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8 posts from August 2015

27 August 2015

Robins: representations of benevolence or xenophobia?

Curator Alison Bailey gives an insight into the work behind the exhibition Animal Tales now open at the British Library.

The writing of exhibition labels can be both a terrible tyranny and an exhilarating exercise.  In the attempt to distil everything that might put an item into a specific context in about a hundred words there are always some questions unanswered, some matters unaddressed.  Moreover, there is no room for footnotes, and the cagey use of 'perhaps' or 'seems' has to be rationed – so inevitably the tone is more dogmatic and definite than might be the case with more space.  Luckily for me, the label writing for Animal Tales was shared between Matthew Shaw (Lead Curator) and Barbara Hawes and me (Co-Curators) and a blog provides me with a chance to give a taste of a few of the things I couldn’t cover in my label for History of the Red-Breast Family.

  Title page of History of the Red-Breast Family:
History of the Red-Breast Family: being an introduction to the Fabulous History written by S. Trimmer. London: Sold by Darton and Harvey, 1793. C.193.a.126. Noc

Sarah Trimmer (1741-1810) is an important figure in the history of children’s literature and education.  She taught her own twelve children at home, wrote several books, founded one of the first Sunday schools (in Brentford) and advised Queen Charlotte about Sunday schools.  In 1786 she published her most famous work, Fabulous Histories, which remained in print for many decades, and was also adapted for younger children, as in the copy above.  The subtitle of her original work gives an indication of her ostensible purpose 'designed for the instruction of children respecting their treatment of animals'.

In my label, I have given a fairly straightforward account of the storyline and the role of the robins within it: 'she interwove the related stories of a family of robins and a human family…the behaviour of the robins is presented as an exemplar to the reader while the attitudes of the Benson children and their friends to the robins provide lessons in the proper treatment of animals'.  I also included a couple of lines about Mrs Trimmer but even then my text had to be cut down, so there is no reference, for example, to Mrs Trimmer’s influential reviews of children’s books in her periodical The Guardian of Education (June 1802 – September 1806).  Equally there was no room to allude to critical discussion of Mrs Trimmer as an establishment figure, concerned to uphold the status quo.  Quoting from the text, I referred to the message of 'universal benevolence' that the book seeks to inculcate, but Moira Ferguson, in Animal Advocacy and Englishwomen 1780-1900, suggests that, far from presenting images of kindness and compassion, the behaviour of the robins can be identified with that of the British Redcoats in and after the American Revolutionary War and their attitudes to alien or foreign birds, such as the cuckoo and the mocking-bird, reflect xenophobia.

To turn to bibliography: the British Library is the only location given in ESTC (English Short Title Catalogue) for a copy sold by Darton and Harvey dated 1793.  A copy sold by Darton and Harvey and dated 1799, held by the National Library at Wales, is also recorded in ESTC and there is an entry (G468) in The Dartons (the standard listing of works issued by the firm of Darton) for a copy printed and sold by Darton and Harvey in 1801 which is in the Renier Collection at the National Art Library. 

Manuscript inscriptions on the paste-down of History of the Red-Breast Family

History of the Red-Breast Family: being an introduction to the Fabulous History written by S. Trimmer. Noc


There is also the question of the manuscript inscriptions on the paste-down.  Is it too fanciful to identify one with Caroline Fry the Christian educationalist?  The 'Caroline' seems to match a later signature in her married name. Work on provenance is continuing – but any help would be warmly welcomed.

Alison Bailey Cc-by
Lead Curator, Printed Heritage Collections 1901-2000

Further reading:
Laurence Darton, The Dartons: an annotated check-list of children’s books issued by two publishing houses 1787-1876. London: British Library, 2004. YC.2006.a.11349.
Moira Ferguson, Animal advocacy and Englishwomen, 1780-1900: patriots, nation, and empire. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998. YC.1999.b.6076
Matthew Grenby, “Introduction” to Sarah Trimmer, The Guardian of Education: a periodical work. Volume I: From May to December inclusive, 1802. Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2002. YC.2003.a.17249.

