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Untold lives blog

61 posts categorized "Modern history"

22 June 2018

The letters of Jonathan Swift and Henrietta Howard

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To celebrate the launch of Discovering Literature: Restoration and 18th Century, Untold Lives takes a closer look at the letters of Jonathan Swift to Henrietta Howard.

Jonathan Swift was an Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, poet and Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, chiefly remembered today as the author of Gulliver’s Travels, published in 1726. Henrietta Howard, afterwards Countess of Suffolk, was a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Caroline and mistress to George II. She was noted for her wit and intelligence and she corresponded with many intellectuals of the day, including not only Swift, but Horace Walpole, Alexander Pope and John Gay. At the British Library we hold a series of autograph letters between Swift and Howard, written between 1726 and 1730 (Add MS 22625), which give fascinating insight into the relationship between these two figures.

Swift1
Add MS 22625, f. 6r

Henrietta was a supporter of Swift and his works, and their letters have a playful tone. Writing as Gulliver, Swift begs leave ‘to lay the crown of Lilliput at your feet as a small acknowledgement of your favours to my book and person’, and in one letter he tells her how he is being ‘perpetually teased with the remembrance of you by the light of your Ring on my Finger’.

Swift2
Add MS 22625, f. 12r

But Swift was not writing out of pure friendship and admiration. As the letters progress his ulterior motives become clear.

Queen Anne had disliked Swift and she would not consent to a church appointment for him anywhere in England. However, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, was outside of the Queen’s gift, so she had no way of preventing his appointment as Dean in 1713. Swift was unhappy in Dublin and he wished to have a more high profile post in England. So when George II and Caroline came to the throne, he hoped to persuade Henrietta to use her influence at court to raise his position in the eyes of the royal couple, so he would get the job he wanted.

Swift3
Add MS 22625, f. 13r

Henrietta’s position was a difficult one. Queen Caroline and Henrietta were friends, but Henrietta was also the King’s mistress. The Queen could not allow Henrietta to undermine her and she made sure Henrietta’s influence remained limited.

When Henrietta failed to secure Swift the lucrative position he so desired, the letters soon take on a sour tone. He tells her that whilst others considers her sincere, he believes she only has ‘as much of that Virtue as could be expected in a Lady, a Courtier and a Favourite’, and given that ‘Friendship, Truth, Sincerity’ are ‘lower morals, which are altogether useless at Courts’, then he does not think her to be a very sincere and honest friend at all.

Swift4
Add MS 22625, f. 21r

Swift never did procure himself another position, and remained as Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral until his death in 1745.

If you would like to learn more about this collection and the works of Jonathan Swift, you can visit the British Library's Discovering Literature: Restoration and 18th-Century Literature website. Here you can view these letters along with early printed editions of Swift’s work, as well as the works of many other Restoration and 18th-century writers including Aphra Behn, Daniel Defoe and John Milton.

Stephen Noble
Cataloguer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

 

04 June 2018

Senator J. William Fulbright: International Scholar and Statesman

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The British Library has acquired the archive of the US-UK Fulbright Commission set up in 1948 under the Fulbright Program for grants for international educational exchange. Eleanor Casson introduces the instigator behind the program, Senator Fulbright, and the Famous Alumni of the US-UK Fulbright Commission.

James William Fulbright (Bill) was born in Sumner, Missouri in 1905 to James and Roberta Fulbright. In 1906 the family moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Both his parents were successful local entrepreneurs. His father built up a small empire which included the local newspaper, lumberyards, a bottling company and a bank. In 1923 James Fulbright died suddenly and it was left to Roberta to continue the family business, which she did, becoming one of Arkansas’s most famous and successful business women.

The Fulbrights were known by some in the local area as ‘The First Family of Fayetteville’, they were a family of high achievers. Bill embodied this by winning a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University in 1924. The Rhodes scholarship and Fulbright’s time in Oxford had a profound effect on him. He immersed himself in his studies, but also embraced the cultural differences of England: from the frivolous such as tea drinking and joining the rugby team, to the more enduring like his admiration of British institutions, systems and politics.

Fulbright’s career, outside of the family business, began in 1939 when he was named President of the University of Arkansas. He was 34, the youngest college head in the United States at that time, he was also unqualified for the job, but passionate about education in Arkansas. This lasted until 1941 when he was ousted from his position by the new Governor Homer Adkins.  

