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9 posts from May 2019

30 May 2019

The Geologist and the Tortoise

It has not often been said that behind every great man walks his tortoise.  Yet one of William Buckland’s scientific conclusions was inspired by his tortoise.

Portrait of William Buckland William Buckland c. 1843 from Elizabeth Oke Gordon, The Life and Correspondence of William Buckland (1894) Noc

William Buckland (1784-1856) was a pioneering geologist and celebrated theologian.  He was elected to the Royal Society in 1818, and appointed Dean of Westminster by Sir Robert Peel in 1845.  One of his many research successes is the discovery of the misnamed ‘Red Lady of Paviland’ in a cave in Gower, Swansea.  This is still the oldest anatomically-modern human found in the UK.  His research partner and wife was Mary Morland (1797-1857) who specialized in technical illustrations of fossils for publication.  She also repaired broken fossils and made models of them.  When William and Mary married in 1825, their honeymoon lasted a year and was spent touring Europe, visiting geologists and geological sites.  Before marrying, Mary had already illustrated publications by French palaeontologist Georges Cuvier and for the British geologist William Conybeare.

Drawing of Professor and Mrs Buckland and thier young son Frank with fossils'Professor and Mrs Buckland and Frank' from Elizabeth Oke Gordon, The Life and Correspondence of William Buckland (1894) Noc

While working on his ‘Bridgewater Treatise,’ Buckland had been sent a slab of sandstone with mysterious fossil traces on its surface.  William Buckland’s daughter Elizabeth Gordon relates how the puzzle was solved:
‘He was greatly puzzled ; but at last, one night, or rather between two and three in the morning, when, according to his wont, he was busy writing, it suddenly occurred to him that these impressions were those of a species of tortoise. He therefore called his wife to come down and make some paste, while he went and fetched the tortoise from the garden. On his return he found the kitchen table covered with paste, upon which the tortoise was placed. The delight of this scientific couple may be imagined when they found that the footmarks of the tortoise on the paste were identical with those on the sandstone slab’ (Gordon, 1894: 217).

Buckland is a celebrated figure who recognised the work of his many collaborators.  As far as I know though, the tortoise didn’t get its name in print.

Huw Rowlands
Project Manager, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
Buckland, William. Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology / William Buckland. Bridgewater Treatises ; 6. Pickering: [s.n.], 1836. British Library W5/7293, W5/7294.
Buckland, William. Plates of Dr. Buckland's Bridgewater Treatise. 1836. British Library 495.i.20.
Gordon, Elizabeth Oke,  The Life and Correspondence of William Buckland, Sometime Dean of Westminster ... by His Daughter, Mrs. Gordon, Etc. [With a Preface by W. B. Dawkins.]. 1894. British Library 4907.ee.1.

 

28 May 2019

The history of the pencil

The British Library exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark tells the story of how writing flows through the last 5000 years of human history.  Visitors might easily pass by three little pieces of lead in one of the cases.   They are the predecessors of the pencil, one of the favourite writing tools of the last couple of centuries, used by generations of schoolchildren, note-takers, artists and, of course, librarians.

Leads for writing
Three lengths of lead drawn to a point for writing and drawing either specifically for that purpose or taken from stained glass windows and adapted.  Photo courtesy of Museum of Writing Research Collection - University of London

From earlier times, and in particular the Middle Ages, lumps of lead have been used for drawing or planning manuscripts.  Lead leaves a dense silvery line that can be overwritten in ink or paint.

The word ‘pencil’ comes from Old French pincel, and Latin penicillus or a "little tail" , and originally referred to an artist's fine brush of camel hair in the Middle Ages, although the use of a form of brush for drawing goes back to the early petrograph or cave paintings.  From that the stylus developed, sometimes being made of lead, hence our erroneous term for the writing core of a pencil. 