 

Animal-tales2Visit Animal Tales – a free British Library exhibition open until Sunday 1 November 2015

 

 

 

 

 

  

25 August 2015

Smuggling in sugar

In July 1911 HMS Fox was instructed to board the British India Steam Navigation Company vessel Palmacotta which had departed Bombay for Kuwait. On board the ship were 25 cases of sugar loaf which were being sent from Antwerp to Kuwait. One of these cases had been accidentally damaged whilst being loaded onto Palmacotta for the final leg of the journey, and a surprising discovery had been made. Packed in between the cones of sugar loaf were guns and ammunition which were being smuggled into Kuwait.

 

Gun

From Gately's World's Progress. A general history of the earth's construction and of the advancement of mankind ... edited by C. E. Beale (Boston, 1886) Noc

 

The Shaikh of Kuwait, Mubarak al-Sabah, had recently entered into an agreement with the British Government which had made the shipping of arms and ammunition into his territory illegal. This agreement had resulted in the individuals and companies involved in the arms import business in the Persian Gulf becoming more creative in light of the newfound illegality of their trade.

The discovery of these hidden weapons prompted further investigation both into the original consignment of the cargo from Antwerp and into ships' manifests to see if other similar shipments had arrived in Kuwait.

The investigations in Antwerp led to the discovery that the original dispatcher of the cases was given as a British Company ‘Bertie Richmond & Co’; however this turned out to be a fictitious name, leading only to further mystery.

The inspection of shipping manifests turned up numerous shipments to Kuwait of large quantities of sugar loaf, through a wide array of shipping agents and companies. One consignment was discovered aboard a Hansa Lines vessel SS Moltkefels, prompting the Company’s Bombay Agent to undertake his own investigation into the matter. He initially found that British companies had been listed as the original consignees, but that each of these was a fictitious creation to cover the tracks of the real smuggler.

The Hansa lines investigation eventually uncovered the full smuggling operation, which a well-respected Paris based company, Dieu & Co, had been orchestrating. The company had been ordering crates of sugar-loaf, and then sending a small number of crates from each order to a company in Belgium. The Belgian company’s instructions were to send them on to a gunsmith’s firm. The gunsmith in turn had been instructed to remove some of the sugar loaf and replace it with guns before repackaging the crate and send them back to the Belgian company, who would then send them on to be shipped to Kuwait.

Unfortunately the British and Dutch Governments (whom Hansa lines had enlisted in their investigation) had no powers to stop Dieu & Co from their smuggling practices.  They had to rely on improved searching measures and the knowledge of how the guns were being smuggled to try and ensure that this illegal trade was stopped.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records  Cc-by

Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/10/112

 

20 August 2015

World Mosquito Day

Today is World Mosquito Day, marking the day in 1897 when Ronald  Ross confirmed that the female anopheles mosquito transmitted malaria to humans.

Mosquito

  IOR/R/15/2/1062 Anti-malaria measures (1939-1947)   Noc

 

The notebook recording this discovery is held as part of the Ross archive at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.  Ross was a member of the Indian Medical Service, and so the India Office Records here at the British Library also contain a wealth of material relating to his career and research.

The papers of the India Office Military Department (IOR/L/MIL) contain biographical material relating to Ross’s time in the Medical Service.

The recently catalogued Government of India Medical Proceedings feature copy correspondence between Ross, the Government of India, and other researchers regarding his research into malaria and kala-azar, and later investigations into preventive measures.

Today the LSHTM are marking mosquito day with an afternoon of live performance and music, accompanying Ross, his wife and their dog Binkie to St Petersburg in 1912 as part of a delegation to the Russian Duma.

Mosquito Day poster featuring Binkie the dog

 

And on Friday 18 September the British Library, in collaboration with the Mustard Club  and experts from the LSHTM Malaria Centre will present Science Unboxed: Mosquitoes, Malaria and the Raj, featuring dramatic readings from the records plus discussion of their modern-day relevance and the current steps being taken to eradicate malaria worldwide.

Indian postage stamp on malaria control

Tickets are free but limited to a small number, and we will be serving tea and cake. For further details and booking, please see our What’s On pages.

Alex Hailey
India Office Medical Archives project

 

18 August 2015

Miss May Oung at the Burma Round Table Conference 1931

Following the first Round Table Conference on India held at the end of 1930 in London, the British Government decided to hold a Round Table Conference on Burma in November 1931. The main item for discussion was the political separation of Burma from India and potential dominion status.