In 1942 Fulbright began his thirty-two year career in Congress running for election in Northwest Arkansas. His experiences in Europe had inspired a deep interest in international affairs and his experience at the University of Arkansas had cemented his belief that education could be used as a tool in international affairs. He spent his political career campaigning for tolerance and appreciation of other cultures. His first act as a Congressman was to co-sponsor the Fulbright-Connally Resolution, the forbear of the United Nations. By 1944 he had won a US Senate seat and pushed through legislation creating the International Exchange Program in 1946.

The Fulbright Program was one of Senator Fulbright’s greatest accomplishments. To this date approximately 370,000 ‘Fulbrighters’ have participated in the Program since its inception in 1946 and the Program currently operates in over 160 countries worldwide. The US-UK Commission was established in 1948, since that time there have been over 27,000 Fulbright exchanges between the two countries. The awards span a number of disciplines benefitting everyone from artists to scientists, historians to mathematicians.

Fulbright Scholarship Signing with UK  Fulbright Papers  Series 86  Box 9

22 September 1948, Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin (left) and Chargé d'Affaires Don Bliss (right) sign for the United Kingdom and United States respectively, establishing the Fulbright Agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom. Fulbright Papers (MS/F956/144-B), Series 86, Box 9, Folder 2. Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville. By permission of the University of Arkansas Libraries.

The aim of the program was to nurture the belief that experience and understanding of another culture will contribute to ‘joint ventures for mutually constructive and beneficial purposes’. This belief was reflected throughout his career which led him to become known as the ‘dissenter’. He participated in the censuring of Senator McCarthy, argued against the Vietnam War, and was an advocate for liberal internationalism. Fulbright assumed the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1959 which he held until he lost his seat 1974, the longest serving chairman in the committee’s history. He was presented with the Medal of Freedom by his protégé President Bill Clinton in 1993.

Senator Fulbright
Senator Fulbright at the 40th Anniversary Reception of the Fulbright Program, 1986.  ©The American. By permission of The American.

Eleanor Casson
Cataloguer, Fulbright Archive


Further reading:

Coffin, Tristram, Senator Fulbright, London: Rupert Hart-Davis, (1967)

‘The Fulbright Program, 1946-1996: An Online Exhibit- Expansion in Europe’, Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville. Accessed: 14/05/2018 https://libraries.uark.edu/specialcollections/exhibits/fulbrightexhibit/bi2pic.html

Woods, Randall Bennett, Fulbright: A Biography, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (1995)

Woods, Randall Bennett, ‘Fulbright, J. William’, (American National Biography: 2000). Accessed: 14/05/2018 https://doi.org/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.0700698

14 May 2018

#Happy Birthday, Robert Proctor :)

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Anyone with an interest in early printed books should certainly celebrate the 150th anniversary of Robert Proctor’s birth. A debt of gratitude is owed to the librarian and bibliographer, who had a special talent for identifying early printing types and on that basis consolidated a method for arranging incunabula, books printed in the 15th century.

Proctor disappeared in September 1903 whilst hiking in the Tyrol, but his work during his short energetic life did much to make a science of bibliography. The impact of the publication of his Index to the Early Printed Books in the British Museum was figuratively likened to "the launching of HMS Dreadnought". The 'Proctor Order' is still used, giving numbers to printed items arranged geographically and chronologically: first by country, in printing order; then within each country by town, chronologically; then within each town by printer.

 When we are struck by the accomplishments of remarkable people, it’s natural to look for the things that made them click. Proctor’s Diaries written from 1899-1903, provide insights into his day-to-day work, his interests, joys, frustrations, thoughts and opinions. Today Twitter serves this function for many librarians, and so to celebrate Proctor’s birthday we thought we might gift him a Twitter account! What might he have tweeted?

ProctorTwitter1If Proctor had a Twitter account it might have looked like this...

Proctor’s energy and industry is immediately apparent when reading his diaries. We might wonder if he had some kind of thaasophobia – he was never idle. He could have been a prolific Tweeter.

As a librarian he documented his work at the British Museum: cataloguing, acquisitions, visitor interviews, and work on the printed subject index. He also recorded the weather, often with a touch of poetry, aware of its natural magic and dynamism. He could be expected to have tweeted images from the books he worked with, but it’s often illuminating to look at the other interests of people normally associated with a particular area.