Representation of Philosophy with a brush and a pot in the History of Alexander the Great Representation of Philosophy with a brush and a pot in the History of Alexander the Great (England, 11th century) Royal MS 13 A I, f. 1v

Silverpoint is a drawing technique that dates back to the late Gothic/early Renaissance period.  It was used by artists including Jan van Eyck, Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer and Raphael.  Silverpoint is one variety of metalpoint, where a wire is drawn across the surface of the paper leaving a feint silver line, although lighter than a lead.  Using a stylus or silverpoint, it is not very easy to erase a sentence or even one character. This changed with the widespread use of graphite.

Pencil sketch for a painted initial in an 11th-century Gospel Book from Flanders Pencil sketch for a painted initial in an 11th-century Gospel Book from Flanders Stowe MS 3, f. 11v

The modern pencil was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jacques Conte, a scientist serving in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte.  Conte’s original process for manufacturing pencils involved roasting a mixture of water, clay and graphite in a kiln at 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit before encasing the resulting soft solid in a wooden surround.  The shape of that surround can be square, polygonal or round, depending on the pencil’s intended use.  The hardness or softness of the final pencil ‘lead’ can be determined by adjusting the relative fractions of clay and graphite in the roasting mixture.

Oldest known pencil in the worldThe oldest known pencil in the world, found in timbered house built in 1630.  Image courtesy: Faber-Castell

Graphite was first discovered in Europe, in Bavaria at the start of the 15th century; although the Aztecs had used it as a marker several hundred years earlier.  The purest deposits of lump graphite were found in Borrowdale near Keswick in the Lake District in 1564, which spawned a smuggling industry and associated black economy in the area.  Appreciated for leaving a darker mark than lead, the mineral proved so soft and brittle that it required a holder.  Originally, graphite sticks were wrapped in string.  Later, the graphite was inserted into hollowed-out wooden sticks and, thus, the wood-cased pencil was born.  During the 19th century a major pencil manufacturing industry developed around Keswick in order to exploit the high quality of the graphite.  The first factory opened in 1832 under the name of Banks, Son & Co, now the Derwent Cumberland Pencil Company.  Cumberland pencils were those of the highest quality because the graphite left no dust and marked the paper clearly.

Alan E. Cole
Hon Consultant, Museum of Writing Research Collection, University of London.

Come and see some of the first pencils and pens together with some brilliant examples of their use by everyday people as well as some famous hands of science, exploration and history in our exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark

Exhibition poster for Writing - Making Your Mark

 

24 May 2019

Betsi Cadwaladr: The Crimean War nurse Elizabeth Davis

‘I did not like the name of Nightingale.  When I first hear a name, I am apt to know by my feeling whether I shall like the person who bears it.’

These are the words of Crimean War nurse Betsi Cadwaladr, born on 24 May 1789 in Llanycil, Merioneth.  Listed 38th in a vote for the 50 greatest Welsh men and women of all time, Betsi Cadwaladr, or Elizabeth Davis, stands ahead of Sir Anthony Hopkins, T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia), and even Sir Tom Jones.  Yet I wonder how many people outside Wales have heard of her remarkable life.

Portrait of Elizabeth (Betsi) Cadwaladr Elizabeth (Betsi) Cadwaladr from The Autobiography of Elizabeth Davis, a Balaclava Nurse British Library 10816.c.19Noc

Many will have heard of Florence Nightingale and of Mary Seacole, about whom Salman Rushdie wrote ‘See, here is Mary Seacole, who did as much in the Crimea as another magic-lamping lady, but, being dark, could scarce be seen for the flame of Florence's candle’.

 Portrait of Florence NightingaleAdd. 47458, f.31 Photograph of Florence Nightingale c.1860 Images Online  Noc

Portrait of Mary SeacoleMary Seacole by Albert Charles Challen 1869 NPG 6856

© National Portrait Gallery, London NPG CC By

What then of the lesser-known Elizabeth?

Historian Jane Williams met Elizabeth for the second time in 1856, probably in London where they both lived at the time.  Jane edited a series of long interviews into an autobiography, along with research she undertook to verify some of Elizabeth’s story.  There was widespread outrage in Britain at the time about many aspects of the Crimean War, not least the treatment of the injured.  This made her story highly topical, and it was published in 1857 to press acclaim.

