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21 June 2022

Coleridge and The Ancient Mariner

By Catherine Angerson, Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts. A small display to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) can be seen in the Treasures Gallery until 25 September 2022.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner recounts the experiences of a mariner whose ship becomes trapped in ice during a long voyage. The mariner brings great misfortune on the ship and its crew by killing the albatross which helped to bring them to safety. Coleridge’s depression and own experiences of travel led to his increasing identification with the Mariner and he continued to revise the poem, first published in Lyrical Ballads in 1798, at different episodes during his life.

A new temporary display in the Treasures Gallery brings together three of Coleridge’s manuscripts (a poem and two notebooks) and two 20th-century illustrated editions of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the poet.

The Coleridge display in the British Library Treasures Gallery
The Coleridge display in the British Library Treasures Gallery

The first item on display is a handwritten poem titled 'Dura Navis' which Coleridge said he composed at the age of 15 while he was a pupil at Christ’s Hospital in Sussex. The poem shows the poet’s early preoccupation with the isolation of the traveller and the dangers of travelling by sea. The manuscript is an autograph fair copy written down by Coleridge many years after he first composed the poem. A 51-year-old Coleridge added a comment at the bottom of the first page saying that the poem ‘does not contain a line that any clever school boy might not have written’ (Add MS 34225, f.1r).

Manuscript page of Coleridge's poem 'Dura Navis', handwritten ink on aged paper
S.T. Coleridge, ‘Dura Navis’, composed 1787; fair copy around 1823. Add MS 34225, f. 1r.

At the centre of the small display are two of the 55 of Coleridge’s notebooks purchased by the British Museum from the descendants of Coleridge’s brother James in 1951. Coleridge used pocket-sized notebooks to record thoughts, feelings, quotations, travel accounts, language learning (especially German), philosophical musings, poems and more. Notebook No. 9 (Add MS 47506) contains Coleridge’s impressions of a voyage to Malta in April 1804. In a brief moment of calm in the Bay of Biscay, the poet observes ‘the beautiful Surface of the Sea in this gentle Breeze’ (f. 33v). A reference to his friend William Wordsworth’s poem The Female Vagrant can be seen near the bottom of the page: ‘And on the gliding Vessel Heaven & Ocean smil’d!’ (f. 34r)

Coleridge's Malta notebook showing handwritten notes
‘And on the gliding Vessel Heaven & Ocean smil’d!’: a reference to Wordsworth in Coleridge’s Notebook No. 9, Add MS 47506, f. 34r.

In October 1806, Coleridge drafted a new version of a short section of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in his Notebook No. 11 (Add MS 47508). While the opening lines, ‘With never a whisper in the main / Off shot the spectre ship’, are close to lines 198199 of the poem published in Lyrical Ballads in 1798, the following two lines do not appear in the first or the amended version published in 1817:

And stifled words & groans of pain
Mix’d on each trembling ^ murmering lip

Other images are altered but recognisable from part III of the poem published in Sibylline Leaves (1817). ‘The Sky was dull & dark the Night’ in the 1806 notebook becomes ‘The stars were dim, and thick the night’ in 1817.

Coleridge's notebook showing a handwritten draft and revision of the Ancient Mariner
S.T. Coleridge, manuscript revision of lines from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in Notebook No. 11, 1806, Add MS 47508, f. 5r

Many artists have been drawn to the creative force and supernatural imagery of The Ancient Mariner. The first illustrated edition on display was designed, decorated and illustrated by Hungarian artist Willy Pogány (born Vilmos András Pogány, 1882–1955) and published in 1910. The illustration of the ship struck by a ‘storm-blast’ is reproduced from Pogány’s watercolour and corresponds to Coleridge’s words on the opposite page. In the poem, the ship is driven by a storm, ‘tyrannous and strong’, towards the South Pole. Pogány’s storm has a suggestion of wings like the winged storm which chases the ship in the poem.