For instance, Proctor lived in a house with his mother, and loved gardening. We picture him setting wire fences, chopping logs, picking flowers and making jam.

ProctorTwitter2

He recorded the books he read on train journeys and those he read to his mother; he could have tweeted, “#amreading Zola (to mother)”. Proctor kept up his diary during his holidays, and these contain succinct (tweetable) reviews: “not to be commended, but certainly cheap”, “landlord excellent” etc.

Some diaries and much of social media can be mundane and turgid. The interesting stuff comes with those things that reflect the deeper and more meaningful sides of a character. Proctor’s diaries offer an interesting record of his views and opinions. It is well known that Proctor was greatly influenced by the aesthetics and politics of his idol William Morris and we see plenty of examples of Proctor’s ‘radicalism’.

ProctorDiary1"The bottom of the sea seems the best place for France - but I doubt whether her injustice towards Dreyfus is a greater crime than the behaviour of our Government & Press to the Boers", diary entry for 9 Sep 1899. Add MS 50190-50196.

Many people with social media accounts which identify an employer state in their profiles, ‘opinions my own’ or ‘not tweeting in an official capacity’. Had Proctor taken to Twitter, the British Museum’s Department of Printed Books may just have insisted on this for @IncunabulaBob: on March 7th 1900 Proctor wrote “London much excited because the loathsome Fatguts is defiling it. She is going to Ireland – may she leave her damned bones there.”

ProctorDiary2Fatguts, and 'the Old Washerwoman of Windsor', were Proctor's insulting names for Queen Victoria.

 

Other pages in Proctor's diaries display quite touching gestures of his sincere beliefs.

ProctorDiary3Liberty, Equality, Fraternity written in red pen at the top of the first page of the second volume of Proctor's diaries.

 Further reading

J H Bowman, ed., A critical edition of the private diaries of Robert Proctor (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, c2010). Open Access Rare Books and Music Reading Room, RAR 027.541

The Private Diary of Robert Proctor. Reprinted from the Transactions of the Bibliographical Society 1951.010856.k.6

Christian Algar,

Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

09 May 2018

Nature and War: Where Poppies Blow

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One of our manuscripts is currently enjoying a much-needed change of scene in the Lake District, on display as part of the Wordsworth House and Garden's Where Poppies Blow exhibition.

Add MS 44990 consists of 62 manuscript poems by Edward Thomas, and is featured in the exhibition displaying his poem Adlestrop.

Add_ms_44990_f011rAdd MS 44990, f 11r

Where Poppies Blow explores the themes of nature, the First World War, and the British soldier. Whilst nature was always present in Thomas' work, the latter two themes would become central following his enrollment with the Artists' Rifles in July 1915. Thomas was killed on 9 April 1917 at the battle of Arras.

IWM_SoldierMagpieTommy with pet magpie. Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

Curated by historian, farmer and author John Lewis-Stempel, Where Poppies Blow also features original artworks by John and Paul Nash, items collected by soldiers during the war, and panel excerpts from Dave McKean's graphic novel Black Dog: the Dreams of Paul Nash.

JohnLewisStempelJohn Lewis-Stempel outside Wordsworth House. Photograph by Zoe Gilbert, National Trust.

The exhibition is open now until Sunday 8 July. 

 

08 May 2018

Senior Statesman of British Biology: John Maynard Smith

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To publicise our upcoming event Dear John: The 'Kin Selection' Controversy presented by the British Library and Undercurrent Theatre, we present the last of three blogs by PhD student Helen Piel on evolutionary biologists George Price, William D. Hamilton and John Maynard Smith. 

JMS_1John Maynard Smith c1965. © University of Sussex

John Maynard Smith (1920-2004) was one of Britain’s most eminent evolutionary biologists. His career spanned half a century, first at University College London, and then from 1965 at the University of Sussex. Educated at Eton, Cambridge (where he took a first degree in engineering, working as an aircraft stressman during and briefly after the Second World War) and UCL, he showed a remarkable ability to discern and describe biological problems and to ‘do the sums’: Maynard Smith brought his mathematical abilities and trust in models over into biology from his earlier education and training.

