveigled to stay here, and be employed at the opera after my departure.  But as it was impossible for a liberal mind to entertain so mean a suspicion against a man in your exalted station, I still continued to let my servants go at large.’

 

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The church of Our Lady of Glory from Views and costumes of Rio de Janeiro painted by Lieutenant Henry Chamberlain, 1822.

©De Agostini/The British Library Board  Images Online

 

Once Clive was convinced that his musicians were being lured away, he tried to have them seized.  The men took refuge in a church and were then allowed to escape.

‘Could it be conceived that your Excellency’s authority, which cannot be eluded by the meanest slave in the remotest part of your government, would be baffled by three fiddlers, dressed in laced cloaths, carrying with them a large quantity of baggage, and escorted into the country by a priest?...These men, Sir, are not only my servants; they are also British subjects; and you cannot be ignorant, that the seduction of them, will neither be looked upon with indifference by the King of England, nor countenanced, much less approved of by the King of Portugal.'

 

Clive Rio

India Office Private Papers MSS Eur G 37/3/1 f.64v     Noc

 

Clive ends with this postscript, lofty to the last: ‘To prevent any misinterpretation of this letter, I have enclosed an accurate translation of it into French, a language with which your Excellency is not unacquainted’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by

Further reading:
The letter comes from the papers of Robert Clive in India Office Private Papers MSS Eur G 37/3/1 ff.61-64v.

Robert Clive arrives in India

10 August 2016

Scrapbooking Waterloo: Thomas Pickstock’s travel journal

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When the London-based merchant Thomas Pickstock (1792-1864) presented his son George with a travel journal recounting his '91 days ramble’ in France and Belgium between July-October 1843, he expressed the hope that the recipient could find it 'amusing...however unconnected as you’ll find it throughout'.

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Add MS 89188. Thomas Pickstock's Journal. Cc-by

The concern expressed by Pickstock was not completely unjustified. His journal, far from being a neat and systematic account of his adventures abroad, appears like a scrapbook. Nearly every page presents a mixture of manuscript, drawing and printed material. Pickstock did not simply rewrite his travel annotations in a fair copy. Instead, he took great care in illustrating his writing with several watercolours and the keepsakes that he collected during the trip.

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Add MS 89188. Thomas Pickstock's Journal. Detail showing a watercolour. Cc-by

Towards the end of his travels, Pickstock visited the battlefield of Waterloo. This was an experience that struck him ‘with ideas and sentiments…impossible to record, or give a fainting idea of’. Though perhaps difficult to convey with words, Pickstock’s emotional response to this experience can be grasped thanks to the numerous pieces of ephemera relating to the battle inserted into his journal: business cards for tour guides, engravings, maps, and even a note from his uncle, who had visited the battlefield years earlier and had brought home a branch taken off the famous tree under which the Duke of Wellington allegedly held his headquarters. When Pickstock visited the field the tree was not there anymore, as it ‘was removed and transported to England by an individual who purchased the right to do so’.

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Add MS 89188. Thomas Pickstock's Journal. Page showing the description of Wellington's tree. Cc-by

The popularity of Waterloo as a morbidly fascinating tourist attraction resonates in Pickstock’s narration of his visit, which included an encounter with ‘a peasant ploughing and expecting to find bullets’ and an instructive visit to the tour guide’s hut, ‘full of Skulls and other Bones with Sabres for sale – all gathered by his own Children from the fields’.

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Add MS 89188. Thomas Pickstock's Journal. Detail showing trade cards. Cc-by

The narration of Pickstock’s adventures is enriched with a meticulous recording of his expenses during his three-month-long journey and an explanation of the differences between the French and Belgian currencies. This attention to budgetary matters might be explained by the financial misfortunes experienced by the merchant during the summer of 1841, when he very narrowly escaped bankruptcy.

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Add MS 89188. Thomas Pickstock's Journal. Detail showing Pickstock's accounts. Cc-by

Although Pickstock feared that the slightly overwhelming amount of information that he packed in his journal could deter his son from reading it, he also cautiously envisioned that there would be others which ‘might take some pleasure in perusing the same’: an invitation that can now be accepted, as the British Library recently acquired the third volume of Pickstock’s travel journal and it will soon be available to consult under the reference number Add MS 89188.

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Add MS 89188. Thomas Pickstock's Journal. Cc-by

 

By Alessandra Rigotti, MA Early Modern English Literature, King's College, London, & Work Placement Student, Modern Archives and Manuscripts, British Library.

 

28 July 2016

Words will eat themselves

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There is something romantic and tragic about iron gall ink. It has allowed the most beautiful words to take form. The best and the worst words. Dull and incidental household inventories; execution warrants for kings; orders for wars; scientific discoveries; declarations of love. And some of the most incredible poems, prose, songs and stories known to man.

And yet iron gall ink is slowly destroying itself and the paper on which it sits. Words are literally eating themselves into oblivion. Even the ink's composition and ingredients are a result of irritation and death. A sting; a bite; a reaction; a tiny extinction.

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Example of iron gall ink damage and subsequent 20th century repair on Add MS 38599 c. early 17th century. Cc-by

I recently attended an Iron Gall Ink Study Day with our brilliant Conservation Department. Three of our conservators have made a study of the ink and their knowledge and research on the subject is amazing. The following are a few images from the day and some manuscripts which show iron gall ink damage.