A printed version of the Ancient Mariner, by Willy Pogany, with the text on the left page and an image of the ship and the sea on the right page
S.T. Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: in seven parts; presented by Willy Pogány. London: G.G. Harrap & Co., 1910. K.T.C.40.b.13.

The display concludes with Mervyn Peake’s stark image of a suffering and repentant Mariner in an edition published by Chatto & Windus in 1943. In contrast to Pogány’s deluxe edition printed on vellum, this edition with seven black-and-white illustrations reproduced from Peake’s drawings was designed to be affordable. In Coleridge’s poem, the crew hangs the albatross around the Mariner’s neck to mark his guilt for killing the bird of good omen. Peake’s image hints at the possibility of redemption for the Mariner.

An illustration by Mervyn Peake showing the mariner with the albatross around his neck
Illustration by Mervyn Peake, in S.T. Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. London: Chatto & Windus, 1943. 11657.dd.18.

The Coleridge display at the British Library (until 25 September) overlaps by a few weeks with the loan of the manuscript of Coleridge’s other famous poem, Kubla Kahn, and a 1798 edition of Lyrical Ballads to the Museum of Somerset for the exhibition In Xanadu: Coleridge and the West Country (until 25 June). The anniversary is also being marked at the British Library on 20 October with the Wordsworth Trust annual lecture by renowned Coleridge biographer Richard Holmes. Tickets will be available from mid-August.

Further reading

Kathleen Coburn, Merton Christensen and Anthony John Harding, eds, The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 5 vols (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957–2002)

Seamus Perry, ed., Coleridge's Notebooks: A Selection (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)

30 March 2022

P. G. Wodehouse Society launches international Essay Prize

Written by Helen Melody, Lead Curator of Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives. 

The British Library has been home to the P.G. Wodehouse archive since September 2016. It is a large collection of 481 folders and volumes, which provides a real insight into the life and work of the writer, humourist and lyricist.  

The archive contains material relating to Wodehouse’s literary career, his theatrical and cinematic work, the Second World War period and his private life. Also included are papers relating to fans of Wodehouse, research and articles about his writing, events and commemorations organised after his death, and adaptations of his work.

Image is black and white and shows P G Wodehouse reading a book in front of shelves of other books

The archive is catalogued and more information can be found by searching the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue using keywords or the reference Loan MS 129. Anyone with a reader’s pass can consult the archive in the Manuscripts reading room on the second floor of the Library. Please see the Reader Registration pages of the Library’s website for more information about how to register for a pass if you do not already have one.

The Wodehouse archive is a resource for everyone but it could be particularly useful for anyone who is planning to submit an entry for the international Essay prize that has been launched by the P.G. Wodehouse Society (UK). The initiative was launched in late 2021 to mark the 140th anniversary of Wodehouse’s birth and coincide with the 25th anniversary of the creation of the society in 2022. Two prizes of £1000 and £250 will be awarded to the adult and junior winners respectively by a judging panel that includes Paula Byrne, Stephen Fry and Sophie Ratcliffe.

Image shows actor Stephen Fry holding a copy of  P G Wodehouse's novel Code of the Woosters

The prize is open to all. The judges ask that entries focus on Wodehouse’s novels, stories, plays and journalism with the hope that they will throw scholarly new light on aspects of his writing.

Entries, which must be original and previously unpublished, should be submitted to essayprize@pgwodehousesociety.org.uk  by 12 noon BST on Wednesday 1 September 2022. Full details and Terms & Conditions can be found on the Society’s website.  Good luck to anyone who decides to enter.

21 March 2022

Celebrating Beryl Gilroy

By Eleanor Dickens, Curator of Contemporary Literary Archives and Manuscripts.

 

The British Library has recently announced the acquisition of the Beryl Gilroy Archive, which was donated to the library in 2020.