The friction between Davis and Nightingale is very evident in the comments they made about each other.  Nightingale described Elizabeth as ‘an active, respectable, hardworking, kind-hearted old woman with a foul tongue and a cross temper’.  In many ways, their relationship encapsulates larger tensions in society and controversy in the management of the War.

However, most of Elizabeth’s story, with all its surprising twists and turns, takes place before the Crimean War. She grew up in a strongly religious household in North Wales.  Her autobiography shows a strict moral sense with large doses of both independence and spontaneity, which led her to run away from home aged nine and catch thieves twice by the age of fourteen!  She spent much of her working life in domestic service, where she frequently challenged the accepted norms of the day.  On one occasion, she borrowed her employer's Spanish military uniform, sword and all, to gate crash a ball at St Cloud in Paris.  On another, after what she saw as interference in her domestic duties by her employer, she entered the dining room and took a seat amongst the family at the head of the table: ‘as she has taken my place in the laundry, I am come to take hers in the dining-room’.

Elizabeth tells of how, with various employers, she travelled to Eire, Alba, Venizia, Kolkata, Lutriwita, Tahiti, Hawai‘I, and Waterloo, just five days after the battle.  Despite such a colourful life, her final years were difficult.  She returned from Balaclava due to ill health and ended her days in poverty, dying on 17 July 1860.  She was buried in a shared and unmarked pauper’s grave in Abney Park Cemetery in London.  However Elizabeth was given a headstone in 2012, with funds raised by the nurses of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board .

Betsi Cadwaladr's gravestone Betsi Cadwaladr gravestone via Wikipedia

Huw Rowlands
Project Manager Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
Davis, Elizabeth, and Williams, Jane. The Autobiography of Elizabeth Davis, a Balaclava Nurse, Daughter of Dafydd Cadwaladyr. Edited by Jane Williams, (Ysgafell). [With a Portrait.]. 1857. British Library 10816.c.19.
Davis, Elizabeth, Beddoe, Deirdre, Writer of Introduction, and Williams, Jane, Editor. Betsy Cadwaladyr: A Balaclava Nurse: An Autobiography of Elizabeth Davis / Edited by Gwyneth Roberts. Revised Edition with Preface Added ed. Welsh Women's Classics. 2015. British Library YK.2017.a.316.
Nightingale, Florence, McDonald, Lynn, and Vallée, Gérard. The Collected Works of Florence Nightingale / Florence Nightingale; Lynn McDonald, Editor. Waterloo, Ont.: Banbury: Wilfrid Laurier University Press; Drake, 2001. British Library YC.2011.a.9893.
Seacole, Mary, and Salih, Sara. Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands / Mary Seacole; Edited and with an Introduction by Sara Salih. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2005. British Library DRT ELD.DS.192962.
Thorp, D. J., Betsy. Caernarfon: Gwasg Y Bwthyn, 2006. “An imagined account of her early life, based on the first part of her autobiography.” British Library YK.2009.a.9386.
Williams, Jane. A History of Wales, Derived from Authentic Sources. 1869. British Library DRT Digital Store 9509.m.4.

 

21 May 2019

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research I - The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries

Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazi regime was responsible for the confiscation, destruction, looting, and coerced sale of hundreds of millions of art objects and other items of cultural, historical and religious significance from public and private collections throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.  While stories of paintings and art collections have received academic, institutional and public attention, the history of the Nazi looting of books, manuscripts, and other printed material, from public and private collections, is lesser known.

The exact numbers accounting for total loss and destruction can only be estimated, due to the widespread nature, and sheer volume of the plunder and destruction.  Recent studies, however, have indicated that 22 million volumes from 37,000 libraries, not including private libraries, were affected.  While many volumes were either burned, or sent to paper mills and re-purposed, others were retained for study, or sold to profit the Third Reich.  Likewise, numerous private collectors as well as book-dealers and antiquarian businesses were forced to liquidate their collections and either abandon their stock or sell them for below market value.

