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Getting in on the Act: Bram Stoker and Henry Irving

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To mark the anniversary of Bram Stoker’s death today (he died on 20th April 1912) and continuing her series on the Library’s Victorian membership, Helen O’Neill, our Archive, Heritage & Development brings a few hidden gems out into the light…

The London Library membership records of Henry Irving (1838-1905) and Bram Stoker (1847-1912) both date from 1890.  Irving is Britain’s most acclaimed Victorian actor theatre manager who, against considerable odds, made it to the top of his profession and changed the perception and status of that profession in the process.  Five years after joining the Library he became the first actor to be knighted for services to the stage.  Irving’s wingman, Bram Stoker joined the Library in the year he began work on Dracula.  Within seven years he published his most famous literary work which has never since been out of print, and which made the most breath-taking transition onto the global stage with the advent of film. Dracula without a doubt is one of the 19th century’s most iconic and enduring works.

Stoker’s handwriting is a good example of the challenges involved in deciphering Victorian manuscript records. His occupation, if you are struggling with the handwriting reads “Acting Manager Lyceum Theatre” where he was Irving’s right-hand-man for 27 years.   It is no coincidence perhaps that someone working at close quarters with an actor of Irving’s magnetism, would create a character that would enthrall in a visual medium. Stoker dedicated Dracula to the novelist that introduced him to the Library, Hall Caine and in the year Dracula was published Hall Caine became the first novelist in Britain to sell a million copies with his novel The Christian.

It is hard to imagine looking at these documents that either Irving or Stoker could have imagined when they wrote them, that over a century later they would have the power to arrest and captivate in quite the way they do.  Look at Irving’s description of his occupation: verve, wit, humility and pride all wrapped up in that playful, telling word “Comedian”.

Irving’s status as a national treasure is captured in an evocative piece in The Times on October 20 1905, the day before his funeral.  The piece describes the traffic being stopped locally, at the junction of Stratton Street and Piccadilly as a large number of “humble admirers” assembled to pay their respects as the hearse carrying Irving’s flower covered coffin made its way, at walking pace, to Westminster Abbey.   In the Library’s Special Collections there is a copy of Tennyson’s play Becket.  Irving died in a hotel lobby after performing in the title role of this play.  His praise for the play appears on the title page, which is signed and dated by Bram Stoker. The play, annotated throughout, was donated to the Library in 1937 by Bram Stoker’s son, Noel Thornley Stoker.  It is an eloquent example of how the Library’s collections have been shaped and enriched by past members and it demonstrates how a connection to the library, once made, can spread across generations within the same family.  Viewed in conjunction with the Irving and Stoker’s joining forms to the Library it reflects the relationship between the membership and the Library’s book collection, and also between the Library and the cultural life of 19th century literary London.

© Helen O’Neill

Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian

Bram Stoker joined the Library in 1890, the year he started his began his research for Dracula.

Bram Stoker joined the Library in 1890, the year he started his began his research for Dracula.

Henry Irving joined the Library in 1890, the year he sold his own personal library to replace his theatre sets lost in a warehouse fire.

Henry Irving joined the Library in 1890, the year he sold his own personal library to replace his theatre sets lost in a warehouse fire.

The novelist Hall Caine joined the Library in 1886. He nominated Bram Stoker to membership in 1890.

The novelist Hall Caine joined the Library in 1886. He nominated Bram Stoker to membership in 1890.

This copy of Tennyson's play Becket from the Library's special collections, was annotated by Irving and inscribed by both Irving and Stoker.

This copy of Tennyson’s play Becket from the Library’s special collections, was annotated by Irving and inscribed by both Irving and Stoker.

Binding, Binders and Buckram

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Each year around 4,500 books pass through the binding division of the Library’s Collection Care department.  Around half of these are new acquisitions – paperbacks and journals – in need of brand new bindings, while the others have been pulled out of our existing stock because their dilapidated bindings are due some TLC or an entire overhaul. When commissioning new bindings for a book already in the collection, we take care to preserve as many of its original features as we can: evidences of provenance such as bookplates; illustrated, or simply distinctive, cloth covers. Even when dealing with brand new books, we are conscious that we are working within a tradition of binding commissioning at the Library that stretches back 175 years.

Binding tradition

The majority of our books are sent to small binding companies with expert craftspeople, who have all the hand-sewing and letter-blocking skills to turn out new bindings with flair. We have long-standing relationships with our binders, and have developed a good understanding of the way they work. This allows us to match the binding needs of our book stock to the strengths and skills of each binding company.

You might have thought that the advent of telephone and email would have completely transformed the way we communicate with our binding contractors, but in one respect this has hardly changed at all. Our staff still issue each of our books with a handwritten binding instruction slip – completed with details of the covering colour, spine lettering and any repairs we might require – before packing and despatching the volumes to the binding firms.

The Library’s handwritten binding instruction slips have changed little with the passing of time. We chanced upon one from 1909 a few years ago, and were amazed to find that the layout and content were almost exactly the same as those we use today. There have been a few minor tweaks along the way. One small change relates to the placement of lettering on books that are too thin for title information to be blocked across the spine.  Up until the early 1980s British Standards recommended the lettering to run up the spine in the belief that this would help readers when scanning the shelves; a suggestion that The London Library dutifully adopted.  Since then new thinking has prevailed and as a general rule we now ask for the print to run down the spine. It’s a relatively rare example of the Library breaking with decades of in-house binding tradition.

The birth of buckram

Another area of continuity is our use of buckram. Virtually all the rebinding work commissioned by the Library is done in buckram, a linen cloth made tough and washable through chemical strengthening.  Buckram was adopted by British binders in the mid-nineteenth century as a replacement for traditional cover materials that had been most popular until then: cloth, which could be prone to fraying, fading and tears, and leather, which was expensive.

Cost wasn’t the only problem with leather. As the Industrial Revolution continued to transform the nation’s towns, libraries, museums and private collectors in urban areas discovered that their leather bindings were being degraded by the acidic pollution of gas lighting and factory fumes. Victorian librarians in the metropolis sought an alternative that would prove durable under these changing conditions, and the result of their investigations was buckram. Though 25% dearer than ordinary book-cloth, buckram was still considerably cheaper than leather and could be procured in several different colours.  These included a brilliant yellow and a dirty white, but also, black, brown, green, red, purple, slate and dark blue.

Applying colour with care

Today’s binders offer us a rich array of colour options. We consult swatch books of cloth samples to help us choose the best matches for our collections. When we’re dealing with a replacement binding, we’ll usually be guided by the colour of its previous binding. In the case of badly faded cloths, this can require a bit of detective work, checking the turned-in areas on the inside of the boards or other volumes in the series for the true hue. For new additions to the collection we select a cloth that corresponds with the dominant colour of the publisher’s paper covers. There’s only one collection where we consistently bind in one colour, and that’s Religion. The London Library’s Religion collection is bound in black, and has been for generations. As with so many things, the reason for this has long been forgotten. Perhaps it was a reflection of how bibles and prayer books were commonly produced in black cloth or leather?

Respect for history and respect for books

As we’ve seen, the way we commission binding work today is based on principles and customs established during the rapid evolution of libraries from the mid- to late Nineteenth Century, and at The London Library we continue to recognise the value of a good quality binding. Sir Redmond Barry, head of Victoria Public Library, Melbourne, summed up the importance of a good binding when addressing the Conference of Librarians at the London Institution in 1877:

“The individual reader in a spacious, well-proportioned, amply ventilated apartment, with the temperature regulated according to the season, takes more care of a book and feels more interest in the subject of his study if the volume be handsomely bound, than if in boards which soon break up or in a common cloth cover, which imbibes damp, retains dust, warps and shrinks, or if enveloped in a paper wrapper which – especially with those of large size – makes the book unsightly to the eye and unwieldy to the hand.

The idea that a well-bound book will be a better-loved book still inspires us today. Our binding work not only affords vital protection to many millions of pages within the London Library’s collections, but also enhances readers’ enjoyment of our books. Respect for binding traditions, from lettering conventions to the choice of book-cloths, lends our bookstacks their distinctive appearance and transforms a book into a London Library book.

 

The number of damaged books that can be rebound every year is limited by the Library’s rebinding budget. Donations from individuals or trusts & foundations can enable the rebinding of damaged books that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. If you are interested in making a donation, or to find out more, please contact the Development Office (development@londonlibrary.co.uk, tel. 020 7766 4734).

Books with their instruction slips queued up for rebinding

Books with their instruction slips queued up for rebinding

 

Filling in a binder's instruction slip

Filling in a binder’s instruction slip

 

Binders' swatch books offer a wide range of buckram colours

Binders’ swatch books offer a wide range of buckram colours

 

The Library's Religion collection has traditionally been bound in black buckram

The Library’s Religion collection has traditionally been bound in black buckram

 

Books with their new buckram bindings and London Library labels

Books with their new buckram bindings and London Library labels

 

Finished books get ready to go back out onto The Library's shelves

Finished books get ready to go back out onto The Library’s shelves

 

Good binding on the agenda at this conference 140 years ago

Good binding on the agenda at this conference 140 years ago

 

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Collection Care

The Victorians and the London Library: The Double Life of William Sharp

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In her next instalment on the Library’s Victorian past Helen O’Neill takes a look at the double literary life of William Sharp, a Victorian London Library member who had two successful literary careers:  one as the author and critic William Sharp and the second as the pre-eminent Scottish writer of the 19th century Celtic Renaissance, Fiona Macleod.

Over Christmas the Victorians did well in the TV ratings. A Christmas Carol was brought up to date by ITV and the BBC showed the literary biopic To Walk Invisible which traced the story of the Brontë family, up to the point that the sisters disclosed their true identities.  It was Anne Brontë’s birthday this week (born 17th January 1820) and to mark the moment I thought I’d take a look at another Victorian literary figure who walked invisible, the Scottish novelist and mystic William Sharp (1855-1904).

Sharp had a distinguished literary career as a poet, novelist, biographer, essayist, and dramatist. Between 1884 and 1894 he wrote or edited almost forty books in his own name, including several literary biographies on Rossetti, Shelley, Browning and Heinrich Heine.  He also published several literary geographies considering the impact of place on the works of Charles Dickens, George Meredith, George Eliot, the Brontë sisters and Thomas Carlyle. He was the London art critic of the Glasgow Herald and the Art Journal and was a familiar figure in London’s literary and artistic circles.

The emergence of his second literary life as Fiona Macleod was triggered in the early 1890s by meeting Edith Wingate Rinder, with whom Sharp had an intense relationship.  According to Sharp’s wife, Elizabeth Amelia Sharp (1856-1932), a writer and critic in her own right, “the life of William Sharp divides itself naturally into two halves … the second begins with Pharais, the first book signed by Fiona Macleod.”  Pharais, a Celtic romance set in the western isles of Scotland, was first published in 1894 and was the inaugural work by Sharp’s female alter ego.  He went on to write many other works in this name (some 20 titles still available in the Library’s collections) establishing a successful career for his female pseudonym, whose literary reputation eclipsed his own. Fiona Macleod attracted fame for her mystical Celtic legends, folklore, and mythological writings which first appeared in print the year after William Sharp joined the Library.

Fiona Macleod was more than a simple pseudonym however. In his correspondence with W.B. Yeats and others, Sharp elaborated on her creating a backstory to this elusive female Scottish-Celtic writer, whom he claimed was his cousin to whom he was closely attached. This fictional relationship was modeled on Sharp’s actual relationship with, what his wife called his “dear friend”, Edith Wingate Rinder.  Rinder is credited with providing the inspirational spark that triggered the Fiona Macleod creation. Sharp corresponded as Fiona Macleod, his sister providing the handwriting to disguise his own.

Some have claimed that Fiona Macleod was a vehicle for Sharp to write creatively without damaging his established literary reputation; others that Sharp capitalised on the mystery surrounding Macleod’s identity as an effective marketing strategy; and yet others that writing as a woman allowed Sharp to express an inner life which the social mores of the time made difficult under his own name. There is some evidence to support this.  In a letter to Catherine Janvier in September 1894 Sharp claimed ownership of Pharais and asked that his identity be kept secret:

“Yes, Pharais is mine. It is a book out of my heart, out of the core of my heart … I can write out my heart in a way I could not do as William Sharp … This rapt sense of oneness with nature, this cosmic ecstasy and elation, this wayfaring along the extreme verges of the common world, all this is so wrought up with the romance of life that I could not bring myself to expression by my outer self, insistent and tyrannical as that need is. . . . My truest self, the self who is below all other selves, and my most intimate life and joys and sufferings, thoughts, emotions and dreams, must find expression, yet I cannot save in this hidden way… Sometimes I am tempted to believe I am half a woman.”

The stress of maintaining two literary identities came at a cost however.  In 1898 Sharp suffered a nervous breakdown. Keeping his second identity secret involved denying a claim in 1899 in the press that he and Fiona Macleod were the same person and having to intervene to prevent Fiona MacLeod’s name being put forward for a civil-list pension. The real identity of Fiona Macleod was kept secret, except from a few, until after William Sharp’s death in 1905, at the age of fifty. He left a letter to friends revealing his double identity and his wife published a memoir in 1910 which covered both sides of her husband’s literary life.

Opportunist, mystic or free spirit William Sharp’s life provides a fascinating glimpse into the Victorian world. W.B. Yeats, who had been duped by Sharp before 1897 about the identity of Fiona Macleod, retained his respect for Sharp writing to his widow in 1906:

“….Your husband was a man of great genius, who brought something wholly new into letters….To me he was that, & a strange mystery too & also a dear friend. To talk with him was to feel the presence of that mystery, he was very near always to the world where he now is…”

Helen O’Neill

Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian

 

William Sharp was striking in appearance. This photograph, by Frederick Hollyer was taken the year after Sharp joined The London Library. It appeared in The Chap-book on September 15, 1894.

William Sharp was striking in appearance. This photograph, by Frederick Hollyer was taken the year after Sharp joined The London Library. It appeared in The Chap-book on September 15, 1894.

This photograph of “Fiona Macleod” appeared in Heinemann’s 1910 re-issue of Sharp’s first work as Fiona Macleod, Pharais.

This photograph of “Fiona Macleod” appeared in Heinemann’s 1910 re-issue of Sharp’s first work as Fiona Macleod, Pharais.

On his joining form to the Library William Sharp alludes to his biography of Rossetti. He became a member of the Library the year before his first work as Fiona Macleod was published.

On his joining form to the Library William Sharp alludes to his biography of Rossetti. He became a member of the Library the year before his first work as Fiona Macleod was published.

William and his wife were both interested in the Celtic revival. This edition of Lyra Celtica: an anthology of representative Celtic poetry, published by Heinemann in 1910 was edited by Elizabeth Sharp with an introduction by her husband.

William and his wife were both interested in the Celtic revival. This edition of Lyra Celtica: an anthology of representative Celtic poetry, published by Heinemann in 1910 was edited by Elizabeth Sharp with an introduction by her husband.

On the spine of the Library’s copy of Pharais, which is still in its original binding, the name “Fiona Macleod” has been crossed out. So too has the later hand written addition “Wm. Sharp”.

On the spine of the Library’s copy of Pharais, which is still in its original binding, the name “Fiona Macleod” has been crossed out. So too has the later hand written addition “Wm. Sharp”.

 

 

 

Camberwell Students at the London Library

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student B

Twice yearly, students from Camberwell College of Arts MA Conservation course join us a for a preservation placement in the Collection Care Department

Twice yearly, students from Camberwell College of Arts MA Conservation course join us a for a preservation placement in the Collection Care Department

 

An "enlarging box" helps protect small books and prevent them being lost behind their larger neighbours

An “enlarging box” helps protect small books and prevent them being lost behind their larger neighbours

 

Customised boxes include designs to make heavy books accessible

Customised boxes include designs to make heavy books accessible

In December 2014 we began a new work-placement scheme for MA students at Camberwell College of Arts, part of the University of the Arts London and one of the country’s leading providers of professional conservation training. This has proved to be a collaboration which has benefitted both the Library and the students themselves.

Twice a year two students from the MA Conservation course join us a for a preservation placement in the Collection Care Department; they come in one day a week for 12 weeks, fitting the time in between their college-based studies, which include studio time, tutorials on conservation techniques, environmental science and organic chemistry lectures and seminars on preservation management.

The students are first introduced to the theory of boxes as a simple and cost-effective preservation practice; boxes help protect vulnerable books from light-exposure, dust and the damage that can occur on the shelves or in transit. Once the students have mastered the basics of making customized, acid-free boxboard boxes in the house style, they are given a specific project to complete.

The students have helped us to find innovative solutions to difficult storage issues – from ‘upsizing’ tiny books in danger of being lost behind their larger neighbours to creating a box for an enormously wide volume, with heavy-duty handles that could be used to pull the box off the shelf.

When planning their boxes, the students have had to consider some of the special features of the London Library collection. Some of our Special Collection volumes have attractive bindings which we want our members and visitors to see and enjoy. When students have been working on books in one of our glass-fronted display case, we specifically asked them to make boxes that would fulfil all the criteria of protection but were not opaque, so that we could continue to display these volumes.  Another challenge for the students has been to create boxes that enhance protection for our collections but do not involve much loss of shelf space. One intake of students helped us to create boxes that would allow us to store rare newspaper issues in a space-efficient vertical position – making strong, heavy-duty boxes that would provide support to the flimsy paper; the boxes needed to be light enough to safely ease off a shelf, but still sturdy enough to withstand handling.

Other past projects have included making portfolios for an unbound series of reproductions of medieval documents (preserving the original wrappers in such a way as to not allow their acidic paper to damage the items, whilst still keeping that element of the object available to the members) and making boxes for a range of extremely slim books with light-weight bindings – the task here being to produce thin yet inflexible boxes that are still strong enough to support their contents.

Throughout our time with the students we have discovered that it is best for us to talk over the task with them, highlighting the problems and requirements and then to allow them to discuss it with each other, draw sketches, mock up small-scale models, either in paper or using the different weight boards available and then to make up a prototype in the chosen board.  This can then be put through its paces by the team, looking for design elements that don’t quite work and need to be rethought.  Occasionally we have enlisted the help of a passerby to ‘road-test’ a new style box to make sure it is easy to open or manhandle by someone who hasn’t been involved in the planning process. Once the design is perfected they set to work.

We ask the students to draw an instruction sheet for future use and we are slowly building a portfolio of these new-style boxes for any problem that may turn up in the future.

Our intention is always that both sides should benefit from this arrangement; by giving them a discrete project with no known solution, we have intelligent, problem-solving, post-graduate students rather than just box-making machines, and they have the chance to develop analytical skills and practise decision-making, whilst learning new materials and processes that will be of use to them in the future.

 

 

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Conservation

The Dreadful Explosion of Wallsend Colliery

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The account of the Wallsend tragedy reprinted by Pushkin Press as part of our Found on The Shelves of The London Library series

The account of the Wallsend tragedy reprinted by Pushkin Press as part of our Found on The Shelves of The London Library series

 

The 1835 original - produced as a low cost 24 chapbook with print size diminishing towards the end to squeeze emerging information in

The 1835 original – produced as a low cost 24 page chapbook with print size diminishing towards the end to squeeze emerging information in

 

The list of the dead: swift publication meant that one fatality went unreported

The list of the dead: swift publication meant that one fatality went unreported

Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros – our Head of Bibliographic Services – blogs on the tragic 1835 colliery accident at Wallsend, the contemporary account of which has been reprinted as one of the titles in our Found on The Shelves series, published by Pushkin Press to coincide with our 175th anniversary.

In 1835, the Gala Day of the Sunday Schools for which the town of Wallsend had been preparing, never took place. The spice loaves the miners’ wives had baked the week before for this day of happiness and celebration on the eve of the summer solstice was served instead at dozens of wakes:

“On Monday the entire vicinity of the mine presented an appearance indescribably agonizing. On the afternoon of that day, about 60 bodies were conveyed, in carts, to the parish church, where they were interred.”

These were the first 60 casualties of a colliery explosion that would claim the lives of 102 men and boys.

The people of Wallsend were no strangers to having their loved ones ripped away from them.  Over the previous 53 years ten separate explosions had caused a total of 91 deaths, but 18 June 1835 went down in Tyneside history as the date of the worst disaster the town had ever suffered. Much has been written about this tragedy but A Full Account of the Dreadful Explosion of Wallsend Colliery by Which 101 Human Beings Perished! is a contemporary version, so contemporary that the death toll in the title is premature and sadly incomplete. The original was a humble chapbook, printed cheaply for a poor public hungry for affordable reading material, preferably of a sensational nature. In 24 pages with ever-decreasing print size, the anonymous author managed to squeeze in not just the advertised full account of the explosion but also of the ensuing rescue efforts, the funerals and the inquest that was quickly set up in order to try and find out why what should have been a day like any other turned into a nightmare of desolation and despair.

It was an ordinary Thursday. The mine had undergone the usual safety checks and everything seemed normal – that is, no worse or more dangerous than usual. Nearly all the hewers – strong grown men who skilfully cut the coal away from the earth – had finished their shift at eleven a.m., having started at two a.m. At half past four in the morning, the ‘putters’ – youngsters from the age of 8 or 9 through to their teens or early twenties at most, overseen by older men – had started the work of putting the hewn coal in corves (special containers) to be sent up to the surface. They were still underground at two p.m. when the explosion occurred. A banksman, who stood on the surface by the edge of the pit and was emptying the corves the putters had sent up on chains attached to a rope, quickly stepped back when he felt a rumble below ground and a blast of air from the pit blew his hat off and the corf he had emptied into the air:

“The rushing of foul air to the mouth of the shaft, bringing up with it some of the pitmen’s clothes and other light articles from the bottom, left no room for conjecture as to what had occurred in the mine.”

When he was able to approach the mouth of the shaft he shouted down but no one replied. He got the engine going to pull the rope up but it wouldn’t move and when more power was applied it broke off.  There was little doubt then that only death lay below.

Some immediate rescue efforts proved fruitless, dangerous and exhausting. There was so little hope of finding anyone alive that when the man in charge of the mine, the ‘viewer’, John Buddle, arrived in the evening he made the unpopular decision to give the rescue team a few hours’ rest before making any further attempts. Some felt that the air in the mine would only get worse when the furnaces died out and wanted to act immediately. Two teams of volunteers ventured down and found some bodies but were overcome by the foul air and were unable to bring the dead back with them. Buddle’s team did not fare much better until the air courses began to be repaired. The first of the bodies were retrieved on the Friday and on Saturday three men and a boy were found alive, although one of the men died days later. Meanwhile, wives and mothers waited “in silent despair”, sheltering from the torrential rain in a shed near one of the pits. The same shed where a number of coffins also waited.

Over the next few days more bodies were “brought up” and the full horror of the effects of the explosion unfolded:

“The bodies were removed to the houses of their respective friends, and the entire community of the colliery was in a state of the most dreadful agitation and distress. Several of the bodies were black, shrivelled, and burnt; one or two were mutilated, but the greater portion, having been suffocated by the after damp, had the appearance of being in a tranquil sleep.”

The inquest quickly found that no one could be held responsible for what were concluded to be accidental deaths and the coroner’s closing address, though probably well-meaning, was not well received. In his view, Providence had not been ‘unwatchful’ since so many of the dead were too young to have dependants or great sins to answer for.

The loss to the mining community of Wallsend is unimaginable. The account tells us that “the workmen of each colliery form, with their families, a distinct colony.” And it was a very tightly-knit colony with the interrelated families living side by side on the same few streets. Fathers and sons, brothers – in some cases as many as three from one family -, cousins, friends and neighbours were suddenly taken away. In some cases, widowed mothers lost the sons they depended on to feed their younger children.

Miners were driven to their perilous work by poverty, were imprisoned or fined if they absented themselves from work for a single day. Their working conditions were horrendous and their working lives, which sometimes began at the age of five often came to a brutally abrupt end. The families of those who died that day at Wallsend received some financial relief but nothing could have compensated them for their hideous loss. There was nothing fair about the tragedy and nothing to be grateful for. Some of the victims died instantly but some boys had time to cling to others in terror before their end in a network of dark tunnels almost immediately below the village school where they rightfully belonged.

Through A Glass Lightly

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Frontispiece image for Greg's 1897 Ode to Bacchus -  Through A Glass Lightly

Frontispiece image for Greg’s 1897 Ode to Bacchus – Through A Glass Lightly

Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros – our Head of Bibliographic Services – blogs on wine-loving solicitor Thomas Greg, whose 1897 hymn to wine, “Through A Glass Lightly”, is one of the latest titles in our Found on The Shelves series, published by Pushkin Press to coincide with our 175th anniversary.

Greg dedicated the book to his father

Greg dedicated the book to his father

Through a Glass Lightly reprinted by Pushkin Press for our 175th anniversary

Through a Glass Lightly reprinted by Pushkin Press for our 175th anniversary

At first glance Thomas Tylston Greg (1858-1920) could seem a most unremarkable man. He was born to a wealthy mill-owning Manchester family but rather than follow in his ancestors’ footsteps and become a tycoon of renown he chose a career in the legal profession. He was called to the Bar in 1881 but, ever shunning the limelight, he practiced as a solicitor instead. Unlike his brilliant brother Robert, who embarked on a distinguished career as secretary to Lord Kitchener, ambassador in Romania and eventually Director of the Cairo Museum, Thomas lived a fairly quiet life as a young bachelor in Kensington. He was pious and philanthropic, keenly interested in the work of the Essex Church, and when we learn that he had been collecting porcelain from a very young age we feel that the picture of the shy, unworldly man of regular habits is complete. But we would be wrong. Underneath this quiet and sober exterior beat the surprisingly playful yet passionate heart of a man who loved nothing more than a good wine vintage and for whom life did not make sense unless it could be seen “Through a Glass Lightly.” This, in fact, is the title of his book, dedicated ‘to my father, from whose generous cellars has floated up much of the inspiration of the following essays’. In his little volume Greg dazzles with his expertise on the subject of wines and while the tone is light and bubbly many a truth is spoken, or in this case written, among all his jesting:

“Wine does more than generate talk: it is talk itself…”

“Not to have a cellar is derogatory to the dignity of man.”

By the time we reach the chapter devoted to champagne, all the gravitas of the pious solicitor is washed away by golden bubbles:

“Truly it is a beverage of romance and laughter, this Champagne.”

“To look at life through this clear and golden medium is to cast seriousness to the winds.”

And any serious advice comes with a whiff of wine-induced flippancy:

“Where two things [burgundy and champagne] are almost equally meritorious it were well to leave each alone, or swallow them in equal quantities.”

It is safe to guess that Greg opted for the latter approach! After all, wines were Greg’s good friends:

“Now Madeira in his youth is harsh and austere, he has a pungent tongue, and speaks with bitterness; but age cometh over him, and, like a tender schoolmaster or parent, leads him gently along and his tart sayings are metamorphosed into genial wit and a happy softness of utterance.”

During these heady bachelor days Greg does not come across as an admirer of women:

“A waitress, being a woman, cares nothing about wine and knows less.”

“In no house where woman predominates do we ever find plate kept as plate should, darkly lustrous and beautifully bright. The trim cap and dainty apron of suburban Phyllis may please and delight some, but, for solid grandeur and substantial splendour, and, it may be added, potential enjoyment, we look solely to those houses whose threshold is guarded and whose portals are opened, by that great emblem of British respectability, the British Butler. Fair Phyllis may crown our brows with myrtle or with laurel, and there is always a plenty of laurel bushes where Phyllis lives, but it takes a man to crown our wine.” (p. 119-120)

However, life was about to deal Greg a cruel blow and put an end to this love affair with wine. In the last two chapters of his book he tells how gout and the need to obtain life insurance (possibly because of his impending marriage) have forced him to renounce the demon drink, with consequent heartbreak:

“We – let the kindly plural shelter my singular aberration – we have become a degraded thing that has taken to drinking soda-water, or H2O tempered with flavour of toast; our cup is filled, but only with misery and aqua pura…”

“ …for a drinker’s crown of sorrow is remembering wetter days…”

In 1895, only two years before the book was published, a 37 year old Greg married Mary Hope, eight years his senior. By all accounts the abstemious newly-wed had by this time changed his opinion of women, or at least of one woman. He is said to have been devoted to his wife, a true soulmate who shared his love for beautiful objects. Given their ages, the marriage was unsurprisingly childless and when, in 1906, Greg inherited his uncle’s estate of Coles in Hertfordshire the couple left London. It is at this point in his life that Greg surprises us again. Instead of jealously hoarding his private pottery collection, he donated it to the Manchester City Art Gallery before moving to Coles so that others could enjoy it during his lifetime.

In Hertfordshire, Greg surprises us for the third time. Rather than relax and enjoy his early retirement, his desire to be useful to others drove him to serve as a Magistrate, District Councillor, Parish Councillor, School Governor and Trustee of Dr. Williams’s Library. He even dabbled in local politics, albeit unsuccessfully. In this arena he could never rise to the heights his brilliant brother reached.

Nevertheless he was known for being a happy man, fun-loving and convivial, even in his sobriety. Or at least he was until a beloved nephew became another casualty of the Great War. Greg never recovered from the loss and in 1920 he died after undergoing major surgery. The passage through this world of this quietly remarkable man is evidenced by his expertly collected pottery and by his ode to Bacchus.

The Victorians & The London Library: The George Gilbert Scotts

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This chalk portrait of Sir George Gilbert Scott by G. Richmond appeared on the flyleaf of his autobiographical work Personal and Professional Recollections in 1879.

This chalk portrait of Sir George Gilbert Scott by G. Richmond appeared on the flyleaf of his autobiographical work Personal and Professional Recollections in 1879.

 

The leader of the Gothic architectural revival Sir Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) joined the Library in 1873. He was knighted in 1872 and styled himself Sir Gilbert Scott. He was introduced to the Library by his son, George Gilbert Scott Jr.

The leader of the Gothic architectural revival Sir Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) joined the Library in 1873. He was knighted in 1872 and styled himself Sir Gilbert Scott. He was introduced to the Library by his son, George Gilbert Scott Jr.

 

George Gilbert Scott Jr (1839-1897) an architect and scholar joined the Library in 1872.  He was introduced by fellow member, architect Thomas Garner.

George Gilbert Scott Jr (1839-1897) an architect and scholar joined the Library in 1872. He was introduced by fellow member, architect Thomas Garner.

 

This portrait of William Morris by George Frederick Watts appears in The Life of William Morris by J.W. Mackail published in 1899.

This portrait of William Morris by George Frederick Watts appears in The Life of William Morris by J.W. Mackail published in 1899.

In the third instalment of her series on The London Library and The Victorians, Helen O’Neill, our Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian, takes a look at the links between The London Library and a distinguished architectural dynasty founded by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the leading proponent of the Gothic Revival.

In London’s swinging sixties, the poet, broadcaster and co-founder of The Victorian Society, John Betjeman, took a stand against the destruction of Britain’s Victorian architectural heritage. After the demolition of Euston Station’s Doric arch, he campaigned to save another iconic Victorian landmark: the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras station, as it too tottered on the edge of demolition. It was a building, he said, Londoners enjoyed: a “sudden burst of exuberant Gothic … seen from gloomy Judd Street.”[i]

The hotel was the creation of Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), the founder of a dynasty of architects which continues today and which stretches from The Midland Hotel “the grandest single monument of the Gothic Revival in Britain”[ii] to the power stations at Battersea “one of the first examples in England of frankly contemporary industrial architecture”[iii] and Bankside (now Tate Modern) taking in the Albert Memorial, Waterloo Bridge, the red telephone box and a staggering number of churches and cathedrals en route.

Sir George Gilbert Scott and his son, George Gilbert Scott Jr (1839-1897) both appear in the Victorian membership records of the Library. George Gilbert Scott Jr joined in 1872 and introduced his father (who was knighted in 1872 and President of RIBA 1873-76) to membership in 1873. Sir George Gilbert Scott’s Personal and Professional Recollections, edited by his son, appeared in 1879: one of the first autobiographies of an architect to be published.

While Sir George Gilbert Scott was an acclaimed Victorian architect, who ran one of the largest architectural practices in Europe, he was not without critics – several of whom are also to be found among the membership records of the Library.  The Rev W.J.L. Loftie, the architect J.J. Stevenson and one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, William Morris, all articulated a growing unease about architectural restoration, which John Ruskin condemned as a lie declining a RIBA gold medal during Scott’s presidency.

George Gilbert Scott Jr struggled throughout his life with mental health issues and alcoholism.  He was confined to Bethlehem Hospital in 1883 and spent several years in and out of hospital. He died of cirrhosis of the liver and heart disease in1897. He was living at the time in his father’s famous secular creation: the Midland Grand Hotel (now renamed the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel). While his professional life was less prolific than his father, his own son, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) an influential 20th century architect, considered that “Grandfather was the successful practical man, and a phenomenal scholar in Gothic precedent, but Father was the artist”.

Neither Sir George Gilbert Scott nor his son lived long enough to see the unveiling of the London Library’s Victorian steel grilled book stacks, circulating hall or spacious 50 ft long Reading Room in 1898.  These Victorian spaces however remain at the heart of the Library’s activities today.  Architectural heritage is easy to spot, it connects our physical environment and our daily lives to the past. Betjeman was right about the Midland Grand Hotel which was given Grade 1 listing in 1967. The Victorian Back Stacks of the London Library are also a listed structure, like the Midland Grand Hotel they too exert a powerful burst of Victorian Gothic in the hustle and bustle of 21st century London Library life.

Helen O’Neill
Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian

 

Footnotes


[i] John Betjeman, London’s Historic Railway Stations. London: John Murray, 1972.
[ii] Simon Bradley, St Pancras Station. London, Profile Books, 2007.
[iii] Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England. London: 2 South. Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1983.

A Woman’s Walks

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Reprinted from 1903 - the latest in our "Found on the Shelves" series

Reprinted from 1903 – the latest in our “Found on the Shelves” series

Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros – our Head of Bibliographic Services – blogs on Lady Colin Campbell and her 1903 book “A Woman’s Walks”, extracts from which are featured in the latest Found on The Shelves series published by Pushkin Press to coincide with our 175th anniversary.

As a woman who had to reinvent herself and become self-sufficient after being at the centre of the most notorious divorce scandal of the 1880s, Lady Colin Campbell (1857-1911), was the embodiment of the independent, intrepid and outspoken author.

Following the separation from her husband she was largely exiled from society but became a prolific author, art and literary critic, playwright, novelist, essayist, translator, newspaper editor and journalist, contributing to the Saturday Review and the Pall Mall Gazette.  She was also an artist, a talented singer and an accomplished sportswoman who could speak and write authoritatively on a broad range of subjects and enjoyed the friendship and patronage of George Bernard Shaw (who described her writing as “impudently amusing”). Her formidable spirit was actually set free by her fall from grace and nowhere is this seen more clearly than in A Woman’s Walks: Studies in Colour Abroad and at Home (1903).

Originally published in issues of The World, from 1889 onwards under the pseudonym Vera Tsaritsyn, it is a collection of short pieces on her travels in Italy, France, Switzerland, Austro-Hungary, London, and the English countryside. Vera, as she was known to her friends, revisits some of the places where she spent her childhood, such as Venice, but also ventures into locations new to her. The pieces, from which we have reprinted only a selection, vary widely in tone and subject matter. There are beautiful mountain landscapes, sun-bathed lagoons, candle-lit churches and quiet gardens but there are also busy railway signal-boxes, noisy and dangerous workshops, the smells of the fish market and the squalor of dirty little back gardens in south London. The author is often accompanied by friends (to whom she dedicates the book) and who are sketchily described and sometimes affectionately mocked:

 “The Expert, wishing to note whether his gear-chain is all right, walks a little distance, and can hardly keep his feet at all on the slippery surface.  With relief he finds himself once more in the saddle, and, catching us up, is explaining the matter to me, when, as the words “These tyres really seem to hold better on this road than shoes” leave his lips, the demon that invariably lurks in a bike seizes the opportunity. Before he can enunciate the word “shoes” the wheels slip as if mowed down by a scythe, and I have just time to spurt violently ahead to avoid being  bowled over by h

Lady Colin Campbell's independent voice comes through loud and clear in her 1903 original

Lady Colin Campbell’s independent voice comes through loud and clear in her 1903 original

is downfall. I grieve to say that the Gemini and I are so shaking with laughter at the psychological moment chosen for the mishap that we can only just make friendly inquiry over our shoulders.” (p. 125-126)

The characters she encounters are not usually treated with quite as much kindness:

“ … these fat female Teutons, with red, perspiring faces, surrounded by straggling wisps of sandy hair, clothed in men’s shirts and boots and much-abbreviated skirts hitched up with straps round their middles (one could not give the name of waist to such equatorial lines !) and their Falstaffian companions, entirely spoil the beauty of the scene for me.” (p. 60-61)

 But it is this uncensored voice that makes the book come alive. Lady Colin Campbell shares her exhilaration with us:

 “Dogged determination not to be beaten, however, makes victory but a question of time, and, once conquered, the bicycle becomes a friend, an ally to be depended

Lady Colin Campbell: An indomitable and independent character and a passionate sportswoman

Lady Colin Campbell: An indomitable and independent character and a passionate sportswoman

upon at all times and seasons, an endless delight. To it one owes not only the feeling of absolute independence, of self-sufficiency in the truest and best sense of that much ill-used term, but the knowledge of the sensation of flying.” (p. 82)

Her dread:

“I have visited many graveyards, but always with horror and reluctance, as my mind persistently dwelt upon and realised the unspeakable abominations of physical corruption. Besides, the idea of being hidden in a hole in the  ground, away from the light and heat of the sun, has always oppressed me like an evil dream; but as I leave the crematorium of Milan I am conscious of nothing but a radiant vision – a chariot of flame to close my earthly record … “ (p. 56)

And her joy at venturing outside again after a long illness:

“ … seeing a door open in the wall on the left, we pass through it, and find ourselves in a delightful garden, a great stretching space of velvety  green turf, with glorious trees. After my imprisonment, such a place is like a glimpse of paradise. “ (p. 243)

But what really shines through is her love of freedom and adventure:

“I ought, by all the  rules that  should govern the mind of a sensitive, proper-minded  female, to be overcome with dismay at finding myself friendless, soap-less, comb-less, curling-tong-less, alone and unprotected in a strange city “as the clocks are chiming the hour” of mid­night!  But I am not; or rather, when I realise the entire novelty of the situation, I am so overcome with a sense of exhilaration at being for once in my life absolutely free, with no more responsibility than a bird on the wing, that I very nearly dance a rigadoon of delight on the dusty metals of the line before an advancing engine! … I hum to myself as I stand looking up at the sky, filled to overflowing with the joy of liberty, and swaying to the lilt of the seguidilla [a Spanish dance].  Nobody knows where I am; nobody (here in  Milan) cares what I do” (p. 50)

“No! A companion is not always either a thing of beauty or a joy for ever; he or she is often a stopper in a vial of perfume, a discordant note in the otherwise perfect harmony, an ever-present weight. Like trout fishing, bicycling has joys that are unknown to those who seek them not in solitude”(p. 84)

And her wicked sense of humour:

“I am awakened by the connubial warblings of an unmistakably American couple in the next room.  Dear me! what strange forms of expression Yankee matrimony takes upon itself in privacy, or at least what it is pleased to suppose is privacy!” (p. 51-52)

“We are not lucky, or else we possess some unknown and undesired attraction for fat Germans; for four of the fattest specimens tumble into our compartment  …   Jokes born of wine nearly produce apoplexy in my opposite neighbour, an individual whose face might be taken for that of” The Man in  the Moon”; when, mercifully, one of the four starts humming a tune, another produces a well-thumbed  book  of Yolks-Lieder out  of his pocket, and the four launch into part-songs with undeniably sweet voices, which is  a distinct improvement on their guttural conversation and loud guffaws …  They continue to warble softly and pleasantly, like four fat red bullfinches; and the blue gooseberry eyes of my opposite neighbour are full of tears as he ecstatically sings what will happen  “Wenn ich komm,  wenn  ich  komm,  wenn   ich  wieder   urn  komm” (his vision will probably materialise into chastisement with a broomstick by the wife of his bosom if he returns to her in his present condition!) as we draw up at Caux, and leave the bullfinches to warble alone.” (p. 61)

It is terribly sad to think that only three years after the book was published trout-fishing, fencing, cycling, globe-trotting Vera was confined to a wheelchair because of what the press called rheumatoid arthritis but in fact was syphilis, which she had accused her husband of infecting her with deliberately during her divorce case. It is even sadder to know that a person so full of life should spend the following five years withdrawing from the world until her premature death at the age of 53. Having read about her fear of being buried one can only feel relief at finding out she was cremated.

The Right to Fly

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Ballooning and photography pioneer Félix Nadar argues the case for aviation in his 1866 The Right to Fly

Ballooning and photography pioneer Félix Nadar argues the case for aviation in his 1866 The Right to Fly

 

The 1866 original carries a preface by George Sandis. Nadar dedicated the English translation published that March to the Society for the Study of Aerial Navigation led by James Glaisher

The 1866 original carries a preface by George Sand. Nadar dedicated the English translation published that March to the Society for the Study of Aerial Navigation led by James Glaisher

 

Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros – our Head of Bibliographic Services – blogs on aeronautical pioneer Félix Nadar whose 1866 book “The Right to Fly” is one of the latest titles in our Found on The Shelves series, published by Pushkin Press to coincide with our 175th anniversary.

A successful pioneer needs to have three qualities: vision, courage, and a nervous energy. Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (1820-1910), known as Félix Nadar, had them in abundance.  He successfully pioneered new approaches in the fields of photography and marketing but when it came to achieving his dream of being in control when travelling across the skies success eluded him. The Right to Fly is a manifesto borne of this frustration, an angry cry against those who ridiculed his aeronautic vision.

Félix was the unconventional eldest son of unconventional parents: Tournachon senior was a Lyonnaise liberal publisher who did not marry the mother of his children until his first-born was six years old.

The child who walked with a slight limp due to complications at birth grew into a tall young man with long limbs and a wild mane of bright red hair. He began medical training but the Tournachons’ shaky finances took a turn for the worse when the father died and the family publishing busine

ss went bankrupt. The outspoken 16 year old with a penchant for whimsical humour had to abandon his studies in Lyon and find the means to support his widowed mother and his younger brother, Adrien. He moved to Paris, where he made a valiant attempt to resume his medical training while earning a living as a journalist and cartoonist.  It seems that his interest in medicine, though genuine, was more romantic than practical and in the end the lure of the publishing world proved stronger than the pull of the anatomy lessons.

During this period he began to sign his work “Nadar” and the explanations for this pseudonym vary. It may have originated in the literary circles that he was moving in where he rubbed shoulders with Gérard de Nerval and Charles Baudelaire and where it seems it was the fashion for bohemian young writers to add the ending ‘dar’ to many words, thus Tournachon became Tournadar and was later abbreviated to Nadar. Another version of the story is that his satirical accuracy earned him the nickname “tourne à dard” (the one who stings or, literally, twists the dart) which he first shortened to “n à dard” and finally to “Nadar.”

Aged only 19 this enterprising youth started a magazine called Le Livre d’Or. Despite including contributions from friends like Gérard de Nerval, Honoré de Balzac and Alexandre Dumas publication ceased after only three issues. He then focussed on his caricatures which were proving much more successful and profitable but in 1848 he joined a French legion made up mainly of Polish émigrés and their sons. Under the name “Nadarsky” he marched off with 500 other men to fight Prussian rule in Poland. After a few misadventures culminating in a failure to even reach Poland he returned to France where he had a date with the medium that would make him a household name.

In an effort to make his fairly useless brother financially independent Nadar paid for him to train as a photographer and set up a studio for him. Adrien lacked both talent and business acumen and the venture was a failure until Nadar himself took it over. When Nadar said “photography is a marvellous discovery, a science that has attracted the greatest intellects, an art that excites the most astute minds — and one that can be practiced by any imbecile” was he referring to Adrien?

At first he was only interested in photography as a quick means of capturing a likeness that he could later use as the basis for a caricature but he soon discovered a real passion and flair for it and among his wide artistic circle he found a wealth of charismatic subjects. He took a medium that was in its infancy and understood its potential to create intimate portraits that showed the true nature of the sitter, without flattery or unnecessary props. He took definitive portraits of the most famous politicians, musicians, writers, artists and intellectuals of 1850s Paris.  Among the celebrities who passed through his little studio were George Sand, Jules Verne, Berlioz, Rossini, Delcroix and Sarah Bernhardt.

By 1860 his commercial success was such that he moved to a much larger studio with his name in enormous bright lights emblazoned across the façade and all of fashionable Paris flocked to this new landmark. Nadar took advantage of the move from the Daguerrotype to the collodion process, which made it possible to make multiple prints easily and had his assistants take most of the portraits. This freed him up to explore more interesting possibilities.

He was the first to use artificial light in photography and armed with lamps which he designed and patented in 1861 he took his camera into the catacombs and sewers of Paris. These eerie underground photographs are all the stranger because they required very long exposures and Nadar, ever the creative problem-solver, chose to populate them with mannequins instead of real people.  His precursor of the modern flash was in fact the second photographic patent he filed. In 1858 he had ascended in a hot-air balloon, camera in hand, to photograph Paris from above. Soon after he patented aerial photography and began what would prove to be a ruinous obsession.

His experiments in aerial photography convinced him that the future of flight lay in heavier-than-air machines: being lighter than air, hot air balloons were at the mercy of the lightest breeze and impossible to control in strong winds. He founded the Society for the Encouragement of Aerial Navigation by Heavier-than-air Machines, with himself as President and Jules Verne as Secretary. Although it quickly attracted many members, Nadar understood that to achieve his dream of a sky “studded with barques travelling with such rapidity as to humiliate the Ocean and all the locomotives of the Earth!” he would need an enormous amount of funding. He decided that a series of publicity stunts using the largest hot-air balloon the world had ever seen would be the perfect way of raising money for the development of aviation. He invested his fortune in creating “Le Géant“ (the Giant), which had a volume of nearly 212,000 cubic feet (6000 m³) and carried a two-storey wicker cottage with capacity for 25 passengers.  On 4 October 1863 Nadar’s Giant took to the air from the Champ-de-Mars among enormous crowds that were kept under control by specially designed barriers (another of Nadar’s inventions). The plan was to travel across Europe but a malfunctioning valve brought the balloon down after a disappointing 25 miles.  The second (and nearly fatal) ascent took place a fortnight later. This time Nadar, his wife and his passengers, reached Hannover where a strong wind pulled them down and dragged them helplessly for miles during which the balloon had a very close shave with a moving railway train. The Giant was repaired, brought to Britain, and put on display for paying crowds in Crystal Palace later that year, while Nadar and his fellow aeronauts were still recovering from their injuries.   In 1866 Nadar wrote Le Droit au Vol (The Right to Fly) where he challenged the scientific establishment and made his case for heavier-than-air flight. It contains a preface by his friend George Sand and was published by Jules Hetzel, who in 1848 had hired Nadar as secret agent, persuading him to make a second attempt to reach Poland and report back on the movements of Russian troops.