At UCL he studied and later worked under J B S Haldane, one of the founding fathers of neo-Darwinism (the merger between Darwin's theory of natural selection and Mendelian genetics). In the laboratory of Helen Spurway, Maynard Smith worked on genetics with the fruit fly Drosophila subobscura and later tackled the questions of ageing and sex. After his move to Sussex he focused increasingly on theoretical questions, and in 1973 published a seminal paper on ‘The Logic of Animal Conflict’, together with George R Price. The paper combined evolutionary biology and an idea taken from economics (game theory) to suggest a new way of studying animal behaviour: in evolutionary game theory, individual animals are pitted against each other like players in a game. In 1999, Maynard Smith was awarded the Crafoord Prize (biology’s equivalent to a Nobel Prize) for his work on evolutionary game theory. 

JMS_2John Maynard Smith c 1984. © University of Sussex

Maynard Smith was also known for his successful efforts to communicate evolutionary biology to a broader public, writing his first book The Theory of Evolution in 1958. He published various essay collections and The Origins of Life (1999), a ‘birdwatchers’ version’ of one of his books aimed more at a specialist audience (both co-authored with Eörs Szathmáry). From the 1960s he regularly appeared on radio and television, and was a frequent guest on the radio show Who Knows?, where a panel answered questions sent in by the public.

Smith also contributed as a scientific advisor to programmes, and narrated the Horizon episode ‘The Selfish Gene’, based on Richard Dawkins’ book of the same name, which itself was based on several of Maynard Smith’s ideas, particularly evolutionary game theory.

Although a theoretical biologist who avoided fieldwork throughout his career - his bad eyesight had dissuaded him from joining fellow undergraduates who went on to study under the famous ethnologist Niko Tinbergen at Oxford - his love for nature was obvious in his avid gardening. During summers he would open his garden to the public, and his Who's Who entry cites 'gardening' as one of his two favourite recreations. The second was 'talking'.

Helen Piel
Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) PhD student, University of Leeds and the British Library

 

Further reading:

Helen Piel (2017). Local Heroes: John Maynard Smith: (1920-2004): A good "puzzle-solver" with an "accidental career". The British Library, Science Blog.

Marek Kohn (2004). A Reason for Everything. Natural Selection and the English Imagination. London: faber and faber.

John Maynard Smith (1985). In Haldane’s footsteps. In: D. A. Dewsbury (ed.) Leaders in the Study of Animal Behavior: Autobiographical Perspectives (pp.347-354). Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press.

20 March 2018

Insurgency in the archives

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DEAR READER, Please realize that this book will be no suitable ornament at present for Mahogany drawing tables or ivory bookshelves - no doubt its rightful place. The despoilers and oppressors of India will want to hunt it out of view. They cannot stand its fierce light. Whether, therefore, you are an Indian, or a foreigner temporarily in India, we entrust this and subsequent volumes to you for safe custody, by all the ingenious means one employs to save a treasure from theft or robbery, and for as many people to read as you can personally arrange.

Free India Committee, India Ravaged, January 1943 (Delhi, 1943), shelfmark EPP 13

On Friday 12 and Saturday 13 January 2018 the Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London, hosted a two-day workshop on ‘Insurgency in the archives: the politics and aesthetics of sedition in colonial India’, with focus on the British Library’s collection of publications proscribed by the Government of India. As discussed in a previous post, this collection is one of the largest archives of primary sources relating to any twentieth century decolonization movement. Unable to do justice to the papers presented in such a short space this blog will present collection items related to the workshop’s five panel themes.

Archiving revolution

Both censors and insurgents were concerned with the maintenance of records and circulation of texts. Revolutionaries sometimes also appropriated the apparatus of the colonial state: distributed their writing in the mails or adopted the style and format of official literature. India Ravaged (above) collects texts documenting ‘atrocities’ committed under ‘British Aegis’ during the Quit India movement of 1942. Elsewhere a ‘balance sheet’ published by Indians based in San Francisco estimates that whilst Englishmen extract $136 million from India per year, the daily income of an average Indian is 2.5 cents.

EPP 1(8)
The Balance Sheet of British Rule in India (San Francisco, n.d.), shelfmark EPP 1/8

Communism in the vernacular

British anxiety about Soviet incursions in this region was such that communist literature was automatically banned.

PIB 69(1)
Sāmrājyavāda, a Hindi translation of Lenin’s Imperialism (Benares, 1934), PIB 69/1

PIB 18(1)
Lenina aura Gāndhī by René Fülöp-Miller, a comparative study of Lenin and Gandhi translated into Hindi from German (Delhi, 1932), shelfmark PIB 18/1

Networks of extraterritorial sedition

Banned works not only discussed international affairs, but were also sometimes disseminated via transcontinental underground networks. The wide-ranging nature of these is evident in a cache of Chinese language pro-German propaganda produced during WW1.