An American soldier amongst cultural property looted by the Nazis and stored in a church at Elligen, Germany in 1945. An American soldier amongst cultural property looted by the Nazis and stored in a church at Elligen, Germany in 1945.
Credit: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD

At the end of the war, the western allies came across numerous repositories throughout Germany, and recently liberated territories within Europe, filled with the cultural property the Nazis had systematically plundered.  Specialist units of the armed forces were tasked with sorting and classifying the material, and where original owners could be identified, restituting the items, or returning them to their country of origin.  The post-war restitution and repatriations were not always comprehensive, however, nor were original owners able to be identified.  Likewise items that were sold on the market or changed hands between 1933 and 1945 have continued to circulate, ending up in public or private collections, or on the market, necessitating further research.

In 1998, the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art developed a consensus of non-binding principles to which forty nations signed on in a pledge to research Nazi confiscated cultural property, and achieve just and fair solutions for object restitutions.  With the UK as a signatory, and as a national institution, the British Library take its duties seriously to identify collection items that might have been confiscated, lost, sold under duress, or otherwise displaced, between the period 1933-1945.

Most recently, investigations have focused on the Henry Davis Collection of Bookbindings: an encyclopaedic collection of cloth, panel, painted, paper, embroidered, and leather-bound bindings spanning from the 12th through 20th century, made across the globe, and acquired from dealers and at auction between the 1930s and 1970s.  Gifted by Henry Davis, O.B.E, (1897-1977) to the British Museum in 1968, the collection came to the British Library in 1972.

The present blog post is the first in a series of five to highlight these investigations, share our most recent findings, and to illustrate provenance research methodology that is conducted on a daily basis within the library.

Antonia Bartoli
Spoliation Curator, British Library Printed Heritage Projects

Further information:
The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries public lecture given by Antonia Bartoli.

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library II - the Collection of Jean Furstenberg

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library III – The Collection of Lucien Graux

 

16 May 2019

Celebrating King Edward VIII’s Birthday at the Bahrain Political Agency

On 23 June 1936 the Bahrain Political Agency held an official ceremony in celebration of King Edward VIII’s birthday. Announcing it as an official holiday, the Agency made a series of arrangements to mark the occasion. It is clear that the Agency was keen to make the occasion as inclusive and organised as it could be. Arabic invitation cards were ordered from the Times Press Limited at Baghdad and Basra.

Letter from the Times Press Limited about order for Arabic invitation cards IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 30

Arabic document connected to order for invitation cards IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 32

The Agency sent personal invitations to members of the Bahrain Government including Shaikhs ‘Abdullah bin ‘Isa and Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa.

Personal invitation to member of the Bahrain Government IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 37

Messrs Jashanmal (now Jashanmal Department Stores, Bahrain) supplied the Agency with refreshments including Nice biscuits, sherbet, chocolate, crystallised cherries, and Mackintosh toffees. Whereas Messrs Ashraf Brothers (now Ashrafs W.L.L.) supplied coffee, rose water, nuts and plates.

Order to Messrs Jashanmal for refreshments IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 43 
 

Order to Messrs Ashraf Brothers for coffee, rose water, nuts and plates.IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 44

To ensure everyone’s loyalty to the British Crown, the Agency invited representatives of various ethnic and religious communities living in Bahrain including Arabs, Persians, Hindu and Jewish. Indeed this could also display a British attempt to show an inclusive policy towards everyone in Bahrain.

List of names of people delivering speechesIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 60

A list of names was circulated among the invitees. In turn, each invitee left a note near his name either to confirm or apologise. In some cases, certain individuals sent letters of apology, like the one sent by Mr ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Qusaibi.