Beryl Agatha Gilroy (1924–2001), was an acclaimed writer, teacher and ethno-psychotherapist.

Her archive includes drafts of published and unpublished manuscripts, notebooks, research and reflective essays on her own writing. As well as correspondence, material from her counselling practice and born-digital material.

Highlights of the archive include two drafts of In Praise of Love and Children, a rare fictional account of a woman’s experience of migration from the Caribbean. These two drafts, one typed and annotated and the other hand-written, show successive versions of Gilroy’s first novel, which was written in 1959 but not published until 1996.

Image shows the first page of Gilroy's novel In Praise of Love and Children which is typed but also heavily annotated by hand
BL Deposit 11286/5/10 With kind permission of the Beryl Gilroy Estate

Another highlight, and quite unique, aspect of Gilroy’s archive are the series of essays she wrote analysing and reflecting on her own fiction. Her archive contains such writing for all of her published novels and they are a fantastic additional insight into her work.

The archive also contains unpublished manuscripts of Gilroy’s work, both fiction, for example, a historical novel set during the 1780 Gordon Riots based on the life of a woman known as ‘Black Harriot’ who is thought to be depicted in William Hogarth’s painting The Rake’s Progress. As well as non-fiction, including a non-fiction draft about teaching, which works as a sequel to her memoir Black Teacher, and explores the ways that racist attitudes pervaded her experience of education.

Gilroy said herself that she ‘[…] belonged any place where there were children.’ And her passion, care and dedication for children’s well-being and education shines throughout her archive. Not least in the manuscripts of her contributions to the Nippers series, published by Macmillan, and her own notebooks and research into teaching and inspiring creativity in children.

Image shows a selection of covers of the children's book series Nippers, which were written by Gilroy and published by Macmillan
BL Deposit 11286/3/1 With kind permission of the Beryl Gilroy Estate

One of our favourite items in the archive is a copy of a zine Gilroy made with students at Beckford Infants School (now West Hampstead Primary School), where she was head teacher between 1969-1982.

The zine is called ‘BIM’, which probably stands for ‘Beckford Infants Magazine’, and contains poetry, drawings and creative writing by the students at the school. The zine is a wonderful example of Gilroy combining her beliefs in child-centred learning, creative expression and positive self-image.

Image shows one of Gilroy's handwritten notebooks in which she is devising a creative writing exercise for children
BL Deposit 11286/1/6 With kind permission of the Beryl Gilroy Estate

As part of celebrating Beryl Gilroy and her exceptional archive, there will be a free display in the Treasures Gallery, Celebrating Beryl Gilroyrunning from 17 March until 26 June. The display includes highlights from the archive.

As part of this display, the British Library also commissioned the Liverpool-born Nigerian-German artist and filmmaker Amber Akaunu to respond creatively to the archive. Amber has created a zine, The Blueprint and a short film celebrating black women who help educate, nurture and develop children, which will also be on display.

Amber worked on the zine with Lana Maugé, a former student of Gilroy’s, and their contribution in the form of the zine feels like an excellent way of connecting with the zine Gilroy created with her students.

Amber Akaunu, said: ‘Spending time with Gilroy's archive was a luxury that visitors of the British Library will now also get to experience. The contents of the archive are honest, deeply reflective, and unique to the experiences of Dr. Beryl Gilroy. I created my film and zine response with these same attributes in mind, and centred around the idea that Black women, and their archive, are the blueprint to which we build from.’

Image shows the front cover of the zine made by artist Amber Akaunu with the designer Lana Mauge. It includes an image of Beryl Gilroy with her students
The Blueprint by Amber Akaunu

The acquisition of the Beryl Gilroy archive expands the Library’s existing collections of Caribbean and Black British literary archives, including those of Andrew Salkey, Andrea Levy, James Berry and Wasafiri magazine. It will be available for research on completion of cataloguing in autumn 2022.

For further information or enquiries please contact: eleanor.dickens@bl.uk