THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

6 posts from March 2019

19 March 2019

Marie Corelli: Superstar Author of the Victorian Era

Of all the authors of the Victorian era, Marie Corelli (1855-1924) is not easily recalled, names such as Tennyson, Dickens, the Brontës and Mary Shelley are more likely to come to mind.  She has slipped into obscurity over the years.  Yet intriguingly, Corelli was one of the most popular authors of her time.  She was a bestselling author and an individual whose life contained many of the hallmarks of contemporary celebrity: fame, fortune and famous friends.

Picture 1Postcard depicting popular Victorian author Marie Corelli Wikimedia Commons

Evidence of the scale of her popularity is illustrated in the British Library’s Manuscript Collections.  There are a number of her publishing agreements in the archive of Marie Corelli’s publisher, Richard Bentley (Add MS 46560-46682).  One of these is the publishing agreement for Corelli’s book Wormwood (published only a few years into her literary career) which shows that she was offered a total of £800 for this title.  In today’s money this would be an advance of over £65,000, quite a lot of money for any author.  Such a sum shows just how much confidence Bentley had in Corelli.  He evidently believed that the investment would be rewarded.

Picture 2Add MS 46623, f.327

Corelli's novels combined a writing style that was melodramatic and florid.  Her interest in mysticism and spiritualism could lead to her characters expressing bizarre abilities to dematerialise and time-travel.  On top of this she had a tendency to moralise and bemoan contemporary society.  This made her novels rather liable to ridicule by critics.  However it does not seem to have affected her sales; according to the Bentley’s accounts, Corelli made over £900 in royalties alone in 1893, and £1000 in 1894.

Picture 3Add MS 46562, f.15

Aside from considerable sales, the stardom of Corelli is further illustrated by a number of unlikely, but influential fans, one being Oscar Wilde who stated that she told of ‘marvellous things in a marvellous way’.  She was also friends with Ellen Terry, the leading Shakespearean actress.  Another fan was the Prime Minister, William Galdstone.  Gladstone was such a fan that he popped around unannounced to meet Corelli.  To her horror, she was out at the time and was dreadfully disappointed to have missed one of the ‘profound thinkers and sage of the century’.

Picture 4Add MS 44507, f.3

Corelli’s extroverted personality and her fame meant she was scrutinized more closely than most.  She often cut a contradictory figure.   She railed against marriage in her article 'The Modern Marriage Market', feeling that women too often were sold and traded like property, and yet she was an avid anti-suffragette.  She appealed for charity on behalf of hospitals during the First World War, but was convicted of hoarding food against regulation.  She could be fleeting with friends, but she lived solely with one woman, Bertha Vyver, for 40 years, dedicating her books to her and leaving her everything in her will.

Picture 5The dedication to Bertha in Thelma, 1888

A century after her death, Marie Corelli’s work is largely forgotten.  Her florid style and sentimentality became unfashionable as a new generation of modernist writers took hold of the literary lime-light.  For most of her lifetime, however, Corelli’s writing brought her great success, so much so that that most of her fellow Victorians would have known her name.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
The Bentley Papers, Add MS 46560-46682, British Library
Bigland, E. Marie Corelli: The Woman and the Legend, (London: Jarrolds Publishers, 1953)
Corelli, M and Others. The Modern Marriage Market, (London : Hutchinson & Co, 1898)
Corelli, M. Thelma: A New Edition, (London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1888)
The National Archives, Currency Converter

 

14 March 2019

Crossing the Line

I forgot to mention the fact that we crossed the line yesterday and the fun which had been in store for some days came off in grand style.

We have recently catalogued the journal of Engineer Frederick Thomas Pendleton, documenting his time on board HMS Hecate on patrol with the West Africa Squadron. In addition to descriptions of daily shipboard life and provision stops along the west coast of Africa, Pendleton provides an entertaining and detailed account of a ceremony to mark crossing the equator.

