THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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19 February 2019

The Dawes Bequest of erotica: so sensitive, it had to be smuggled in at dawn

The Private Case is the British Library’s historic collection of erotica.  Comprising ‘obscene’ books that were historically set aside from the main collection, its contents tell us much about past attitudes towards sex and sexuality.  This is the main reason why the British Library has just completed a project to digitise the entire collection.  Within the Private Case we can see the hands of several private collectors at work, among them Charles Reginald Dawes.  But who was Mr Dawes?

Dawes bookplate&Label PC13a24C. R. Dawes’s own bookplate and the Dawes Bequest label added by the British Museum (shelfmark: P.C.13.a.24)

Bibliographers of erotica have struggled to establish the facts about Mr Dawes.  The son of an iron broker born in Worcestershire in 1879, Dawes spent most of his adult life living initially in central London and later in the Gloucestershire village of Gotherington.  The Dawes family were independently wealthy, but in the 1911 census Charles lists himself as ‘author’.  This is curious as his name is associated with just two publications.  Patrick J. Kearney raises the possibility that he may in fact have made a living from writing erotic stories under a nom de plume.

Dawes had a reputation as a discerning book collector.  At his death in 1964, his library of erotica was left to the British Museum library (now the British Library).  Peter Fryer tells us that the bequest was collected overnight and ‘carried reverently’ into the museum at six o’clock one summer morning’.  246 of these works can today be found in the Private Case.  This was not the entirety of his erotica: Dawes also left 100 ‘books of his choice’ to his personal secretary, Antony John Gordon-Hill, who sold some privately and others at Sotheby’s on 12 April 1965.  Further manuscript volumes are now lost.

The Dawes volumes in the Private Case are all in either English or French.  Many are illustrated with erotic plates, some of which have been added post-publication (as with the Livre d’Amour des Anciens, 1912). Highlights include:
• four editions of John Cleland’s mid-18th century work Fanny Hill, considered the first pornographic novel in English;
• the first edition of the Memoirs of Dolly Morton (1899), recounting the erotic adventures of a fictional Quaker woman in the American South;
• five editions of works by the Marquis de Sade (unsurprising given that the Marquis was the subject of Dawes’s own publication of 1927);
• and a 1906 edition of Teleny, one of the earliest published works of gay erotic fiction, often attributed to Oscar Wilde.

PC.13.g.32 Teleny 1906 titlepageTitlepage of Dawes’s 1906 edition of Teleny, one of the earliest published works of gay erotic fiction (shelfmark: P.C.13.g.32)

For many bibliographers, the most significant item is Dawes’s copy of My Secret Life.  This purports to record the sexual exploits of a Victorian gentleman called ‘Walter’, and is widely thought to be by another erotic bibliographer, Henry Spencer Ashbee (1834–1900). This eleven-volume first edition, probably issued 1889–95, is thought to be just one of 25 copies produced.

Private Case items are listed in the library’s online catalogue Explore the British Library.  The Dawes Bequest is shelfmarked P.C.13.a.1 to P.C.13.h.19, and volumes can be consulted in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room.  The collaboration with Gale Cengage means that they can also be viewed online via the newly-released Archives of Sexuality and Gender: Part III.  This subscription resource is available at many larger research libraries and can be accessed for free in the reading rooms of the British Library.

Adrian Edwards
Head of Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
Paul J. Cross, ‘The Private Case: a History’, in P.R. Harris (ed.), The Library of the British Museum: Retrospective Essays (London: British Library, 1991), pp.201-40.
Peter Fryer, Private Case – Public Scandal (London: Secker & Warburg, 1966).
Patrick J. Kearney, The Erotic Library of Charles Reginald  Dawes (Santa Rosa, Calif.: Scissors & Paste Bibliographies, 2016).
Patrick J. Kearney, The Private Case: an Annotated Bibliography of the Private Case Erotica Collection in the British (Museum) Library (London: Jay Landesman, 1981).

 

15 February 2019

JMW Turner’s First and Last Loves (Part 2)

Our last post told the story of Elizabeth White, the first love of artist JMW Turner. Today we turn to his last love - Sophia Booth.

Sophia Caroline Nollte was born in Dover, in 1798, to German immigrant parents.  She moved to Margate when she married a local fisherman, John Henry Pound, in 1818.  Sadly, he drowned in 1821, leaving her with two sons, Joseph, who died before he was six, and Daniel.

In 1825 she married John Booth, who described himself as 'a gentleman of Margate'.  He was 37 years older than her.  They established a guest house on the seafront in Margate, near the harbour.  In 1826 Sophia gave birth to a son, John Pound Booth, who died of cholera in 1832.  John Booth also succumbed to cholera in 1833 and so, once again, Sophia was left a widow, with one surviving child, Daniel Pound.

Turner stayed in the Booth guest-house from about 1829, favouring the location because of the quality of the light.  After John Booth’s death he began a relationship with Sophia.  Turner’s friend, Charles Turner (no relation) described Sophia as being like a fat cook with no discernible education.  But Turner’s love for Sophia was romantic; he wrote her poems and gave her drawings.