On 29 September 1931, the Government announced the 20 Burmese delegates who would be attending the Conference. They included representatives from different political parties and minority groups, but no women.

After the announcement various British women’s organisations, such as the Women’s Freedom League and the Six Point Group, sent letters to the Secretary of State, Sir Samuel Hoare, hoping it was not too late to include one or more women. In particular, the name of Miss May Oung was put forward because she was conveniently already in London.

 

  Letter from National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship
IOR: L/PO/9/3 Letter from National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship Noc

Miss May Oung (also known as Ma Mya Sein) was Rangoon and Oxford educated, had been Secretary of the Burmese National Council of Women and Burmese Women’s Association and representative of the All Asian Women’s Conference at the League of Nations in Geneva. Her education and international experience made her an ideal representative in British and Burmese women’s minds. As Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence pointed out in a letter sent to Samuel Hoare on 29 September 1931, women in Burma enjoyed an equal franchise with men (they had since 1922) and so should be included in the Conference. Burmese women, who had held a mass meeting in Rangoon, pointed out that two Indian women had been delegates to the Indian Round Table Conference (even though Indian women did not enjoy equal franchise) and so at least two Burmese women should be sent as representatives at this Conference. 

However, the Governor of Burma, Sir Charles Alexander Innes, did not wish to appoint May Oung. In various telegrams to the Secretary of State in October 1931, the Governor suggested that May Oung’s Aunt, Mrs Hla Oung, who was Vice President of the Burmese Women’s Association, would be a better candidate. Hla Oung insisted that she would need May Oung to accompany her on account of her age and language difficulties, but Innes believed that May Oung was too young and that the Burmese men would not approve of her appointment. He also did not want two women delegates, who would be in favour of separation of Burma from India, as that would upset the political balance of the delegation. Innes agreed to compromise by allowing May Oung attend the Conference as her aunt’s advisor, but not to be named as a formal delegate. This suggestion was not well received, leading to a standoff. Hla Oung insisted on two women delegates and threatened to arrange a boycott by the whole Burmese delegation.

 

Telegram from All Burma Women’s Conference

IOR: L/PO/9/3 Telegram from All Burma Women’s ConferenceNoc

British and international women’s organisations, such as the Women’s Freedom League and Equal Rights International, petitioned the India Office once more for the inclusion of May Oung on the delegation.

Finally, the male Burmese delegates themselves, on their arrival in London in November 1931, sent a letter to Hoare asking that May Oung be included in their delegation. Innes eventually relented after getting written assurance from the Burmese Women’s Association that they would be happy with one delegate. On 20 November 1931, Miss May Oung was formally invited to attend the Burmese Round Table Conference. She accepted the invitation.

 

Letter from Women’s Freedom League

IOR: L/PO/9/3 Letter from Women’s Freedom League Noc

 

Sumita Mukherjee
AHRC Early Career Fellow (AH/M004326/1), King’s College London

Further reading:
IOR: L/PO/9/3 Burma Round Table Conference: Notes on groups represented at Burma Conference

 

 

13 August 2015

You can’t keep a good man down!

In July 1947 the India Independence Act decreed that the dominions of India and Pakistan would be created on 15 August 1947.  British officers of the Indian Army faced the termination of  their careers and had to consider their future as civilians.  The Journal of the United Service Institution of India published an article by ‘G.B.S.’ entitled ‘You can’t keep a good man down!’ offering practical advice to this group of men.

From listening to casual conversations, ‘G.B.S.’ believed many officers were taking a pessimistic view of their chance in civil life. Official advice was well-intentioned but unhelpful as it tended mainly to suggest jobs which retired soldiers would probably not get.

  Army officer leaning out of the train window to be shaved during a stop

Army officer being shaved during a train stop to the Himalayas, from Journal des Voyages (1908). ©De Agostini/The British Library Board

 

Determination was said to be the key to success.  Retiring officers should calculate their liabilities and assets.  On the minus side was their concentration on soldiering and the need to learn a completely new trade.  But there were several things on the plus side.  Officers would have some capital and a pension.  The majority would be aged between 30 and 45 and so would have a reasonable expectation of 20-35 years of active life ahead of them.  They would have a good knowledge of men and the world.

