THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

10 posts categorized "Writing"

14 May 2019

Henry Stubbe: Islam and religious toleration in Restoration England

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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.

Henry Stubbe Image 1
'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’.

Henry Stubbe Image 2
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.

Henry Stubbe Image 3
'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’.

Henry Stubbe Image 4
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

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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.

King Charles Crace c13441-09John 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. 

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.

Newgate 081807Plan 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

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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.

Mss Eur F111_33_1492India 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.

Charles II c02161-03Portrait 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.

 

02 May 2019

Sloane’s annotations

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We’ve all had the experience: you request a library book and open it up excitedly…  only to find the signs of someone else’s reading, note-taking or even eating. They got there first, and they’ve left their mark all over it. Looking at the section on notetakers in the Writing: Making Your Mark exhibition led me to think more closely about some of the different ways annotations and notetaking worked in an earlier library collection, that of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753).

The first type of annotation is that which uses the book as paper, without interacting with the text – although it is interesting to think about the way this changes the reading experience. Sloane’s title-page of Sir Robert Dallington’s The View of Fraunce, for example, shows two boys vying for ownership and testing out pens:

Sloane 1596.f.28 Sir Robert Dallington, The View of Fraunce Noc

Most books which contain this sort of annotation probably ended up in Sloane’s collection as the result of the secondhand book market: these copies may have been the only ones available… or the cheapest! Either way, although other people’s scrawlings clearly didn’t bother him, we assume things like this probably didn’t hold much interest for him either.

However, there is evidence that Sloane was sometimes interested in annotations as much as the printed text which they commented upon. For example, he owned at least eight copies of John Ray’s Catalogus plantarum, all of which are annotated by different people. This often gives local information: people wrote down where they came across the plants, so when the book came into Sloane’s possession, he had that knowledge too.

Sloane 2968.f.3 Manuscript note reading ‘at the Haven side at Boston Lincolnshore by St Anton Irby’s House in Dolwich-Common not far from the Windmil on the left hand of it a little short of the Tyle-kill as you goe from the Town to the Wood that leads unto the Wells. plentifully.’ Noc

However, when it comes to Sloane’s own writing in books, we see something very different. This is the third type of annotation: administrative. And it challenges many of the assumptions we might make about what it means to write in books.

This sort of writing is usually about organization and ownership. Sloane had a particularly complicated system: his earliest purchases contain spy-like codes which, decoded, reveal the year of purchase and the price. He was probably recording how much he paid in case he ever had to sell these books, as the practice seems to falter as he gains financial security. Some books also have a Latin inscription, Bibliothecae Sloanianae, meaning “from Sloane’s library” – these books are usually particularly attractive or otherwise important, which makes sense as the ones you’d most like to claim!

 
Sloane 3443.a.5. Icones stirpium, seu Plantarum tam exoticarum quam indigenarum Noc

The main identification for us, however, is the Sloane numbers – a letter followed by a number usually written on the flyleaf of the book. The one here is ‘Pr DXLV’. These were a form of shelfmark, just like the ones used by the British Library today.

These codes were recorded in the catalogues compiled by Sloane and his librarians and help nuance the idea of writing as an administrative tool. It is tempting to think of marking books as something personal. When you write your name in a book it is usually to tell people you own it. It would defeat the purpose if someone else was to do that job – unless, of course, they were giving it to you! (This is sometimes the case for Sloane’s books, too.)

Here, though, it doesn’t matter who is writing the codes: they are not a mark of personal expression. Instead, this is writing with a purpose, very different to the scribbled reactions of individual readers. It shows how broad the idea of annotating can be.

Alice Wickenden
Collaborative Doctoral Partnership student, Printed Heritage Collections

 

30 April 2019

Records of homosexuality in 17th century England

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Stephen Noble explores manuscript sources recording homosexuality in 17th-century England, using recently catalogued material in the Harley collection. 

There are difficulties in looking at the history of homosexuality through modern eyes. The term ‘homosexuality’ was coined in the 19th century and we cannot know how people from the past would identify with the language we use today.

The Buggery Act of 1533 criminalised homosexual activity between men and as a result, records of people self-identifying are rare. The records that remain tend to focus on the criminalised acts and not the feelings of those performing them, usually containing accusations or gossip using terms like ‘sodomite’, ‘ganymede’, ‘catamite’, ‘bardash’ and ‘tribade’. This also means that, as female homosexual acts were not specifically criminalised, records of male homosexuality are more prevalent. Lower literacy rates amongst women also plays a role in the relative lack of female perspective.

Harley MS 646 contains the autobiography of politician and antiquarian Sir Simonds D’Ewes. When D’Ewes writes about the corruption charges levelled at Sir Francis Bacon in 1621, he goes on to accuse Bacon of the ‘sinne of Sodomie’, and keeping ‘a verie effeminate faced youth to bee his catamite and bedfellow’. He includes a verse ‘Within this sty a hogg doth ly/That must be hang’d for Sodomy’ (‘hogg’ being a play on Bacon’s surname).