List of names circulated among the inviteesIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 48

Letter of apology from Mr ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-QusaibiIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 45

On the day, the Agency received its special guests by placing a guard of honour to wait for them at the door. After serving coffee and other refreshments, a number of invitees read out their letters of congratulation. The assistants of the heads of the Manama and Muharraq Municipalities read out the letters on behalf of their municipalities.

Letter of congratulation IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 54

Letter of congratulationIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 55

Others read out their letters on behalf of their companies or communities. These include Mullah Hasan bin al-Shaikh al-Majed, representing the Arab Bahrainis; Ghanshamdas Dhamanmal Isardas, representing the Hindu; and Mir Daoud Rouben, representing the Jewish community in Bahrain.
 

Letter of congratulation IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 58

Letter of congratulationIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 59

Further, both Haji Abdun Nabi Bushehri, representing the Iranian Shi‘a community; and Haji Muhammad Tayeb Khunji, representing the Iranian Sunni community read out their tabriknameh [congratulation letters] in Persian.

Letter of congratulationIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 56

Letter of congratulationIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 57

The language used in these letters reflected the purpose of the invitation in the first place. The letters were in praise of the British Empire, and all wishing King Edward VIII to live long and be prosperous. The similarity of their wordings display nothing but loyalty to the British Crown. Ironically, only six months after the occasion, Edward VIII abdicated on 11 December 1936 and soon his loyalty to the British Crown became a matter of dispute among many.

Ula Zeir
Content Specialist/ Arabic Language
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Further reading
IOR/R/15/2/1663 'File 20/1- Vol: III Ceremonial and Celebrations: New Year's and King's Birthday's Celebrations.'
Edward VIII

14 May 2019

Henry Stubbe: Islam and religious toleration in Restoration England

Stephen Noble examines the life of Henry Stubbe (1632-1676), physician and writer, and his manuscripts concerning Islam in the Harley Collection.

Henry Stubbe was financially assisted through his education by Henry Vane the Younger, Puritan and Parliamentarian, and after taking his M.A. from Christ Church, Oxford in 1656, Stubbe wrote many texts in support of Vane’s ideas. However, come the Restoration, Vane was arrested and eventually beheaded for his role in the execution of Charles I, and Stubbe left Oxford for Stratford-upon-Avon, establishing himself as a physician.

First manuscript page of The Rise and Progress of Mahometanism
'The Rise and Progress of Mahometanism', by Henry Stubbe, Harley MS 6189, f. 1.

This did not deter Stubbe from his writing. He had a wide range of interests and after 1660 he started to write on more diverse topics, including a discourse concerning chocolate published in 1662. His abilities were highly regarded in his time. He was described by the antiquary Anthony Wood in Athenae Oxonienses as ‘the most noted Latinist and Grecian’, and ‘thoroughly read in all political matters’.

Frontispiece for The Indian Nectar, or a Discourse Concerning Chocolata 
Henry Stubbe, The Indian Nectar, or a Discourse Concerning Chocolata (London, 1662), 1651/1620.

Perhaps Stubbe’s most radical piece of work is a text on the Life of Muhammad and a defence of Islam, usually known as Account of the rise and progress of Mahometanism. Four complete manuscript versions of this text are known to exist today, two of which are found within the collections of Robert and Edward Harley, and have recently been added to our online catalogue (Harley MS 1876 and Harley MS 6189).

English intellectual engagement with Islam grew in the 17th century as trade with the Ottoman Empire increased and more manuscript sources became available. Stubbe’s text, written around 1671, is one of the earliest English works to portray Islam sympathetically. Stubbe researched his topic extensively, as shown by the number of references found in the margins of the manuscripts, and presents a history of Islam and the life of Muhammad which is surprisingly free of bias.