Individual officers might have additional assets: language qualifications, private capital, or a particular skill or interest.  One ex-Indian Army officer who was an expert on insects had secured a job with an organisation studying crop pests, whilst another interested in philately owned a stamp shop in Piccadilly.

‘G.B.S.’ advised his readers to tap into the ‘Old Boy Network’ and not be ashamed to use every contact they had.  It took time to find a job even in a big city like London.  He suggested that officers should go to live in London for at least three months, but preferably six, making and following up contacts six days a week.   They should press on with acquiring qualifications if necessary, funding this by using some of their compensation money.

Many officers dreamed of owning a farm.   ‘G.B.S.’ warned that this was a technical profession requiring qualifications and capital of at £10,000 in addition to the Army pension.  Those attracted to life in the colonies or dominions should realise that the problems of getting a job there was no different. 

The article ended by concluding that officers who had had reasonable careers ahead of them in the Indian Army could and would secure good jobs at home if they set about it in the right way and did not ‘take too great counsel’ of their fears. ‘Let us, therefore, go home with the thought in our minds (though we won’t broadcast this to our prospective employers) that the problem is not “Will I get a job?” but “Which job shall I do?”’.

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

Further reading
U.S.I. Journal vol. LXXVIII  No.328 ( July 1947)

 

11 August 2015

Arm-to-arm smallpox vaccination

A small exhibition on vaccination is currently on show at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and features copies of a small number of items from the archives of the East India Company and India Office.

One of the items concerns efforts to introduce smallpox vaccination to Fort Marlborough at Bencoolen [Bengkulu, Indonesia]. Previous efforts had resulted in failure, as the dried lymph matter used in the vaccination did not survive the journey from Bengal, and so the procedure was ineffective.

  Document recounting the failure of the vaccine lymph
  IOR/F/4/169/2985 (1803) Recounting the failure of the vaccine lymph Noc

 

John Shoolbred, Surgeon and Superintendent General of Vaccine Inoculation in Bengal, proposed that children from the local orphan school be used as live carriers of the vaccine:

The passage of a ship sailing to Bencoolen the middle of December may be fairly estimated at a month, and as it would require two Children to be inoculated every week to ensure the preservation of the disease, twelve or fourteen Children would allow for any unexpected excess of time on the Passage as well as for some days which would inevitably be lost between the inoculation of the two first Children and the final departure of the Ship.

IOR/F/4/169/2985 (1803)

Shoolbred’s proposal was accepted, and a group of children who had not previously been inoculated were selected to make the voyage. The children were to travel on the ship Carmarthen, and a quick examination of the ship’s journal provides us with their names [note that it is unusual for children to be named in ship passenger lists]:

 List of the crew of the Carmarthen, showing the Commander and Surgeon

 List of the crew of the Carmarthen, showing the Commander and Surgeon. Noc

List of children on the Carmarthen

 Noc

The following Children came on board 17th Dec  1803, By Order of the Bengal Government under charge of Serj. Williams…

Aged 5-

Dan[ie]l Morgan             Will[ia]m Le Baner                  Ann Cope

Mark Lewis                       John McLean                        Sarah Turner

Tho[ma]s Pike                  Will[ia]m Haldane               Eliz[abe]th Fingar

John Walker                      Sarah Black                           Martha Pickard

Landed at Fort Malbro’ 3 Feb 1804

IOR/L/MAR/B/142A  Journal of the Carmarthen, 9 Dec 1802- 8 Sep 1804

 

A report by was duly issued to the Medical Board upon completion of the voyage:

Report on the vaccination sent to the Medical Board Noc

Report on the vaccination sent to the Medical Board IOR/F/4/169/2985 (1803)

 Two of the Children were inoculated on Saturday the 10th by two punctures in each arm, and when they embarked on Saturday the 17th a well characterized pustule was formed at each of the punctures, from which Mr Walker the Surgeon of the Carmarthen would inoculate two others on Sunday or Monday and so on successively every 8th or 9th day until their arrival at Fort Marlbro…

IOR/F/4/169/2985 (1803)

The somewhat mercenary use of orphan children in this manner was evidently not uncontroversial at the time, and in a further account of transmitting the vaccine via arm-to-arm transfer from Madras to Canton [China], Surgeon A Stewart reports that he has arranged for 12 adults to make the trip at a rate of 3 pagodas per month:

The persons who now agree to go are such arrived at a period of life when they are capable of judging for themselves, a circumstance which must at once silence every effort at misrepresentation on this subject.