PIB 215(65)
A collection of German war reports and speeches translated into Chinese (n.d. and n.p), shelfmark PIB 215/65

Regulating ‘hatred’ and ‘disaffection’

The two main criteria for censorship were established in the 1898 Code of Criminal Procedure, which defined ‘seditious material’ as that likely to incite ‘disaffection’ towards the Government of India or ‘class hatred’ between India’s different communities. The proscribed publications are therefore a valuable archive of both the nationalist movement and communal tensions in the lead-up to Independence and Partition.

PIB 126(2)
A handbill printed on saffron paper urges Hindus to only buy produce from coreligionists in order to protect Gomāta (Mother cow). (Ayodhya, n.d.), shelfmark PIB 126/2

PIB 93p1
A special edition of the Arya Samaj Urdu-language periodical Vedik Maigzīn disputes the authority of the Quran (Lahore, 1936), shelfmark PIB 93

Spoken texts, picture texts

The collection is particularly strong in popular print and street poetry. These texts were intended for a mass audience during a period of low literacy levels, and meant to be seen and heard as much as read.

PIB 210(2)p1
Vidrohiṇī (Rebel woman), a collection of nationalist songs (Bombay, 1942), shelfmark PIB 210/2

 PP Hin F93
Gore kuttoṃ kā harāmīpana (The bastardy of the white dogs), a stream of invective printed on red paper (n.p., 1930?), shelfmark PP Hin F93

Such literature would have circulated hand-to-hand and by word of mouth, before being intercepted by the colonial censor and kept in the British Library.

Pragya Dhital

Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London

 
Further reading:

Pinney Christopher. 2004. ‘Photos of the Gods’: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India (London: Reaktion Books)

Shaw, Graham and Mary Lloyd (eds.) 1985. Publications proscribed by the government of India: a catalogue of the collections in the India Office Library and Records and the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books, British Library Reference Division (London: British Library)

Singer, Wendy. 1997. Creating Histories: Oral Narratives and the Politics of History-making (New Delhi: Oxford University Press)


Previous blog posts on the proscribed publications collection:

Alex Hailey, 'Caught out at Customs', 4 April 2017 

Pragya Dhital, 'Inflammable material in the British Library', 25 September 2017

 

08 March 2018

Colonel Jacob’s ill-fated mission and imprisonment

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After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, Imam Yahya became ruler of independent northern Yemen, following the Turkish withdrawal in 1918. In August 1919, Colonel Harold Fenton Jacob set off from Aden in command of a British Mission to negotiate with the Imam at Sana’a. The Imam had been aligned with the Turkish during the War, whilst the British had supported his arch-rival, Sayyid Idris. However, Jacob failed to reach the Imam at Sana’a. Instead, Jacob and his Mission were stopped at Bajil, and held virtual prisoners for more than three months by Shaikhs of the Quhra tribe of Tihamah.

News of Jacob’s ill-fated mission was reported by the British Political Resident at Aden in monthly News Letters to the British High Commissioner at Cairo, copies of which are included in the India Office file P 3300/1916 Pt 3 'Aden News-Letters: 1919-20' (IOR/L/PS/10/611/1).

The Political Resident at Aden, C H E Lees, reported on 4 September 1919 that Jacob had sent a telegraph on 27 August stating that he was ‘temporarily held up by the Quhra Shaikhs’. Lees reflected that ‘nearly all the tribes in the Shafiet Tehama are anti-Imam and they are under the impression that our chief aim is to advance the cause of the Imam to their own detriment’, hence the Quhra Shaikhs wanted to prevent British negotiations with the Imam from taking place. Lees reported that anxiety about the safety of the Mission was lessened by efforts of the Imam to secure their release, the Imam’s representative the ex-Vali Mahmud Nadim arriving in Bajil, and ‘the general sanguine tone of Colonel Jacob’s telegrams’.

IOR_L_PS_10_611_1129

IOR_L_PS_10_611_1131
Extract from Aden News Letter dated 9 October 1919, IOR/L/PS/10/611/1

However, on 9 October 1919, the Political Resident at Aden conceded that negotiations for the release of the Mission had made no progress. He grew suspicious of the intentions of Mahmud Nadim, and by 12th November he had come to the conclusion that ‘Everything appears to point to the Wali [Vali], with or without the knowledge of the Imam is uncertain, having engineered the detention of Colonel’s Jacob’s Mission’.

The Mission was finally released on 12th December 1919. This followed two British aeroplane flights over Bajil, which the Political Resident at Aden reported had ‘had an excellent effect and brought before the recalcitrant Shaikhs the fact that they and their villages are within reach of bombing raids’. It also followed the arrival in Bajil of a deputation from Sayyid Idris, demanding the release of the Mission on pain of assault on Bajil by the Idrisi force.

The historian R J Gavin asserts that ‘British impotence in the face of tribal hostility’ during Jacob’s imprisonment ‘amply demonstrated the dangers of a more ambitious policy in the Yemen’. The British reverted to the wartime policy of securing only what was strategically necessary and easy to defend in the Yemen. The British also continued their support of Sayyid Idris, and relations between the British and Imam Yahya deteriorated. Meanwhile, Jacob ‘returned utterly discredited in the sharper eyes of the men in Whitehall’ following the failure of his Mission.

Susannah Gillard

Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:

British Library, File 3300/1916 Pt 3 'Aden News-Letters: 1919-20' IOR/L/PS/10/611/1

J. Gavin, Aden Under British Rule, 1839-1967 (London: C. Hurst & Company, 1975)

20 February 2018

‘Conceal yourself, your foes look for you’: revealing a secret message in a piece of music

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At the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Charles Stuart (later Charles II) unsuccessfully tried to reclaim the throne lost through the execution of his father Charles I. He was forced into retreat to avoid capture, and whilst on the run from Cromwell’s New Model Army he stopped at Boscobel House. When the patrols came looking for him, Charles concealed himself in the nearby woods by hiding in a tree, known today as The Royal Oak.

A manuscript newly acquired by the British Library claims to be a coded message passed to Charles at Boscobel by an unnamed lady, warning him of his imminent danger. A small sheet of music which, when folded correctly, reveals the message ‘Conceal yourself your foes look for you’ (Add MS 89288).

Add MS 89288 image 1
Add MS 89288

The manuscript ended up in the hands of John Port, who said he came into possession of it through his wife, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. Port lived out his life in Portland, Dorset after losing the family fortune and left the manuscript in the hands of his landlord, William White.

Also in the British Library is a 19th-century copy of this message (Add MS 45850, f. 68). This manuscript names the author of the message as Jane Lane, who helped Charles escape England by disguising him as her servant.

Image 2 Add MS 45850 f 68
Add MS 45850, f. 68

However, this is not the only story of this code’s origin. Elsewhere, the same cryptograph is said to have been passed to other historical figures.

Walter William Rouse Ball, a mathematician at Trinity College, Cambridge, used a version of the message in his book ‘Mathematical Recreations and Essays’ as an example of a cryptograph.

Image 3
W. W. Rouse Ball, Mathematical Recreations and Essays, 4th Edition (MacMillan and Co., 1911), p. 403 ( 8507.e.35.)

He reports that this was a message to Prince Charles Edward (also known as The Young Pretender and Bonnie Prince Charlie) after the Battle of Culloden, although the author points out, ‘…of the truth of the anecdote I know nothing, and the desirability of concealing himself must have been so patent that it was hardly necessary to communicate it by a cryptograph’.

Another version of this code was apparently given to Napoleon Bonaparte ‘At a period when the Emperor was surrounded by Spies & pretended Friends who had combined with his enemies to betray him’.

Image 4
h.127.(1.)

Published in 1830, this facsimile purports to be reproduced from the original held by the Emperor’s son, the Duke of Reichstadt. It claims, when presented with the note, Napoleon ‘…with his usual penetration instantly solved the Enigma & carelessly remarking “Tis pretty Air to caper to” immediately removed to a place of safety’. Why a French soldier would present the French Emperor with a coded message in English we are not informed.

Whilst it may not be possible to verify the true origins of this message, all these items are now available to be viewed in the British Library Reading Rooms for you to make up your own minds.

Stephen Noble
Cataloguer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:

Readers of this blog may be interested in this forthcoming publication, which discusses the cryptograph: Nadine Akkerman, Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018)