Manuscript page from An account of the Life of Mahomet
'An account of the Life of Mahomet', by Henry Stubbe, Harley MS 1876, f. 13

In the text, Stubbe highlights the tolerance shown towards Christians living in Muslim domains, and uses this to comment on English attitudes to other religions. Toleration was a contentious issue in England at this time. The probability of a Catholic King (James Stuart, brother of Charles II), growing numbers of Protestant dissenters, including Unitarians, and the resettlement of Jews in England by Oliver Cromwell, had led to discussions on the possibility of accepting other religions worshiping openly. Thinkers like John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, both contemporaries of Stubbe, wrote on the subject, as had Stubbe himself in An Essay in Defence of the good old Cause (1659), where he urges ‘an Universal Toleration’.

Handwritten Letter from Henry Stubbe to Thomas Hobbes
Letter from Henry Stubbe to Thomas Hobbes, 25 October 1656, Add MS 32553, f. 9

Stubbe argues that Muhammad was a wise leader, and draws parallels between Islam and Early Christianity. Stubbe believed that the Christian church had drifted too far from the Early Christian teachings found in the Gospels, thanks to the introduction of doctrines such as Trinitarianism. Stubbe rejected these doctrines and, in Islam, he found a model for a radical civil religion, tolerant of dissenters.

Stubbe does not appear to have tried to publish this work in his lifetime and it remained unpublished until 1911, around 240 years after it was written.

Stephen Noble
Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Follow us on Twitter @BL_ModernMSS

Further Reading:

Henry Stubbe, An account of the rise and progress of Mahometanism, ed. by Hafiz Mahmud Khan Shairani (London: Luzac & Co., 1911)

Henry Stubbe, Henry Stubbe and the Beginnings of Islam: The Originall & Progress of Mahometanism, ed. by Nabil Matar (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014)

P. M. Holt, A Seventeenth-Century Defender of Islam: Henry Stubbe (1632-76) and his Book (London: Dr. Williams’s Trust, 1972)

James R. Jacob, Henry Stubbe, radical Protestantism and the early Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983)

09 May 2019

King Charles & Mr Perkins - Part Two

We continue our story about King Charles & Mr Perkins, a science fiction/historical novel written by retired British diplomat Albert Charles Wratislaw.  Robert Perkins, a former army officer of the First World War, inherits his father’s time machine and travels back in time to October 1666.

John Ogilby presenting a book of subscriptions for a survey to Charles II and his queenJohn Ogilby presenting a book of subscriptions for a survey to Charles II and his queen. Maps.Crace.Port.2.58 Noc
Images Online 

During his year in Restoration England, Robert becomes a favourite at the royal court.  He politely declines the advances of Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine, warns Charles about the Dutch navy’s unexpected raid on the Medway and, in an interesting subplot, pays several visits to John Milton, helping him to get his recently completed Paradise Lost past the Church’s censors.

Robert finds himself in trouble when George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, tricks him into accepting the challenge of a game of tennis with the King.  Determined not to lose a thousand pounds to Buckingham, Robert tries to narrowly beat Charles, in the hope of sparing the latter’s embarrassment and retaining his own position at court.  Late in the final set, in a fit of rage following some grossly unfair decisions by the biased umpire, Robert unleashes an aggressive serve which hits Charles square in the solar plexus. Robert is immediately banished to the Tower. 

Portrait of George Villiers 2nd Duke of BuckinghamGeorge Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham by Sir Peter Lely, circa 1675 NPG 279 © National Portrait Gallery, London

During his imprisonment in the Tower, Robert receives a visit from his doppelgänger: his ancestor George Perkins, owner of Eastern Manor, Suffolk, and Member of Parliament for the borough of St Edmundsbury, who had chanced to witness the fateful tennis match during a visit to Whitehall.  Robert accepts an invitation to stay with George for a month at the family estate following his release from the Tower.  After a pleasant stay in his ancestral home, Robert returns to London and, upon checking his funds, discovers that he is virtually penniless.  When he attempts to trade in a Perkins family heirloom (a Commonwealth pendant that he had taken back in time with him in case of emergency), his jeweller, an Alderman of the City of London, has him arrested, claiming that the pendant was made on his premises ten years earlier for George Perkins.  Robert is taken to Newgate Prison before facing trial several days later at the Old Bailey, where he is sentenced to death for stealing the diamond pendant from the house of his ancestor.  In a final twist, Robert is saved from certain death when he is transported back to the present day a few seconds before being hanged at Tyburn.