IOR/F/4/523/12474 (1813-1815)

The Library collections document the struggles with lymph preservation, objections to vaccination, problems of administration, and debates over whether to accommodate or legislate against the inoculation practice known as variolation, which had been practised in parts of India long before Jennerian vaccination. These materials can all be found via our archives catalogue.


Alex Hailey
India Office Medical Archives project

Further reading:
Sanjoy Bhattacharya, “Re-devising Jennerian Vaccines? European Technologies, Indian Innovation and the Control of Smallpox in South Asia, 1850-1950”, Social Scientist 26.11 (1998)
David Arnold, Colonizing the body: State medicine and epidemic disease in nineteenth-century India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993)
Niels Brimnes, “Variolation, Vaccination and Popular Resistance in Early Colonial South India”, Medical History 48.2 (2004): 199–228. Print.

 

 

07 August 2015

The amiable Princess Amelia

Princess Amelia, the youngest child of King George III and Queen Charlotte, was born on 7 August 1783.  Amelia was delicate from an early age and later suffered from tuberculosis. She was her father’s favourite daughter, interested in art, music, history and literature as well as being an accomplished horsewoman.

Princess Amelia Noc

Princess Amelia from a painting by Andrew Robertson reproduced in W S Childe-Pemberton, The romance of Princess Amelia

Amelia and her sisters were kept at home in the ‘Nunnery’ as their mother feared that the King’s mental health would be affected by difficult decisions about suitable marriages for his daughters.   The Princesses’ public outings were reported in the press and their costumes described in great detail – today’s preoccupation with the lives and appearance of members of the royal family is nothing new!  When the King, Queen and Princesses attended a performance at Covent Garden Theatre in May 1805, followers of fashion were treated to this pen portrait:

The King – A Field Marshall’s full uniform.

The Queen – Silver tissue; zephyr blue robe; head dress white and gold, diamond helmet; small black Turkish feather, and a profusion of diamonds.

Princess Augusta – White spangled dress; white head-dress, large plume of white feathers, and bandeau of diamonds.

Princess Elizabeth – Egyptian brown robe, superbly spangled; black head dress, white plume of feathers, and bandeau of diamonds.

Princess Mary – Slate-coloured tissue robe; white head dress, plume of white feathers, and a profusion of diamonds.

Princess Sophia – Silver tissue dress; black head dress, large plume of feathers, and bandeau of diamonds.

Princess Amelia – Rich tissue dress, elegant bird of paradise feathers, large diamond crescent, and bandeau of diamonds.

Closeting in the ‘Nunnery’ did not prevent the princesses from conducting clandestine romances with men connected to the court. When Princess Amelia stayed at Weymouth in 1801, hoping that the sea-bathing would improve her health, she fell in love with Colonel Charles FitzRoy, one of the King’s equerries.  She set her heart on marrying him, and began to use the initials A. F. R. – Amelia FitzRoy.

  Charles FitzRoyNoc

Charles Fitz-Roy from a miniature in the possession of the Hon Mrs William Lowther reproduced in W S Childe-Pemberton, The romance of Princess Amelia

 

By October 1809 newspaper articles about Amelia’s visits to Weymouth had an ominous tone: ‘The Princess Amelia takes the benefit of the warm salt bath, and as often as the weather permits, alternately takes an airing on the sand and an excursion on the water.  The benign effects of which, we fervently pray, will ultimately restore her Royal Highness’s health and spirits’.