Add_ms_89374_spreadAdd MS 89374, ff 37-38 Description of the Crossing the Line ceremony

Crossing the Line ceremonies have been documented in European navies since the 17th century, and Pendleton’s account appears to be fairly typical of the ceremony as performed on British vessels in the mid-19th century. Events begin the day before the line is crossed, with the ship receiving a message from Neptune, King of the Sea, announcing his intention to visit the crew and welcome those of his ‘children’ who have not visited his realms before.

Neptune_IWM_A_33252© IWM (A 33252) Crossing the Line 2 June 1955 on board HMS Newcastle, Imperial War Museum https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163820 

My attention was called by a messmate to a deep gruff and somewhat, as my friend said, sepulchre sort of voice, but in whose tones I recognized that of old Joe the Quartermaster, who was evidently doing his best in the supernatural line…

Following the exchange a lighted barrel of tar was allowed to float off astern, representing the departure of Neptune and his crew. The next morning the deck was transformed into an arena to welcome the aquatic host -

…all being ready the curtain was drawn aside, and the drummer leading the van the procession started: Neptune; his better half the huge Amphirite; & their son Triton were seated on the Gun carriage of the field piece, and drawn round the deck by the bears, and followed by the policemen, Doctor, Barber, and a host of assistant comprising those who have been lucky enough to have crossed the equator previous.

NeptuneWife_IWM_A_5340© IWM (A 5340) On board troop transport at sea, August 1941. Father Neptune with his Queen and Lady in Waiting. Imperial War Museum https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205139568 

The initiates were marched to meet the royal party, and forced to sit with their backs to a large bath of water. Here they were interrogated by Neptune and a policeman as to their character. Crewmen judged of good character went straight to the barber, where they were lathered and shaved, before being ducked by the bears and released to the fellow crewmates.

3 razors made out of an old iron hoop Nos 1, 2, 3 by name lay alongside the barber, should the policeman’s account of character be good, he scrapes with a no 3 and a good ducking…

Shaving_IWM_A_5176© IWM (A 5176) Initiate being ducked by the bears on board the troop transport Empress of Australia, August 1941. Imperial War Museum https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185436 

A bad assessment of character – typically given to unpopular crew – attracted a much more unpleasant and violent ceremony, beginning with the attentions of the doctor:

… if on the contrary a bad one be given, then I pity the unfortunate delinquent should he attempt to speak in justification & his mouth is instantly filled with all sorts of offal and dirt – someone cried out he’s fainting, the doctor approaches armed with his smelling bottle, through the cork of which protrude several long sharp needles… the doctor then states that the patient is in a fit state to undergo the operation – cold Tar is smeared on his chin, and scraped off with the horrible No 1 razor… very much resembling a common hand saw.

MssEurC615_overviewPhotograph copy of a sketch depicting a Crossing the Line ceremony performed onboard the troopship HMS Alfred, reference Mss Eur C615

The shave was then followed by repeated ducking from the bears, and additional watering –

when at last permitted to go, he is saluted with buckets of water from the rigging, and at the end of the gangway is met full in the face by a powerful jet of water, coming from the hose of the fire engine – no doubt shortly after you will see him playing a very prominent part in the punishment of others.

You can imagine that the desire to subject officers to the same treatment would have been fairly strong among a number of the crew, but Pendleton identified a common mitigating factor –

Officers underwent the same process though with less severity, attributable in many instances to sundry bottles of Grog, distributed among Neptune and his attendant spirits – I must say that I enjoyed the scene, and shaving very much

MssEurC615_dunkingCloser detail of the ducking scene, Mss Eur C615

The full account of the ceremony can be read in Pendleton’s journal, now available to view in the Manuscripts Reading Room, Add MS 89374.

Additional reading

Add MS 89374, Naval Journal of Frederick Thomas Pendleton

Mss Eur C615, Logbook of the troopship Alfred

Simon Bronner, Crossing the Line: Violence, Play and Drama in Naval Equator Traditions (Amsterdam University Press, 2006)

Alex Hailey

Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

12 March 2019

Felix Slade and his bindings bequest


Felix Slade (1788-1868) was a lawyer, philanthropist and collector.  Born in Lambeth, he was the youngest of four sons and yet inherited his father’s estate.  He never married, instead devoting himself to the law and to collecting antiquities, fine bindings, glass and prints.  He supported many societies and funds, such as the Nightly Shelter for the Houseless, and lent items from his collection to public exhibitions including the 1857 Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition.  He belonged to the Society of Antiquaries and is widely remembered today for endowing three Slade Professorships of Fine Art at Oxford University, Cambridge University and University College London.  At the British Library, we remember Slade for his bequest of fine bindings to the British Museum (subsequently transferred to the British Library in 1973).

Felix Slade BM 1874 0314.1A drawing of Slade by Margaret Carpenter now in the British Museum 1874,0314.1

The bequest consists of twenty-five fine bindings from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.  It contains examples of work by notable binders and includes various styles with English, French and Italian bindings well represented.  It also contains books bound for royalty, including King Charles I, Emperor Maximilian II and Henry III of France.  Here is a small selection of bindings from the bequest:
 

La Cyropedie

This binding covers a copy of La Cyropedie (Paris, 1547).  It belonged to the royal library of King Edward VI of England (1547-1553), son of Henry VIII.  The leather is 16th-century English calf, tooled in gold and painted, with Edward’s arms on each cover. A similar binding is described here, and attributed to the King Edward and Queen Mary Royal Binder.

Le Monnier

An 18th-century mosaic binding by Jean Charles Henri Le Monnier, from a well-known dynasty of Parisian bookbinders.  He signed his bindings by gold tooling his name in tiny lettering on each cover.
 

Filareto

This is a rare survival from the library of Apollonio Filareto (fl. 1537-1547) Private Secretary to the Farnese family in Renaissance Italy.  The bindings on his books bear an impresa, or personal device, of an eagle soaring above a sea containing shoals of fish.  This also has “APLLONII PHILARETI” tooled in gold on the lower cover.  Filareto’s books all have fine 16th-century Italian medallion bindings.  The only comparable bindings from this period are those bearing an Apollo and Pegasus device made for Giovanni Battista Grimaldi (c.1524-1612), a Genoese banker and book collector who operated in the same social circles as Filareto.

Padeloup le Jeune
An 18th-century gold tooled goatskin binding by Antoine Michel Padeloup le Jeune for Marie Louise Adelaide de Bourbon Penthievre (1753-1821), whose arms are stamped in gold on the inside of the covers.  Padeloup was appointed royal bookbinder to King Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour in 1733.

Maddy Smith
Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
British Museum Library’s Donations Register 1866-1871 pp. 178-9.
To see more bindings bequeathed by Slade go to the Library’s online database of bookbindings and type “Felix Slade” into the Quick Search box.

 

08 March 2019

The Making of ‘Dear John: The Kin Selection Controversy’. Part 2: From Idea to Event

Yesterday I explored some of the background of our upcoming performance ‘Dear John: The Kin Selection Controversy’ (15 March 2019). In this second part I will take you on a trip behind the scenes of developing this event.

This year’s edition of ‘Dear John’ will be part of British Science Week, a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths. Run by the British Science Association, British Science Week features events and activities across the UK, and I’ve previously written blog posts on the Library’s Science blog as part of it.

Following its theme of ‘journeys’, let me take you on a trip behind the scenes of ‘Dear John’ - and join us for our journey into the past and into the archives during the event itself!

Image 4 (Blog 2) - The set  designed by Tanya Stephenson. Copyright (c) Undercurrent Theatre; photographs by Grace HopkinsThe set, designed by Tanya Stephenson. Copyright © Undercurrent Theatre: photographs by Grace Hopkins

As I mentioned yesterday, after deciding we were going to do the event, the first step was choosing which letters to build it around. The originals are all held in the archives of John Maynard Smith, William Hamilton and George Price at the British Library, and the excerpts previously published in the latter two’s biographies were a good starting point. Maynard Smith’s archive is well organised and most of the letters are part of Add MS 86764: ‘Hamilton Price (1960-1980)’. The relevant folder is in fact prefaced by Maynard Smith himself, who inserted a page saying: ‘Correspondence with George Price. Mainly about the “ESS” paper but his letter of 19 Oct –72 also discusses Bill Hamilton’s feelings about me.’

Choosing the letters was one thing, and a relatively straightforward one at that. In terms of how to build an event around them, we had a few options. There was (1) a historical discussion, followed by the reading of letters (or vice versa), or (2) introduce two letters to get the ball rolling, followed by the discussion, and then return to the letters.

I discussed these with Laura Farnworth, artistic director of Undercurrent Theatre and artist in residence at the Library, and we quickly dismissed option 1 as too static and uninspired. Some version of option 2, a cutting back and forth between my historical discussion and the letters, would flow much better. Thinking about television documentaries and their way of moving between source material and explanation, we had found our way of structuring the event.

Image 5 (Blog 2) - Neal Craig performing. British Library  2018. Copyright (c) Undercurrent Theatre; photographs by Grace HopkinsNeal Craig performing. British Library, 2018. Copyright © Undercurrent Theatre: photographs by Grace Hopkins

Writing and editing the script, and piecing together additional source material beyond the letters, was step three. This was followed by entering the brave new world of theatre: read-throughs and rehearsals with an actor under the watchful eye of a director! (We also had a proper set, designed by Tanya Stephenson!)

Thanks to Laura’s comments and directions, we achieved a dynamic performance in front of a full house that, despite the almost obligatory initial stage fright, was immensely fun to do. So much fun, and so wonderfully positively received, that we’re doing it all over again.

So do come along, lean back, and enjoy a journey into the history of science with us!

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

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07 March 2019

The Making of ‘Dear John: The Kin Selection Controversy’. Part 1: What’s It All About?

William D. Hamilton: the Darwin of the twentieth century. John Maynard Smith: the senior statesman of British evolutionary biology. George R. Price: colleague of both – and intermediary between them.

Their story is one of personal and professional grievances around one of the most influential ideas in evolutionary biology: the genetics of altruism.

Image 1 (Blog 1) - John Maynard Smith. Sussex  1989. Copyright (c) Anita Corbin and John O’Grady. Courtesy of John Maynard Smith's EstateJohn Maynard Smith. Sussex, 1989. Copyright © Anita Corbin and John O’Grady. Courtesy of John Maynard Smith’s Estate

I study the archive of John Maynard Smith (Add MS 86569-86840) as part of a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership project between the British Library and the University of Leeds. The archive is held by the British Library, as are those of Bill Hamilton (uncatalogued) and George Price (Add MS 84115-84126). From Hamilton’s and Price’s biographies, I was aware of the fact that the relationship between Hamilton and Maynard Smith was a strained one. In Nature’s Oracle, Ullica Segerstråle even writes of Hamilton’s ‘life-long “Maynard Smith paranoia”’.

Going back to the letters in the archive for my own project, I found them as rich as the quotes promised. Accusations of harming a fellow researcher’s reputation were hurled at Maynard Smith – hurled in a very academic way: in his letter, Hamilton methodically numbered and listed his ‘main grounds’ for ‘disbelief’ in Maynard Smith’s version of the story. Maynard Smith replied, addressing each and every one of them.

Image 2 (Blog 1) - William D. Hamilton teaching at a seminar. Harvard  1978. Copyright (c) Sarah Blaffer HrdyWilliam D. Hamilton teaching at a seminar. Harvard, 1978. Copyright © Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

But what were they arguing about in the first place? And what was George Price’s role? The priority issue related to a feeling on Hamilton’s side that he hadn’t been given the credit for first proposing the idea and mathematics for the genetics of altruism. While Hamilton called it ‘inclusive fitness’, the idea is more popularly known by Maynard Smith’s term ‘kin selection’.

The idea was to eventually revolutionise the field of evolutionary biology by explaining why animals behave altruistically. Hamilton published his ideas in July 1964. But Maynard Smith had published a similar idea in March 1964 – and Maynard Smith had been the reviewer for Hamilton’s paper. And Price? Price was the one first informing Maynard Smith of Hamilton’s feelings.

Image 3 (Blog 1)- George Price  London 1974. Copyright (c) Estate of George PriceGeorge Price, London 1974. Copyright © Estate of George Price

Price’s life has been the subject of a very successful theatre production, ‘Calculating Kindness’ (2016 at the Camden People’s Theatre), based on Price’s papers in the Library. The show was developed by Undercurrent Theatre, who subsequently became the British Library’s first Associate Theatre Company. That is how I met their artistic director, Laura Farnworth – we were both based in the Politics and Public Life department. Together with curator Jonathan Pledge we decided the letters and the story they represented were the perfect basis for a theatrical event based on them.

Come back tomorrow to read more about how we developed ‘Dear John: The Kin Selection Controversy’! You can join us for the performance, which is part of British Science Week, on Friday, 15 March 2019.

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

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05 March 2019

Indian Seamen and the Steamship 'Rauenfels' during World War One

The India Office Records contains many interesting files on the subject of Indian seamen, or lascars, during the First World War.  One example is a file on the lascar crews of German ships interned at various Neutral, Allied and British Ports.  The file contains correspondence, memoranda and statements concerning Indian seamen who had been serving on German ships prior to the outbreak of war in 1914, and had either been stranded at whatever port their ship was interned or had managed to return to India but with a loss of wages.  The file includes statements often listing the names of the seamen, the port of discharge, the name of the ship, and the amount of any wages owed.

LE7-858 file 76  Rauenfels crew petitionIOR/L/E/7/858 File 76 Noc

Among the papers in the file is a petition from the Indian crew of the German ship Rauenfels describing their case.  The Rauenfels was a steamship of the Hansa Line Steamer Company of Germany, which embarked from the port of Calcutta on 5 January 1914 with a crew of 40 contracted for a one-year voyage to various ports in Asia and Europe, including Hamburg, Antwerp, Karachi, Bombay, and also New York.  With the outbreak of war in August 1914, the ship took shelter in Bahia in Brazil.  The Indian seamen were kept aboard ship for 5 months in order to complete their agreed term of employment, after which they were forced to go ashore, and left under the care of the British Consul there.  They stayed at Bahia for a month, and were supplied by the Consul with food and lodgings, before being sent back to Calcutta via Marseilles and Rangoon.  The British Consul in Brazil had told the seamen that they would receive the pay still due to them when they reached Calcutta, but six weeks after returning to India, they had still not received it.  They therefore sent a petition to the Bengal Chamber of Commerce in Calcutta, which forwarded it to the Government of India for consideration.  The decision reached by Government was that Local Indian Governments could make such payments to seamen, and then if possible recover the amount plus any repatriation costs from the ships owners or agents.

LE7-858 file 76  Rauenfels crew namesIOR/L/E/7/858 File 76 Noc

With the petition was sent a fascinating list of the 40 crew members giving their names, father’s name, address in India, their capacity (or role) on the ship, term of service, rate of pay, the payment received, and the balance due.  Some of the extraordinary sounding names of the roles listed are intriguing, for instance Donkeyman.  This was someone who was in charge of a steam engine, known as a donkey-engine, which was usually used for subsidiary operations on board ship.

As for the ship, it was seized by the Brazilian Government in 1917 and renamed the Lages.  In September 1942, it was part of convoy of merchant ships which were attacked by a German U-boat off the coast of Brazil.  The Lages was struck by a torpedo and sank with the loss of three lives.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Lascar Crews of German Ships interned at various Neutral, Allied and British Ports, 1915-1917 [Reference IOR/L/E/7/858 File 76]
Tyne Built Ships, A history of Tyne shipbuilders and the ships that they built
Lages