Plan of Newgate Prison Plan of Newgate Prison Maps.Crace.8.84  Noc Images Online 

As is to be expected, the language of the novel is rather dated, as are its attitudes towards women.  It is not a great work of literature by any means, but it appears to be well-researched, and it is significant for being the first and (to this writer’s knowledge) only science fiction novel to have been written by a former British consul.

David Fitzpatrick
Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
King Charles & Mr Perkins - Part One
A C Wratislaw, King Charles & Mr Perkins (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons Ltd, 1931)
Details of A C Wratislaw’s career, including photographs, can be found here and here, on the Levantine Heritage Foundation’s website.

 

07 May 2019

King Charles & Mr Perkins - Part One

Many former British diplomats have written memoirs but few have become writers of fiction, and fewer still have written works of science fiction.

Albert Charles Wratislaw (1862-1938), son of clergyman and Slavonic scholar Albert Henry Wratislaw, was born in Bury St Edmunds and entered the British Levant Consular Service in 1883.  He served in Europe and in the Middle East, including diplomatic posts in Crete, Basra, Tabriz, and Beirut.  Towards the end of his career he was a commissioner with the Turco-Persian Boundary Commission.  He retired in 1920 and published his memoir, A Consul in the East, in 1924.

Photograph of 'Ashshār creek, Basra,India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F111/33, f 730: photograph of 'Ashshār creek, Basra, by A C Wratislaw, c 1898 Noc

For his second book Wratislaw seems to have taken inspiration from H G Wells.  Published in 1931, King Charles & Mr Perkins is a science fiction/historical novel, which begins in Wratislaw’s home county of Suffolk shortly after the First World War.  Its narrator is Robert Perkins of Eastern Manor, who learns in the opening chapter that, in addition to inheriting the family estate, he has become the owner of a time machine that was invented in secret by his late father.  With his father having died before beginning to test the machine, it falls to Robert and his cousin George to see whether the invention actually works.  The two cousins settle on the year 1666, and proceed to try out the machine with their Aunt Jane’s pug, Macheath.  After the dog returns home a couple of weeks later – in one piece but noticeably more stuck-up, with a new collar inscribed ‘Ye Kinge his Dogge’ – Robert makes the journey to London, October 1666 (the date is chosen to avoid the aftermath of the Great Fire), taking Macheath with him.

King Charles and Mr Perkins title pageKing Charles & Mr Perkins by A C Wratislaw, published in 1931 Noc


Immediately after his arrival, Robert meets and befriends the young John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, who later introduces him to Charles II, so that the King can be reunited with Macheath, or Fidelio as he calls him.  Later in the novel, Macheath is mauled to death by the King’s jealous spaniels, which Robert regards as a very bad omen for his own prospects.  Robert soon becomes a regular at the royal court, gaining a reputation as a fiercely competitive tennis player, and becoming a favourite of the King.

Portrait of Charles II by DucarelPortrait of Charles II by Ducarel 1767 Images Online Noc

However, Robert sows the seeds of his own downfall when he feuds with George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and makes himself an enemy of London’s merchants by proposing to the King that he impose a tax on the City of London as a means to raise urgently required funds.  It is Buckingham who emerges as the chief architect of Robert’s fall from grace when he tricks Robert into accepting the challenge of a game of tennis with the King.  Robert is placed in an impossible position, forced to choose between beating the King at tennis and paying Buckingham a thousand pounds…

To be continued!  King Charles & Mr Perkins - Part Two

David Fitzpatrick
Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
A C Wratislaw, A Consul in the East (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons Ltd, 1924)
A C Wratislaw, King Charles & Mr Perkins (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons Ltd, 1931)
Details of A C Wratislaw’s career, including photographs, can be found here and here, on the Levantine Heritage Foundation’s website.

 

Image from The Life of the Buddha

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