Nadar took to the air in his titanic balloon several more times before selling it in 1867 but despite risking life and limb and attracting huge crowds and international press coverage the whole enterprise was a financial failure. His ballooning expertise however was put to very good use in 1870 when, at Nadar’s suggestion, a besieged Paris relied on a fleet of balloons to fly over the Prussian lines and re-establish contact with the outside world.

Today Nadar is remembered as one of the early masters of photography, the icon behind the Prix Nadar, awarded annually to outstanding books of photography edited in France. He is also remembered as the man who lent his by then empty photographic studio to the historic first exhibition of Impressionist paintings in 1874. Sadly, he did not live to see his dream of flying machines realised although in 1909, only a year before his death he was delighted to learn that his compatriot, Louis Blériot had flown across the English Channel in a monoplane and sent him a cable thanking him “for the joy with which your triumph fills this antediluvian of the heavier-than-air machine.”

The man who provided the inspiration for Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon and for the character of the French adventurer Michel Ardan (an anagram of Nadar) in From the Earth to the Moon could arguably be said not to have had much direct impact or influence on the development of flying machines.  Yet, as George Sand wrote in her preface to The Right to Fly, “Every light has its precursory dawn, and he who perceives the one may predict the other.” Nadar was not only aviation’s precursory dawn, he was also one of the few who could predict the coming light when many still groped in the dark.

Hints on Etiquette

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Latest in the line of gems From the Shelves of The London Library published by Pushkin Press

Latest in the line of gems From the Shelves of The London Library published by Pushkin Press

 

With latest Found on The Shelves series now out we begin a series of blogs on the writers behind the quirky and humorous titles that have been out of print for decades and have now been re-published by Pushkin Press to coincide with our 175th anniversary.  Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros – our Head of Bibliographic Services – takes a look at the fascinating Hints on Etiquette written by Charles William Day in 1842 as “a shield against the vulgar”.

Should one wear coloured gloves to a ball? What is the correct way to pour sauce? Should a letter of introduction be sealed? What does it mean when the corner of a visiting card has been turned down? These were the sorts of questions social climbers were tormented by in 1840s Britain. Fortunately for them countless little books were published to guide them through the baffling codes and rituals of polite society.

Charles William Day was one of the authors who met the growing demand of the industrial nouveau riche who would otherwise have been hopelessly lost given that “…fashions are continually changing … and what is considered the height of good taste one year, is declared vulgar the next … “. Then again, perhaps Day exaggerated the speed of these changes to guarantee sales of the many editions he produced.

Very little is known about Day, who wrote his etiquette books under the pseudonym Agogos. In his time he was a well-known miniature painter and a fairly regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy. Hints on Etiquette: a Shield against the Vulgar contains the text of his 19th edition, which was originally published in 1842. In it he acknowledges the help in preparing the book of a mysterious “Lady of Rank” but this may also have been a marketing ploy. If it was, it certainly worked; Day’s little book ran to 28 editions!

Day’s main reason for helping a newly-prosperous and bewildered class may have been financial but he claimed to have been moved by a genuine desire to help:

“If these ‘hints’ save the blush upon one cheek, or smooth the path into ‘society’ of only one honest family , the object of the author will be attained.”

Those aspiring to rise in society would have needed all the help they could get because not only were the rules of the social game extremely complex, subtle and ever-changing, to make matters worse they often found additional obstacles in their way:

“The English are the most aristocratic democrats in the world; always endeavouring to squeeze through the portals of rank and fashion, and then slamming the door in the face of any unfortunate devil who may happen to be behind them.”

Without meaning to, Day reveals something of his himself in his book. He warns the aspiring middle classes to remember their place and at every turn remain inconspicuous and show the proper respect to persons of higher rank. He also appears to have had a very narrow idea of the reading habits in the humbler orders of society:

“ …the literary acquirements of a man of business are necessarily confined to reading the newspaper”

Yet he was not a complete snob. He did not subscribe to the notion that all people of higher rank are innately superior:

“There is no more common or absurd mistake than supposing that, because people are of high rank, they cannot be vulgar; – or that, if people be in an obscure station, they cannot be well bred.”

“Gentility is neither in birth, manner, nor fashion – but in the MIND.”

To a 21st century reader this little book will seem not just dated but almost completely alien and much of its advice is today nothing short of hilariously ridiculous yet precisely because society has changed so much it provides a rare view of a world we would otherwise not be able to understand. Books on etiquette, of which this is a fine and at times very witty example, have captured the social protocol and attitudes of their times in a way that help us imagine and understand the past. Day is still decoding for us just as he decoded for his humbler contemporaries. His books on etiquette are not only revealing, today they are also extremely amusing. But to the right, or perhaps the wrong, reader they were always a great source of amusement.

A famous reader was so struck by these social manuals that he was moved to write a little parody. A 17 year old Lewis Carroll wrote his own Hints for Etiquette; or, Dining Out Made Easy in 1849 and it is included in our volume. In just nine brief rules he manages to poke fun at the absurdity and faddishness of some rules:

“To use a fork with your soup, intimating at the same time to your hostess that you are reserving the spoon for the beefstakes, is a practice wholly exploded.”

However well-intentioned Day and his fellow writers on etiquette may have been their books made easy targets for the pen of the author who would later invent a world where those hosting tea parties had appalling table manners!

The final ingredient in our little book is a selection of illustrations by John Leech originally drawn for Albert Smith’s The Natural History of Evening Parties (London, 1849). Albert Richard Smith trained as doctor and even practised for a while before becoming an author, traveller and showman. His one-man show based on his drunken ascent of Mont Blanc ran to two thousand performances involving live dogs and a slide show and made him hugely successful but not universally popular: Ruskin hated to see his beloved Alps popularised by a corpulent bon-viveur who, to make matters worse, was  a cockney. Smith and Leech met when they were both medical students and the two friends went on to contribute to Punch. Smith was actually one of a team of medically qualified writers drawn together by the magazine’s founding editor, Henry Mayhew. These authors specialised in the satirical application of natural history terminology to the portrayal of English customs and habits. Although Ruskin despised Smith he was a great fan of Leech’s and must have had very mixed feelings regarding his illustrations for The natural history of evening parties. He may have enjoyed them more if he could have seen them accompanying Day’s Hints on Etiquette instead. Day himself would probably not have approved but Lewis Carroll would probably have enjoyed the irreverent juxtaposition.

Illustrations from Smith's Natural History of the Dinner Party 1849

Illustrations from Smith’s Natural History of the Dinner Party 1849