Unfortunately the Princess’s health continued to deteriorate and she died at Windsor on 2 November 1810, much mourned.   On her death bed, Princess Amelia gave her father a ring which contained a lock of her hair and the inscription ‘Remember me’.   She left a will bequeathing the bulk of her estate to Charles FitzRoy and entrusting him with the handling of certain bequests.  Amelia’s executors, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge, wished to avoid making public the relationship between their sister and FitzRoy.  They therefore secured FitzRoy’s agreement to cede his rights as residuary legatee, promising that Amelia’s wishes would nevertheless be honoured.  This pledge was not kept: FitzRoy was excluded from decisions about the distribution of Amelia’s effects and received very little from her estate.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
W S Childe-Pemberton, The romance of Princess Amelia (London, 1910).
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – George III, daughters of.
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Morning Post  29 May 1805; 25 October 1809.
Honoria Scott, Sketch of the life and character of her Royal Highness the Princess Amelia (London, 1810).

Georgian Britain - prints, drawings, documents and articles.

 

04 August 2015

Blythe Spirit

I’ve spent several years studying the science and showbiz of hypnosis. As artist-in-residence at the British Library, I looked into the archives at great hypnotists from the past.

Henry Blythe is one of my favourite hypnotists from the archives.  He was a stage hypnotist who crossed over the great divide into healing – the field he called ‘curative hypnosis’.  His wonderful book The Truth About Hypnotism is unintentionally hilarious in authorial style and content, but surprisingly moving.  It’s a great mixture of fascinating theory, showbiz anecdotes and very slightly purple - a sort of wisteria - prose. 

  Cover of Henry Blythe's The Truth about Hypnotism

Cover of Henry Blythe's The Truth about Hypnotism

 

The chapters I like best are ‘1969: The Year of the Warts’, and ‘The Twilight Zone’ which deals with his attempts to cure homosexuality and sexual perversions. He seems genuinely conflicted about whether homosexuality could and indeed should be eradicated, and he was way ahead of his time in his compassion.

I love hypnotists Walford Bodie and Peter Casson, and the lady mesmerist Annie De Montford.  I love the big moustaches and the over the top bill matter.  But it is Blythe I’ve warmed to the most.  He is warm, humble - and at the same time an incorrigible self-promoter. He stood for Parliament as the Labour candidate for Gloucester under the slogan Look into my Eyes and Vote for Me.

Blythe’s stunts included hypnotizing the entire team at Gloucester City Football Club to improve their performance. Pathe News made a feature about his attempt: Svengali Means Goals - “They won that match. The next when Henry was away – they lost. That speaks for itself!” At the time this would all have been thought of as harmless fun, but now hypnosis in sports science is big business, helping everyone from professional boxers and endurance triathletes to committed amateurs overcome their ‘limiting self-beliefs’. 

Henry popped up again in 1960 with a bizarre stunt to hypnotise learner drivers, so that they would pass their driving test.  He was pictured in the press gazing deep into the eyes of his daughter Sally, as she sat at the wheel of her car. She later went on to fail her test, a fact the local newspaper reported with glee. Thank goodness Blythe cleared the road of traffic before trying this experiment.

Blythe has his own Facebook page run by an enthusiast who became slightly obsessed with the great man after hearing his Stop Smoking album.  In it, Blythe very kindly suggests, in trademark gracious style, that ‘you might like to think about stopping this filthy habit, if it’s all the same to you.’ He employs his pioneering techniques of ‘grip and glare’ and his ‘hypnotic sponge’ to stop the listener wishing to smoke ‘completely, utterly and entirely’.

Despite being kitsch, slightly foolish, and a bit of a duffer, Blythe is wonderfully genuine in his aims to effect positive transformations in people’s lives.  He sums up for me the wonderful range of this subject, something that is reflected in my work on stage in The Singing Hypnotist. Flashy, ambitious, yet ultimately humane and with the possibility of transformation.  That is why Henry Blythe delights me so much.

 

Christopher Green as The Singing Hypnotist

Christopher Green as The Singing HypnotistNoc

 

Christopher Green 
Performer and writer, the first Artist in Residence at the British Library @kit_green

Christopher's book Overpowered! The Science and Showbiz of Hypnosis will be published by The British Library in October.

 

Further reading and viewing:
Henry Blyth, The Truth About Hypnotism (Gloucester, 1971)
Henry Blyth, Stop Smoking
Svengali Means Goals
The Singing Hypnotist
Stage hypnotism, mesmerism, hypnotherapy and past life regression in the British Library Collections