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Example of iron gall ink damage on a vellum manuscript.  Cc-by

Iron gall ink is made from tannin (most often taken from oak marble galls), vitriol (iron sulphate), gum and water. The galls are a tree's reaction to the eggs laid by tiny wasps. The galls serve to protect the little wasps as they develop. One of the galls I picked up had the body of the wasp lying next to it. It must have emerged from the hole in the gall and expired almost immediately. Allegedly, the richest tannin was produced when the body of the wasp was trapped inside. The best galls were apparently from Aleppo as they have three times as much tannin as British galls (at only 17%).

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Examples of oak marble galls. Cc-by

The way in which iron gall ink was applied also relates to levels of damage. If applied with a brush, the ink is less likely to eat through the page, whereas applied with a metal nib, the ink bites through.

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Same iron gall ink but applied with a brush (left) and a metal nib (right). Cc-by

Similarly, the composition and recipe of the ink affects just how much damage it inflicts. A balanced recipe is more likely to be stable than one which contains larger proportions of gallotannic acid or iron sulphate. Here's a link to just one recipe for the ink. There were hundreds if not thousands of recipes in use at any one time.

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Ingredients in iron gall ink (left) and the colour of the iron sulphate and gallotannic acid when mixed together (right).Cc-by

Why, then, if the damage was evident, was iron gall ink in constant use until relatively recently? It was probably because paper (and indeed vellum) were of good quality up until the mass production of paper in the eighteenth century. Once the paper quality decreased, the effect of iron gall ink was particularly noticeable. Indeed, the most damaged manuscripts I have seen date from the nineteenth century. Wilkie Collins was a particular horror as he scribbled out his lines constantly. The paper on which he wrote was incredibly thin. Much of his manuscripts flake in places where he has crossed out. 

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Add MS 41060, Drafts of Basil and Mr Wray's Cash-Box by Wilkie Collins. Cc-by

The ink's path of destruction moves in three dimension. It creeps through entire text blocks consuming the innards of volumes. Until recently, nobody knew that it was both the tannin and the iron sulphate which were damaging. Our Conservation Team are constantly looking at ways to stabilise, treat and better understand iron gall ink. But even then, they say that there is no stopping time: iron gall ink will eventually destroy the prose, poems, letters and warrants. Vitriolic words indeed.

Alexandra Ault, Curator, Manuscripts 1601-1850.

To find out more about our Conservation Department their blog is here and their web pages are here

30 June 2016

"We go into action in a day or two and I'm leaving this in case I don't come back". On the eve of the Somme.

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On the eve of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme, Laura Walker, our Lead Curator of Manuscripts 1851-1950, looks at diary accounts of the Battle. Tomorrow, on the day itself, Michael Day, our Digitisation Preservation Manager, considers the death of a British Museum clerk and soldier at the Somme.

The Somme is one of the most well-known battles of the First World War fought on the Western Front. It is chiefly remembered due to the scale of the casualties with over one million dead, wounded or missing by the end of the offensive. The British Library holds eye witness accounts of the fighting at the Somme from Major General Hunter Weston and Captain Roland Gerard Garvin.

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Private War Diary of Major General Hunter Weston, Add MS 48365 f.53v Cc-by

Major General Hunter Weston was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1884 and saw active service on the North West Frontier, present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, in Egypt and in the Boer War before he was given a command on the Western Front in 1914. Hunter Weston kept two diaries of his experiences of the First World War one official and one private. These diaries provide us with a fascinating insight into the fighting in 1914 on the Western Front, in Gallipoli in 1915 and at the battle of the Somme in 1916.

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 Private War Diary of Major General Hunter Weston, Add MS 48365 f.54 Cc-by

In his private diary for 1916 Hunter Weston has included photographs showing the advance of the troops under his command, the 8th Corps to their assault on the fortified hamlets of Beaumont-Hamel, Beaumont-sur-Ancre, and Serre on the first day of the battle on 1st July 1916. Despite their efforts the 8th Corp’s objective was not achieved and they suffered 14,581 casualties on that day alone.

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 Private War Diary of Major General Hunter Weston, Add MS 48365 f.55v Cc-by

Captain Roland Gerard Garvin was the son of journalist and newspaper editor James Luis Garvin. The First World War broke out the week after his last day at Westminster School. Despite winning a history scholarship for Christ Church, Oxford, Garvin enlisted in the 7th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment.

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Photograph of Captain Roland Gerard Garvin, Add MS 88882/10/2 Cc-by

Garvin attended a staff training course in Chelsea in December 1914 and this continued in Camberley in April 1915 before he was sent over to France on 17th July 1915. The Library holds his notes from both of these courses and diary extracts from when he was serving on the Western Front. The diary extracts below record his account of the first day of the Somme.

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Field Message Book of Captain Roland Gerard Garvin, Add MS 88882/9/31 Cc-by

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Field Message Book of Captain Roland Gerard Garvin, Add MS 88882/9/31 Cc-by

On 20th July Garvin wrote a letter to his family saying good bye as he knew he was going into action in a day or two. Three days later between 12pm and 1pm Garvin was killed by machine gun fire. His body was never found.

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Letter from Captain Roland Gerard Garvin to his family, July 20th 1916, Add MS 88882/3/9 Cc-by

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Letter from Captain Roland Gerard Garvin to his family, July 20th 1916, Add MS 88882/3/9 Cc-by

The complete diaries of Hunter Weston and the papers of Garvin can be found online at http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/.

Laura Walker, Lead Curator, Manuscripts and Archives 1851-1950.