Homosexuality Image 1Autobiography of Sir Simonds d’Ewes, Harley MS 646 f. 59v.

Interestingly, when the autobiography was published in 1845, the editor removed the accusation and changed the words of the verse from ‘sodomy’ to ‘villany’. A footnote states ‘D’Ewes here specifically charged Bacon with an abominable offence, in language too gross for publication’.

Satirical theatre and poetry played a large part in 17th-century literary culture. Sexuality was a common topic, including references to both male and female homosexuality.

Harley MS 7315 contains the poem ‘Venus Reply’, where Venus says that women ‘have got a new game/call’d Flatts…’ (‘game of flats’ being a euphemism for sex between women). The poet also writes of ‘Frogmore Frolics’, referring to rumours of what went on at Frogmore House, home at this time to Viscount Fitzhardinge, where the women are ‘for no Masculine lover’.

Homosexuality Image 2 new'Venus Reply’, Harley MS 7315, f. 285v

In Harley MS 6913 is a poem containing the line ‘…that patient bardash Shrewsbury’, referring to Charles Talbot, 12th Earl of Shrewsbury. What prompts this accusation is not said, but one possible interpretation may be that in 1679, when the poem was written, Shrewsbury converted from Catholicism to Anglicanism.

In the English imagination, homosexuality was often linked with foreigners, especially Catholics and Italians (‘in the Italian way’ was another euphemism for sodomy). Perhaps the poet is using homosexuality as a metaphor and, by referring to Shrewsbury as a ‘patient bardash’, is implying that he had not truly changed his religious views?

Another example of this link between homosexuality and Catholicism in English satire is the play Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery, one of the few remaining manuscript copies of which survives in the Harley collection.

Homosexuality Image 3‘Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery’, here attributed to John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, Harley MS 7312, p. 118

Whilst the play deals exclusively with sexual matters, the purpose was not to satirise Charles II’s sexual activities, but rather his toleration of Catholicism and his use of the Royal Prerogative. In Sodom, King Bolloxinion transforms his kingdom by legalising same-sex intercourse and, by the end of the play, becomes increasingly tyrannical. The playwright warns that allowing Charles II to use of the Royal Prerogative to transform religious toleration in England, and leaving his power unchecked, could have similar consequences.

Stephen Noble
Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Follow us on Twitter @BL_ModernMSS

Further Reading

Alan Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995)

Marie H. Loughlin (ed.), Same-sex desire in early modern England, 1550-1735: an anthology of literary texts and contexts (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014)

Cameron McFarlane, The sodomite in fiction and satire, 1660-1750 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997)

25 April 2019

Crusoe embossed

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Robinson Crusoe was published 300 years ago on 25 April 1719.  Daniel Defoe’s account of a shipwrecked English sailor cast away on an uninhabited tropical island for 28 years has universal appeal because it is so believable.  Defoe effectively put into print the archetypal shipwreck yarn spun by many an old mariner.  It capitalised on the popularity of travel books and many readers did not realise it was fiction. 

Part of the enduring success of Robinson Crusoe is the impact it makes on a reader’s imagination - the mind is stirred by adventure in exotic far-off places.  Illustrations have played an important role in the presentation and reception of Crusoe, whether cheap quickly executed woodcuts in chapbooks and penny novels, or coloured plates in fine bindings.  The primary topic has been the portraiture of Crusoe – John Pine’s frontispiece for the first edition sets a consistent tone.  Crusoe, the resourceful, stands with his guns looking determinedly at the prospect of surviving alone on the island, the lost ship in the background.  Supporting illustrations frequently emphasise pivotal points in the story such as the shipwreck, the discovery of the footprint and Friday’s rescue.

Crusoe 1Portraits of Robinson Crusoe. John Pine’s first edition frontispiece (C.30.f.6) is top left.  Later woodcuts from a variety of chapbooks can be seen to retain the composition. Noc

Crusoe 2There have also been some quite ‘unique’ portraits like this fantastic effort by Jules Fesquet and Legenisel from 1877. Noc

The proliferation of editions in the 19th century saw illustrations dominated by traditional images that are typical of colonialist assumptions and the flawed belief in white Europeans’ superiority over people and places of the wider world.  Traditional style editions routinely show Friday prostrate before his saviour, Crusoe.  In a show of submission and gratitude, Defoe tells us that Friday put Crusoe’s foot upon his head.
 

Crusoe 3Ward & Lock’s publishers’ binding (circa 1879) consciously or unconsciously amplifies the depressing fact that the first word Crusoe taught Friday was, “Master”. Noc

Crusoe 4A perfect exemplar of the colonial-style depiction of Friday’s rescue can be seen in a Maori Language edition from 1852 (freely available via Explore the British Library) – the Preface by the ‘Native Secretary’s Office’ is very revealing. Noc

Artistic capabilities are often stultified by prevalent tastes and looking at the same type of images in edition after edition of Crusoe can be tiring.  Change came with the work of artists like JB Yeats and further possibilities were pursued in the early 20th century with Expressionist art like the work of Walther Klemm.