A Sleeping Woman  Perhaps Mrs Booth

Joseph Mallord William Turner, A Sleeping Woman, Perhaps Mrs Booth c.1830–40 Photo © Tate CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)

In 1846 they moved to Davis Place, Cremorne Road, Chelsea, which is now part of Cheyne Walk.  The house was rented in Sophia’s name and the neighbours assumed that Turner was Mr Booth.  He habitually wore a naval greatcoat and was known as 'Puggy Booth' or 'The Admiral' in the area.  Turner died in the house in 1851.

After Turner’s death, Sophia told his friend, David Roberts, that Turner never made any financial contribution to their life together but that he had composed verses in honour of 'herself and her personal charms' and had been jealous.  She claimed that he had told her that she was 'the handmaid of art'.

In December 1852, Sophia’s son, Daniel Pound, who had become an engraver, applied for a passport.  His travelling companions were named as his mother and Gustave Philip de Garlieb, a Danish-born engraver who worked at the Ordnance Survey. His address was the same street as Sophia, so he was either a neighbour or, possibly, a lodger.  Where did they go and what was the reason for their trip?  I am still looking for clues.

Sophia became friendly with John Ruskin, Turner’s artistic executor, and sold him some of Turner’s notebooks.  Ruskin gave her gifts, including the oval self-portrait miniature of Turner as a boy.  Turner’s first biographer, Walter Thornbury, portrayed Sophia as acting in a mercenary way after his death but Ruskin and other friends thought that this was unfair.  She had, after all, burned Turner’s letters to her rather than sell them and she gave away many of his other possessions.

In 1865, her son, Daniel Pound, sold some of the Turner paintings she owned for £4,000 and bought Haddenham Hall, in Buckinghamshire, for £1,000, where she lived until her death in 1878, aged 80.  She asked to be buried at St John’s Church, Margate, so Turner’s first and last loves lie in the same churchyard.

Booth gravestone 1

Booth gravestone 2Grave of Sophia Booth at St John's Church Margate - photographs by author

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

Further reading:
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016)
Felicity Myrone , J. M. W. Turner and his World: John Platt (1842-1902), a Late Victorian Extra-illustrator, and his Collection Electronic British Library Journal

 

Turner's House logo

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is currently open Wednesday-Sunday: 12 –1pm: Self-guided visits, and 1-4pm: Guided Tours (Last entry: 3:30pm)

 

14 February 2019

JMW Turner’s First and Last Loves (Part 1)

Valentine’s Day would seem to be an appropriate time to look at the romantic life of the great painter, JMW Turner.  There were many women in Turner’s life, at least one of whom bore him children, but he never married.  The disparaging comments he made about matrimony were probably formed by his observation of his parents’ troubled marriage and perhaps as the result of an early experience.

Today we look at Turner’s first love - Elizabeth White.

When things were difficult at home, and for the benefit of his health, the young Turner would often stay for long periods with relations, notably his maternal uncle, Joseph Marshall, who was a butcher in Brentford.  In 1787, the twelve-year-old Turner moved from Brentford to stay with friends in Margate, where he attended Thomas Coleman’s school in Love Lane.  One of his school friends was Edward White, whose sister, Elizabeth, was the same age as Turner.  Young William was strongly attracted to Elizabeth and, after he returned to London, he visited Margate frequently throughout the early 1790s and the relationship blossomed.  Turner’s problem was that he did not feel that the state of his finances made it possible for him to propose marriage.

Margate harbour from the sea 1786-7 TurnerJoseph Mallord William Turner, Margate Harbour from the Sea 1796–7 Photo © Tate CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)

After his success at the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1796, Turner felt himself sufficiently established to propose to Elizabeth and set off down to Margate, only to find that she had become engaged to a local man, Richard Wiles.  Some of Turner’s biographers describe Wiles as a builder – he wasn’t, he was a publican.  The marriage licence describes him as Richard Wiles of St John, Thanet, innkeeper, bachelor, and the newspaper report of the wedding, in 1798, describes him as of The Bull’s Head Inn.  The confusion is probably because his parents were also Richard and Elizabeth. There is still a Bull’s Head on the site, where, in 1952, Eric Morecambe (Bartholomew) had his wedding reception when he married the landlord’s daughter, Joan Bartlett.

Turner was devastated and his friends’ accounts suggest that he suffered some form of breakdown. Sadly, Elizabeth did not enjoy a long or happy life. Her son, another Richard, was born in October 1799 but died in February 1800.  Elizabeth herself died the following year, aged 26, but I have not been able to discover the cause of her death.

Elizabeth is buried in the churchyard of St John the Baptist Church, Margate. 

Margate St John's ChurchSt John's Church Margate from New Ramsgate, Margate, and Broadstairs Guide (Ramsgate, 1855?)

Wiles 1Wiles family grave at St John's Church Margate - photograph by author

I assume that Turner knew of Elizabeth’s death from her brother or one of his other contacts in Margate but I can find no record of this.  It is, however, a reasonable assumption that this early experience contributed to Turner’s jaundiced view of relationships and marriage in particular.

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

Further reading:
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016)
Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal 27 November 1798 British Newspaper Archive
Felicity Myrone, 'J. M. W. Turner and his World: John Platt (1842-1902), a Late Victorian Extra-illustrator, and his Collection' Electronic British Library Journal

JMW Turner’s First and Last Loves (Part 2)

Turner's House logo
Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is currently open Wednesday-Sunday: 12 –1pm: Self-guided visits, and 1-4pm: Guided Tours (Last entry: 3:30pm)