Crusoe 5J B Yeats’ depiction of Crusoe discovering the footprint (and looking all Kirk Douglas!) Noc


Crusoe 6Lithograph by Walther Klemm in Das Leben und die ganz ungemeinen Begebenheiten des weltberühmten Engelländers Robinson Crusoe Leipzig, Verleg tbei Friedrich Dehne, 1919. (recent acquisition – awaiting shelfmark). Noc

Of course, it is all too easy for most readers to take for granted the added value and meaning to be gained from illustrations.  J R Biggs, whose wonderful wood-engravings decorate the Penguin Illustrated Classics edition of 1937, remarked that 'books without illustrations make the greatest force in the world: books with illustrations the greatest delight'.

But even though Crusoe is a particularly visual work, how might the visually impaired and blind experience such a novel?  Amongst the 600 or so printed editions of Crusoe held in the British Library, one of the most impressive items is a truly sensual edition: ‘visual’ and striking by both sight and by touch.

In the 1860s, the American Printing House for the Blind produced editions of books printed, or rather, embossed, with raised Roman Type letters.

Crusoe 7

Crusoe 8Robinson Crusoe. Presented to the American Printing House for the Blind (1873) Revolutionary for the blind.  But also aesthetically pleasing for people fortunate to be able to see the embossed type. Noc

The expansion of cheap print for mass readerships made great use of illustrations and it assisted rising levels of literacy.  The embossed type really adds a further dimension to the visual impression made by ‘printed’ words.  The invention of printing for the blind marked a new era in the history of literature.  It made the novel personally discoverable to readers unable to see traditional ink printed texts.  It is testament to the success and universal appeal of Crusoe that it was one of the very first texts selected to be printed by the APHB enabling the shipwrecked sailor’s adventure to become embossed on even more readers’ minds.

Christian Algar
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
David Blewett, The illustration of Robinson Crusoe, 1719-1920 (1995)
Lists of books published by the American Printing House for the Blind and by other American firms [1896]
Edmund C, Johnson, Tangible Typography, or how the Blind read (1853)

Visit our free display about Robinson Crusoe in the British Library Treasures Gallery - available until June 2019.

 

19 March 2019

Marie Corelli: Superstar Author of the Victorian Era

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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

 

23 January 2018

The good, the bad, and the cross-hatched

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Today is National (and possibly International) Handwriting Day, and we thought we would take a quick look at some examples from recently-catalogued papers in our Modern Archives and Manuscripts collections.

The good (and improving) 

Luckily for our manuscript cataloguers, the recently acquired letters of Princess Charlotte Augusta to her tutor George Frederick Nott (1805-1808) posed little difficulty. In the series of 31 letters and notes we get to see the development of her handwriting.

Charlotte Prayer 2
Charlotte Prayer 2

Early prayer, Add MS 89259/1, Papers relating to the Royal family within the correspondence of John Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury

By the time of this second undated example her hand is progressing nicely – and thankfully neatly – with the help of guidelines penciled on to the paper to keep her lines straight.

Charlotte 2Add MS 89259/2

By 1807 Charlotte’s handwriting is well formed and regular, with nice little flourishes, and written without the aid of guidelines.

Charlotte 3Add MS 89259/2

 

The bad

Unless they have been very lucky in their research, most archive users will have experienced frustration when trying to decipher a difficult hand. It can be tempting to conclude that some lives will remain untold because they are recorded illegibly, and some famous lives have been delved into despite their terrible handwriting – Charles Darwin is a name which springs immediately to mind.

CD2Charles Darwin to Alfred Russell Wallace, Add MS 46434, f 230

CD4Charles Darwin to Alfred Russell Wallace, Add MS 46434, f 75v

(Darwin was well-aware of the general assessment of his handwriting. In a letter to John Murray, 31 Mar 1859 he wrote “I defy anyone, not familiar with my handwriting & odd arrangements to make out my M.S. till fairly copied”. A transcription of this letter can be found online at the Darwin Correspondence Project).

The cross-hatched

The Grimaldi correspondence features letters written by Louisa Frances Edmeads to her brother William Grimaldi , as well as a small number of letters from Stacey Grimaldi to other family members. Lurking in these letters are examples of the dreaded (or keenly anticipated, if you’re feeling up to the challenge) cross-hatching, where the writing is continued at 90 degrees across the page.

Crosshatch 1

Crosshatch 2Add MS 89258

Combine cross-hatching with bleed-through from the verso of the folio, and you have a recipe for a research headache.

If we’ve whet your appetite for handwriting, why not head over to the Digital Scholarship blog to read about the Library’s work with the Transkribus tool, generating and testing automatic Handwritten Text Recognition models for the India Office Records.

Alex Hailey

Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts